Wednesday, October 22, 2014

When five supposedly good kids said to sodomize, injure a schoolmate, what lessons can we learn?

    In the Disturbing Beyond Belief department, five Hopkinsville, Ky., young adults and teens have been arrested and charged with sodomy and other crimes in relation to an attack on a passed-out 15-year-old boy at a party. The boy may or may not have been drugged.
    The boy was seriously injured. His intestines were punctured and he nearly died; he currently has a colostomy bag; I don't know if this is permanent. The sexual attack, committed with various objects -- one kicked into the boy's rectum -- was filmed and perhaps placed on social media.
    An attack of this kind is troubling in every case, but this boy was a family friend to two of his alleged attackers and a cousin to one. These kids knew each other well. They were supposedly friends, or at least associated with the same friends.
    And by the way, before you start thinking about Kentucky jokes, Hopkinsville is in Western Kentucky, between Nashville and Paducah. Demographically it's a bit like Tate County with slightly lower income and more college degrees.
    The five who were arrested weren't rough thugs -- just the opposite. They were mostly middle-class, college-track kids. One of the oldest, Dayton Ross Jones, was on the Arkansas State University golf team. Another has a Facebook page that says he attends or attended the University of Kentucky.
    The Facebook page for one of the juveniles, a high school senior, displays photos of a tall, athletic teen posing with lots of attractive girls and other attractive high school kids. In fact all of the kids had Facebook pages that made them appear to be well-liked, successful, decent guys. It's sad to look at these photos: a first deer, first turkey, first car, first prom date, and then realize the next photo in the series needs to be the first felony mug shot.
    These five guys didn't intend to seriously injure this boy; they wanted to humiliate him. What started off as fairly mild humiliation escalated as the attackers tried to outdo the others in viciousness. Oddly enough, many people apparently don't believe that it is a sexual assault if one's purpose is merely to humiliate someone they know.
    Whenever I read a story like this I bring it to the attention of my children, because there are so many life lessons to be learned from the mistakes and tragedies of others. Among them:
    ❑ Good people sometimes do terrible things. Try not to be one of them. Learn from the mistakes of others.
    ❑ If you get drunk or otherwise pass out there are people who will take advantage of you or try to humiliate you, often for no reason. Sometimes they will harm you. Sometimes these people will be those who are supposed to be your friends. Avoid drinking to the point of passing out. Be aware that there are those who get their jollies out of drugging drinks.
    ❑ When a group of guys get drunk enough they will do inexplicably stupid things, often urged on by a single instigator. Guys will often attempt to outdo each other in viciousness. Avoid associating with instigators; avoid associating with those who often do stupid things; avoid associating with those who act in a vicious manner; avoid drinking to the point of seriously impaired judgment.
    ❑ Recognize that it's not always easy to do what's right. If just one of these five boys had somehow found the courage to stand up to his friends he would have saved an entire community a world of sorrow. Doing the right thing often seems impossibly difficult at the moment, but if kids could just imagine themselves 24 hours in the future looking backward it would be easy.
    Under the right circumstances every child or young adult has the potential to be a victim or a victimizer. As a parent I hope I can educate my children to these dangers without sounding like the teacher in the Charlie Brown cartoons.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Reasonable West Africa travel restrictions not the same things as a travel ban

    In the debate over travel bans to West Africa, one fact seems to be missing. Travel restrictions are not travel bans.
    It is highly desirable that aid workers, health care workers, government officials, and business people be able to travel back and forth between West Africa and the rest of the world. That doesn't mean additional steps can't be taken to prevent the importation of the disease into the United States.
    For starters, we don't need to allow people with West African passports into the United States on tourist visas if there is any chance their travel has originated from West Africa. No American needs to travel to West Africa merely to see the sights. They can wait to see Disneyworld and we can wait to tour Monroevia.
    Thomas Eric Duncan, the Liberian who brought Ebola to the United States, arrived on a tourist visa. He had told his friends that his intention was to illegally overstay his visa and work in the U.S. He was willing to take this chance because Barack Obama and the Democrats in Congress refuse to protect our nation's borders or enforce our immigration laws. A restriction on tourist travel or a reputation for enforcement of immigration laws would have kept Duncan -- and Ebola -- out of the country.
    Most Ebola cases will manifest themselves within 21 days of exposure, although the World Health Organization and other researchers say the virus can have a longer incubation period. Obviously a quarantine period either before or after a flight greatly reduces the risk of exposing the general public to Ebola.
    For example, if Thomas Duncan had been required to undergo a five-day quarantine in Liberia prior to boarding his flight to the United States he wouldn't have been allowed to do so, as by the fifth day he would have been showing symptoms of the virus. Any quarantine period is better than none at all.
    West Africans could be quarantined in their home countries prior to boarding their flights; their governments are very cooperative. Americans could be allowed to return home and serve their quarantine in the United States. The quarantine period should be based on the likelihood of exposure, with everyone having a minimum quarantine period of four or five days; those with likely exposure would have a full 21-day quarantine.
    A few days in a hotel sipping Mai Tais by a hotel swimming pool doesn't seem too much of a burden on those wishing to travel from West Africa to the United States. It won't hamper relief efforts.
    Travel restrictions and travel bans will not eliminate the risk of ebola cases arising in the heartland. If the contagion continues to grow at its current pace we will have cases which crop up here at home. Obama and the Democrats in Congress take the view that since travel restrictions won't stop all cases of Ebola we should just throw open the borders and take no precautions whatsoever. This is insanity! The fewer domestic cases we have to deal with, the better.
    Reasonable travel restrictions harm no one. A ban on tourist travel is a ban on those up to no good in the first place. A reasonable quarantine policy won't eliminate risk, but it will greatly reduce it, and that should be our goal.
    We don't need to ban West Africa travel. We do need to restrict and regulate it.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Shepard Smith says we have nothing to fear from Ebola virus, and that scares me a lot

    I grew up with Shepard Smith, although he's a few years younger than me. His father grew up with my father and is a good friend. I don't think I've seen Shepard since we were at Ole Miss together, but I've enjoyed the chance to observe his great success at Fox News over the years.
    Shepard was somewhat far to the left during his Ole Miss days and he's liberal today, which is fine. Without liberals we can't have conservatives, can we? So it doesn't surprise me that Shepard decided to serve as a shill for the Obama administration with a rant against media "hysteria" over Ebola.
    Feel free to listen to Shepard's rant. He's got some blatant factual errors, which I picked up right away. For example, he said the nurse did not show symptoms when she few from Cleveland to Dallas. This is just simply false. She had a fever of 99.5 and was instructed to fly on a commercial airliner by the CDC anyway. She almost certainly was not highly contagious at this point, but she was potentially contagious -- or at least the general consensus is that she was. So Shepard is just passing out false information, and I'm not sure why, since it is so clearly wrong.
    I suspect that Ebola probably isn't very contagious until the victim reaches the vomiting, diarrhea, and heavy sweating stage, at which point it becomes contagious beyond belief. With that said, I see no need for the government to encourage unnecessary risks, which it is currently doing. Ebola is considered contagious at the onset of symptoms.
    Here is the one fact I know for certain about the Ebola virus: Nothing is certain. And should we get to know anything for certain we won't know it for long, because the virus is constantly mutating. For that reason an abundance of caution is in order.
    I would argue that a certain amount of hysteria is both warranted and good. I think a fair definition of "hysteria" is an exaggerated fear or excitement. When it comes to Ebola, I think it is better that our society be too afraid than not afraid enough.
    Shepard says we have nothing to fear from Ebola. Nothing. This scares me almost much as Ebola does.
    Shepard says it's all politics. You know, when somebody like me, who is about as right-wing and conservative as one can get, starts screaming about the need to send massive amounts of medical aid to Africa, perhaps people ought to take notice. It's not politics. One recent article points out that liberals seem to be refusing to adopt sensible policies to fight Ebola simply because conservatives support them. Now that's politics.
    I'm not afraid that somehow I will catch Ebola because some nurse took a Frontier airline flight when she shouldn't have, even though the very long incubation period of this virus makes it especially dangerous. That's not the fear, and Shepard is right to say we shouldn't worry about this particular issue.
    The CDC has shown an extreme level of incompetence in battling the Ebola virus here in the United States. It failed to send a team of experts to Dallas for several days after Thomas Duncan was admitted. Apparently 78 health care workers were potentially exposed to the Ebola virus and two have now contracted the disease. The CDC told one of these nurses with Ebola to fly on a commercial jet after developing a fever. This level of incompetence is cause for some level of hysteria.
    Democrats dedicated to open borders insist on allowing people from countries with massive, uncontrolled Ebola outbreaks into the country without proper screening. The virus has up to a 21-day incubation period, but any infected person from West Africa who doesn't have a fever is permitted to enter the country, where they may then develop symptoms and infect others, as Thomas Duncan did. When the Obama administration essentially invites people infected with the Ebola virus to come spread it amongst the general population it is cause for some level of hysteria.
    Americans seem unwilling to establish or obey any safety guidelines concerning the Ebola virus. The second Dallas nurse violated CDC protocol by flying to Cleveland within 21 days of possible exposure to the Ebola virus. She wasn't supposed to fly; she did it anyway. NBC's chief medical correspondent Nancy Snyderman agreed to a voluntary 21-day quarantine after a member of her camera crew contracted Ebola. She broke the curfew in order to buy fast food. When Americans who are most knowledgeable about the need to follow safety precautions refuse to do so, how can we expect ordinary citizens to use good judgment. Yes, I'm afraid.
    There are two bits of good news concerning the Ebola virus in West Africa. First, a mathematical model which has been highly accurate in predicting the number of Ebola cases suggests the virus will begin to burn itself out in December. Of course, plenty will die before then, and I confess I have more hope than faith in the model. Second, the West has finally realized that the crisis in West Africa potentially threatens the entire world, and has been committing resources to stopping it (it doesn't help for Shepard to claim we have nothing to fear).
    Shepard says we have absolute nothing to fear from Ebola. Let me ask a question. We know that one of the 78 health care workers exposed to Ebola decided to breach protocol and take a plane to Cleveland -- and then was told by the CDC to fly back with a fever. There are 76 more exposed people. Is it not reasonable to fear some of the others may have breached protocol in a similar fashion?
    The CDC is considering placing the remaining 76 health care workers on the TSA no-fly list. These people are free to travel by car, but not by bus or plane. I presume that all of these 76 people are on paid leave.
    Does anyone consider it possible -- just possible -- that one of these 76 people might have family down in Mexico or even Central America that they've already decided drive down and see? After all, they've got a paid vacation, why not visit the family? Are poverty-stricken areas of Mexico and Central America well equipped to deal with an Ebola outbreak? Is this possibility not a cause for at least some fear?
    Most potential disasters will not happen. We can ignore or pay minimal attention to the Ebola virus and the chances are that it will burn itself out. When Herculean efforts are used to avert a crisis, no one knows if they are effective or not; if nothing bad happens perhaps the disaster never would have happened anyway. And so people like me are viewed as fear-mongerers or crackpots.
    I only offer my view as an alternative to Shepard's. He says Americans should have no fear of Ebola. I say we should all be very afraid. He says we shouldn't be hysterical. I say until the government demonstrates some level of competence in battling the disease, and adopts of policies to prevent new foreign cases from being introduced into the general population a certain amount of hysteria is in order.
    Do not remain calm. All is not well.

    UPDATE, 10/17/2014: One of the remaining 76 exposed workers did indeed go to Central America,  ON A CRUISE SHIP! She is reportedly asymptomatic and has voluntarily quarantined herself in her stateroom, but the insanity of her being on a cruise ship in the first place in mind-boggling. The nation of Belize would not allow her to come ashore to be flown back to the United States.
    I am very confident that my children, who are in ninth and tenth grade, could do a far better job of managing the Ebola crisis than is currently being done by the Obama administration.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

If Liberian nurses want hazard pay in ebola fight, the West should just pay their salaries directly

    Liberian nurses on the front lines in the fight against the ebola virus threatened to strike over low pay, or often no pay, since the government is months behind in payment of their salaries.
    For now they've remained working.
    There aren't very many health care workers in West Africa to begin with, and an alarming number have died in the fight against ebola. Their demand of $500 per month in hazard pay is not unreasonable; it would take their monthly pay to $700. As national expenditures go, this amounts to almost nothing.
    In fact, I'd love to know what has been spent on the few ebola cases that have been treated in the United States. My guess is that when we tally it up, enough health care dollars will have been spent on Liberian Thomas Duncan and his nurse Nina Pham to pay every Liberian health care worker their desired salary for a month.
    So let's just do it. The United States and other Western nations should simply take it upon themselves to pay the salaries of all of the health care workers in West Africa for the duration of this outbreak. The health care workers would need to be paid directly, to keep their governments from stealing the money.
    This isn't foreign aid or charity; it is money well spent for our nation's self-preservation.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Ebola virus may have evolutionary effect of dampening altruism, promoting self-preservation

    I've had several posts about the Ebola virus. That's because it's important. With that said, the virus may die down and go away. Or it may just explode and completely destroy the undeveloped world.
    Whether or not the Ebola virus explodes, in the few areas where it has ravaged the population we can see how a worldwide pandemic of a deadly disease can literally cause the entire human species to evolve as those with certain traits survive while others die.
    For example, Nicholas Wade argues in A Troublesome Inheritance: Genes, Race and Human History that for hundreds of years Britain existed in a Malthusian Wringer that eventually made the entire population less violent, less impulsive, more willing to delay gratification and so on. Essentially over several hundred years those with genes which encouraged traits necessary for the Industrial Revolution slowly populated all of British society.
    We humans are genetically programmed to be selfish. We're also genetically programmed for altruism. These conflicting impulses work a bit like the angel and devil in the movie Animal House. There is in all of us a genetically programmed urge to help people in need. This tendency for altruism came about because at some point societies whose members had some level of altruism had  a competitive advantage to those who had none.
    But with the Ebola virus, altruism often results in almost certain death. Thomas Eric Duncan, the Liberian who arrived in Dallas with the disease, contracted it by trying to help a sick neighbor get to a hospital. He was unsuccessful. When the neighbor collapsed in the street bleeding from the mouth he carried her into her home and laid her on her bed. Certainly he must have known of the danger involved. A number of people tried to help the woman that day; all of them contracted Ebola. If Duncan had simply stayed within his home and ignored the woman he would probably still be alive today.
    To date there have only been 4,000 Ebola deaths, but the possibility exists that this number will balloon into the hundreds of thousands or millions or even hundreds of millions. A disproportionate number of these victims will be those who tried to care for others. More than ten percent of those who have contracted the virus have been health care workers.
    Those who are the most altruistic will be more likely to die; those who are the most self-protective will be more likely to live. The most altruistic people will never pass on their genes to the next generation; those with a greater proclivity for self-preservation will. In areas where 20 percent or more of the population dies from the Ebola virus, the very genetic fabric of society will be changed.
    Altruism will still survive, of course. And kindness and selfishness aren't entirely genetically determined or perhaps even mostly genetically determined. But genetics plays a roll, and if most of the altruistic people are killed off by disease the remaining gene pool will be dramatically changed.
    What we may be witnessing is evolution in action. It's a reminder that evolution doesn't take millions of years. Sometimes it only takes a few days or months.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Ebola growing like the penny in the old childhood allowance puzzle

    I remember as a child reading the Allowance Puzzle, where one was asked to pick whether it would be better to receive an allowance of a dime in January that would increase by a dime every month for a year or an allowance of a penny that would double every month for a year.
    Most children would quickly choose the dime, seeing that $1.20 was quite a lot of money compared to a penny. And they would be wrong. The child who chose to receive a penny for his January allowance would receive $20.48 in December to do his Christmas shopping. That is the power of exponential versus arithmetic growth.
    It is also the story of the Ebola virus, which has been growing in true exponential form for several weeks now: for every person who dies, two new ones are catching the disease. Most of them will die. The Washington Post has a story entitled "The Ominous Math of the Ebola Epidemic," that is scary reading.
    For some reason the "remain calm" crowd keeps telling us that Ebola isn't very contagious. Yet the Spanish nurse who became the first European case believes she contracted the disease when she accidentally or negligently touched her face while taking off her haz-mat suit. This is a description of a disease that is contagious beyond belief. A single touch can result in death.
    I don't know what's going to happen. Perhaps some unknown someone from some unknown someplace will do some unknown something to get this thing under control. Eventually (I hope) we are going to have some restrictions on movement to prevent those who know they might have the disease from just hopping a plane to Dallas. Things in the developed world may grind to a halt for a while.
    Ebola has an incubation rate of a four to 21 days and often comes on quite mildly; figure a fortnight. So what is the effect of doubling a penny 26 times (in other words a year's theoretical growth of Ebola)? I could figure it out but I'm too lazy, but Dr. Math tells us the result for doubling a penny 30 times. If you double a penny 30 times you'll end up with $10,737,418.23. Multiply that by 100 to get the number of pennies and you get 1,073,741,823, or roughly the population of Africa.
    Of course, the growth rate has to slow at some point; everyone isn't going to die. There is sometimes a tendency for a virus such as this one to act like a young fire consuming tinder in a blaze and then dying down. I think there is a better than even chance the virus will be contained with only a few flare ups that need to be tamped down.
    There is also the chance that Africa could see 500 million dead with 500 million addition corpses spread around the rest of the world. And it could be worse. The fact is that nobody can really forecast just how nasty this thing might be, because at its worst it could kill a third of the planet. I don't think it will, but it could. Nobody is going to come out and mention that, except for me. I do think the incredibly slow incubation period of this virus has lulled the public into a false sense of security.
    It is in our national interest to devote substantial resources to fighting this disease. As a nation we need to be prepared for disaster, both collectively and individually. I fear that we are not.


Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Wars, disease, natural disaster all disrupt the food supply; plan ahead or eat dirty turnips

     Shown above for your viewing pleasure is Scarlett O'Hara declaring that she will "never be hungry again." It's provided as a reminder that there have been times in our history when food has been in short supply.
    If the O'Hara family had purchased 50 cans of Campbell's Cream of Mushroom soup at Thanksgiving for 50 cents a can, 50 pounds of pasta for 50 cents a pound, 50 pounds of rice for $18, 50 pounds of sugar at 25 cents per pound, and so on and kept it all in an emergency supply closet they might have weathered the early days of Reconstruction with plenty to eat. And since such stockpiling inevitably reduces one's grocery bill, Mr. O'Hara would have had extra money to invest in something besides Confederate war bonds. Perhaps he would have been able to pay the taxes on Tara.
    But they didn't, and so were reduced to eating raw turnips and wearing curtains.
    Each of us has the same choices that the O'Hara family had. We can choose to pay too much for groceries, and should disaster strike be reduced to eating dirty turnips just pulled from the ground. Or we can buy large quantities of heavily discounted, non-perishable groceries when they go on deep discount. In the event of a disaster causing empty grocery shelves we can eat out of the pantry for a couple of months.
    These are perilous times. An extremist Muslim group has now established itself in a territory and declared itself a nation. These terrorists are absolutely ruthless, and if they can find a way to harm the United States, they will.
    The world is at war with Muslim extremists and the extremists are winning. Ruthlessness can be an effective weapon of war; just watch Apocalypse Now. Those who enjoy filming themselves slitting the throats of innocent people and killing Christian children will do anything they can to harm those they hate -- and that means us.
    In other news, the Ebola virus appears to be highly contagious in its current form and is spreading around the world. A Spanish nurse who treated an Ebola victim has come down with the disease despite taking every precaution. And though the disease is not believed to be airborne, many scientists now believe that it can be spread through a direct or close proximity cough or sneeze. The Ebola virus has an extremely long incubation period of up to 21 days and symptoms often come on slowly, allowing those infected with the disease to easily spread it. The checking of temperature of those boarding airplanes is absolutely ineffective as a means of screening for the disease.
    War zones are the greatest incubators for infectious diseases known to man. Look at a map and count the places where no government is truly in control. Tremble in fear, for our world has become a giant Petri dish.
    The icing on the cake is the fact that Barack Obama has refused to police our nation's borders, allowing those carrying deadly diseases and terrorists to enter the country at will. The terrorists who will launch the next attack are likely already in this country, and now there is nothing we can do to stop them.
    One final worry: there is about a one-half to one percent chance per year of a major natural disaster that will be so severe that it will completely disrupt our food distribution network. Scientists say it is a matter not of if, but when we will suffer a Carrington Event that will likely cripple our entire electrical grid, and perhaps disable virtually all motor vehicles.
    And let's not forget the possibility of a major earthquake in the central United States. One of the largest earthquakes in continental U.S. history was the New Madrid earthquake of 1811. There has been a dramatic increase in earthquake activity along this fault line and Wal-Mart has started to prepare for a New Madrid disaster.
    Enough gloom and doom for now. The fact is that everything is probably going to be just fine.
    Of course, if one were to be forced to play Russian Roulette one is "probably" going to live. That doesn't make it a good idea. "Probably" simply isn't good enough. We need to hope for the best but spend a small amount of time and effort preparing for the worst.