The Question That Needs to Be Asked of the Ebola Fear Mongers

It is this:

Have your had your flu shot?

Between norovirus and winter vomiting disease, we’re going to have a lot of false alarms, if the hysterical reaction to Ebola right now is any guide. The fewer people coming down with influenza, the less stress on our emergency rooms. So these bozos need to get their flu shots.

While we’re on the subject of assholes, how many of these ninnies do you think go to work still sick but on the mend and tell everyone, “I’m not contagious.” How the fuck do they know?

Posted in Fucking Morons, Influenza, Viruses | 1 Comment

Ebola and the Trauma of TV

In a recent column, David Brooks made a good point…

[throws up in mouth, rinses with water]

In a recent column, David Brooks mad a good point [cough, cough] about the role the constant news cycle plays in stoking fear and anguish over the Ebola epidemic:

Third, you’ve got the culture of instant news. It’s a weird phenomenon of the media age that, except in extreme circumstances, it is a lot scarier to follow an event on TV than it is to actually be there covering it. When you’re watching on TV, you only see the death and mayhem. But when you’re actually there, you see the broader context of everyday life going on alongside. Studies of the Boston Marathon bombing found that people who consumed a lot of news media during the first week suffered more stress than people who were actually there.

As someone who was out on Boylston Street very shortly after the second bomb at the Boston Marathon bombings went off, this jibes with my personal experience: having seen the carnage in person*, I decided not to watch news reports about the bombings (trust me, the video didn’t tell the half of it). While I was discombobulated for a couple of days (in part, because the FBI wouldn’t let my neighbors and me back into our homes, even as they allowed the first story restaurant in my building to operate on Tuesday–but that’s a separate story), I really didn’t seem to be screwed up about it as a lot of people who weren’t even there. I’m not going to tell people how they should or shouldn’t feel, but that intuitively felt a little odd.

Fortunately, we have science for when our intuition falters (boldface mine):

The relevance of indirect media exposure became apparent again after last April’s Boston marathon. In the days following the marathon bombings, my University of California, Irvine colleagues and I decided to replicate our 9/11 study and examine the impact of media exposure to the Boston Marathon bombings. We sought to look at all types of media: how much TV people watched, their exposure to disaster-related radio, print, and online news, and their use of social media like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Vimeo in the week following the bombings. We were especially interested in responses to social media coverage. Unlike traditional media that warn us about the gruesome nature of an image before showing it to us, social media typically display such images without warning.

We also wanted to compare responses to direct vs. indirect media exposure to the bombings—were these different ways of being “exposed” tied to more or less acute stress?

Two weeks after the bombings, we launched another web-based study with more than 4,600 people from all over the country—including nearly 850 people who were in Boston on the day of the bombing. As we expected, both direct exposure and indirect media exposure were linked to acute stress symptoms. However, the people who consumed lots of bombing-related media in the week after the bombings (six or more hours per day) were six times more likely to report high acute stress than those who were at the Boston Marathon. That is, indirect media exposure was associated with a wider range of acute stress-related symptoms—flashbacks, feeling anxious, wanting to avoid reminders of the bombings, etc.—than direct exposure to the bombings. Even when we took into account pre-existing mental illness or TV-watching habits that might draw people into media coverage, our findings did not change (Holman, Garfin, Silver, 2014).

The best thing that could happen to this country would be for all of the cable ‘news’ outlets to go under. Sure, there might be a persona or two you like (I’m guessing some readers are partial to Maddow or Hayes), but any benefits are vastly outweighed by the costs.

*And I didn’t get all of other people’s blood off of me and my clothes until about 24 hours later. Boring, if sad, story there. Suffice it to say, no good deed goes unpunished.

Posted in Boston, News Media | Leave a comment

Links 10/22/14

Links for you. Science:

Doing Diligence to Assess the Risks and Benefits of Life Sciences Gain-of-Function Research
In The Ebola Fight, A Defense Of Embattled CDC Chief Thomas Frieden (worth noting that if Texas Presbyterian hadn’t fucked up, we wouldn’t be having this discussion)
Budget cuts hurt USA’s ability to prepare for Ebola
An Ebola ‘Czar’ Won’t Stop Ebola. But What Can He Do? Czars and travel bans won’t prevent another Ebola case in the U.S.
If Airport Ebola Screening Makes You Feel Safer, You Should Know What Workers Are Saying (if we don’t protect all of the people who are the first points of contact, then we are not ‘bioprepared’)


The Making of Ferguson: Long before the shooting of Michael Brown, official racial-isolation policies primed Ferguson for this summer’s events. (long, but very good)
The many reasons millennials are shunning cars (another reason: driving is an awful experience today)
Riots Hit Kiev, Neofascists Hold Torch-Lit March In Ukraine
Alice Walton, The Villain (by the fruits of your labor, do they prosper)
Is This the Single Most Important Statistic About Millennials?
William Gibson Has No Idea How the Future Will See Us (I’m guessing ‘incredibly violent is somewhere on the list)
The Racist Housing Policies That Built Ferguson: The geography of America would be unrecognizable today without the race-based social engineering of the mid-20th century.
Syracuse University bravely saves students from exposure to journalism
Freezing Eggs Is an Extreme Example of How We’ve Privatized the Work/Family Clash
11 People Who Should Really Shut Up About Ebola
Grooming Students for A Lifetime of Surveillance (a little tin-foily in tone, but parents would be shocked to realize how much monitoring of their children’s habits goes on)
The GOP’s Dangerous Demagoguery on Ebola

Posted in Lotsa Links | Leave a comment

Louise Hand Laundry

Observed on 12th Street, between O and P, Logan Circle, D.C.:

Laundry house

You can read more about the history of the building here and here.

Posted in Architecture, DC | Leave a comment

The 100 Percent Fallacy and the Costs of Our Ebola Panic

Paul Waldman makes an excellent point about our Ebola hysteria–and it is a panic (boldface mine):

But Murphy is right in that Ebola is producing some of the same insane overreactions that terrorism did and continues to do. That “We have to be right 100 percent of the time” argument has been repeated a zillion times with regard to terrorism, and there are two problems with it. The first is that we don’t, actually. What if we were right 99 percent of the time? Then there might be a successful terrorist attack every once in a while. And then what? It would be awful, and the nation would survive. We don’t say we have to stop 100 percent of the 30,000 or so gun deaths in America each year, or that we have to prevent 100 percent of the medical errors that kill tens or hundreds of thousands of Americans every year, or that we have to prevent 100 percent of the excess deaths from respiratory illness due to power plant pollution.

On all those other things, which kill many more of us than terrorism ever will, we say, well, we’ll do what we can, but you have to balance preventing those deaths against other things that are also important to some of us. Sure, it’d be nice if we didn’t have so many gun deaths, but we don’t want to restrict people’s right to bear arms. It’d be great if fewer people got sick from dirty air, but we don’t want our electric bills going up. When you enter “100 percent” territory, all other considerations must be secondary.

The second problem with the “100 percent” argument is that it inevitably becomes the justification for all manner of policy excesses, including spending hundreds of billions of dollars to create an Orwellian national security state and abandoning all kinds of civil liberties. We need to keep records of everyone’s phone calls, because we have to be right 100 percent of the time. We need to know what books Americans take out of the library, because we have to be right 100 percent of the time. We need to invade Iraq, because we have to be right 100 percent of the time….

So why not close all the schools? And while we’re at it, stop all flights in and out of Texas and post Army units at the highways on the state’s border with shoot-to-kill orders on anyone trying to leave? After all, Ebola only has to be right once.

Waldman’s absolutely right. There are other costs too. First, some CDC personnel–who are already stretched thin–are being retasked to Ebola work. Second, we are now shifting funds from influenza vaccine research–and influenza kills thousands to tens of thousands annually in the U.S. alone–to Ebola vaccine research. That may very well be the right thing to do, but let’s not pretend that there won’t be costs from this down the road. If we limit contact with Africa (i.e., travel and trade restrictions), this could hurt our economy. I can’t even imagine, if we overreact, the chaos that will ensue once norovirus (‘winter vomiting disease’–it’s as fun as it sounds!) and influenza seasons begin (the initial symptoms of both diseases mirror those of Ebola).

Keep in mind that no one other than two healthcare workers who came in contact with Ebola patient Thomas Eric Duncan–while he was very ill and infectious–have contracted the disease. Not his family, not his fiancée–and it’s not clear that they received the best infection control support from the Dallas Department of Public Health (not that I blame Dallas DPH: between Texas Gov. Perry’s unwillingness to put resources in public health and our general lack of ‘biopreparedness’, they did pretty well). Lots of things went wrong: people traveled when they probably shouldn’t have, many medical personnel didn’t have adequate protection, and so on, yet there was no outbreak outside of the hospital.

We should keep that in mind before we freak out.

Posted in CDC, Public Health, Viruses | 2 Comments

Links 10/21/14

Links for you. Science:

Why Bats Are Such Good Hosts for Ebola and Other Deadly Diseases
Fight fear of Ebola with the facts (maybe infectious disease specialist Besser should have been CDC director instead?)
The Origami Condom and NIH Ebola funding
The CrowdFund Science Crowd Mistakes “An Experiment” for “Doing Science”
Skunk Works Reveals Compact Fusion Reactor Details: Lockheed Martin aims to develop compact reactor prototype in five years, production unit in 10


“Yes Means Yes” is a terrible law, and I completely support it
The War Nerd: Nobody could have predicted Islamic State’s retreat from Kobane (except me) (excellent)
Hospital turns to PR to fight Ebola (this is what happens when you let the CEO class control healthcare)
Paid Sick Days Benefit Worker and Employer
The Serious Problem With Obama’s Choice Of Ron Klain As Ebola Czar
World Health Organisation admits botching response to Ebola outbreak
A Peach Of A Problem
WHO Admits That It Failed Utterly In Its Response to Ebola
Dallas nurse Briana Aguirre: ‘We never talked about Ebola’ before Thomas Eric Duncan arrived
America’s Hollow Foreign Legions
#GamerGate is an attack on ethical journalism (I’m sticking with table top miniatures)
A Tale Of Two Silicon Valleys: Wage theft, billionaires, and the rest of us
The Best Evidence Against Common Core

Posted in Lotsa Links | 1 Comment

Loukanikos, Dog of Freedom, R.I.P.

We did have a soft spot for Louk, so we are greatly saddened by this announcement:

Like all legends, Loukanikos appeared out of nowhere. It was December 2008, and Athens had been in upheaval for two weeks after the killing of 15-year-old Alexandros Grigoropoulos by a police officer, who was subsequently found guilty of murder. Riots rocked the center of the city daily. It was a moment that politicized my entire generation, and as a simple observer on the day, I remember standing on the southwest corner of Syntagma Square, taking photos of the small clashes taking place in front of the parliament building and on the surrounding streets. As a police platoon started heading my way to retreat in the narrow streets around Athens’ shopping district behind me, I noticed a dog following them, barking at the heavily armored policemen.

I didn’t know it then, but that was Loukanikos. Lore had it that he hated cops, politicians and austerity, so he took to the streets again and again to make his point. Most will say he barked but would never bite, but some riot police shins would beg to differ. He would occasionally be seen carrying away tear gas canisters in his mouth. His courage got him a spot on Time magazine’s personality of the year list in 2011.

In memoriam:

Posted in Dogs | Leave a comment