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October 15, 2014

The Washington Post's Hacktastic Plum Line: America's Fears About Ebola Are Just Due to Media Scare-Mongering

The Democrat-Media Complex is blaming the Democratic-Media Complex for the allegedly undue panic about ebola.

Reliable Democrat spinner Paul Waldman at the Plum Line says "Congratulations, media," about the public's fear of ebola, then makes the case that heck, only two people have gotten Ebola in the US so far, and twenty four people have been struck by lightning so far this year alone.

Yeah here's the problem with that: Lightning strikes are not prone to exponential increase the way that an epidemic is. Lightning strikes are a stable phenomenon.

Lightning strikes are not doubling every three weeks as they are in West Africa.

The Secretary General of the UN stated:

The Ebola crisis has evolved into a complex emergency, with significant political, social, economic, humanitarian and security dimensions. The suffering and spillover effects in the region and beyond demand the attention of the entire world. Ebola matters to us all. The outbreak is the largest the world has ever seen. The number of cases is doubling every three weeks. There will soon be more cases in Liberia alone than in the four-decade history of the disease. In the three most affected countries -- Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone -- the disease is destroying health systems. More people are now dying in Liberia from treatable ailments and common medical conditions than from Ebola.

...


The gravity and scale of the situation now require a level of international action unprecedented for a health emergency.

And, actually, we've had the first doubling in America these past two weeks too. Yes, it is a minor doubling, from one to two, but you cannot proceed to four, nor eight, nor 16, nor 32, without that first doubling.

One could expect the "doubling rate" in America to be slower than in Liberia. Liberians apparently have cultural practices that make the spread of the disease easier, such as the touching of the dead. Then again, I'm pretty sure the word has gotten out in Liberia -- do not touch the dead -- and yet the doubling continues.

Liberia doesn't have the health care system we do, sure. So again, we could expect the doubling rate to be slower.

But it is the nature of epidemics to double, even if slowly. And it doesn't take many doublings at all to get to truly staggering numbers -- by the twentieth doubling, two becomes just over one million.

WHO, by the way, says to expect 10,000 new ebola cases a week in West Africa.

I don't think the American people are wrong to take a serious health risk seriously. I also don't think they're panicking -- I think they're alarmed, as they should be.

Paul Waldman seems to take the fact that 67% of the public wants a travel ban from West Africa as a sign of panic, and then notes "experts say" such a ban could make things worse.

It seems to me that Paul Waldman concludes the public is in an unnecessary and irrational panic based on having a different position on a Travel Ban than Obama.

This is the same position that Obama Zealots always take: If you disagree with Obama, you are guilty of some sort of defect in thinking, whether it is "racism," "hating women," or, now, being irrationally afraid of the outbreak of a disease well into its exponential doubling phase and which kills 50% of people infected with it.

There is some cost to a travel ban. The possibility exists that West Africans will feel abandoned, and simply begin fleeing their countries for other countries, in order to escape the plague. When people's lives are threatened by invading armies, Boko Haram, or plague, they will in fact do what all animals are programmed to do: Flee for their lives.

Obviously many of the people fleeing to escape ebola will already, unbeknowst to them (but possibly suspected by them), already have ebola.

And then this flight from West Africa would spread the disease to most of Africa and, within days, Europe and the US and maybe even Asia.

While this is a possibility, several things must be observed:

1, we have US troops over there -- putting their lives at risk, and when I say "at risk," I mean that some number of them will definitely die from ebola -- attempting to contain and treat the disease at its current epidemic sites. This is not "abandoning" West Africa.

2, Liberia declared a three day national "shut down" in order to keep people in their homes to keep the disease from spreading. Let me postulate that the panic which prompts a mass exodus from West Africa is very nearly upon us, and, when that begins to happen, it would be useful to have a travel ban preventing it.

The flight from plague seems, at this point, inevitable, given that we are unable to contain the disease or slow its doublings.

And one does not need to be irrationally consumed with fear by a scare-mongering cable news environment to see the obvious usefulness of a travel ban from West Africa when quite rational panic strikes the citizens of these countries.

Yes, such a move basically says, "We value our own lives more than yours, and certainly more than your right to travel freely to a (mostly) uninfected country."

But this is not irrational at all.* The mere fact that Obama disagrees with a proposition does not make it "racist" or "irrational."

And further, this seems to be a very small potential contributor to West African panic. A much more pronounced contributor is the fact that ebola is doubling every three weeks and killing thousands. Soon it might well be killing tens of thousands at a steady clip.

Perhaps Obama's most stalwart defenders might one day examine this basic assumption -- that Obama is perfectly rational and has perfect judgment in all matters, and anyone who disagrees with him must then be irrational -- that underlies, it seems, almost all of their political thinking.

And perhaps, too, Obama's stalwarts might also consider that sometimes there are more important things than propping up Obama's political position.

Perhaps they should read my old post on The MacGuffinization of American Politics. "Political thought" should contain more than the crude, childish idea that Obama is the Hero, and the Hero Is Always Right, and therefore the Hero Should Always Triumph.


* In dire circumstances, people think about their own lives and not the hypothetical risk to others. I don't consider Thomas Eric Duncan's flight to the US "irrational." He knew he was at serious risk of having ebola -- he had handled an ebola victim who then died from ebola -- but, that risk notwithstanding, he came to the US and transmitted ebola to a nurse who was trying to help him.

This is not irrational. He put us at risk, but it was not irrational of him to do so. Thomas Eric Duncan had a very rational idea: "I'm getting the hell out of ebola-ravaged Liberia, no matter what the costs. I'm going to the US, which doesn't have much ebola, and which has better health care."

More people will have this very rational idea. In fact, the number of people who have this idea can also be expected to begin doubling at some rate as the spread of the disease doubles.

And just as it was not irrational for Thomas Eric Duncan to prize his life above that of the nurse who treated him and even his family, it is not "irrational" for US citizens to prize their own lives and safety over that of Liberians.


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posted by Ace at 12:43 PM

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