Friday, October 24, 2014

Fear of Ebola

What if a lax immigration policy allowed numerous people carrying a deadly virus to enter the country? What if that virus had infected hundreds of children and killed seven? What if the CDC had nothing to say about it? What if the press did not cover it? What if no one noticed?

It’s not just because everyone is distracted by Ebola, but the arrival of Enterovirus D-68 has largely gone unreported.

Sharyl Attkisson has the story:

According to the latest update from CDC, at least 796 people in 46 states have been sickened with the respiratory illness that can cause paralysis from mid-August through October 16. The outbreak is likely more widespread than reported since some states are not lab testing all respiratory illnesses to confirm. Most cases are said to be mild.

The virus is not new to America, but the number of cases today is far greater than any we have seen before.

What accounts for the new cases? We do not know to a certainty, but the evidence suggests that the virus has been brought here by some of the Central American immigrant children who entered the nation this summer.

Attkisson explains:

Enteroviruses commonly circulate in the U.S. during summer and fall. EV-D68 was first identified in California in 1962. Over the past thirty years, only small numbers were reported in the U.S.

The CDC hasn’t suggested reasons for the current uptick or its origin. Without that answer, some question whether the disease is being spread by the presence of tens of thousands of illegal immigrant children from Central America admitted to the U.S. in the past year.

The origin could be entirely unrelated.          

However, a study published in Virology Journal, found EV-D68 among some of the 3,375 young, ill people tested in eight Latin American countries, including the Central American nations of El Salvador and Nicaragua, in 2013.

Though the U.S. government is keeping secret the locations of the illegal immigrant children, there are significant numbers of them in both cities in which the current outbreak was first identified, Kansas City, Missouri and Chicago, Illinois, according to local advocates and press reports.

The EV-D68 outbreak was first recognized after Children’s Mercy Hospital in Kansas City, Missouri notified CDC on August 19 of an increase in severe respiratory illnesses. Four days later, on August 23, the University of Chicago Medicine Comer Children’s Hospital notified CDC of a similar increase.

Why then are we so worried about Ebola and so unconcerned by EV-D68? It might have something to do with race, but it is also true that the causality is far clearer in the case of Ebola.

Ebola was never here. Now it is. EV-D68 has been here for some time. Now there are many more cases. And yet, it seems clear that far more people will contract EV-D68 than will come down with Ebola.

That raises the question: why the hysterical overreaction to Ebola?

David Brooks suggests that the cause lies in our cultural segmentation, which I would call our social anomie. He is too kind to say so, but those who have pushed the gospel of multiculturalism bear some responsibility for dividing the nation against itself. Some would add that the current administration has done a very good job here, too.

Brooks analyzes the problem and we shall examine his ideas.

First, he explains that American class distinctions have hardened. There is less social mobility, less interaction between people of different social classes, less marriage across class lines.

Grant that he is right. Is that the reason why people distrust scientific authority?

It might also be  that people might distrust science because there is too much scientism floating through the Zeitgeist. We are told that we must believe this or that because it is settled science. Every day brings new studies that prove definitively that this or that foodstuff will cause this or that biochemical reaction. And we are deluged with articles explaining that neuroscience has answered all of the great philosophical questions.

Obviously, these grandiose claims cannot be true. Science is always subject to doubt; science cannot answer metaphysical questions; and there is no such thing as a scientific fact about tomorrow.

One reason that people distrust scientific authority is that scientists have overplayed their hand.

Next, Brooks suggests that the hysteria about Ebola reflects a fear of globalization.

In his words:

Along comes Ebola, which is the perfect biological embodiment of what many fear about globalization. It is a dark insidious force from a mysterious place far away that seems to be able to spread uncontrollably and get into the intimate spheres of life back home.

Frankly, this doesn’t feel quite right. Surely, we can distinguish between free trade and immigration policy. If Americans are in despair about jobs moving out of the country, that does not feel like the same thing as being in despair about an incurable virus entering the country.

Surely, most people understand that the Obama administration’s open borders policy and its refusal to profile people who pose a greater risk to the population have created a situation where the nation is going to have an increasingly hard time assimilating new immigrants.

In the past America has succeeded at assimilating immigrants. As opposed to many other countries America offers immigrants the identity of being an American.

And yet, there are limits to how many people can be assimilated. If the government allows in more immigrants than can be easily assimilated they will disrupt the social order, producing the kind of segmentation that Brooks identifies.

Continuing, Brooks also blames the Ebola hysteria on the twenty-four hour news cycle. After all, the news business requires dramatic stories to engage the interest of the population. It is also true that many politicians welcome such crises because it gives them an opportunity to look as though they are in charge.

Finally, Brooks shares some of his reflections on death. He would have done better to keep them to himself.

In his words:

Fourth, you’ve got our culture’s tendency to distance itself from death. Philip Roth once wrote: “In every calm and reasonable person there is a hidden second person scared witless about death.” In cultures where death is more present, or at least dealt with more commonly, people are more familiar with that second person, and people can think a bit more clearly about risks of death in any given moment.

In cultures where people deal with death by simply getting it out of their minds, the prospect of sudden savage death, even if extremely unlikely, can arouse a mental fog of fear, and an unmoored and utopian desire to want to reduce the risk of early death to zero, all other considerations be damned.

Brooks does not seem to notice that Roth’s phrase—“scared witless”—is intended to be humorous.

To blame the nation for not thinking enough about death makes no sense whatever. Brooks seems to be counseling a more morbid frame of mind, a more Goth sensibility… but clearly this is not the problem.

The real issue is whether the people feel that the government and especially the president is working to protect them.

Brooks does not say so, but the national mood and the nation’s culture is defined by the president. These crises are Obama’s. They are his to manage. The national mood is a direct function of the fact that people have no confidence in his ability to do same.

People are in despair and anguish because they do not believe that the president cares about them. They do not believe that he wants to protect the American people. He seems to care more for ideas and votes.

They believe that he is willing to open the borders because he believes the certain classes of immigrants will be more likely to vote Democratic. And they believe that he has refused to close the nation to people from the Ebola-afflicted areas because it feels like profiling black people.

Similarly, Americans believe that Obama has not protected the nation sufficiently from terrorism. The Obama policy of refusing to call terrorism by its name feels cowardly. His policy of retreat in Iraq felt like surrender. Surely, the world’s terrorists know that he is a weak leader. They feel emboldened by the chance of defeating or humiliating the United States.

It feels like Obama is more afraid of offending Muslims than he wants to protect the American people from terrorism.


David Foster said...

I don't actually see any "Ebola hysteria." What I do see is media types accusing the public of Ebola hysteria.

Dennis said...

Wanting to know the how, what when where and why of ebola is NOT hysteria. It is what an informed person requires to be knowledgeable enough to make good decisions. This is just another example of those who would control us trying to make the average person into someone incapable of making their own decisions.

Sam L. said...

Can we trust anything in the NYT, given what we've seen them do? I think not.

n.n said...

The open borders, and Obama dispersing illegal aliens throughout the nation, undermines any effort to control security threats through quarantines.

Soviet of Washington said...

And then there are some competent people we should listen to. Like Michael Osterholm PhD, MPH – Director, University of Minnesota Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy (CIDRAP) here (~20 min long):

Some highlights:
1) "The more I study about Ebola, the less I know about it."
2) Everything we know about Ebola so far is based on a total of 2400 patients from the past 24 outbreaks over 40 years. The longest set of generations has been 5. (We are at 9000-20000 patients, and on generation 20-25 this time around).
3) People are never frightened by statements like "I don't know, but this is what I'm doing to learn." But they do get scared if you tell them A or B with certainty, and it doesn't happen; or if dueling experts tell you A and Z simultaneously.
4) We don't know what will really work. We should try everything we can. "I believe the only thing we can do today is continue to try the treatment bed approach, to try to do as much as we can to isolate infected individuals, and quarantine and so forth...we've gotta do what we can."
5) It's time to reconsider our response, and if we hadn't been so dogmatic about things we didn't know, that wouldn't be so hard.
6) There's no Plan "B". If West Africa is a gas can that was waiting for a match, the rest of Central Africa is a gasoline tanker waiting for a match, and nobody anywhere has a Plan B for what happens if this gets out further, and they're not even thinking about it. We need to start thinking about those answers now. Can we fight it on two fronts if it gets out? We can't even fight it on one front now.
7) I believe we can have an effective vaccine; but there's a big difference between getting a vaccine, and actually how and where we're going to make it, how we're going to get it there, and who's going to get it into Africans now. We need to imagine that Kinshasa is on fire tomorrow, and do all of these things at the same time, not doing one after the other.
8) We have a problem with couching things in certainty for which certainty does not exist.
9) Some Ebola patients don't present with fever, ever. Now is the time to tell people that, instead of waiting until that explodes, and the media asks you "Why didn't you tell us the complete truth?"
10) Aerosols are created, and research has indicated that with Ebola, airborne transmission has been observed between laboratory animal species. We shouldn't not tell people about this, because top Ebola virologists have studied this, seen it, and are very concerned about the possibility. What are we going to do ("Plan B") if we do have an airborne transmission, and we suddenly have a reason to be very concerned about airplane cabin transmission? We need to start making that plan before it's a problem.

Dennis said...

Soviet of Washington,

The same thing could be said about almost every other subject that is government/expert driven. My understanding of "science" is that it is never settled and always has more to be learned. That is why it is science otherwise it would be fact.
When one has something that is capable of mutation then perfect knowledge is not possible.
Sadly, those in academe and government have begun to believe that they are actually smarter than everyone else and that life would fail to exist without them when in many cases they are the ones who most endanger us by not recognizing that knowledge exists outside the "box" they have created for themselves. The only thing that "box" has created is walls that keep them from seeing the vast knowledge base that exists outside that "box."
This is not about politics it is about doing what is best for the citizens of this country. That they seem not to understand that is more of an indication that they are not intelligent or sage enough to be managing organizations that need to be dynamic and open to problem solutions no matter where they come.

Sam L. said...

On our dollar bill is printed "E Pluribus Unum". The left hates dollar bills as a signifier of capitalism, and EPU as a denier of multi-culti.

Ignatius Acton Chesterton OCD said...

I am disgusted with this Administration's politicization of border security in the firm of non-enforcement. What is the value of U.S. citizenship if people can come and go as they please? Did the White House really not consider the potential for a catastrophe in public health or terrorist infiltration? Yes, bipedal vectors and terrorists have always been able to get through our porous and extensive borders... we couldn't hope to patrol/police them effectively without a fence or militarization of our borders. However, did the Administration have to effectively encourage illegal entry by demonstrating indifference for border security from the White House press podium? It's effectively an invitation -- a welcome -- to illegal immigration without any screening for disease or wicked motivations. That is irresponsible. If we don't protect the integrity of our national borders, are we truly a nation? Do we value citizenship?

Malcolm said...

Interesting article regarding Ebola by Michael Fumento

Malcolm said...

The difference between US vs UK Ebola news coverage

Anonymous said...

POTUS has always been a mystery to me. In every way. Even much of the Left is confused now. He doesn't seem to like his job. Golly, 2 more years. -- Rich Lara