Panic! Don’t Panic! Umm, We’re Not Sure

I think we have lost our collective minds. If it weren’t so sad, it would be kind of funny. Talk about a lack of moral fiber. I am talking about Ebola and Terrorism (if you think it was terrorism). First we have the total panic about Ebola. MY GOD! IT’S IN OUR COUNTRY. WE ARE ALL GOING TO DIE!

Then cooler heads prevailed and after much stumbling around, we get control of everything and quarantine the appropriate people while the professionals explain to us how hard it is to get the disease (which it is). Things calm down and then we find out the perfect hospital has an infected nurse.

SHE HAD PROTECTION AND STILL GOT SICK! WE ARE ALL GOING TO DIE. Then we find things are not so perfect in the hospital, the CDC protocol needs adjustment, and nobody was trained with hands on training (here, read this). Then we find out another nurse has traveled to Ohio and on the return flight she had a slight fever (symptomatic) and the CDC said fly. She has Ebola.

WE ARE ALL GOING TO DIE! CLEVELAND OHIO IS DOOMED. BURN THE PLANE. (Oh and I forgot, EMBARGO ALL FLIGHTS FROM AFRICA (except there aren’t any and nobody can figure out how that would work). Okay, the dust settles. We institute screening at airports to make sure no one is symptomatic, but doesn’t really keep Ebola out if you are not yet. Of course you are not infectious yet, but we are going to forget that soon.

So now no one else comes down with it. We start to calm down. Maybe the doctors are right, it is hard to catch this thing until people are really sick. CDC seems to get their stuff together, some people are healing, Duncan’s girl friend comes out of quarantine. We are going to get through this.

TERRORISM STIKES CANADA! ISIS HAS INFILTRATED CANADA AND TURNED ON THEIR SLEEPERS! WE ARE ALL GOING TO DIE. SEAL THE SOUTHERN BORDERS! Except it looks like this guy is a whack job who found Islam a good excuse as any. And the other guy running down soldiers in the parking lot is another whack job. Oh and there is a hatchet attack.

ISIS IS EVERYWHERE AND LOGGING INTO THEIR SITES ON THE WEB WILL TURN YOU INTO A ZOMBIE FOR GOD! But it turns out we are panicking and these are just disturbed people looking for an excuse to act out, not some plot against the sovereignty of Canada. But ISIS takes credit for it anyway since both sovereign leaders still claim it is terrorism.

A doctor just back from Africa rides the subway and bowls and then comes down Ebola. EBOLA IS EVERYWHERE! IT’S ON THE SUBWAY! IT’S IN THE BOWLING ALLEY (not to mention his rental shoes)! WE ARE ALL GOING TO DIE! How could a doctor who treated Ebola patients and has no symptoms (and is not infectious) bowl and ride a subway? We have completely forgotten that it is very hard to catch. We are panicking again and enter the politicians.

Governor’s Cuomo and Christie declare that anyone treating or in contact with Ebola stricken people will be in a mandatory quarantine for 21 days. So we don’t need no stink’in CDC, we will make decisions based on fear and the lowest common denominator in a state by state basis. We don’t care that this policy may be counterproductive in that it will protect no one, and may be a deterrent to going to Africa and fighting the real fight.

WE ARE FUCKING MORONS! I hope we are never invaded by Martians or this country is going to be a real mess. Do you have your own defendable space?

Beer Tasting Dinner and Conservatives

Last night I attended one of my favorite events, a beer and food pairing event at a local resturant in Folsom (Land and Ocean). Now generally speaking in social environments I stay away from politics, mostly because it is impossible to have a rational discussion about issues when generally those I run into haven’t a clue about the facts and certainly don’t want to be distracted by them. They have their facts and I have mine. But it is funny how conservatives let you know they hate government in casual conversation.

I was there with my brother-in-law and we were seated at a table for two next to other tables for two so conversation among tables was only natural. We introduced ourselves to the couple next to us and in the ensuing conversation we recognized that all of us were retired.

Then the subject of Medicare came up and the lady part of the couple informed me that Obamacare was just ruining her life with high costs until she could qualify for Medicare. I could have sworn by looking at her that she had been eligible (age) for many many years.

Then she let us know that most of the people who had signed up for Obamacare in California had not paid their premiums to which my brother-in-law replied that then there were a lot of people without medical coverage.

The impression being left was that big government was fucking up her world, Obamacare was a fraud, and Medicare was her savior. Are you getting the drift here? Remember those FOX News claims that people were facing stiff raises in their insurance rates because of Obamacare, but when fact checked they could really save money if they had truly researched the plans that were available?

Remember the claims that the response was really poor and people weren’t actually paying their premiums? Remember when those Tea Party morons said get your government hands off my Medicare? I am living through a FOX News alternate reality experience. I just smiled at her, nodded, and sipped by beer. Facts in this situation would be like throwing kerosene on a burning fire.

Somewhere down the road she made a comment about how she had a friend (or maybe family member) who the government was harassing because he owned one of those for profit advanced education companies that was saving the world and the government was treating all for profit education schools poorly because of a few bad eggs, ripping off students.

Hmm. Apparently all those studies showing many of these schools were enrolling kids in classes and encouraging them to borrow up to their eyeballs promising a quick trip up the employment ladder and then left them high and dry when the government loans ran out was lost on her. One would think it would be prudent of the government to make sure these kids were getting a fair shake before passing out our money. But I just smiled and sipped my beer.

But we weren’t through kicking government when it was down. She then launched on the CDC and their allowing the nurse to travel. Now she did have a point here, but I had all I could take of government bashing and I pointed out that the CDC could only make recommendations, not regulate. That was up to the state regulatory agencies and they were all trying to figure out what the rules were.

I also pointed out that the current CDC protocols at the time said that if a care giver was in fully prescribed protective gear, travel was not restricted (something that should have been reviewed when the 1st nurse came down with Ebola). So they were wrong, but going by the book. Shocked stares of indignation. So I threw in that if we had a single payer healthcare system we would all be better off. Well that sealed my fate. They were seating next to some wild eyed, half crazed liberal.

But the beer pairing was excellent and the food and beer was not affected by passing through the portal to the Republican fact free zone. I just have to wonder why these ideas have to be thrust on the rest of us as though they are facts and we know right away where they stand. Whatever happened to the art of conversation and wit? Long gone I guess. It’s kind of like being with religious people. There is a basic assumption that you must believe as they do, and you are wondering if they ever question any of their assumptions or are you just supposed to be part of the echo chamber?

The Republican Muddle

Timothy Egan has written a wonderful op-ed piece in the NYT about how the Supreme Court has given our country away to the rich and unidentified corporate contributors, resulting in our loss of interest in the elections. In one great passage he says:

What’s not to hate? Start with the politicians on the ballot: a surfeit of dim-bulb partisans pledged to further gridlock. (See McConnell, future Senate majority leader.) But, beyond disdain for this singular crop of do-nothings, the revulsion is generated by a sense that average people have lost control of one of the last things that citizens should be able to control — the election itself.

Paul Krugman weighed in this morning with a comparison of the attempt in Hong Kong to control the election with how the Republicans are trying to suppress the vote to keep the wealthy empowered:

For the political right has always been uncomfortable with democracy. No matter how well conservatives do in elections, no matter how thoroughly free-market ideology dominates discourse, there is always an undercurrent of fear that the great unwashed will vote in left-wingers who will tax the rich, hand out largess to the poor, and destroy the economy.

So to control the masses the Right wing does four things:

One answer is propaganda: tell voters, often and loudly, that taxing the rich and helping the poor will cause economic disaster, while cutting taxes on “job creators” will create prosperity for all. There’s a reason conservative faith in the magic of tax cuts persists no matter how many times such prophecies fail (as is happening right now in Kansas): There’s a lavishly funded industry of think tanks and media organizations dedicated to promoting and preserving that faith.

Another is divide and conquer, “… government aid just goes to Those People, don’t you know. And besides, liberals are snooty elitists who hate America. A third answer is to make sure government programs fail, or never come into existence, so that voters never learn that things could be different. And then there is voter suppression, “Don’t let the bottom half, or maybe even the bottom 90 percent, vote.

Depressing isn’t it. It is so obvious and yet the average voter is either blind or befuddled. And it seems to be working at least in this election. But I have hope. You know that old saying that George the Second screwed up, “You can fool all of the people some of the time, and some of the people all of the time, but you cant fool all the people all of the time” (Abraham Lincoln)?

Well if the Republicans take charge, their failed policies will just make things worse for most of us, gridlock and rediculous legislation will result, and the Kansas experiment will be extended to the nation. Maybe then in 2016 it will be a wakeup call for all those of you that didn’t vote in 2014 and did not understand the stakes.

Intolerance, Extremism, Radicalization, Jihadism, and Islam

I have been thinking about the “terrorist” incident yesterday that I am still having a hard time seeing as terrorism. To me it is more like a nut cake acting out. I guess in the pure sense it could be considered terrorism, but then I would have to consider a school shooting along with a drive-by in LA terrorism. From the 9/11 sense of terrorism, I think we are way over reacting.

Now the latest fear theory being pushed by the press is that this could be the mobilization of disenchanted and radicalized individuals to do individual acts of violence in the name of Islam and ISIS. They get sucked in by the internet and seduced into fighting the cause of righting justice for Islam. If that were true in a global sense, we should all be running around in capes trying to make the world a better place after having spent our childhood with comicbook superheroes. Oh, and girls would still be wearing pointy bras.

I think these are random acts of very disturbed and ineffectual people. So what is the link to Islam? Take someone who is feeling total isolation from the rest of us. Someone who sees themselves as total failures. Someone who is screaming to feel like they matter. And then along comes some propaganda that tells them that the life they feel estranged from is evil, and that they, only they can save the world, and you have a soldier of god.

Now there are a couple of questions here. Is this Islam? No, it’s religion. On a mission from God waives all kinds of normal inhibitions. The ISIS form of Islam is a warrior view of the religion that fits a very disturbed mentality. Do you remember the Crusades. We went down this road ourselves in the Dark Ages. I think the ISIS form of Islam is just a convenient vehicle for badly damaged people*.

So then the critical question becomes who in their right mind would buy into this stuff? Let’s see, lack of empathy, check. Intolerance, check. Suspension of reality, check. Men as the superior class, check. Cruelty, check. Us against them, check. Justice, fairness, equality banished, check. Suspension of reality, check and double check.

So who are these people again? They have been with us all the time. Remember the two shooters at Columbine? Remember the cults and deprogramming? Remember the workplace shootings or the phrase going postal? It’s not new. And their mission from God gives their life meaning and purpose, albeit an unexamined and perverted one.

Yes there are some things we can do about it. Probably the most important is to change the way we talk to and treat other people. I think you can see that most of these people are isolated and yet connected to an ideology by the internet that gives them an outlet for their anger and a purpose for their lives. Treating people with respect gives them a sense of self worth they are missing. Treating people as the other, isolates and degrades them. Normal people living in normal communities will find less violent ways to act out their anger. Derange people disconnected from reality will go postal (in the name of God).

And maybe I am conflating the two, but I can’t help but think that our politics today is isolating more and more people. From the “define your own reality” of the right ignoring facts and science, to treating people as less than human, (47% are the takers), there is a whole atmosphere of intolerance and ignorance. These are the very grounds on which superstition and evil arose during the Inquisition. I can’t help but think in a culture where we think being rich somehow confers status and admiration, and less and less can share in that wealth through growing inequality, for the deranged, these are fertile grounds for acting out. But a plot to overthrow the nation? I think not.

*Teenagers are a whole other story. How could three girls get on a plane and head for Turkey to join the Taliban? Because they are idealistic and irrational teenagers. We want to treat them as adults but they are not and their brains are not fully formed. Probably the best lesson would be to let them go, but they are our children and the lesson could be lethal. Children, even teenagers, are not adults and parenting means being their parent not their friend until they have matured to where they won’t hurt themselves acting out.

Terrorism! Terrorism!

Okay, maybe I don’t have all the facts yet, but how can one nut job with a rifle be a terrorism event? Does that make every shooting in Detroit a terrorism event? I think we have a horrendous shooting in Canada by some deranged shooter, but terrorism? Are we under attack? Should we get in our Ebola suits and sit in the basement? Should we close our borders to Canada? OMG! OMG! Government will cease to exist!

If I decide to shoot xxxxxx, enter any name you would like, and I say I do it in the name of religion and perceived slights by the government, am I a terrorist or someone who belongs at the funny farm? We are massively overreacting to events, whether it is three cases of Ebola (and only one death) in this country, or a shooting of a poor soldier and an attack on a government building in Canada, that we are loosing our perspective. There are nut jobs everywhere. You needn’t look further than the halls of Congress to understand that.

What can we do about it? Not much. If this is an isolated nut job on a “mission from god” (sorry Blues Brothers), it is almost impossible to detect and while the damage they can do can be severe (See Timothy McVeigh), in the scheme of things, they do very little damage compared to smoking cigarettes, the flu, or the carnage on our highways. So instead of panicking and going into lockdown, lets take some reasonable steps to recognize deranged people in our mists, and move on.

Oh, and one other thing. Maybe if we started practicing a little civility, it would calm the atmosphere, and when someone is overly angry, they would stick out. Right now about half the population is mad as hell and not going to take it anymore so they are all suspect to going off like a roman candle.

Tyranny of the Minority

Here in California we have two projects going on which provide a useful lesson in change and progress. It’s damn hard. The first and probably more known project outside the state is the high speed rail project. Just to set the record straight, I am predisposed to liking high speed rail projects. I think depending on one system of transportation (air) to get around the state (other than your car) is, well, small minded. We are one of the last industrialized countries that have not developed this form of transportation (hell, even Mexico has one).

Well the voters authorized it way back when and there has been a steady drum of opposition, usually from the same folks who want to cut all budgets and think infrastructure for tomorrow’s economy will somehow just appear. So the weapon of choice is the court system. So what you see is lawsuit after lawsuit trying to delay the project or outright kill it and all they are doing is adding to the very costs they object to.

Now a project like high-speed rail is going to have its problems, from taking the land to build the tracks on, to the political deals for routing that secured its funding. But what amazes me is that small minds can’t quite seem to wrap their minds around the idea that progress and change cost money and the status quo like another lane on I-5 is not real progress (I-5 is the highway that runs north-south through the state). And the split on this is generally Democrats support it, and Republicans are against it. There is a reason they call them conservative.

But what about a case where the usual partisan divide is not present? That is my second example, the new basketball arena for the Sacramento Kings in downtown Sacramento. The project is supported by the majority once again, and relocating it downtown with easy light rail access solves many problems while rejuvenating the downtown area. Oh but wait, here come the lawsuits. They lost the popular vote so it is suit after suit (which they are losing) to try to slow down or stop the project, which is going full speed ahead.

My ambivalence here is that the court system is a two edged sword. It can be used to strike down such foolishness as Prop 8, the anti-gay marriage bill, and it can be used to build monumental roadblocks in real change and progress by the minority who fear it. I guess the lesson here is that if you want to do something really big, better have included a large budget to fight off the lawsuits from the disenchanted who don’t accept the implicit contract of democracy (note Prop 8 had lost all popular support and would have been changed at the polls without court action).

I wonder if Ike had that problem when he built the interstate highway system. Oh wait, he did it under the guise of fear Red China and Russia and we need to be able to ship things quickly to the West Coast. I guess my other nemesis, fear politics, is also a two edged sword. It’s an interesting world, isn’t it. Oh wait again! What if we convinced conservatives that ISIS with Ebola were crossing in Tijuana? Then high-speed rail would be a defense project and they would gladly fund that right?

Oh, one other thought. As long as we believe the courts are adjudicating based upon law and principle, I think we are going to be fine. But the Supreme Court of the land has started down a very political road that may set us back centuries and undermine the very system we look to for unbiased fairness under the law. That may be the Robert’s Courts legacy and we can thank conservatives for that.

We’re Number One!

“A groundbreaking cell-transplant surgery has let a paralyzed man walk again. Darek Fidyka, 40, was paralyzed in 2010 after being stabbed multiple times in the spine. In collaboration with London scientists, surgeons in Poland transplanted cells from Fidyka’s nasal cavity into his spinal cord. Scientists hoped that the cells would help fibers above and below his injury to reconnect, and they used nerve grafts to fill in the gap in his spinal cord. Two years after the surgery, Fidyka’s regained his ability to walk. It’s “more impressive than man walking on the moon,” said Prof. Geoff Raisman, who led the U.K. research team behind the surgery.”

Isn’t that one of those socialist medical system countries that have far inferior health care than ours? You might also ask what else Republicans have been lying to you about. I am channeling Molly Ivins.

Social Media

Specifically the Internet, Facebook, and Twitter. I am not a fan of Twitter, but it does have its uses. It is good for following trends. It is good for organizing (as well as texting). But if you have anything meaningful to say, it simply cannot be done in 146 characters unless you are being snarky or preaching to the choir. Most who use it and do have something meaningful to say link their tweet to a longer document somewhere else in cyberspace. In that vein, it is a useful notification tool for important discussions elsewhere, but real meaningful discussion cannot be on twitter.

Facebook has been a useful media for me. I like to keep touch with my friends and family. It can be a fun medium to share events even when you are not there. Yes there are problems with it when (and you know who I am talking about) it is used as a self-promoting tool. “See me, I am in the Hawaiian Isands.” “I been there, try x, or y.” When you are posting multiple pictures of yourself, you may be trending down that road.

And of course there are those political posts. Someone decides that all their friends need to be educated on some political idea or insight into human nature. I try to totally refrain from these kinds of posts on Facebook because I have this blog and it is voluntary, not automatically sent to people who don’t want to read it.

Same goes with religious messages. But from time to time when someone says something unbelievably stupid, and not supported by the facts, I try to send them links to help them understand that FOX talking points are not necessarily facts. It’s a waste of time, but I like to think of it as a subtle hint that these kinds of posts don’t belong here.

But the latest trend is to use Facebook to promote your business. Now it is one thing to have a business page (same with politics, it is okay to have a political page) because everyone who participates in that site accepts what it is. But when you start selling on your personal page, you have crossed the line. Now your posts about something you are selling is going out to people who like you as a person, not necessarily your products (or your politics or religion).

Sadly it cheapens you as person and your view of us as a friend when we become potential customers. And when enough of them appear, we start ignoring your posts. You are no longer that friend or family member we want to keep up with, but just another marketer with auto-dial.

I guess my point is fairly simple. The internet provided us with an amazing tool where we could connect with the world whether we are providing information, selling things, or being political. But it was a medium that involved choice of the participant. You have to decide to go to that site and it is not forced down your throat. Twitter came along as a short cut to writing and thinking deeply. But as noted, there are some valid uses. Facebook was wildly popular because it allowed us to connect to our friends and family almost as if we were with them.

But enter human foibles, and for some Facebook has become the center of selling, either of themselves, or some product, political or social. And in it, we loose our humanity because this selling is a one way street that does not respect the recipient. Like a telemarketer, you become the number in an autodial system instead of a respected friend. All good things come to an end I guess.

Non-Partisan News

I saw a promo for a new news show where the two guys were going to talk about sports and news and keep partisanship out of it. Did you ever really wonder what that means? I wonder what it means since mainstream media that tries to be non-partisan thinks that he said/she said news is non-partisan. Is repeating what one politician says without analysis non-partisan? If it is, truth has died and the world is full of opinions without facts.

I hate to break it to many out there, but much of the news reported as partisan because it presents the facts of an issue heavily on one side or the other, is not partisan if that is in fact what the truth is. Example, reporting that global warming exists or that there is no economically viable clean coal, while maybe politically inconvenient, is not partisan or taking a partisan side. It is the simple the truth as we know it.

Does reporting that the data shows that an air travel embargo for ebola has never worked and experts report it as counterproductive make you partisan? Because someone disagrees and because the facts are overwhelmingly against their position does not mean that to be non-partisan we have to give them equal time or not point out all the facts against them.

But sadly that is where we are in our media reporting where if there is one dissenting opinion based upon an alternate reality, it is reported with equal weight as the one with the science and data behind it. Is it partisan to point out that voter suppression is the primary purpose behind voter ID laws when the data is unequivocal? Yet it is reported as he said/she said and media that reports the facts (no real evidence of in-person voter fraud and real evidence these laws disenfranchise minorities) is considered partisan?

Partisan news is easy to spot. They pick and choose their facts or they just outright misrepresent them. See Fox News. But the news that looks at the facts and questions politicians whose facts do not stand the test of reality, well, they are called partisan if the facts are inconvenient to a political position. Of course doing that kind of reporting would require reporters who are actually knowledgable about the issues and the facts and they are hard to come by these days. And we wonder why people vote against their own best interests.

Facts Don’t Matter

An elementary school in New Jersey forced transfer students from Rwanda not to attend classes over Ebola fears. Rwanda hasn’t had one case of Ebola and it is 2,600 miles from the closest afflicted country in West Africa.

As CNN’s Candy Crowley furiously argued the Obama administration’s case in the Ebola outbreak, Texas senator Ted Cruz dismissed the expert advice coming from supporters of the federal response to the crisis.

‘The doctors who are saying this are working for the administration and repeating the administration’s talking points,” Cruz said on CNN’s State of the Union Sunday. “And their arguments don’t make sense.’”

Scott Brown told Fox News’ Brian Kilmeade Friday that Ebola wouldn’t be a problem for America if Mitt Romney had won in 2012.

“Gosh can you imagine if Mitt was the president right now?” Brown said. “He was right on Russia, he was right on Obamacare, he was right on the economy. And I guarantee you we would not be worrying about Ebola right now and, you know, worrying about our foreign policy screw ups.”

Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) and Fox News contributor George Will both made claims this weekend suggesting Ebola is spread more easily than the medical community and the Obama administration have led the public to believe — claims that did not sway the fact checkers.

On Fox News Sunday yesterday, Will alleged some scientists had said the virus could be spread via a sneeze or cough, effectively making the virus airborne in close quarters.

PunditFact rated the claim completely false, chiding Will for taking “medical commentary out of context”

I rest my case.