Well, here it is. The first post of this blog. I wondered for a while how I should start this, what sort of introduction I should make. But then I decided to just go with it, that the best introduction would be an example. So here it is. For the record, many of the stylistic points and stands I take below are common to me. I am a generally tolerant and open-minded person, but cannot stand ignorance or fear-mongering in any form, intentional or otherwise and cannot stand the manipulation or disrespect to others in the name of one’s own goals. So here I go.
Fox News is something of a joke to those that are not regular serious viewers of the channel. I am not one of those people. Rather, I find Fox quite laughable, on the days where the idea that somebody is taking seriously what they just said doesn’t terrify me (not all that often). On Oct. 11 the channel interviewed a Dr. Gil Mobley on his opinion of the CDC’s response to the Ebola outbreak in West Africa. As someone of fair scientific literacy and a mind for the world, I have been observing this crisis as best I can without cringing, primarily at the reactions of the world public and their governments, or perhaps more accurately, the lack thereof. The whole affair rather reminds me of Hurricane Katrina. Did you know that a week before Hurricane Katrina made landfall in the United States the US Navy requested permission from President Bush to start moving their response assets into place to help with the recovery efforts after the hurricane had passed? Units like the USS Iwo Jima, an amphibious assault ship that could support dozens of helicopters and serve as a mobile hospital and fuel station for helicopters in the region. Units like the USNS Comfort, a hospital ship that wasn’t allowed to begin preparing for a deployment to New Orleans and the surrounding area until after Katrina had made landfall, despite the Navy’s direct request otherwise. And Dr. Mobley’s interview, to me, represents everything presently wrong with this Ebola epidemic, primarily with the hysterical response to the disease, the mass media’s tendency to generate hysteria, and the idiocy of the general public, seemingly more willing to play ostrich and stick our heads in the sand until the problem blows over, a few dozen million people dead to boot.
What on earth does that have to do with Ebola? Well the CDC has been monitoring the outbreak since it began months ago. They’re released dozens of alerts and warnings about the disease, and made requests of the world governments to intervene to prevent the crisis from becoming more severe. Their requests were denied until of late. Why didn’t the CDC do more you say? Well let me clear something up for you, something the media and a surprising portion of the medical community, ones the news outlets are finding in droves, much to my surprise, can’t quite seem to get straight. The CDC is a research organization. First and foremost they conduct research, whether that is the surveys on national obesity they release, or biological research in their advanced laboratories on diseases posing an imminent threat or interest to the institute or the nation. They are not policy-makers and they are not enforcers or a reaction force to anything. Let me repeat that just to be clear. THEY ARE NOT ENFORCERS OR A REACTION FORCE TO ANYTHING. Yes, right now the CDC has its personnel in Africa aiding the embattled international aid workers there. They’re the experts. The CDC is one of the leading global public health institutes. They are one of the most respected organs of the American government abroad because the CDC does its very best to focus on science and helping and/or saving lives and avoiding politics.
Now to the dear fool Dr. Mobley. Let me repeat that fear-mongering is not something exactly inclined to warming my heart. It disgusts me at best, and enrages me at worst, and that is what Dr. Mobley did on his interview with Fox. I am extremely disappointed in the American media of the last few years. I understand that if it bleeds, it leads, but being sensationalist in the name of viewership is downright disrespectful to your viewers. So I am going to go through this entire four-minute sequence as carefully and as rationally as I can (no promises about being emotionless here folks. I do tend to use powerful language to convey my points.) For those interested in the original interview, here is where it is on the Fox website – http://video.foxnews.com/v/3834246341001/dr-gil-mobley-on-why-the-cdc-is-lying-about-ebola/#sp=show-clips
Let’s start with that headline. The CDC is ‘lying’ about Ebola. I’ve watched this video several times now, more than I’d normally like to but for this post. Dr. Mobley never uses those words, and he never even insinuates that the CDC is lying about anything. Somehow I think the good doctor if he had the sense he was born with, which judging by his comments on the issue he may not, would object to that headline. Next is about 16 seconds of snippet from the current Director of the CDC, Dr. Tom Frieden. I am a serious objector to many of Fox’s news practices, including the tendency to display graphs without units and edit pieces of interview without care for the intent of the speaker or for context. Here I have a link, ironically enough to an article Dr. Frieden wrote for Fox, about why a travel ban is a bad idea – http://www.foxnews.com/opinion/2014/10/09/cdc-chief-why-dont-support-travel-ban-to-combat-ebola-outbreak/ . I’ll summarize some of his basic points here. The first point, I can’t help but quote Princess Leia from Episode IV (of Star Wars. For those of you reading this that aren’t nerds, you’re going to get a crash course in nerddom. Emphasis on crash). “The more you tighten your grip, Moff, the more star systems will slip through your fingers.” Isolating several million people on a portion of the poorest continent in the world is not only impractical, which it is on a truly phenomenal level, but ineffective. As the director goes on to point out, beyond all the issues of what that isolation would cause on the ground (mass hysteria, more victims all isolated with the diseased, impracticality of the response, likely negative local response to the Westerners still trying to do something useful), that’s not how you respond to an infectious disease anyway. Now, on to the interview.
“Is that enough to stop the virus from coming into your community?” Why do we need to be hooked by a sentence like that? Isn’t the prospect of thousands, if not millions, of people dying elsewhere in the world, primarily because they are not as fortunate and in as industrialized a country as we are, enough to rouse our moral fiber and take up efforts against this pathogen? Or is America too apathetic these days to concern itself with the right of the world, and its own long-term interests, in the name or short-sighted, self-obsessed isolationism? It’s in Africa, let them handle it right? Wrong. Not only does Ebola represent a long-term threat to the United States of America it allowed to savage West Africa unchecked, but I for one still believe in a kind of noblesse oblige. We can do something, without a too great risk to ourselves, so we should, in the name of those who cannot help themselves. For those of you unfamiliar with this concept, it goes by, among other names, being a good neighbor, and doing the right thing.
Next, the host (I don’t watch Fox, I have no idea what her name is), mentions that Dr. Mobley thinks that the CDC needs to do more. Let’s go back a couple paragraphs, in case you folks have already forgotten what I already mentioned (yes, I know you as a good reader remember, but point reinforcement never hurt anyone that lived to tell the tale about it). THE CDC IS A RESEARCH ORGANIZATION. They don’t respond to incidents, whether that incident is a global pandemic, or a particularly obese town skewing their statistics. They advise. That’s their job. That also, by the way, in case you’re not paying attention, is what they’re been doing. News flash, it’s not CDC personnel conducting the new temperature screenings at airports. They don’t have the manpower for that. The CDC advised the other federal and state agencies, and they have implemented the airport screenings themselves. As far as Mobley’s case of getting a message out, let me know when Fox releases an interview with an apocalypse prepper, or someone with real credentials trying to calm this absurd panic. The former should be fairly soon, I expect sometime in the vicinity of never for the latter.
Next, “we need to increase vigilance.” Let’s have a gander at Ebola symptoms. Fever, headache, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea (on a tangent, who the hell invented the spelling for diarrhea, it’s absurd), blood in the previous two, and bleeding from various orifices on the body, or blood when you cough. Of the above, what can we be extra vigilant for? I would like to think, as lax as the TSA can be, that their agents will notice someone bleeding out of their eyeballs. What can we screen for, really screen for? The only practical answer: fever. Oh, wait, what is the CDC already recommending and what are the airports screening for? That’s right, fever. HMMMM.
Next, ten thousand fly out daily. Those airports are already being screened as rigorously as they are here. Dr. Mobley you are recommending that a farmer check his crop of potatoes on the way to market for corn ears, and then have the farmer’s market authorities double check once he arrives. Yes, cases like Thomas Duncan will slip through the net. That is a risk, but one far outweighed as I have already explained, by the cost of a travel ban, which I will go into further detail of in a moment.
Dr. Mobley, about those procedures and protocols. The CDC as a matter of fact has actually published a number of documents concerning that. If you’re interested, wander over to the website and navigate to the Ebola section, and take a gander through all they’ve released on the matter – http://www.cdc.gov/vhf/ebola/index.html for those that care. The CDC has all of that information on the public record. If I make another analogy, you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink. According to you, that poor fellow that brought the horse to water is trying to kill it with dehydration. Lovely logic there sir. I cannot wait for more of your infinite wisdom.
Again with demanding of the CDC to do more that is not in fact their responsibility. Did you consider sir, that that biological waster you referred to was being held separately until the CDC could ensure that it would be destroyed with all the necessary precautions and not chance of an escaping contaminant. You say Thomas Duncan’s family “sloshed around” in the blood, feces and urine of the dying man for a week. Those are the three primary vectors of transmission for Ebola. Why then, if what you say there is true, have none of them been admitted with a positive case of Ebola? Ebola is a fast, aggressive disease that literally disassembles your tissues, but it doesn’t make you lose control of your bodily functions. Do not insult a dead man this way sir. It ought to be beneath a medical man such as yourself to stoop to such tactics, although your fear-mongering proves otherwise. For the fever-screening in American airports, that is redundant at best. Any case that manifests itself in the bare hours of a transatlantic flight is not going to accelerate enough for detection on the other side. Fever is the body’s reaction to disease, not an effect of the disease itself. It’s not going to happen that quickly, not well enough for us to detect it. The CDC was right, the screenings at the airports are cumbersome and almost useless. They are only capitulating to the ridiculousness within the US public being whipped up by idiots like yourself.
“Mankind is threatened if this epidemic turns into a pandemic.” Let me tell you, sir, why we are now being forced to seriously consider that possibility. We are being forced to consider that possibility because the world governments chose to ignore the agencies they put in place to warn them of events like this outbreak. If you put your headphones in your ears and crank up the volume when the fire alarm goes off, I for one will have little sympathy for you personally when you are badly burned or die in that fire. We are forced to consider that possibility because armchair epidemiologists such as yourself are whipping up mass hysteria, something we very much do not need right now to properly contain this disease. You demand that the CDC take action within the United States. I have a suggestion for you sir. Consider for even a single moment that the CDC is already doing exactly what they need to. The disease is not here yet, defenses are in place to prevent its arrival, and further defenses are being constructed should it slip past the outer ones. That means primarily education and the maintenance of public order. Loudmouth assholes such as yourself, sir, are actively prohibiting forward progress in both of those fronts. If you want the CDC to do something, get out of their way and let them do it, dammit.
Quite frankly, sir, the rest of your discussion is laughable. You make Ebola sound like something out the Hollywood thriller Contagion (an excellent movie, but not for its science, which is though better than par). One of the first tenets of emergency response is not make a bad situation worse, quite correct. So how in the name of God and all that is holy is keeping Ebola out of the hospitals going to help? Shall we keep the patients at home with their families, where the equipment to help keep them alive while they fight this disease is not available? Ebola is not airborne, something that many people cannot seem to wrap their narrow minds around. Let me repeat that, this is not the flu, Ebola is not an airborne contagion. Its lifetime outside the human body can be measured in the single digits of hours on a good day. If it was, and we keep it outside the hospitals, we damn everyone who comes near the ill to this terrible disease. Ebola needs to go into the hospitals. The standard anti-infection procedures for dangerous diseases work here, they just cannot be allowed to be breached. That nurse for Duncan that is now ill suffered an extreme breach of protocol. That she was infected is no real surprise to anyone. Let me refer you again to the CDC Director, Dr. Frieden, and the thoughts encapsulated here – http://blogs.cdc.gov/cdcdirector/2014/08/10/the-truth-about-ebola-us-risks-and-how-to-stop-it/ . Sir, Ebola will only become as dangerous as you claim if we follow your frankly moronic suggestions. You say we need to call out the National Guard, declare a national State of Emergency. Sir, Ebola isn’t here. The government isn’t planning on unleashing it here for some program of racial cleansing. Your actions will place more people in harm’s way, both Ebola’s path and the path of the national panic you seem so blissfully unaware your remarks will cause. If you see the house down the street on fire, you do not call the fire department to your home. You send them to the fire, and you go and you aid both them and the family that is suffering the tragedy as best you can. No, you do not put yourself unnecessarily in harm’s way by leaping into the fire, but neither do you let that family die and insist that the fire department deploy its engines to protect you from that stray ember the size of my fingernail that can’t cause any real damage, especially when you consider that that ember wouldn’t have reached you, had the fire department fought the fire instead of twiddling their thumbs while they wait for you to pull your head out of your ass.
And your final point, a motion through the general public that can’t find it in itself to listen to the same CDC they are demanding do something, a travel ban. I’m not going to waste my time or keystrokes rehashing all of Dr. Frieden’s sound reasoning as to why that’s a God-awful stupid idea. I’m simply going to follow your logic to its natural conclusion. Let’s say we quarantine the three affected countries. Ban all travel in and out of the countries. Firstly, you are condemning the healthy people in your quarantine to a vastly greater chance of catching the disease, since they cannot escape. Second, you will cause a humanitarian crisis as food supplies and public utilities come to a crashing halt. Next, if you ban all travel in and out of the country, you suggest using military flights to get people and supplies in and out of the area. The military has other responsibilities than play chauffeur for your pampered ass, not that you would ever leave the safety of your living room to help these people. And finally, if Ebola is really as infectious and dangerous as you claim it is, clearly we cannot run any risks of anyone breaching the quarantine. So here’s the only safe way to do that. Predator drones armed with missiles patrolling the land borders, killing any human crossing in either direction without warning. Which by the way if we were to combine all of the military ground-attack assets of the US Army and US Air Force, we still wouldn’t have enough units for a proper blanket of the border. Any outbound aircraft must be destroyed to prevent the least possibility of an escaping infected, which by the way, trapped as they are, they will try. So any leaving aircraft must be shot down and any aircraft that land within the quarantine must be left there. And just in case they try to leave by sea, the Navy can deploy its new LCSs to destroy all boats or ships trying to leave the quarantined coasts, without warning, not that we have enough ships to do that either. Beyond the immorality of that, beyond the immense impracticality that essentially says that is impossible, this cannot be done because eventually it (Ebola) might escape. So we must cleanse the entire region with fire, to kill all the pathogen. Here’s how, a wave of thermonuclear detonations, utterly annihilating that section of the continent of Africa. Is that what you want sir? Is it really? Because it’s what you’re suggesting. As the director eloquently put it, for every complex problem, there’s a solution that’s quick, easy and wrong. Building a wall, either around us or around them is wrong. It will not work. The protocols in place right now are working. We are making progress. But as a world we are not doing enough. We need more personnel and we need more resources dedicated to eradicating this threat to us all. That is what those troops were sent by the President to do. To be more sets of gloves, more eyes, and more willing people to help the infected and teach the rest. For now, the global response to the threat has been too little, too late. So why, if you are so worried about this issue, you stop pandering to the populists, you stop inciting hysteria and you start doing something useful? Go work over there yourself, God forbid you do something as altruistic as helping another man in need, or even help the CDC’s efforts to ramp up the global response to meet the need Ebola is becoming, and growing by the day faster than the response is. If you do nothing else, get out of the goddamn way of those who will do something.
For those interested in more correct information, the links buried above are good. Below they are all repeated for good measure, with a couple more. Enjoy. And for those of you concerned by the lack of absolute language by the CDC, do not take it as a lack of ability to do exactly what they say they will do. They are trying to account for the fact that we live in an imperfect world we understand imperfectly. We do not know how this will play out, and the CDC is covering its bases. It’s not covering its political ass, it is defending itself from those without the education, or the personal brain capacity to understand the above and properly respond to their advice and counsel concerning the epidemic.
CDC Ebola central Web hub – http://www.cdc.gov/vhf/ebola/index.html
Some notes from Dr. Frieden – http://blogs.cdc.gov/cdcdirector/2014/10/02/why-u-s-can-stop-ebola-in-its-tracks/
Dr. Frieden’s article for Fox – http://www.foxnews.com/opinion/2014/10/09/cdc-chief-why-dont-support-travel-ban-to-combat-ebola-outbreak/