Well, that was ugly.

I had a long list of posts I wanted to put up here, and now that flow has been completely disrupted by the response to the Ebola post of two weeks ago. I stand by what I wrote, for the time in which I wrote it, and the mistakes I made- overlooking a number of good seroprevalence studies, some arithmetic errors- I have acknowledged. Can we be done talking about Ebola?

Here’s the thing- if you think that black or brown people are The Problem in world, will you please go fuck off and die? Its one thing to have to explain global health to people who don’t know where any African countries actually are on a map, or don’t anticipate the development level of a given region (hint- mud huts are pretty rare in Monrovia.) I get it. Americans are ignorant about the world; its what comes from having everything come to you. Its what comes from growing up in a society where your day-to-day survival is taken so much for granted that when I was 18 my friends were arguing about which film school was better. I don’t know why that’s on my mind but its emblematic- we have such a guarantee of a personal future, that we can take chances on something like film school, and in fact there are multiple competing institutions ready to facilitate that decision. I occasionally teach Global Health classes; I’m used to this kind of “oh, really?” cluelessness.

Its something else entirely when you find your writing is suddenly popular with the sort of people who think that Ebola wouldn’t be a problem if “Africans” weren’t, like “liars” who eat gross food and put everyone else at risk. No, folks, Africans- in particular Liberians, Sierra Leonians, and Guineans are the people who are dying here. The people putting them at risk are the ones who like chocolate so much we’ve incentivized plantationifying the rainforest, meaning us. At our film schools. No, its not really “our” fault either; pathogens happen. A little respect for the people on the front lines though, please? Maybe?

I recognize that this kind of creepshow fanbase is an ongoing risk. So many of the topics that interest me- paganism, black metal, global health, informatics, ecology- are just shot through with Americans (mostly) who feel perfectly comfortable describing their insanely privileged lives (see: film school, above) as some kind of last-ditch bunker action against a howling paleo-Lovecraftian chaotic swarm of death. Folks either want elegies for the dying beauty of “their world” or else they want to hear about how they can “protect themselves” from disembodied horrors that always seem in the end to settle on the bodies of brown people. I don’t know if this has gotten worse in the past five years, or if its just my increased exposure (or collapsing tolerance.) Folks, this is a blog not a forum and I will moderate as I see fit- if you write in complaining about “lack of education” or “overpopulation” or “homogenization” or “globalists” you better have really specific non-dog-whistle references because I do not have the time for this shit. My rule remains: I only approve comments I feel comfortable taking partial responsibility for publishing. If you can’t deal with that, leave.

Anyway, I want to write about other things for a bit here. I’m hoping if I take a break and talk about something else for a while the creepshow will move on to other blogs. If you want more epidemiologic modeling of Ebola, I recommend GIDEON’s new eBook and a quick course in stats.


Related note: who told you borders could be sealed? Israel and North Korea have teeny tiny land borders and people go back and forth without permission all the time. We aren’t as badass as Israel or as militarized as North Korea- why would we be able to do better with our enormous land borders and our international trade hubs? Cuba and Australia are freaking islands, and their governments are positively driven to distraction over “illegal” migration. Even leaving aside that the one non-isolated Ebola patient to come to the US came from Belgium, and unilaterally stopping flights between third parties is an act of war (google “no fly zone”), are people asking that we not evacuate our own nationals? Every peace corps volunteer, every guest lecturer at university, every IT consultant porting the ministry of such-and-such to BSD, every tech rep for Johnson Controls upgrading the cooling system at a manioc processing plant, all of them get left behind? Accept it- people move around.

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8 thoughts on “Well, that was ugly.

  1. I wanted to thank you for your post on ebola, as it was scientifically informed (even acknowledging the inevitable mistakes) without being the manipulated products of institutions having veiled agendas.

    I’m not an infectious disease epidemiolgist (though I am a purveyor of statistical methods for molecular epi), but please let me know if ever there is some way I can help you and your writings.

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  2. Before it was observed in cities, I remember people blaming the funerary practices of Ebola-stricken regions for its rapid spread. Stepping back a bit, the institution of a large hospice building where sick people gather for care can be seen as a quaint tradition that Chistendom clings to despite the obvious risks to life and health. I’m not sure hospitals are adapting to triage-in-the-parking-lot any faster than the people of Guinea are adapting their burial preparations.

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    • And oh the rumours about those burial preparations! As I understand from those wacky no-nothings at the Smithsonian it is traditional for people in Guinea to wash their family members before burial. Washing them! How outrageous! Except that on some crazy AM station last Thursday (intercity travel lowers my standards a bit) some dimwit host was talking about the importance of educating “Africans” not to… how shall I put this delicately, “swap spit” with corpses. Much more compelling. After all, washing dead people, maybe putting some clean clothes on them, that sounds almost civilized! And we all know civilized people don’t get Ebola…

      Lets be fair here, though. There are plenty of measures hospitals (or well-off citizens) can take to increase the chances of surviving Ebola, things like extensive hydration, electrolyte replacement, food, managing fevers. Not out of reach for an average US citizen caring for a relative at home, but poverty can make Ensure or PediaLyte as inaccessible as chemotherapy. Also, despite the high risk of health care workers catching Ebola, they are literally interacting with dozens if not hundreds of infectious people per day. The R0 in hospitals is really low, when you divide by the number of potential infectORs, so moving people to hospitals slows the overall spread of the epidemic. Would a decentralized network of individual staffed isolation huts work better? Probably but so what.

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      • “a decentralized network of individual staffed isolation huts”

        Uh…I only meant that infectious diseases shouldn’t automatically be mixed with trauma care. Not necessarily optimizing around this one epidemic, but letting go of the vestiges we still have from a system optimized to bury everyone in the same plot.

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  3. Your writing is haunting as ever but I am amused that you want to stop posting about Ebola and then post about Ebola, hehe. Just go ahead and stop anytime you like. ;>)

    Decreasing the numbers of infected traveling by ANY amount is worth doing. Each infection stopped at the source is one less to deal with at some destination & one less potential outbreak. Completely stopping movement of people is a strawman argument here. Getting the uncontrolled less uncontrolled is the target and anything that contributes is worth doing.

    It would be almost trivial for the US to send in a containership of (currently rotting) FEMA trailers to set up at the airport. Quarantine those who wish to travel out. The object is not necessarily to stop travel, but to slow movement enough catch the disease on the way out. Failing that, more draconian measures seem inevitable to me, no matter that they will not be 100% effective.

    I sure hope these vaccines work – one said to be ready for December trials in W Africa.

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  4. Pingback: This is NUTS! | More Crows than Eagles

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