Saturday, November 08, 2014

182.4 - Clown Award: The American people

Clown Award: The American people

Now for one of our features, the Clown Award, given for meritorious stupidity.

The winner of the Big Red Nose this week is ... the American people.

And I don't say that because of the election results, even though I'm tempted to. Those results were pretty much as expected and as predicted and making the incredibly bold, even daring, assumption that the Dimcrats can play political hardball - and yes, I am suppressing a laugh right now - but assuming that, things won't be much different in practical terms in DC; the only difference being who is doing the filbustering.

At the same time, it is possible - don't count on it - but there is a small hypothetical possibility that there could be some small steps on some matters worth doing - such as immigration reform - because now that the GOPpers are in control of the Senate and can take credit for it, they may agree to some things that before they filibustered just so that the Dims could not get the credit.

On the other hand, if the Dimcrats do start playing hardball and remind the GOPpers that it still can take 60 votes to pass anything these days, amuse yourself by guessing just how long - or, properly, how short - a time it will be before the GOPpers and Fox News start screeching about "obstructionism" when the Dims start acting exactly like the GOPpers have done these past six years - and then how much longer before the demand that Dems "stop being obstructionist" and submit to GOPper desires becomes conventional wisdom in the mainstream media. In fact, the predictable pundit pronouncements that the Dims must move to the right (which they misidentify as the "center") are already starting.

Anyway, that's not why the American people are this week's clowns. Rather, it's because we are a people easily manipulated, easily stampeded, and most of all, easily frightened. For all our protestations of daring and courage, we are a timorous people, easily and readily scared of and by the world around us.

For the latest evidence, and for the source of this week's award, consider the reaction to the current paranoia about Ebola.

Now, Ebola is a severe disease, but it is not highly infectious until symptoms are far along; in fact you can't catch Ebola from someone who shows no symptoms. What's more, Ebola is not airborne but is transmitted through direct physical contact with an infected person or with their bodily fluids. such as their blood - and in fact not all fluids: neither sputum does not appear to be a vector for the virus, urine is not a vector, and vomit may not be. All this is according the to Centers for Disease Control.

And frankly, those healthcare workers who caught Ebola did so because they broke protocol: They didn't follow the rules for dealing with a potentially infections patient.

Despite that, according to a brand new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll, 71 percent of Americans support mandatory 21-day quarantines for health professionals who have treated Ebola patients in West Africa, even if they have no symptoms, even if they test negative for the virus. Why? Just because.

Just because, that is, we are so flipping easily scared out of our wits by the latest boogeyman, whatever it is, and now it's Ebola.

Republicans supported the mandatory isolation, Democrats supported it, independents supported  it. Every age group and every level of education supported it, all by majorities ranging from 60 to 85 percent.

The question of mandatory quarantines came into the public debate after nurse Kaci Hickox was forced to spend a weekend in a tent at Newark airport solely because she was returning from dealing with the Ebola epidemic in western Africa on behalf of the CDC. This, even though she was asymptomatic and tests showed no trace of the virus.

After she got out of that - by threatening to sue the state - she went home to Maine, which has a voluntary 21-day quarantine. But when she didn't voluntarily quarantine herself because, remember, she still showed no symptoms, the state went to court to try to force her to submit to this supposedly "voluntary" isolation.

The effort failed as the court, relying on CDC data, shot down the state's demand in no uncertain terms:
The court is fully aware of the misconceptions, misinformation, bad science and bad information being spread from shore to shore in our country with respect to Ebola. The court is fully aware that people are acting out of fear and that this fear is not entirely rational.
Kaci Hickox
But that of course made no difference. In comments on the story - and as I always say, if you want to see the fanatics at play, if you want to see the fear at play, don't read the article, read the comments - in comments on the story, she was called, among many other things:
selfish - a disgrace to the profession - just wants her 15 minutes of fame - appalling - should lose her nursing license - A terrorist comes in many different shapes and sizes [I really like that one] - She wants to go on talk shows - the stupidest woman in the Universe
and a whole lot more.

One predictable - and predicted - effect of her experience and this kind of vituperation is that healthcare workers will become less willing to go to Africa to try to help contain the disease and treat its victims for fear not of the disease but of being stigmatized and quarantined when they get home. Doctors Without Borders is already reporting precisely that chilling effect. The irrational fears about the disease are making it harder to deal with it.

Let me tell you just how bad this has gotten.

Susan Sherman was a religious education teacher at St. Margaret Mary school in Louisville, Kentucky. She is also a registered nurse and recently had been on a mission to Africa.

Because of that, parents raised concerns and the school wanted her to take a 21-day leave and produce a health note from her doctor. Realizing she had marked and labeled, she chose to resign rather than put herself through that.

Here's the thing: On the map of Africa here, the area marked in bright red on the west coast covers Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea, the nations were the Ebola outbreak is happening. The area marked in brownish red on the east coast is Kenya - which is where Susan Sherman was. Among the nations where Ebola is, the one closest to Kenya is Liberia. It's capital is Monrovia. The capital of Kenya is Nairobi.

The distance from Monrovia to Nairobi is over 4,600 miles. That is over 1,600 miles greater than the distance between Boston and Los Angeles. But due to our pusillanimous paranoia and our appalling geographic stupidity, Susan Sherman is out of a job because some parents thought she was too close to Ebola. Because, you know, Africa.

We refuse to let facts penetrate the fear. We prefer to shiver and shake and quiver in a corner sucking our thumbs. And then we wonder why right-wingers whose entire schtick is screaming "They're coming to get you!" win elections.

As individuals, Americans are truly wonderful people. But as a whole, we are a bunch of clowns.

Sources cited in links:

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