Sunday, October 26, 2014

Ebola: Politicizing and Fear Mongering


 

Clowns to the left of me, Jokers to the right, here I am, Stuck in the middle with you.”  And that is how I feel again this week. 

This week two politically-focused state governors, Democrat Andrew Cuomo of New York and Republican Chris Christie ignored federal guidance and guidelines and imposed their own 21 day quarantine policies for all those returning from Ebola-stricken West African countries.  Cuomo, specifically has been trying to have it both ways as he claims to want to protect the citizens of New York State while also praising the efforts of the selfless Dr. Craig Spencer.  According to reports, Spencer had been in Guinea for a month before leaving on October 14th and subsequently becoming symptomatic on  October 23rd after strictly following the Doctors Without Borders guidelines for personnel returning home from West Africa.  Now giving into fear and mistrust Cuomo and Christie are going rogue, because after all the federal government is incapable understanding infectious disease.  So now nurse Kaci Hickox is quarantined in Newark after returning from Sierra Leone, despite testing negative for Ebola.  Science has given way to fear, and to make matters worse, it appears the New York governor is hoping for divine intervention:  "This is Sunday. I happen to be Catholic. When I go into church, I'm going to say, ‘Dear Lord, let this be the end of it.”  Yeah, the rational mind places its trust in unqualified political officials and divine intervention over science.  And then there’s the other half of the Goobernatorial Duo, Chris Christie, who must be projecting his own lack of self-control when he says that haven’t faith in the CDC’s or Doctors Without Borders use of a “voluntary system.”

I find it interesting and disturbing that we trust these medical professionals to abide by the Hippocratic Oath (modern version), sort of…

I will prevent disease whenever I can, for prevention is preferable to cure.

I will remember that I remain a member of society, with special obligations to all my fellow human beings, those sound of mind and body as well as the infirm.

The only way to stop Ebola, is at its source and as stated on the oath above, ‘prevention is preferable to cure.’  The men and women of organizations such as Doctors Without Borders travel to ground zero to treat, educate, and stop the spread of the disease even as The World Health Organization sounds the alarm of 10,000 new cases/week.  Anything that could possibly stop one of these brave men and women from travelling to West Africa is both misguided and dangerous, and that is what Cuomo and Christie are doing.

But what is really at the core of the Cuomo and Christie mandates?  Simply, mistrust and fear.  Even though Thomas Eric Duncan,  the only person who spread the disease upon returning to the USA from West Africa, did so AFTER the hospital he visited sent him home with antibiotic, and the two people infected were the healthcare workers tasked with treating Mr. Duncan, there is still a paranoia that the disease will spread uncontrollably here in the U.S.A.  The mistrust is fed by conspiracists, political hacks, hubris, and ignorance.  One should always be skeptical of the government, just like one should never trust a politician, a news reader (formerly referred to as newsman), or anyone who offers opinion as fact. 

Sadly, the rhetoric from many and the comments on social media sites remind me of the AIDS/HIV hysteria that swept the nation in the 80’s.  Then, a 1985 survey of 2,308 by the Los Angeles Times found the following:

  • 55 percent said they would not refuse to send their children to a classroom where another pupil had AIDS
  • 51 percent of the respondents supported a quarantine of acquired immune deficiency syndrome patients
  • 45 percent said they would support testing job applicants for AIDS antibodies.
  • 48 percent would approve of identity cards for those who have taken tests indicating the presence of AIDS antibodies and 15 percent supported tattooing those with AIDS.

In 1985 we wanted to quarantine people who had AIDS, in 2014 we want to quarantine doctors and nurses who treat patients with Ebola.  And while the circumstances may be different, the underlying factors remain the same:  fear, ignorance, and mistrust can overpower facts, science, and data.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

The Sabbatical is Over, The Digg is Back


He’s baaaaaack.  Yes after months of personally imposed sequestration, Digg is back.  The last few months of inane absurdity by the media, government, and the general public has brought me back.  It’s not about you, it’s about me and my need for catharsis.  Now, let’s hit the pressure relief valve:

Ebola: Any disease with no known cure and a mortality rate approaching 70% can be frightful.  But it is not easily transmitted.  If it were, the dozens of people who interacted with Thomas Eric Duncan before he died would also have contracted the disease.  The calls to ban flights from West Africa are a panic-driven response as there are NO direct flights from the hardest hit nations in West Africa.  Should we ban flights from Brussels, London, Paris, Frankfurt too?  These restrictions have never worked in the past.  To  combat the disease, WHO states Community engagement is key to successfully controlling outbreaks. Good outbreak control relies on applying a package of interventions, namely case management, surveillance and contact tracing, a good laboratory service, safe burials and social mobilization.”  This is why it needs to be stopped at the source in West Africa.  Ignorance in Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Guinea propagated the outbreak and ignorance in America is creating a level of unnecessary hysteria.  When 40% of Americans fear a major outbreak in America and 26% fear they or a family member will contract the disease, we have lost touch with reality.

Politics: The Republican Party liked to call themselves the Party of No since the Obama inauguration.  But it also became the party of fear, greed, and hate.  The constant barrage of ads and claims feeding off of an electorate’s emotions the cold war is back, Ebola is here, ISIS will attack us, the government still wants your guns, Guatemalan refugees will consume our services and resources, etc.  The Huckabee Social Conservatives who still oppose same sex marriage and we should deny those that don’t fit they’re warped Christian beliefs have no place in America.  The GOP is the Party of No, as in No New Ideas.  And a quick piece of advice to senate candidate Alison Grimes, when you’re asked who you voted for, tell them and then state unequivocally and forcefully why that was the right decision for your constituents.

The Middle East and Central Asia: The U.S. has bombed or invaded 14 Muslim countries since 1980 and what do we have to show for it?  A more fucked up region than ever and the American public’s goldilocks schizophrenic of “bring our troops home, but bomb them” or “we need to stay out of this, but now we have to do something” perpetuates the definition of insanity “definition of insanity is doing something over and over again and expecting a different result.”  Each time we set out to defeat one enemy, we create two more.  Our history of arming rebels and pushing regime change has led us not to stability to increased political and deadly instability.  Look at Libya and Iraq, and now there were calls to overthrow Assad in Syria.  Meanwhile in Central and South America, as the U.S. has stepped back from excessive engagement, there is more for stability in the region.  It is a safe bet that as the U.S. continues to engage militarily in the Middle East, neither our security will not be guaranteed nor our interests protected.

The Media: I will not reminisce over Russert or get nostalgic over Cronkite, but today’s main stream media is a failure.  The fourth estate is facing foreclosure thanks in part to its corporate masters’ business plans, excessively partisan reporting, and inadequate expertise.  Fox News is primarily the Republican Party’s PR firm, CNN is a laughable parody of a news organization, and MSNBC’s line up offers nothing in partisan free in-depth analysis.  The network news is one minute of updates for every three minutes of pharmaceuticals ads.  It has become unwatchable as it feeds the ISIS and Ebola frenzies.  The news shouldn't be about ratings, fancy graphics, or photogenic newsreaders, it should be about fact-based reporting and analysis by experts in the field, and not fiction writers (talking to you CNN).


Now I feel slightly better, but none of the above will change so I’ll be back soon…real soon.


Saturday, July 19, 2014

No Labels: Religion, Opinions, and Ignorance.


 

I came across a study by the Pew Research Religion and Public Life Project that asked 3,217 Americans how they felt about various religions.  The results gave some interesting insights about how people of various religious persuasions feel about others, the relationship of political affiliation to religious feelings, and how ignorance shapes our views.  I was not totally surprised by the results, but many important social conclusions and questions came to mind.

A little bit of background.  Respondents were asked how they feel from a scale of 0 (coldest and most negative) to 100 (warmest and most positive) about Jews, Catholics, Evangelical Christians, Hindus, Buddhists, Muslims, Atheists, and Mormons.  It should be noted that due to demographics, almost half of the respondents described themselves as Protestant (White Evangelical, White mainline, and Black Protestant), followed by unaffiliated (Atheist, Agnostic, and nothing in particular), Catholic, and Jewish.

The mainstream Judeo-Christian religions all ranked the highest with Jews (63), Catholics (62), and Evangelicals (61), followed by Buddhists (53), Hindus (50), Mormons (48), Atheists (41), and Muslims (40).  When members of that religion are excluded from the results (removing the “you can’t rate yourself”  bias), Jews remain at the top at 63, but Evangelicals fall from 61 to 52 and Catholics drop from 62 to 58.  The others change little as they make up very small sample sizes in the study.  When looking at how various religious groups responded, Protestants like Jews and Catholics, but were cold towards Muslims and Atheists.  White Evangelicals really like themselves (82) and Jews (69), but conversely Jews only gave White Evangelicals a 39.  White Evangelicals really don’t care for Atheists (25) and Muslims (30).  After giving themselves a self-warming score of 89, Jews responded, in descending order, Buddhists (61), Catholics (58), Hindus (57), Atheists (55), Mormons (48), Muslims (35), and Evangelical Christians (34).  Catholics and Mainline Protestants felt warmth to everyone but Muslims (30) and Atheists (25) while Atheists felt warmth towards Jews (61), Buddhists (69), and Hindus (58) but cold towards Evangelical Christians (28).  Mainline Protestants felt warmer towards Hindus, Buddhists, Mormons, Atheists, and Muslims than White Evangelicals.

Let’s start asking a few questions.

  1. Why do Evangelicals feel warmer about Jews than the other way around?  Perhaps it’s the whole Rapture thing or perhaps many Jews are also secular and don’t care for the faith-based political activism of Evangelicals.
  2. What separates mainline Protestants from their Evangelical brethren?  Perhaps the former socialize outside their religious circle more than the latter.
  3. Why do all Protestant groups and Catholics feel so cold towards Atheists?   Do they feel threatened?  Do they distrust someone who doesn’t believe in a Deity (Franklin Graham has said as much)?  Doesn’t seem very Christian to me.
  4. Is anyone surprised that Muslims score <50 from other groups?  But it is surprising that Muslims score higher than Atheists from Catholics and Protestants especially in light of 9/11 and the War on Terror.  Is there an Atheist 9/11 I am unaware of?
  5. How cold do Jews feel about Evangelicals?  They rate the same as Muslims in the minds of Jews: <35.  Distrust is a strong feeling.

Not surprisingly, Democrat leaning respondents view the religions in a tighter distribution with Jews the highest at 62 and Mormons the lowest at 44 (Romney effect?).  Conversely, Republican leaning respondents have a wider skew of data with Evangelical Christians at the top (71) and Atheists (34) and Muslims (33) at the bottom.  Since a wide majority of White Evangelical Christians are Republicans, no surprise there.   

As for age, Older people feel warmer about Christians and Jews while younger people have warmer feelings to all religions compared to older participants.  This is likely due to higher representation of the ‘other’ groups in younger people (18-29) versus older (50+) and possibly more liberal views of the younger generations when it comes to religion. 

Finally, ignorance and predisposed opinions do matter.  For all religious groups rated, respondents that knew someone from that affiliation gave warmer results.  Strikingly, the results are summarized below:

Mean Rating of:
Total
Know someone from this group
Don’t know someone from this group
Jews
63
69
55
Catholics
62
64
47
Evangelicals
61
65
49
Buddhists
53
70
48
Hindus
50
63
47
Mormons
48
53
44
Atheists
41
50
29
Muslims
40
49
35

 

Perhaps the No Labels organization was right.  And perhaps Atticus Finch, the greatest literary American hero of all time, said it best:

“You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view . . . until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Safari 2014 Journal: A Reflection

Epilogue Part I

They say there’s nothing like Safari and once you get that first taste, your appetite grows.  In just six days in the Bush, we experienced sights, sounds, smells and sensations unlike anything previous.  And while we were far from roughing it during our stays at Singita Ebony and Camp Jabulani, once you’re in the Rover on and off the trails, you know intellectually and feel emotionally you are somewhere special.

The fascination of watching your ranger and tracker pursue a leopard or cheetah using skill, guile and intuition.  Masters of their craft that you watch in awe as they pursue, double back, and turnabout and voila: there’s the Leopard.  And then you realize they are as excited as much as you even thought they have done it hundreds of times.  But they’re more than tracker and guide, they are Thimba and Coleman.  One lives in the nearby village with his son, mother, aunt & sister while the other’s home is 2 hours away and his mother looks after his 7 children while his wife works next door at the sister lodge.  You get to know them and you want to see them again.

As for the animals, it is something to be among the in their habitat and their world.  And while the ubiquitous impala and wildebeest are seemingly around every corner, you realize you’re in their domain and you conclude that you’ll never visit a zoo again to see an animal in captivity.  You've changed.  You’ll flick away a fly bothering your picnic or the ants at your barbecue when you’re hoe, but laugh at the industrious monkeys who attack the Continental Breakfast table when the staff is not paying attention.

Yes, we have acquired the taste and not just the loin of the impala, kudu and eland.  The taste that is a craving, an obsession really, and you neither hope nor want it to disappear.



 Thimba Coleman Diggaduh

"..an obsession really."

Barbecued Warthog 

 Grilled Kudu Loin



 Thimba CindyDisco Coleman


Epilogue Part II

When you think of Africa, many think of Safaris and The Big Five.  But our recent trip to South Africa highlighted a bigger story and a more personal story.  Whether it was the adorable waitress, Pinky, at The One & Only Hotel in Cape Town who became Cindy’s new friend, or Thomas our guide in Cape Town, you realize there is something special and unique about South Africa.  It’s checkered past is well known and the remnants of Apartheid still can be seen and felt, but there is something else in the air: Hope.

The nation of 12+ million still has a number of issues including high unemployment, economic stagnation and a public health crisis regarding HIV and AIDS.  But to think that it was just 20 years ago Nelson Mandela was elected President in the first open election is a remarkable story.  When you visit places like the District Six Museum and the Apartheid Museum you feel sickened, angry, amazed and hopeful.  The magnanimous personality, honor, courage and vision of Mandela is front and center.  A man who suffered personally and politically and yet realized that for South Africa to move forward, it must forgive, but not forget.

The courage he displayed in not giving in to the calls from his party to punish the white minority and dismantle its hundreds of years of history was inspirational.  Likewise, the courage in the 1980’s for President F.W. deKlerk to end Apartheid and establish the one man/one vote system knowing it would end white rule was equally courageous.

When you see the image of Mbuyisa Makbubo carrying the lifeless body of Hector Pieterson, killed in the student riots in Soweto in 1976, you feel the anguish clearly visible on Makhubo’s face.  When you read the stories of Stephen Biko and hundreds of others tortured and murdered in police custody and the causes of death doctored, you feel angry.

When you learn about the Dompas (Dumb Pass), a segregation ID pass used to limit free unhindered travel of Blacks and coloreds in South Africa, you think of the Yellow Stars worn by the Jews in Europe in the 1940’s.  To be caught by police without your pass meant an automatic 90-day jail term, even if you were on your way to get your pass from the government.  You realize we take for granted the freedoms we possess.

When the government relocates entire black neighborhoods to make room for white people, you recall the Warsaw Ghetto.  When the government can arbitrarily flatten shantytowns and the corrugated homes of blacks, you ask how can one man treat another with such malice.

When you see the story from 1985 where 702 colored people became white, 19 whites became colored, one Indian became white, three Chinese became white, 249 blacks became colored and so forth you realize the corruption and tyranny that was prevalent during the Apartheid Era.  Oh and by the way, zero blacks became whites and zero whites became black.

You can understand why the African National Congress (ANC) had to employ violent and nonviolent methods to bring the white government to the negotiation table.  I guess in the case of Mandela and others, one man’s freedom fighter is another man’s terrorist.

So now there is hope that government corruption will be curtailed, hope miners will earn a fair and decent wage, hope public health will improve and hope that Mandela’s vision will be achieved.


In the meantime, seeing a smiling Pinky give Cindy a big hug in the restaurant in front of a crown and knowing 25 years ago that would not be possible is heartwarming and hopeful.  An otherwise small moment with a big heart.

Cindy Thomas Diggaduh 

Pinky and Cindy

A Message of Love and Hope

Safari 2014 Journal: Eleven Glorious Days (Last Chapters)

6/10/14

Transfer day.  A late breakfast and farewells to the staff at Camp Jabulani as we head to the Hoedspruit airport for our one hour flight to Johannesburg, a final opportunity to see zebras, warthogs, impala, wildebeest and sole Cape Buffalo.

We arrive in Joburg and are taken to the luxurious Saxon Hotel, and I mean luxurious!  During check in we met a student from Ithaca College over here on a 12-week internship as part of his hospitality and hotel management degree.  A great opportunity.

We confused the staff at the main restaurant Xunu, that we only wanted selections from the lunch fare as we have had our share of big dinners.  And like everybody else in this country, they obliged our “unique” request.  In a twist, we went from BIG FIVE sightings in the bush to celebrity sighting as I noticed former Man U star Ryan Giggs at dinner.

Upon returning to our suite, we discovered our anniversary celebration was not over as our suite was once again decorated with rose petals & candles.  Our second joint bath in a week!

To loosen up, we signed up for spa treatments at 6pm and the two of us received hot stone massages.  My petite masseuse worked me over, head to toe; my first little piggy may have got roast beef but the 2nd ended up in traction.  It was a great massage!


6/11/14

The last day.  The longest day.  Today started with a room service breakfast for two and a casual late start that turned out to be a lost opportunity.  We were collected at 12:30 by Ali from Wilro Tours for our city tour of Joburg, the Apartheid Museum and Soweto.  The three hours we spent at the museum were not enough to take in the history of South Africa, the struggles of colored and black citizens and Mandela’s personal story.  Harassment, imprisonment, torture, and murder were common occurrences.  Like the holocaust museums we have visited, the Apartheid Museum leaves you mad, upset, disgusted, but hopeful.  Hopeful that this nation will remain a democratic state, expand economically, solve its labor and infrastructure issues, and continue to heal.

Unfortunately, we were only able to spend a few minutes in Soweto, the biggest Township in South Africa and home to 3.5-4.5 million people, depending on illegal immigrants.  Soweto, or SOuthWEest TOwnship includes shacks, low income, middle income and high-income neighborhoods.  In Soweto we visited the site of Hector Pieterson’s memorial.  The young oby shot dead by riot police during the student riots on June 16, 1976 and a moment captured by photographer Mbuyisa Makhubo carrying the lifeless body.  One amazing note was within several hundred meters, the homes of two Nobel Peace Prize Winners: Mandela and Archbishop Desmond Tutu could be found.  If only we hadn’t wasted so much time loitering in the hotel we could have experienced so much more.


And thus, our Safari Adventure comes to an end.  The memories shall last, the plans for our return will be discussed, and the stories will be shared.



















Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Safari 2014 Journal: Eleven Glorious Days (Day 7)

6/7/14: Going Out With a Bang

Our last full day and night at Singita Ebony.  We went out in style! Another early start with a shot of coffee (and tea) before the dynamic duo of Coleman and Thimga took us out in search of the female leopard we saw on the 5th.  The neighboring camp had reported seeing her with her two four-month-old cubs heading towards Singita property.  It didn’t take long for Thimba to pick up the fresh trail as he and Coleman abandoned the Rover to us while they set out on foot…armed.  After 2+ hours of starting, stopping and off-roading, the boys picked up the hot trail where mama leopard had killed an Impala (Happy Meal) and dragged her into the brush to feed her cubs.  Cin was able to snap some fantastic shots of the mother and her shy but adorable cubs.  I believe the thrill of the tracking was as exciting, exhilarating and rewarding to Coleman and Thimba.

Upon returning to camp for breakfast, a herd of several dozen elephants had decided to come down to the Sand River to graze and drink.  Soon after, a pack of over 50 baboons decided it was time to frolic on the beach.

We told Coleman that the afternoon safari had to include Rhinos and Cape Buffalo to round out the BIG FIVE.  I think after the morning hunt of the Leopard, the boys felt the afternoon mission was anticlimactic.  But, they obliged and we soon came across a mother White Rhino and her “little one” who seemed disinterested in our presence.  We then drove into the middle of a 600 head herd of Cape Buffalo; that’s a lot of beef!  We enjoyed our final sundowner with the boys and told them to take the morning off on the 8th so they could sleep in and we would do the same.  They seemed genuinely grateful!

Upon returning quite chilled to the bone from the afternoon safari, we were surprised to find a hot bubble bath waiting for us and rose petals decorating the bathroom.  The bath was wonderful though I cannot remember my last bubble bath!


The day ended with our man Auto (not Otto) preparing a private dinner for us in the cabana by the pool, lighted by candle lit lanterns in the trees and walkway.  A lovely closing moment for a wonderful stay at Singita Ebony.