Mid-week quick hits

The quick hits queue is piling up fast and furious this week, so I’m going to do an extra-special bonus early version.

1) How billionaires are becoming political parties unto themselves.

2) Back when I went through my phase of reading classic Sci-Fi I hit A Canticle for Leibowitz.  One of those books you appreciate on an intellectual level far more than on an emotional one.  I really enjoyed this essay about it, though.

3) How a heroic Nigerian doctor was essential in preventing an outbreak in her country.  And she died for her trouble.

4) Really terrific Post story about the front-lines of trying to stop the spread of Ebola in Liberia.

5) Don’t know that I agree with all of this, but interesting piece on Reza Aslan, and the Bill Maher Islam flap.

6) Could non-citizens decide the November election?  Unlikely.

7) Age is a mindset.  And the physical deterioration of your body.  But also a mindset.

8) The link between terrorism and mental illness.

9) Advocating for feudalism among Iowa Republicans.

10) Yes, Walmart.com really did have a “fat girls costumes” section for Halloween.

11) Note to PS professors, when doing field experiments try not to mislead voters and/or break state law.  Though it is a shame this will hurt the ability to do election field experiments which really tell us so much.

12) How Iceland’s history of feminism may lead to a ban on violent and degrading pornography.

13) I’ve started trying to re-learn the Chopin Prelude I recently linked.  It’s hard, but do-able, I think.  That said, I wanted to show Evan what was probably the most difficult piece I ever learned.  I do not think I will be re-learning Chopin’s “Military” Polonaise, Opus 40 anytime soon.

Video of the day

Time lapse of braces at work:

We finally know the real horror of Ebola

It makes people stupid.

Here’s a litany of people acting incredibly stupid in the face of Ebola.  I don’t have to explain to you how monumentally stupid a school district is for keeping out kids who came from Rwanda.  Those administrators should be fired for gross incompetence.  But my favorite is what Syracuse University has done.  A University damnit!:

And it’s not just the unenlightened: Syracuse University, a supposed place of knowledge, uninvited photojournalist Michel du Cille, who had been covering Ebola in Liberia, despite the fact that he had not shown any symptoms after the recommended 21-day monitoring period:

The school’s dean, Lorraine Branham, said a student who was researching du Cille prior to the workshop found out he had recently returned from Liberia and expressed concern. Provost Eric Spina spoke with health officials and made the call.

“It’s a disappointment to me,” du Cille said. “I’m pissed off and embarrassed and completely weirded out that a journalism institution that should be seeking out facts and details is basically pandering to hysteria.”

In the linked article, the dean references an “abundance of caution.”  Honestly, one of the most insidious phrases in the English language.  I swear, it’s pretty much short-hand for “I’m going to do something incredibly unnecessary because I am irrationally fearful.”

A Dean?!  I don’t know what I’d do if my own university were this stupid.

Let’s cap this off with a terrific Borowitz report headline:

Study: Fear of Ebola Highest Among People Who Did Not Pay Attention During Math and Science Classes


Do you have Ebola?

Love, love, love, this Sarah Kliff piece on the NY doctor with Ebola.  Let’s start with this awesome flowchart:

ebola quiz

Okay, and the main points:

There are rules. Spencer followed them.

Doctors Without Borders has a five-point procedure for doctors returning from West Africa, to monitor for signs of Ebola.


(Doctors Without Borders)

There is no evidence that Spencer failed to follow these guidelines. Nor is there evidence that requiring doctors to quarantine for three weeks, if they are non-symptomatic, would do anything to stop the disease’s spread.

“It’s completely unnecessary,” says Harvard University’s Ashish Jha, who has been studying the outbreak. “I’m a believer in an abundance of caution but I’m not a believer of an abundance of idiocy.” [emphasis mine]

There are hundreds of doctors in New York City who spend their days treating patients with infectious diseases. At the end of the day, they change out of their scrubs, wash their hands, and leave the office. Some go to bowling alleys. They do so because they enjoy bowling, probably — and know that, while there is a risk they could transmit the disease to other patrons, it is very low.

We do not ask that doctors who treat patients with infectious disease spend their lives in quarantine — and for good reason. If the cost of treating infectious diseases was to give up everything else you love in life, no doctors would treat infectious diseases, and we would all be at much greater risk. Imagine how much worse the HIV/AIDS epidemic could have been if any doctor seeing patients weren’t allowed to interact outside of the hospital. Few, if any, physicians would take that trade off.

So we don’t ask doctors to isolate themselves. Instead, we simply ask them to take appropriate precautions. Hospitals post checklists of appropriate steps, like washing hands and safely removing their protective gear. By all accounts, Spencer did that too.

From what we know, there just isn’t a way that Spencer put New Yorkers at risk. One reason Doctors Without Borders doesn’t ask its returning workers to quarantine is because they’re incubating a disease that is difficult to spread.

We’ve seen that with the four other Ebola patients in the United States who spent time outside of quarantine. One, Liberian national Thomas Duncan, did so when he was extremely symptomatic. Nobody who came into contact with these patients — not the passengers who rode on a flight with Amber Joy Vinson, nor the family members who cared for Duncan — caught the disease. That’s partly because Ebola patients aren’t very contagious before they become intensely symptomatic and partly because the disease itself is fairly difficult to spread.

There is no reason to think that Spencer’s actions were dangerous. Yes, he was carrying a disease that is very deadly. But at the first sign of his symptoms — the moment he knew he could be contagious — he quarantined…

Doctors Without Borders, another volunteer physician told Bloomberg, is at “a breaking point.” “There’s a sense that there’s a major wave of infections that’s about to wash everything away,” the same doctor says.

Now is the exact moment we need more doctors like Spencer to treat patients in West Africa to contain the outbreak there — and stop more cases from coming to the United States. Mandatory quarantines are an unjustified and cruel punishment for doctors who put their lives at risk. Perhaps more to the point, by giving doctors one more reason to avoid treating Ebola patients and stemming the spread of disease, they would end up putting the rest of us at risk, too.

Actually heard a snippet of Cuomo’s press conference yesterday where he basically made it sound like you could catch Ebola just by sharing a subway car.  Shame on him.

Quick hits (part II)

1) I told myself if I found time yesterday, this would get it’s own post.  It didn’t.  So make sure you read it.  Great Garret Epps post on John Roberts and race.

2) Really enjoyed this New Yorker article on the director of the Susan B. Anthony list (a pro-life PAC).

3) Not surprisingly, “ancient grains” are for suckers.  I’m sure the people who buy this are plenty scared of GMO’s.

4) Paul Farmer says that with first-world health care 90% of Ebola victims should actually survive.  We’re doing pretty well in the US so far.

5) I must admit to always being a little more fascinated by Mormon sacred undergarments than I should be.  Now the church is coming clean on the topic.

6) A nice PS study that shows how the Tea Party has moved the Republican party to the right.

7) Emily Bazelon on the complications of yes means yes on college campuses.

8) Vox summarizes a Pew study demonstrating that there are basically no swing voters in this year’s election.

9) FEC Commissioner Ellen Weintraub came to my class a couple weeks ago.  That was pretty cool.  Here’s a nice piece about her and her visit to NC.

10) NYT with one of the better pieces I’ve read on the UNC athletics scandal.  I went to Duke and teach at NCSU, but UNC is a flagship for our whole state and this is so unfortunate for the whole state.  And as an academic, I hate to see academic integrity so undermined.

11) When is a debate not a debate?  How about when one candidate never  agrees to it but one organization basically pretends otherwise.

12) Peter Beinart putting Voter ID into the long American tradition of trying to keep poor people from voting.

13) Two nice takes on Iowa Senatorial candidate Jodi Ernst and welfare.  The idea that private charity can make up for government is not just wishful thinking, but simply preposterous and ahistorical.

14) You can never have too much fun with Kansas‘ supply side experiment gone awry.  Seriously, it’s not like anybody who’s not a complete drunk-the-kool-aid ideologue didn’t see this coming.

15) Republicans would really just prefer college students don’t vote at all.  There’s been all sorts of news about the on-campus voting at Appalachian State, but meanwhile nobody has talked at all about the large inconvenience for NCSU losing it’s polling location.

16) While helping Evan practice piano, I haven’t been able to get this tune out of my head for a couple of days.  Took me forever to figure it out because I was thinking it was Beethoven. Than I realized it must be some Chopin.  This is one of many Chopin pieces I loved to play back in the day.

Ebola and the politics of “do something!”

I must say, I hate the way politicians must always seen to do something in the face of a problem, even when doing nothing is the most judicious course.  And we are seeing it loud and clear in NY and NJ.  From the AP:

Alarmed by the case of an Ebola-infected New York doctor, the governors of New Jersey and New York on Friday ordered a mandatory, 21-day quarantine of all medical workers and other arriving airline passengers who have had contact with victims of the deadly disease in West Africa.

Why pay attention to what the CDC, most international health organizations, and MSF recommend when you could do more to deal with American’s needless panic:

Health officials said he followed U.S. and international guidelines in checking his temperature every day and watching for symptoms, and that he put no one at risk…

Aid organizations such as Doctors Without Borders, the group Spencer was working for, have argued that mandatory quarantines are unnecessary because people with Ebola aren’t contagious until symptoms begin, and even then it requires close contact with body fluids.

Also, aid groups have warned that many health care volunteers wouldn’t go to Ebola hot zones if they knew they would be confined to their homes for three weeks after they got back.

“A three-week complete quarantine would eliminate two-thirds to three-quarters of the volunteers from the U.S.” going to West Africa, said Dr. Rick Sacra, a Massachusetts physician who was recently infected in Liberia but recovered. “They wouldn’t be able to spare the time.”

So, an excessive quarantine does not actually keep anybody safer and could lead to many more deaths in Africa.  But, hey, at least these governors have done something to calm the irrational fears of the American public.

(And just as I was about to post it, I saw that Jon Cohn basically wrote the same thing as me, but did a better job, of course).

Quick hits (part I)

1) How does a law professor get arrested for standing in a Wal-Mart?  When he’s a young black man and part of a Ferguson protest.

2) Marc Thiessen– the right’s leading torture apologist– thinks it’s only  a matter of time before ISIS starts using Ebola as a weapon.  Of course, this is simply Thiessen’s fantasy.

3) This Planet Money episode on how women started getting way less into computers in the 1980’s (when me and all my male friends loved them) was really, really interesting.

4) I’m an extrovert.  Do I look that way?

5) Who knew that Philosophy departments were bastions of sexism?!

6) On reading actual books.

7) One of the better pieces on Renee Zellweger’s plastic surgery.  All sorts of things are wrong with our ideas about famous females and their appearance, but all that said, if plastic surgery chances your appearance to the point that people don’t even recognize you, well, that’s worthy of some commentary in it’s own right.

8) Want teenagers to wait longer to have sex?  (I do).  Then let Planned Parenthood teach them Sex Ed.

9) A couple of my FB friends are totally pushing this ridiculous new competitor to FB that monetizes your posts in a pyramid scheme.  Seriously!  How many people are looking to make money off FB?  There’s far more psychic value in posting photos like this and getting dozens of likes.

10) Interestingly, breast self exams have no value added beyond that which comes from simply paying attention to any changes in your breasts.

11) I’m fascinated by the business of fast food.  Good article on why Chipotle is thriving and McDonald’s is not.

12) Lawmakers who support Voter ID and not so interested in responding to their minority constituents.  Surprise, surprise.

13) I’ve only read one Percy Jackson book and was way disappointed.  Not that that’s the point of this essay on Rick Riordan books and YA fiction.

14) On Ginsburg’s dissent on Texas Voter ID and the Texas Election Law blog via Hasen.

15) I want some Breaking Bad action figures!

16) More on the Republican attack on science funding.


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