“To see decisions as the point of decision-making is to see orgasms as the point of love-making.”
So writes social scientist Daniel Newark in the November 2014 issue of Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes. Decisions, Newark is quick to add, should happen eventually. But we might not suffer so much—and could even benefit from—indecision if our ultimate choice, which often does come with a flood of relief, is not the entire focus of the exercise.
The field of social science has long considered indecision as a problem to be treated or remedied. But what if indecision had a silver lining? What if it plays an important role in shaping who we are? Swimming upstream against the tradition of indecision-as-pathology, Newark’s tables-turning paper suggests just that.
First, some caveats: We’re not talking about chronic or clinical indecisiveness here. And we’re not necessarily talking about deciding if you want fries with that — although even small decisions can be crippling when the choice triggers deeper uncertainties. In the main, Newark’s beautifully subversive theory on indecision considers the kinds of choices that can mire normally functional people in the quicksand of stuck-ness.
Do I stay in this relationship or leave? Should I let the vet amputate my dog’s leg? Shall I have a baby? Move to a new city? Take chemo?
These are the kinds of questions that burrow into the heart and soul of who we are as individuals, and can reveal what we truly value. And indecision, Newark proposes, if we let it, can inspire significant personal insight and growth.
All that makes sense to psychotherapist Timothy J. Tate, who was not part of the study, but whose work often enters the realm of identity-related issues. During periods of indecision, he agrees, it’s likely that “the old idea of persona has run out of gas, which can pave the way for a fresh sense of character to gain traction.”
When Newark told people he studied decision-making, he says, “they would often groan and say things like, ‘Oh, I need help with that.’ I started noticing how many thoughtful, considerate, intelligent people felt they had a hard time making decisions.” Meanwhile, as he was completing his Ph.D work at Stanford and surveying the decision-making literature, he discovered that the topic of indecision — as a creature unto itself, rather than a snake pit to get through as fast as possible — was missing altogether.
“I found that bizarre,” he said.
His paper is a shot across the bow at a scholarship historically blind to the potential value of indecision. Look here, he is saying. We are missing something important. Newark has no empirical findings to share in the paper, because there aren’t any, yet. This is a new idea. He wondered if the bleak, academic view of indecisive behaviors as anxiety-riddled, repetitious, drawn-out and fruitless came from the scholarly catechism that asserts the only worthy tasks in decision-making involve defining and choosing optimal alternatives.
But wait a second, Newark thought. What if, while trying to figure out what to do, we (mostly inadvertently) figure out who we are?
In that scenario, indecision becomes a constructive space for us to clarify our beliefs and values and see how they fit with those of the people around us. Put into social science lingo: Indecision could facilitate identity development.
“When we set out to make a decision,” Newark explains, “we usually start off pretty focused. We gather information, list our options, and consider what will result from each one.” But what happens when we can’t find all the information or confidently predict outcomes? We get stuck.
So, writes Newark in his paper, when we find the lever of rational decision-making jammed, we try the lever of identity-based choice to see if it moves more freely. We begin to explore our dilemma with friends and mentors. After they help us sort out our most obvious choices, and as each alternative excavates a new, harder question, the process shifts into a deeper line of questioning, like What do I really want here? What is this choice actually about? What am I afraid of?
Our confidants can’t answer these plaguing questions for us, but they still want to help, so they tell us their own stories, or share their beliefs, or empathize with us, or offer their opinions on how they think we’re doing in all this mess. We run their input through our own filters — and voilà, we’re deep in the trenches of identity work. We’re discovering or affirming who we are, without even realizing it.
This notion of talking things through, of opening up to others in ways that can reveal insecurities and make us feel vulnerable, is important. According to Newark, contemplation and conversation — pillars of indecision — are also fundamental to identity development. Troublesome decisions, he says, are socially sanctioned occasions to ask others for help and advice.
But note: While people are happy to tell you what to do, they’re not so comfortable telling you who you are. Which is not to say the talk won’t veer in that direction. For example, we ask our friends if we should take that job at the bank, and uncover the truth that what we really want is a more seat-of-the-pants exciting life. It is there, in the context of indecision, that the nature and content of our ruminations and conversations detour from classic, rational decision-making into identity work, even though we’re not usually conscious of the shift.
“At one level, trying to make a decision can feel like trying to crack a puzzle or solve an equation,” Newark says, but when it becomes more identity-based, the questions shift. We don’t ask what we want to do, but who we want to be. What choice is more in line with the person we hope to become? Sometimes those are the only truly fully informed choices we can make. Psychotherapist Tate agrees that inner tension from this kind of indecision can be a fertile time for growth. A clearer picture of ourselves emerges from the haze as we are pressed to make choices that challenge what we thought we believed.
“I think more often than we acknowledge, in quite meaningful ways, it doesn’t really matter what alternative we choose,” muses Newark.
But the belief that it does is key. That can lead to the kind of head-banging that opens a view through an obfuscating wall of expectations, judgments and assumptions. When the focus shifts from options that refuse to sort themselves out by desirability to self-discovery, we start to see potential and progress. We begin to come unstuck. If there simply is no optimal choice, we might decide to be satisfied with lessons learned. Instead of getting blown out by frustration or beaten down by hopelessness, we recognize the ways in which we’ve grown as a person during a difficult situation. “Spend long enough trying to see through an opaque window pane and you begin to consider your reflection,” writes Newark. “Try hard enough to make out an indiscernible image and you end up taking a Rorschach test.”
Although it will probably never feel like a state of grace, “it’s not unfathomable,” Newark nudgingly proffers, “that indecision could also be a source of pleasure.” If we can manage the anxieties of befuddling choice, he submits, perhaps we can use bouts of indecision to appreciate and play with the sweeping, sometimes surprising, prospect of selfhood.
The giant pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline said yesterday that its work on a vaccine for Ebola will “come too late” to do anything about the current situation. Even now it is trying to compress trials that would normally take a decade into a year. The impression it gives is that it is working flat out, no holds barred. But hang on a moment. Ebola was discovered back in 1976. What has GlaxoSmithKline been doing since then? Answer: not much.
A small clue to why can be found by looking at the stock price of Tekmira Pharmaceuticals, the Canadian-based drugs firm that some investors seem to think is leading the pack on Ebola research. Tekmira shares rose a massive 180% from mid-July to October, with most of the share-price action coming when the virus jumped to Europe and the US.
Ebola has been killing people in central and western Africa for at least 38 years – but it’s only when the virus becomes a threat to the developed world that there is seen to be a profit in it. I know it sounds cynical to say it flat out like that – but it sounds cynical because it is. What business case is there for developing drugs to save the lives of poor Africans when they don’t have the money to pay for them? Especially when there is so much more profit to be had in – for instance – giving rich white men erections. As a study in last year’s Lancet showed, of the 336 new drugs developed in the first decade of this century, only four of them were for what are known in jargon as neglected tropical diseases – three for malaria and one for diarrhoea.
The point being this: the business model of market-driven big (or even medium-sized) pharma does not work well to address the challenges posed by a virus that ultimately has no respect for geography or bank balance. Some of the developed world’s early interest in Ebola was in whether it could be weaponised. It was said that the Russian biological weapons unit – Biopreparat – had turned Ebola into an aerosol spray.
All of which is red meat for conspiracy theorists (like those who tell you that the patent for the Ebola virus is owned by the US government, which is true). But my suspicion is not about shady government actions but about basic capitalist economics. Isn’t it interesting that there is money about to ask scientists to turn a virus into a weapon, but not the money about to ask scientists to find a vaccine? And by the time there’s a market for a vaccine, it’s too late.
What better example of what is commonly called market failure – that state of affairs in which market forces do not make for desirable outcomes. Here’s another example: remember Nelson Mandela having to take on the big pharmaceutical companies as thousands of dying South Africans were unable to afford Aids drugs. Apparently, the market-driven economics of health care do not have an answer to a virus that begins in a part of the world where there isn’t much money. And that is often where dangerous viruses begin. Which is precisely why market forces will not be able to save us.
Indeed, on the contrary, market-driven healthcare is incentivised to keep us sick. For what profit is there in a healthy population? If everyone were healthy, it would be the job of the pharmaceutical companies to persuade us that we were not well, that certain things about us needed fixing, putting right (even if they didn’t).
Its a bit like Friedrich Nietzsche’s criticism of the Christian priest: that the priest first has to poison us into imagining we are unwell – and thus in need of saving – before he can present himself as the cure, as salvation. There is no market for salvation in a sinless world. Of course, big pharma presents itself as evidence-based and scientific. Not at all like Nietzsche’s Christianity. But it’s not the science that calls the tune. It is the stock price. And the stock price goes up when rich people feel threatened.
An investigation of the mummified, 2,400 year old remains of the young woman indicates that the young woman died of breast cancer, and the researchers speculate that the marijuana found in her burial chamber was used to mitigate the pain it caused.
“During the imaging of mammary glands, we paid attention to their asymmetric structure and the varying asymmetry of the MR signal,” Andrey Letyagin, a physiology professor from the Russian Academy of Medical Science, told the Times. “We are dealing with a primary tumour in the right breast and right axial lymph nodes with metastases.”
Even if the cancer is what took her life, however, Letyagin also discovered that the young woman had osteomyelitis, an infection of the bone marrow that could have caused arthritic symptoms in the joints and left her prone to fractures, like the ones she suffered shortly before dying.“I am quite sure of the diagnosis,” he concluded. “She was extremely emaciated. Only cancer could have such an impact.”
“We see the traces of traumas she got not so long before her death, serious traumas – dislocations of joints, fractures of the skull,” he said. “These injuries look like she got them falling from a height.”
Natalia Polosmak, the archaeologist who discovered the young woman’s remains, said that the Pazyryks were familiar with marijuana and its analgesic effects. “Probably for this sick woman,” she speculated, “sniffing cannabis was a forced necessity.”Related Stories
Ebola is brilliant.
It is a superior virus that has evolved and fine-tuned its mechanism of transmission to be near-perfect. That's why we're all so terrified. We know we can't destroy it. All we can do is try to divert it, outrun it.
I've worked in health care for a few years now. One of the first things I took advantage of was training to become FEMA-certified for hazmat ops in a hospital setting. My rationale for this was that, in my home state of Maine, natural disasters are almost a given. We're also, though you may not know it, a state that has many major ports that receive hazardous liquids from ships and transport them inland. In the back of my mind, of course, I was aware that any hospital in the world could potentially find itself at the epicenter of a scene from The Hot Zone. That was several years ago. Today I'm thinking, by God, I might actually have to use this training. Mostly, though, I'm aware of just that -- that I did receive training. Lots of it. Because you can't just expect any nurse or any doctor or any health care worker or layperson to understand the deconning procedures by way of some kind of pamphlet or 10-minute training video. Not only is it mentally rigorous, but it's physically exhausting.
PPE, or, personal protective equipment, is sort of a catch-all phrase for the suits, booties, gloves, hoods and in many cases respirators worn by individuals who are entering a hot zone. These suits are incredibly difficult to move in. You are wearing several layers of gloves, which limits your dexterity to basically nil, the hoods limit the scope of your vision -- especially your peripheral vision, which all but disappears. The suits are hot -- almost unbearably so. The respirator gives you clean air, but not cool air. These suits are for protection, not comfort. Before you even suit up, your vitals need to be taken. You can't perform in the suit for more than about a half hour at a time -- if you make it that long. Heat stroke is almost a given at that point. You have to be fully hydrated and calm before you even step into the suit. By the time you come out of it, and your vitals are taken again, you're likely to be feeling the impact -- you may not have taken more than a few steps in the suit, but you'll feel like you've run a marathon on a 90-degree day.
Getting the suit on is easy enough, but it requires team work. Your gloves, all layers of them, are taped to your suit. This provides an extra layer of protection and also limits your movement. There is a very specific way to tape all the way around so that there are no gaps or "tenting" of the tape. If you don't do this properly, there ends up being more than enough open pockets for contamination to seep in.
If you're wearing a respirator, it needs to be tested prior to donning to make sure it is in good condition and that the filter has been changed recently, so that it will do its job. Ebola is not airborne. It is not like influenza, which spreads on particles that you sneeze or cough. However, Ebola lives in vomit, diarrhea and saliva -- and these avenues for infection can travel. Projectile vomiting is called so for a reason. Particles that are in vomit may aerosolize at the moment the patient vomits. This is why if the nurses in Dallas were in the room when the first patient, Thomas Duncan, was actively vomiting, it would be fairly easy for them to become infected. Especially if they were not utilizing their PPE correctly.
The other consideration is this: The "doffing" procedure, that is, the removal of PPE, is the most crucial part. It is also the point at which the majority of mistakes are made, and my guess is that this is what happened in Dallas.
The PPE, if worn correctly, does an excellent job of protecting you while you are wearing it. But eventually you'll need to take it off. Before you begin, you need to decon the outside of the PPE. That's the first thing. This is often done in the field with hoses or mobile showers/tents. Once this crucial step has occurred, the removal of PPE needs to be done in pairs. You cannot safely remove it by yourself. One reason you are wearing several sets of gloves is so that you have sterile gloves beneath your exterior gloves that will help you to get out of your suit. The procedure for this is taught in FEMA courses, and you run drills with a buddy over and over again until you get it right. You remove the tape and discard it. You throw it away from you. You step out of your boots -- careful not to let your body touch the sides. Your partner helps you to slither out of the suit, again, not touching the outside of it. This is difficult, and it cannot be rushed. The respirators need to be deconned, batteries changed, filters changed. The hoods, once deconnned, need to be stored properly. If the suits are disposable, they need to be disposed of properly. If not, they need to be thoroughly deconned and stored safely. And they always need to be checked for rips, tears, holes, punctures or any other even tiny, practically invisible openings that could make the suit vulnerable.
Can anyone tell me if this happened in Dallas?
We run at least an annual drill at my hospital each year. We are a small hospital and thus are a small emergency response team. But because we make a point to review our protocols, train our staff (actually practice donning/doffing gear), I realized this week that this puts us ahead at some much larger and more notable hospitals in the United States. Every hospital should be running these types of emergency response drills yearly, at least. To hear that the nurses in Dallas reported that there were no protocols at their hospital broke my heart. Their health care system failed them. In the United States we always talk about how the health care system is failing patients, but the truth is, it has failed its employees too. Not just doctors and nurses, but allied health professionals as well. The presence of Ebola on American soil has drawn out the true vulnerabilities in the health care system, and they are not fiscally based. We spend trillions of dollars on health care in this country -- yet the allocation of those funds are grossly disproportionate to how other countries spend their health care expenditures. We aren't focused on population health. Now, with Ebola threatening our population, the truth is out.
The truth is, in terms of virology, Ebola should not be a threat to American citizens. We have clean water. We have information. We have the means to educate ourselves, practice proper hand-washing procedures, protect ourselves with hazmat suits. The CDC Disease Detectives were dispatched to Dallas almost immediately to work on the front lines to identify those who might be at risk, who could have been exposed. We have the technology, and we certainly have the money to keep Ebola at bay. What we don't have is communication. What we don't have is a health care system that values preventative care. What we don't have is an equal playing field between nurses and physicians and allied health professionals and patients. What we don't have is a culture of health where we work symbiotically with one another and with the technology that was created specifically to bridge communication gaps, but has in so many ways failed. What we don't have is the social culture of transparency, what we don't have is a stopgap against mounting hysteria and hypochondria, what we don't have is nation of health literate individuals. We don't even have health-literate professionals. Most doctors are specialists and are well versed only in their field. Ask your orthopedist a general question about your health -- see if they can comfortably answer it.
Health care operates in silos -- we can't properly isolate our patients, but we sure as hell can isolate ourselves as health care workers.
As we slide now into flu season, into a time of year when we are normally braced for winter diseases, colds, flus, sick days and cancelled plans, the American people has also now been truly exposed to another disease entirely: the excruciating truth about our health care system's dysfunction -- and the prognosis doesn't look good.
Note: In response to some comments, I would like to clarify that I am FEMA-trained in level 3 hazmat in a hospital setting. I am a student, health guide and writer, but I am not a nurse.Related Stories
1. Fox Newsian (Shep Smith) breaks rank, says something sensible. Rush Limbaugh promptly mocks him for it.
There was a strange outbreak of sanity this week on Fox News. Well, not an outbreak. One case. Shep Smith made an impassioned statement about how Ebola hysteria is counterproductive, and Americans should not be swept up in it. "Do not listen to the hysterical voices on the radio and the television or read the fear-provoking words online,” he urged his viewers. “The people who say and write hysterical things are being very irresponsible."
Whoa, Shep. What are you saying? Sowing fear and panic is your network’s bread and butter. This is heresy.
One day we may really have something to panic about, Smith continued. And we’re not going to ready for it. We’ll have spent all our panic chips. “We're not gonna panic when we're supposed to and we're certainly not gonna panic now," Smith urged. "We have to stop it."
Fortunately, this outbreak of somewhat inarticulate reasonableness was contained. The rest of the Fox News team donned their Hazmat suits and ratcheted up the crazy, irresponsible fearmongering and Obama-blaming. Good ole Rush Limbaugh sagely did the manly thing and mocked Shep Smith, by calling him a sissy. “Shep Smith was crying so much during his reporting from New Orleans in Hurricane Katrina his mascara was running,” Limbaugh said. “But we need to dial it all back here.”
All is right once again in the right-wing conservoverse, where sanity proved to be an isolated case.
2. Dr. Keith Ablow: Obama has it in for us; that’s why he’s trying to give us Ebola.
Reality seldom impinges on the world that Dr. Keith Ablow, a member of Fox’s “medical A-team,” is creating in his own head. In this world, President Obama hates America and that’s why he isn’t protecting Americans from the Ebola virus by closing the border. Ablow explained this week on Fox radio that Obama thinks of himself as a “citizen and a leader of the world” who has no affinity for any particular country “perhaps least of all this country because he has it in for us as disappointing people. People who’ve been a scourge on the face of the Earth.”
Ablow explained that "as a psychiatrist," this is his professional and considered opinion. He cannot even believe the suggestion that his views on Obama being un-American and loving people in Africa more than Americans, could possibly be be construed as racist. He is shocked, shocked I tell you. “I would say the same thing if he was from Luxembourg,” he said.
That ought to settle it.
In fact, Ablow is so unracist that he graciously offered to treat the president, who he called, “Our patient in chief.” Ablow would love the opportunity to sit Obama down and explain to him why he hates America so much, and why this is a problem. “It’s psychologically difficult to defend and protect a country that you have it in for,” he said.
Clearly a doctor with deep compassion.
3. Donald Trump: The president is a ‘psycho.’
Blowhard businessman Donald Trump has not been able to get any of his blatantly racist birther theories or other accusations to stick against the black man who has taken over the White House by being elected, twice. But Trump, who counts excessive germophobia among his charming traits, is particularly worked up about this Ebola thing. Ever the nice guy, he opposed allowing Ebola-infected American doctor, Kent Brantly back into the country for treatment in Georgia a while ago, because maybe Trump would catch it in New York. And of course, Trump favors the travel ban from West Africa that conservatives are calling for. Because, of course he does.
Trump also loves to tweet, and can always be counted on for his usual thoughtfulness in that medium. “I am starting to think that there is something seriously wrong with President Obama's mental health,” Trump tweeted this week. “Why won't he stop the flights. Psycho!”
Sure hope Trump runs for President again. He can always be counted on to lift the level of the discourse.
4. Laura Ingraham thinks Africa is a country ... (oh, yeah, and that Obama wants Americans to die.)
The right cannot get over the fact that Obama will not impose a travel ban. They are, ahem, borderline fetishistic about America’s borders, and the fact that people, especially dark-skinned people, can go across them.
But no one beats Laura Ingraham for obsession about borders. Like Dr. Ablow, Ingraham has a full-blown alternate universe in her head that she thinks explains Obama’s refusal to impose a travel ban on people from West Africa. “The WHO is admitting it botched its efforts to contain the Ebola outbreak in Africa,” the xenophobic talker said on her show this week, “Yet Obama keeps citing ‘experts’ in his opposition to a travel ban. We can’t have it because because it’ll make matters worse… for who?”
Ah! There’s the rub, Obama hates us. Ingraham claims that the left even admits this, when it is being honest. “If a few Americans have to die to make Africans’ lives better, that’s what has to happen,” was her version of Obama’s position. “We owe a great debt to other countries, including Africa, and if that means Americans have to die, we just have to die.”
This is all kinds of wrong and crazy, but we’ll just note that in Ingraham’s alternate universe, the Dartmouth-educated xenophobe considers Africa a country.
5. Louie Gohmert: Infected nurses are evidence of the Democrats’ war on women.
Texas tea partier Louie Gohmert chatted with Glenn Beck this week and brought his unique spin to the Ebola story. Gohmert called CDC director Tom Frieden the leader of the “Democratic war on women nurses!”
Oh, burn! See what he did there? Everyone’s always saying that it’s the Republicans who are waging a war on women, just because they are trying to take reproductive choices away from us and deny us equal pay for equal work. Well, take that Democrats! Louie Gohmert’s got your number.
When Beck asked Gohmert how he was, Gohmert seemed a bit stumped.
"As far as I know, I’m okay. But do any of us really know for sure?" (Because the CDC is lying to us, of course. Get it?)
Well, actually, Louie, some of us do know for sure if you are okay. You should see your doctor, because your stupidity is metastisizing.
6. Scott Brown: Ebola would never be happening if Mitt Romney were president.
Former Massachusetts Senator Scott Brown has already greatly added to the Ebola conversation by cautioning Americans about Ebola-infected terrorists coming over the Mexican border.
Now the New Hampshire Senate hopeful wants to remind America that Ebola would never have happened if his boy Mitt Romney were president.
“Gosh can you imagine if Mitt was the president right now?” Brown asked. “He was right on Russia, he was right on Obamacare, he was right on the economy. And I guarantee you we would not be worrying about Ebola right now and, you know, worrying about our foreign policy screw ups.”
Gosh! That is so true! Because nothing ever bad happens when Republicans are in the White House. 9/11 attacks don’t occur (under Bush,) we don't start stupid wars in Iraq (Bush), and AIDS doesn’t become an epidemic (under Reagan). Because Mitt would have waved his magic Ebola wand, and everyone would be safe.Related Stories
If you’re catching a bus at New York’s Port Authority terminal and have to pee, it’d probably be better to brave the gross port-o-potty on the bus. According to a recent New York Times piece, in the past year police have arrested more than 60 men in the building’s second-floor bathroom on charges of “public lewdness,” mostly for masturbation — a sevenfold increase from last year.
Legal Aid lawyers representing a dozen or so arrestees say their clients were merely relieving themselves when an officer in plain clothes came up to the stall next to them, looked over and smirked. Next thing they knew, they were being carried away in handcuffs.
“I wore a leather jacket, fitted clothes. I guess that fits the description of a homosexual male,” one arrestee told the Times. “I was like, O.K., although I’m gay, I wasn’t doing anything.” For anyone who doubts the New York police are targeting gay men, the cops even have a nickname for the upstanding guy hitting on people in the bathroom: “the gay whisperer.”
New York’s chief of police acknowledges his agents aren’t targeting gay men because anyone is complaining. Rather, it’s on account of a law-enforcement strategy known as “broken windows” policing. Begun during the tenure of former Mayor Rudy Giuliani, it calls for law enforcement to aggressively prosecute innocuous quality-of-life infractions under the theory that small crimes lead to bigger ones. Together with New York Police Department arrest quotas, “broken windows” has led officers to enforce victimless, essentially harmless crimes to the point of harassment.
“Broken windows” has never been shown to conclusively prevent serious crime. What it does for sure is sow distrust between the police and their targets, in this case the gay community.
Let’s be honest: The Port Authority bathrooms are in fact known as a gay hookup spot. Cruising Gays, a hookup site, directs pleasure-seekers to the fourth-floor men’s room. The second floor, where the NYPD has set up its sting, isn’t recommended because its urinals have partitions; in order for officers to confirm that a suspect is masturbating, they’d have to lean over the divider to take a peek, which suggests police are doing more than just monitoring the bathrooms.
I’ll grudgingly admit that authorities have a right to enforce public-lewdness laws — being a liberal softie, I feel sorry for the closeted, older guys who rely on semi-public hookup spots for action — but quality-of-life infractions like riding a bike on the sidewalk or having one’s feet up on the subway seat are meant for passive enforcement. These and other trivial violations shouldn’t be such a large part of the NYPD’s business. And in this case, the numerous firsthand accounts from arrestees — and the fact that police are singling out guys they think look gay and flirting with them — suggests police are profiling gay men and arresting them simply for urinating.
NYPD policies incentivize false arrests. State law technically forbids arrest quotas, so instead the NYPD has set “goals” to evaluate their officers. Unsurprisingly, racial minority groups and LGBT New Yorkers are disproportionately the target of quota-meeting, “broken windows” policing; 86 percent of New Yorkers charged with misdemeanors so far this year were people of color. How could it be otherwise? Imagine the outcry if police started aggressively ticketing rich old ladies on the Upper East Side or finance types on Wall Street for jaywalking, which in this city is a way of life.
If you think about it, encouraging apprehensions is just the opposite of what a good police force should do. “If I help deliver a baby in an emergency, I get no credit,” one officertold the the Police Reform Organizing Project (PROP), a community group that monitors the NYPD. “But I score points if I issue a seat belt summons or record two stop-and-frisks.”
The election of liberal Mayor Bill de Blasio offers an opportunity to repair the damage “broken windows” and the quota system have done to the relationship between the NYPD and New Yorkers. When he took office in January, new Police Commissioner William Bratton promised to put an end to quotas, but a recent PROP report shows they are still being used.
Recent high-profile interactions between police and the public like the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, have sown the belief that police aren’t to be trusted. “Broken windows” and quotas targeted at minorities only add to this fear.Related Stories
This week, things started off on a positive note as the Vatican released a preliminary document that was being heralded as “revolutionary” towards gay Christians by some LGBT groups. Yet Vatican officials were quick to walk back on their statements inside the document as reported by Hemant Mehta at the Friendly Atheist blog:
“The Vatican also said that it wanted to welcome gays and lesbians in the church, but not create ‘the impression of a positive evaluation’ of same-sex relationships, or, for that matter, of unmarried couples who live together.”
And if taking back revolutionary ideas about the churches view of homosexuality was not enough to put the negativity of the Catholic Church back in the headlines, it seems that church officials are now warning Kenyans against getting the tetanus vaccine, sighting a conspiracy theory that the vaccine can cause sterility in women.
Speaking to the BBC, Health Minister James Macharia said, "It's a safe certified vaccine." The Kenyan government has also spoken out against the churches' claims that the vaccine is potentially dangerous.
This did not stop Kenyan church officials from making unfounded statements. Dr Stephen Karanja, the chair of the Catholic Doctors Association in Kenya, told the BBC that, "The ministry must stop making noise and allow the Church to sample the vaccines before they are given," and insisted that the vaccines given earlier in the year could cause sterility in women. Mr. Macharia refuted the baseless claim and stressed that both the World Health Organization and Unicef approve the vaccine.
In what must have been jealousy over the religious news coverage Catholics are getting in Kenya, television evangelist Pat Robertson claimed on his show The 700 Club that:
“You might get AIDS in Kenya, the people have AIDS, you got to be careful, the towels can have AIDS.”
This statement came in response to a caller who asked Robertson if he should consider going on a mission trip to Kenya due to the Ebola outbreak. Robertson’s suggestion to the caller was not go because towels have AIDS. This may be to date one of the most inexcusably careless statements the television minister has ever made.
There may still be good news for religion this week as former Mars Hill pastor Mark Driscoll, who stepped down as the church leader last month after allegations of plagiary and abuse of power, has officially resigned from the Seattle based church.
In his resignation letter to church elders, Driscoll wrote:
“Recent months have proven unhealthy for our family — even physically unsafe at times — and we believe the time has now come for the elders to choose new pastoral leadership for Mars Hill.”
The resignation comes as no surprise and even with some excitement to many who have been following the charges against Driscoll that seemed to continuously pile up, causing the church to close many of its branches around the U.S. from fallout of the former pastor's questionable actions.
However church leaders themselves seemed surprised as they did not ask Driscoll to resign and wrote in a statement, “Indeed, we were surprised to receive his resignation letter.”
Driscoll noted that he felt his continued involvement in the church would serve as a distraction, but noted that his resignation did not bar him from preaching in the future.Related Stories
Anyone who was alive in the 1980s will find these headlines familiar:
- “Rare cancer seen!”
- “AIDS: Fatal, Incurable, and Spreading!”
- “AIDS Alert After 3 Babies Die!”
- “Now No One is Safe From AIDS!”
The sheer panic the new and unfamiliar disease caused was mirrored and amplified in the media in a way we have not seen since. Until now. The parallels between reactions to Ebola and AIDS are evident in the media coverage of the crisis today. The same jittery headlines, same hysterical fear of a deadly disease, same paranoia, and in some cases, same prejudices.
The head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Thomas Frieden, who was also involved in the fight against AIDS, recently compared the two diseases. "In my 30 years in public health, the only thing that has been like this is AIDS,” he said. “We have to work now so that this is not the world's next AIDS."
From a medical standpoint, there are notable similarities between AIDS and Ebola. Both are caused by viruses that originated in Africa, have high mortality rates (AIDS much less so now that effective anti-viral cocktails have been developed), and have no effective cure. Another similarity: they are just not that easy to catch, contrary to all the hysteria. It would be nice if we could learn our lessons from past mistakes, but so far, it’s not clear that we have. Here are eight mistakes Americans are making with Ebola that we also made with AIDS.
1. The victims are stigmatized. In 1981, the New York Times reported that 41 homosexual men had come down with a very rare cancer, and eight of them died within two years of diagnosis. AIDS was then called Gay-Related Immune Deficiency (GRID). The article set off what became an AIDS media frenzy in the ensuing years, with politicians inevitably joining the fray. Headlines like the ones above became commonplace. At first the disease was thought to be a “homosexual disease” (rather than a disease initially caught by homosexuals). Gay people were victims of hate crimes and discrimination even more than before AIDS struck. When cases were reported in the Haitian community, they too were ostracized, as were intravenous drug users when AIDS began spreading among them, too. The result: Already marginalized people in American society became even more stigmatized.
Today, the hysteria is being whipped up against Africans — basically all Africans—who are being stigmatized en masse as agents of our potential destruction. HIV specialist Daliah Mehdi, of AIDS Foundation Chicago, saw this parallel, and recently told the website Healthline, “Here’s something [Ebola] that in some ways mirrors our experience with HIV and could potentially come down the same road. To stigmatize it as one of a kind, we’re not taking our collective experience and trying to get best practices out of that, and I think that’s a terrible mistake.”
2. Misguided calls for travel bans. In the '80s, Senator Jesse Helms, the right-wing Republican from North Carolina, called for banning travel into the U.S. for anyone infected with AIDS. Right-wingers are again calling for a travel ban on Africa. (They don’t make any distinctions between which countries in Africa though only three are experiencing Ebola outbreaks: Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea.) Failing a travel ban, they are demanding automatic quarantines for people traveling to the U.S. from Africa, sick or not. Fox News recently called for special isolation centers around the country for any West African entering the country. Prominent Republicans like John Boehner, Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, Bobby Jindal and Marco Rubio have all proposed outright bans on travel to or from West Africa.
However, healthcare officials have been clear on this issue: banning travel would not work to stop the spread of Ebola. Those with any means at all would likely get around the ban by first traveling to an intermediary country, then to the U.S., making it harder to track the disease, which is the best hedge against its spread. The world is just too interconnected at this point for a travel ban to make any sense. President Obama, so far, is not giving in to political and public pressure for such a ban. Ironically, it was Obama, only four years ago, who finally lifted the ban on HIV-infected travelers that the Helms Amendment had instituted in 1987.
3. Overblown fear of proximity to the infected. Much as Hazmat suits have become a familiar Ebola-era sight, during the early days of the AIDS crisis, it was not uncommon to see police raiding gay bars wearing gloves, masks and other protective gear. When Magic Johnson, the star basketball player for the Los Angeles Lakers revealed he had HIV, he was forced to retire. When he decided he was healthy enough to return to the game, many players, like Karl Malone, another star player for the Utah Jazz, loudly protested his presence, and Johnson eventually had to retire once more, this time for good.
Many will remember the case of Ryan White, a young student in Indiana who was infected with AIDS from a tainted blood transfusion. Panicked parents loudly protested his presence in the same classroom as their children, and White was forced, for a period of time to attend school remotely from home. Mirroring that AIDS panic, talk show host Seth Meyers coined the term “Fearbola,” the irrational fear of catching Ebola.
4. Leadership (and lack thereof) from the top. AIDS phobia was stoked by a combination of ignorance, media overkill and political opportunism, just as Ebola phobia is today. One aspect that has thankfully not followed the AIDS path has been leadership from the top. President Obama is making some of the right moves, sending troups and supplies to affected countries in Africa, a little late, but he's doing it. He has acknowledged the disease and the fear, and is responding thoughtfully. In the 1980s, Ronald Reagan chose to completely ignore AIDS. When he finally did acknowledge the public health crisis, after more than 40,000 people in the U.S. had died, he placed the onus on parents and schools to teach their children “moral” choices, rather than enlist the help of the U.S. government.
5. Crazy rumors and myths flying. Just as today, many people erroneously fear that Ebola can be transmitted through the air, through water and through food. (Ebola is spread only through direct contact with the bodily fluids of an infected person actively displaying Ebola symptoms.) In the ‘80s, wildly inaccurate rumors flew about the transmission of AIDS, including a still-prevalent myth about AIDS-carrying mosquitos. (Wrong. Similar to Ebola, AIDS is transmitted through direct exchange of bodily fluid, although AIDS is actually easier to transmit since even asymptomatic people can infect others through intimate contact.)
6. Misguided, overly optimistic predictions. In 1984, Health and Human Services secretary Margaret Heckler famously predicted that we would have an AIDS vaccine within two years. History has proven her very wrong, although there have been advances in the treatment of AIDS. In a like manner, many people on the left of the political spectrum have pointed to congressional budget cuts in medical research and funding as the reason we don’t have an Ebola vaccine. Maybe, but then again, maybe not.
7. Misunderstood transmission of disease to healthcare workers. Part of the reason for the current panic is the uncertainty that surrounds the question of how exactly the two nurses with diagnosed Ebola caught it from Thomas Duncan, the Ebola patient who died in Texas. This in many ways mirrors the panic that ensued when a very few hospital workers got HIV from inadvertent needle pricks. Healthcare workers who attend Ebola patients are definitely at a higher risk of catching the disease. Protection and training is of the utmost importance. But their illness does not mean that most Americans are under dire and direct threat of catching Ebola. Some actual contact with the bodily fluids of an infected person is necessary for Ebola (and AIDS) to be transmitted.
8. Need for international response. In the early days of AIDS, most people considered the disease a homosexual problem. Today, a similar heartlessness and marginalization of those who are affected is going on. “Many people are [acting like] that’s just an African problem,” former CDC acting director Richard Becker told New York Daily News this week. “[As if] this is a problem that we don’t have to jump on board. It’s something that someone else will take care of.”
But that is especially not the case when it comes to infectious diseases, and it is a grave mistake to think so. A disease is a disease, and without international cooperation in containing and solving the problem, the unwarranted panic in the U.S. today may be altogether warranted in the future.
One good thing that AIDS and Ebola share is the incredible bravery and heroism of frontline healthcare workers. It would do all of us good to honor their fortitude and generosity of spirit.Related Stories
Growing up in a household with 15 people – four of whom were strung out on drugs and sobered up only by drinking 40-ounce King Cobras malt liquor and pints of E&J brandy (known around my home as “Erk & Jerk” or “Easy Jesus”) – meant that by the time I was five years old, I was accustomed to the acrid smell of burning crack cocaine. I was used to the unending fear that my cousins and I would be accosted by “The People” and carted off to live separately in dilapidated homes, where we’d be forced to call a stranger “Ma Dear”.
As a child raised in California in the 90s – at the time, one of three states with the largest average population of foster children – I was all too aware that I could become a statistic and join the then-78% of children removed from homes where “at least one parent was a drug abuser”. Though decades have passed since the “Just Say No” anti-drug era, parental substance and drug abuse continues to be a serious concern for the estimated 6m children in the US who live with a parent addicted to drugs or alcohol.
During the daylight, plenty of love flowed through our four-bedroom home, when the addicts among us were asleep, resting up for another round of their crackhead equivalent of The Hunger Games. Still, I learned to hide myself in the back room, hoping that any given day wouldn’t be the day that “The People” in their dull suits and worn briefcases would descend on our home with plans to remove us from everything we’d come to both love and hate.
On days when the aggravation of living with addicts got to be too much, my cousins and I would burrow in the smallest room of the house and convene the Council on Domestic Crack Addiction – our unofficial, one-bedroom, part-hate-part-support group for dealing with drugs, drug addicts, violence, abuse, neglect and the devastation and dysfunction of our family unit.
We were a loosely organized independent think tank that had only three membership requirements:
1) Must be a current or past resident of the home;
2) Must be drug-free;
3) Must hate crack addiction.
During our meetings we would often share how many times our uncle called each of us “bitch” during last night’s drug binge. We discussed which of us won the undeclared award for telling the most believable lie to stave off the cruelty of kids laughing at the drunken crackhead who got on the same public bus line that four of cousins and I rode to school – a lie so believable that it protected us from the “crack baby” jokes and the taunting that followed us to school the following day, when word got out that we were the children who shared a bloodline with individuals who didn’t subscribe to “blood is thicker than water”. (Why would they, when water could be so easily be mixed with crack and injected into the blood stream, making the drug even closer than a mere daughter, son, niece, or nephew?)
Never in our meetings did I share my fear that we’d one day be turned over to the authorities and separated into homes much worse than the dysfunction we’d grown prone to. Instead I imploded from trepidation andmaladaptive daydreaming. If any of my cousins experienced my feelings of angst, they kept it to themselves – or maybe our mutual unspoken fear was the catalyst behind the elaborate suggestions and plans to help us to escape our dysfunction (or force our dysfunction to escape from us) that we shared on one occasion or another that would .
My cousin, a high school freshman at the time of the last meeting where all eight of us would ever be present again in the cramped room, finally suggested – to general consensus – crack addicts were zombies with no purpose except to inflict pain on themselves and others, and should therefore be forbidden to walk among us. The proverbial gavel was banged after we decided that our meetings couldn’t will our addicted relatives and their dysfunction to escape us. We couldn’t banish our addicted family members to a camp where they could no longer kick in doors or leave remnants of makeshift crack pipes made from broken TV antennas and aluminum foil for us to find scattered throughout our home. We’d have to escape them.
And so began the separation that I had feared would one day rear its head.
Two of my cousins were removed from the home and taken first to another city and then to another state by one of our other maternal aunts; another cousin was taken in by a non-relative who became her “guardian angel”; and a fourth cousin became pregnant and fled the city with her boyfriend. But four of us were left behind. We didn’t, as we’d feared, become part of the nearly 30,000 foster care children who by the age of 18 are never adopted by a “forever family”, but we did remain denizens in the dysfunctional four-bedroom: there were no guardian angels, no prince charmings and no escape routes except adulthood for us.
Instead, we watched as one of our aunts fought her addiction and succeeded – taking yet another one of our cousins with her to a home where they’d make a new beginning as mother and daughter and leaving only three of us cousins remaining in the home to navigate an escape plan of our own. We watched as our uncle shuffled from one recovery center to another, each time relapsing and taking comfort in his old vices. We watched, as our bond with one of the youngest of our clan weakened until it was no longer strong enough to protect him from turning to the streets for validation and then finding shelter in the prison system – the only place that welcomed the sinners of the streets with open arms: “The People” came to take him after all.
Drug policies and treatment provisions, coupled with the history ofwidespread failures by Child Protective Services, are a lamentable oversight that have led to many children becoming adults dependent on what they once despised: addiction, chaos, incarceration, neglect and abuse.
I stepped out of the shadows to be seen as more than the consequencesof my childhood. But unfortunately, the last of my cousins remains in our childhood home, wishing on a star for “The People” to offer her some relief; such is the life of a child left behind.
America’s Looming Freak Show: How GOP Control Will Terrorize a Nation – With No Political Repercussion
Bill Scher made the argument from the left as well as anyone could, while this piece by the Wall Street Journal’s Gerald Seib, coming from the center-right, was more predictable and vexing. (Paul Waldman took a shot at it back in August, here.) The Washington Post’s Phillip Bump followed and endorsed Seib’s argument. But those takes rely at least in part on the notion that if Republicans gain the Senate, they’ll either have an incentive to help “govern” – or they’ll shame themselves in the eyes of the American public if they don’t. Unfortunately, neither premise is true.
In fact, I’m concerned that worsening political dysfunction perpetuates itself by convincing more Americans that politics is futile. The Obama coalition in particular – younger, less white, less well off than even prior coalitions of Democrats – has gotten so little that’s tangible from its history-making turnout in 2012 (and yes I’ve read that Krugman piece and I mostly agree.) The prospect of its coalescing to become a permanent force in American politics has been at least postponed, if not thwarted entirely, by the deliberate GOP sabotage of the political process.
For me, the backdrop to this depressing midterm election is not merely ISIS and Ebola, but continued unrest in Ferguson, Mo., where it seems unlikely Officer Darren Wilson will face consequences for shooting Michael Brown. From New York to Los Angeles, the issue of police violence just gets worse. There’s increasing activism on the issue, which is great to see – the crowds that turned out for “Ferguson October” over the weekend, and into Monday, were inspiring.
Yet little of the activism is tied to voting, at least partly because the electoral system has done so little to solve the problem, even in cities with liberal mayors. New York alone has paid a half billion out to the victims of police abuse just since 2009. I’m excited by the new young leadership on police issues even as I’m worried about this election – and maybe that combination makes me uniquely unable to deal with the notion that Democrats losing the Senate next month could have a silver lining.
Bill Scher reprised his Politico argument on MSNBC’s “Up with Steve” on Saturday, continuing to press the case that Republicans will suffer politically “if they look like a completely dysfunctional party incapable of governing.” (Scher, unlike Seib, holds out no false hope that the GOP will get its act together and compromise with Obama if it wins back the Senate.)
But Republicans already look like a completely dysfunctional party incapable of governing, and they’re on the verge of another great midterm win. A year after the government shutdown, it’s shocking even to me how little it ultimately cost the party politically. Everyone knew that October 2013 polls weren’t as important as October 2014, and that the GOP would have a year to recover – but even I didn’t believe that they would, so completely.
The shutdown cost the economy $24 billion in growth. It showed the nation the incompetence of House GOP leadership. It exposed the civil war in the Senate. The country saw that the party was craven, dysfunctional, agenda-free and not merely incapable of governing, but uninterested in it. After the shutdown, the share of voters identifying themselves as Republican dropped to 25 percent in Gallup polling, the lowest level in 25 years, and polls showed Democrats might have a shot at taking back the House.
But a year later, Republicans are in no danger of losing the House and have a better than even chance to take back the Senate. Even at the time, it was clear that a feckless, frenetic media — which immediately went on to treat Obamacare web site glitches as just as catastrophic as the GOP’s shutdown debacle — would let the party off the hook. Yet so have voters. The Republican base is more than content to have its leaders do nothing but block and sabotage Obama. And the Democratic base still disproportionately sits out the midterms, which lets the obstructionists dominate the agenda.
Seib holds out hope that a GOP Senate might be able to deliver on immigration reform. Continued Beltway optimism about that prospect is delusional. Given that the Senate already passed a (slightly bipartisan) bill, GOP control won’t change anything. Sadly, even the president fell for the fiction that the House would eventually take up the issue for far too long, postponing executive action on deferring deportations so that he couldn’t do it before the midterms – and now there’s worry about depressed Latino 2014 turnout as a result. Let’s hope nobody in the White House falls for that again.
Scher takes special comfort from the fact that 2016 looms, giving the GOP “the opportunity to work out its dysfunctional family issues under the white-hot spotlight of a presidential campaign.” There’s no doubt 2016 will be much better for Democrats. The base turns out for presidential elections, and the Senate map that year will be as tough on Republicans as it is in 2014 on Democrats, forcing the GOP to defend more seats and offering their rivals more pickups. All of that is a given.
But even a 2016 rout is unlikely to force Republicans to focus on a policy agenda and commit to governing again. All they have to do is thwart the plans of President Hillary Clinton, or whomever, and reap the rewards two years later.
Until the Democrats’ structural disadvantage in voter turnout is corrected, American politics is an endless feedback loop of futility: little or no policy change leads to a discouraged electorate, which ensures little or no policy change, which guarantees more voter apathy. Democrats may yet keep the Senate, and if they do it will come down to greater grassroots and national emphasis on turning out unmarried women voters (more on that later this week). But if they don’t, there will be no silver lining.
Sure, it will be entertaining to watch de facto House Speaker Ted Cruz make life even more miserable for Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. It’s a given that the 2016 Republican primary race will be as big a freak show as 2012 (and maybe even with Mitt Romney again too!) But this optimist no longer believes the GOP will pay any lasting price for more cartoonish dysfunction. But the rest of us will, for a long time.
Remember last year’s polar vortex? The record low temperatures? The steam rising from Lake Michigan? The water that froze mid-slosh?
It’s coming back.
Cold air will surge into the Northeast in late November, but the brunt of the season will hold off until January and February. The polar vortex, the culprit responsible for several days of below-zero temperatures last year, will slip down into the region from time to time, delivering blasts of arctic air.
“I think, primarily, we’ll see that happening in mid-January into February but again, it’s not going to be the same type of situation as we saw last year, not as persistent,” AccuWeather.com Expert Long-Range Forecaster Paul Pastelok said.
“The cold of last season was extreme because it was so persistent. We saw readings that we haven’t seen in a long time: 15- to 20-below-zero readings.”
Snow accumulation is also expected to be higher than usual, with especially heavy hits to Philadelphia and New York City.
According to CNN, a polar vortex is the “circulation of strong, upper-level winds that normally surround the northern pole in a counterclockwise direction.” Generally, these winds are confined to the region, but the winds have been known to distort, and dip much further south than usual.
In 1988, the “Willie Horton” ad was notorious for its use of racial dog whistles by Republicans to undermine the Democratic nominee for president, Michael Dukakis. That despicable video was part of George H.W. Bush's successful election, and went down in history as the poster child for shameful race-baiting political advertisement.
In the race for Nebraska's second congressional district, Republicans have just put up a new television spot that seems like Willie Horton all over again—or Willie Horton 2.0. The National Republican Campaign Committee is running the following ad against Democratic candidate Brad Ashford:
The ad shows an image of Bradford next to a picture of Nikko Jenkins, who was imprisoned for armed robbery and assault but then was released under a Nebraska law that allows early release for good behavior; Jenkins went on to murder multiple people.
The ad blames Bradford for not restricting the Nebraska law that allows early release, and by extension seems to place blame on him for the murders. And of course, the imagery of Bradford, next to a tattoo-adorned convict is the money shot – its racial connotations are immediately obvious in a state where only about five percent of the population is black.Related Stories