Category Archives: disaster

Americans are vampires: Ebola edition

I ran across a Boing Boing post where they point out that two American missionaries who contracted Ebola appear to have saved by an experimental treatment.  CNN describes the situation:

Its a story that could have come from a cinematic medical thriller: Two American missionary workers contract Ebola. Their situation is dire. Three vials containing a highly experimental drug are flown into Liberia in a last-ditch effort to save them. And the drug flown in last week appears to have worked, according to a source familiar with details of the treatment.Dr. Kent Brantlys and Nancy Writebols conditions significantly improved after receiving the medication, sources say. Brantly was able to walk into Emory University Hospital in Atlanta after being evacuated to the United States last week, and Writebol is expected to arrive in Atlanta on Tuesday.

via Ebola drug likely saved American patients – CNN.com.

1.   Starting in March 2014, Ebola started to be seen in West Africa.  More than 1600 Africans have shown up sick with more than half of those infected dying.  None of these people got a last-minute salvation.

2.  Everyone in the world has to be terrified of Ebola.  It is one of the most scary diseases I’ve ever heard about.  The notion that a pharmaceutical company in San Diego had a treatment that seems to have worked that was never shared with dying African people is offensive.

3.  I can only imagine what this looks like to people in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia.

4.  The cure had to be pried out of the hands of a for-profit pharmaceutical corporation.  Turns out the months of Africans dying wasn’t sufficient incentive to release the treatment.   So how did these two white American missionaries find out about this miracle treatment?  CNN explains that the missionary charity (Samaritans Purse) made the connection:

As the Americans conditions worsened, Samaritans Purse reached out to a National Institutes of Health scientist who was on the ground in West Africa, according to the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.”The scientist was able to informally answer some questions and referred them to appropriate company contacts to pursue their interest in obtaining the experimental product,” NIAID said.The experimental drug, known as ZMapp, was developed by the biotech firm Mapp Biopharmaceutical Inc., which is based in San Diego. The patients were told that the treatment had never been tried before in a human being but had shown promise in small experiments with monkeys.

via Ebola drug likely saved American patients – CNN.com.

5.  You might call these Americans vampires.  Back from the dead saved by the magical blood of the sacrifices of those who came before them:

The medicine is a three-mouse monoclonal antibody, meaning that mice were exposed to fragments of the Ebola virus and then the antibodies generated within the mices blood were harvested to create the medicine. It works by preventing the virus from entering and infecting new cells.

via Ebola drug likely saved American patients – CNN.com.

The rush of resources and last-minute miracle part of this narrative is worth talking more about.  But also the sacrifices of the mice, monkeys and the dead Africans have to be considered when thinking about these two saved missionaries.

I think this makes visible the hierarchy of human bodies — the idea that some people count more than others.

Worth noting that the Wall Street Journal reports that one of the Americans was also given a blood transfusion from an African Ebola survivor.

Dr. Brantly and Ms. Writebol began receiving supportive care as soon as they were diagnosed, according to their respective charities. Dr. Brantly also got a blood transfusion from a 14-year-old boy who survived Ebola under Dr. Brantlys care, in the hope that antibodies would help him, too, fight off the virus. Both Dr. Brantly and Ms. Writebol received an experimental serum, the charities said, though they didnt specify what the treatment was.

via U.S. Ebola Virus Patient Being Treated in Atlanta Faces Crucial Days – WSJ.

6.  Some people might ask: ‘don’t you think it’s worth it? Having a potential cure for Ebola is more important than any of these complaints about how the drug got made or released?

I would respond that the harm is done.  Any attempt to justify this kind of hierarchical violence is probably worth noting in itself as evidence of a pernicious desire in the questioner to defend the pharmaceutical company.

Of course I wish for a cure for Ebola and am glad that a treatment seems to be in the works.  I hope for an immediate and full distribution of this new treatment to everyone who has Ebola.

I haven’t seen any leader or press report advocating that the drug should be shared with other dying people.

It is always worth thinking about how we do things.   Few would deny that injustices are done in the name of best intentions.   And we should examine how CNN and the Wall Street Journal write about a phenomenon.

The Wall Street Journal  reports that the death rate of those who get Ebola is one reason why researching a cure isn’t a priority:

There are several vaccines and drug treatments in development and testing for Ebola, but none have been approved by regulators. Commercializing them is a challenge given that Ebola is a rare disease, said Thomas Geisbert, who works on potential Ebola vaccine platforms as a researcher at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston.”Ebola is very rare—there is not a financial incentive for large pharmaceutical companies to make vaccines for Ebola,” he said. “Its really going to require government agencies or a foundation.”

via U.S. Ebola Virus Patient Being Treated in Atlanta Faces Crucial Days – WSJ.

7.  I’m glad that someone helped to save these two people’s lives.  Here is hoping that same impulse counts for everyone else in the world.

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Visibility of nazi medical experiments

Visibility and awareness above all.  What are the stakes?  Many German medical professionals gained subjects for experiments from the Nazi murder machine. Take this one example:

The most startling breakthrough comes from German journalist and Tübingen culture professor Hans-Joachim Lang. He has identified all of the Jews selected for gassing by August Hirt, director of the anatomical institute in Strasbourg who had a singularly ghoulish plan for their remains.

Hirt was interested in adding to a collection of skulls at the University of Strasbourg. “Although extensive skulls collections existed from nearly all races and peoples,” the Jews were missing, he wrote to the director of an SS research group established to prove Aryan superiority. “From the Jewish-Bolshevik commissars, who embody a disgusting, but characteristic type of subhuman, we have the opportunity to acquire a tangible scientific document by securing their skulls.”

Hirt was essentially competing with the Natural History Museum in Vienna, which procured Jewish skulls from another anatomist, Hermann Voss. In consultation with the staff of Heinrich Himmler, Hirt received permission to go ahead. Two staff members were sent to Auschwitz to separate out a group of Jews, 30 women and 79 men. They were examined according to the standards for racial typing of the time: Their skin, hair, and eye color were noted and coded using special tables, and the shapes of their heads, foreheads, noses, mouths, and ears measured. Fifty-seven of the men and 29 of the women were chosen. They were gassed in a special chamber and their bodies delivered to Hirt at his anatomical institute.

Hirt stored the bodies in the basement. In the end, he didn’t work on them—he lacked the equipment during the course of the war. At the war’s end, Himmler ordered the bodies destroyed. But in January 1945, after the liberation of Strasbourg, the London Daily Mail reported their discovery in the anatomical institute.

via Nazi anatomy history: The origins of conservatives’ anti-abortion claims that rape can’t cause pregnancy..

Oh yeah, the bogus idea that rape doesn’t lead to conception traces back to some grotesque nazi scientists.

Whether they know it or not, Stieve’s work is the source for their discredited claim. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists warned that saying rape victims rarely get pregnant was “medically inaccurate, offensive, and dangerous.” But the anti-abortion doctor Jack Willke, former head of the National Right to Life Committee, insisted otherwise. \”This goes back 30 and 40 years,” he told the Los Angeles Times in the midst of the Akin furor. “When a woman is assaulted and raped, there\’s a tremendous amount of emotional upset within her body.\” Willke has written that \”one of the most important reasons why a rape victim rarely gets pregnant” is “physical trauma.\”

Where did he get this idea? In 1972, another anti-abortion doctor, Fred Mecklenburg, wrote an essay in a book financed by the group Americans United for Life in which he asserted that women rarely get pregnant from rape. Mecklenburg said that:

The Nazis tested the hypothesis that stress inhibits ovulation by selecting women who were about to ovulate and sending them to the gas chambers, only to bring them back after their realistic mock killing, to see what effects this had on their ovulatory pattern. An extremely high percentage of these women did not ovulate.

via Nazi anatomy history: The origins of conservatives’ anti-abortion claims that rape can’t cause pregnancy..

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Systematic racism: RIP Trayvon Martin

Like most other thoughtful people I had little to contribute to the public discussion about the killing of Trayvon Martin.  I deleted an initial angry post that included a forceful discussion of systematic racism and some very inflammatory graphics.

I think I should have kept that angry post.

Systematic racism: hierarchy between races is built into our educational system, governmental policy, policing, and amplified in mass media.  Systematic racism means that you might learn prejudice and not think  that you were prejudiced.

Most people could identify a time in the past where their nation embodied systematic racism.  Maybe . . . it’s still bad?  Can we acknowledge that we teach exclusion and sustain privilege in a little cushion of bogus justifications?

The Trayvon Martin case suggests that the forces which amplify ignorance and hatred have been more effective than those of us proposing compassion and critical thinking.

Juror B37 who has given an interview about her reasoning about the case and her justifications are simply terrifying.   Here are a handful of quotes organized and archived by Igor Volsky at Thinkprogress.

1. Martin was responsible for his own death.

JUROR: It was just hard, thinking that somebody lost their life, and there’s nothing else that could be done about it. I mean, it’s what happened. It’s sad. It’s a tragedy this happened, but it happened. And I think both were responsible for the situation they had gotten themselves into. I think both of them could have walked away. It just didn’t happen.

2. Juror felt just as sorry for Zimmerman.

COOPER: Do you feel sorry for Trayvon Martin?

JUROR: I feel sorry for both of them. I feel sorry for Trayvon, in the situation he was in. And I feel sorry for George because of the situation he got himself in.

3. Zimmerman should continue to serve as a neighborhood watchman because he has learned his lesson about going too far.

COOPER: Is George Zimmerman somebody you would like to have on a neighborhood watch in your community?

JUROR: If he didn’t go too far. I mean, you can always go too far. He just didn’t stop at the limitations that he should have stopped at.

COOPER: So is that a yes or — if he didn’t go too far. Is he somebody prone, you think, to going too far? Is he somebody you would feel comfortable —

JUROR: I think he was frustrated. I think he was frustrated with the whole situation in the neighborhood, with the break-ins and the robberies. And they actually arrested somebody not that long ago. I — I mean, I would feel comfortable having George, but I think he’s learned a good lesson.

COOPER: So you would feel comfortable having him now, because you think he’s learned a lesson from all of this?

JUROR: Exactly. I think he just didn’t know when to stop. He was frustrated, and things just got out of hand.

4. Verdict hinged on “Stand Your Ground” law, even though Zimmerman did not use it in his defense.

COOPER: Because of the two options you had, second degree murder or manslaughter, you felt neither applied?

JUROR: Right. Because of the heat of the moment and the Stand Your Ground. He had a right to defend himself. If he felt threatened that his life was going to be taken away from him or he was going to have bodily harm, he had a right.

5. Zimmerman was only guilty of using poor judgment and was “egged” on to follow Martin by the 9/11 operator.

COOPER: Do you think he’s guilty of something?

JUROR: I think he’s guilty of not using good judgment. When he was in the car and he called 911, he shouldn’t have gotten out of that car. But the 911 operator also, when he was talking to him, kind of egged him on.

6. Race played absolutely no factor in Zimmerman’s profiling of Martin.

JUROR: I think just circumstances caused George to think that he might be a robber, or trying to do something bad in the neighborhood because of all that had gone on previously. There were unbelievable, a number of robberies in the neighborhood.

COOPER: So you don’t believe race played a role in this case?

JUROR: I don’t think it did. I think if there was another person, Spanish, white, Asian, if they came in the same situation where Trayvon was, I think George would have reacted the exact same way.

COOPER: Why do you think George Zimmerman found Trayvon Martin suspicious then?

JUROR: Because he was cutting through the back, it was raining. He said he was looking in houses as he was walking down the road. Kind of just not having a purpose to where he was going. He was stopping and starting. But I mean, that’s George’s rendition of it, but I think the situation where Trayvon got into him being late at night, dark at night, raining, and anybody would think anybody walking down the road stopping and turning and looking, if that’s exactly what happened, is suspicious. And George said that he didn’t recognize who he was.

COOPER: Well, was that a common belief on the jury that race was not — that race did not play a role in this?

JUROR: I think all of us thought that race did not play a role. […]

COOPER: It didn’t come up, the question of, did George Zimmerman profile Trayvon Martin because he was African-American?

JUROR: No, I think he just profiled him because he was the neighborhood watch, and he profiled anyone who came in acting strange. I think it was just circumstances happened that he saw Trayvon at the exact time that he thought he was suspicious.

7. Zimmerman’s history of reporting black men to the police and his decision to follow Martin played no role in the verdict.

COOPER: So whether it was George Zimmerman getting out of the vehicle, whether he was right to get out of the vehicle, whether he was a wannabe cop, whether he was overeager, none of that in the final analysis, mattered. What mattered was those seconds before the shot went off, did George Zimmerman fear for his life?

JUROR: Exactly. That’s exactly what happened.

via 7 Mind Blowing Moments From Zimmerman Juror B37’s First Interview | ThinkProgress.

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Military and toxic waste: ghost fleet

Don’t forget that the most significant polluter in United States history is the nation’s armed services.  Scott Haefner and some colleagues snuck aboard decommissioned boats in the Navy fleet near San Francisco.  Haefner notes:

The ships have shed more than 20 tons of toxic paint debris that have settled into bay sediments, where they will cause problems long after the ships are gone. Even though Congress and the State of California ordered MARAD to address the situation, nothing was done for most of the past decade. Lawsuits filed by environmental groups were also unsuccessful in forcing MARAD to remove the ships. However, after Barack Obama took the Oval Office in 2008, the tide shifted and MARAD began working diligently to clean up and remove the ships.

via Inside the Ghost Ships of the Mothball Fleet | Beyond the Photos.

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Reading disasters through museums:They’re burning the stuff we haven’t stolen yet!

The new crisis in Mali reminds me of the Taliban destroying priceless Buddhist statues.  In case you didn’t see it, extremists in Mali burned an archive of historical records and old manuscripts.

Seydou Traoré, who has worked at the Ahmed Baba Institute since 2003, and fled shortly before the rebels arrived, said only a fraction of the manuscripts had been digitised. “They cover geography, history and religion. We had one in Turkish. We don’t know what it said.”

He said the manuscripts were important because they exploded the myth that “black Africa” had only an oral history. “You just need to look at the manuscripts to realise how wrong this is.”

Some of the most fascinating scrolls included an ancient history of west Africa, the Tarikh al-Soudan, letters of recommendation for the intrepid 19th-century German explorer Heinrich Barth, and a text dealing with erectile dysfunction.

via Timbuktu mayor: Mali rebels torched library of historic manuscripts | World news | guardian.co.uk.

Of course the loss of history is tragic.  And we shouldn’t burn books.  But beyond this is the preference to simplify another culture and place through colonial loss — in essence we should be enraged that human history is being destroyed.  In my opinion this hinges on a universal humanist version of history — one where all the stories of the world are foundations for the great story of the west.

Although destructive and thoughtless, it seems as though the west is more concerned about the ideas of people of the region that were recorded four hundred years ago than those expressions of anger in 2013.  This temporary colonial perspective would probably elicit awkward old school colonialist answers to global problems.

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Polishing the deck chairs on the titanic: climate change and boobs

We are doomed, for real.

I just watched a video with supermodels stripping while they narrate a bizarre rant about global warming.  Something about fifty parts per million.  This is the best that an active ecological movement can come up with?

1.  Layer this against people dying from global warming enhanced storms and diseases, flooding and wretched humans trying to survive in disaster zones.   The way to deal with this massive global change is not to get naked as the earth gets warmer.  Nor is it to gaze at supermodels hoping that people will be inspired. These ideas are dumb.

2.  The incentive for humans to want to address global warming should be self interest.  Do you want to cradle your dying loved ones in an atmosphere less hospitable to humans?  The advertisement suggests that the true incentive is to see some tits.  It is implied that if humans in the USA can reduce emissions sufficiently, then these models will strip fully naked instead of to their skivvies.  What a bargain.   I wonder if they got this in writing from the supermodels — some kind of hooker deal where they have to have sex with the director if humans can learn to live in a steady-state economy.

3.  Oppression of women and consumer fashion culture are part of global warming.  To layer more sexist and consumerist stuff (disney t-shirt in the strip show) as a placebo remedy is toxic.

No link or reference to the group or ad itself is intentional.  Why give them another platform.

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In what ways are humans like vultures . . .

Critically endangered vultures in India are still at risk of exposure to the anti-inflammatory drug diclofenac, through widespread illegal sales of the drug.

The Indian government banned use of the drug for veterinary purposes in 2006 after it brought vultures to the brink of extinction. Vultures were being poisoned after eating the carcasses of cattle that had been treated with the drug. The manufacture of diclofenac for human purposes is still allowed.

via Nature News Blog: Illegal drug sales threaten vultures in India.

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