Ebola: the Baobabs of Infectious Diseases

In Le Petit Prince, the Prince describes to the pilot why he diligently removed baobabs from his tiny planet:

“That is strictly correct,” I said. “But why do you want the sheep to eat the little baobabs?”

He answered me at once, “Oh, come, come!”, as if he were speaking of something that was self-evident. And I was obliged to make a great mental effort to solve this problem, without any assistance.

Indeed, as I learned, there were on the planet where the little prince lived–as on all planets–good plants and bad plants. In consequence, there were good seeds from good plants, and bad seeds from bad plants. But seeds are invisible. They sleep deep in the heart of the earth’s darkness, until some one among them is seized with the desire to awaken. Then this little seed will stretch itself and begin–timidly at first–to push a charming little sprig inoffensively upward toward the sun. If it is only a sprout of radish or the sprig of a rose-bush, one would let it grow wherever it might wish. But when it is a bad plant, one must destroy it as soon as possible, the very first instant that one recognizes it.

Now there were some terrible seeds on the planet that was the home of the little prince; and these were the seeds of the baobab. The soil of that planet was infested with them. A baobab is something you will never, never be able to get rid of if you attend to it too late. It spreads over the entire planet. It bores clear through it with its roots. And if the planet is too small, and the baobabs are too many, they split it in pieces . . .

Before this year, an Ebola outbreak would stay within the confines of a village or community, killing no more than a few hundred people at a time.  In the current outbreak, more than ten thousand people have been infected and approximately five thousand of those people have died, which is more than the previous thirty-plus years of casualties combined.

If there were ever a baobab that ought not take root, it is the current strain of Ebola.  It seems innocuous now, as the sarcasm and jokes fly about only one person in America dying of it, but we can stop it when only one person has died on American soil.  Once taken root (see the analogy?), Ebola will be almost impossible to quarantine and manage; at best, it will fly through the population until we can find a vaccine, and at worst, it will result in draconian quarantine measures for all citizens.  The push for travel restriction and quarantines isn’t xenophobic; it’s good sense.

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Totalitarian ‘Tolerance’

Study: liberals are more likely to unfriend you over politics, online and offline.  (Hat tip.)

I’ve been blocked, unfriended, de-friended, and maligned for being a conservative.  (Add in being a conservative who is also female, highly educated, and unmarried with no kids, and lives in a deep blue state, and it’s a hate-fest.)  On several occasions, I’ve been presumed to be incompetent, stupid, or uneducated because I’m a registered Republican.

Conservatiephvobia is worse than it had been in decades past.  At least ‘back then,’ liberals supported things that were great in the short term and horrific in the long term (e.g. the ‘war on poverty,’ undermining marriage, Social Security, stringent workplace regulations that encourage offshoring, tax systems that create a short-term boost and long-term malaise, abortion).

Short-term pain, and short-term cause and effect, matters a lot.  It’s much easier to at least convince someone that drinking to excess is bad for his health than that smoking is bad for his health; the former will become apparent as he spends the next day dry-heaving and suffering through a splitting headache.  Unfortunately for liberals, their own policies are now blowing up on them in the short term, with no long-term relief in sight.  Whether it be ObamaCare (insuring only a fraction of those who should have been insured, at a cost of about ten times the original price), Obama himself (a failure by almost any standard), the stimulus, or Ebola, it doesn’t take two generations to show them that they are wrong: it’s apparent right now.

As conservatives, who have been vilified as racist misogynists who want people to die in the streets, connect the dots between liberal policies and current problems, there is no buffer of a generation or two, a buffer that would allow them to say things about alternate causes or ‘we don’t really know that’ or ‘it’s the law of the land.’  A mere six years after everyone told us that conservatism was dead, Obama was the best president since George Washington, and only haters opposed his agenda, the liberal ideology collided with reality and left a wreck big enough to shut down the proverbial highway.

Maybe conservatives could be nicer about being right, but given the amount of venom thrown at us, it’s unlikely.  So unfriend away, but understand that the acrimony is mostly your doing.

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Regrets, I’ve had a few

When I was a freshman in high school, I stress-fractured both of my ankles when running cross country and track.  That sidelined me throughout the entire spring season.  With the help of cushion inserts and Sauconys, I launched into my fall cross-country season with renewed vigour.  Unfortunately, I developed pain in my left quad, which turned out to be a femoral stress fracture.  Before I found out it was a fracture, I ran through the pain, at one point running a personal best on our home cross-country course in eighteen minutes and six seconds.  By the time I saw a doctor, the fracture was six inches long and big enough to be seen on an X-ray.

Orthotics fixed the problem well enough for high school, but my leg gives me enough problems to this day that I functionally can no longer be a runner.  Damn, do I miss it, and I would give those high school races back in a heartbeat if it meant I could be a runner now.

Connor Callihan is a high school junior who crawled across the finish line after a stress fracture shattered his tibia during a race.  What a tough, tough kid.  I hope things work out better for him than they did for me; it would be heartbreaking if his determination to finish this season meant that he doesn’t have any other seasons to run.

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Speak Softly and Carry a Big Stick

As #GamerGate and the associated scandals enter their second (third? fourth? this is what I get for working insane hours all summer) month, the commentary from all sides continues.   I found this post by Serious Pony, a feminist in gaming, to be particularly interesting.  She describes online threats, harassment, and an environment that is unusually toxic to women.  (Hat tip.)

As a former R&D engineer, now attorney, I’m no stranger to the plight of women in high-powered and male-dominated professions. Unfortunately, neither am I a stranger to sexual harassment.  (Description of my career path: I needed a lawyer, not to become a lawyer.)  My stepmom, who was the highest-ranking woman in her division of a multi-national bank before she retired from banking, is no stranger to sexist crap.  I have friends who are engineers, PhDs, and private equity rock stars, all of whom face sexism in their industries. Yet what is described by Serious Pony completely eclipses the problems they’ve had.

As one of my former colleagues said about being a woman engineer, “When you’re in college, all the men think you only got there because of affirmative action.  But once you make it through, they know that you’re capable and often respect you even more for doing it despite the hurdles women face.”  With the exception of a few people (although what doozies they were), that is a completely accurate description of my experience when I was in STEM.

A woman in STEM.  As Serious Pony, aka Kathy Sierra, wrote,

There is only one reliably useful weapon for the trolls to stop the danger you pose and/or to get max lulz: discredit you. The disinformation follows a pattern so predictable today it’s almost dull: first, you obviously “fucked” your way into whatever role enabled your undeserved visibility. I mean..duh. A woman. In tech. Not that there aren’t a few deserving women and why can’t you be more like THEM but no, you are NOT one of them.

“A woman. In tech.”

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Filed under Feminism, Science & Engineering

Hey, #ThankAFeminist peeps, stop trying to take credit for my life

There is now a #ThankAFeminist hashtag that encourages people to thank a feminist for whatever has gone right in their lives. Apparently, I’m supposed to thank Amanda Marcotte and Jessica Valenti, who partied and slept their way through college, for my engineering degree. According to this hashtag, I owe a big thanks for my car-repair skills to women who can’t tell the difference between a fuel pump relay and a timing belt.  My law degree? Some co-ed with a  twitter handle made that happen.

Really, ladies, stop trying to take credit for my life.

To the extent that I owe people for my engineering career, that would be my parents, who paid the bills for university; my grandfather, who first floated the idea of engineering school; and my former manager, who got her PhD from MIT in the ’60s and is a great role model. I owe no thanks to the chickies with Women’s Studies degrees. They weren’t pulling all nighters studying quantum mechanics and differential equations so that I could get my beauty sleep; I was the one studying my arse off while they partied.

We owe particular feminists for the right to vote and own property, the 1963 equal pay laws, and the ability to get an education. But those feminists are long dead, and the proper way to thank them is to vote, work, and study hard.  There’s no reason for us to grovel at the feet of third-wave fauxminists who haven’t done a damn thing besides lobby Congress to force nuns to buy their birth control. (One particular female political figure did inspire me to get involved in politics, but we’ve all seen how modern feminists treat Sarah Barracuda.  #ThankAFeminist for destroying the most inspiring female politician in a generation…?!)

Am I getting worked up about this? Sure. But every high achieving person I know says that their successes have taken a lot out of them as people.  The long hours of work, lack of sleep, delay in starting a family, not seeing the kids, not spending time with friends, missing weddings, moving anywhere in the country for school or a job. They made the sacrifices, and it’s insane to imply that drunken Lena Dunham did the heavy lifting.

They deserve better. We all deserve better. #ThankAFeminist for disparaging every meaningful thing in your life.

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Girl Power: Car Repair Edition

A few weeks ago, my check engine light came on.  I got myself to Autozone, had the codes scanned, and found out that my upstream oxygen sensor is on the fritz. (The person at Autozone told me that it was “bank 1, sensor 1,” and that I have four oxygen sensors; however, extensive examination of my undercarriage revealed that I only have two oxygen sensors – one upstream, one downstream.)

Autozone wanted $313 or so for the sensor, but I found one on Amazon.com for less than $150. After some more research (thanks, Matthew’s Volvo site!), I found that the procedure for replacing an oxygen sensor is as follows:

  1. Put car up on car ramps;
  2. Once engine is cool, douse oxygen sensor in PB Blaster or WD-40 and wait about ten minutes;
  3. Using special oxygen sensor wrench, remove oxygen sensor;
  4. Unplug other end of oxygen sensor (note: in Volvo V70s, the upstream sensor has a black plug and the downstream sensor has a grey plug);
  5. Install new sensor.

Bizarrely, it was almost that easy. Mr. Velociraptor’s dad has car ramps and an oxygen sensor wrench, so we went to his place for the repair. (Confession time: when I described the exhaust system, I said something about the engine leading to a metal piece that is the ‘size and shape of a doughnut.’  Mr. Velociraptor and his father were entirely confused until the latter said, “You mean a flange?”  I also described the catalytic converter as ‘something that looks like a giant metal slug.’  For those trying this repair at home, the upstream sensor is right near the doughnut, and the downstream sensor is plugged right into the giant metal slug.)

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Filed under Nerdiness, Science & Engineering

The Dark Side of #MenForChoice

The #menforchoice hashtag is trending on twitter to the great delight of feminists everywhere – and the non-delight of us more cynical types.

If a man finds out that he got his girlfriend pregnant, there are three outcomes: she aborts, and then he’s done with the problem; she raises the kid and either demands that he marry her or garnishes 20% of his paycheck for eighteen years; or she gives the kid up for adoption.  One of those choices creates a lot of problems for men, making it harder for them to find a different woman (if they are not sure they want to marry this one) and costing them quite a bit of money.  That men would then wrap themselves in the mantle of “choice” and piously declare their full support for an abortion does not make them good, compassionate people.

“Hon, I know we weren’t expecting this, but we’ll move in together, get married if you want, and I’ll be the best father I can be every single day of my life” is a much bigger and tougher promise than “I’ll pay for half the abortion and drive you to the clinic.”  Any woman who wants to know if a man really supports her choice and not just what is easy for him ought to ask him if he’ll make the first promise to her – and follow through on it.  Anything else is a prettied-up, self-serving escape hatch for lousy men.

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Filed under Bioethics, Feminism

“Lunch at Costco!”

Back in the day, my dad asked my brother what he wanted for lunch.  “Let’s get lunch at Costco!” was his response, and no, he wasn’t talking about the pizza and hot dog stand.

As The Psychology of Free Samples explains, free samples do not just function to get people to try a new product; they induce a sense of reciprocity in the would-be buyer.  Once someone gets a free sample, he is more likely to buy the product.  Free samples and cheap pizza also make the store fun; people like going to fun stores; and when people like going to fun stores, they buy stuff there and talk it up to their friends.  Jordan’s Furniture could not be reached for comment regarding the presence of trapeze schools, ice cream stands, and the Motion Odyssey Movie Ride.

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Filed under Economics, Nerdiness

In which I grumpily disagree with everyone on Emma Watson’s UN Speech

For those of you living under a rock, Emma Watson gave a speech to the UN a few days ago to launch the #HeForShe campaign, which is intended to get men to help eliminate sexism:

I mentioned that I’m grumpy (and overworked), right?

This speech has been called a “game changer.”  Sorry, folks, it’s not.  It’s a speech, which is not worth a damn unless it is followed up by action.  Bush’s Ground Zero speech on 9/11 was a game-changer because it was backed up by the greatest military in the history of the world. Emma Watson’s UN speech is as much a “game changer” as was Obama’s speech after the Arizona shooting.  (If you don’t remember what I’m talking about, you’re making my point.  A brief refresher: after Gabby Giffords was shot and Obama made some allegedly amazing speech, people asked if it would change the course of his very Presidency. For about a week, there was wall-to-wall media coverage about how this speech would ‘transform’ his ailing tenure in Washington.  Turns out, it didn’t change his Presidency, because a good Presidency requires so much more than a cute speech.) Watson’s speech belongs in the same category: lovely, inspirational, not gonna change a damn thing.

Moving along to the content of the speech: let’s not conflate the minor issues that Western women face (i.e. small pay gaps, wolf whistles, ageism, etc.) with having some freak chop off your head or cut off your clitoris.  Both sets of issues fall under the umbrella of “sexism,” but only in the same way that failing to recycle a soda can and the Exxon-Valdez oil spill are both “pollution.”

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Filed under Feminism, Nerdiness

Lessons Learned the Easy Way

In August of 2010, I made my TV debut on Emily Rooney’s “Greater Boston” show.  About four hours before show time, I was invited on to talk about the Fourteenth Amendment (specifically, repealing birthright citizenship). I read up on the subject for about three and a half hours, got myself into a suit, and went into Brighton.  The show was not aired live, but was taped straight through: Emily asked us (myself, a BC Law professor, and an immigration advocate) questions, we answered, we debated, and then the whole thing went on air at 7 pm.

That, my friends, is the easy way to not look like a complete idiot on TV. Anyone who watched that segment had context for our statements: anything we said was in response to a query or something someone else said. Even if she were so inclined, Emily Rooney couldn’t harass us by asking the same question five ways and then putting the worst answer on the show; no one could cut out the ten logical, articulate answers and leave in the one bumbling reply. What was on the screen in your home was what happened in studio.

Contrast with the Daily Show’s infamously bad treatment of conservatives and Megan McArdle’s commentary on ethical reporting:

There is no ethical reason that a reporter requires the ability to ask you questions without having those questions recorded. The reason they don’t want unedited audio is that you might release it and be revealed as a normal decent person, rather than a horrible fool. [....]

Seriously, don’t go on “The Daily Show.” They control the format, the questions and the editing process. There is no way you can win. Your purpose is to look like an idiot on the show, and they have all the tools they need to make sure you fulfill that purpose.

Like Megan McArdle, I recommend against going on The Daily Show.  But I also recommend against going on any television show that does heavy editing, does not tell you in advance who your co-panelists are, or is otherwise out to screw you.  I’ve been asked tough but fair questions on TV, and I’ve been asked tough and unfair questions. At least it’s all been live or taped and then played straight through.

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