Friday, October 24, 2014

New York New York

New Ebola Patient Appears In Manhattan

 Amazingly Fat Congress Man Explains Things To Us

Again, it should surprise no one that a Doctors Without Borders physician -- one of the people putting themselves at risk to contain the outbreak in west Africa -- returned home a week ago, and has presented with symptoms of Ebola.

One of the CDC guidelines for those who may have been exposed to the virus is to take their temperature twice a day and report the results. Yesterday morning, the doctor reported his temp at 100.3 F (not 103, as the media had first reported), and has been isolated in a hospital setting along with three others who had close contact with him since his return.

The office of New Yourk's Civil Preparedness spokesperson Deborah Biddle Stevens has advised the city has a contingency plan should the contagion spread, "And all those tacky sick people spoil things for those who really matter", or if those perishing rise from the dead and run for Congress or other public office.


Thursday, October 23, 2014

Reprint Heaven: Talk Amongst Yourselves

Go Ahead. We Trust You.

(From March, 2010. And still pertinent.)

As I said a while ago, I'm not entirely sure about continuing to blog.

If this was the principal focus of my day, I'd be happy to opine on all manner of Stuff™. If I were both educated in depth, and employed in, a field that deals with many of the subjects I like to talk about, it's possible I'd be offering original ideas that might have a positive outcome for actual people.

But I do have a job, and a life, and if I spend time here, I don't want to just make wisecracks while passing along the wisdom of others, prophets spraypainting wisdom on their own subway walls. It's not very original, and not very satisfying.

I do like keeping tabs on what's happening. I like having an opinion about things, and putting it out there (It's something the Intertubes is famous for; talk about Democracy -- you can tell people you speak for the High Thetan Council Of the Magellan Cluster, or post your mother's favorite recipes, with equal abandon). I enjoy looking at situations, and can make an educated guess about what may happen based on nothing but what I know, everything I read, and on whatever currents in the culture or world events I smell with my Dog's Nose.

But all that is an illusion -- the idea that making pronouncements about the State Of Things is any better than reading tea leaves... and in that sense I'm no less equipped to prognosticate than a majority of the paid "policy analysts", bombasticating from their Institutes in and around the Beltway. The difference between them and myself is, they believe they can shape reality with their opinions, and are paid handsomely to do so; I know that the world is too slippery a place for anyone to say what will happen, and when. We can't even agree that facts are actually facts any longer, and that spells trouble.

It is a fact that we, in America and elsewhere, have been screwed while still wearing our pants for a long time; and the game is so rigged in favor of a tiny segment of the population that the immensity of it is barely comprehensible. We can see the world in motion, right in front of us, rising and falling in new patterns like a fantastic kaleidoscope every hour of the day. I have opinions about all of it, but they are just opinions, and they are only mine.

I joke that three people and a superintelligent parakeet are the only ones who actually read Before Nine, but in truth I never started doing this for any other reason than to have a bit o' fun. It certainly wasn't about popularity or money.

While I care about politics and economics, I'm neither an economist, financial analyst or political organizer. There are, however, other things I care about -- it's what the masthead says: One Person's Art and Literature. So perhaps this Blog will continue, but if so its focus is likely to change. We'll see.

It probably will, because some people do read it. After all -- you don't want a superintelligent parakeet pissed off at you. You don't. Trust me.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

The Walking Dread


A Funny Parody, When You're 9,000 Miles Away.  In West Africa? Not So Much.

Where you and I are standing / At the end of the century /
Europes have sprung up everywhere / as even I can see /
There on the horizon / There's a possibility /
Some bug from out of Africa / will come for you and me/
Destroying everything in its path / from sea to shining sea /
Like the Great nations of Europe / In the 16th century
-- Randy Newman, "The Great Nations Of Europe"

El Rog The Magnificent, trapped in his own veal pen at work, as I am, made another as-usual-trenchant observation about the current health crisis in America earlier this week after the announcement that the first nurse from Dallas Presbyterian had been hospitalized.

"The government says, 'We have the finest healthcare system in the world', and, 'We're not like Africa -- it can't happen here'," El Rog says.  "Everyone goes to sleep. You want the government and people in this country to wake up and pay attention? Then you don't say 'Ebola' -- you say, 'Zombie Apocalypse'.  Then they'll pay attention."

The Ebola epidemic is horrifying. Not because its further spread will have an unknown effect on the politics of fragile 'African Domino' states. Not because of an effect to world financial markets; and not because of the possibility that its exponential progression will almost guarantee a wider spread into Europe, America, or Asia. It's horrifying, because human beings living in scrabbling poverty with little hope are dying, faster and faster. 

Someone Else's Problem 

On Tuesday, the World Health Organization announced that  in west Africa, Ebola has claimed more lives. They estimate that if the disease continues to infect humans at the same exponential rate, this outbreak will produce a minimum of 5,000 new cases per week by the first of December, and (worst-case) as many as 10,000.

Before September 28, when symptoms of the first patient in the U.S. were finally recognized and he was admitted to a hospital, spokespersons for the World Health Organization and Doctors Without Borders had gone in front of the media and done everything but scream at the UN, EU and American governments for not organizing resources and money to contain and reverse what was happening in Africa. They warned that the epidemic was "spiraling out of control", that the window of opportunity to deal with a massive health crisis was closing.

Ebola In West Africa By The Numbers (Virology Down Under Blog)

For months, caregivers in the field and the epidemiologists in their labs were struggling against the perception in western Europe and America that yes, Ebola was a terrible hemorrhagic viral disease -- but a remote African disease, an African problem. Similar illnesses had popped up in single, isolated cases in the west, the media reminded us, and all were quickly contained because of a superior healthcare infrastructure.

We were also reminded that it was harder to contract the disease than flu, malaria, or half a dozen other illnesses endemic in west Africa. But through the spring and into the summer, the outbreak spread and epidemiologists knew it was different than any sporadic, rural brushfire outbreak in the past: for the first time, Ebola had found its way into urban areas.

Woman Walks Past Ebola Victim In Monrovia (Abbas Dulleh / AP / NYT)

But, the EU and United States governments were too preoccupied with their own internal politics and economic situations to listen very closely to the alarms being sounded by international public health agencies and NGO's. Not doing more to help reverse the progression of the disease almost guaranteed that, sooner or later, the danger which had come out of the forest would begin spreading beyond Africa.

It's Money That Matters 

America has emerged, superficially, from the worst effects of The 2008 Crash. Our economy is still wounded from the excesses of the Bush years: America spent a trillion dollars violently projecting itself into the world during a decade marked by a War On Terra, and the excesses of an unregulated shadow banking system.

The past five years have been hard (but not for our famed One Percent, who received 93% per cent of all income generated in that time). Effectively, we've walked into our collective McMansions, closed the door and turned on our giant televisions. The world can take care of itself.

For its part, the European Union after the 2008 Crash has spent years teetering on the brink of dissolution. The fragile economies of Portugal, Italy, Greece and Spain were kicked to the curb by the failures and excess of  the financial crisis. There was public talk in member states of abandoning the Euro, which would effectively mean the end of the Union

The EU is a hard-won culmination of an old idea, to prevent future European wars (nearly all of which grew out of trade disputes) and to develop economic power to compete with the West or East. To those who believe in a united continent, returning to a splintered, every-country-for-themselves Europe is unthinkable. To shore up the Union, its leaders preached a combination of forced austerity programs, and loans for EU states like Greece, principally underwritten by Germany.

It's worked so far -- but the veneer of recovery in the EU is even thinner than in America. The German economy now appears to be losing power, and sudden expenditures to deal with a military or health crisis could break the delicate balance of shoring up the EU's weak economies.

As the United States retreated from Empire, a civil war broke out in Syria and has ground on for two years; America dithered for a year and a half over providing support for moderate Syrian rebels. The Arab Spring erupted; Libya destabilized, and Egypt went through two revolutions; the Israeli - Palestinian conflict exploded.

And this spring, a real wolf appeared at the door: ISIS -- violent, murderous, oppressive. America and Europe hesitated in dealing with it, and even when the Islamic fascists began seizing more territory in Syria, northern Iraq and Kurdistan, the U.S. continued to waver. Now, ISIS' gains have brought it to the doorstep of Baghdad. It's clear that bombing alone may degrade ISIS but not stop it -- however, America is not about to re-introduce troops into Iraq, or anywhere. 

Making it even more complex is the split between the Shiite and Sunni branches of Islam. For generations, the west (America in particular) has supported the Sunni House Of Saud -- but since 1979 Iran has risen to dominate the Shiite world, and their intent is to eventually dominate the Islamic world -- possibly with the threat of developing nuclear weapons.

Against the background of all this Sturm und Drang, Ebola began appearing on the radar of western governments as more than just something happening, you know -- over there.

America's Ebola Outbreak Will Be Televised

 Na Gahana Happn: AMC's The Walking Dead

In the first week of September, the WHO and Doctors Without Borders described the Ebola outbreak in West Africa as spiraling out of control . What prompted their near-panic wasn't only what was being seen on the ground, but statistical models of the outbreak's progression created in the United States and Europe showing a steep rise in the number of total cases.

It's only a guess, but when the models were presented to the National Institutes of Health and the Centers For Disease Control, it got people's attention. Worst-case scenarios predicted total case numbers in the hundreds of thousands by January of 2015, with (so far) a 50% case fatality rate. At which point the chances that Ebola would spread elsewhere (to Europe and the United States) became a near-certainty.  

The further it spread, the harder each outbreak would become to control. There would be a strain on the healthcare system of any country where it appeared, possible disruption of transportation and supply networks, and a rising sense of panic -- difficult to control if there was a lack of public confidence in any government's ability to deal with the disease -- political instability, civil disorder. It wasn't the Zombie Apocalypse, but close enough.

Some probably argued that if Ebola were to appear in America, containing the disease would be difficult -- but they were overruled by those who believed that kind of talk was alarmist. We need to prevent panic! Protocols to deal with infectious disease were in place, and we have the best healthcare system in the world! 

Still, the only way to reduce risk to America and Europe was to stop the disease where it was developing, in Africa, as the WHO had been pleading for. The U.S. government was reluctant -- taking the lead to lend assistance could mean paying most of the costs, involve us in the internal politics of African states, and many other governments were tired of the U.S. leading anything larger than a lawn sale. The EU, with fewer logistical, technical or medical resources than the U.S., and no desire to spend money, also hesitated

Then, on September 28, a man returned to the emergency room at Dallas Presbyterian Hospital. He had been seen there days before, and despite telling the ER nurse at that time he had just returned from west Africa, he had been sent home. Now he was even more ill; this time someone finally connected the dots, and everything changed. Ebola had made its appearance in America.

It shouldn't surprise anyone that a man who had contact with a person infected with Ebola lied about it on a questionnaire while traveling to Dallas from Liberia. It also shouldn't be a surprise that protocols developed for use with an infectious disease have never been used, for real. We've never had to before

As it turns out, caregivers apparently cannot have any skin exposed when working with a person seriously ill with Ebola. It may not be a good idea to allow a nurse who helped treat such a patient and then develops a low-grade fever to use public transportation (say, a jet).  And, we may have a model healthcare system, but the majority of hospitals are not equipped to deal with this disease -- isolation in negative-pressure environments; treatment; waste disposal, or security.

Now, as the 21-day window for the appearance of Ebola passes for each group of persons who may have been exposed, everyone breathes a bit more easilyUntil the next time -- and that continues to be possible until numbers of new cases in Africa begin to decline and the outbreak burns out. No one knows how long that will take. The U.S. and Europe have finally put resources into west Africa, but the effort has started off slow and uncoordinated -- as with our reaction to the Ebola cases in America, everyone seems to be learning as they go.

Ebola's coming to Europe or America from an out-of-control epidemic in third-world countries which other governments paid little attention to until it threatened their security shouldn't really be a surprise, either -- but it does seem to have surprised a good number of people. Meanwhile, the outbreak in west Africa continues, where it is not a parody, or a joke, but a tragedy.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Fleet Week

Kiddietown welcomes the Big Boats. Time to fire up the VCR and perform the annual viewing of Der Blaue Engel mit Marlene Dietrich und Emil Jannings.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Patrick Modiano, 2014 Nobel Laureate In Literature

 La persistance de ce qui reste dans nos âmes

Patrick Modiano, a publicity-shy French author whose roughly thirty novels (per Reuters)  explore "memory, oblivion, identity and guilt that often take place during the German occupation of World War Two" has been awarded the 2014 Nobel Prize for Literature.

Sweden's Academy declared Modiano "a Marcel Proust of our time... for the art of memory with which he has evoked the most ungraspable human destinies and uncovered the life-world of the occupation. ... he returns to generally the same topics again and again, simply because these topics cannot be exhausted".

Again per Reuters, Modiano said in a 2011 interview in France Today, "After each novel, I have the impression that I have cleared it all away. But I know I'll come back over and over again to tiny details, little things that are part of what I am.... In the end, we are all determined by the place and the time in which we were born."

It's difficult to experience the full impact of an author without reading them in their own language; if you think about it outside the context of "preparing a property (as publishers refer to literature) for sale", who is doing the translation and how well they understand in their bones both languages and both cultures becomes incredibly important.

As a Dog who reads, and does read Another Language (not French), I always wonder how many works of incredible ingenuity and imagination are out in the world -- and which I don't know about, because I don't read Urdu, or Turkish, or Japanese.

Fortunately for me, some of Modiano's works have been translated into English.  I can recommend Honeymoon; 'Suspended Sentences'; or Out Of The Dark, which not only involve questions of memory and human connections set in occupied France, but also use the Detective novel as a method of exploring them -- a bit like Marcel Proust and Graham Greene getting together for a drink and a chat.

Another author's works -- American, and a Francophile -- remind me a bit of Modiano because they deal with similar questions, and the Europe they're set in is close to war and occupation or already sliding into it. Given that, I've wondered occasionally whether he had read Modiano and if it influenced his work in any way.

You can find them through The Behemoth The Selling Pit The Soul Destroying Home Of The Demon that very big website where you can buy things, or -- my preference -- go to that very nice independent bookstore in your area and (if you can't find it on the shelf) order them.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Your Modern World

Garden Of Earthly Delights

(Original Photo: Reuters / Y.T. Haryono)

Saturday, October 4, 2014

I'm Sorry

Little late, but go atone for something.

Yeah, you; that's right. You know who you are.


We Are Saved

Everything's Gonna Be All Right. More Or Less.

Frequently, I'm accused by the three people who read this blog of cynical, abiding and excessive negativity (The Superintelligent Parakeet won't comment; he just blinks, very slowly; and Mista Charlie, Phd., hasn't yet weighed in). But, hey -- there's a good bit of "Looks like it's all gone to hell in a plastic shrinkwrap" out there just now.

Then comes news of a New Paradigim event which changes everything we know. A new day dawns. Perspectives shift; hope returns, and we believe all will be well because of it. At least, if you're an exceptionally wealthy, pudgy white male.

The Guardian UK tells us all about it: And it's Made In USA, home of Viagra, "Lil' Boots" Bush, Gouvenour Le Placard Perry from the Nation state of Texas ("Our healthcare system is takin' care of it,") and the BSD's of Wall Street.

To paraphrase Mary Ellen Mastrantonio's character in James Cameron's The Abyss: "With everything that's going on in the world -- you people focus on a penis transplant???"


Tuesday, September 30, 2014

#Occupy Central

This is Occupy Hong Kong

 A Sea Of Umbrellas: The Police Claim 'Only A Hundred Thousand'

There is something happening on our planet.

The World Wildlife Federation released a report which stated that, since 1970, the numbers of all animal species on Earth have declined by over forty per cent. The numbers of Mountain Gorillas, Snow Leopards and Bengal Tigers, and African Elephants and Rhinos have been reduced by encroachment, climate change, and poaching. Today's children may grow up to see them all vanish.

The world is suffering through two major military conflicts (Syria / Iraq; Ukraine) which affect millions -- as refugees, and brutalized, subjected populations -- and a half-dozen smaller wars, all the result of religious intolerance, generations of hate, greed, and a high-level power game between a very few players.  And short of one side killing the other, there seems no solution.

Kurdish Refugees Escape Into Turkey (Reuters / Murad Sezer)

Across the world, in the name of ... well, somebody's god, anyway; people are subjugating, raping, stealing from, and murdering other human beings -- who, in fact, are dying in extreme pain and fear. No one seems to understand that this is wrong, and that nothing in any world could ever make it right.

Particularly in the United States, the gap between Those Who Rule and The Rest Of Us grows wider, to the point that we can't even see how well off the truly rich are. And they continue to work to create a future of inequality -- a new Gilded Age of unseen Owners, and a sea of Proles -- and to them, this is the natural order of things.

We endure the continuing weight of a rigged international financial structure, of the WTO, of Monsanto's GMO foods; we buy gasoline-powered automobiles that are unsafe, drugs that are too expensive. We take on $300,000 in debt for an education to land the perfect job that will allow us to buy overpriced suburban McTract homes full of formaldehyde fumes. We're told to want sex and power, to win the Lottery and leave the Sea Of Proles behind.

Our communications are monitored. Whichever major political party we choose, every side appears bought with the same coin. Entertainment conglomerates owned by corporations or Oligarchs tell us to sleep, always sleep, and suppress the voices which whisper in the backs of our heads that It isn't supposed to be this way. We are being lied to, and led, for someone else's benefit.

Obligatory Cute Animal Photo In Middle Of Blog Rant

Then something else happens. Something spontaneous.

People stand up -- whether in Tarhir Square, or in spitting distance of Wall Street, or in Hong Kong -- in an understanding that all oppression, lies, and exploitation is the same, no matter where it occurs and whom it effects.

The people stand in opposition. They stand with each other. And in those moments, they are examples of our best selves -- brave where we often retreat, resolute where we falter, and principled where we bend in compromise.

And if we can't physically join them, we can stand in admiration, and remember a lesson that a group of people on this continent understood a long time ago: That ideas have physical substance, weight and meaning -- and that there are ideas worth "our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor".

Monday, September 15, 2014

Mongo Misses Chuck

On Friday, Too, Also

Didn't mean to!

(BTW -- want to pass some time? There's some really interesting stuff out on the Intertubes. Watch a few of the 9/11 conspiracy videos available on U Tub. You'll either find it hard to stop laughing or find it hard to stop taking notes.)