Thursday, October 16, 2014

On Ebola And Panic

This is a good article on some of the reasons why our hind-brains take over when a new and poorly understood threat to our well-being or survival rears its ugly head (for comparison, check out my theory in the postscript of this post).

Fear of Ebola is almost as difficult to treat as Ebola right now, or so I suspect, based on reading the comments to various articles and the articles themselves.  Because we lack information (and because the CDC and the Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital also seemed to lack information or used information incorrectly), no amount of precautions seems excessive to some.  Indeed, no amount of precautions seems sufficient to some because of the way our brains have been triggered.

I am not arguing that all those fears are groundless.  The problem is that we don't know which fears have grounds and which fears are just hovering around for company.  It is clearly the case that end-stage Ebola patients (and those recently deceased from it) are extremely infectious and that those who care for them (or handle the dead) are at great risk of infection if proper safeguards are not used.

But it's less clear how infectious a patient is earlier in the illness, even after the first symptoms have appeared.   For instance,  the individuals who shared an apartment with Thomas Eric Duncan, the first Ebola patient in Dallas, have not yet developed Ebola, despite sharing living space with him after he became symptomatic*.  The two more recent cases, Nina Pham and Amber Vinson,  are nurses who cared for Duncan when he was in a later stage of the illness.  It's also clear that they were not sufficiently trained or protected.

Thomas Eric Duncan himself caught Ebola from a patient who died on the same day.

The point I'm trying to make is that the degree of risk of infection might depend on the stage of an Ebola patient's disease.  Much of the spread of Ebola in West Africa is linked to funeral customs which encourage touching the corpse of a person who has died quite recently, and that's the time when the disease is most viral.

If this theory is correct, the risk for individuals who shared a plane flight  with Amber Vinson would be considerably lower than the risk she herself faced when caring for Mr. Duncan (not to mention the fact that Ebola is not an airborne disease but requires body fluid contact with either cuts/scratches/wounds or mucous membranes).

*An alternative explanation is proposed here.

Added later:  Here's a list of more likely threats to agonize over if you are so inclined.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

The Gamergate Gets Nastier

For those of you who are lucky enough not to know anything about Gamergate, these three articles  offer a comprehensive (though much-diluted and sterilized) version of what has been going on:    The Future of Culture Wars*,   Why everybody is fighting and Misogyny.  The most recent female developer getting online threats is Brianna Wu.  This article shows the sort of gentle messages she received for a mocking tweet and the consequences to her and her family.

It is hard to measure numbers on Twitter or social media in general.  This means that the number of truly hateful participants in the Gamergate cannot be easily estimated.  But it's not one or two, though neither is it anywhere close to the total number of people playing games.

Now at least one of the haters is  making threats against an institution, Utah State University where Anita Sarkeesian was scheduled to speak on Wednesday.  Sarkeesian is one of the targets of misogynistic wrath in Gamergate:

 Utah State University plans to move forward with an event featuring a prominent Canadian-American author, blogger and feminist, despite threats of terror, a spokesman said Tuesday evening.
The decision came after several staff members received an anonymous email terror threat on Tuesday morning from someone claiming to be a student proposing “the deadliest school shooting in American history” if it didn't cancel the Wednesday lecture.
The email author wrote that “feminists have ruined my life and I will have my revenge, for my sake and the sake of all the others they've wronged.“

Sarkeesian canceled the event because the Utah police could not guarantee her safety or the safety of her audience.  The university statement:

Anita Sarkeesian has canceled her scheduled speech for tomorrow following a discussion with Utah State University police regarding an email threat that was sent to Utah State University. During the discussion, Sarkeesian asked if weapons will be permitted at the speaking venue. Sarkeesian was informed that, in accordance with the State of Utah law regarding the carrying of firearms, if a person has a valid concealed firearm permit and is carrying a weapon, they are permitted to have it at the venue.
This particular case is an intersection of several different ideas (think of a Venn diagram):  The role of online misogyny (the attacks focus on the person's gender, threaten sexual violence, use the equivalence of "cunt" with an uppity woman and so on), the capture of the most visible part of the Gamergate movement by misogynists from various places on the net (4chan, some meninist sites?), the deeper philosophical questions about who owns games, who decides if presenting women as salivating tidbits and victims is AOK or not (entitlement, fear of losing what one enjoys) and so on, the anti-gun-control laws in Utah (guns in the audience!),  the lack of adequate diagnosis and treatment for mental illness and so on and so on.

On the latter, the author of the anonymous e-mail expresses admiration of Mark L├ępine, the butcher of Montreal and presents a somewhat similar psychological profile of warped beliefs: a belief in the global rule of feminists, a belief in this imaginary group of powerful and evil feminists being the cause of all bad things that ever happened to that person and the belief that killing that group is the appropriate remedy.  Indeed, if we switch "women" for "feminists" we get the pattern of beliefs that Elliot Rodger, the butcher of Santa Barbara, demonstrated.

It's not possible to judge how realistic this most recent threat might be.  But it's worth noting that there are some sites which fall under the rubric of meninism or MRA/MRM (Men's Rights Activists/Men's Rights Movement) where the idea that feminists are demonic monsters who run this planet for the purposes of squashing all men under stiletto shoes is  accepted as a basic truth.

In reality, of course, feminists are not exactly running this world (in some places, such as the so-called Islamic State women are not running anything but perhaps away), feminists are all individual men and women with both good and bad sides, and the vast majority of feminists work to make the world a fairer place.  This reality correction doesn't reach the people it should reach, especially on certain misogynistic online sites and in several comments threads to anything which is about feminism.

Then the real question I have:  Was Sarkeesian's speech going to be on the topic of online harassment of female game developers?  If that is the case, how ironic that the event was canceled because of threats violence.

*This article is especially good on Christina Hoff Sommers, the famous anti-feminist, carrying water for the gamers.  Her argument seems to be that the presentation of women in games as sexual objects or victims is perfectly understandable given the young-male-demographic of the market.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Hilarious Stuff: Ugly-As-Sin Woman Politicians and Ebola Muslim Arachnids

1.  Steve Vaillancourt, a Republican politician from the state of New Hampshire, shares with us his views on how important looks are for politicians:

A Republican state lawmaker wrote in a blog post last week that U.S. Rep. Ann McLane Kuster (D-N.H.) will likely lose her re-election race in November because she is "ugly as sin" and "looks matter in politics."
The New Hampshire blog Miscellany Blue first reported that New Hampshire state Rep. Steve Vaillancourt (R) compared Kuster to a "drag queen" in his lengthy post and said she will probably lose to Republican challenger Marilinda Garcia, who is "truly attractive." He writes that his blog post is politically relevant because he "seem[s] to recall" some new polling that shows "an attractive candidate can have as much as a seven to ten point advantage over a less attractive (or even an unattractive) candidate."

And here is a picture of Mr. Vaillancourt:

 I wish I had Mr. Vaillancourt's self-esteem but then he views the question of looks from a different angle altogether, as something that doesn't apply to him at all.  Though goddesses are naturally gorgeous in every possible way, with shining scales and very sharp fangs.

You might want to link the "ugly as sin" discussion here to my earlier post on women hating their bodies so that you can go "aha!"

2.  This pretend-front-page from a British comedy site hits the sore spot in our click-baiting media:

3.  For your palate cleaning final course in this meal, Eva Cassidy.  This is not hilarious.  It's beautiful.