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EBOLA, EBOLA, WE’RE ALL GOING TO DIE!!! Or not.

Funny, I was just watching a documentary on the Black Death.  Now that was scary.  Once the plague became airborne, you were really in trouble. I can remember the day I spent in Siena, Italy looking at all the plague art.  It was chilling and there was so much of it. And yet, there were still countries, like Poland, that managed to isolate themselves from the epidemic.  So, if there was a way to evade an airborne illness in the 14th century, we’re probably going to do Ok against ebola, which isn’t airborne.

Then again, yersinia pestis was a bacteria and ebola is a virus.  The last time we had a viral epidemic of catastrophic proportions was during WWI with the Spanish Flu.  Still, many of those deaths were caused by cytokine storms, i.e. an overreaction of the immune system.

Nevertheless, the probability that this virus will spread is pretty low and is summarized in the following PSA from Vox:

 

And there you have it.  The way ebola spreads is through direct contact with the bodily fluids of infected individuals.  So, the solution to containing any potential outbreak of ebola in Texas is pretty simple: treat the sick and quarantine them and any person who may have had direct contact with them.

There are only a couple of problems with this.  The first is that Texas, like many states run by Republican governors, has not accepted federal money to expand medicaid.  So, we have to assume that every person who gets sick from ebola is insured.  Uninsured people are not allowed to get ebola in Texas.  The virus should be instructed to avoid infecting uninsured individuals.

Secondly, we have to assume that everyone who gets ebola can take a sick day and won’t lose their jobs if they decide to go into quarantine.  That might be more tricky because it is likely that quarantine wouldn’t be voluntary.  The virus should be directed towards people in the leisure class as they can afford to take time off.

We just have to hope we can reason with the virus in case the single isolated case in Texas turns into more than a single isolated case.

If I were the Feds, I’d try to get ahead of those two issues.

Not that there’s anything to worry about.  Because there isn’t (probably).

Well, I’m not going to panic in any case.

 

Harumph and bother: a post about Obama and ISIS

Looted museum in Baghdad circa 2003. We were the superglue.

One thing the Democratic activists love to crow about is how they’re not like conservatives who think that conservatism can never fail, it can only be failed.

And then there is the mess that is ISIS, the collapse of Iraq and Obama’s negligence of the country that lead us back to war.

Disclaimer: I am not a conservative, not a Republican and actually align myself with the left.  But for some peculiar reason that I can’t quite figure out, I have been the vocal outlier on this tiny asteroid in the blogosphereic Oort Belt.  There are a few like minded dust specks out here but the left seems to be dominated by people who screwed up in the most spectacular fashion in 2008 and yet still insist that they are the smartest, most peace loving, accomplished citizens ever.  Let’s just call them the left’s very serious people.

So, the left’s very serious people, LVSP for short, are wringing their hands about ISIS because when push came to shove, Obama did what most American presidents have done in the past.  He turned the FUD up to 11.  I’m glad I don’t have cable so I can safely ignore all of the hysterical arguments for war in Iraq again.  And let me make this clear, I was against the war in Iraq in 2003 because none of it sounded plausible to me.  Al Qaeda had the ability to strike the US in 45 minutes?  As if.  There was clear evidence of weapons of mass destruction?  Please.  What do you take me for?  I think we entered the hall of shame with Freedom Fries, though.  It was about that time that the US put the screws to raw milk cheeses from France, which was really uncalled for.

Smart people knew that there was no reason to go blow up Iraq.  It was just Dick Cheney’s wet dream.  He and his buddies wanted to cash in big on government military contracts and private oil contracts.  They raced into Baghdad, allowed the ruin of some of the most important archaeological sites in human history, destroyed the government and then set about playing some kind of right wing version of Monopoly.  Mission Accomplished indeed.

It’s no wonder that so many of us hated the Iraq War and all the damage it did to real human beings.  It was greedy, careless, ruthless, selfish, expensive and stupid.

OUR side would do it differently.  WE would get out of Iraq.  That was THE most important thing.  Because OUR side was for peace and prosperity and turning the other cheek and not making war or spending lots of money to blow things up.  And THAT’S why so many young, ideologically pure, left wing doves voted for Obama over the candidate with the lady parts.  Heck, it’s why Obama got a Nobel Peace Prize before he had even done anything.  (I’d still like to know what nefarious group nominated him.  They were clearly up to something.)

In any case, peace would rein, oops, sorry, was doin’ a Bush there, reign in Iraq and the people would cheer our exit and get back to their shawarma and all would be hunky dory.  Because that is what the left is all about, getting out of stupid wars because they are stupid.  And so it was.

And that’s where the left made it’s mistake.  As Dexter Filkins of the New Yorker has said in two Fresh Air interviews, here and here, Iraq is an artificial state.  The only way it stayed together after the fall of Saddam Hussein was by having an American presence there acting as an intermediary between all of the disparate groups.  The Sunnis have a persecution complex, the Shias are being helped by Iran and the Kurds, currently the only group in Iraq that has its sh&* together, just wants out.  Bummer about that whole landlocked Kurdistan thing.

In his interview on Fresh Air in June this year, Filkins reported that Obama lost interest in Iraq early and just wanted to pull Americans out.  The timing of the pull out, before the 2012 election year, seems to me to have been a way of pacifying the lefties and keeping them quiet, but I’m only making a guess based on past performance.  al-Maliki was getting pressure from Iran to get the US out of Iraq but he was hoping to negotiate some kind of deal with Obama for a residual presence.  But the White House wasn’t giving any guidance to the State Department. So, when the last troops pulled out, the American superglue that held the whole place together fell apart.

Now, I’m really sorry if the left’s very serious people, like Digby, didn’t see this coming.  Certainly, she’s smart enough to figure out what the fall out of the troop withdrawal would likely be.  But the left seems to be of the opinion that peace can never fail, it can only be failed.  All those Iraqis should have gotten along when we left.  It was in their own best interests.

More likely, peace needed to be a long term investment whether we liked it or not.  It’s not surprising that Obama had way too much on his plate to think this through properly.  But as I have observed before, Obama governs in campaign mode and his policies rarely have the deep thought and execution that is required from the most powerful man in the world.  Experience probably would have helped here but we didn’t elect the guy for his experience, did we?  No, we hired him because he was not like a powerful politician.

Too bad for us.  Believe me, it doesn’t give me any pleasure to keep pointing out what a disaster 2008 was.  No, indeed, the suffering here and abroad just never seems to end and we will come to regret our choices for generations to come.  You can make excuses for him and throw accusations around that the CIA is out to get him but it won’t change the fact that he’s directly responsible for the urgency of the situation in Iraq because he neglected this problem and the United States’ role in keeping the country together.

If you don’t take the time to do it right, when will you have time to do it over?

We’re about to find out.

One more thing: Could it be that the left’s very serious people are really upset by the fact that the right wing has gotten smart about Obama and has given up pushing the ridiculous right wing memes, like birtherism, for an accurate assessment of Obama’s performance?  Because if they’re latching on to accuracy, the Democrats better have a better defense than just whining about how unfair it is to blame Obama for everything he does.  It’s not a winning formula.

The Employment Index: Wish me luck

This week’s version of the index will be brief.  I have an interview this morning and I need to jump in the shower.  The job is in a different area of research than I’m used to but I passed the preliminary placement exam so there’s that. Just in case, I looked up some material on YouTube. I bought a new suit, that I will probably never wear again, and got an investment haircut.  Got my berry smoothie ready.  Everything copacetic.

Now all I need is a little bit of luck to go with the preparation.

This is ze time on ze Confluence vhen ve dahnse.

The Politics of Personality Disorder

I’ve had a few commenters who think the posts on narcissism and the Dark Triad are interesting but they really wish I wouldn’t bring politics into it.

I’m confused about this.  This is a blog where Democrats in Exile and others can talk about politics and not be shouted down for not adopting the dominant narrative.  So, there’s that.

But more than that, humans are herd animals.  Being in the group is highly desirable.  Being out of the group makes us anxious.  So, if the dominant narrative is shaped by a small evil group of people, to whom no one we know belongs,  who use political rhetoric and religion as dissemination tools, we should be aware of it.  Shouldn’t we?  Isn’t it better to know what techniques may be used to manipulate us to act in a herd like fashion?  And if the people who are manipulating us have severe unchecked personality disorders, which looks more and more likely, isn’t it better to see them than to have them hide behind the masks of authority and holiness?

Now, I’m not saying that I have proof of any of it.  I’m just looking at behaviors that have been growing steadily for about 40 years and the results of those behaviors on all of us and trying to find cause and effect.  In the end, I don’t really care why people behave the way they do as long as they don’t behave badly.  In other words, it’s not interesting to me that a narcissist might have experienced childhood trauma or that a psychopath may have a genetic predisposition.  Not remotely interesting.  Psychologists might be interested in the sources of these personality disorders so that they can nip them in the bud in kids in the future but once those kids become adults, their behaviors are pretty much fixed.

Personality disorders are very difficult to treat. The first step in dealing with a person with a personality disorder is accepting the fact that you can’t change them.  You are not going to be able to teach them to be more empathetic, less selfish, less manipulative etc.  It’s not going to happen because they have no reason to change. Curing these people is almost impossible because they don’t think they have a problem. YOU have a problem.  So, getting inside their heads is not my goal.  My goal is finding a way to react to them in a way that neutralizes their power over us.

What I am concerned with is that we don’t always know when we are being manipulated and exploited, and we often fail to detect patterns of behavior that will lead to us acting against our best interests.  When we start to understand the patterns, we have an opportunity to take action to make it stop.  In other words, if we find that the finance industry is hiring a disproportionate number of psychopaths to play with our money, we can presumably take away the incentive to hire psychopaths or take away our money.  If we find that a bunch of Machiavellians are saturating the airwaves with manipulative language, we might be able to point out the way the manipulation works so that people turn off their radios and cable TV.

If we find that a couple of attention seeking, control freak authoritarians are getting narcissistic supply out of exploiting their kids on a reality show by adopting a super conservative religious lifestyle and parading themselves as holier than thou and then campaigning for a super conservative politician, we should be aware of what they are doing and promoting and what they are trying to accomplish.

Let’s just call it as we see it, shall we?  Let’s not play “these are not the droids you’re looking for” because we don’t want to look at the dark underworld of human interactions only to find our favorite politicians and religious superstars lurking there.

Politics and religion are two very powerful influences on human herds.  We need to make very sure that the people acting as shepherds aren’t coyotes in disguise.

Dark Triad or Tetrad?

dark_triadPutting a finger on what’s going on in this country and the world in general since the financial crisis of 2008 has been slow going.  Part of that might be because when you are in the midst of it, trying to make a living and keeping your head above water, it’s difficult to see the forest from the trees.

Recently, I came across the term “dark triad”, which as I understand it is the convergence of three personality types: Machiavellianism, psychopathy and narcissism.  It’s a real personality type.  I’ve gone over the traits of narcissistic personality disorder previously and it’s pretty clear to me that many of our financial overlords suffer from it to one degree or another.  But I’ve been puzzled about how it is that the narcissists managed to convince so many ordinary Americans to ignore their best interests. Something was missing. That is where I think the Dark Triad comes in and can explain why the airwaves are saturated by the pundits who encourage the worst behavior and thoughts, and why they can get away with it.

But there’s a new theory in town.  It’s called the Dark Tetrad.  The psychologists who are studying these negative personality disorders say that the fourth component is sadism.  I’m wondering if sadism is the natural outcome of the convergence of the previous three traits.  Is it cause or effect?  If it is true that cruelty results from the need to assuage our guilt for taking advantage of someone, wouldn’t it make sense that setting up a system that exploits other people will naturally lead to more cruelty?  But if a person feels guilt, wouldn’t that negatively correlate with psychopathy?  Doesn’t the quality of remorselessness, which is associated psychopathy imply sadism?  It feels like there is a PLS model just waiting to be constructed to figure out what the principal components are.  How do we know which qualities of the dark triad or tetrad can be derived from the others?

If there is anyone out there with more information on the Dark Triad or Tetrad, or has links to papers that don’t cost an arm and a leg (I like free), let me know.  I’m not a professional and only took one course in psychology (but I’m beginning to think that I should pursue a degree in the subject.  Just hit the tip jar at the upper left to help defray the cost of tuition.  Damn, if I were just Machiavellian enough, I could *make* you hit that tip jar.) so I’m going to have to rely on iTunes U, youtube and Kno to teach myself all the lingo.

Still, it might be worth the effort.  If we can figure it out, maybe we can develop a psychological vaccine.

One more thing: it looks like the Dark Triad is used to describe predatory men who use manipulation to mate, or at least a lot of the early papers seem to focus on “players”.  But I’ve often found that the metaphor of the player has been very useful to explaining what happened to the political system in 2008 especially the evolution of Democratic activists in support of whatever it is that infiltrated the party.  For example, what was the purpose of this?  I don’t think this picture was leaked:

Obama speechwriter Jon Favreau with HRC cutout after Obama victory.

I’m not picking on Democrats here. Republicans are worse and they’ve got a bigger megaphone. But there’s no doubt that something dark and malevolent snuck into the party while we weren’t looking.
 

Hokay, I’m done with Coke

Screen Shot 2014-09-25 at 8.22.25 AMNYTimes has an article on the “accidentally” leaked documents of the 501(c)(4) that contributes to the Republican Governor’s Association (RGA).  This advocacy group is called Republican Governors’ Public Policy Committee.  The Democrats have one too but it’s called something like The Center for Innovative Policy.  I guess they solicit all kinds of policy, not just Democratic ones. (that explains a lot)

Anyway, the members of this advocacy group contribute up to $250,000 in order to attend swank soirees and bend the ear of the Republican Governors in attendance.  Access “offers the ability to bring their particular expertise to the political process while helping to support the Republican agenda.”  And I used to think that these were equal opportunity corporate schmoozers.

So, you might be wondering who is in this shadowy group that is supporting the attack on women’s reproductive rights and cutting social safety net programs to the bone.  The usual suspects are here.  But there are also a couple of surprises:

The most elite group, known as the Statesmen, whose members donated $250,000, included Aetna; Coca-Cola; Exxon Mobil; Koch Companies Public Sector, the lobbying arm of the highly political Koch Industries; Microsoft; Pfizer; UnitedHealth Group; and Walmart. The $100,000 Cabinet level included Aflac, Blue Cross Blue Shield, Comcast, Hewlett-Packard, Novartis, Shell Oil, Verizon Communications and Walgreen.

Exxon, the Koch brothers and Pfizer don’t surprise me.  But Coca-Cola and Microsoft?  Really??

You mean every time I drink a diet Coke or buy another annoying Word license, I am contributing the the erosion of women’s rights or depriving some kid of food stamps?

Um, that’s disgusting.

I might not be able to get around Microsoft but I can definitely cut Coke out of my life.  Boycotts might be ineffective but this is a personal choice and I’m not consciously contributing to my own demise.

 

WWII: The Sequel

I haven’t been following the reboot of the Iraq War brought on by the ISIS atrocities.  For one thing, I don’t watch cable or network news so I missed the beheading videos.  Is it just me or should there be a law against showing that kind of thing on TV?  It feels like gratuitous snuff film porn for the purpose of horrifying people and stirring up strong emotional reactions.  I’m agin it.

I’m also against war in general but I’m not a pacifist or an isolationist.  I sat through a bajillion hours of The Last Lion, the biography of Winston Churchill and realize how dangerous pacifism and isolationism can be.  The peaceniks “at all costs” crowd are as unsettling to me as the Cheney types.  My attitude towards war is a Tolkienish one.  I don’t like it, don’t crave it, wouldn’t seek it out except for the protection of friends and innocents.

But there is a really good reason why the US can never be an isolationist country.  Going back to WWII, Churchill repeatedly threw the British Army (or what was left of it after Dunkirk) at different places in the Mediterranean and southeast asia for a purpose.  It was more than just a case of pestering Hitler like a biting sand fly.  And it did have something to do with the British Empire.  But more than that, he had to do it to maintain open sea lanes.  Take a look at the map below of the world’s chokepoints today:

If you follow the thickest blue line, you’ll notice that the most significant battles of WWII happened along it.  You can also see why the Axis came to be.  The countries that controlled the north Atlantic, Mediterranean and South China Seas pretty much ruled the world.  That big blue line represents the quickest route from East Asia to North America.  A vital choke point is right about where the Suez Canal is and what countries surround the entry and exit to the Suez Canal?  Egypt, Libya, Syria, Lebanon, Israel, Saudi Arabia.  If we follow the Red Sea southward, we see Ethiopia, Sudan, Somalia. Then we swing around the Arabian Pennisula and into the Persian Gulf to Iran, Iraq, Bahrain and all that oil.

Like it or not, we are dependent on keeping those chokepoints open for international trade, not only for ourselves but for the rest of the world. It helps if the country in charge of patrolling the hot spots is above reproach.  Bush and Cheney kinda ruined our global reputation in that respect.  The rest of the world has to trust us to not act completely in our own best interests.

What Bush and Cheney did was take a giant dump in a very sensitive place.  And then they left a very naive but extremely cocky novice president to keep the place in order.  The naivety, coupled with an upcoming second term, caused a series of very bad decisions.  Pair that up with local instability in the region around the Suez Canal and you have our present situation.

There probably was a better time to intervene in Syria but in general, the region is always going to be a sensitive spot.  It’s geographically important, and you can bet the people who live there know it.  The Arab Spring might have been prompted by that realization.  We are probably never going to be able to completely reduce our presence there.  Our economy depends on keeping this chokepoint open.  Until we get rid of our dependence on foreign oil, we’re going to have to be there.  And even after we move on from sucking the mideast dry, that area is still the quickest way from point A to point B for many countries other than our own.

So, there’s my take on it.  We’re still fighting the world wars of the previous century and will be for the foreseeable future.  Obama was not thinking past his re-election and anyone who made their decision of presidential candidate in 2008 based on a war vote or promises to get out of Iraq wasn’t thinking it through to its logical conclusions.  It has always been clear to me that the president who took over from Bush/Cheney was going to have to make peace with the isolationists before he or she would ever make peace with the Iraqis and their neighbors.  It was never going to be simple or easy.  The best we could hope for was an uneasy status quo for a long time.

But somebody blew it and here we are.

Next time we elect a president, we might want to choose one who is explicit about these things.

One more thing: Considering what a sensitive area the Mediterranean is, you have to wonder why the ECB is being such a dick to Spain, Italy and Greece.

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