Ebola Is only Contagious when the Carrier is Symptomatic

I’ve been ranting to Cathy about this for the last few weeks.

I heard on the radio a while back a round table of self-congratulatory scientists explaining why Chris Christie’s decision to quarantine medical workers who had been exposed to Ebola was politics and not science. Why? Because “Ebola is not contagious until the patient is symptomatic. That’s science. Quarantine is unscientific.” And it’s probably mean too. One of them said he would gladly go bowling with someone who is “Ebola positive” because until he’s symptomatic, he is not contagious.

And then there was the article comparing people’s reaction to Ebola to their reaction to AIDS. That one had me scratching my head. AIDS can only be transmitted in highly specialized contexts in which there is blood to blood interaction between to individuals, something that is pretty difficult to achieve in normal social contact. Ebola on the other hand is hugely infectious, so much so that even nurses and doctors who go out of their way to protect themselves can still get it! So what is the point of comparing it to AIDS? All you are accomplishing is to overshadow the already difficult set of issues with the insinuation that there is bigotry at work in the decision making process. Next it will be that people are ebolaphobic. Well you can count me in. I’m eboloaphobic.

And then there was Obama saying that he was not going close down travel from infected countries because if people want to get here they will find a way, and this will just make dealing with the problem more difficult. Really? Stopping travel from countries on the other side of the Atlantic would have no effect on potentially infected people coming here? That is just a non- argument. How would people get here anyway? In boats? It’s just a matter of refusing visas like other countries have done. If you don’t have a visa, you don’t get in. Pretty straightforward.

And then there was the argument that forcing a 21 day quarantine for health workers who are returning from infected regions of the world and have been in recent and prolonged contact with infected individuals is a bad. Less people, it is argued, will go to help fight Ebola in infected regions and the disease will continue to spread, and the whole world will be at risk. I don’t get why we always have to argue in extremes. I was relieved to hear one caller, a doctor, on a talk show who had a brain on her shoulders point out that you don’t have to quarantine health workers in tents or impose other oppressive measures. You can provide a fun and healthy environment, making the 21 day delay more of a treat than a punishment.

Then more recently NPR reported on data that is supposed to support this connection between post-assignment quarantine and Ebola fight volunteerism. It turns out that since NY and New Jersey implemented their quarantine rules, volunteer applications have gone down 17%. Left out was whether this data represented only the states in question or the entire country. Kind of an important detail because we would not expect a decision in two states to impact national figures that much. There was the brief, obligatory, mention in the report that the downturn might just be because of the holidays. Ya think?

The point is someone has a bee in their bonnet about quarantine, about it being unscientific, or about it leading to or being associated with mass hysteria, about it being based on ignorance, and maybe even rooted in that same old american bigotry that is responsible all other sorts of repression.

Here’s the thing that bug me: it’s that this is a weird kind of obfuscation of the real issue. And it really bugs me when people take the intellectual high ground while leaving huge issues addressed. Here are the reasons we are right to be very careful indeed with Ebola and should not take quarantine in one form or another off the table.

  1. Ebola is highly contagious. Do you really want to be the person who said “It’s no big deal” and then people died?
  2. You have to find a balance between fixing Ebola in Africa and keeping people safe at home. You can’t compromise on this. If that means making it harder for people to volunteer, then so be it. Health workers of all people, it seems to me, would be understanding about this. Indeed I have heard interviews of health workers that showed this.
  3. People’s perceptions, whether they are scientific or not, are important. That has to be considered. It can’t just be dismissed as “politics”. People do crazy things when they feel unsafe. Like the group of Ebola deniers in Sierra Leon who early on stormed one of the clinics, claiming it was all a Western lie, and carrying off sick people on their shoulders. And no, we are not so sophisticated to be above this sort of thing. We should not assume that people will behave rationally or think scientifically when it comes to the possibility of exposure to a highly contagious and fatal disease. We should not be exasperated with them about this, but realistic.
  4. Here’s the one that really bugs me, coming from the supposed “scientific” approach. The claim is made that a person can be Ebola positive but not contagious as long as they are not symptomatic. So no worries! Let’s go bowling with Ebola positive people. Parents, you can be Ebola positive and still hang out with your family and sleep the marital bed. But here’s the crucial question: when does a person become symptomatic? And do you want to be around when that happens? And will the individual in question even know? They wake up in the morning with a fever. When did it kick in? And when it kicks in, what guarantees that the infected individual will do the right thing? These are extremely important questions that need answering before all merrily agree with “science” and skip happily down the road hand in hand with our Ebola positive friends and neighbors.

I’m not arguing for the most extreme or most stupid approaches to quarantine. But can we think more clearly about this please and not insert all sorts of red herrings into the situation? The most important thing about an Ebola infected person is that they are a potentially deadly presence. This is science. Of course, they are human beings and should be treated with dignity and intelligence. But it’s not paranoid or ignorant to insist that this be taken with the utmost seriousness or to insist that people at a higher risk of infection be treated with the greatest possible degree of caution. And it is in no sense science to argue otherwise.  Well I can only hope that if we do have a wave of actual Ebola infections in our country thinking will very quickly become un-fuzzy and focused on biological realities.

Obama’s Executive Action on Immigration: We Were Strangers

I’ve been unsure about Obama’s plan to provide relief to undocumented folks with kids who are US citizens. However, after hearing his own explanation and caveats, I’m on board with it. I think it’s being blown out of proportion by republicans.

Important points of Obama’s position for me:

He recognizes that the people he is providing relief from did break our laws and that is not OK.

He is not giving them citizenship or a “ticket to the front of the line”. He is only saying that they won’t be deported while other decisions and policies are hammered out.

He is sure to point out that his decision is limited and provisional awaiting fuller policy from congress, and that it is fully within the bounds of his legal authority with plenty precedent.

He emphasized his commitment to securing our southern border, and provided compelling evidence for that commitment.

He makes a good case for this being a valid exception. This is not about just letting anyone in, letting anyone become a citizen, or encouraging more people to cross the border illegal. This is about people who have already been here for 5 years (typically working hard) and can pass a background check AND have children who are US citizens. I agree that it’s an exceptional circumstance. I resonate with the question: Are we going to be the kind of nation that separates young children from their parents like this? Look at it this way (this is just me, not Obama): this is about the right of an american child to have their parent with them, about them not living in fear that their parent might at any moment disappear from their life. How would you feel if your child was in that situation? Isn’t it a circumstance that requires exceptional treatment?

The Biblical quote

I think Obama also quoted the Bible very effectively, something no doubt aimed at republicans, for many of whom Scripture is important. Honestly, it worked on me too, even though I’m not a republican. It’s rare to hear the Bible used both effectively and appropriately in politics. This was right on:

Scripture tells us, we shall not oppress a stranger, for we know the heart of a stranger. We were strangers once, too. My fellow Americans, we are and always will be a nation of immigrants. We were strangers once, too. And whether our forbearers were strangers who crossed the Atlantic, or the Pacific or the Rio Grande, we are here only because this country welcomed them in and taught them that to be an American is about something more than what we look like or what our last names are, or how we worship.

One concern this might raise is that Obama is mixing up legal immigrants form our past with illegal immigrants from our present (those crossing the Rio Grand).  If you take the quote by itself it could seem like he is ridding roughshod over that question. However, I don’t thing this is the case. Ad he has pointed out, under his administration the southern border has become much less porous, illegal immigration is down, and his current executive action will even add more muscle to that task.

At some point we do need to balance the cry for adherence to the law with compassion and I think that Obama’s executive decision does just that. The Biblical basis is solid. In the Old Testament the Jews are reminded repeatedly of the fact that they were once slaves and once mistreated in another country. They are therefore never to forget this and treat strangers the come across as though they were themselves citizens:

The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God. (Leviticus 19:34 )

Yea, the Bible is actually more radical on this than our president. Of course in ancient times they did not have the same strictly defined laws that we have today, detailing who may enter legally and who might have entered illegally. Still, I suggest that the essence of those kinds of laws that we have today was in play back then in the form of peoples’ attitudes towards strangers. There might be continuity here with the parable of the good Samaritan. Jesus is asked “Who is my neighbor?” with the intention of discerning between the people I am obligated to help and the ones I can ethically ignore. Jesus tells the story of a traveler who gets beat up and left for dead on the side of the road and is helped by a foreigner. That’s your neighbor, he says. Whoever you come across that needs your help is your neighbor.

Feeling Welcome at Church?

Today I took a test for a boating course. I am happy to say that I pretty much aced it. No false humility here. I was kind of nervous about it because I had been sick and too busy because I was sick (no rest for the self employed) and I had to miss a couple classes, including the final one in which the test was given. I gave up and figured I could always take the course again and no harm done. Then earlier today one of the organizers emailed me asking if I wanted to meet somewhere and get another chance to take the test. I was like, oh, OK. That’s pretty cool. It turned out he was doing testing for a different more advanced boating course tonight so I went to that venue and took my own test.

[Get on with it Rob, what’s your point!]

OK. OK.

After the test (which I aced if 92% is acing) I thanked the person for pursuing me and told him that I probably wouldn’t have finished the course if he had not done that. His response was to say, “Oh, you are worth pursing!” That made me feel pretty good.

Then I had to fill out some paperwork and came back to hand it off. He proceeded to introduce me to all the people standing around from the other more advanced class, told them I had just passed my test. They all shook my hand and congratulated me. I was part of the club! I was invited to go out to beer with them.  Everyone was so friendly and encouraging.

Afterwards I was thinking, “That was so neat. I wonder why church isn’t like that?” You know, people coming around you, saying how happy they are that you came, inviting you to do something after church, the pastor functioning as a social connector moving people from the outside to the inside, etc. in most if not all the churches I have attended it’s been hard to really get to know people. Everyone talks to the people they know. New people get a handshake followed by an awkward attempt at conversation. I sometimes wonder if we evangelicals are emotionally stilted people who don’t know how to socialize. We can talk beliefs and practice, right and wrong, teach and be taught, participate in programs, follow leaders, etc. But there is there a basic level of personal openness and just essential social positivity that is lacking? Is it because deep down we think that this whole God thing is more about the inner life than about each other?

I’m willing to consider that this might all be my problem. Maybe I’m the antisocial one, maybe I’m the sullen guy who sits on the sidelines. I should be the change I want in others. Fair enough. But even if that is the case, then I’m disappointed that there don’t seem to be very many people around in my church circles who can help bring me out of that.

Shouldn’t church be a socially open and engaging place?

I have a friend who is an introvert and will at times defend his introversion. Being a Christian doesn’t mean you have to be outgoing, if that’s not who you are. And I wouldn’t want to force people into a personality mold.  Very unhealthy. Still, there is something that needs unpacking here, or at least a kind of question that is being begged. Being a Christian significantly about reaching out to others, inviting them in, taking the initiative to tell others the good news about Jesus. Can our personality get in the way of that? And if it does, what then? We just don’t challenge ourselves? We just saying “that’s not who I am?” Another track would be to say that if you are shy or introverted or morose or whatever, there are probably still ways you can be open and welcoming to others with in the boundaries of “who your are.” I am not saying every Christian should be the loud, engaging, life of the party, always turned on type. But I am saying that I intuitively expect a gathering of Christians to be more welcoming, encouraging and open to outsiders and each other than any other gathering of people. And I think that this is an appropriate expectation given our faith heritage.

Along these lines I sometimes wonder if here in the Northwest we are more given to inwardness and “don’t-bother-me-ness”, a kind of reserve that could easily be confused with or masked over as “being an introvert.” But really it’s just a desire to keep others at arms length so that we don’t get tied down or tangled up in other people’s lives. We do love our boundaries. We are very sophisticated and together people. That self image is easier to pull off when you keep your distance. You know, like that proverb about how a even  fools seems wise if he keeps his mouth shut. Something I’m obviously not practicing at the moment.

I’m not saying all this because I’m mad at the church. I think the church is awesome. But it also needs to be stirred up from time to time and be reminded of it’s point.

All this because I wanted to boating.

Evolution’s Rejects: Atheism and Religion

If you are an atheist there is a question that you need to be able to answer. It’s not a huge question, but it does persist: if religion is all a sham, the product of ignorance, superstition and non-scientific rigor and has no basis whatsoever in reality (I think the claim goes something like that), where did it come from? Religion is after all not a minor feature on the human landscape. It’s not like wondering why some people like to dip their fries in their milkshake or why others like rap music. This is huge. The vast majority of human beings have been and are today “religtious” at least in the sense that they are either adherents of a particular religion or believe there is “something out” there. So if this is all bunk, where did it come from? Speaking in the frame of reference of atheism the question is actually more specific: how did a race that is apparently so successful at evolving through adaptation end up believing so much in such pure nonsense? Shouldn’t evolution have dealt with the situation by now? After all, we are wearing clothing at this point. Continue reading

Mythbusting the Axial Age and the Deep Green Golden Age

Tonight the fog is as thick as it gets here in the Northwest. Driving up to Regent College to hear Iain Provan talk about his new book, Convenient Myths: The Axial Age, Dark Green Religion and the World That Never Was, I felt like I was on a new road, not on that well-trod path I have been plying for the last 20 years or so between Belling ham and Vancouver BC. On the way back it was so thick that I seriously did not know where I was until I came upon a familiar landmark like the Massey tunnel or the border crossing. It was just indistinct freeway floating in the thickly padded darkness, and little red lights up in front keeping pace with me. Continue reading

I’m so glad you are taking care of the weirdos

I used to give no heed to who I was talking to or sitting by or associating with in social gatherings. I would walk into a room and I wouldn’t say to myself “Let’s see… who should I sit by or talk to in order to make the most of this occasion?” or “Who should I avoid sitting by because it might make the night wear on?” Back then I just figured that whomever I landed next to was my friend and whether they were fun or interesting or good listeners was not really a consideration.

But over the years I realized that when you don’t  takes steps to maneuver these social situations you can become somewhat marginalized. There are always people who are on the edge of a given social gathering. Say, for example, at the milling around time after church. This category of people stretches all the way from people who in some intangible way communicate “I’m not like you” to what I will call, if you allow me, “weirdos”. I’ll leave it up to your fertile imagination and past history to fill in the meaning of that word. Continue reading

New Atheists and Young Calvinists

At break time at my talk on atheism I’m talking with a friend and I have brilliant revelation: what do the New Atheists and the Young Calvinists have in common?

Let’s back up a bit. The New Atheists have been around for some 10 years under the leadership of Richard Dawkins and other very eloquent smart guys. This is a much more aggressive atheism than the “kinder, gentler” God-deniers of the 20th Century. These guys are in your face about religion. It’s ridiculous, it’s ignorant, it’s unscientific. God cannot be proven scientifically, so that’s the end of the story. They  are fed up and they aren’t going to put up with it any more. Mind over superstition. The new atheists are often smart young people who, calling themselves “brights,” don’t seem to be in the least bit embarrassed about  relying on their minds to make sense of the world. Continue reading

Old Testament Laws and the New Testament Law of Love

This video wraps up my thoughts on a Christian view of Old Testament laws. By way of summary here is what I said:

Christians view Old Testament laws through the New Testament, and in there the laws of Moses are qualified in various ways:

  1. The ceremonial laws (having to to with sacrifices and temple ordinances) are seen as fulfilled in the death of Jesus. See the book of Hebrews, chapter 10:8-10 for this. 
  2. Cleanliness laws related to impurity or unclean food are set aside by Jesus (Mark 7:19). Peter’s vision in Acts 10 is also important.  God shows him unclean animals to eat and then says, “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.” (10:15)
  3. Another set of laws in the Mosaic code governed Jewish society and established fairness and justice. These laws are affirmed in principle in the New Testament, but not necessarily in all their details. Both Jesus (Matthew 22:34-40) and Paul (Romans 13:8-10) say that the laws of the OT are summarized by loving God and neighbor.