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I met Gough once, shook his hand even, when I was a callow youth an in awe of those playing the game of politics, heck I even voted for the ALP in 1972 and in 1975 and during those years I loved listening to parliament on the radio where his dulcet tones and oratory cemented my love of our democracy. My politics have changed somewhat since then but you never lose the affection you feel for your first political love even when it has become clear that their feet were very much made of clay.
Gough certainly deserves respect for leading Labor out of the political wilderness in 1972 but he also deserves the critiques of his administrative failings and economic mismanagement he will undoubtedly be greatly deified in the next few days which is fine for a long life spendt serving the nation but lets just never forget that a good emperor knows to listen when the dedicated slave reminds him “that you are only a man, not a god” those who admired him need to remember that as well.
With respect comrades
Ring around a Rosey, or a look at how the Black Death of the middle ages is reflected in the current outbreak of a Ebola
In the middle of the 14th century, however, there seemed to be no rational explanation for it. No one knew exactly how the Black Death was transmitted from one patient to another–according to one doctor, for example, “instantaneous death occurs when the aerial spirit escaping from the eyes of the sick man strikes the healthy person standing near and looking at the sick”–and no one knew how to prevent or treat it. Physicians relied on crude and unsophisticated techniques such as bloodletting and boil-lancing (practices that were dangerous as well as unsanitary) and superstitious practices such as burning aromatic herbs and bathing in rosewater or vinegar.
In many ways we can see distinct similarities between the Black Death and the current outbreak of the Ebola virus in western Africa, Like the medieval plague then there is no known cure for Ebola now and despite all of the wishful thinking, despite all of the advances in medicine in the last 600 years we are just as powerless to stem the spread of this disease. And I am sorry to be the bringer of bad news but I think that this disease is going to have a similar effect on the population of Africa as the Plague had on 14th century Europe. We can certainly expect that the death toll will soar into the millions as efforts to contain it continue to fail.
Why do I expect such a large death toll?
This is a virus that not only spread through the exchange of bodily fluids but also remains active in the items that those fluids fall upon, thus bedding and clothing that the infected have touched becomes vectors for the disease to reach new victims. Add to that cultural practices pertaining to the care of the sick that funds family looking after their own, a low level of education, the effects of other diseases poverty and crowded living conditions and it’s not had to see just how optimistic any suggestion that the disease can be contained are. Just look to the example of the response to one man with the disease who is now gravely ill in the United States to get some idea of just how much effort is needed if you are too truly contain the infection: This level of response is just not possible in third world west Africa and so it seems inevitable to me that the infection is going to spread exponentially just as the black death spread exponentially in 14th century Europe.
So what can the modern west do to help stem the spread of the disease in Africa?
Well not much at all really, we risk losing a large number of our very skilled people if we send them into the disease hot spots firstly because the treatment that is available essentially boils down to trying to keep patients hydrated and waiting to see who has the natural ability to fight the infection. Those brave souls who are trying to treat the currently infected are trying to do so while wearing Hazmat suits that are essentially a fancy yellow plastic bag which I’m sure you will realize is nothing short of tortuous in the tropical climate of the region. So not only do the health workers run the very real risk of contracting the infection but also they risk dying from heatstroke in the suits they try to prevent infection with. Several health workers who have caught the Ebola virus have been evacuated so that they can be treated in Western hospitals but if the numbers of infected western heath workers were to increase I can foresee the practice of repatriating them being wound back or even abandoned in the effort to contain the disease. Aid in the form of medical supplies, certainly can and should be provided but the major imperative now has to be containment, and quarantine of all parts of Africa where the disease has been found.
The Environmental bigger picture, or accepting the will of Gaia
In the natural world there are clear limits to the population of any species. Be it the amount of substance that a particular species can find or something in the environment that find them tasty and therefore limits their numbers through predation. Human beings are very clever in their ability to eat almost anything that is nourishing and in many ways we have become the apex predator in every part of the eco-system. That in conjunction with our ability to mitigate that other limit to population, disease. Has seen our numbers soar beyond 7billion souls on this small planet. I would seem to me that pandemics are one of the ways that Gaia addresses the problem of too many people on the surface of the planet. Oh humanity certainly has dodged a bullet from pandemics in the recent past. But this disease is not going to be so easily dodged. I think that it has already reached a critical mass that makes it virtually unstoppable. Heck thanks to modern air travel I will be very surprised if is even just contained on the African continent.
Things are going to get a great deal worse before they get better
During the Black Death whole towns succumbed to the disease they were left with only the dead in residence sometimes the dead were not even buried and it’s not hard to imagine that happening again in Western Africa if Ebola really starts to take off as I am expecting it to do.
What we need to realize is that modern medicine is good, its clever and its largely been the bringer of better lives for all of those it has touched, from the poor children spared the mortal diseases of childhood that used to take so many children well before they reached maturity to the wonders of surgery that can see the imperfections and damages to our bodies repaired and replaced in a way that would seem magical to a medieval man contemplating the plague yet here we stand in the same place as that medieval man facing a disease pandemic that we cannot stop and a death toll that we dread will be larger than anything humanity has not seen in the last six centuries.
If this danse macabre does play up a storm it will change every aspect of global human society we could well go from a place where the people desperately compete for places in the economy to one where skilled workers will be in very short supply in many parts of the planet. The mechanized west where we already have machines that enable a very small number of people to grow the crops to feed the many or to operate the machines will probably get through this upcoming disaster well enough but any society still that practices subsistence agriculture can expect the same hard times that befell Europe after the plague because there was simply not enough people to plant and harvest the crops. Those who have been worried about climate change May well find all of their concerns are moot because a world with less people on it will not be producing anywhere near the emissions growth they are so certain is the problem. On the other hand the worlds mercantile economy is likely to be severely affected by both the loss of potential customers and the cost of trying to address the disease.
One other thing that we should recognize is that many people see the world through the lens of their religion and those religions that have a millenarian tendency may well see Ebola as some sort of divine retribution for our “sins”. A faith like Islam on the other hand which places such value in the observance of a mass gathering like their Haj could well be both a vector for the spread of the disease and suffer a huge number of casualties among its faithful.
The mining tax has been abolished after a deal with the Palmer United party (PUP) in which the government delayed the abolition of the schoolkids bonus and other savings and deferred already-legislated increases to workers’ compulsory superannuation for seven years.
The prime minister was jubilant after the shock deal was revealed, claiming it rendered the Labor party irrelevant and proved the government – approaching the first anniversary of its election – was “getting on with the job.”
After secret negotiations with PUP, the government revealed a deal with the crossbench senators to finally abolish the mining tax – as it had so often promised – if it retained three programs until after the next election, instead of abolishing them straight away.
In changes that will cost the budget bottom line $6.5bn over the next four years but leave it no worse off in the long term, the government has agreed to keep the schoolkids bonus, the low income superannuation contribution and the income support bonus until 2016 or 2017.
But it will also freeze the amount employers are compelled to put into all workers superannuation accounts. It is currently legislated to increase to 10% in 2015-16 and then by 0.5% each year to reach 12% in 2019-20. After this deal goes through it will be frozen at 9.5% and won’t reach 10% until 2021, rising by 0.5% a year after that.
Well by my reckoning that is another victory for the Coalition government in their campaign to undo the follies of Labor, which means that we will no longer have a tax that costs more to administer than it collects which makes us a laughing stock to the world. Further the suspension of increases in superannuation will be greeted with great joy but those in our economy who provide the employment, it will mean that the cost of hiring someone will be less over time which should help business to employ more people. Personally as I have two children in school the continuation of the school kids bonus will come in handy but I very much doubt that it has ever been a game changer to parents in this age of voter cynicism. As Tony Abbott said yesterday in the Parliament this is not everything the government wanted but it will do.
What this means is that the government has actually achieved the three planks of its election campaign, the Carbon Tax has gone, the Mining Tax has gone and the Boats have been stopped, more importantly though this demonstrates that for all of his bluff and bluster in the media Palmer can be dealt with and the government can bring about the reforms that it was elected to do.
Am I the only one who sees this event here as the beginning of a very nasty carnival of death for west Africa? Because I just can’t shake the conviction that we are going to see a tide of death flowing out of that part of the continent that will make the bubonic plague look like a mild case of the sniffles. It already seems that the official death-toll may well be underestimated and as there is no cure or even an effective treatment beyond hydration and a plaintive plea to what ever deity one holds dear.
You see disease epidemics like this one are virtually unstoppable once they get rolling and this outbreak of Ebola is certainly rolling now.
Frankly if the disease can be contained within the African continent the world will be doing very well but even on that score I have my doubts because we live in the age where anyone can be traveling the world by the perfect disease incubators/infection pods in the shape Jet airliners
Trying hard not to abandon hope here but frankly all I can foresee is a carnival of death that may soon get to the point where there are not enough of the living to inter the dead. I really hope that I am wrong in my dark expectations but I see nothing to convince me otherwise.
Pessimistic mood on this one Comrades
While socky wants to rif on the possible (but unlikely and rather unkind and unfunny ) idea of Robin Williams passing I can’t help but think about the parts of his back catalogue that I remember fondly.
You see while many will be focusing Williams’ ability to make people laugh I like the shear humanity of the man that shone through in so many of his movie roles
The world is a better place because it had Robin Williams in it but its also a much sadder one today now that he has taken that last bow it is a poorer and far too sombre place.
In a portion entitled “Limiting the Use of Weapons,” the manual explains that:
The soldiers and commanders (of the IDF) must limit their use of weapons and tactics that lead to the harm and unnecessary loss of people and [destruction of] civilian facilities. It is difficult for them to get the most use out of their firearms, especially of supporting fire [e.g. artillery].
Clearly Hamas knows the IDF will limit its use of weapons in order to avoid harming civilians, including refraining from using larger firepower to support for infantry.
The manual goes on to explain that the “presence of civilians are pockets of resistance” that cause three major problems for advancing troops:
(1) Problems with opening fire
(2) Problems in controlling the civilian population during operations and afterward
(3) Assurance of supplying medical care to civilians who need it
Lastly, the manual discusses the benefits for Hamas when civilian homes are destroyed:
The destruction of civilian homes: This increases the hatred of the citizens towards the attackers [the IDF] and increases their gathering [support] around the city defenders (resistance forces[i.e. Hamas]).
It is clear that Hamas actually desires the destruction of homes and civilian infrastructure, knowing it will increase hatred for the IDF and support their fighters.
The truth is often far from pretty Comrades
Find below an interesting essay By Paul Russell that I reproduce under its Creative Commons license from Online Opinion. I think that Paul makes a quite persuasive argument that Dr Nitschke goes too far in trying to make suicide seem more rational than it often is one thing we can be sure of and taht is its not as sweet as its presented in Soylent Green
Bouquets to Jeff Kennett and the Beyond Blue organisation for their clear and appropriate condemnation of the actions, or rather inactions, of Dr Philip Nitschke in relation to the suicide death of a Perth man in the story that ran on the ABC’s 7:30 report a little over a week ago.
According to the media reports and to Dr Nitschke’s twitter feed, he is basing his defence, in part at least, on his claim that there is such a thing as rational suicide.
The idea that suicide can be somehow a rational choice is not new. In fact, an organisation exists in the UK called the ‘Society for Rational Old Age Suicide’ and there has been one study that I am aware of that canvasses the issue.
Dr Nitschke has consistently maintained that every adult should have access to the means to their own end. The faux lower limit, in light of this, seems more about trying to soften the public perception of this macabre death industry than it does about any corporate sense of public duty.
When we think of suicide we commonly understand that people who contemplate ending their lives will be viewing their problems through a very dark lens that does not, at that time, offer them any hope or possibility that what troubles them could be dealt with in a less dramatic fashion.
But there is always hope; there is always some other solution. Time, good counselling, talking to family and friends, taking exercise and a good night’s rest can all help us see past those solitary, dark moments. We can all help.
Some years ago now, my work with homeless and at risk youth gave me a very clear window into this issue. That’s why I’m so grateful for the work of Beyond Blue and other suicide prevention organisations. Suicidal people can often appear to be quite rational; their plan and their reasoning behind it, quite compelling. Were we to have accepted the assertion that any of these people should simply be left unchallenged and unsupported because they could put up a calm and cogent argument for their actions we would have been abandoning them in their time of deepest need. The intuitive assessment that suicide should be shunned and is never the only option is natural, normal and something hardwired into humanity. Thank goodness!
And while the argument about whether or not someone can be genuinely rational is, intuitively false – an oxymoron as one commentator put it – it is largely academic and should not be brought to bear upon suicide prevention nor our natural responses to those in need. The message would be a dangerous one and bears within it the distinct possibility of an implied endorsement of some suicides.
Think about it. At the end of this article and of every story on this subject we’ve grown to expect that responsible media will always carry a closing line saying something like: “If this article troubles you, phone…….. for confidential help.” If Dr Nitschke’s argument holds true, would public policy then demand that we add something like: “Unless you consider yourself rational; in which case contact Exit on….”? Yes, I know an example in extremis but I think it makes the point.
That the public commentary has focussed on the WA man is understandable in as much as he had direct contact with Dr Nitschke. But the ABC’s story also told of the suicide death of a 25 year old Victorian man who used the services of Exit to purchase information and thereby, a prohibited substance to end his own life. Nitschke’s defence here that the man lied about his age on a tick box on an Exit website is as ludicrous as is Exit’s self-imposed supposed lower age limit of 50 years for such services.
It is this supposed right-to-die that is the false over-arching philosophy by which the death of a young person can be somehow ‘rationalised’ by Nitschke and Exit. In 2010, in response to a Victorian Institute of Forensic Medicine Report showing that two thirds of deaths in the preceding decade using the Exit drug-of-choice, Nembutal, were for people under the age of 50 with nearly one-third being younger than 40 and six being in their 20s, Nitschke said: ”There will be some casualties … but this has to be balanced with the growing pool of older people who feel immense wellbeing from having access to this information.” Tell that to the families of the two men featured in the 7:30 Report! Suicide prevention should never accept the notion of acceptable casualties!
And herein lies a bigger question which suicide prevention organisations and the Australian public generally need to come to terms with: How is it that we have somehow grown to accept that it’s okay for older people to seek to end their lives; that there’s somehow a distinction to be made about access to suicide methods and suicide ideation, generally, based upon age?
This notion that somehow ‘older people…feel immense wellbeing’ from having the means to kill themselves is very odd indeed. Certainly, studies on people who have accessed suicide methods in Oregon under their legalised suicide system do point to this as an outcome for some. But if we apply the same general thinking towards people who are suicidal as described earlier (and I argue that we should), we should be thinking clearly about the reality that there is always another way past presenting difficulties and dilemmas – even if these problems ultimately include advancing age or a difficult prognosis.
We should be preventing suicide by treating every suicidal person with equal respect and act the same in every case. If not, then aren’t we at risk of failing people in the same way as Nitschke’s cry for the recognition of rational suicide would?
It’s about time this macabre and clandestine industry was subject to public scrutiny.