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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.
I am actually sorry that I was MIA for last night’s QandA but I had an engagement with my son to play a game for the evening. However Palmer is certainly proving what a clown he is. What a shameless fool who sadly has the money (or access to funds) to make manifest some wild and crazy schemes the latest of which is his bonkers climate change conference where he plans to invite a whole swag of former world leaders to his dinosaur park for an utterly pointless chat fest. I am of course only guessing but I doubt that anyone with any real gravitas will attend but what is the bet that Clive’s new Bestie Al Gore is getting this stupid conference as payment for Clive’s road to Damascus conversion to the Green religion a few weeks ago? Palmer is as predictable as the plot of a $2 porno.
that said What Comrade Yale has to say as the post script to his post can not be seen as anything but the most amusing satire.
AND ANOTHER THING: One thing the Fairfax press is prepared to cover this morning is the plan by Palmer to establish his own national news publication; pitched as a “newspaper competitor” to Rupert Murdoch, Palmer has registered (or is in the process of doing so) the names The Australasian Times, The Australian Times, and Australian News.
There always seems to be a high-profile target wherever these “initiatives” by Palmer is concerned; not merely content to attempt to destroy a Prime Minister and a Premier, it now appears Palmer fancies himself to knock the most powerful media proprietor in the Western world down a few pegs as well.
Given the way he has conducted his political activities to date and what seems to be his conviction that the rest of us share his obsession with himself, it will be fascinating to see what passes as Palmer’s version of “unbiased news” — if this latest hare-brained scheme ever amounts to anything.
My guess is that even if it gets off the ground, it will find very limited favour with the news-consuming public; having spent 20 years in and around media companies and having acquired a firm grasp of what is involved in running them, my guess is that such an enterprise will haemorrhage money from Palmer’s fortune for as long as he is silly enough to persist with it.
Should it ever come to pass, Murdoch will be laughing — literally — all the way to the bank.
Not only will Murdoch be laughing but so too will the many washed up ex Fairfax journalists who will undoubtedly be lining up to sell their souls, and arses to Palmer for a few pieces of silver, even if the arse in question is pock marked with anti TB injections.
Palmer is a Joke who has worn out our ability to laugh at him these days its just a tired sigh from me at any of his antics but one thing is certain and that is we can be sure that the only thing that Palmer is interested in is having his ego massaged continually by making himself the center of every possible issue in Australian politics. Sadly we may have to put up with his pulsating blubber for some time to come because the happy ending that the public dream of won’t come soon enough and in the mean time we have to endure something that is almost too horrible to countenance no matter what side of politics you lay on.
Well I suppose it is incumbent upon me as the author here at a blog that is mostly about Australian politics to say something about last night’s budget. Up front I have to say that I have not read the original document or even watched the speech on the TV. I had other priorities last night. So instead I am going to respond to the summary written by the Guardian with what I think about the specifics enunciated there.
As leaked, it hits around 400,000 high-income earners with a three-year $3.1bn deficit levy and reaps a further $2.2bn by increasing petrol taxes in line with inflation.
The former will undoubtedly upset my more “economically dry” friends but I doubt that they will notice it beyond its existence as a line item from their accountants, most will not even notice unless they are obsessive about the amount of tax they pay. A rise in the tax on petrol will undoubtedly be noticed initially but soon forgotten by most people simply because the price of fuel has become so volatile anyway. Up here it jumped by nearly 20 cents a litre at Easter so I think this will soon become part of the economic background noise in our lives.
But the budget-night surprise was that much of the cash raised from cuts to benefits and tax rises is spent on the Coalition’s own priorities rather than on improving the budget bottom line, including a new $20bn medical research fund – to become the biggest in the world within six years – the Direct Action greenhouse emissions reduction fund and about $5bn in new roads funding.
Why that should surprise anyone is beyond me, Even in tough times a government wants to be seen to be capable of economic multitasking. That said who could complain about more money for medical research? Readers will recall that I would personally ditch, in its entirety, the Direct Action climate policy but in the absence of heeding my advice lets hope that there is the sort of secondary benefits from the spending that I have previously postulated, although I do remain sceptical that the scheme will deliver much for the nation.As a confirmed petrol head I welcome improvements to the road network and I also welcome the economic stimulus that the expenditure will bring.
Although the treasurer, Joe Hockey, said the aim of the pain was “budget repair” – a national effort in which Australians “fix the budget together” – he is not promising a surplus in the four years of the forward estimates, with a deficit of $2.8bn forecast for 2017-18: unemployment remains at 6% or higher for the next three, growth is almost unchanged and business investment is weakening.
Lets be thankful for that! I don’t think that I am alone in hoping that we never again see the false hope of a quick return to surplus trotted out in every one of Wayne Swan’s budgets .
Hockey conceded the government “could have gone harder” in paying down deficits, but said “it would have detracted from growth”.
Well we all know that its a balancing act between the need to pay down debt and not kill the economy in the process.
He denied his budget was the start of an “age of austerity”, saying he was in fact ushering in a new “age of opportunity”.
No surprise in trying to change the way that the budget will be perceived.
But for unemployed people under 30, this “age of opportunity” means waiting six months to get the dole, then receiving a payment only for six months and only if they work for it, and then losing the payment again for the next six months, during which a potential employers may get a wage subsidy.
Well this is a great deal tougher than I expected and I can see some individuals could very well suffer severe hardship under such a regime. On the other hand it will clearly incentivise those in this demographic to both accept any work that they can get and to try harder to please their employers to avoid losing their jobs in the first place. I can’t see how it could work in remote indigenous communities that have bugger all jobs though.
For sick people it means paying $7 for every visit to the doctor and every medical test – $5 of which will be invested in a new “medical research future fund” and $2 will be kept by the doctor or test provider, in part to help them waive the payment in cases of “genuine need”. The co-payment will stop after 10 medical payments for concession holders and children. The co-payment for medicines will also increase by $5.
Which means that those sick with concession cards will mostly still be able to see a doctor for free as they do now but I am less than impressed by the increase in co-payment for prescriptions which will almost double with the $5 increase. No more coffee shop stop for me when I get my drugs then 😦
Hockey said the aim of the health changes was to “get the nation to invest in its own healthcare … and for people to accept personal responsibility for their own physical health.”
Most of us do this anyway
For students the new era means paying back a greater proportion of the cost of a degree, and this cost potentially rising as the higher education sector is deregulated – although government loans will be available for a wider range of courses.
I have repeatedly argued that tertiary education is rather over rated and if it is going to cost those who benefit from it more than they will certainly chose their courses with greater care and a consideration of its benefit to their future career. The important thing to keep in mind though is the generous and universal loans scheme means that greater costs will not restrict anyone from doing the course of their dreams no matter what their background may be.
For single-income families it means losing up to $73 per week a child in family tax benefit B payments once the bread winner earns more than $100,000 (rather than the current $150,000) and losing the payment when the youngest child turns six, rather than 18.
Who could object to cutting this? Anyone on 100K a year does not need this kind of benefit at all.
And government payments including family tax benefit, Medicare rebates and private health insurance rebates will be frozen, as will eligibility thresholds for receiving them – instead of rising in line with inflation – an idea Tony Abbott derided as “class warfare” when it was tentatively tried by the former Labor government.
Likewise a reasonable move.
Many disability pensioners under 35 will be “reassessed” and those with “some work capacity” forced to seek employment.
As I have suggested elsewhere this is a largely symbolic matter and that the vast majority of those DSP recipients who will be re-accessed will in fact found to still be compliant with the eligibility criteria which are pretty hard to meet anyway. As for work well it has to be there and suitable for the disabled and I have my doubts that many in this cohort will be able to find work.
But clearly hesitant to break an election promise that no changes would be made to the pension, the government has delayed paring back aged pensions until after the next federal poll.
What the government takes to the next poll will be judged by the people.
It is then proposing major changes – linking pension increases to inflation rather than average earnings, which will see their buying power decline over time compared with current arrangements, freezing the threshold for assets and income a pensioner can hold even though their value will rise over time, reducing the amount a pensioner can earn from their assets.
It seems to me that this is a reasonable change that brings the aged pension into line with the indexation of other government benefits. As for changes to the assets valuation well I’m undecided on that one.
The pension age will rise to 70 by 2035, but addressing criticism that older people often find it hard to get a job the government is offering a new wage subsidy to employers taking on a worker over 50 who has been unemployed for more than six months.
The subsidy will undoubtedly be welcomed by both small business and older job seekers and is to may mind far more significant than a raising of the pension age in twenty years time.
As I predicted in my last post this budget is not the horror that the pundits were suggesting it would be. Its certainly not perfect in every aspect and only time will tell if the assumptions and expectations that are at its heart will be correct. However one thing we can be sure of is that it has to be better than any of the flights of fantasy delivered by Wayne Swan that were inevitably entirely made of tat hope and bullshit. All big picture instruments like the federal budget are going to be like the curates egg “good in parts” and at this one will be no exception there certainly are some parts that are a bit off smelling but on the whole its seems to be quite reasonable given the mess that we inherited from Labor.
As is my want I have been dabbling with commenting at the Guardian and its an interesting game of cat and mouse to see just what I can get past the moderators who are quite amusingly incredibly politically correct. They have a most incredibly biased moderation and they give free reign to the Millenarian catastrophe fans of the parsimonious Green persuasion. its the sort of challenge that I enjoy a great deal . Quite predictably they are having a sort of masturbatory online orgasm with the releases of the IPCC and treating this political document as if its John Smiths golden pages or the stone slabs brought down from the mountain by Moses but from what I have seen its very much a case of “same old same old” tosh that they have been peddling for years. About the only tick that I can give the document is that it does seem to contain a tacit concession that mitigation can not be made to work at a global level. Considering how long they have had to prepare this political document it don’t amount to much. James Delingpole has a lovely satirical take on it:
The really scary thing about James piece is that many of the misanthropic Greenies are dreaming of the predicted apocolypse with a sort of sadomasochistic delight at the prospect that their predictions will mean millions dead dying or suffering unremitting misery. I am only surprised that they have not yet decided that things like the Ebola outbreak in Africa is a good thing and that it may just be a damn good idea to propagate similar pandemics around the world to cure the planet of the human disease
According to media reports the abolition of the Climate commission will save the long suffering people about half a million bucks a year, almost chump change in the greater scheme of things but how it has upset the AGW luvvies, with many of them getting upset that the government should do precisely what they promised on the campaign trail would be right up there with getting new stationary by abolishing this useless quango. Some one should explain to the luvvies that if the Australian people want to find out about the subject they can do the same as everyone else and just use the internet. Because its always been the case that the likes of Flannery et al have NEVER produced a single instance of unique research all that they have ever done is to rehash the many papers and pseudo-scientific claims of impending doom as if they are some sort of holy writ. The fact that Flannery now claims that he and his fellow Profits of the Green religion are now going to carry on their “work” while begging for public support should make for an amusing aside to discussions of the topic. I just can’t help wondering if the AGW luvvies will dig deep enough to make up for Flannery’s now absent 180 grand a year stipend or if the cold hard reality of them having to spend their own money (rather than that of the taxpayer) is in action.
While we are on the subject of the internet who has not noticed that Malcolm Turnbull has got the NBN board to all fall on their swords? It both delights me to see the nincompoops who have done such a crappy job on Labor’s signature high-tech infrastructure project fired and to see that we now have a the prospect of the very necessary upgrading of our internet services in the hands of a minister who understands how to run something properly and that we may just have in prospect a change in the debate from the flights of of fantasy about what a warp drive will do on the electric super highway to what has to be done to properly deliver on the promise.
- Tim Flannery to relaunch scrapped Climate Commission as community-funded body (abc.net.au)
- Backers breathe life into axed climate body (theage.com.au)
- Tim Flannery sacked as Climate Commission is disbanded (sbs.com.au)
- New climate think tank backed (smh.com.au)
- Climateer Tim Flannery sacked in Oz (wattsupwiththat.com)
- Taking away the Climate Change gravy train (iainhall.wordpress.com)
- Axed Climate Commission to be resurrected as Climate Council (theguardian.com)
- Malcolm Turnbull asks NBN Co board to resign after cost blowouts and delays (abc.net.au)