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Ebola: Who’s at Fault?

The fault with Ebola can be spread far and wide.   Start with our Homeland security not seeing Ebola as a threat.  Move to a do-nothing congress unwilling to fund research and development, equipment and training. Then look at a racist, hubris filled country which did not demand action while this disease was decimating African nations and believes that somehow chanting USA! USA! makes us better and more capable than other nations.  That is the pot.

Next add a drug industry uninterested in developing medications and treatments for conditions and diseases which don’t pay and instead concentrate on developing drugs for men (Viagra, Cialis) and the wealthy (Botox, Cancer treatments). Stir in apathy and a large portion of unwillingness to see beyond the bottom line.

Bring to a boil over a fire of mistaken belief that Americans are John Wayne clones who can handle any threat with enough gun fire.

Now go to Texas where these beliefs are exaggerated.  Enter a corporate hospital where oversight is slack, and budgeting focuses on corporate gain instead of patient care.  Investment in employee training and personal protective equipment is minimal, despite the deaths overseas and the growth of local refugee populations.  Overconfidence and lack of understanding of the situation upon patient admission left any who came in contact exposed.  The incompetence and lack of training of the state and local health departments as well as the hospital’s concerns about liability (nurses were advised to use their best judgement) combined with a media mandate to minimize the threat in order to not “cause a panic” despite the very facts they were reporting, to create an environment in which contamination and transmission were practically guaranteed.

Finally, sprinkle liberally with a health care system that encourages the poor to stay away from diagnosis and treatment until they are in extremis and you have not just a recipe, but a mandate for disaster.  At each level ignorance, greed, overconfidence, dodging of responsibility and racism are putting not just Americans, but the entire hemisphere at risk.  

However, this is hardly the time to be divesting ourselves of experts. Reporters at CNN stated “Americans don’t want to be told to stay at home and watch daytime TV for three weeks”.  Of course we don’t.  But, it doesn’t matter what we want now.  It doesn’t matter what the bottom line is.  It doesn’t matter how many guns you have or what political party you belong to.  We have to put all that aside, admit it and deal with it. 

Ebola is a deadly epidemic and it’s here.  It’s in Dallas, and it’s quite possibly cropping up in other Texas cities, in New Haven, Connecticut and perhaps Ohio. It will show up in other places.  We can’t close our borders to disease.  A wall won’t keep it out.  America is going to have to buckle down and prepare.  We will have to spend money.  We will have to learn something.  We will have to train people.  

We don’t have time to argue about blame.  That will have to wait.  We need to get to work.  Together.

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The New Dust Bowl

The New Dust Bowl

Long Dunes

This is an image of the formally fertile Texas Panhandle.  These dunes are created by topsoil blown from tilled fields which have received no significant rain for months.  We are having frequent dust storms which obscure visual range and cause traffic accidents.  And soon, no doubt, we will begin having riotous range fires.

On a typical day in the Spring, sustained winds in Amarillo, Texas may run thirty miles per hour, gusting to sixty.  Downslope winds coming from the mountains of New Mexico dry as they expand, wringing any humidity from the air as it travels Eastward.  Likewise, air coming in Westward over the Caprock is forced up and cools rapidly, causing precipitation to fall before it reaches us.  All this results in nothing but dry, hot air.  And it’s getting drier and hotter.

Native plant which grow here are used to little precipitation.  This is, after all, a high, arid desert.  But with irrigation and an acceptable annual rainfall in the past, this area grew wheat, sorghum, soybeans and cotton.  Now, with an average rainfall of less than two inches per month, very little grows here without a huge amount of irrigation.  With the dryness of the air, tremendous amounts of water are lost to evaporation before they even hit the ground.  The water is wasted, the plants are stunted, the harvests are low. Fields are left with stunted crops unharvested, dried out: fire hazards.

Dead trees and dusty ground have thinned herds

Two Steers

The Panhandle was alive with cattle at one point.  Herds of Black Angus, Hereford Whiteface, Longhorns and Limosin roamed the area.  But as grazing land dried up, ranchers sold off their herds due to the cost of grains.  This is an image of two hybrid cattle on a dusty, overgrazed field.  Many of the trees here are dead, the rest twisted to the Northwest from the constant push of the Southwest winds.  A fire in this field would spread in an instant, fueled by the bone-dry vegetation and high winds.  It would travel faster than these two steers could go, roasting them alive before anyone could get there to help them.  It’s happened before.

Firefighters can barely keep up with the fast moving flames.  Grass fires create their own winds as the rapidly rising hot air sucks in the relatively cooler air along the ground surface.  The firestorm pulls in fuel, oxygen, rocks, and builds strength as it travels.  They are hot, they are quick, they are deadly.  In Arizona last year 19 firefighters were killed in one blaze alone.  Every day we have fire weather warning.  We keep our fingers crossed.

calf or foal being covered by drifting dust

Dead Calf

The losses suffered are not just financial.  This image is of a young foal being covered in the drifting sand is not remarkable in itself.  What is frightening about this scene is that at three o’clock in the afternoon, at a temperature of 88 degrees, there was not a single fly on this carcass.  Under ordinary circumstances, there would be a visible cloud of them on and over the body.  But there were none.

In fact, in 1974 there were grasshoppers, cicadas, dragonflies, ants, praying mantis, bees, wasps, beetles and any number of other insects in the area.  Car windshields had to be cleaned of insect parts after a drive in the country.  There would be swarms of gnats, mosquitos, mayflies and other flying creatures in the yards, fields and ponds.  Now there are not.  Our cars are not covered with bugs, just mud.  There aren’t roly-polys under the rocks, just sand.  Our wasp problems have solved themselves.

As for the birds that used to eat those bugs?  They’ve just disappeared.  We have the occasional Robin, but the others: meadowlarks, mockingbirds, flycatchers- they’ve moved on. Instead we have sparrows, finches and doves; the seed eaters.

I have a story told to me by a friend about a local rancher and his elderly mother.  The rancher went over to his mother’s house during a particularly bad recent dust storm.  He found her crying at the window.  When he asked what was wrong, she turned to him and said, “This is how it started the first time.”

The geographical center of the Dust Bowl of the 1930s, according to filmmaker Ken Burns, is just short of two hours’ drive from here.  There are still a lot of older adults who remember the harsh, dry conditions and the monster, daylight eating dust storms.

They are afraid.

I am too.

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