But I Fear

On the one hand, I sincerely commend the author for finding a creative way to express his concerns.

On the other hand, I’m pretty sure he’s picked the wrong things to be afraid of. Nothing in his vignette actually scares me into re-thinking my policy stances about a) immigration policy and reform, b) public health policy, c) anti-terrorism policy, d) the new war in Iraq, e) the role of political control of subject matter experts in government, or f) how subordinates ought to raise concerns with people higher up the food chain who seem to have difficulty understanding things.

Perhaps my amygdala is under-developed.

Burt LikkoBurt Likko is the pseudonym of an attorney in Southern California. His interests include Constitutional law with a special interest in law relating to the concept of separation of church and state, cooking, good wine, and bad science fiction movies. Follow his sporadic Tweets at @burtlikko, and his Flipboard at Burt Likko.

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24 thoughts on “But I Fear

  1. I read that a few days ago (or perhaps another piece just like it?) and it seemed totally devoid of anything to actually fear, and ginned up to stroke people’s imagined fears. A great example of a risk-assessment failure.

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  2. Nor should it, seeing as the scenario is pretty much batshit insane with no possible connection to reality.

    1. To my knowledge, illegal immigrants from Africa don’t come via Mexico, which would be kind of silly, seeing as they’d need to get a visa to travel to Mexico just as much as they’d need one to travel to the US. If you’re going to spend the dough to get a visa and fly across the Atlantic, you’re going to fly direct to the US and then skip out on your visa. Why do the same with a Mexican visa, but also add a bunch of less than safe and not very cheap additional steps, such as (a) finding a coyote in a country where you don’t speak a word of Spanish and don’t know a soul; (b) hiring said coyote and hoping he’s not going to defraud you, seeing as he knows you don’t speak the language and have no local connections; (c) traversing a fishing desert; and (d) hoping that you’re not in one of the groups that the Border Patrol in fact does catch?

    2. The time between first symptoms and death with Ebola is a week to 16 days, with the bleeding phase starting within 5-7 days. So that means that someone with symptoms would have less than a week to somehow: (1) get a passport if they don’t already have one; (2) travel in person to the nearest Mexican consulate (ie, he’d have to travel to Monrovia); (3) convince the person at the Mexican visa desk that he’s feeling perfectly well despite starting to show symptoms; (4) get that person to immediately issue a visa to travel to Mexico, a process that in most instances is itself probably going to take more than the week he has to live, and in any event which Mexico’s website indicates requires a minimum of two business days; (5) raise the $5000+ required to pay airfare from Monrovia to Mexico City, which isn’t exactly going to be a direct flight; (6) fly to Mexico City, which accroding to Kayak involves 30 hours and 3 layovers in 3 different countries, at each of which he may need to clear customs/immigration without anyone noticing that he’s sick; (7) find a coyote who is leaving for the border immediately despite not speaking a word of Spanish; (8) have raised enough money to pay the coyote; and (9) travel from Mexico City to Juarez, which Google Maps says is an almost 20 hour drive.

    I suppose he could try adjusting his scenario so that the sick man is only just at an incubation stage, which he knows because he just treated a dying family member. But even still, it’s not as if the average Liberian has $5000+ just lying around, nor as if the average Liberian has any awareness whatsoever of how illegal immigration from Mexico works. Nor is it as if visas from Liberia are something that Mexico is going to rubber stamp these days and process in just a couple of days. Amongst other issues, no doubt.

    So, yeah, if Ebola spreads to the US, it’s not going to have anything to do with illegal immigration from Mexico, and definitely isn’t going to have anything to do with political correctness regarding that issue.

    3. As for the idea of terrorists smuggling into the US from Mexico while taking advantage of some sort of distraction…..really? Why would these hypothetical terrorists wait for a distraction that would have no effect whatsoever on border policy or on resources already being dedicated to anti-terrorism? And why is it assumed that, in doing so, they’d so easily be able to smuggle themselves and their weapons into Mexico?

    4. What’s more, as far as I can tell, the apprehension rate at the border is above 50% – in 2012, the Border Patrol apprehended about 650,000, with about half of those actually reported and arrested, but all presumably turned back. I can’t find any numbers for 2012, but in 2009, the estimate was that only about 300,000 successfully entered. So this scenario assumes that a terrorist looking to attack the US would decide that his best odds would be to hope to avoid detection by Mexican authorities while flying to Mexico – which really isn’t going to be much easier than just trying to fly direct to the US since there’s a limit to how effective airport security can be – and then take a less than 50% chance of crossing the border via Mexico.

    Etc., etc.

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    • Yeah. This is my favorite part:

      He was lucky; he had the money not only to buy the airline ticket but to pay the bribes that let him avoid any questions at customs. Not in America, of course; they would catch him at the airport and send him back to die. Instead, he came through Mexico, where a $1,000 bought him a wave through the turnstile. Now was the easy part – to cross into America through its porous southern border and claim asylum while he sought treatment.

      According to the author, it is simultaneously easier and harder to get into America than into Mexico. Also, someone looking for free healthcare would sneak into America rather than… well, you get it.

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      • I enjoyed the first couple seasons of Alias. Jennifer Garner was very much like Sean Connery. For example, every foreign accent sounds like the same foreign accent (Sean Connery: “Let me get this straight, I’m going to be a Scottish guy playing a Spanish guy who teaches a Belgian guy playing a Scottish guy how to survive? OK, I have the perfect accent for this.”)

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      • I’ve ranted about it before but I will one more time. The first two seasons were some of the most ridiculously-entertaining TV I’ve ever seen. Then it all went off the rails.

        On the one hand, there is something admirable about the way they tried to upend the show’s status quo with Season 3, and it almost might have worked – but as you note, they lost some of the better actors/characters as regulars (Lena Olin – rowr), and they also made some directing/stylistic choices that I didn’t care for (switching out the techno soundtrack for a more generic “Bond/spy” one). Season 4 tried to right the ship and regain the original feel, but it was too late.

        Still, those first two seasons are something. Victor Garber and Ron Rifkin were great (actually, they had a lot of great actors on that show – Terry O’Quinn, Amy Irving). There’s a scene with Rifkin (I think he’s putting the screws to Sark) where he’s drinking red wine, kind of slurping it almost, letting it just slop a little onto his lips like blood; and the way he looks right then, all I could think was “Sometimes that shark, he looks right into you. Right into your eyes. You know the thing about a shark, he’s got… lifeless eyes, black eyes, like a doll’s eye. When he comes at ya, doesn’t seem to be livin’. Until he bites ya and those black eyes roll over white.”

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      • The fun of that show was the schemes and intensity and club music and absurdity. They realized that it didn’t matter one whit who was good or bad, or what world crisis or artifact a particular episode was about. So they got lazy. It was still fun.

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  3. The number of infections and deaths is doubling about every month. Transmission rates are increasing with time. If nothing slows it down we could see full global infection in 20 months with nearly half the population down. Maybe it will burn out or slow down, but so far it doesn’t appear to be letting up. Borders won’t much matter to this stuff.

    Does someone else see anything less grim?

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    • Does someone else see anything less grim?

      Yes.

      You don’t understand how infectious diseases work, either, apparently.

      If nothing slows it down we could see full global infection in 20 months with nearly half the population down.

      This is like saying “if the sun doesn’t come up in the morning, we’ll all freeze to death”.

      The infectious vector efficiency for Ebola is very, very tightly coupled to basic sanitary conditions.

      The entirety of the U.S. population, all of the EU, all of Japan, large chunks of China, much of Oceana.. they all basically live in sanitary conditions that are essentially entirely a different biosphere from the areas of the world where Ebola is currently propagating.

      Basically, consider Ebola a particularly awesome top predator in the deep ocean. We’re sitting on lawn chairs, just inside the gentle lapping upper reach of a light onshore wave, sitting on the sand, overlooking a lagoon with a natural reef that’s been fortified by our local developer who wants us to be sipping our Mai Tais and not worrying about that top predator in the deep ocean.

      So yeah.

      The projections for this current outbreak of Ebola are really, really bad. They’re also well within projected worst case scenarios from people who study infectious diseases, and they will very very likely not jump ship from those scenarios, none of which result in 3 billion people dying.

      More here.

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      • ” they all basically live in sanitary conditions that are essentially entirely a different biosphere from the areas of the world where Ebola is currently propagating”

        I hope that is what saves our bacon as well. We would probably do ok treating this a dozen cases or so at a time, but considering the lack of reserve capacity of hospitals, we may have a bumpy road ahead.

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      • Are we all dead of AIDS? Because Ebola has exactly the same transmission vector, only it doesn’t lurk NEARLY as long.

        Admittedly, Ebola victims tend to be very bloody near the end, but to protect yourself you merely need….the exact gloves anyone handling a sick or dead human wears anyways.

        Now in Africa, they’ve not got latex gloves on every corner and a health respect for sharps.

        But if you’re gonna be worried about Ebola, you should start with hepatitis and AIDS, which are transmitted in the exact same way only you’ve actually got a chance of running INTO someone with those diseases.

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