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Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Let’s end the marriage of convenience between Church and State

Lost among all of the Ebola related headlines are many other issues which should be addressed. One in particular is the current controversy in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho over two Christian pastors who have been threatened with fines and jail time for refusing to perform same-sex marriages. Of course, this attack on religious liberty is something many of us have seen coming for quite some time and I assure you more will soon follow. The fault here is lies not with proponents of same-sex marriage, but with churches who have allowed themselves to become government agencies with respect to marriage.

Christians define marriage as a union between one man and one woman in obedience to God, while government sees marriage as a union between to consenting adults to create a legal status. For generations churches have been conducting wedding ceremonies to create their definition of a marriage, and at the same time have acted as an agency of the government in creating the legal union. Until now that has not posed a problem because the definition of marriage had not been called into question, and it was a convenient way to kill two birds with one stone. The fact is however, this tradition blurred the line of separation between church and state that should never have been allowed to exist.

By allowing pastors to become “marriage officials”, churches have unwittingly turned control of their definition of marriage over to the government. Regardless of the religious beliefs of a particular church, by acting as a party to the legal definition of marriage they put themselves in a position to be sanctioned for discriminatory practices. Churches are allowed to hold positions against same-sex marriage, but in most states now governments are not. The only way to resolve this issue is to make a clean break between the religion based institution of marriage created by a church and the legal status of marriage established by the government.

If Larry and Mary want to be married and have their marriage blessed by their church in front of their family and friends, they should be able to do so as long as their church is willing to perform the ceremony. If the couple wishes to have their union blessed by the government in the form of a legal status, they need only stop by the local courthouse and file the necessary paperwork to demonstrate they can be legally married according to the laws of their state, and have a local government official such as the Justice of the Peace make it official. If Ron and John want to do the same thing, they should be able to go through the same process, and as long as they find a church that is willing to perform the ceremony and a state where the law allows them to do so, they can be married.

This process would work fine if pastors of Christian churches were not acting as a legal representative of the government, in effect creating a ‘marriage of convenience’ between church and state. As far as I can tell, the only purpose in this arrangement is to simplify the marriage process so that a couple only has to be married once in order to obtain the benefits of each definition of marriage. I am all about convenience and simplifying a process when possible, but this particular simplification seems to have complicated things a little more than people expected.

This marriage of convenience between church and state was good while it lasted, but the two parties have grown apart. Undoubtedly it is time for them to divorce because of irreconcilable differences.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

It's The Stupidity, Stupid

White House photo

Every morning I drink my first cup of coffee as I peruse the news from the major outlets here and around the world. As you might expect there are very few lead stories right now that are not Ebola related, so much so that it would be very easy to reach Ebola burnout if the situation wasn’t so serious. In my efforts to become informed on the subject, I have learned that Ebola is a very dangerous disease that is much more easily transmittable than we have been led to believe, and I have reached the conclusion that it is not the most serious threat our nation faces.

Please don’t misunderstand, I recognize the dangers posed by this disease, probably better than some of the people who are responsible for protecting us from it; but after a couple of weeks of watching this situation needlessly spiral out of control, it has become obvious that stupidity is more of a problem than the Ebola virus itself.

Sometimes I get the feeling that I’m watching one of those cheap horror movies where the victims of the serial killer make the absolute worst decision possible in their effort to escape (and yes, I’ve seen the GEICO commercial, and it is spot-on) while the audience is collectively thinking “You IDIOT!”. Just as you think our government and public health officials couldn’t get this any more wrong, they surprise you.

One would have thought that as the Ebola outbreak began to spread in West Africa our public health agencies would have recognized the possibility of it spreading into this country and implemented procedures already in place to prevent that from happening, and training healthcare professionals on already established protocols to use in the event it did spread into this country; after all, that is what we’ve been paying them to do. Unfortunately it seems out public health officials have been more interested in origami condoms and trying to figure out why lesbians tend to be fatter than straight women. The much vaunted protocols that the CDC said were violated turned out to be woefully inadequate, and apparently no one felt the need to actually have the necessary PPE on hand.

The first Ebola patient arriving at the hospital in Dallas practically screaming “I have Ebola!” was sent home to incubate a few more days. Once he was admitted and put in isolation, his family members were left in the human sized petri dish of virus infestation to fend for themselves. When people finally questioned the lack of cleanup, news crews filmed a crew armed with a pressure washer spreading the contamination all around the apartment complex.

From there the stupidity has continued to spread much faster than the actual Ebola virus. The administration’s flat refusal to put into place a travel ban has made some question the man’s sanity, and now there is a report that he plans to bring infected foreigners to the U.S. for treatment. The combination of lies, contradictory information, mixed messages, errors in judgment, lack of planning, and total disarray gave rise to a call for an Ebola Czar to be named, and when President Obama finally did so he botched that. The man chosen to fill that spot, Ron Klain, is well suited to manage a political crisis, but has no experience at all in managing a public health crisis.

I will give the American people credit for not being too easily panicked over things like this, but people are getting very uneasy. While an Ebola epidemic in this country is unlikely, sometimes worst case scenarios really do happen, just ask people who were in New Orleans for Katrina. In his weekly video address President Obama said “we can’t give in to hysteria or fear” and that “what we are seeing is no an outbreak or epidemic of Ebola in America”. What we are seeing however, is an epidemic of people in his administration who have “acted stupidly” in their handling of this threat, and THAT is what is driving the fear people are feeling, and it will be the stupidity that creates any hysteria that might arise.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Ebola Preparation – Part II

Photo courtesy CDC

What is Ebola and what do you need to know?

Ebola is a VIRUS, part of a group of viral hemorrhagic fevers like Dengue or Yellow Fever. Antibiotics don’t affect viruses and if used as part of the treatment, are actually treating a bacterial infection (secondary to the Ebola infection).  Not all patients exhibit the bleeding symptoms until near death.

Symptoms of Ebola include:

Signs and symptoms typically begin abruptly within five** to 10 days of infection with Ebola or Marburg virus. Early signs and symptoms include:
  • Fever
  • Severe headache
  • Joint and muscle aches
  • Chills
  • Weakness
  • Over time, symptoms become increasingly severe and may include:
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Diarrhea (may be bloody)
  • Red eyes
  • Raised rash
  • Chest pain and cough
  • Stomach pain
  • Severe weight loss
  • Bleeding, usually from the eyes, and bruising (people near death may bleed from other orifices, such as ears, nose and rectum)
  • Internal bleeding
**CDC and WHO information says symptoms can occur as soon as TWO days after being infected. Note that Ebola can be present in a patient with another co-existing disease and the early symptoms are similar to forms of flu. Only a test for Ebola can rule out or accurately diagnose an Ebola infection. Not all patients have all symptoms.

A frequent question, is whether Ebola can contaminate the water supply. Nope, you don’t have to worry about that! (We still need to remember there are times we need to boil, purify, and filter water.)

Another question is how our different winter climate would affect the virus – unfortunately, high heat kills it and cold preserves its ability to infect people.

Treatment consists of supportive care while the patient’s own immune system fights the virus. About 30% of patients treated as follows, do recover. It is known that the virus remains active in semen for up to 90 days after the patient tests negative. Rehydration (IV or oral), to counteract the loss of fluids from extreme nausea and diarrhea is the primary treatment. Administering Tylenol to lower extremely high fever when this is a symptom, and support to keep blood pressure up is the extent of medical treatment. Not all patients have a fever; in fact up to 13% will not have this symptom. Reports are that a patient can lose up to 10 liters of fluid a day, so rehydration solution will be the most important treatment. Other care will consist of cleaning up after the patient and trying to keep them comfortable. Disinfection with bleach solution (or full strength cider vinegar – 3% acetic acid is a good, natural substitute) will also be a constant task. Sickroom wastes & refuse should be burned. There is some talk of using full-spectrum UV lights to disinfect fabrics, packages and mail but there haven’t been any studies done to prove this is helpful.

Personal Protection Equipment (PPE)

It wouldn’t hurt, if you need to continue to work or go out into high-traffic public places, to carry a simple mask and nitrile or latex gloves, and hand sanitizer. Soap is actually better at cleaning your hands, but isn’t always available. Check the alcohol content of hand sanitizer; it should be 70% alcohol or greater. Practice not touching your face, except with freshly cleaned hands.

Early in the outbreak, if there is any suspicion of Ebola contact, you should call 911, specifying how you believe you’ve been infected (contact with a known positive case or travel to affected areas – this now includes Dallas, TX and parts of Ohio). Your best shot at recovering is with dedicated medical care.

If the situation has spread and overwhelmed the medical facilities, having some PPE at home for the person designated as a caregiver only makes sense. This should include a plastic-coated Tyvek coverall, (duct tape the zipper flap to create a full seal); full-face and head covering – you don’t want any skin exposed; N100 or greater mask; 2 layers of nitrile gloves (preferably different colors to identify rips immediately) under longer rubber gloves (like dishwashing gloves) that will be taped without gaps to your suit and lastly – rubber boots. The pants of the suit should be over the tops of the boots and taped, to them, as well.

Amazon, Walmart, the home stores all have these supplies. If you’re not finding what you need or want don’t forget that nursery supply or farm supply vendors often carry chemical suits, sprayers, gloves, eye protection, etc.

You will want to create an airlock type, ante chamber to the room you designate the sickroom (which hopefully has an attached bath. In the airlock, you will suit up and remove clothing before working with the patient. Heavy plastic sheeting and duct tape will help you make this; don’t forget to overlap the sheets by a foot or more. Virus particles are small and invisible – but fluids are containing the virus are not. Nothing comes out of the airlock, until it’s been wiped down with bleach.


This is a very specific, step by step process. I’d suggest printing out the steps in big type and laminating it where you will disrobe and decontaminate. A baby pool or a large dishpan can be used to step through to wash the bottoms of your boots and to spray yourself down with bleach. The home stores will have sprayers specifically rated for bleach; the chlorine will degrade the rubber seals in most sprayers over time. Spray in waterfall/rainfall shower fashion or have someone else spray you. Every square inch needs to get wet and stay wet for 5-10 minutes to completely disinfect.

If you can, have someone watch you disrobe, step by step, and if you need assistance they should be gloved and masked, as well.  The idea is that no bare skin touches any part of the outer garments. Let articles completely dry in the sun before the next use. If care requires you to be in attendance more often, two of everything would be a good idea! (Let us all hope you don’t need these instructions.)

Financial Aspects of a long-lasting quarantine

Everyone wishes that they could work from home, in situations like this. We have mortgages, power bills, car payments, insurance, taxes… that all have to be paid; Ebola or no’bola. But many occupations are hands-on, so a decision will need to be made about how much at-risk one will be, just going to work. Hopefully, one has been prepping financially as well – with enough funds in an emergency fund for 6 months to cover those bills. (Some work-related expenses will decrease); this makes the decision easier, but if you must go to work take a mask, gloves, and sanitizer with you. Under the circumstances, I don’t see how any decent (qualifying term) employer could object.

This is one situation where I would recommend digital banking (I generally avoid it) especially if whole areas are under a shelter in place order or quarantine. To be extra careful, be sure to cash a check for some cash to have on hand at home every week, too. Stop handling money without gloves when there are multiple cases starting to show up in your local area or region. The money you have at home shouldn’t have any virus on it. For those with the funds to do so, putting back pre-1964 silver coins, silver eagles, etc. in case of a currency crisis is probably already something you’re doing. And some bills can be pre-paid. That may help provide peace of mind and cash flow, later on.

I’m not going to try to calculate the probability that Ebola would precipitate a financial crisis, but it sure isn’t going to help. West Africa is seeing case fatalities rates of 70-80% and the WHO is predicting that unless things start to slow down and become contained in this outbreak, by January there could be over a million cases. That’s a lot of people not harvesting crops, processing for shipments, teaching, etc. and it will have a large emotional and moral impact beyond the simple economic ones.


If you’re not already homeschooling, you’ll probably be agonizing over the timing of taking your kids out of school. I suggest you use your own comfort level to make that decision; but I would seriously consider it if there were a positive case anywhere in the child’s school. Take the time to gather some material ahead of time. Your state will likely provide the minimum requirements by grade level, for what your students should be learning. My teaching background was older students and adults, along with trying to feed my own kids’ curiosity and aptitudes. There is plenty of discussion online and support for homeschooling too! Here’s one site that looks like it covers quite a bit of the questions you might have and connect you to other parents homeschooling.


At some point, the situation may escalate and you’ll decide you’re better off just staying at home. You’ve put back enough food, there isn’t a square inch left in the freezer for a pint of ice cream, you’re already thinking about spring’s seed order, and can filter and purify water. There isn’t any real NEED to go in public and risk exposure and the work situation is clearer now.

The idea of lockdown is that no one and nothing comes into your home, possibly contaminating it and no one goes out. (I include the yard or acreage in “home”). You’ll want to minimize deliveries, cut back on mail (cancel some subscriptions) and what does come to the house will need some form of caution or decontamination process to keep your family and yourself safe.
Lockdown can be a gradual process, too. Choosing not to attend large events or do a lot of travelling, spending time in hotels, etc. Avoiding unnecessary trips out, combining errands into single days, and even moving up appointments for dental and medical checkups can be considered that area between “normal” and “lockdown”.

Most of us won’t need to barricade ourselves in our homes – LOL! We can get outside and work in the yard, growing our food, playing with the dog and teaching our kids to work right alongside us. We need that exercise to stay healthy. If you’re in an urban area, start learning yoga or tai chi now, as they don’t require a lot of space and are both proven to help with muscle tone, stamina, and aerobic health. They are both adaptable to people of all ages and with physical limitations, too. The flexibility and health benefits come from daily practice. We can even talk to the neighbors over the fence – just don’t get real close, if you’re concerned they might be sick. In fact, having that kind of contact will help a great deal. Technology offers us Skype and Face Time, to stay in touch almost face to face with loved ones.

With kids and for your own sanity, a daily routine of chores, learning, exercise and free time will help keep people from the dreaded “cabin fever”. When the whining about being “bored” would start with my kids, they were told to go learn something or they could do another task instead (kept that kind of thing to a minimum!).  You will want to stock treats – popcorn, chocolate, pudding, dried fruit, nuts, or maybe you have one of those ice cream balls? Video games need time limits and perhaps the kids can “earn” that form of entertainment to keep it special. Board games, cards, school work, and chores will make sure everyone sleeps soundly and stays healthy until we know how this is going to end.

This isn’t encyclopedic, but it is a start toward being able to take care of your family and yourself and being self-reliant. We all started somewhere, for some reason.