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ZombieLaw studies zombies in law, politics and current events.

Ebola at Columbia

Apologies, this post only has one zombie but since I’ve started the zombie ebola conversation I may as well continue following-through on the ebola story. Nearly two years ago to the day, New York was blacked out and struggling with Superstorm Sandy, today we welcome Ebola to the city.

Columbia Spectator: “CUMC doctor hospitalized with ebola-like symptoms, reports say” by Christian Zhang and Emma Bogler:

According to the New York Daily News, the patient was 33-year-old Craig A. Spencer, a professor with the Columbia University Medical Center’s department of medicine. Spencer had returned just 10 days earlier from a Doctor’s Without Borders trip to Guinea where he treated Ebola patients, the Daily News reported.

Woo Columbia zombies! Way to score the public health brand marketing opportunity.

CNN now reporting he tests positive: “NY doctor recently back from West Africa tests positive for Ebola, officials confirm” by Ray Sanchez and Shimon Prokupecz:

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio said, “We want to state at the outset there is no reason for New Yorkers to be alarmed.”

Just two weeks ago a Columbia researcher was quoted in NYMag: “How to Prevent Ebola Panic in the Facebook Age” by Jesse Singal:

“Ebola’s the kind of disease that zombie movies are made out of,” said Abdulrahman El-Sayed, a researcher at Columbia’s Mailman School of Public Health. “It’s the kind of thing where if you’re not close to the science and don’t understand the epidemiology of it, it’s a very scary-sounding disease — you bleed all over the place, it kills more than 50 percent of the individuals who contract it, it’s spreading like wildfire in West Africa.”

That’s pretty similar to what Rep. Farenhold said, that was quoted by Meet the Press, and that Senator Casey called irresponsible rhetoric. And recall yesterday’s post “ebola is a metaphor for zombie” and ebola as a symbol of the threat of globalism.

We are left to debate of whether the best solutions are to solve with individual self-reliance or paternal institutions. These are the kinds of great debates that the young men of Columbia College used to have while reading their core curriculum of mostly Dead White European Male texts.

Meanwhile in today’s Columbia Spectator: “Free screening of Ghostbusters tonight” by Hannah Josi:

Rumor has it that the money earned from the shots on campus still pays for all the lawn maintenance. Given how much the administration loves grass, that’s a lot of money. Thanks, Ghostbusters!

Yeah, thanks zombie Bill Murray, thanks for paying for the grass. We smoked that core curriculum into a po-mo hash of multicultural nonexistence, and the grass is all that’s left of Columbia. Like the other great institutions, it is crumbling.

In another Columbia Spectator article last month, “Dumb as Mudd” by Alex Della Santina:

What does this say about engineering at Columbia? We come to an institution to learn the art of innovation, efficiency, improvement. But we have to do that in a building that exemplifies all of the “don’ts” of engineering.

Like other zombie brands, the elite colleges have become hollowed shells, preserving their landscaping, the facade, but not the educational rigor. Columbia is an arm of the media establishment, an unregistered political lobbying institution, a tax-free hedge fund, and a facilitator of indentured servitude. It is immoral to allow 18 year olds to take out debt to pay for this kind of elite white man’s drug. This kind of liberal arts education is the most expensive addiction in America and it is fueled by viral media that reinforces the illusory prestige.

But at least the grass is nice; with that dank smell of old classrooms like Havemeyor 309. In the recent PBS profile (propaganda): “Treasures of New York: Columbia University“, PrezBo says:

you walk through the gates at 116th street and you immediately feel your IQ go up 10 points

That’s cause the elitism virus is airborne.

See more zombie Columbia or zombie New York or zombie education or, if we must, zombie Ebola

ebola is metaphor for zombies

US News: “Get Your Ebola Groove On” by Steven Nelson:

“Ebola definitely has the ‘it’ factor for scary disease. It comes from scary dark Africa, monkeys are involved and blood comes out of your eyes. Only an actual zombie outbreak could be ‘hotter.’”

Ebola has all the media thinking zombies. And commentary from the major players:

Reuters: “Is Ebola the real ‘World War Z?’ (Spoiler alert: It’s not)” by Max Brooks … yes that Max Brooks, as in World War Z author and son of mega-producer and comedian Mel Brooks:

In my book, the main reason that the zombie virus spread out of control was because the industrialized world did not want to be inconvenienced.

Washington Post: “Surprise: Americans are confident in government’s ability to handle Ebola” by Paul Waldman:

as much as Republicans have been arguing that everything is spinning out of control and the government isn’t protecting us from a deadly disease that might just bring about a zombie apocalypse, it turns out that the public isn’t going quite as crazy as you might think.

Contrast, zombie international politics scholar Dan Drezner, also writing for Washington Post: “Yes, Ebola is pretty much following the standard zombie scenario” by Dan Drezner. This kind of outbreak scenario has been exactly what he has always been writing about:

after discussing the effects of domestic and bureaucratic politics on counter-zombie responses, I closed with the following rueful paragraph:

There is a tragic irony to these predictions and recommendations. Recall the discussion of how domestic politics would affect counterzombie policies: government institutions would be able to act in an unconstrained manner at first, but politics would impose a stronger constraint over time. The organizational perspective offers the reverse narrative — bureaucratic competency will improve over time. If both domestic political pressures and bureaucratic politics play a role in affecting government policies, their combined effect could be doubly disastrous. Government agencies would have the most autonomy when they are most likely to make bad decisions. By the time these bureaucracies adapted to new zombie exigencies, they would face political hurdles that could hamper their performance.

This is exactly what’s been happening over the past month.

This exposes the difference between the zombies of Brooks and Drezner. Drezner’s are real zombies to the extent that it is a real world and ebola containment is the same concept as zombie containment. Sure, the vectors are different, as they would be different for swine flu or some other new outbreak. But the idea of Drezner’s hypothetical has always been to educate and explore ideas for real world scenarios just like this. In contrast, Brooks is an entertainer. He is interested in survivalist training but his zombies have always been fiction and a sort of deadpan comedy. For disaster preppers, their preparations are for a world without government, off the grid, taking care of oneself. Public health responses contrast with ideas of survivalist self-reliance. Who is best to fight invisible and imaginary enemies, individual survivalists or political institutions?

CSUsignal: “Ebola-pocalypse: Panic in US is justified” by Brandi Pettes:

All that time you spent creating a fool-proof survival plan for a zombie apocalypse may not go to waste. Rather than protecting yourself from a sluggish undead human being trying to bite you, you’ll need to protect yourself from Ebola.

Yes, but the preparations might be rather different, cue sales of biomedical suits, less need to learn to shoot for the head and more need to remember to watch hands, learn not to touch your eyes. But who knows what to believe, the biggest viral pattern is the memes. Consider New Yorker: “Man Infected with Ebola Misinformation Through Casual Contact With Cable News” by Andy Borowitz.

And from The Conversation: “#Ebola in the USA: don’t trust what you read on Twitter“:

Whatever you do, don’t turn to Twitter for news about Ebola. The volume and tone of tweets and retweets about the disease will make you wish you were watching the zombie apocalypse of The Walking Dead instead. It is much less scary.

But at KPBS: “Zombies Versus Real Science: Which Is Scarier?” by Beth Accomando, Nicholas McVicker, reminds the value of zombie metaphors in quality neuroscience education, again plugging the recent efforts of Prof. Bradley Voytek:

Voytek’s enthusiasm and ability to engage an audience are clear. As a neuroscientist and a member of the Zombie Research Society he’s devoted to applying science to the zombie brain, which makes perfect sense to a zombie enthusiast like me.

KRDO: “Ebola may have scared stock market” by Emily Allen:

KRDO medical expert Dr. John Torres said the stock market’s symptoms should stabilize. “Now that people are able to take a step back and take a breath and say, ‘OK, it’s not as bad as we thought it was, this was not the zombie apocalypse we were thinking about, this is something that is very isolated, hard to get, and we are actually taking good control of it, I think we are going to be OK,” said Torres.

A medical expert evaluating the stock market? Makes perfect sense, because illness is not metaphor, it’s literal. The economy is literally alive, like a giant organism that lives with us inside it in a symbiotic relations (like the bacteria in our gut). Right?

OK so, ebola is a real literal virus but it is also a symbol of globalism’s instability. And yes, zombie is literally only a metaphor but in that way it is real as symbol. This is how my stance on zombies differs from Brooks and Drezner. I believe that for both of these esteemed scholars zombies are not real. For Brooks, he discusses zombies as pure fiction, drama, comedy, action, a good motivation for learning to survive, but fiction. For Drezner, zombies are hypothetical to be applied to real world political structures for analysis of those structures. Drezner uses zombies as a foil to explore the institutional structures of world politics. In contrast to both of these, my zombies here at ZombieLaw have been different. My zombie are not hypothetical, not fictional, they are literally printed words from real publications by real journalist and scholars using this word over and over and over again.

Perhaps, metaphor is illness. At first I resisted the ebola, it was too literal for my tastes. Eventually it was unavoidable. The stylized visual gore of Romero-stle Walking Dead zombies is too similar to ebola to avoid the connections. The ebola memes have taken hold and are working to shift through zombie’s popularity and shifting political conversations about money for homeland security, Africa, and trust in government, among other topics. Hey zombies, shake the donation buckets, it’s under two weeks til election, and start of the holiday season; rev up the fear-tactics, to inspire renewed faith in public health paternalism and rampant consumerism.

zombies, responsible rhetoric?

Congressman Blake Farenthold (Republican from Texas) referred to “zombie movies” in reference to not trusting the government for outbreak control. The quote (from Oct 10th) was clipped on this morning’s “Meet the Press” on NBC :

Every outbreak novel or zombie movie you see starts with somebody from the government sitting in front of panel like this saying there’s nothing to worry about.

zombie blake farenthold

That sound bite is proceeding by a another congressman, Representative Mike Kelly (Republican from Pennsylvania), referring to liquified internal organs. Chuck Todd’s question, “responsible rhetoric?”, Senator Bob Casey (Democrat from Pennsylvania) says no.

donations militarizing zombie dogs

Police technology is sometimes bought by private donations. Civil liberties groups are concerned, see ProPublica: “Private Donors Supply Spy Gear to Cops” by Ali Winston and Darwin Bond Graham.

But if they didn’t, who would buy Zombie a vest? See Post Tribune:: “K-9 officer to get bulletproof vest“:

Zombie, a four-legged member of the Lake County police department, will be sporting a bulletproof vest … thanks to help from a Massachusetts not-for-profit group that helps obtain the protective gear

I wonder what other “protective gear” this unnamed non-profit provides. But doesn’t Zombie look cute in his picture. Surely this article is an attempt to make us think that donations can’t be bad if they protect such a cute zombie.

Meanwhile in NY Daily News: “New York state cops are loaded up with $28M in military gear” by Tina Moore and Sarah Ryley:

If the zombie apocalypse ever comes to New York, towns big and small will have the weaponry to handle it. The Pentagon has provided at least $28 million worth of equipment to 128 police departments and sheriff’s offices across the state

Recall also other zombie dogs (including other K9 with the same name), zombie police, zombie military and zombie weapons.

“reductionist, simplistic, awful caricature of genuine political debate”

Gawker: “Crossfire Is Dead, Again” by Hamilton Nolan:

It’s not sad for the loss of Crossfire—the show was always a reductionist, simplistic, awful caricature of genuine political debate, which is one reason it was canceled the first time in 2005, only to be resurrected like a lurching zombie last year.

That’s a good description of zombie politics: “reductionist, simplistic, awful caricature”. Reductionism leads to a misconception of the whole. Sometimes the simple is more confusing than the complex.

But what to do when awful caricature is the character’s only essence? If Crossfire can’t exist as a noble political debate, where is the political debate that makes the public square so valuable to American democracy? Nolan thinks it’s the internet. He’s not sad about Crossfire’s second demise, but I think it’s sad to lose the promise of argument as a way to reach truth through dialogue. Crossfire at it’s best did that, admittedly it failed a lot, but at it’s best it demonstrated the idea of dialectical opposition, of truth through the mediation of opposites.

The problem is that people assume one side is right rather than try to see the truths in the mediation. See CacheValleyDaily: “COLUMN: Zombie Moralism” by Harry Caines, which begins by quoting “Waling Dead”:

“You are either the butcher, or you are the cattle.”

What a tragic false dichotomy. Caines column is a nice description of the monster’s history but concludes with another tragic choice. First, he claims zombies are simply unreasonable:

Zombies never leave and never cease wanting to eat us. They challenge our moral ambiguity. They cannot be reasoned with or persuaded to change their diet.

So he decides that in the event of a zombie apocalypse he would loot the guns at Wal-Mart, and

I would kill the weak, old and infirmed on my way into the mountains as both an act of mercy and a necessary undertaking to ensure they would not hunt me down when “turned” by zombification.

Oh my. That’s a bit extreme, no? He’s going to kill innocent unaffected people just because he expects they will get infected and he needs to fortify the area? What kind of horrible mentality is that? He concludes:

Some of you might find that a ghastly thing to admit. But that is what you need to do if you are to survive in a world dominated by zombies. You need to remove yourself from humanity. The fact that some of you disagree with that is why this genre of horror will be with us for a long time.

Well yes, it is those questions that keep this genre going but his terrible answer is precisely why we need to keep talking about this. This is a debate that needs to be had. We can’t kill people just to fortify ourselves. That’s Nazi-style eugenics. Being human means sharing humanity with the weakest of us.

I’ve heard it said that anyone suspected of contact with ebola should be locked up and quarantined and they can sue for their due process violations later. This is the same attitude that propels ideas of indefinite detention for suspected terrorists. Fear persuades us to allow oppressive action.

Blytheville Courier News: “The value of TV time” by Chris Pinkard:

I know a lot of people say that, but I really, really do. I know spending mass amounts of time in front of the boob-tube gets a bad wrap. It’ll rot your brain. It makes you antisocial. It gives you unrealistic expectations for life.

But TV has a number of advantages. First, it teaches critical thinking. Whether it’s whatever sitcom Fox is trying to sell or CBS’s latest crime drama or AMC’s stellar zombie hit “The Walking Dead,” TV, enough crumby TV, teaches you to look at the information presented in the first act and develop a theory for how the episode will progress.

He must be sort of kidding because he goes on to recommend “The Aquabats! Super Show!” but I guess maybe he can make an argument about how that show could actually inspire critical thinking. Still TV can be good for critical thinking but it’s not about the show it’s about how we watch it, it’s about the questions we ask of the text.

TV doesn’t teach critical thinking, neither do books, these texts are tools for thinking. Reading texts (and here I mean to include visual texts and other cinematic media), questioning these texts, and discussing them with other people, those are skills of critical thinking and through practice we bootstrap our abilities.

Critical thinking makes no accounting for taste. We are free to write that “Hamlet sucks …” as is the headline for Robert Speer’s review of a new Chico State production, “… and eats brains, too”, it’s a zombie Shakespeare mashup, “Living Dead in Denmark”:

What would Shakespeare think of Living Dead in Denmark, Qui Nguyen’s silly but fun mashup of characters from the Bard’s plays thrust into an apocalyptic zombie gore-fest?

He’d appreciate the concept, I’m sure, though someone would have to educate him about zombies. He knew about ghosts and witches, of course, but blood-sucking, brain-eating undead creatures would be new to him.

That said, “Shakespeare in the Bush” by Laura Bohannan suggests that Hamlet’s father’s ghost was a “zombis” because he had a physical form. Also, Laertes was in league with the witches. The essay describes the interpretation of the Hamlet story by African tribal elders in dialogue with the Bohannan:

“It was Hamlet’s dead father. It was a thing we call a ‘ghost.’” I had to use the English word, for unlike many of the neighboring tribes, these people didn’t believe in the survival after death of any individuating part of the personality.

“What is a ‘ghost?’ An omen?”

“No, a ‘ghost’ is someone who is dead but who walks around and can talk, and people can hear him and see him but not touch him.”

They objected. “One can touch zombis.”

“No, no! It was not a dead body the witches had animated to sacrifice and eat. No one else made Hamlet’s dead father walk. He did it himself.”

“Dead men can’t walk,” protested my audience as one man.

I was quite willing to compromise.

“A ‘ghost’ is the dead man’s shadow.”

But again they objected. “Dead men cast no shadows.”

“They do in my country,” I snapped.

The old man quelled the babble of disbelief that arose immediately and told me with that insincere, but courteous, agreement one extends to the fancies of the young, ignorant, and superstitious, “No doubt in your country the dead can also walk without being zombis.”

From the depths of his bag he produced a withered fragment of kola nut, bit off one end to show it wasn’t poisoned, and handed me the rest as a peace offering.

These kind of open debates and cross-talks are important for societal growth. It’s important that we continue to examine and reexamine the conventional narratives. It’s not that either side is right or wrong. There are multiple ways of interpreting a text. The value come from sharing the nut.

We cannot privilege our own understanding of the world, we cannot assume we are correct, and so we should not kill innocent people to fortify our protection. I do not share Harry Caines amoralism, but as a city dweller, I’ll surely be one of the dead. His perspective is both intriguing and repulsive. It is worth debating, it is worth trying to demonstrate that society is only as good as we treat the weakest of us. But that may leave us all a pack of zombies. Perhaps only the ruthless will survive, but then perhaps I’d rather be one of the dead.

And what of the animals? We cannot justify our killing them either. And yet people continue to try: “10 Reasons Why I’ll Never Be Vegan” by Lauren:

Food is complicated, but let’s start with the many aspects of a balanced diet on which everyone agrees – even the vegans and paleos! This includes:

Enjoy an abundance of freshly prepared vegetables
Minimized processed foods and instead cook meals from scratch
Eat mindfully and slowly
Source local, organic foods and support small farm

Let’s not just start there, let’s end there. Lauren goes on to provide 10 rationalizations for consuming animals. They are really interesting facts and I am sure many of them can maybe be debated, but in the interest of killing Crossfire, let’s focus on what she says we agree on. Because I think maybe most people don’t really agree on those things.

They may say they do in public, but in practice they don’t. So what if a TV show actually tried to argue representing those people’s unspoken desires. What if we stopped being so politically correct that we need to turn off the arguments and instead turned to arguments about the real debates people don’t vocalize.

We need shows like CrossFire, not to rerun the same party-line nonsense we already know but to explain debates we aren’t yet understanding. If “everyone agrees” why are we buying so much McDonalds? We have climate change deniers debating on TV, where are the nutrition deniers, or the butcher shop apologists? We need more arguments about more of our society, because the beauty of democracy is that never “everyone agrees” and we need argument to help us find the complications that might ultimately simplify this mess – we need texts to read together, sharing unpoisoned nuts. Together, such a simple idea yet so complicated.

Rice and beans and salad for my dinner, but ironically it’s the dog who refuses to eat unless I add some turkey to her already lamb based processed food, she’s the smart one, refuses to discuss it too.

Baltimore liquor zombie licenses

Luke Broadwater of the Baltimore Sun has been reporting on the extinguishing of zombie liquor licenses,

See “‘Tougher’ liquor board increases violations, closures” by Luke Broadwater and Yvonne Wenger:

In its first three months of action, a revamped liquor board — chaired by Thomas Ward, a tough-talking, 87-year-old former judge — already has found nearly 120 bars and liquor stores guilty of violations, significantly more than the previous board did in all of fiscal 2014.

Ward’s board has closed or revoked eight licenses, as many as in all of the last fiscal year. And the panel recently made a potentially precedent-setting ruling against so-called “zombie licenses,” which could jeopardize alcohol service at dozens of establishments across the city.

State law says that unused liquor licenses — which Witt and others have dubbed “zombie licenses” — are void after 180 days, but the previous board had allowed such licenses to stay valid if their owners paid their annual fees. McComas says his team has paid $1,300 a year for the license since 2009.

Moore, one of the new board members, says she realizes the decision on the Crossbar could have wide impact and marked a departure from past board rulings. A turning point for her view on so-called zombie licenses came when former state Sen. George Della explained the legislative intent behind the law.

And today, “City liquor board kills second ‘zombie’ license” by Luke Broadwater:

State law says that unused liquor licenses — which the Community Law Center and others have dubbed “zombie licenses” — are void after 180 days, but the liquor board for years had allowed such licenses to remain valid if their owners paid annual fees.

It sounds like this board is loving its power. The kind of fun Donald Trump must have when he says, “You’re Fired!”, so too this liquor board purging old rights to sell booze. Just another day killin’ zombies.

“This license is extinguished,” said Thomas Ward, the liquor board chairman.

“zombie economy” question in Delaware Senate debate

The coverage of Senate debates on CSPAN2 is really awesome. Right now on TV is yesterday’s Delaware Senate Debate between Senator Chris Coons (D) and Kevin Wade (R).

Lindsay Hoffman asked Kevin Wade about his use of the phrase “zombie economy“, he affirmed his sentiments but did not repeat the phrase.

Also in this debate, a balanced budget is described as a “unicorn” and the sequester as an “elephant”.

(Also the hashtag was #DEDebates - ded!)


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