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Scare Me

by on October 19, 2014

                                                                  Scare Me

                                                          by Marco M. Pardi

Note: All comments are appreciated, read, and responded to accordingly.  The COMMENTS sections for all previous articles have been opened for use.  I will certainly look forward to your comments.  Comments that do not specifically address content will be trashed as SPAM.

“Those who fear what they should not fear, and who do not fear what they should fear………go the downward path.” The Dhammapada. The Path of Perfection. 1st cent. B.C.E.

Most of us were young children at some point.  Some of us remember events and stories that frightened us.  And in those memories we recall the delicious feeling of being frightened, the desire to experience it again, even the thrill while recounting the event to others – “I was SO scared!!!”

Those of us who are parents, or have been around small children remember the enraptured little audiences captured by ghost stories, and the lesson we learned when having to get up at 2:00 a.m. to make the obligatory search under the bed and inspection of the closet.  In fact, psychoanalytic analysis of even the most common children’s stories should “put the nail in the coffin”, as it were, of the more egregious examples of that genre.

And yet, even as those night time story sessions faded into the treasury of the younger years, children grew into a broader arena for fright; radio programs, televised movies, the accelerating pace of “urban legends”.   I think it was 1952 when my older brother solemnly and caringly told me of the recent discovery of a venomous Australian spider that had swept through the United States in search of toilet seats under which to hide and await its next victim.  I admit it.  I looked. For a long time.  I felt better years later when, on Guam, a man sat on his commode and was promptly nailed in the scrotum by a brown tree snake, the invasive species brought to the island from elsewhere in cargo containers.

As I grew I enjoyed late night television horror films from the 1930’s through the 1950’s.  Before “special effects” took over the genre the story had to rely on a somewhat credible plot.  Unless a film left me wondering “Could it be?” it was a waste of time. So, too, with literature.  Perhaps it was here that I first devised the scale which would guide me through life: A degree of probability, running from Highly Improbable to Highly Probable, with no Certainly No or Certainly Yes end points.

Of course, the settings in those films and books were always remote, a different age or distant place.  Closer to home, the occasional schoolyard or neighborhood fights usually happened so quickly, and I won so easily that fear was never a factor.  Only later would I find myself in potentially fearful situations and even then the mild symptoms of fear came after the fact, not before or during.

So, in growing up what was there to fear?  I was too young to remember the nightly bombing of the transportation centers of  Rome, but grew up hearing about it from my family.   So, while crouching under my elementary school desk for the required Soviet nuclear air raid drills I was perhaps more preoccupied with the Polio epidemic raging across the U.S.  Bombed by the Soviets?  Pretty improbable.  Crippled by Polio?  Moving somewhat toward probable.  Getting older, the threats changed.  Before I heard of urban legends there were the desert/jungle legends.  The story line remained constant among deployments, just the name changed.  “Ali” (North Africa), “Mambo” (Congolese), “Charlie” (Viet Cong), the Pathet Lao (Laos), or the Khmer Rouge (Cambodia)  would nightly sneak up behind patrolling G.I.s and leave a chalked X mark on the back of a poor blighter’s boots. Great story to frighten the new guys, but pretty low probability. 

In the mid-’70’s we lined up for Swine Flu shots, administered with a newly developed pneumatic gun that left more casualties than the flu ever did.   Toward the end of that decade we heard of the discovery of a hitherto unknown Egyptian Pharaoh,  Herpes II, wreaking revenge across the land on all of us with still functioning members.  Who knew mummies couldn’t get a stiffy?  I still recall a woman acquaintance lamenting the fact that her M.D. told her she “had Herbeez”, especially since I was reasonably sure it was her M.D. who gave it to her.  But that national obsession was soon eclipsed by the mysterious illness that seemed to be singling out and afflicting male homosexuals (“Gay” was not nationally current yet, and was often the subject of jokes such as, What does gay mean? Ans. Got AIDS Yet?  Although in its early years it was believed by many to be a “gay disease”, and HIV was as yet not ascertained, the extreme fear of contagion spread to every corner.  When, in 1983, I accepted an offer from CDC and moved my household to a small town outside Houston, Texas  I found my neighbors to be quite welcoming – until the day one asked me what I do. “Oh, I work in epidemiology, controlling the spread of STDs.”  “You work with AIDS?”  “Yeah, sometimes.”  The poor man staggered backward so violently he fell down in the street. No, he didn’t let me help him get up.  I should say that my life partner, a woman artist whose looks stopped both men and women in their tracks, was standing next to me.  No matter.  We got the peace and quiet we were looking for.

Then along came MDRTB, multidrug resistant tuberculosis, and even XDRTB resistant to all known drugs.  The media lit up. The public gasped, then shrugged. 

9/11 and its aftermath changed things a bit, especially with the Bush administration exhaustively chanting the terrorism mantra (Bush used the term 19 times in a 15 minute speech) in order to get the public to swallow its Draconian “Patriot Act”.  The irony, of course, was that the administration was doing for the terrorists what the terrorists couldn’t do for themselves: terrorize the nation.  I was deployed around the country to give talks to various groups and institutions, always concluding my talks with the suggestion that “we not do the terrorists’ work for them.” The administration, however, had another agenda.

As I’ve said in other posts, I was on the Anthrax investigation team in the Fall of 2001. a far broader demonstration of true terrorism – yet questionable in its source and its conveniently suicidal perpetrator.  Combined with Right Wing media and the drumbeat from the administration (with graphs and videos of drone and crop duster mounted pathogen sprayers), this soon proved a bonanza for the makers of cheap dust masks, duct tape and vinyl sheeting.  But who knows how many companies like Publishers Clearing House took a hit because junk mail went unopened across the land?  

Just as we seem to have moved through the coffee will kill you – coffee is good for you, toenail fungus, and erectile dysfunction (still *popping up* nightly on Big Pharma owned national news – couldn’t resist that) we were thrilled to find we are at risk of MRSA – Methicillinresistant Staphylococcus aureus.  Gruesome pictures dominated the media showing young people with sometimes multiple amputations.  Not to be outdone, HPV – Human Papillomavirus recovered its rightful place in our noisy closet of fears when it emerged that Michael Douglas’ throat cancer resulted from it.  You are what you eat. after all.

But currently we are nearing the climax of the season wherein people trick us in hopes we will treat them.  Scary yard signs abound.  Yes, mid-term elections are here.  Oh.  You thought I was referring to Halloween?  I have read that costume stores can’t stock enough HAZMAT suits.  Ebola.  The Cable News Network (CNN) has morphed into ENN, the Ebola News Network.  And FOX News and its affiliates, the Voice of American Fascism,  is of course blaming Obama.  I saw one recent broadcast in which the pundit claimed that the U.S. would not get the same help as West Africa because Obama was “their president, not ours.”  Forgive me, but did they forget their earlier hate stance regarding Kenya – which happens to be in East Africa?  No.  It turns out the speaker was referring to people with darker skin – a position which would disenfranchise nearly half the American population.  What, only Democrats use tanning booths?

So, in a population of roughly 300 million, we have 3 individuals with indigenously contracted Ebola.  Gosh.  I wonder where that fits on my Probability Scale.  My end must be near.  It must be time for me to tell my daughter about those bank accounts in Rabat,  Lichtenstein, and Bangkok.  What’s the use of flinging yourself around the globe for years without being able to take a dump in a bank once in a while? 

I was recently contacted by the Senior Counsel for the Chairperson of the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee with a request to provide input on possible changes to visa policies.  I’m trying to not sound scared.

Recent advances in neuroscience are helping us to understand the complexities of early brain development not merely from a static structural perspective but from a kinetic cascade view as well.  We learn about Pain Centers, Pleasure Centers, receptors, synapses and the organic matrix we call the mind-body connection.  I suspect that people who strongly react, even panic in the face of the threat du jour have an over active Scare Center, a center which craves constant stimulation just as other centers crave particular stimulants.  In a very real way we might define maturation as a process in which the developing mind modulates the various brain centers to coordinate and respond appropriately to guide the bearer through the maelstrom of incoming, and even endogenous stimulations resulting in a “well balanced individual”.  I can think of few things scarier than having an Operations partner such as Ted Cruz or others of his ilk.  Let’s put them all in a room somewhere with a bountiful change of underwear.    

FYI: Being scared makes one a lousy shot.  Perhaps there’s a broader lesson in there.

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12 Comments
  1. Perfect article for the season. Thanks for such sensible information. Could you possibly get a few million other people to read this?

    • Thank you so much, Mary. As you know, I try to increase readership – and my site stats do indicate worldwide readers. But, I would really like to see more people respond and participate. Marco

  2. Your humor is so dry (“Most of us were young children at some point.”), I feel like I just crossed the Australian desert. [Oh no, that was the movie I saw last night. You might like “Tracks”.] And those diseases of the past and present didn’t/don’t scare me, except, as you, polio, which my brother contracted. Re. Ebola: It is the way something as important as a disease which, if not treated with common sense by the international community and relevant medical treatment, gets turned into political fodder that is the worst epidemic the U.S. currently faces.

    • Thank you, Dianne. I most heartily agree with your assessment of the worst epidemic facing us. Would that there could be a vaccine!

      I’ve been remiss in keeping up with Chuck. Hopefully, I can resume a dialogue soon. Marco

  3. Rebecca Work permalink

    Marco, thank you for disseminating this valuable information and all the while tickling my funny bone! The mental images I conjure up of certain descriptions, subtle and direct leave me laughing. Love your dry sense of humor. Don’t ever lose it!

    You are right about scare tactics. Bush only won a second term because of 9/11 and the population running scared. That is just for starters.

    The transmission of Ebola is very similar to that of HIV, via body fluids. There was/is still no vaccine and cure for that either. Why is public reaction so out of proportion with the # of people infected with ebola in the US? Fear? Yes. Lack of information and education is a big one. Of course listening to ‘educated’ MDs proposing on national TV national airport closures does nothing for the hype. Oh, and by the way, same individual announced a person can get ebola by standing 3 feet away from an infected one! Not reassuring if one does not know the facts. Granted if not treated , the mortality rate is 70% or more. We are being our own worst enemy here. Yarghh!!!

    • Thank you, Becky. So glad you are back. You are correct; transmission of Ebola closely mirrors that of HIV. Of course, the initial understanding of HIV was also generally lacking. And, as a basically hemorrhagic fever, the common practice of relatives washing the dead is a primary means of transmission. Still, as you and Dianne point out, it’s more of a political “threat” than a medical one for us at this point.

  4. Do I sense a challenge in your title? LOL I can’t imagine that very much has the ability to frighten you. Ignorance is the most contagious condition of all, and the most frightening. It’s a real shame there is no vaccine for it.

    I don’t know enough about Ebola to make an intelligent statement; but I’m learning. Thanks to you all for your information. Rose

    • Thanks, Rose. If anything approaches the Certainly Yes end of my scale it would be that we will conitnue to see stunning ignorance, compounded by proud stupidity.

      Your intellectual vitality keeps us assured there will be those among us who still look for answers, and the right questions for finding more answers. Marco

  5. Gary permalink

    I note you left out the Big Fear — climate change. Would that be because you are actually afraid of it?

    By the way, if you get any more clever with your wit you will be rivalling my favourite writer, Mark Steyn. You might not consider that to be a compliment given your political persuasions, but I assure you it was intended as such.

  6. Thanks, Gary. I’m honored by the comparison. I guess my focus was on diseases. I’ll have to see what I can whip up regarding the end of the world. Marco

  7. OK, I am really learning here ! It was almost a thriller to me !
    I have never lived in the States, and through your posts, Marco, I am getting more cultured by the day ! 🙂
    It feels like I am kind of living American history from the 50`s onward through your eyes !! More on spot than the usual TV news centers for sure.
    Thanks for sharing such incredibly vast knowledge with us !
    And i agree…any news must be taken with a grain of salt (or more !)

    • Thank you, FOAL. You have the advantage of observing from afar. Sadly, U.S. policies do have a global reach. Hopefully, my perceptions of recent history are informed by a somewhat detached orientation. But, there is still the matter of living here. Marco

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