Being well informed about the world around has always been important to me but I think I've reached a point where I realize the bad of being informed outweighs the good. I can no longer keep tabs on the world and feel joy. How can one stay positive, optimistic when the news delights in relating the world's most miserable stories? The news media seems fixated on the doom and gloom, on the miserable problems we collectively can't seem to fix.
I'm old enough now that it feels like I've seen all the headlines before, so many, many times. A new war, a new plane crash, a new earthquake, a new kidnapped child, a new miracle diet; there is no end to the outrages, brutalities, and scandals, they are all different, yet all the same. The world is like some terribly unfunny situational comedy, the next week or month or year the show begins again with everyone and everything back as it was, as though we learned nothing from the previous episode.
This week the new stories which did it for me included the renewed struggles of Israelis and Palestinians (and everyone's pointless pontifications about how the problems can be solved, but somehow won't be), horrific stories of dogs being sadistically abused by one person and eaten by others, the grizzly horrors of the recent Malaysian shoot-down over the Ukraine, and yet another announcement heralding some new possible test for Alzheimer's that will let you know what's coming decades before you unavoidably succumb to it (as yet they offer no cures or meaningful treatments). The news delights in disproportionately reporting the horrors of the world, making us all feel unsafe, uneasy, unwell. I've had enough.
And so I think I will stop reading the general, unfiltered news. I'll customize my news feeds to show me only technology stories, stories related to my career, stories matching keywords of importance to me. I will let the rest of the news and the world worry about itself for a while. For all my decades of scrutiny and attention, my knowledge of world affairs has not been helping it, and its only been hurting me.
In less than a century information technology has moved from crude practice, into systematized theory tested through crude prototypes, into early maturity, becoming a force critical to and ultimately driving every modern scientific endeavor. Every branch of science now relies on IT for such things as research, data collection, modeling, simulation, analysis, and results dissemination; IT can be just as much a part of protein folding simulations as aerodynamic flow simulations as Higgs Boson discovery as exoplanet data study and can help globally distributed teams work as one.
But one cannot help but wonder where it is all going, what is IT innovation’s ultimate end game? Will the forces that have always conspired to drive IT innovation ever be satiated and fade away?
I strongly suspect that the ultimate end game of IT innovation is to unseat God from His heavenly throne, to render Him a kitschy relic of less enlightened days. Belief in Him may linger as a curiosity, a nostalgic comfort from which systems of meaning, value, and ethics can be traced. But His role will be otherwise entirely supplanted. But what has He got to do with IT?
Let us first try and consider the history and forces which have driven information technology to this point. IT has its origin thousands and thousands of years ago in our earliest oral traditions and writings. We were engaged then, as we are now, in the storage, retrieval, and analysis of data. Where once a bard’s tale might have been the medium for passing along valuable life lessons, now it is more likely found on a wiki page. Where once a notch made in stone recorded the position in the sky of an unfamiliar comet for later analysis, now a row in a database is preferred. The means have changed, but the ends which information technology have served have remained the same.
We have used IT to help us understand the world in which we live, used IT to help us improve our situation within the world, and used IT to pass along the progress we have made to contemporaries as well as subsequent generations. Modern IT has not changed our nature, merely granted us the benefits of increased storage capacity, increased analytical power (manifest as computational power and an ever-deepening (and broadening) understanding of related fields such as data analysis, artificial intelligence, and math), and increasing ability to disseminate information.
When we look at our relationship with God (and religions generally) we see that for most of recorded time He has been the source of our understanding of the world in which we live, He has been our ultimate hedge against our inability to improve our situation within it (He gives reason and meaning to death and suffering), and His recorded and disseminated teachings have developed to included not only religious teachings, but also those of a more practical, ethical/moral, socially beneficial nature, that get shared and passed down for others’ benefit.
As IT furthers the progress of all areas of science it seems only natural that He will have increasingly little place left in it. We need only look at a few areas of science to see this. Medicine has as its goal the eradication of disease and improvement of everyone’s quality of life. As gene therapies, stem cell research, cloning, nanotechnology, and the like mature, lifespans will surely be extended further and further until death has been eliminated as a requirement. Furthering this end, it seems inevitable that minds will ultimately become further and further separated from physical bodies. What might begin as nanotechnological repairs of synapses or enhancements to lost memory will likely grow to carry more and more of the load of conscious thought until minds become entirely separable from biological brains. At that point we may choose to linger in the wetware of biological forms or may choose to exist only within virtual worlds built of information matrices. Either way, the question of what happens when we die, a question He has always had a ready answer for, will lose its urgency, lose its criticality, and perhaps lose all meaning. Similarly, quantum mechanics and astronomy may ultimately find its grand unified theory and be able to explain our origins to almost everyone’s satisfaction, rendering His answers effectively irrelevant. And philosophy, often seeming partnered in a dance with religion, will likely find itself emboldened, breaking into a solo, to a tune that now is not bounded by a series of lifespans but by a more comfortable, less angsty, quasi-infinite pondering. And even its most fundamental questions of “What is right?” and “What is wrong?” may not need be answered so much as peoples’ preference would need to be known, so those with compatible beliefs systems could be properly collocated, either in physical or virtual spaces. The domain of God will have yielded to the domain of science. If He retains any value it may be in continuing to supply people with some greater sense of meaning, but it will be a nostalgic group that pines for His comfort, there will be substitutes aplenty without the complexity belief in Him brings.
Through innovation, IT will bring all this, directly and indirectly. God will lose His place. It is time others see this as the natural consequence of IT innovation, either to embrace it or to rebel against it.
Today Hiroo Onoda died at 91. He is famous for having refused to accept that WWII ended in 1945. He continued to fight the war for 29 more years, living in the jungle, first with a couple of fellow soldiers then alone. He only accepted it when his commanding officer from 1945 personally delivered his stand down orders in 1974. Initially my reaction to the story was the same as most people's, likely similar to the feelings of the Japanese who welcomed him back home as a hero. I was in absolute awe at his unwavering dedication to duty and commitment to honor. If only more people were like that...
But the more I read about his story and began to think of the reality it represented the more I began to feel like everyone was reading the story wrong. During his three decades "fighting" a war that no longer existed he killed as many as 30 locals. He needlessly, senselessly killed almost three dozen fathers, brothers, sons, daughters, etc. He killed them because he chose to reject reality. Various efforts were made over those thirty years to contact him and convince him the war was over, but he rejected the evidence every time. And so he went on killing innocent people. But not only that, the praise which he roundly receives relates to his commitment to duty, and yet what was he accomplishing? His final orders were supposedly to stay behind and spy on American forces. Surely by any measure he must have done a fantastically rotten job of that. The purpose of spying is to collect and relay information. What information did he collect in 30 years? What information did he relay in 30 years? Presumably almost none. Perhaps initially (for the first year or so) he was somewhat active in collecting information about troop movements, but clearly he had no one to whom to relay it. And simply senselessly evading capture and killing innocent people cannot count as good spying or soldiering. He was simply wasting his life and worse wasting other people's lives, all in the name of some blind, dumb, pig-headed honor. I can't find anything praise worthy in that.
Why wouldn't his honor require him to make contact with his homeland? Why wouldn't his honor require him to return to his homeland for new orders? Why wouldn't his honor force him to realize that he was failing to fulfill his final orders and that he needed to be given new ones? Those sorts of people we do not need.
I began the day impressed with Hiroo Onoda, and ended it disappointed in him. Ah well... So it goes.
Recently celebrity chef Paula Deen was forced to admit she had used the N-word multiple times in the past. She denied being a racist and seemed to excuse the behavior as as being done a) a long time ago, b) at least once in reference to an African-American who put a gun to her head in a bank robbery.
Whether it's Mel Gibson hurling abuse at Jewish people, Michael Richards peppering black comedy patrons with the N-word, or Paula Deen venting to her husband about the terror she felt, the explanations given always insist that they would ordinarily never use such language, but that it was a freak event, that they were under extreme provocation, and that, therefore, they are not really racist. Their position is indefensible. The insulting words spring to their lips because they are racist, not because the situation inspired the use of those words.
My own interactions with people of color have not always been positive. I have been a victim of a home robbery committed by an African-American. And I've been stalked/harassed over months by a separate African-American. But their skin color was not dominant in my thoughts about why they were a perpetrator and why I was their victim. One of the perpetrators was a homeless drug addict looking for money for a fix and the other a homeless person with serious mental problems who believed I was living in *his* house. But never did I find the N-word springing to my lips. I genuinely cannot imagine why on Earth it would. I have had ample positive experiences involving people of color that I cannot imagine any provocation sufficient to cause me to reduce an entire diverse race of people down to one ugly, monstrous word. The N-word couldn't form on my lips because it doesn't ring true in my ears. If you have ever known one great black person, how could you ever reduce any experience with another black person down to his/her color?
I am a at least a generation removed from most of the celebrities who get caught using the N-word, they grew up in less integrated times, grew up in more (arguably) ignorant times, grew up in more isolated surroundings so perhaps my environment saved me from their thinking.
I surely hold many subtle prejudices which I do not adequately appreciate; I think we humans are almost all of us naturally biased by experience and environment. But I am thankful that I am not so lost as to find the N-word in my thoughts or speech.
Attempting to measure one's own accomplishments is generally a monstrously bad idea. Even the most successful of men may find themselves coming up short when they compare themselves to a yardstick of their own making. Those who succeed generally do so by finding themselves perpetually shy of achieving some newly important and consuming goal. That having been said, taking stock of yourself is a sobering necessity, something which me must do if we are to re-align our compass with an objective, societal true North. It is in this brutally reflective frame of mind that I make the following observations about myself, most easily expressed as a Guide to Leading a Highly Ineffective Life. The objective reality is that I have achieved quite a lot, more than many, less than many, and a reasonable amount given my particular make up and life challenges. Nonetheless, I have observed in myself the following limiting, (at times) crippling characteristics that have kept me from being far more than I am.
20 Things You Can Do To Be Highly Ineffective
- Work on many projects simultaneously.
- Associate with no professional colleagues.
- Cultivate few friends.
- Spend almost all of your time by yourself or with a girlfriend only.
- Work in secret. Share almost none of your ideas or work.
- Do everything from scratch. Build your own rather than modifying existing software/code.
- Believe your mind and/or abilities are failing you over time.
- Be deathly afraid of judgment. Ensure you never finish any task properly.
- Ignore important details.
- Explore periods of intense lassitude.
- Be mildly obsessively interested in many, many generally unrelated things.
- [Removed by request.]
- Secretly believe that those who succeed are magically different from you, possess something you entirely lack (as exemplified by the tone of this list).
- Put off until tomorrow that really hard thing that intimidates you, never try to do it today, never right now.
- If you find yourself not particularly challenged in a situation (job, life, etc.), then maintain the status quo, choose comfortable over challenge.
- Develop as little self-discipline as possible. Go to bed when you want, eat what you want, exercise as little as you feel like.
- Constantly wrestle with existential and philosophical doubts rather than engage in the business of actually living. Wonder about what the point of living is if you die rather than actually focus on getting the most from every minute of life.
- Avoid seeking professional, psychological help for things like depression and anxiety, assume that you alone can surely defeat obstacles which have bedeviled humans for millennia.
- Have tremendous difficulty switching tasks/projects, avoid doing so because it's mentally painful.
- Watch TV.
“Be American! Buy American!” Says the Foreign-Born Mini-Mart Owner Selling Chinese Lighters, Drug Paraphernalia, and Porn
When I first saw the sign I was ready to be offended, assuming the sign was a misguided attack against completely legal, hard-working immigrants who often found employment the only place they could, at mini-marts. But the moment I walked into the store the tables suddenly turned and suggested that I was the one discriminating against someone, not them. The store was in fact owned and operated by a family who immigrated from India.
The odd thing is, even now (months after I first saw it) the sign still bugs me and I can't figure out exactly why.
Part of my frustration with the sign stems from the fact that I still don't know exactly what it means. Typically someone telling you to "Buy American" means you should buy products made by US companies at factories in the US. But this sign can't possibly mean that because the store is hardly so exclusive, they sell all your typical, cheap, Chinese-made mini-mart crap and then some. So the next likely interpretation is that it means you should buy from stores owned or operated by Americans (as opposed to buying from stores owned by foreign corporations or staffed by illegal aliens). But this also confuses me because so far as I'm aware there are no stores within 5+ miles which are not owned and operated by Americans. We're in rural Pennsylvania, the vast majority of people around here have been here since at least the civil war. In fact the nearest and most popular competitor to this mini-mart is one called Sheetz, an American owned chain, operated by a whole lot of lily-white, native speakers. So, what would be the point of a sign saying you should do something that realistically you cannot avoid doing anyway? And that's what seems to generate most of my dislike for the sign. It feels not like a sign meant to celebrate, cement, and secure the owner's adopted homeland, but like a gimmick, a cheap marketing technique intended to somehow justify their excess prices, encourage a faithful customer base, or discourage robberies by patriotic Americans. Fueling my dislike for the sign and the store is also that the store is hardly representative of an America I want encouraged. Unlike other local mini-marts, this blue-blooded American neighborhood mini-mart sells many unsavory things: drug paraphernalia and raunchy porn. Perhaps those items were made in America, but I'm not sure that's sufficient justification for selling it. (The drug paraphernalia are mesh screens (which I understand are used for smoking various drugs), a large selection of rolling papers, Swisher Sweetz (and other cigarillos that people seem to put drugs into), etc.)
Separate and apart from my dislike for the nature of the shop and my suspicion about motivation for the sign, I can't help but admit to some vague and hard to define (or defend) uneasiness with the "new kid on the block" telling us native-borns what to do. I love the USA and I love that other people love it, too. I want people to become lawful citizens, marry themselves to our culture, accept our best and our worst, and want to join in our attempt to be better united than we are apart. But were I to move abroad and become a citizen of elsewhere it would never occur to me to tell anyone there how they should be. They were there first, they know their culture far better than I do, they "get" the nation I will be forever getting. I certainly do and will defend any new or old citizen of the USA their right to share their thoughts and opinions, but it doesn't mean I have to like it. Maybe that is a prejudiced position, or maybe it's just a natural position that all cultures have to encourage stability and discourage imposed change from unfamiliar or outside influences. I don't know.
Every year it seems like I receive an email forward from irate Christians wanting to remind me about how Christmas is being co-opted by the gay, feminist, atheist, capitalist agenda who are hell bent on taking the Christ out of Christmas... This year I couldn't help but respond to the most recent forwarder, my dad, who had attached his own screed. This is my response.
You poor, poor American Christians. How oppressed you are with your undefeated record of electing 44 Christian Presidents (unless of course you conveniently think Obama is Muslim), your vast 89% majority in Congress, your significant 77% majority of the US population. Oh, but of course maybe those aren't "true" Christians. Funny, they look pretty good on paper with 61% of the population believing that evolution is a lie, and 45% of the population believing the Earth is less than 10,000 years old.
But you go on with your hypocritical lives, your convenient selective memory of the Old Testament and the New. Keep quoting the Old Testament to stop the queers from their equality, your marvelous quotes about slavery kept those uppity Negroes in chains for a few hundred extra years. And don't worry, I'm an atheist so I don't have the mandate to stone you for working on the Sabbath, for eating shellfish, getting tattoos, or association with menstruating women. And I'll try to resist quoting Matthew 5:17-20 and all that stuff about, "Don’t think that I came to destroy the law or the prophets. I didn’t come to destroy, but to fulfill. For most certainly, I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not even one smallest letter or one tiny pen stroke shall in any way pass away from the law, until all things are accomplished." I'm just an amoral, compassless heathen apparently bent on doing all I can to make some tasty s'mores while I watch the world burn.
Oh, and as for Jesus Christ ruling forever, good luck with that. Hope He has a bit more staying power than the Sumerian religion, the Babylonian religion, the Assyrian religion, the Egyption religion, the Greek religion, the Roman/Mithra relition, the Germanic/Norse religion, the Maya religion, and all the others that have faded into history. All those religions sure seemed convinced they were the real deal, and I'm sure all their followers sure were pretty miffed when you people started taking the Zeus out of Zeusmas, the Isis out of Ismas, etc. So I get it, you are right to be outraged. Shout "Merry Christmas" or "I love Jesus" at whoever you want as loud as you want, nobody will punch you in the mouth like they would me if I yelled out "Merry Jesus is a Myth Day". But you're right, you're the oppressed, distressed, offended people here. I keep forgetting that.
It's a funny thing, outraged Christians sure sound a lot like outraged white males, probably because so many of them are. A few thousand years of ideological domination and the subjugation of others just never feels like enough, does it? Even when you accept the notion that equality is probably inevitable you sure do grouse about the thought that women, blacks, gays, foreigners might temporarily get 'unfair' educational, career, financial advantage. How dare the pendulum swing even a tenth of a degree in their favor, what an affront to a system you'd so carefully rigged over centuries with all your social and religious mores.
Funny thing is, I'm actually all for you loving your Lord. I want you to find spiritual sustenance wherever you may. I am not the least bit offended nor do I shy away from your Merry Christmases. There is much to respect about the modern interpretation of Christ, certainly a lot more than the interpretation which brought us inquisitions, crusades, the burning of misidentified witches, and whatever horrors future interpretations may bring. It just irks me when you whine about your lot, at the notion that others might dare for a few moments here or there to be as loud and as obnoxious as you felt quite comfortable being during various parts of your continued Western World domination.
Be gracious winners, not whiners. Your majority rule hasn't ended yet. Try to enjoy your declining years, it sounds like you are the ones confusing a trip to a big box department store with a trip to a church. I read nothing about the exchange of big screen flat panel TVs in the New Testament. I can't imagine mixing up the joy at my savior's birth with the joy of unwrapping a toxic toy made by children in China. If you expect God to be found in Best Buy or City Hall you're bound to be increasingly disappointed, try visiting your perpetually-renewing local house of worship instead. All public traditions get co-opted, by non-believers, by capitalists, by the ignorant, by people who simply see a good birthday party and want to attend without giving a damn whose birthday it is. I didn't turn your Christmas into a business proposition, that was you believing folk who made a religious celebration commercial, who took to exchanging increasingly expensive items as a proxy for religious passion.
This atheist wishes you all a very Merry Christmas, in the truest sense of it. Enjoy Christ, love Christ, celebrate Christ this December 25th. And quit your bitching about people at the local mall or city hall or school awkwardly trying to make room for others at your table of largess. But, do let me know if any of those folk wander into your church and try to make your pastor take the Christ out of Christmas, that's when you'll have my full support.
> On Thu, Nov 29, 2012 at 10:40 PM, My Dad<*********@msn.com> wrote:
> Powerful, alarming,sad,sobering, all-too-true message. In response, I AM thinking of, and invoking a message of:
> Wonderful, Counselor, Almighty God, the Everlasting Father...the Prince of Peace...and He shall
> reign forever and ever...and the Kingdom of this world shall become the Kingdom of OUR GOD AND
> OF HIS CHRIST, AND HE SHALL RULE FOREVER AND EVER....AMEN...AAAAMMMENNN...AND...AMEN!!!
> PEACE, Indeed!Thank you...(I am sending this to many)
> From: Somebody
> Date: Thu, 29 Nov 2012 18:46:53 -0500
> Subject: Fwd: Fw: Your First Christmas card
> To: Lots of people
> MERRY CHRISTMAS
> YOUR FIRST CHRISTMAS CARD
> Cleverly done!!!
> Twas the month before Christmas
> When all through our land,
> Not a Christian was praying
> Nor taking a stand.
> Why the PC Police had taken away
> The reason for Christmas - no one could say.
> The children were told by their schools not to sing
> About Shepherds and Wise Men and Angels and things.
> It might hurt people's feelings, the teachers would say
> December 25th is just a ' Holiday '.
> Yet the shoppers were ready with cash, checks and credit
> Pushing folks down to the floor just to get it!
> CDs from Madonna, an X BOX, an I-Pod
> Something was changing, something quite odd!
> Retailers promoted Ramadan and Kwanzaa
> In hopes to sell books by Franken & Fonda.
> As Targets were hanging their trees upside down
> At Lowe's the word Christmas - was no where to be found.
> At K-Mart and Staples and Penny's and Sears
> You won't hear the word Christmas; it won't touch your ears.
> Inclusive, sensitive, Di-ver-is-ty
> Are words that were used to intimidate me.
> Now Daschle, Now Darden, Now Sharpton, Wolf Blitzen
> On Boxer, on Rather, on Kerry, on Clinton !
> At the top of the Senate, there arose such a clatter
> To eliminate Jesus, in all public matter.
> And we spoke not a word, as they took away our faith
> Forbidden to speak of salvation and grace
> The true Gift of Christmas was exchanged and discarded
> The reason for the season, stopped before it started.
> So as you celebrate 'Winter Break' under your 'Dream Tree'
> Sipping your Starbucks, listen to me.
> Choose your words carefully, choose what you say
> Shout MERRY CHRISTMAS,
> not Happy Holiday!
> Please, all Christians join together and
> wish everyone you meet
> MERRY CHRISTMAS!
> Christ is The Reason for the Christ-mas Season!
> If you agree please forward, if not, simply delete.
At various points in recent years much has been made in the news about the news and plagiarism, but the more people talk about it the more I am confused. When someone lifts entire passages word for word from one source and publishes it unattributed as their own work, this is clearly wrong. But when someone consults one or more sources and publishes a regurgitation of the original lacking much detail or considerably expanding with new detail, I struggle to see that as the plagiarism people seem to suggest it is. My confusion stems from the fact that everyone, particularly those in the news media, commits exactly this offense, and no one seems to be bothered, so at exactly what point does the act become plagiarism?
A simple example might illustrate my confusion. Some newsworthy event happens in the world. The event is first discovered / covered by one news source. Other news entities hear about the story, from the publication via the original source or from people talking about the publication via the original source, and those news entities begin to write about the same subject as well. Invariably and of necessity the follow-up news organizations borrow details from the original news source, I find it hard to believe that upon learning of the existence of the original story every news man/woman who writes about it goes directly to those original people and agencies involved in the actual events and gathers direct retellings of those events. And in the vast majority of cases those other news stories do not credit the original source, save for the few exceptions where the original story was known to be principally, initially investigated by one specific news source (as when a story might say, "...as initially uncovered in an investigation by 20/20.") The primary sort of attribution one might commonly see is a reference to a news "wire service" (AP, Reuters, etc.) which seems to provide reporters with some carte blanche, as they pay to license that content, and are no doubt absolved from knowing how that wire service obtained the information. My point is that if police accidentally kill an innocent child in Loredo, TX and this information makes it into the local TV news you can be sure the local radio, newspaper, etc. are sure to follow with stories, but are they not going to base their reporting in part on details lifted from the initial telling of the story? Do they really find their own direct source for every detail of their own version of the story? Surely not. And when these stories make their way into wider and wider reportage surely there's no possible way any local police station, hospital, doctor, family of the victim, could supply enough direct information to the thousands of reporters regurgitating the news. And so at what point does repeating a variation of a thing, with greater or lesser detail, with similar or dissimilar focus, become the crime of plagiarism?
It is not that I condone the theft of ideas and intellectual labor, I simply acknowledge that it goes on constantly, and it seems peculiar that the we've lately seen certain figures pilloried when those on the attack do a variation of the exact same thing.
Death is horrible stuff, and books on its horrors have been and will continue to be written. And many of these books attempt to help us understand and accept death, often recent deaths of people to whom we are close, and sometimes our own impending death. But I've yet to hear much talk about how we comprehend or process the death of past acquaintances.
I learned recently about the death of someone I once barely knew, Elissa, wife of my ex-girlfriend's coworker. The feelings her passing evokes are queer, being neither the intense and incomprehensible loss of someone dear nor the distant, abstracted mental shrug offered in memory of an anonymous stranger. I can't think of her death in terms of a personal loss, as the path of our brief acquaintanceship had long ago run its course. I would never have encountered her again. But in a way it's that disconnection that produces the hauntingly odd quality, the instinctive recognition that I lost something confronted with the reality that I didn't actually have it. Nothing changed, nothing given nor taken away; and yet I feel like I suffered a loss. I feel sad more indirectly than directly. I feel sad for all those who actively knew her, for those who could have known her in the future, and for the wrenchingly accidental circumstances of her death (which must have made it all the harder to comprehend). And I feel a tinge of survivor's guilt, that she knew was one of those who richly deserved life, one of those who know how to live it to its full, while I seem often merely to passively occupy both time and space. Ah well, we humans are a curious lot, forever failing to come to terms with living or with dying.
We are all someone's acquaintance, all able to linger hauntingly in someone's memory, never entirely there nor ever entirely gone.
To Elissa and Kevin, another acquaintance of mine who passed last year, I can only offer in poverty to retain their memory, appreciate the time I knew them, and leave the deserved and profound mourning to those who knew them best.
The situation was this... I awoke Sunday morning to find a bat flying circles around my bed. I opened the window and with a little encouragement the bat flew out. A few hours later I read that according to the Center for Disease Control (CDC) anyone sleeping in a bedroom where a bat is found should receive the rabies post-exposure prophylaxis (RPEP) if the bat is not submitted for testing. Bats have a documented history of transmitting rabies to people as they slept. (Had I known this before releasing the bat I would have had a separate moral dilemma, would I be willing to pay $10,000 to avoid causing the death of a bat.)
Rabies is 99.99999999% fatal if not treated long before symptoms occur; treatment is 100% effective. Rabies post-exposure prophylaxis (RPEP) is very expensive, treatment fees (from web-based patient reports) range from $5,000 - $15,000, depending on location, hospital, availability of vaccine, etc. Insurance will likely only cover a portion of my treatment, and as my girlfriend has no insurance I'll be on the hook for the full price of her treatment. I had roughly 72 treatment-effectiveness-limited hours to decide what action, if any, I would take. What would you do?
I find it a fascinating situation to be in, a fascinating problem to wrestle with, because unlike many of the more nebulous philosophical questions relating to morality, ethics, the nature of existence, etc. this is so elegantly, cruelly simply.
You can't know if you were infected, but you can estimate the likelihood that you were infected. You will absolutely die if you were infected and do not get treatment, but you will not suffer any ill effects if you were infected and get treatment. If it cost $1 almost everyone would get treated (in my situation), but it cost $100,000 almost no one would get treated (in my situation). Somewhere between $1 and $100,000, somewhere between a 0% chance of infection and a 100% chance of infection exists the divide between getting treated and not getting treated.
I spent the first 24 hours after exposure trying to find where this line of demarcation lay.
Estimating the likelihood of infection was critical. If it were large the decision would be easy. I found that various studies put the rate of rabies infection in bat populations at anything from less than 1% to 6%. Bats observed in their natural environment seem to have a lower than 1% rabies infection rate, while bats which have encountered humans, been captured, and sent in for testing have a rate as high as 6%. Periodic public rabies panics which caused more people to test more bats found inside their homes suggests that the real infected rate related to human-bat encounters is more like 3%. Thus, it seems reasonable to assume my bat had no more than a 3% chance of being rabid. But of course to become infected I would have needed some contact with the bat. Surely the likelihood that it bit or scratched me as I slept was low, as my prevailing theory was that I woke up as a result of hearing it somehow wiggle its way through the screen window and then flap against the blinds. In the end I arbitrarily estimated that there was no more than a 33% chance that I had contact with the bat. Combining these I estimated my risk as certainly no higher than 1%.
And so it is I spent the evening and the next morning pondering whether I would spend $10,000 to save myself a 1% chance of semi-immediate (and by all accounts agonizing) death. I was leaning strongly towards not seeking treatment, not wanting the financial devastation over what surely was a small likelihood of grievous harm.
My girlfriend was not so resigned as I to accepting the risk, and as a result I ended up spending more than an hour trying to pin the billing department of the local hospital down to an actual price range for the treatment.
The local hospital's cost for treatment ended up being lower than the average I'd seen online and was roughly $5,100. That amount broke down to $2,500 for the Human Rabies Immune Globulin (HRIG) drug, $1,800 for four separate Imovax/Rabavert vaccines, and $800 for the administration of those medications across four visits. With the estimated costs half of what I'd been expecting, and with the anxiety my girlfriend would continue feeling indefinitely had we not sought treatment, getting treated now made sense.
We were treated, and I am enjoying my new found nearly complete immunity to rabies. I have been volunteering myself and this new super power to friends or family, hoping they may be having a problem with a rabid or otherwise suspicious animal; thus far I have sadly found no one who needs my help...