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Easter Island, Omaha, Nebraska

This morning, I woke up at the Sheraton hotel in Omaha, Nebraska, and opened my window to look out upon a courtyard garden, featuring two small versions of the giant head sculptures that people had carved out of stone on Easter Island, in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.

Easter island omaha

What was the purpose for this selection of garden statuary?

Did the designer mean to suggest, perhaps, that the Midwest is like a vast ocean, within which the city of Omaha is a lonely island? Was it to suggest that once, in the courtyard of the Sheraton, there lived a group of tiny people who carved giant faces to place in piles of mulch, perhaps in homage to the chrysanthemums?

Walk Out

Today is the National Day To Stop Police Brutality, Repression And The Criminalization Of A Generation. All around the country, there will be protests against abuse of power by law enforcement.

What if there isn’t a protest near you? The organizers encourage you to simply walk out. “No work! No school! No business as usual!”

Maybe, if there had not been years of injustice after injustice, of civil liberties trampled, of the Constitution of the United States of America treated like a joke by American presidents, American spy agencies and American police departments, I might feel inclined to question whether a walkout could accomplish anything. However, given the complete weight of these offenses, it seems to me that we need to break the sense of normalcy of violation, and a walkout achieves that very nicely.

If The United States Is A Christian Nation…

Then how come the monumental buildings of our government are constructed in the form of ancient pagan temples, rather than Christian cathedrals?

pagan Greek temple dc

16 Students in Texas Catch Ebola? Panic and a Hoax at the Grocery

“I swear I am never going to get a flu shot again,” said the young bagger at the grocery store tonight. “My arm is going to fall off, it hurts so much.”

“Sorry it hurts,” I said. “Thanks for getting a shot, though. A lot more people die of flu every year than have ever died of Ebola.”

“You’ve got to take that Ebola seriously,” interjected the cashier at this point. “Did you know that 16 students in Texas tested positive for Ebola today?”

“No, I don’t think so.” I replied.

“Yes!”

“No.”

“Yes, it did!” The cashier was getting very excited.

“No.”

“I’m telling you!”

“Are you sure?”

“They reported it on the news and everything.”

Go ahead … search the news.

A quick check shows that such a story was never the news.

It never happened.

It was an internet hoax.

Breathless rumors are fear porn. Please, stop the spread.

Piercing The Gelatinous Mysteries

gelatinous cubeFantasy-bewitched people of a certain age will feel their ears twitch in recognition upon hearing the phrase “Gelatinous Cube”. This creature was an invention of the game Dungeons And Dragons. It filled passageways with its jiggly mass killing the unwary.

The Gelatinous Cube was fantasy. Yet, there are deadly gelatinous creatures in real life, described in an academic article as “gelatinous carnivore populations in the northwestern Mediterranean”. These creatures drift along silently in veils of semi transparent goo waiting for their helpless victims to fall into their sticky clutches.

They are siphonophores, including the species Chelophyes appendiculata.

Not all the gelatinous things that creep are animals, however. A few years ago scientists discovered a kind of plant that sends out tendrils to creep and grab up things, with this behavior enabled by a band of gelatinous fibers within its pith. “Data indicate that gelatinous-type fibers are responsible for the coiling of redvine tendrils and a number of other tendrils and vines,” they write.

Who wants to put on a jiggly costume for Halloween?

List of Demonstration Sites for the National Day of Protest Against Mass Incarceration, October 22 2014

The United States is a nation that massively incarcerates its inhabitants, far beyond the scale of every other nation on Earth.

On October 22, the United States is a nation that protests this fact. Yellow dots on the map below indicate places where there will be demonstrations on the National Day of Protest Against Mass Incarceration:

Places of Demonstration on the National Day of Protest Against Mass Incarceration, October 22 2014

If you know of another location of protest, share a link in the comments section.

If you live near a protest, consider going.

Are RFID Chips Being Put Into Ebola Vaccinations?

This morning, a friend of mine shared a link on Facebook, the screenshot of which you see below.

Ebola vaccine rfid chip

CDC Whistleblower Exposes Ebola Vaccinations Containing RFID Chips? Could this be true? Could the federal government be planning to place tracking chips into Americans’ bodies, under the guise of protection from Ebola?

No.

I have taken a look at the report, and it is so ludicrous that I had to double check to make sure the nationalreport.net web site isn’t satirical. Unfortunately, the web site appears to be quite earnest.

It’s an earnest fraud. One telltale sign is that the article gets basic public health procedures profoundly wrong. It tells its readers that “CDC officials intend to issue these syringe packages to over 200,000 households by December 1st. Consumers will also be able to request the Ebola vaccine at their local drug store.”

That’s not how vaccination programs work. The CDC does not send syringes full of vaccines for deadly diseases directly to people’s homes. Think: Have you ever received a flu shot in the mail?

Researchers in Canada have an experimental vaccine for Ebola, and they have shipped 20 vials to an army hospital in the United States for human trials. They have also shipped 8,000 doses for use in Africa, where there is an actual outbreak. It is not known, however, whether this experimental vaccine will work. There is no way that the CDC will have 200,000 doses through the approval process and ready in a month and a half from now, especially not for use in the United States, where only two cases of disease transmission have taken place.

Particularly telling is that, right next to the article in the conspiracy theory of RFID chips in Ebola vaccines was an advertisement for people looking for psychiatric help. The advertisers know their target market. If someone you know actually believes this RFID story, please urge them to get professional help.

Ebola conspiracy theory psychiatry

Remembering Peyton Manning’s Historic 509th Touchdown Pass

Dateline: Peyton Manning Museum, Manning City, October 19, 2034

Oliver Sutton hobbled slightly as he made his way to his digital trunk to look through his records of this historic day. “I’ve got it here somewhere,” he promised me as he used his electro stylus to rummage through the virtual box.

A few minutes later he had found it: a gold pixel framed screenshot from the original CBS news website still showing the headline: Manning makes historic 509th touchdown pass.

Sutton paused, misty-eyed, as his seven year-old grandson looked on with a confused expression on his face. “I’m sorry, kid,” he said to the little boy. “I keep forgetting that this was before you were born. I can’t expect you to understand what it was like for us back then. Those were dark days.”

“You see, back in those days there was this terrible disease called Ebola. It was at its worst just before Peyton Manning threw his famous touchdown pass. I know it seems impossible to you now, but back then we were all suffering. At the height of the epidemic, one American died and two others were infected. We didn’t know if we could go on. People were beginning to feel like the entire nation was on the verge of falling apart. What would it mean for our way of life if three people got infected?”

“Then, Peyton Manning through that pass. When that ball entered the end zone, we didn’t know it then, but it was going to change everything. People were so inspired by Peyton Manning’s athletic performance, even on the other side of the planet, that Russia immediately began to withdraw its troops from Ukraine. Islamic State fighters decided to convert to Christianity and send all the money that they were planning on spending on bombs over to Liberty University.”

“When Peyton Manning through that pass, the pharmaceutical industry executives that had been holding the Ebola vaccine in their secret vaults had a change of heart and decided to release it to the whole world. The FDA decided to allow for the sale of cannabis oil and all cancers were immediately cured.”

“Barack Obama, emboldened by the brave example of Peyton Manning, who threw a ball with no expectation for any compensation other than millions of dollars, decided to finally release his birth certificate, admitting once and for all that yes, he was born in Kenya, Missouri.”

“McDonald’s brought back the Dollar Meal. Lawn jarts were put back on the shelves – with extra sharp tips. NBC started shooting new episodes of Friends, and Brad Pitt decided to get reunited with Jennifer Anniston so that he could be on another episode of the show – this is before Anniston became president.”

“Liberals were so impressed with Peyton Manning that they decided to stop trying to take away everybody’s guns. By the end of the year every house in America had at least 12 handguns, and that’s when crime disappeared completely.”

“Oh, yes, CBS news sure got it right when they wrote that headline. Peyton Manning’s pass was historic. It changed our lives forever. So, tomorrow at school, when you start the day by reciting the Pledge of Allegiance to Manning, I want you to remember what I’ve told you about Peyton Manning tonight. When you salute the flag, with its 50 footballs and 13 red stripes, I want you to understand why we all feel so proud to be living in the United States of Manning… oh, and don’t forget to take your steroids before you go to bed.”

Putting the Maine School Ebola Scare into Perspective: How Abundant is that Caution?

As J. Clifford noted earlier today, the school board in the tiny community of Strong, Maine put a teacher on a 21-day leave because that teacher had…

… recently taken a plane flight to Dallas, Texas for an educational conference.

Yes, that’s all. Because the teacher had taken a plane flight to Dallas for an educational conference, the school board was concerned this teacher had a significant likelihood of carrying Ebola. From the Kennebec Journal:

“At this time, we have no information to suggest that this staff member has been in contact with anyone who has been exposed to Ebola,” according to a statement from School Administrative District 58, which was published on its website. “However, the district and the staff member understand the parents’ concerns. Therefore, after several discussions with the staff member, out of an abundance of caution, this staff member has been placed on a paid leave of absence…”

Matt Dexter of Strong, who has a child in the teacher’s classroom, was the first to raise questions at the SAD 58 board meeting about whether the teacher should immediately come back to school.

On Friday, he reiterated his concerns, saying the school district has a pattern of making decisions without informing parents or the community.

“What the parents were saying last night is that, you sent (this teacher) to a potentially harmful area for exposure, and then come back and jump into the classroom on Monday seemed a little bit reckless,” Dexter said.

Let’s quantify this. How abundant is the caution involved in giving a Dallas-visiting teacher leave to avoid Ebola? How little is the bit of recklessness involved in not putting that teacher on leave?

According to Reuters, about 80 people in Dallas came in physical contact with the person who came there infected with Ebola. Let’s assume, for the sake of infection, that every single one of these 80 people is now not only infected with Ebola, but in the symptomatic, infectious stage. Let’s assume that this Dallas-visiting teacher had a random chance of coming in physical contact with people in Dallas — although actually the teacher was much more likely to come into contact with safer, non-Dallas visitors to a teaching convention. Let’s further assume that this teacher also actually came into physical contact with people a full 80 different times — that’s a lot of touching for someone going to a professional conference, but again let’s make assumptions on the side of infection. How likely is it that the teacher under these three very generous assumptions actually came into physical contact with an infectious Ebola patient while in Dallas?

The population of the Dallas-Fort Worth metropois is estimated at 6,985,579. 80 people divided by 6,985,579 people is 0.00001145. If this teacher touched someone just once, and if she was touching randomly, and if every single one of the 80 people touched by the infected Liberian actually was themselves at that very moment infectious with Ebola (all quite improbable), then she would have had 1.1 chances out of 100,000 of touching someone with Ebola. If she had touched people 80 times, touching randomly each time, then she would have had a probability of 0.0009162, or 9 out of 10,000, of coming into contact with someone infected with Ebola.

This estimate assumes that a visitor to a Dallas convention is actually going out and hugging random sick-feeling Texans, not holed up in a hotel and shaking hands with other people from other states. It assumes that there were actually 80 people who were suffering from infectious Ebola at the moment. If we add to this an absurd 100% guarantee that the teacher in question would contract Ebola from casually touching someone with Ebola, then and only then could we say that the probability of this Maine teacher bringing back Ebola to Strong, Maine is 9 out of 10,000.

Now when you say 9 out of 10,000 — say it out loud — it sounds suspiciously like 9 out of 10, and your mind might trick you that way. But if you think that’s a significant risk, go ahead and count to 10,000. If you counted one number every second for every hour without taking a break even once, not to sleep or eat or drink or breathe it would take you an entire day plus three more hours to finish your count. Now imagine just nine seconds out of all that time.

That’s miniscule — and that’s reflecting the absolute worst-case scenario out of all remotely fathomable cinematic possibilities: a 100% infection rate for the associates of the Liberian man, 80 infectiously sick and yet somehow gregarious people walking around and seeking out conventiongoers for hugs, 80 touches for someone visiting a strange city for a professional conference, and a 100% infection rate with anyone the teacher touches.

Let’s return to the land of reality, in which much time has passed and it’s clear that three people in Dallas were infected. One is dead and two are in lockdown. There were not 80 infectious people walking around giving out hugs in Dallas. This teacher went to a professional conference in a hotel 10 miles away from the hospital where Ebola was confronted. I can tell you from experience with professional conferences that anyone who’s sick enough will be glad to use that excuse to avoid getting out of bed. The conference consisted of bureaucratic droning, not impassioned hugging. And it’s actually hard enough to spread Ebola that one Ebola patient will on average only infect two others throughout the course of that person’s illness.

In sum, if you believe every last bit of hype about Ebola and are willing to accept outrageous circumstances, the chances this teacher in Maine is an Ebola carrier are amazingly, vanishingly small. If you return to reality, the chances that this teacher in Maine is an Ebola carrier are, yes, effectively zero.

Education is supposed to be about helping people become the sort of people who know better. The schools in Strong, Maine should know better than to send a teacher home for literally nothing.

The Most Sophisticated Books In The World?

At a shopping mall in Orange County, California today, I came across a book store with a big front window featuring a photograph of a woman with dark lipstick riding a motorcycle and the words, “The most sophisticated books in the world.”

motorcycle books

Walking closer, I peeked inside and found that the store was mostly empty space, but with shelves around the outside of the store displaying very large books filled with photographs, with titles like “The Big Book Of Chic” and “Design”.

sophisticated books

The most sophisticated books in the world: Do you agree with that assessment?

Epidemic Of Ebola Panic Strikes More Victims in the USA

America is now two weeks into the outbreak of Ebola panic, and still, the airborne transmission of hyperbole spreads, mutating into increasingly absurd forms. Americans are acting as if the entire body of their nation is under threat, and they’re beginning to shut down peripheral systems in order to stay alive.

If the threat were significant, this might be a reasonable reaction. However, the threat to our population of hundreds of millions of Americans is, in fact, tiny. While the Ebola virus is behaving predictably, and is, therefore, subject to disciplined efforts at control, the sociocultural phenomenon of the Ebola panic is behaving erratically, and is proving quite capable of jumping over the typical firewalls of logical reasoning.

The best tactic in controlling this epidemic of paranoia, therefore, will be to turn the mirror on the people who are perpetuating the panic, to help them see the absurdity of their own actions.

Mirror One: The town of Beeville, Texas is putting children into quarantine, even though they haven’t come from Ebola-infested countries. When residents of Beeville discovered that children from west Africa had come to live in their town and would be attending school there, they panicked. After all, they thought, Ebola comes from west Africa, so it would be simply prudent to tell the children to stay home, away from school and the good, clean, disease-free Texan children inside, right?

Wrong.

West Africa is a big, big place, and Ebola is in only a few places in the region. Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Guinea are where most. cases have been found. The west African children who have come to Beeville didn’t come from these countries.

The children came from Ghana and Nigeria. In Nigeria, there have been only 19 cases of Ebola, and the small outbreak there has been well-controlled. There have been no new cases of Ebola in Nigeria since September 5. The incubation period for Ebola is 21 days. So, that makes it impossible for the Beeville children from Nigeria to have unknowingly come across someone in Nigeria with Ebola, and to now be harboring the virus in incubation without symptoms themselves. In Ghana, there hasn’t been a single death this year from, so the chances of a child from that country bringing Ebola to the United States are about as low as the chance of getting hit by a meteorite.

The school district in Beeville, by telling the Ghanaian and Nigerian children there to stay home, is teaching its students all the wrong lessons. They are displaying an astonishing ignorance of science, health, geography and math. The school administrators in Beeville, Texas are teaching children there that prejudice is acceptable, and that facts are less important than fears. I wouldn’t want my children to grow up in a place like Beeville.

From GhanaWeb, comes a moment of clarity, in which the ignorance of the American reaction to Ebola is aptly described:

“Keep in mind that because of the lousy media portrayal of Africa, in the US, for example, an average American (erroneously) thinks whatever happens in one part of Africa applies to everywhere. This explains why although the Ebola is in Liberia, Sierra Leone, Guinea, and a few cases found and isolated in Nigeria, yet, there is an ongoing heated debate now about the possibility of banning all air travels between West Africa and the US till the disease is contained. For many Americans, Africa is one “country” rather than a huge continent with different independent nations, cultures, and varied healthcare systems.”

It isn’t just in Texas where people are reacting to Ebola in an ugly way. In Boston, there is the story of a barber who has refused to cut the hair of anyone from west Africa. A couple of hours to the north, in Maine, a school district has forced a teacher to stay out of her classroom for 21 days, simply because she went to a conference in Dallas.

Such actions are not prudent. They are not examples of discretion. They are extreme, unnecessary, and a danger to the health of our society.

Please, the next time you encounter someone freaking out about Ebola, ask them to calm down. Share the facts. Help staunch the flow of panic.