Early this morning, in response to an article I wrote about sudden demands to stop travel from West Africa in order to stop the Ebola virus from entering the United States, an Irregular Times reader wrote in, suggesting that, “there is another agenda at work. Obama lets in unscreened diseased illegal children by the tens of thousands june through august. September entero 68 starts killing American children.”
It turns out that this comment isn’t an isolated expression of fear. Across the Internet, similar ideas have begun to spread, almost like an infectious disease.
As is often the case, this particular ideological fever hasn’t spread spontaneously. It’s been encouraged by right wing radio. A few weeks ago, Rush Limbaugh said to his listeners, “We had these kids cross the border from El Salvador, Guatemala, Nicaragua, wherever they came from in Central America, and they were processed real quickly. They were gotten in, gotten out, and they’ve been distributed all over the country. And Obama won’t tell anybody where he put them… Are the two stories related or are they not? Does this sweeping, mysterious virus that’s multiplying across the Midwest, does it have anything to do with it or not?”
Careful readers will notice that Limbaugh uses the cheap debating tactic of asking ominous rhetorical questions without ever bothering to answer them. Limbaugh creates the suggestion that he has reason to believe that children from Central America have caused the enterovirus 68 outbreak, without ever presenting any evidence of such a connection.
The suggestion has been dutifully picked up by right wing writers, who have converted Limbaugh’s loaded questions into confident statements of fact. Stephanie A. Buist, of Now The End Begins, tells her readers that “Illegal Immigrant Children Are Bringing Deadly Enterovirus D68 Across The Border”. Jeannie DeAngelis, at the right wing site “American Thinker”, writes, “The obvious question is this: Where did Enterovirus EV-D68 originate and did it ‘entero’ the U.S. via illegal children? Dr. Besser contended that enteroviruses tend to show up in the summer, which, this year, just so happens to coincide with thousands of unvaccinated and sickly illegal children infiltrating the U.S. border… I guess for liberals, sedated kids on breathing tubes is but a small price to pay if it furthers Obama’s agenda to welcome “unaccompanied minors” into our nation, our classrooms, and, if it comes down to it, even into our children’s lung tissue.”
The Dr. Besser that DeAngelis refers to is Richard Besser, a medical correspondent for ABC News. Dr. Besser’s comments are referred to by a number of right wing conspiracy theorists who assert that enterovirus 68 came into the United States with unaccompanied minors from Central America. If DeAngelis had listened more carefully to what Dr. Besser actually said, however, she would have noticed Besser’s explanation that enterovirus 68 first arrived in the United States in 1962. The Washington Post notes that there were widespread outbreaks of enterovirus 68 in Georgia, Pennsylvania and Arizona in 2008, 2009, and 2010.
The logic reasoning needed to debunk the idea that unaccompanied children who crossed into the United States through Mexico in the summer of 2014 is not complicated. If enterovirus 68 has been in the United States for 52 years, it could not have been brought into the United States by an event that took place a few months ago. There is no evidence that causally links this autumn’s outbreak of enterovirus 68 in the United with the travel of a relatively small number of children from Central America into the United States this summer.
Fears of the Ebola virus are provoking remarkable displays of xenophobia from right wing Americans. Here at Irregular Times, for example, we’ve seen comments that Ebola has been brought into the USA by people crossing the border with Mexico, though no such thing has ever has been documented.
Over at the conservative conspiracy theorist site Before It’s News, “Rick Wiles of TRUNEWS asks why California bans Florida citrus at its border, but Barack Obama won’t ban travelers from Ebola-infected West African countries?”
Instead of simply mocking Rick Wiles and his ilk for their habit of indulging in outrageous conspiracy theories, let’s answer their question: Why won’t Barack Obama prohibit people from countries with Ebola from entering the United States?
The reason is simple: There have been only two known cases of Ebola transmission in the United States this year. There is no health emergency in the United States. The current travel policy isn’t causing any significant harm to the nation, so there isn’t any reason to change it.
Although there has been just one Ebola death in the United States over the last year, heart disease continues to be the leading cause of death, with almost a million Americans dying of heart conditions every single year. Respiratory diseases were the third largest cause of death in the United States. Both are significantly contributed to by smoking cigarettes.
If we’re going to cancel all flights from West Africa just because of the remote possibility that someone traveling from West Africa in the future might cause a small Ebola outbreak in the United States, why doesn’t our government prohibit cigarettes first?
In the last year for which data are available, 26,654 people perished from “alcohol-induced death”. Before we stop airplanes from West Africa, why don’t we re-instate prohibition first?
In that same year, 44 people in America died from salmonella infection. Given that not one person has contracted Ebola in the United States and then died from it, why don’t we make eating chicken illegal before we prohibit visitors from West Africa from coming to our country?
In the most recent year for which data are available, 651 Americans were killed in boating accidents. Before we turn back West African travelers at our borders, why don’t we sink every boat at every port in the country too, just to be safe?
Between 20 and 30 Americans die as a result of attacks by dogs every year. If we’re going to ban West Africans from coming to our country, how about we kill all the dogs in the United States first?
Let’s not just worry about dogs, though. On average, 22 Americans are killed by cows per year. Shall we ban hamburgers?
There is an alternative. We could simply calm down about Ebola here in the United States, and give help to people in those few countries where the disease is a genuinely large problem.
[most recently updated: October 17]
Some bits of mythology seem perfectly designed to make the rounds of adolescent social networks. Among these is the character of Sterculius.
Sterculius has caused a bit of a stir, since God Checker described the deity on Twitter as “the God of Poop from Roman mythology”. To explore the matter further, Godchecker writes that “the name used behind his back was ‘Poopy’.” Elfwood brings even greater literalism to our understanding by picturing Sterculius as emerging from a toilet, wearing a dirty toga and carrying a bag of burning shit.
A god of poo seems just outrageous to us. It’s fun. It’s silly, and evidence, as Historical Nonfiction on Tumblr puts it, that the Romans “approached ludicrousness with their large and continually-expanding pantheon.”
The implicit point of comparison is the Christian God, who, in addition to getting a capital letter as the all-defining-god-of-gods, has the advantage of being simultaneously tribal and universally abstract. The Christians say that their god is everywhere, and so imply that he is present in shit, but have enough restraint never to mention that point specifically. Sterculius, on the other hand, is explicit and specific. He was a god of poop, and nothing but poop. Ridiculous Romans. How could they believe such a thing?
This poo-focused perspective is entertaining enough to occupy a 144-character post, but the concept of Sterculius isn’t really that simple.
First of all, Sterculius wasn’t just about feces. Sterculius represented the fertility that is derived from the decomposing manure and agricultural waste that was placed on fields by Roman farmers to keep their crops healthy. Sterculius brought attention to one end of the cycle of life, bringing attention to the idea that life isn’t just a one way street, but that new life depends on the dead, stinking, rotting matter that results when old life is consumed. That’s a more complicated idea than the Christian model, in which life proceeds on a one-way journey from birth to death, and then either to eternal bliss or eternal suffering.
Sterculius is even more than this, however. Despite what the Crazy-Romans-Had-A-God-Of-Poo meme would have you think, Sterculius wasn’t necessarily a stand-alone divinity. Some sources said that Sterculius was actually Picumnus, a child of a satyr-like god named Faunus, the fore-runner of the fauns.
At other times, Sterculius was described as merely a name which referred to one aspect of a larger divine personality, the titan Saturn. Saturn, also known as Cronos, was associated with the introduction of the order of time into the universe, and was said to have eaten all of his children, who were imprisoned in his great stomach until they were liberated by Jupiter to become the more familiar Roman gods.
This story of divine beings held as infants within a great body until they could be released to grow into full power has obvious agricultural parallels, as seeds, buried within the soil and so apparently consumed, can emerge to become greater plants in time. It’s not out of left field that Saturn was also known as an agricultural deity, with responsibilities for both sowing and reaping.
This dual nature is seen in the modern-day worship of Saturn, in the form of the scythe-wielding old man, who is kicked off the throne on New Year’s Day by a little baby (the little shit) who in turn becomes Saturn by the end of the next year.
Saturn also gave his name to the day Saturday. If we were to follow the easy line of thinking that says that Saturn = Sterculius = the god of poo, we could proclaim Saturday as the day of shit.
I favor the broader interpretation, but neither one is completely, or exclusively, correct. People who have been raised to think that a mythological tradition has a single valid version, which is dictated by a single written code, have difficulty understanding the flexibility and multiplicity of other systems. “The Romans” were not really a single people with a single set of religious beliefs. In different times, in different places within the Roman Empire, different specific divinities appeared and disappeared, and took on varying meanings.
Shit happens, but depending on the context, shit can mean many different things.
1. Viewing medical records and smiling.
2. While holding a baby and caring for a well-behaved toddler.
3. In a clean kitchen.
For more unreality, see It’s Like They Know Us.
“Khorasan was working and you know, may still be working on an effort to attack the United States or our allies, and looking to do it very, very soon. I can’t sit here and tell you whether it’s their plan is tomorrow or three weeks or three months from now. Given our visibility we know they’re serious people, bent on destruction. And so we have to act as if it’s coming tomorrow.”
These words cam from FBI Director James Comey last night in an interview with Scott Pelley of CBS 60 Minutes.
James Comey’s Homeland Insecurity logic:
Premise: Khorasan, a terrorist group in Syria, may be working on an effort to attack the United States… or they may not be.
Premise: Khorasan may have once had such a plan… or they may not have.
Premise: If Khorasan is planning to attack the United States, the attack might come tomorrow… or might come in three months… or might not come at all.
Conclusion: We have act as if Khorasan is going to attack the United States today. (Today is yesterday’s tomorrow, after all.)
Comey also told Pelley, “I don’t know what I don’t know.”
Given Comey’s argument, are you convinced? Are you going to act as if the United States is going to be attacked by Khorasan today?
If so, what will that look like? What are you going to do? Are you going to stay home from work and cower in the basement? Are you going to carry a gun with you today, in case the Khorasan terrorists invade your neighborhood? Are you going to seal your windows with plastic and duct tape?
What if a Khorasan terrorist attack doesn’t come today? Will that mean that your vigilance can be lowered, or will you have to, because of James Comey’s convincing logic, have to act as if Khorasan terrorists will strike the United States at any moment tomorrow as well?
What about the day after that?
What about the next day?
How long will it be until you will stop taking evasive maneuvers to protect yourself from the terrorist attack that may or may not come, tomorrow or later, from the Khorasan organization that may or may not exist?
In three months, will you lower your guard? Three years? Three decades?
“Oral history is constantly in motion – in the evolving relationship between the two parties in an interview; in the interplay between the past and the present; in conjunction with emergent technologies and diverse applications. Oral history also has played a crucial role in documenting and understanding the central movements of our time, from a broad array of social movements to transnational migrations.”
So says the written introduction to the annual meeting of the Oral History Association, which will begin two days from now in Madison, Wisconsin.
In order to present to the Oral History Association annual meeting, oral historians were required to submit to the following requirements: “Submissions must be made through the online system, available HERE. For sessions, submissions require a title, a brief abstract, and a one-page vita or resume for each participant. Individual paper submissions require a title, a brief abstract, and a one-page vita or resume of the presenter.”
These guidelines bring the question to mind: In what sense is oral history oral when it becomes documented? To what extent do oral historians value oral history, when they work so compulsively to write it down?
Today on the Cornell University campus, I saw this group of people playing a game with three hoops on either end of a field, many balls, with brooms between their legs.
The question in my mind: Were they playing quidditch, or playing at quidditch?
By all appearances, gone. I have to believe something will come up from the roots.
This week, Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, during a speech at Colorado Christian University, promoted the use of government powers to coerce Americans into religious belief and worship. Scalia lectured his audience that, “the main fight is to dissuade Americans from what the secularists are trying to persuade them to be true: that the separation of church and state means that the government cannot favor religion over non-religion”
Scalia declared, “That the state must be neutral, not only between religions, but between religion and non-religion, that’s just a lie. Where do you get the notion that this is all unconstitutional?”
This is an important question. Where do we get the notion that it is unconstitutional for the government to promote religion in general?
We get this notion from the following passages in the Constitution of the United States of America:
In Article VI: “No religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.”
In the First Amendment: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”
The exercise of religion is not free when it takes place because of force or coercion from the government. When the state is not neutral, but uses its power to push American citizens into religious belief and worship, the resulting exercise of religion is not freely undertaken. That’s a simple fact, not a lie. What part of this concept is so difficult for Justice Scalia to understand?
When participation in religious rituals of worship, such as prayer or the Pledge of Allegiance, is required of both public officials and attending citizens in order to participate in public meetings, it amounts to a religious test of admittance into an office or public trust. Is this idea really to complicated for Justice Scalia to grasp?
To be honest, I don’t believe that Antonin Scalia is ignorant of these concerns. It seems more likely that he just doesn’t care about them. What he clearly does care about is the continued political dominance of his own kind of religion: Monotheism.
Justice Scalia pretends that he favors only state sponsorship of religion in general, rather than government promotion of one religion over another, but whenever he argues for the promotion of religion in general, he does so by asserting the need of the government to promote belief in God, and worship of God. In his speech at Colorado Christian University this week, for example, he told the audience that, “We do Him [God] honor in our pledge of allegiance, in all our public ceremonies. There’s nothing wrong with that.”
Worshipping God, honoring God, and promoting belief in God is not at all equivalent to promoting religion in general. It’s the selective promotion of monotheism – and Jewish and Christian forms of monotheism in particular. Never does Justice Scalia support, or even refer to, government practices in which belief in or worship of a goddess, or of multiple gods, or of non-theistic religious concepts. Scalia couldn’t refer to such practices, of course, because they do not exist in the United States. In this country, when the federal government promotes religion, it promotes worship in a single, male divinity which arises particularly out of the Jewish and Christian religions.
In practice, Scalia’s supposed scheme of the promotion of religion in general is not at all neutral between religions. It’s discriminatory against minority religions, not to mention discriminatory against the growing portion of the American population that is non-religious.
“There are those who would have us believe that the separation of church and state must mean that God must be driven out of the public forum. That is simply not what our Constitution has ever meant,” said Antonin Scalia in his Colorado speech.
Anyone who has real faith in an omnipotent, transcendent monotheistic divine being cannot believe that something so earthly as the Constitution of the United States of America could drive their god out of the public forum. What the Constitution does is to remove religious agendas from the human-created of the U.S. federal government, so that Americans of all religion and of no religion at all can live in equality. Only people who seek to use the government to shove their own religion in the face of other people could have a problem with that.
By hand, magnet or forklift?