Enter your email address to subscribe to Irregular Times and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 387 other subscribers

Irregular Times Newsletters

Click here to subscribe to any or all of our six topical e-mail newsletters:
  1. Social Movement Actions,
  2. Credulity and Faith,
  3. Election News,
  4. This Week in Congress,
  5. Tech Dispatch and
  6. our latest Political Stickers and Such

Contact Us

We can be contacted via retorts@irregulartimes.com

Mayday PAC Avoids Cronyism by Avoiding Nick Troiano

This last July, I found myself wondering aloud: would the Mayday Super PAC (using big money in politics to undermine the use of big money in politics) endorse and fund the campaign of Nick Troiano for Congress? If the Mayday PAC ended up funnelling money to Troiano, that would represent the crassest sort of insider nepotism, since the leaders of the Mayday PAC (Lawrence Lessig, Kahlil Byrd and Mark McKinnon) formed personal bonds of friendship with Nick Troiano when they all worked together on the privatized presidential election effort called Americans Elect.

As the Mayday PAC announces its final favored candidates, I think it’s worth taking a moment to notice who’s not on the list: Nick Troiano.

Not making a bad choice is a good choice, Mayday.

What Could Happen With Ebola Is A Possibility, Say U.S. Military Geniuses

The state of reporting on Ebola was best represented today by Jim Garamone of DoD News, who wrote breathlessly that, “The potential spread of Ebola into Central and Southern America is a real possibility.”

What this sentence seems to mean, in the context of the current panic, is that the spread of Ebola into Central and Southern America is likely.

What the sentence actually means is that what could happen could happen. It’s a tautology, and thus, brings no useful insight into policy discussions of what the U.S. government should do about the current Ebola outbreak that has almost completely been contained to a few countries in west Africa.

Journalists, and the people who read their work, are tending to interpret predictions about what could happen in the future as revelations of what is certain to happen, or in the worst cases, as reports of what is happening right now. Intelligent readers will pay attention to the facts of what is actually going on with Ebola, which, outside of west Africa, isn’t very much.

Ebola is a serious disease, which is why we need to remain calm and not get swept up in a panic. It won’t help anyone to waste resources implementing outlandish policies, such as shutting down air traffic between the United States and Africa. We will all be better off if experts in infectious disease are allowed to lead the way in containing and eradicating Ebola, rather than hyperventilating pundits who are mostly interested in gaining audience share for their advertisers by keeping their fans in a state of eager anxiety.

Ebola the panic virus

Are Coffin Liners For Dead Ebola Victims Being Stockpiled By The U.S. Government?

Yesterday, I wrote about the conspiracy theory claiming that children who crossed into the United States through the Mexican border this summer are to blame for the presence of enterovirus 68 in the United States. One of the right wing web sites that is helping to spread this conspiracy theory is Now The End Begins, found at NowTheEndBegins.com.

As the web site name suggests, Now The End Begins exists in order to tell stories that encourage the belief among Christians that their mythical End Times is about to begin. In order to support this belief, NowTheEndBegins.com finds stories of ordinary troubles, and finds ways to exaggerate them to create the impression of diabolically-devised worldwide disasters.

That’s what Now The End Begins has done with the Ebola outbreak in west Africa, which is a serious, but natural problem, following a fairly predictable course. NowTheEndBegins.com is using the Ebola outbreak in west Africa to concoct a story that the U.S. federal government somehow knows that huge numbers of Americans are going to be killed by Ebola, but is covering up the truth. As evidence, the Now The End Begins “News Desk” points to rumors of large numbers of “coffin liners” being transported within the United States.

Their headline asks, Are The FEMA Coffin Liners For Ebola Virus Victims? Answering their own question, Now The End Begins writers observe that, “If the current outbreak of the Ebola virus was indeed concocted in a government lab, then certainly you would need a lot of cheap, readily-available containers in which to put the dead bodies.” They show the following photograph as evidence of the conspiracy:

coffin liners for ebola

Is the federal government stockpiling coffin liners to prepare for a massive Ebola epidemic in the USA? No. This is just an old, recycled photograph for an old, recycled conspiracy theory. Enter the photograph used by NowTheEndBegins.com as evidence of government stockpiling of coffin liners for Ebola victims in the autumn of 2014 in the Tin Eye graphic search engine, and you’ll see that the very same picture has been used before, long before the current Ebola panic.

pakalert press coffin linersTwo years ago, the right wing conspiracy theory web site Pakalert Press was using the very same photograph, minus the label “Coffin Liners For Ebola”. The photograph was used in an article to promote the idea that FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency was setting up concentration camps, and was stockpiling huge numbers of coffin liners in preparation for a mass slaughter of Americans in accordance with Biblical prophecies about the End Times.

The problem with the Ebola-Coffin-Liners conspiracy theory is the same as with the Central-American-Kids-Gave-Us-Enterovirus-68 conspiracy theory: The chronology is all messed up. How could the government conspire in 2012 to cover up its reaction to the 2014 Ebola outbreak in west Africa?

The objects shown in the photograph are indeed plastic burial vaults, and they are indeed being stockpiled – but not by the U.S. government. As Metabunk explains, it’s private corporations that store the burial vaults, in large fields.

Why are large fields of burial vaults needed, if the government isn’t either planning a massive slaughter or preparing for a massive epidemic? The United States is a big nation, and millions of people die of natural causes every year. Many of these corpses will be buried in graves with burial vaults, to separate the rotting dead from the groundwater supply.

There is nothing nefarious going on with coffin liners or burial vaults.

There is something very nefarious going on with the right wing conspiracy theories about invasions of immigrants carrying Ebola and enterovirus 68. It’s virulent racism. The comments we’ve received at Irregular Times in response to our writing about the Ebola panic include nasty attacks against Africa in general, as if a moral inferiority of people in Africa is to blame for Ebola.

One reader comments, “This is about liberals trying to get so many 3rd world people in this country they think they can change us from our European roots. I feel like this plan was hatched in Israel. Notice how Israel refuses to help with the Ebola crises but the dual citizen Israeli in this country like Tom Frieden and Diane Feinstein urgently asks all Western Nations to send in their nationals to get infected. I say cut off Western Africa and let the disease run its course. We reestablish aid after the disease burns itself out. This is the only sensible thing to do.”

Another writes, “Maybe we ought to stop helping Africa ( I need free food, clothing, electricity,water) and let Africa deal with this. I think they need to handle this on their own. I am tired of always having to help Africa, i am tired of people saying I am a slave owner and have to help them. Enough is Enough time to focus on Americans and Americans alone.”

Both the conspiracy theory about Ebola and the conspiracy theory about enterovirus 68 are founded upon the idea that non-Europeans are inherently dirty and dangerous. The conspiracy theories are political tools that are being used to try to advance a nationalist and racist agenda of selectively limiting immigration from Africa and Latin America, depicting Africans and Latinos as little more than disease-carrying vermin. The real disease, in the view of these conspiracy theories, is the existence of human beings who have anything other than European descent.

ebolaobamasticker

As the bumper sticker in the image seen here illustrates, these conspiracy theories are part of a larger right wing ideology that also claims that Barack Obama is unfit to be President of the United States simply because some of his ancestry is non-European. The idea is that people of European descent are biologically deficient, and should not be allowed to participate as equals in American society.

This ideology is spreading rapidly in the United States, and is much more of a threat than Ebola or enterovirus 68 ever will be.

Americans’ Ebola Panic Reveals Afrophobia with No Sense of Scale

This morning, J. Clifford reports that people have called for the cancellation of flights from West Africa in order to stop Ebola, but refuse to take far simpler steps that would save many more lives. J. Clifford’s point is valid, but there are even more irrational reactions to Ebola surfacing in America.

Yesterday, someone at my place of work in Maine sent me a message refusing to come in. “Someone in my office just returned (less than 24 hours ago) from Africa,” my co-worker wrote. “Since she spent time in Kenya, I can not make myself come in to work knowing she is wandering around touching things with her potentially Ebola ridden hands that she spent a lot of time coughing all over.”

I wrote back to my co-worker, explaining some of the most obvious facts about Ebola:

  • Coughing is not one of the early symptoms of Ebola.
  • Ebola is not spread through coughed droplets like a cold is.
  • The earliest symptoms of Ebola are fever, tiredness, sore throat and body aches — essentially, flu-like symptoms that would lead them to stay home anyway.
  • People who are asymptomatic Ebola carriers are not contagious.

All that reassurance should be simple and obvious to anyone who has been reading the newspapers, where such details have been repeatedly communicated. What struck me most, however, was my coworker’s worry about someone catching Ebola in Kenya. Kenya is in East Africa, sitting on the Indian Ocean. The epicenter of Ebola is in West Africa, sitting on the Atlantic Ocean. Liberia, the nation closest to Kenya with any presence of Ebola, is more than 3,200 miles away from Kenya. (Nigeria, which had a brief experience with Ebola in July and August but swiftly eradicated the disease there, is more than 2,000 miles away from Kenya).

Let’s put those 3,200 miles from Kenya to the closest outbreak of Ebola in perspective. If there was a disease outbreak in the city of Paris, in the country of France, would your first thought be “Whatever I do, I’d better stay away from Maine?” Of course not. After all, Maine is about 3,200 miles away from Paris… just about as far away from Liberia as Kenya is.

If there was a disease outbreak in Caracas, Venezuela and you had friends visiting from Maine, would you ask them to stay home so you wouldn’t get infected? Of course not. After all, Venezuela and Maine are so, so far apart, aren’t they? Actually, they’re closer to one another (about 2,400 miles) than Kenya and Liberia are to one another.

Shifting a bit, I don’t think my coworker or anyone else would feel nervous about catching Ebola from someone who’d been in Paris, France the day before. But Paris is about 200 miles closer to Liberia than Kenya is.

Yet people are freaking out about catching Ebola from Kenya and Kenyans. I say “people” in the plural because people are reporting the same irrational Ebola-Kenya connection on Twitter:

Meanwhile the Associated Press reports that visits by foreigners to Kenya are significantly depressed because tourists are afraid they’ll catch Ebola.

There is a disease afflicting Americans right now, and it’s called Afrophobia. Despite the fact that Africa is a huge continent spanning vast distances, and despite the fact that different African nations can be as far apart from one another spatially and culturally as Canada and Colombia, we have a habit of lumping everything in Africa together, giving it the label of “other,” and alternately fearing it and loathing it.

Don’t believe me? Read these recent Twitter posts from conservative Americans, lumping two unreal fantasies into one:

Did Enterovirus 68 Enter The USA Illegally Over The Border With Mexico?

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.

enterovirus 68 illegal childrenAs 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.

If We Stop Flights From West Africa In Order To Contain Ebola, What Else Could We Do To Save American Lives?

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?

american ebola health crisisThe 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]

Saturday, And The Myth Of The God Of Shit

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?

saturn sterculius

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.

Triple Unreality

image

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.

Homeland Insecurity Is Back! Freak Out Now, Says FBI Director James Comey

“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.)

khorasan terrorist attackComey 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?

For Oral History Presentation, Submit To Text

oral history written“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?

Playing At Quidditch

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.

1005141221a-1

The question in my mind: Were they playing quidditch, or playing at quidditch?