Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

October 28, 2014

Shooting ebola

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Christopher Bellavita on October 28, 2014

“The worship of reason is… an illustration of one of the most long-lived delusions in Western history: the rationalist delusion. It’s the idea that reasoning is our most noble attribute….”

Jonathan Haidt wrote those words in his book, The Righteous Mind.

…we must be wary of any individual’s ability to reason.  We should see each individual as being limited, like a neuron.  A neuron is really good at one thing: summing up the stimulation coming into its dendrites to “decide” whether to fire a pulse along its axon.  A neuron by itself isn’t very smart. But if you put neurons together in the right way, you get a brain; you get an emergent system that is much smarter and more flexible than a single neuron.

In the same way, each individual reasoner is really good at one thing: finding evidence to support the position he or she already holds, usually for intuitive reasons…. But if you put individuals together in the right way…, you can create a group that ends up producing good reasoning as an emergent property of the social system.

I don’t believe that emergence is happening yet.

Assuming ebola does not turn out to be the 21st century version of the Black Death, people are going to be studying the transmission of ebola fear, misinformation and ignorance for decades. (On that point, check out Irwin Sherman’s engagingly flat recitation of “Twelve Diseases That Changed Our World.”).

Some preliminary data points, from a pool too wide to sample, even superficially.

— What is the DHS Secretary’s “real motive in refusing to restrict travel from West Africa?”  A writer on a website that boasts it has been thinking for ten years discovers “a link” between DHS Secretary Jey Johnson and black power politics. The argument is painful to unpack (you can read it here ), but the conclusion is “…the long-dead communist [Stokely] Carmichael’s dream of sticking it to ‘whitey’ via the White House and its apparatchiks is coming true.”   Michelle Obama is also partially to blame; but I could not quite figure out how or why.

— From Harpers – Giant Microbes, a web retailer, reported that its $9.95 Ebola plush toy, whose product tag describes the virus as “the T. Rex of microbes,” had sold out worldwide. I checked.  It’s true.  Giant Microbes can’t start shipping  ebola plush toys until mid-November.

— And hold those holiday travel plans. North Korea – wanting to upstage the United States again –  plans to ban foreign tourists because they might spread ebola.

— The Washington Post’s Fred Hiatt looks to save readers from researching who’s to blame for… well, ebola in America. Here’s what he’s gathered:

• President Obama, for caring about Africans more than he cares about us.
• Republicans, for starving the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention of funds so it could not prepare for Ebola.
• Michelle Obama, for tricking the CDC into promoting exercise and healthy eating instead of preparing for Ebola.
• Liberians.
• Republicans, for starving the National Institutes of Health of funds so that it could not discover a cure for Ebola.
• The NIH, for squandering the ample funds generously appropriated by Republicans on lazy bureaucrats and self-indulgent research.
• Democrats and Republicans, for forcing the NIH to spend money on illnesses with well-organized constituencies (e.g., cancer) and not in areas with the most potential return on investment.
• Sierra Leoneans.
• Republicans, for denigrating Washington so regularly that good people don’t want to serve in government.
• Democrats, for coddling government unions that drive good people out of government with mindless anti-meritocracy.
• President Obama, for not standing taller against denigration of government service or coddling of government unions.
• The World Health Organization, for missing the ball as the epidemic bloomed.
• Obama, for not listening to the World Health Organization’s warnings on Ebola.
• Anti-smoking activists, for pressuring the World Health Organization to detour from its core mission.
• Guineans.
• The National Rifle Association, for opposing a nominee for surgeon general because he wanted to reduce gun violence.
• Congress, for taking orders from the NRA.
• CDC Director Thomas Frieden, for not keeping that nurse off the airplane.
• NIH official Anthony Fauci, for not telling Frieden to keep the nurse off the plane.
• Obama, for not at least banning dogs with Ebola from airplanes ….
• Ron Klain. He was appointed Ebola czar …. Why hasn’t he solved the problem yet?
• Africans.

— Tara Haelle adds to the collection:

In one corner of the Internet, we learn that President Obama created the Ebola virus—or Obama-Ebola—to “infect the DNA of Christians and to destroy Jesus so that a New Age of Liberal Darkness can rise in America.” Obamacare, we are told, is the cover organization to find the cure, and the virus will infect all Americans in the next month.

In another corner, we learn that Ebola doesn’t actually exist at all. The disease currently raging through West Africa was brought there by the Red Cross, who injected people with an illness so that American troops could be sent to steal Nigeria’s oil and Sierra Leone’s diamonds. Another explanation is simple: All the negativity and selfishness in the universe caused Ebola. Yet another tells us that two women who died from Ebola have risen from the dead and that the zombie apocalypse is beginning….

Haelle claims the last rumor is not true.

— Andy Borowitz may have the most accurate reports.  Some of the headlines over his recent stories:

Man Infected with Ebola Misinformation Through Casual Contact With Cable News

Poll: Majority of Americans Favor Quarantining Wolf Blitzer 

Study: Fear of Ebola Highest Among People Who Did Not Pay Attention During Math and Science Classes

Christie Sworn in as Doctor  (Saying that he was “sick and tired of having my medical credentials questioned,” Governor Chris Christie (R-N.J.) had himself sworn in as a medical doctor on Sunday night.)

— Here’s something not as amusing. It’s from Mark Thiessen in the Washington Post:

Ebola has up to a 21-day incubation period — more than enough time for terrorists to infect themselves and then come here with the virus. In a nightmare scenario, suicide bombers infected with Ebola could blow themselves up in a crowded place — say, shopping malls in Oklahoma City, Philadelphia and Atlanta — spreading infected tissue and bodily fluids….  Or, the virus could also be released more subtly. Terrorists could collect samples of infected body fluids, and then place them on doorknobs, handrails or airplane tray tables, allowing Ebola to spread quietly before officials even realize that a biological attack has taken place.

There’s lots more of this “fearbola”.  But that’s enough for now.


We will all die.  Something’s going to get us at some point.  But what are the odds?

Justin Schumacher summarizes data from the National Safety Council on the odds of people in this country dying from a variety of causes.  His full list is here.    Some excerpts:

  • 1 in 5 [deaths]—Heart disease
  • 1 in 7 —Cancer
  • 1 in 23 — Stroke
  • 1 in 67 — Influenza, i.e. the flu
  • 1 in 112 — Car accident
  • 1 in 2,000,000 — Ebola (worldwide odds, so far)
  • 1 in 3,700,000 — Bitten by a shark
  • 1 in 10,000,000 — Hit by falling airplane parts
  • 1 in 20,000,000 — Killed by a terrorist

Not that data means that much to anyone whose mind is made up.


Three more children died in a school shooting on Friday.

It’s the 50th shooting this year and the 87th since the December 12, 2012 killings at the Sandy Hook Elementary School.

Also on Friday, two California sheriff’s deputies were murdered.

In 2011, 32,351 people died from firearms, that’s roughly 88 people a day.

… Gun violence — in schools, in workplaces and across our communities — has become virtually normal in America,” writes Eric Liu

It should not be. It cannot be. It is not normal, in a civilized nation, to have over 30,000 gun deaths a year. It is not normal, in a civilized nation, to expect educators and parents and first responders to have plans at the ready for a shooting at their school. It is not normal, in a civilized nation, to assert that the best solution to gun violence is for more people to have more access to more guns.


I know a guy whose 13 year old son, in passing, mentioned something about another boy in his class.

“Stacy said ‘It would be really easy to kill someone.  All you’d have to do is take a gun, pull the trigger, and there’s a bullet in their head’.”

Not a big deal.  My friend’s son didn’t feel threatened.

“He’s always saying stuff like that.  He likes to shock people. He doesn’t mean anything by it.”


So, what is a delusion?  Haidt again:

…a false conception and persistent belief unconquerable by reason in something that has no existence in fact.




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Comment by William R. Cumming

October 28, 2014 @ 9:12 am

Garbage in garbage out? Reason in reason out?

Chris and all: The largest systemic failure IMO so far was in the failure of the US response system to establish the RUMOR CONTROL function in any EOC or JIC! Am I incorrect?

Thus, I rate all communications efforts by officialdom an F grade!

By the way effective RUMOR CONTROL is one of many FIRST PRINCIPLES of EM!

Comment by Sally Chapma

October 28, 2014 @ 3:30 pm

Reallly?? First we had the esteemed lawmen from Texas telling us (on Fox news) that the children from South of the Border were bringing us Ebola. Then, when it actually appeared in Texas, they sent the poor guy home from the hospital and ignored his symptoms. Now we have Fox as well as all the talking heads ranting about Ebola nonstop. God forbid the government should even try to mediate that crowd. The media already thinks this administration is trying to oppress them. I can understand RUMOR CONTROL on a local level but this has gone viral (no pun intended)

Comment by Philip J. Palin

October 28, 2014 @ 4:20 pm


When I first read your post this morning, I liked it and thought I agreed with it. But as I have thought about it since, I have decided I still like the post (anything that keeps me thinking for hours after), but I take exception with what seems to be Haidt’s main point and one of yours.

I agree that “if you put neurons together in the right way, you get a brain; you get an emergent system that is much smarter and more flexible than a single neuron.” The analogy to individual and social reasoning is, I think, also helpful.

But I have perceived or reasoned or experienced that the capability of the individual “neuron” can be substantial and such individual capabilities can have significant influence over others in the social system.

I especially disagree that the one thing each individual is good at is, “finding evidence to support the position he or she already holds, usually for intuitive reasons.” I agree that this is all that many individuals seem to be good for. But these are sub-optimal neurons that have chosen — or not been given a full opportunity — to self-critically reason.

Individuals can engage in self-critical, open-minded, critical and creative reasoning. I have seen it with my own eyes, heard with my own ears. I have even been able to do it myself on occasion. I have even seen social groups come together and reason their way through enhanced observations and altered orientations. It is my judgment that this is more likely to happen when two preconditions are met: First, the participation of some critical mass of individuals who have a habit of reasoning; and Second, some continuing and substantive — especially co-dependent — social relationship among the participants. There are more preconditions that can help, but these two seem essential.

I do agree with you that this is an emergent quality and we do not have well-developed methodologies and technologies for encouraging the emergence. We are probably better at methods and techniques that produce pathologies. Which may also be implicit to your post and, if so, on this point once again I agree.

Comment by Christopher Tingus

October 28, 2014 @ 6:40 pm

Like the falling missile launch which was Not successful, however with perseverance and team planning and adherence to policies, the next will be a successful launch and so while from my perception, this nation should have already been prepared for Ebola or a devastating terrorist act using chemical weapons for instance, while we again see how government so improperly unprepared which is I agree frightening, let’s take this poorly defined response and make it an experience which will help those more familiar with such health issues and how best they can advise government, local, state and federal to be better prepared for any health related challenge….

We now not only have an ever increasing debt, but we have so, so much mistrust of government as never before and hopefully new leadership will begin to truly address the interests of “Main Street USA” rather than self-serving politicizing and agenda and by the way, why is our brave and decorated warrior still in a Mexican jail cell when reports of voter fraud, yes, illegals coming to the voting booth and voting! How wretched the desperate politicians have become, so corrupt in their mannerisms to see our laws and Constitution cast aside!

I will be at least one in voting to change the course of this nation and revisit the pride we have always felt for our nation and government until this “Chicago-Hollywood-Washington charade” unfolded making apology to thsoe seeking our demise!

Stay vigilant and demand accountability and transparency from our healthcare and government officials when it comes to any issue and especially issues such as Ebola and even more importantly, seeking detailed answers as to planning for a chemical attack for this nation is now open at its border and laws are unenforced as well as known terrorists, policy planners, released back to the enemy line to plan another attack at the whim of the White House – how outrageous….Enough is enough!

Now unfortunately expecting more Ebola cases to be reported….how unfortunate.

An unmanned NASA cargo rocket bound for the International Space Station explodes six seconds after liftoff from a launchpad in Virginia; it was not immediately clear if anyone on the ground was injured.


Comment by Christopher Tingus

October 28, 2014 @ 9:28 pm

Really? An administration who now many question as to its integrity and commitment to oath in serving this nation:

A memo obtained by Fox News indicates the Obama administration has been considering allowing non-American Ebola patients into the U.S. for treatment – though a State Department official on Tuesday denied any such plans.

The document was obtained by Fox News from a Capitol Hill source, who said it is a memo prepared by the State Department. The top of the document is marked “sensitive but unclassified – predesicional (sic).”


The “purpose” of the memo states: “Come to an agreed State Department position on the extent to which non-U.S. citizens will be admitted to the United States for treatment of Ebola Virus Disease.”

The document goes on to discuss – and advocate for — devising such a plan. The memo recommends that “State and DHS devise a system for expeditious parole of Ebola-infected non-citizens into the United States as long as they are otherwise eligible for medical evacuation from the Ebola affected countries and for entry into the United States.”

Explaining that recommendation, the memo says the U.S., for instance, has an “obligation” to help non-citizen employees of U.S. agencies and U.S.-based private firms. It says the U.S. “needs to show leadership and act as we are asking others to act by admitting certain non-citizens into the country for medical treatment for Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) during the Ebola crisis.”

The memo was obtained after House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., wrote to Secretary of State John Kerry and Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson a week ago asking if either department was formulating a plan to allow non-U.S. citizens with Ebola to come to the U.S. for medical treatment.

Goodlatte also told Fox News Monday night that his office had received “information from within the administration” that such plans were being developed. So far, only American Ebola patients have been brought back to the U.S. for treatment from the disease epicenter in West Africa.

Goodlatte warned that expanding that policy could put the country at more risk.

“Members of the media, my office have received confidential communications saying that those plans are being developed,” Goodlatte said Monday night. “This is simply a matter of common sense that if you are concerned about this problem spreading … we certainly shouldn’t be bringing in the patients.”

The administration, though, has denied planning to do so.

A State Department official said Tuesday that they’re only talking about letting other countries use U.S. planes to transport Ebola patients to their own home countries.

“There are absolutely no plans to MEDEVAC non-Americans who become ill from West Africa to the United States,” the official told FoxNews.com. “We have discussed allowing other countries to use our MEDEVAC capabilities to evacuate their own citizens to their home countries or third-countries, subject to reimbursement and availability. But we are not contemplating bringing them back to the U.S. for treatment.

“Allegations to the contrary are completely false.”

And on Tuesday, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest was asked about the matter and said “that certainly hasn’t happened so far — I don’t know of any plans to do that.”

A Goodlatte aide told FoxNews.com that “someone in one of the agencies” initially contacted their office with the tip.

In his letter last week, Goodlatte asked whether the administration is crafting such a plan, seeking details and communications among their employees.

The conservative watchdog group Judicial Watch also reported, shortly before Goodlatte sent the letter, that the administration was “actively formulating” plans to bring Ebola patients into the U.S., with the specific goal of treating them “within the first days of diagnosis.”

Fox News’ Mike Emanuel contributed to this report.

Comment by William R. Cumming

October 29, 2014 @ 8:26 am

Thanks SALLY! And all for post and thread. NPR has an interesting show on an historian pretending to be Tom Jefferson. Could a Jefferson be elected today even without his Sally?

Do we know now who is in charge for USA EBOLA efforts? Do we know who has what capabilities?

Comment by Mike Mealer

October 30, 2014 @ 4:50 pm

Emergent response developed from the functions of errant leadership in influential nodes. Errant leadership developed by the functions of esteem derived from emergent opinion in distinct groups.
Emergent opinion developed from the function of fear, reason, and desire.
Fear, reason and desire developed from the function of perception.
Perception developed from those unpredictable neurons…and probably our parents’ fault….
But then again, I do like the sources Chris cites.

Pingback by Homeland Security Watch » Ebola source sitrep 3

November 1, 2014 @ 6:19 am

[…] matters:  Chris’ Tuesday post – and Haidt’s claim — have clearly been on my mind all week.  For what it’s […]

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