The current Ebola crisis has revealed the power of conspiracy theories and how they can prevent meaningful engagement in crisis situations. A major Liberian newspaper continues to churn out bizarre conspiracy theories about the mortality of Ebola patients and remains extremely popular. Pathogens seem to provide fertile ground for conspiratorial thinking as exemplified by similar challenges in eradicating polio in Pakistan and Nigeria due to conspiratorial rhetoric. It is easy to get exasperated at these conspiracy spinners but a more considered and analytical response is in order.
Conspiracy theories are a symptom of powerlessness. When people are unable to find answers or make sense of turmoil they latch on to whatever fanciful explanation makes sense. Several brands of conspiracy theories exist in modern societies. Some are fueled by a suspicion of science and an inability to reconcile complexity of knowledge. For example, questioning the lunar landing has created an entire industry of books and websites in the U.S. where people question whether science could achieve such a feat. Skeptics couple a suspicion of science with a suspicion of government; suspicion of authority is central to conspiracy theories.
There are theories that claim far more has been achieved in scientific knowledge than what the government is willing to reveal. This brand of conspiracy theorists is also very popular in the U.S. through a blend of science-fiction pop culture and clandestine military activities in the south-western part of the country. Contact with extra-planetary alien cultures is central to this group’s narrative. The town of Roswell, New Mexico, has become ground zero for this counter-culture. Hollywood has capitalized on this suspicion, perhaps even fueled it through popular TV series like The X-Files. I must confess being a fan of this series which ran for almost a decade. What fascinated me was how it took a grain of scientific fact or a true historic episode and wove a fictional web around it so deftly that even the most outlandish material could seem appealing to an informed audience.
Central to the success of conspiracy theories is some element of truth which may be stranger than fiction. Consider theories about doctored videos from Syria and Iraq which have surfaced in recent months. While there is little doubt regarding atrocities committed against women and minorities in the ISIS dominion, we should not dismiss the propensity for propaganda on all sides. For example, The Guardian revealed some years ago that during the Iraq war the Pentagon had entertained a suggestion to make a false video of Saddam Hussein having sex with a man which could be broadcast to discredit him. In another case, a photo-shopped video of an Osama bin Laden look-alike in a drunken stupor was actually filmed. According to The Guardian, the video “used some of the CIA’s darker skinned employees as extras playing the terror chief’s henchmen.” Thankfully, none of these ideas went forward but the mere fact that they were proposed gives us reason to pause.
One of the key reasons for the persistence of conspiracy theories has been the revelation that Cold War propaganda stories were actually true. 9/11 conspiracy theorists have capitalized on the existence of a CIA plan known as Operation Northwoods which aimed to commit terrorist acts in the US and blame it on the Cubans in order to gain sympathy for the US position on Cuba. President Kennedy rejected this plan but its consideration in declassified documents has been enough to give spur to 9/11 conspiracy theorists. Even with the current Ebola epidemic, one cannot ignore the perfidious history of pathogenic experimentation in which the US has been culpable in the past such as the syphilis experiments in Guatemala. Although times have changed, people need to be convinced cogently of the safeguards against such past indiscretions.
If there is any silver lining to conspiratorial thinking, it is a willingness to question what might seem obvious to the linear observer. As a scientist, I always consider such questioning to be positive. But when this curiosity becomes laced with predisposed dogma that has theological roots, it loses any charm. So let us all feel comfortable in questioning the establishment but not be paralyzed by paranoia. International behavior changes just as much as human behavior and we should always be willing to embrace positive change among countries. Countries such as the U.S. have to confront conspiracy narratives head-on and show how they have clearly changed in their modus operandi over the years. Foes of yesteryears can become friends today and we should cautiously focus on such positive transformation rather than languishing in the past.
Educators, parents, and condom manufacturers have worked to make safe sex appealing to young people for decades with minimal success – until now. Shadowing Coke’s marketing tactic, Poke’s “#ShareaCondom” campaign is enjoying similar success while also preventing unplanned pregnancy and STDs.
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OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — An American video journalist who recovered from Ebola at an Omaha hospital left the facility Wednesday afternoon and is heading home to Rhode Island, a hospital spokesman said.
Ashoka Mukpo, who contracted the virus while working in Liberia as a freelance cameraman for NBC and other media outlets, was released from the Nebraska Medical Center’s biocontainment unit around 9 a.m. He spent several hours meeting with staff members who treated him and left the hospital complex in the afternoon, spokesman Taylor Wilson said.
Wilson told The Associated Press that Mukpo, 33, would fly to Rhode Island on Wednesday evening but he was unable to provide details about those travel plans.
Hospital officials said Tuesday that Mukpo’s blood had tested negative for the Ebola virus.
Dr. Jeffrey Gold, the University of Nebraska Medical Center chancellor, read a statement earlier Wednesday in which Mukpo expressed his thanks to the Nebraska hospital medical staff.
“After enduring weeks where it was unclear whether I would survive, I’m walking out of the hospital on my own power, free from Ebola,” Mukpo said in the statement.
He also joked about the nurses introducing him while he was in isolation to the Runza sandwich — a regional favorite involving hamburger, cabbage and onion baked inside the bread.
The journalist arrived at the hospital Oct. 6 and was the second Ebola patient to be treated there. The first, 51-year-old Dr. Rick Sacra, has also recovered.
In his statement, Mukpo thanked Dr. Kent Brantly, who provided blood for a transfusion. Brantly, who caught Ebola while caring for patients in Africa and was treated in Atlanta, also donated blood to Sacra. Such transfusions are believed to help Ebola patients because antibodies in the blood of a survivor can help fight off the virus.
Mukpo also received IV fluids, similar to Sacra’s treatment. But Mukpo received an experimental Ebola drug called brincidofovir that was different from an experimental drug given to Sacra. Asked if that difference is why Mukpo spent less time in the Nebraska isolation unit than Sacra, one doctor noted that Mukpo’s age likely played a role.
“He’s about 20 years younger than Dr. Sacra,” said Dr. Phil Smith, medical director of the biocontainment unit. “It might have also had something to do with the amount of virus he had in his system. But I think his age was a big factor.”
Mukpo said he plans to write about his experience.
“I feel profoundly blessed to be alive, and in the same breath aware of the global inequalities that allowed me to be flown to an American hospital when so many Liberians die alone with minimal care,” he said in the statement.
Separately, NBC announced that its medical correspondent, Nancy Snyderman, has ended her 21-day quarantine period Wednesday and is healthy. The voluntary quarantine for Snyderman and her colleagues who reported from Liberia with Mukpo was made mandatory by health authorities when some of them were spotted getting takeout food.
NBC News President Deborah Turness said Snyderman has been encouraged to take time off and won’t return to work until next month. Some critics have called for her firing given the quarantine lapse.
Turness did not say whether Snyderman would return to covering Ebola.
McDonalds, that fast food giant that specializes in giving us both sensory ecstasy and heartburn at the same time, just announced that its earnings pl…
FORT COLLINS, Colo. (AP) — A Colorado county clerk has reversed her order that a university remove copies of its student newspaper from boxes outside its student union Tuesday because the front page had coverage of Democratic Sen. Mark Udall’s visit to campus.
Larimer County Clerk Angela Myers, a Republican, said the front-page photo and story about Udall’s Monday visit to Colorado State University was improper electioneering and should not be allowed near a polling place. The student center contains a drop-off box for ballots.
Myers later announced that the statute on which she based her decision is unclear and that she will allow newspapers traditionally available within 100 feet of polling places to continue to be distributed for the remainder of the campaign.
Myers said she was consulting with the secretary of state’s office about the statute’s intent. The statute bans candidate photos and other electioneering material near polling places.
“This was done with the best of intentions. I don’t care what side of the issues you are on or your political persuasion,” Myers said of her removal order. “I would love some clarity on this statute, quite honestly.”
An attorney for The Rocky Mountain Collegian earlier Tuesday sent Myers a cease-and-desist letter, arguing news coverage is not electioneering.
“It doesn’t make sense to me. It’s a newspaper doing its job, not a pamphlet saying, `Go vote for someone,’” said Kate Winkle, the Collegian’s executive editor.
Winkle said Colorado State employees helped move newspapers to other boxes farther from the student center and no papers were lost.
Udall is in a tight battle against Republican U.S. Rep. Cory Gardner that could determine which party controls the U.S. Senate. Republicans need to net six seats to take over the chamber.
Richard Nixon is famous for having recorded conversations in the oval office, and that led to some notoriously damning tapes of him. But what about th…
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While appearing on “The O’Reilly Factor” from Las Vegas, Rove whipped out his whiteboard to drive home some points about the upcoming midterm election.
When the political strategist finished, O’Reilly warned him not to bring the whiteboard into the casinos.
“I don’t gamble,” Rove said.
“With your prediction record, that’s a wise move,” O’Reilly cracked.
“Y’know that was personal and petty,” Rove said. “That was personal and petty.”
“That’s me,” said O’Reilly. “P and P.”
Back in 2012, after predicting a Mitt Romney win in the presidential election, Rove threw a fit on live television when Fox News called Ohio for President Barack Obama.
Fox was right and Rove was wrong, and the following spring he was still bristling over it.
It’s not clear whether Rove was joking with O’Reilly or genuinely stung by the re-opened wound. But between the two of them, only one was laughing… and it wasn’t Rove.
This may just be the best thing since cats learned to play piano.
The Supreme Court doesn’t allow cameras during oral arguments, and Justice Antoni…
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King James has returned home, and he’s brought a set of sweet headphones with him.
A new commercial for the $200 Powerbeats2 Wireless headphones from Beats by Dre features LeBron James back in his hometown of Akron, Ohio, training at the LeBron James Arena at Akron’s St. Vincent-St. Mary High School. James graduated from the school in 2003.
Set to the song “Take Me to Church” by Hozier and narrated by his mother, Gloria James, the lengthy ad also shows scenes from around the city.
James began his NBA career with the Cleveland Cavaliers, but famously split for Miami in 2009 with many in his home state accusing him of outright betrayal. After four years and two championships with the Heat, James is back in Ohio — and the long-form ad shows Akron embracing its prodigal son.
“It’s the birthplace, the roof that raised me, man,” James says in a trailer for the ad (yes, the ad has a trailer). “I mean everything to this city and the city means everything to me.”
Both spots end with the words “Re-Established 2014,” a play on the “Akron” and “Est. 1984″ tattoos that James sports on his shoulders, referring to the place and year of his birth.
The NBA season begins next week, with James’ Cavaliers playing its first regular-season game on Oct. 30 at home against the New York Knicks.
“That’s how long I want to live: 75 years …. Living too long … robs us of our creativity and ability to contribute to work, society, the world. It transforms how people experience us, relate to us, and, most important, remember us. We are no longer remembered as vibrant and engaged but as feeble, ineffectual, even pathetic.”
– From “Why I Hope to Die at 75,” by Ezekiel Emanuel, The Atlantic, Sept. 2014
In his final years, my dad was hospitalized several times. He had a blockage in his kidney. He fell and broke his hip. He passed away last year, finally succumbing to old age and cancer.
I thought of my dad when I read Ezekiel Emanuel’s article about his desire to die at 75. I thought of how much both of us would have missed had he followed Emanuel’s grim philosophy.
My dad lived well past 80. Despite his health issues, he continued to live a full life and never stopped teaching me valuable lessons right up until the day he died. My dad continued to be an excellent role model for me as I witnessed his resilience, optimism and gentle strength during all of the challenges he faced.
Contrary to what Emanuel believes, our memories of loved ones who have passed aren’t limited to their final moments. I have clear memories of my dad from when I was a child, a college student, starting my own business and family, going through my separation and divorce, and yes, during the last few years of his life when his health was declining. I cherish all those memories. Isn’t that true for most of us?
But it’s Emanuel’s limited definition of a full life that I find most distressing. He seems to believe that we are like machines, void of value when we are no longer producing at work or adding to the world’s knowledge.
Our value as human beings extends far beyond our productive capacity. It includes our capacity to love and be loved, our capacity to listen to others without judgment and with compassion, our capacity to make a difference for others, and even our capacity to appreciate the beauty of the world around us.
We can both contribute value and find value in life at any age.
The three keys to happiness are having quality relationships, having the ability to engage in activities that grab our full attention, and making a difference in the lives of others.
While all of these may alter somewhat as we age, it is still possible to have a full and productive life as long as we live. How might these three keys play out as we age?
1. Having Quality Relationships.
Sometimes as people age and their physical abilities decline, their relationships actually improve. We may have to give up some activities, freeing up more time to spend with loved ones. We also may also have less stress in our lives, making us more emotionally available to others.
In my father’s case, as his cognitive ability declined, he was able to access more of his emotions and his kind and loving nature fully emerged. He may have been less likely to give advice on how to solve a problem, but he was able to listen with his full attention and a caring heart so that often I could figure out my own solution.
So, as we age, the nature of our relationships may shift somewhat — as they do throughout our lives — but they can be just as meaningful. Older people can reflect on their lives and share with others the wisdom they have learned about what really matters and what does not. They can continue to shower family and friends with love and acceptance.
2. Having the Ability to Engage in Activities.
While the specific activities in which we engage may have to change over time due to increasing physical limitations, many people with functional limitations continue to thrive and enjoy their lives. Instead of focusing on what they can no longer do, those who age well tend to focus on what they can do. Physical limitations might preclude us from playing golf or tennis, but we can play bridge, paint, and try new things. As people of any age engage in new activities, learn new things, and meet new people, they often feel energized.
3. Making a Difference in the Lives of Others.
How we make a difference in the lives of others also will change as we age. Perhaps in younger years, they climbed on roofs and built homes for Habitat for Humanity. But as they age, they are still able to contribute money and expertise to causes they believe in. Retired businessmen work as volunteer mentors for SCORE, a nonprofit dedicated to helping small businesses get off the ground. Senior citizens volunteer to tutor children at local elementary schools. Plenty of people in their seventies, eighties and even nineties continue to volunteer or find other ways to make a difference in the lives of others.
Yes, mental processing speed, memory, and problem-solving abilities may decline as people age. So what? They might replace those talents with other valuable attributes like their ability to listen without judgment and a caring heart, or the time to really be with someone because they are no longer running off to the next productive task. Aging adults may think slower, but they have wisdom they acquired over the years that allows them to contribute even with reduced processing speeds.
We are not machines that need to be turned off when we are no longer economically productive. We are people, connected to other people, and with wonderful value outside of our productive capacity.
Why is spending time with our family less valuable then creating something new? You might be creating memories your children and grandchildren will cherish for years. Ten years after your death, I wonder which would matter more to them — the time they had with you in your later years or memories of your biggest lifetime accomplishment at work?
Why is accepting who you are and role modeling for those around you how to live as an older adult with grace and dignity less valuable then publishing another paper, making another sale, or completing another project at work?
Each stage of our lives comes with its own challenges, opportunities for growth, and personal sense of purpose. Maybe the purpose of our later years is not to be productive; maybe it is to serve in the role of elder statesman and to love and support those who come behind us. That was certainly a role my dad filled for me.
If we are able to serve in that role and have a strong relationship with our children when we die, our children won’t feel like a weight has been lifted, as Emanuel wrote, “… after a parent dies, there is much less pressure to conform to parental expectations and demands after they are gone.”
If we have exercised our capacity to establish loving boundaries and have lived our lives based on our values while treating our parents with respect, love and compassion, we will not feel relief when they die — only grief and loss. But we will also feel gratitude for the values and lessons they taught us. Their legacy will be a blessing, not a burden.
My dad’s final gift to me was showing me how to age gracefully and die with dignity. I hope to do the same for my children, no matter how long I live.
David Geller is the author of Wealth & Happiness: Using Your Wealth to Create a Better Life. He is CEO of Atlanta-based GV Financial Advisors and is available for professional speaking engagements.