Cute and Crazy Cat Pictures, Late 19th-Early 20th Century: A Gallery Tour

By Jason Edward Harrington

“These unusual photographs of real animals were made possible only by patient, unfailing kindness on the part of the photographer at all times. Speed is essential in securing these pictures, but very often it is impossible to be quick enough.  Young animals cannot hold a pose any better than human babies, and the situation is complicated when they are called on to be precocious in situations naturally foreign to  them.”

-Harry Whittier Frees, in the preface to Animal Land on the Air

(Now we’ve made old timey cat meme shirts and hoodies, high quality, available in our Etsy store. No one else had thought to do that on all of Etsy, can you believe it!? Check ’em out, along with many other generally clever and funny apparel.)

Silly cat pictures. It didn’t take long after the internet really exploded onto the world scene for silly pictures of cats to come along and infect the entire thing, like a highly malicious, mind-controlling virus. Toxoplasmosis, perhaps. The primary culprits were “lolcats,” which were born somewhere in the bowels of  the 4chan forums, one ominous Saturday, or “Caturday,” morning circa 2005, best anyone can tell.

But did you know that extremely silly cat pictures have been around for a very long time? The infamous lolcat memes, with their patented, silly,  anthropomorphised pictures of cats aren’t nearly as new as you think. The man who really first nailed the nauseatingly cutesy formula as we now know it was a photographer named Harry Whittier Frees, an American photographer who lived from 1879-1953.

Frees dealt primarily in postcards and children’s books, wherein he dressed cats and other animals  in human clothes, posed them in human situations with props, and captioned the photos with old timey versions of things that passed for hilarious back then. Although he dealt with various species, for Frees, it all began and ended with cats.

He was sitting around the dinner table with his family in Audobon, Pennsylvania, back in 1906, when one of the family members passed a paper hat around the table. Each family member took turns wearing the hat, until the hat reached the family cat, at which point Frees rapturously cried “Eureka!”, assembled his old timey camera, and it was thus that silly cat photos were born, for the masses.

And it was Good.

Frees worked hard at his newfound calling in life, and ended up making quite a good living off of his silly animals dressed as people photos. He borrowed his four legged subjects from friends and neighbors, and actually found them quite difficult to work with: for instance, flies were terribly distracting to cats,  making for especially difficult photo shoots, and so he had to make sure there were no flies in his studio when doing his old timey shoots. He  worked only 3 months out of the year. The rest of the year, he actually spent recuperating from  his epic cutesy animal shoots, and meticulously planning the details for his next shoots. As you can see, some of them were, apparently, extraordinarily involved, to the point that they likely did require 9 months of post-shoot recuperation.

How long did it take to get that spot-on school teacher expression re: kitty on the left? Frees, you magnificent bastard.

His exposures were taken at 1/5th of a second, and two-thirds of the negatives had to be discarded. Over the course of his career, Frees became quite the expert in anthropomorphised animal photography. Noting that:

“Rabbits are the easiest to photograph in costume, but incapable ot taking  many “human” parts.  Puppies are tractable when rightly understood, but the kitten is the most versatile animal actor, and possesses the greatest variety of appeal.”

Two kittens on the left are clearly repulsed by the rabbit. One on the right wants a piece of that casserole. Bad.

“ The pig is the most difficult to deal with, but effective on occasion,” he once said.

(Note that the above caption is Frees’, not mine. Apparently, pigs really are extraordinarily difficult to work with, when it comes to playing dress up.  A hard, cold fact that Frees, along with all my ex girlfriends, certainly came to find out.)

Yes, back in the olden days, a photo such as this one–

-most likely had people laughing out loud, since back then all it took to elicit uproarious laughter from children and simple-minded adults was a picture of a cat dressed as a human asking an amusing question. These days, of course, humor has taken on  a much more sophisticated nature and-

-OK, actually, disregard that last part. Some things never change, it seems, and while Frees is commonly known as the first one to do the nauseating cutesy Lolcat thing in his own, very artistic…

…unquestionably quaint…

…sometimes eerie-

way, there was one man who was doing something  very similar even before Frees. And in a much more profound, epically  batshit insane manner. The Cat Master. The Godfather of Cutesy Cat Pictures…

Louis Wain- The Cat Guy


If Louis Wain were around today, he would probably be an internet meme superstar. Born in 1860, Wain was far ahead of his time in realizing one thing: people like absurd pictures of cats. At the age of 23,  after dabbling in  landscape and various animal-themed paintings,  Wain kicked off his career in cats by marrying a cougar, Emily Richardson, a woman ten years his senior.

The two lived together in a cozy little home in Hampsted, north London. Sadly, Emily soon began to suffer from cancer, dying just three years after they had tied the knot. It was during this period that Wain discovered the subject that would define his career. During her illness, Emily was comforted by their pet cat, Peter. Wain taught him tricks such as wearing spectacles and pretending to read in order to amuse Emily. He began to draw extensive sketches of the large black and white cat. He later wrote of Peter:

“To him properly belongs the foundation of my career, the developments of my initial efforts, and the establishing of my work.” (Many of Wain’s early cat paintings are, in fact, portraits of Peter.)

By that point, it was all over. Wain had zeroed in on his forte, and that was it: he painted nothing but cats for the rest of his life, descending into a monomaniacal feline obsession.

Yes, Wain went on to paint cats, all kinds of cats: asshole bourgeois cats-

-everyman soldier-in-the-trenches-of-war cats-

-cats going Paginini on a violin-

-cats going  Tiny Tim on a banjo-

cats smoking blunts-

Yes, it was just cats on top of cats for lil’ Wain, and his cat pictures were all the rage in Victorian England, often being used in prints, greeting cards and satirical illustrations.

Wain was a prolific  with an easel and a cat, producing as many as several hundred drawings a year. He illustrated about one hundred children’s books, his pussies appearing in papers, journals, and magazines, including the Louis Wain Annual, which ran from 1901 to 1915. His work was also regularly reproduced on picture postcards which are highly sought after by collectors today.

In 1898 and 1911 he was chairman, not surprisingly, of the National Cat Club, and was also an active member of  the Society For The Protection Of Cats. Towards the end of his life, he claimed that he had “helped to wipe out the contempt in which the cat has been held” in England. Indeed, Wain was quite the cat crusader, walking around England with kitty-tinted glasses. As Wain himself put it:

“I take a sketch-book to a restaurant, or other public place, and draw the people in their different positions as cats, getting as near to their human characteristics as possible. This gives me doubly nature, and these studies I think to be my best humorous work.”

Having obtained his doubly (emphasis his, not mine: yes, he was losing it) nature, as well as having established cat studies as an official humor category well over a century before lolcats was even an annoying twinkle in some asshole’s eye, Wain somehow managed to  descend even further into cat-based insanity, by actually going insane himself and being admitted to a squalid mental institute in London. (Mental illness  ran in his family; his sister had been admitted when Wain was 30).

Luckily for Wain,  he had developed quite a high powered fanbase by that point, one which included  H.G. Wells and the Prime Minister of England– he had developed Cat Powers that came with kitty strings– strings that no less than H.G. Wells and the Prime Minister of England pulled to  bail him out of  there (no, I’m not making this up .)

Wain’s high profile benefactors had him transferred to a much more pleasant crazy house, the Napsbury Hospital, just north of London, which came replete with -–you guessed it-– a colony of cats. It was there that Wain lived out the rest of his life, presumably in bliss, because really, what more can one ask for than a mental institute to call home, a paint brush and easel, and a colony of cats. Today, his paintings are actually used in psychology classes to illustrate an artist’s descent into schizophrenia.

Many modern day medical experts speculate that Wain’s schizophrenia  may have been brought on by toxoplasmosis, a parasitic infection often carried and transmitted by warm blooded animals, but most often by…must I even say it? (Cats.)

See his descent into madness, captured, oil on canvas, below…

“During the onset of his disease at 57, Wain continued to paint, draw and sketch cats, but the focus changed from fanciful situations, to focus on the cats themselves.”

Hearing voices at this point.

OK, who gave the cat acid?

“Characteristic changes in the art began to occur, changes common to schizophrenic artists. Jagged lines of bright color began emanating from his feline subjects. The outlines of the cats became sever and spiky, and their outlines persisted well throughout the sketches, as if they were throwing off energy.”

“Soon the cats became abstracted, seeming now to be made up of hundreds of small repetitive shapes, coming together in a clashing jangles of color that transform the cat into something resembling an Eastern diety.”

“The abstraction continued, the cats now being seen as made up by small repeating patterns, almost fractal in nature. Until finally they ceased to resemble cats at all, and became the ultimate abstraction, an indistinct form made up by near symmetrical repeating patterns.”

And finally, all together now, this is the official progression that many psychologists use in classes to illustrate an artist’s descent  into schizophrenia:

And that, my friends, concludes this field trip.

Psycho-critique from Cornell University.

Phew this article was no joke, despite the many jokes! If you liked this and/or my other work, any nod to the tip jar via Buy me a Coffee apprecicated!

Suicide and Blogging

Trigger and TMI Warning: Turn back now.

I am suicidal.

Absolutely and without doubt, here at the age of 41– I never thought I would write these words. Think them. Laughed at the thought of even checking the “suicidal” box when visiting a psychiatrist for a prescription. But from now on, for the forseeable future, certainly, I will be checking that box without a moment’s thought, to hell with whether it means the doc will give me my favorite sleeping medication or not. Things have gotten really, really bad.

Those of you who read what I considered to be my coming out post, where I briefly detailed the situation I am in, which has been devolving for about six years now, ever since I failed to deliver on my part for a book deal with Penguin/Random House, and became, essentially, a man on the run, owing well over 30,000 dollars for an advance given to me to write a book I never even got halfway through, will have some idea where I’m currently at in this almost comical, absolutely disastrous chain reaction that struck me, as luck would have it, just in time for my midlife crisis.

For those who didn’t read that post, the long and the short of it is this: I am addicted to synthetic heroin. I am functionally trapped in Colombia, in the same neighborhood in which Pablo Escobar grew up, currently still a dangerous neighborhood. I saw a man shot in the chest three times next to my apartment building, in front of a butcher’s shop, blood pooling on his chest as it drained from his face. I have been addicted to various opioids since the onset of the pandemic– I was so terrified of running out of money, trapped in Colombia with no family who could help me from afar– I have almost no family that I have ever kept in touch with, besides my mother, who is 84 and in a nursing home– that I worked and applied to as many online jobs as possible. Some of them were so mind-numbingly monotonous that I turned to codeine to numb me, so that I could put in 10 hours and actually save each month. Protection from going broke in the middle of COVID, while trapped in Colombia. As explained in the prior post, the seriousness of the codeine addiction did not manifest itself until I found myself having to pee every 30 minutes, all night long, into the morning, and through the whole next day. I couldn’t pee standing up. Talk about emasculating, huh. To make it worse, what felt like a full, urgent bladder of urine always turned out to be just a trickle, which I had to strain so hard to get out that my back was constantly thrown out. Then the middle-of-the-night opioid withdrawal wake-ups started, once I figured out a medication (for prostates, oddly enough. Long story) that allowed me to sleep 2 hours at a time. When I went two hours without a swig of liquid codeine, in my sleep, and then woke up, I woke in withdrawal so bad that it can not be explained in words. The best I can describe it as, without writing an entire book (which I am almost done with) is that you wake up with every dark thought possible smashing you in the stomach, in the darkest void of hopelessness you ever thought possible, and with the certainty, absolute certainty, that you are going to take your life fairly soon. There is no doubt in your mind that this is what will happen. It is only now, you think, that you are awake without being drugged up, experiencing your reality as it really is, that you can see your life for what it is: headed for an end, at your own hands, and thank god for the peace it will bring. In your head, you start writing the various suicide notes that you’ll need to send out. You even begin thinking of highly logistical things that only someone who is dead serious about this endeavor would consider. For example, when I considered hanging myself from my balcony, I decided I would tape a garbage bag around my waste, due to the fact that hanged people are known to always empty their bowels after death. I didn’t want to go out being the asshole gringo who rained shit droplets on the heads of passersby 16 stories below, causing bursts of angry Spanish. The list of these hyperrealistic and pragmatic details that churn in the suicidal mind goes on, down to how clean your apartment should be, minimum, before you go, and whether or not you should just cut your debit card in half (a HUGE and fateful decision to make if you’re living in Colombia, where that debit card is your only access to money) before you do it. Once the debit card is gone, living abroad like this, hell, you’re nearly locked into it, like it or not, at that point.

Then a substance abuse specialist, whom I went to out of desperation, crying my eyes out (I am the type of person who will only go to a doctor if I see there is no other choice, unless I don’t mind dying soon, and I was that positive that I would take my life within a month or two if what I’ve described kept going) explaining to her that I spent all day swigging codeine to ward off the withdrawal, as well as straining, screaming, over empty detergent bottles, to release my little trickles. With all this addiction trouble, combined with the self-inflicted death of every childhood dream I’d ever had with my abandonment of the book deal I had been blessed (or cursed. The full story of that book deal, and the bidding war which warped what should have been a straight forward book into an utter mess of a proposed autobiography), at my age of 37, which I in no way felt ready to write, provides a pretty good and understandable answer to the obvious question: WHY THE HELL DID YOU ABANDON A BOOK DEAL WITH A MAJOR PUBLISHER, A HIGH PAYING DEAL AT THAT. That whole story takes about 5 pages to tell, takes a lot of delving into the insane big league publishing world, and is also in the autobiography I am currently close to finishing: “How I Abandonded a Book Deal, Ran to South America, Partied Away the Advance. And How You Can Do it Too!” (I am honestly thinking of just selling it for 99 cents on Amazon, if not for free somehow, as I am sure the publishing industry has me on a blacklist in bold letters by now, and I am not interested in money, as much as making sure I live on for many more years, in my written way). Anyway, the substance abuse specialist wrote me prescription for methadone, blithely mentioning that I should stay on it for the rest of my life once I started. She didn’t realize, somehow, being a native of this city, that I could get 20 boxes of month-long supplies of methadone delivered to my door, without any prescription, by any number of the corrupt Colombian pharmacists right on my block, alone. I have video evidence of this, in case anyone ever wants to see how easy it is to get, say, 300 xanax or klonopins passed to you under the counter just by asking, or 10 boxes of oxycontin delivered straight to your front door at 9 AM, or 200 Vicodins (which, to be fair, are actually legal here) handed to you at any drug store in the city. Within a week I had my two methadone pharmacists, who just drove their own cars to my apartment to drop my methadone, basically synethetic heroin, off. At first, as you can imagine, this was a disaster. But little by little I’ve fought back, and I’m at least proud to say, I am now only taking one 40 mg methadone pill per 24 hours, finally, as you are supposed to. Which was cause for celebration when I first finally got back on track, as it were. A moment of pride which lasted two days, before the obsidian-black depression just seeped back in to melt the short-lasting pride I felt.

At any rate, this site was supposed to be little more than a place to store my portfolio. Every piece of writing I had ever constructed. Like a digital business card cum portfolio. But here I am. The writer in me just couldn’t help himself, and I had to start pouring the most painful and embarrassing, dark and urgent facts of my life onto this site. But I’ve realized something.

For someone who is truly at just about the lowest point in their life, and honestly thinking of just disappearing, rather than facing the utter disaster of a life one has made for themselves, a public blog is a bad place to talk about your dark/suicidal thoughts, for oh so many reasons. The biggest reason being that, although all the readers of the last piece were nice enough to just skip reading it (I admit I did choose an odd title and angle going into it, ha, but I was nervous), read it and not say anything, or (and thank you) read it and give it a like, if I continue splashing words on the page in this state, eventually a troll will come along. Or perhaps even someone who means well, but unleashes a barrage of damaging words. That is, after all, how so many suicidal bloggers, YouTubers, streamers etc. in the past have ended up taking the plunge into the abyss: one or more of their “fans” urged them to go on and do it, and stop talking about it. And they then did it.

So this is going to be the last blog post, even though it was only the second, chronicling my struggles with extreme, opioid and careere failure-induced depression. I’ve decided it’s certainly better to stop talking about it, than to go on and do it. And I should be talking to a professional about these issues, working on putting these experiences down in a piece of art (a book), at least. Not wallowing in them on a website, and just waiting for that one troll to come in, like the hot sizzling end of a lit wick attached to a bundle of dynamite.

(NOTE: This site is titled Vet Career Strategist, because I am halfway through my certification to be one. For now my second autobiography about how I failed to write the first autobiography is priority number one. I’m not positive if I’ll continue down the Vet Career Strategist path or not. Although I have a feeling posts such as this one have made my decision for me. Ha. I will likely continue to be a starving, and strange, writer for the rest of my life).

I will give you all any updates on my dark situation, if they are positive. Until then, I’ll continue posting everything I’ve ever written and or had published, as well as make the occasional commentary. I am slated to return to the U.S. in six months, to sleep on the couch of an old friend for a month or so. After that, I have no idea what I’ll do. Besides check into the nearest methadone clinic ASAP and get into their counseling services as well.

(Now I’m wondering if WordPress has an algorithm that detects posts like this and automatically emails the suicide prevention hotline number and an uplifting message to the blogger. Ha. As bad as things are (and I haven’t properly explained or gone into nearly sufficient detail of my situation, for everyone who is confused about so many things) I just have to find humor in this, being a humor writer.

“I laugh to stop from cryin,” a blues great one sang.

Now, may the clients for writing/editing/career strategy come pouring in!

If you dig the things I do here, feel free to jingle a jangle in the tip jar, at my Buy Me a Coffee Page

I’ve lived in Colombia for 6 years. This is the view from my balcony every morning.


I was supposed to leave Colombia 3 years ago, but the pandemic stopped me. I became trapped in Colombia, which, as you can imagine, was fine by me. Medellin has the nicest people, perfect weather all year round, currency that makes a meager US income a person of wealth, and, honestly, some of the most beautiful women in the world.

Now I am going to type something I have been despairing over, in terms of whether or not I should do it. While we were locked down, I became addicted to codeine, little by little, at first as a way to help me power through my boring job, then as a sort of replacement for beer. I would have a six pack of codeine in the fridge everyday, the same way one would have a sixer of beer. Little did I know, the beginning of the end of my life, as I had known it, was upon me.

In addition to this, I had attained, several years prior, a book deal with Random House, for an autobiography. I failed to deliver it, and simply stopped all communication with them. I still owe them a sizeable advance, which I burned through during 2 years of self demolishing Medellin super models and cocaine partying. I ruined my chance to be an author, for many complex reasons I am writing about in my current, and likely, final autobiography.

The liquid codeine ended up hurting my body so badly that I could only pee sitting down, and had to do so every 20 minutes all night long. I took to peeing in empty detergent bottles bedside. I had to scream, so hard did I need to strain to get what would turn out to be only a trickle of urine, which seemed to relieve me, until 20 minutes later, when I was awoken again by the pressing need to urinate, and had to do it all over again.

This could not go on, or I would off myself within a few months of this nonstop hell. I also soon came to find out what happened if I went a night without codeine: the worst imaginable withdrawal. So terrible, heart racingly, suicide-inducing, that I will leave any attempt at a full description of how bad the hellfire, I had dubbed it, was. I went to a toxicolologist here, desperate and crying. She prescribed me methadone, in this nonstop, fatal, comedy of errors which, it turned out, I could get from any of the pharmacies on my block here, under the counter, or delivered to my front door. Every prescription drug on earth, every opiate, benzo– anything you can imagine, vicodin, morphine, methadone, oxycontin– can be easily delivered to your front door by a corrupt pharmacist.

So now, I am addicted to methadone– what is supposed to be the drug that helps opiate abusers– essentially, I am hooked on synthetic heroin. It is harder than heroin to quit, due to its long half life. Every morning is hell, a dark swirl of suicidal thoughts and regrets and the certainty that nothing remains me for, now that I have ruined everything, here at the age of 41. I will stop typing for now. Getting this out and pressing publish was hard enough. For more backstory on me, to get an idea as to how the book deal happened and what I was before all this, read my Wikipedia page (no, I didn’t make it. I was shocked to discover it myself). I will continue to document my struggles, which I am sure wil not end well, almost certain, if there is an audience for it. I am living in hell, I do not feel ready to go back to the U.S., largely because I have almost no family or friends to go to, and although methadone is bad, I fear the most what would happen if, in a state of devastating withdrawal/hellfire, I bought fentanyl off the streets of Chicago, or even heroin, along with a needle. I am living in hell, surrounded by paradise. I would amputate both my arms to go back in time…how I would…

And yes, I’m sure the job offers will come pounding on my door, now. I have given up the button-up writer for hire thing, as you can tell, and am giving you the real. Now…publish…god help me…

A Thing I Published #22: Vanity Fair

Writing for Vanity Fair was pleasant. Very nice editor, smooth process. So smooth I no longer even remember any of it, to be honest. But now that I just read this again, I realize I was writing about the potential of viruses breaking out at airports and measures to stop them. In 2014. I believe I was right: they were searching for symptoms of Ebola, with largely useless tactics, which is a completely different ballgame from COVID. Anyway, here goes another blast from the past.



OCTOBER 31, 2014

Image may contain Human Person Clothing Apparel Glasses Accessories and Accessory

On Monday, New Jersey governor Chris Christie defended his decision to detain health-care worker Kaci Hickox under a New Jersey Ebola quarantine policy similar to ones adopted by several states with this cheerful quote: “Any of us have seen people who are traveling and they’ve been stopped, whether they are late for a plane or whatever they are doing, they get upset and angry. That’s fine. I have absolutely nothing but good will for [Hickox] going forward. She’s a good person and went over and was doing good work over in West Africa.”

For six years, I was one of the Transportation Security Administration agents who stopped airline passengers at checkpoints, regularly making them both upset and angry. Often, as Christie suggested, they were late for their planes. Usually, I was stopping them from doing important things for very stupid, federally mandated reasons. For instance, over the course of my duty I sometimes had to look airline pilots in the eye and tell them, with a straight face, that it was necessary to confiscate items from their carry-ons due to the possibility that the items could potentially be used to hijack their own planes. I did this supposedly in the interest of the safety of the American public. After such confiscations, I used to turn to my fellow T.S.A. agents and speculate about the chances the pilot would swing the plane around and crash it into the airport for revenge.

The nail-clipper confiscations, as with most official actions on airport checkpoints, were security theater, much like the quarantine measures that health-care workers such as Hickox are now being subjected to at some entry points around the United States.

If I were a federal agent at a U.S. airport tasked with enforcing some of the recently implemented policies that travelers arriving from Ebola hot zones be checked for Ebola-like symptoms, the first thing I would wonder is if my job even made any sense. We know that Ebola is not terribly contagious until the patient is quite ill. A passenger like Thomas Eric Duncan, who flew to Dallas with Ebola incubating in his body and lied about his close contact with a dying Ebola patient just days before, could not have been singled out by any kind of Ebola spot-check: the infected exhibit virtually no symptoms when the virus is incubating. In yet another example of an airport security measure straight out of Catch-22,the fact of the matter is that a traveler carrying the Ebola virus in its early stages cannot be identified by superficial security checks (and is not much of a threat to the general population), while a person carrying the Ebola virus in its advanced, contagious stage can be detected by travel security checkpoints (but is often too sick to travel anyway).

All of this would perhaps be less absurd if the tools with which officials were attempting to detect the virus at airports weren’t completely useless. Much like the largely ineffective full-body scanners we employ at T.S.A. to attempt to detect concealed weapons on passengers, finding incubation-stage Ebola in a crowded airport amounts to a taxpayer-funded search for fleas conducted through a shattered magnifying glass.

The thermal no-contact fever detectors in place at a lot of airports report an alarmingly number of false positives, as one 2011 scientific study reported. The scanners do not measure body core temperature, the essential indicator of a febrile response to infectious disease; rather, they detect skin-surface temperature, which can change based on many factors unrelated to illness such as sunburn, room temperature, and even emotional states, as an enraged Hickox claimed when her skin temperature reportedly rose, right along with her temper, as the wheels of bureaucracy creaked into motion and deposited her into a quarantine. Back in 2010, we at the T.S.A. quietly used thermal imagers on crowds at O’Hare airport. Agents I spoke to who were in charge of running the scanners at the time used to say that thermal-imaging duty was a joke: they claimed the technology was so poor as to make it all but a complete waste of time.

Governments have tried in the past to utilize airport security as a means by which to contain viral outbreaks, and we have studies to prove how ineffective those efforts were. A 2003 Canadian report on the SARS outbreak and the accompanying airport-screening measures put in place to stop the contagion showed that the extra security didn’t detect a single case of the virus. At best, the Ebola spot-check would work if all passengers behaved honestly at all times. As soon as someone hides or chooses to opt-out of disclosing the fact that he or she was recently in the vicinity of a potentially Ebola-infected area or person, the integrity of the security system collapses (fevers controlled through the use of medication could similarly foil these efforts). In essence, Ebola interrogations amount to a new iteration of, “Did you pack your own bags? And have you been in possession of your bags at all times?,” asked of passengers by airline security since the 1988 Lockerbie bombing. No one is likely to want to admit to having been near an Ebola hot zone at an airport security checkpoint knowing that such a disclosure might lead to a three-week quarantine. The only thing that such honor-system questioning really accomplishes is hassling people and causing delays.

And the biggest problem with quarantine measures, like the grandma and grandpa full-body pat-downs mindlessly administered day in and day out by the T.S.A., is that we are hassling and delaying precisely the wrong people. The one problem I’ve always had with the term “security theater” is the connotation of playhouse harmlessness. We all have to put up with a little annoying bureaucracy in times of national danger. So goes the typical rationalization offered by politicians. But, as any cost-benefit analyst will tell you, the bureaucratic tangles that result from such security theater can have very real, even deadly effects.

study in Applied Economics on the unintended consequences of post-9/11 airport security found that the substitution of driving for flying by those seeking to avoid the ever-increasing security inconveniences likely resulted in more than 2,000 road fatalities from 2001 to 2005. Senseless attempts to make air travel safer by confiscating the carry-on items and bottled water only gave people incentive to road-trip to their destinations, greatly increasing their chances of death. Security theater isn’t just some harmless bureaucratic placebo and fact of modern-day life: it can discourage activities and behavior in such a way as to have real, pernicious effects upon society. The health-care workers upon whom the senseless quarantine measures have fallen the hardest are angry, and rightfully so. The measures will do nothing to secure the U.S. from the threat of an Ebola outbreak; they will, in fact, only hamper the very real efforts of the people we’re depending on to quell the outbreak.

Like telling a pilot she can’t be trusted to safely maintain control over a pocket knife while she flies a 747, whisking courageous health-care workers away into quarantine on the pretense that they are incapable of monitoring their own health is not only absurd, it is downright insulting, and possibly even dangerous.

%d bloggers like this: