Saturday, September 26, 2009

Health Care Workers Wig Out

Some, not all.

I'm reading Kevin Phillip's American Theocracy. Phillips (here's his Wikipedia entry) is a graybeard among right-wingers with a lot of campaign experience and time spent in Republican presidential administrations. He's also notorious among older lefties (he made my own personal enemies list a long time ago), but he's also an impressive thinker and generally behaves with real modesty and gentility.

Anyway, reading his books is an easy way to learn stuff and gain new perspective. I'm not very far into American Theocracy. but Phillip's framing of the Republican party of the last 20 years as the first religious party in US history is quite persuasive. And his grasp of the detailed way in which Christian fundamentalism has reshaped American political culture is very helpful.

So when I read this morning on the front page of The Washington Post that "Mandatory Flu Shots Hit Resistance" among health care workers, I'm thinking Phillips is right and, of course, the lunacy continues to spread.

One health care worker is quoted saying that she (he?) doesn't want to "be forced to take something [she doesn't] want to take." Apparently, she doesn't want to be a "guinea pig" for the swine flu vaccine. Another critic says we're on a slippery slope here; first it's vaccinations for health care workers, pretty soon it's going to be estrogen shots for everybody and we're all going to be hooked up to milking machines, I guess. And then there's always the my-body-is-my-temple line, which would be the beginning of a decent argument if it weren't for the fact that most temples are only averagely clean and probably harboring a surprising number of infectious things.

Even an SEIU spokesperson is sounding the alarm. "These mandatory vaccination programs are really sucking the air out of the room to deal with infection control in a more comprehensive manner," said Bill Borwegen, occupational health and safety director of the Service Employees International Union. "This is the worst time to be demoralizing health-care workers: when we need them to be on the front line of this epidemic."

But there is neither scientific evidence nor political theory of any sort that supports any of those arguments against mandatory vaccinations for health care workers. In the mini-series John Adams, Abigail Adams and a handful of little Adamses get vaccinated against smallpox. Pater John is in France seeking additional French assistance for the American Revolution and Abigail reasons that with only herself available to work the farm and care for her children a case of smallpox in the family could devastate their lives. So she decides to get everybody vaccinated, even after her doctor tells her that there is a decent chance that though the vaccinations would likely protect them, there is a small chance the vaccinations could also cause the illness.

The decision made, the doctor shows up at the farm hauling a nearly dead guy with open smallpox sores who seems too out of it to have actually agreed to be involved. In a fairly nauseating sequence, the doctor cuts open one of the man's fresher sores and scoops up the puss, then one by one, makes an incision in various Adams family arms and spoons in a little bit of the goo. One child gets a mild case, but recovers, and the family holds things together on the homefront. That was more than 225 years ago.

Given that turn of events, I'm tempted to argue (with equal illogic) with those who think that giving in to mandatory vaccinations is a step on the slippery slope that leads us to eroding freedoms and milk machines that John Adams was a key figure in the success of the American Revolution, that the health of the Adams family (the John Adams family) was a necessary component of Adams' effectiveness, that vaccinations helped preserve the Adams family, and that vaccinations are therefore a foundational part of our freedoms. But I would have to be even dumber than I sometimes look to make that argument with a straight face.

Still, given how long vaccination has been a proven medical approach to treating some diseases, it shows a severe deficit in what should be common medical knowledge for a contemporary health care worker to imagine themselves as a guinea pig in a vaccination experiment. And given that exposed, unvaccinated people get flus far more often than vaccinated people, it follows that health care workers are far more likely than the rest of us to contract the swine flu. Further, the primary collective responsibility of the 12 million health care workers in the US is providing health care to the other 310 million of us, so it makes sense that you wouldn't want them to get sick at a faster rate than the rest of us do. After all, "we need them to be on the front line of this epidemic." Therefore, we protect them first and best--we vaccinate them all. Duh.

Let me add here that I'd have less problem with a person saying, "I'm not getting vaccinated because I believe this whole swine flu-thing is a media hallucination," but nobody's saying that. In any case, every national health service in the developed world is calling for vaccination. That's pretty much equal to the absolute scientific certainty that we all evolved from apes and took a million years to learn to wipe our butts.

So what's American Theocracy got to do with this? Lots, but since I haven't actually thought this post all the way through, I'm just going to cite one of Phillip's very relevant and important observations:

"...the substantial portion of Christian America committed to theories of Armageddon and the inerrancy of the Bible has already made the GOP into America's first religious party.

"Its religiosity reaches across the board--from domestic policy to foreign affairs. Besides providing critical support for invading Iraq, widely anathematized by preachers as a second Babylon, the Republican coalition's clash with science has seeded half a dozen controversies. These include Bible-based disbelief in Darwinian theories of evolution, dismissal of global warming, disagreement with geological explanations of fossil-fuel depletion, religious rejection of global population planning, derogation of woman's rights, opposition to stem-cell research, and so on."

Phillips' deeper point, I think, would also note that not all of these examples of the Republican clash with science are manifested in religious terms. They are simply the outcome of a continuing argument against scientifically proven ideas that is older than the Catholic church's persecution of Gallileo for asserting that the sun was the center of the solar system.

Well, now you can add health care workers rejecting vaccination to the list of stupid fundamentalist arguments with real science; arguments that gain credibility because the culture has already been dumbed down. The notion that you can't vaccinate people and also remind them to wash their hands frequently might work if the people in question were infants, but we are talking adults here. Adults we are clearly going to have to contend with, even at the risk of losing IQ points.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Who Is In Charge of US Israel Policy?

Letter to the Washington Post

By my count, I've written 24 letters to the Post, one has been published so far. This is letter #23:

I know people who believe that US foreign policy is substantially determined by Zionists. I don’t share their opinion and frequently argue that it is counter-productive to focus on a Zionist “cabal” as the driver of American policy.

But two articles in Saturday’s Post provide substantial basis for argument that our Middle East policy is in the hands of people who are exceedingly deferential to Israeli wishes. “Israel Finds Strength in Its Missile Defenses” outlines the way advanced US military technologies are made available to Israel. In addition, the two countries conduct joint military exercises focused largely on Israeli needs and US readiness to “...stand behind Israel if it came under attack.”

All of this aid is only a small portion of the billions of dollars Israel (the number one US foreign aid recipient) receives annually in the form of grants and loan guarantees. It also occurs in the context of Israel’s illegal occupation of Palestinian territory and the relentless Israeli annexation, in the form of settlements, of Palestinian land. As “Envoy’s Mideast Trip Ends Without Accord” reports, George Mitchell’s recent diplomatic visit ended “…without reaching an agreement with Israel over limits on Jewish settlement in the occupied West Bank.”

The spectacle of the world’s sole superpower giving Israel billions of dollars a year while begging fruitlessly that Israel end its occupation of Palestine, end its annexations, and end its violations of international law, inevitably raises questions about who is in charge of US foreign policy. It should come as no surprise that the easy answer for some is “Zionists.”

Jeff Epton

Tuesday, September 1, 2009


It’s all in the history—
reason, the humid soul,
the dreaming and the haunting truth.
There is also wisdom
gone away, gone awry, gone with god.
And kindness, the eternal insufficiency.

With these things,
the world begins,
aspiring to completeness.
And we begin
yearning pursuit, our dramatic reach
seasoned by the classic,

the poke in the eye,
the stuttering tongue,
the stumble forward,
the puddling pratfall,
the heave and the hernia,
the ironic distance from self.

We flood by in our numbers,
living by codes of conduct, codes of honor,
codes of righteousness and faith,
leavened by repetitions,
by generations fresh from the old errors,
our moments of stunning forgiveness,

our exquisite caresses.