Monday, April 27, 2009


I've been getting announcements about his new book Dread, and now progressive epidemiologist Philip Alcabes has some things to say about the current swine flu outbreak. In a post headed "Public Health, Not 'Preparedness'," Alcabes notes the difference between sane, sound public health measures and fake, reactionary "preparedness" scares such as those promulgated under the Bush administration.
Preparedness sprang from Bush-era rhetoric, aimed at putting the public into a permanent state of half-panic, by which we could be manipulated into supporting endless war (the "war on terror") and giving up privacy and civil rights.
Read the rest here. I can't resist adding, however, that this country really has no public health system to speak of, and never really will until a revolutionary change in the social system comes about. With health care in the hands of private profiteers and our tax dollars in their greatest part going to the Pentagon war machine, not medical care or any other human need, the apparatus to address any actual public-health crisis, whether this one turns out to be it or not, is lacking. How could it be done differently? We have only to look at our neighbor country of Cuba to see what a humane, sound and extremely effective public-health system would look like.

Well, that's my analysis, not Alcabes'. I'm sorry I can't make it to hear him tonight at Housing Works Bookstore: "Race, Implication and Infection: A conversation about how race fears shape the way people see and distort public health," with Harriet Washington. (UPDATE: I somehow got the date of this event wrong; it's next month, May 25. I'll post a reminder when the date approaches.)

Point of personal privilege note: in my as yet unpublished first novel, the protagonist's first love dies in the 1918 flu epidemic. The protagonist in her grief is tormented by the sounds of children playing hopscotch on the Passaic, NJ, sidewalks as they sing/chant this little ditty
I had a little bird
Her name was Enza
I opened the window
And In Flew Enza
which indeed children in this country actually did during the 1918 pandemic. Such are the coping mechanisms that arise in times of horror--I won't say it rises to the level of art, this macabre little rhyme set to little girls' hops and skips, but it does evince somebody's creative mind.