Thursday, 12 August 2021

Just Take It!


It was just over two years ago that I boiled over, irritated by what anti-vaxxers were doing to the children of the world. In that year, I learned that 207,000 people had died of measles whilst, during that same period, less than 100 people died of polio. The contrast makes you want to weep.

What was so special about polio? Nothing. It was, simply, that the campaign to immunize against it was effective, as it was supposed to be. Despite the antics of groups like the Taliban and Boko Haram, most at-risk children received their anti-polio immunization, thereby avoiding premature death and, for those who did not die, the long-term disabling effects of the infection.

Anti-vaxxers pick their target well. The MMR (the measles, mumps rubella) vaccine complex has a certain cachet that makes it a favoured subject among the chattering classes whilst, for polio, its appalling grotesqueness disqualifies it for discussion in decent society.

When I wrote that blog in 2019, no one had any idea that in 2020-2021 (and perhaps beyond) the world would have become a very scary place, gasping for survival against an existential threat. Well, not everyone. Some people, just a few, perhaps, were paying attention. They probably lost hours or even days, of sleep in their bid to warn us that a big one was on its way, an assessment that was based on common-sense calculations and, of course, historical precedence. In the decade before, we had had to face the challenges of by H1N1, SARS, MERS, and Ebola, all of which now seem, in retrospect, mere trial runs for this, this near-apocalypse.

Of course, we love apocalypses. But only as entertainments in their filmic versions. Nevertheless, they serve as teachable moments. They tell us that apocalypses transpire when the leader, usually a ‘big man’, puffed up by self-importance, considers himself the master of the universe and ignores all warnings until, too late, the world around him tumbles into chaos and drags the rest of us with him into the morass.

Our situation today is frightening, and indeed very different from that during 2019. Then, by and large, we were able to distinguish between truth and lies, between fact and fiction. Between what is good for the public on the one hand and what is self-aggrandizement on the other. Yes, indeed, we could. But, since 2019 and even before, the public mood changed, especially in countries which count themselves advanced, but where events like the chaos surrounding Brexit and Donald Trump’s sustained assault on decency and civility have confused and unhinged the world.

But in 20/21, two major pathologies threaten us. One is biological. The other, a crisis of confidence in ourselves. The biological one is easy enough to understand, although the other one crosses the line and tramples all over the medical and science territory in a raucous debate about the nature of COVID-19, incorporating peculiar notions such as that the virus is a construct deliberately fabricated and released into the world to unsettle adversaries. Your classic conspiracy theory with all the bells and whistles and just another facet of the present-day conflation of fact and fiction. However, just consider: 205,848,576 people, worldwide, have been infected by Covid-19, and over 4 million have died from it in wave after wave. These figures are probably under-estimates, as governments, notoriously, massage their country’s statistics so as to look good and con their tribal followers.

But in whatever way you slice and dice them, the figures could, unquestionably, be much, much better if vaccines, now available, were taken up by the majority of the population when offered. But resistance, or to be more woke, ‘hesitancy’, hampers the project.

“Just take the blasted thing”, I say.

Tell Fren Tru

Friday, 19 February 2021

The Lie That is America

The Republic is three hundred years old and yet it still has trouble with equality. Whenever the idea is brought up, the entire nation suffers a nervous breakdown. On recovery, it reverts to one of its old and tired shibboleths… “We hold these truths to be self-evident……”

Generation after generation has latched on to the idea of American Exceptionalism a concept that has been hammered in, persistently enough, so much so that it has become more or less the running title of another narrative: the “American Mosaic”. What got the show going initially points directly to the republic’s founding document that was inaugurated at a 4th of July congress in 1776, in which it was declared, loftily, almost to the point of parody, that,  When in the Course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation, etc, etc, etc...” Followed by breathtakingly over-the-top baloney, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security. — Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world...

A fly on the wall at that congress might easily have thought: ‘Mmm… these guys are riding really high morally and would see no difficulty in getting all of the people free. All, including the black African slaves. All what’s stopping them from doing so is that mad, bad, King George’.

That would have been one wrong fly.

I quote the foregoing extensively because, anyone living within the borders of America would, at first sight, feel jolly pleased that he has been born in one of the best, if not the best place on earth, a land in which the rivers run with milk and honey. But he, like that fly on the wall would be utterly mistaken.

Thirteen years after gaining independence, the Establishment were at it again. They drafted another document, this time, a Constitution, that purported to set out the ways and means for governing the United States. Again, the language is lofty, as it should be. But, unfortunately, the loftiness disguises the true intent of its provisions, namely, to preserve and protect private property, but was completely unfit for the purpose of protecting all of its people. And continues to so fail ever since, despite numerous tinkerings.

We the People of the United States”, it began, “in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America".

But eighty years later, enjoyment of that justice, that tranquility, domestic or otherwise, or any of those blessings of liberty, that the document bragged about, still eluded Blacks in America, whilst the white burghers, who had drawn up the document, were free to live their lives, without the hateful oppression from the English crown, but which, at the same time, apparently gave them permission to oppress other human beings, with consciences eased by selective readings of the Bible. Anyway, however they justify their behaviour, the system was based on an economic model built around the serfdom of Black Americans, a system that enabled slave masters to accumulate wealth, unencumbered by constitutional doublespeak. It is unlikely that in their new Republic, they did not recognize the irony in their posturings about the rights of man. It took the urgency of a civil war that was not going well for the Union side, for their leader to reluctantly come up with a feeble emancipation document that was, purportedly, intended to free black people living in the secessionist states. But that document was only a tactical move that had the objective of undermining the military fitness of the rebellious states, whose home front depended heavily on the free labour of enslaved Blacks that allowed the rebels to apply their energies in full at the frontline. In the end, however, by the 13th Amendment, “emancipation” was proclaimed throughout the United States. But it was just smoke and mirrors. In the post-bellum Reconstruction interlude that followed, the secessionist states passed black codes laws that systematized the control and exploitation of black bodies. It soon became obvious, even to the Congress, that the 13th Amendment did not do its intended job and therefore needed its deficiencies corrected by a 14th and 15th Amendment. Neither of these amendments made any significant difference to the condition of black people in the Southern states, but instead, provided the platform for the states’ segue into the Jim Crow era that lasted till the mid-twentieth century. Some people are not even sure that Jim Crow is truly over, with the enduring limitations on social and economic justice, and continued lynchings by law-enforcement or their deputies.

In any event, as always, history took its shambolic way on to the fifties and sixties. These decades were the darkest of what the West loved to call the Cold War, a period when America was trying to convince anyone who would listen that its social and economic order was superior to the Communist bloc’s. But, under the skeptical gaze of the rest of the word, America’s fraud on its Black population was revealed for what it was. It was a most public revelation that played out on the streets and the screens of the new medium, television, and organized by a coalition of Black and White activists. Grudgingly, the nation was forced to honor, but only in part, what Martin Luther King called ‘the promissory note‘ that the nation’s founders and architects had signed, and to which every American was a supposed beneficiary.  But King’s ‘bank of justice’, on which the check was to have been drawn was truly bankrupt, morally, and the Republic had failed to deliver.

Two decades on, America remains prisoner to its lie. The country’s Black population is subject to a regime that is no different from that of its post-reconstruction era. Blacks are still being lynched openly in the public domain and gunned down in their beds as they sleep. White families enjoy a staggering ten-fold advantage in wealth over Black families while, in 2014, Black lives were shorter by an average of more than 31/2 years, a disparity that is linked directly to the economic under-privilege.

So, neither the Declaration of Independence, nor the Constitution nor any of its amendments or other proclamations of equality and the Rights of Man perform as advertised.

February is a month for reflection on these things.

Tell Fren Tru


Friday, 25 December 2020

Health Maintenance in a Pandemic


The telephone rang. It was the doctor. I hadn’t been to see her in over a year. I should have, of course. If only for the obligatory annual check-up. It was not that I was being neglectful but, like just about everybody else, I couldn’t just walk into the doctor’s surgery as in the before-times. The times have changed so much in the last few months that hospitals and doctors’ offices have become no-go areas for the relatively healthy. The need must be truly urgent for one to brave the hazards, real or merely perceived, of entering an Emergency Department, a clinic or doctor’s office. So, unless one was practically keeling over, one tries to avoid such establishments in the way that one would try to avoid the... plague. The ultimate version of social distancing.

Our way of being is changing fast for better or worse, the relationship with our doctors being among the first casualties. And of course, not all caring institutions are the same. Some, or even many, are anything but, becoming instead, either by accident, or even design, places of uncaring and frequently, untimely death due to COVID-19 being allowed free range within their premises. In the province of Ontario, Canada, for example, 9,625 care-home residents have been infected by COVID-19. Of this number 2,471 have died. A  25.7%  death rate, nearly ten times greater than that among other COVID-19 infected Ontarians. These staggering figures need their own separate commentary.

The grim statistics have, so far, not affected hospitals or doctors’ offices. We keep away from them and they, reciprocally, hold us at arm’s length. But if access is restricted, how does one consume health care? (We are all consumers now). Does COVID-induced anxiety supercede all other concerns about our health?

But the morning call did come from the doctor, enquiring about my state of health. She wanted to know how I was, and was there any service that I needed? Then, in a flash, I realized that here was yet another Covid-induced shift. ‘Telemedicine’ and ‘telehealth’ had arrived. Although telehealth had been lurking in the fringes of traditional health care for well over a quarter of a century its impact had indeed been no more than marginal. “Telehealth”, we had been told, “is a collection of means or methods for enhancing health care, public health, and health education delivery and support, using telecommunications technologies.” And within this, telemedicine was anticipated to deliver medical service directly to the individual consumer.

Now the public health arm of telehealth has been in full display since the opening stages of the pandemic, when public health officials, and presidents, potentates and prime ministers, and heads of world organizations stepped forward, with long faces, to warn, if not exactly of impending doom - but close enough – to concentrate the mind, leavened albeit with sensible advice on how to mitigate the pandemic’s spread. The one exception need not detain us here.

The new communications platforms that a pandemic demands create opportunities for those who live in well-resourced countries, but the full promise will, for the foreseeable future, remain unfulfilled for people living in poorer parts of the world. However, for the present emergency, there is perhaps a silver lining in that COVID wields a lighter, gentler touch over some of these countries. With this in mind, and with prospects of effective vaccines just about to be realized, we can all have a less stressful Christmas and a normal 2021.


Tell Fren Tru