Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Refusing Vaccination Makes You An Enemy of the State....Apparently

most of you probably know you should get the H1N1 vaccination. And as most of your probably know you shouldn't get the H1N1 vaccination. Kind of confusing isn't it? At least I think so. While I think doctors and healthcare professionals can provide us with useful information on what a person should do, I say this as a generalization. I point this out because I have come across an "Opinion" in the Globe and Mail written by Juliet Guichon and Ian Mitchell. Guichon has a L.L.D., and works in the Office of Medical Bioethics at the University of Calgary (UofC). Mitchell on the other hand is a professor of pediatrics and bioethics at UofC.These two professionals present an article that is pure opinion.

In their article I find three things quite disturbing:

1) When I first read the article I did not like the idea of fear-mongering people into getting the H1N1 vaccination.They state, and I quote:

Mass H1N1 vaccination refusal similarly might destroy (at least temporarily) our health-care system, with the threatened 100,000 people in hospital.

Might destroy our healthcare system! Really? Well, although I agree that H1N1 is very serious and it is important to be informed, people should be free to make their own decisions. Like many people have argued, the seasonal flu kills many people each year, but the popular media has chosen to focus on the H1N1 related deaths to the point that this all that gets reported. We don't get to hear about the hundreds of people that die from other strains of the flu because media has become saturated with H1N1.

2) The second point I find distressing is their comparison to the cod stocks crisis that closed the fishery on the Atlantic coast in the early 1990s. While the article insinuates that Atlantic fishermen were unable to recognize that their overfishing was destroying codstocks, this is simply not the case. Fishermen in Newfoundland for instance, were cognizant of the environmental effects of the fishery as early as the 1900s. Fishing off the coasts had been going on for hundreds of years, so it is not as 'spur of the moment' as Guichon and Mitchell make it seem. What were fishermen to do? Were they to lay down their livelihoods overnight and give up fishing? It is not an easy thing to answer. It may have helped the codstocks, but then again it might not have. Even today, with the fishery being regulated the codstocks aren't back up to normal. So on this comparison, I give them a big thumbs down. People face just as hard a decision over whether to get the vaccine or not as the fishermen did in the 1990s.

3) My last point is to argue against one of their last statements:Moreover, lay people can be confused by publicly available scientific information because they don't understand the scientific method or conversations scientists have among themselvesOh, I'm sorry I guess just because I'm not a doctor I will be easily confused by jargon and acronyms. I have found that the general public, when given the right circumstances to understand something are not as "lay" or dumb as some people like to think they are. If you break the largest, most complicated problem down, it becomes composed of commonsense problems. Give people enough time and energy and they can produce a commonsense answer to a problem (this is in general I might add, there are always extreme cases). We, as non-medically educated people may not be scientists, but I am pretty sure they are using a language of some sort which people have experience with. They may not initially be able to comprehend complex concepts, but they can discern what is important and what is not. ALSO, if Guichon and Mitchell believe the "lay people" to be so misinformed it might have been very helpful for them to actually address some of those issues more explicitly, rather than labeling people that do not get vaccinated as destroyers of healthcare.

People are able to make their own informed opinions, and they should not be guilted into something by either the mass media, government or professionals that present a one-sided opinion. H1N1 may be quite serious, but it still does not change ones individual rights to choose the best course of action for themselves.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

George Orwell's 1984 Wasn't Fiction?

Over the past couple of years I have noticed as many companies, organizations and adminstration have tried to control more and more aspects of people's lives. It is getting to a point where everytime I check out Digg.com or Reddit.com I find numerous articles that link to some form of oppressive behaviour being carried out by any number of groups. While they may argue that it helps the public in general, the reaction that I have seen online tends to point out that people are outraged by these actions!

For instance, today I read an article about how the LAPD is trying to implement a program called iWatch. Allisson Kilkenny from True/Slant, rightly points out that:

These kinds of anonymous hotlines are ripe for abuse, and there exist endless possibilities of innocent citizens being reported by their neighbors for the crime of “Living While Being Arab.”

It is just appalling that the LAPD and the adminstrative figures who helped get this program up and off the ground thought it would be a useful "tool." Turning each citizen into a sort of cctv camera that is trained to spot "suspicious" activity and report it is not going to work. While it may work by flooding the LAPD with an overabundance of reports, it will almost certainly fail at destroying the fabric of democracy. People should be allowed to live their lives without fear that if they don't act "normal" (whatever that is) or fit into a societal norm, they will be reported as suspicious.

ALSO, people aren't trained informants. I am sure that everyone would have a different definition of what is reportable and what is not. There is bound to be prank calls, and the odd-ball that will report something about his/her neighbour just because they don't like them. I think this system is a low point for society and I applaud people like Allison and the Huffingtonpost who have highlighted this program so that it can be scrutinized.

To formulate your own opinion check out the video:

One of Allison's commentators makes a very astute observation that in the video there are no Muslim people depicted, which therefore leads one to wonder: is this about focusing on the Muslim population? It is a very BIG oversight by the iWatch folks... or is it?


Another form of 1984ism that I have noticed recently is the proliferation of cases the various groups involved with the Record Industry trying to curtail how people interact with their music. Two of the most blaringly obvious cases of their bid for control of how YOU use your music are:

1) The American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP) tried to argue that cellphone ringtones that could play songs were essentially mini-concerts and therefore were copyright infringement. However, thanks to a levelheaded judge this case was dismissed.

2) A woman in Clackmannanshire, United Kingdom was threatened by the Performing Rights Society (PRS) to be sued if she did not stop signing songs while she worked at a local A&T Food store. However, the group has since rescinded its claims and formally apologized to the woman and sent her flowers.

I just cannot believe that organizations believe that they can enforce such controls over people. It is becoming ridiculous. If we all lived by their rules I think their would be NO music to listen to and you would have to have numerous liscenses before you could play a note. It seems like we are heading for a surveillance society more and more each day as stories like the ones depicted above are becoming more numerous. Big Brother is watching...

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Graduate Uprising 10/20

While many of you may be asking yourselves: "What uprising? There was nothing on the news!" I am referring to a particular incident that occurred in one of my graduate school lectures this past Tuesday. Essentially, the Dean came to our class to get an understanding of how the students were responding to the new redesigned program. While in the back of his mind he probably thought, I'll go in and say my typical speech "We have a plan!" and then people will nod, and respond with neutral remarks about how the courses are "going okay." (for a detailed recap of what happened visit Chasing the Muse) HOWEVER, what resulted was far from a lukewarm-rebuttal. The students had become very distraught over the way the courses were being taught, their size and the sheer lack of interrelatedness to what THEY wanted to learn. The Dean was, to sum it up, verbally destroyed. I don't think he was expected such flak from the students over the new program. The uprising had begun.

People should be able to voice their opinions on a topic that has direct ramifications to their lives. This particular incident helped to make the problems, that probably are not visible to the faculty because they are too engrossed in their work, more explicit. The problem I think harps back to one of the problems someone voiced at the Dean's lecture: alienation. In a graduate program you would think intimacy with your faculty and students would be a keystone. When I completed my previous graduate degree I knew my professors VERY well, and we would even have the occasional get-together-for-drinks social event. But most importantly, we as graduate students were asked our opinions on what the curriculum should be for future graduate students. The opportunity to influence what courses were relevant and how others could be improved. I am proud to say that WE actually had an effect on what was decided. One of the courses that we felt was redundant was cut and the program was extended, as we requested, to allow for more research. What I am trying to get at here is that I never felt alienated there. In this program, I agree with the people that said they felt alienated. Since the Dean's address was the only time students had been able to voice their opinion, many tempers flared and criticism of all sorts came out. But, what can you expect? People did not feel they had any say in what was happening to them. When people feel powerless in situations that deeply affect their lives, it is not a healthy environment.

I am not sure if students were consulted about the changes that occurred with the program prior to this year, but I think if anymore changes are to happen it is Absolutely necessary! We may all have various programs with how the courses are taught, the overlap, and the content, but a sense of community that includes the faculty is a must in a graduate situation. Without it, we may as well be sheep herded by the shepherd.