Category Archives: politics

Musings on the tinkling of glass from the almost shattered ceiling of American democracy

Dear Most Powerful Democracy(TM) in the World,

Congratulations on taking another step closer to having a woman break the ultimate glass ceiling in your country, with Hillary Clinton being declared the presumptive nominee of one of your two political parties. We look forward to welcoming you to the large community of nations that have been electing women leaders to head their government for decades now. It may surprise your citizens—especially those rooting for the big orange loudmouth presumptive nominee of the other party—to find that even a number of Islamic nations have elected women to their highest offices. But don’t be embarrassed about joining this group now. When it comes to matters of democracy and human rights and equality, “better late than never” always applies. Long arc of history and all that considering, you know?

I imagine you know that your presidential election tends to capture the attention of the rest of the world, and this one in particular has the world in its thrall like a spectacular car crash that one cannot look away from, even though the outcome may be disastrous for occupants of the cars and spectators alike. The popularity of the orange loudmouth with the strange hair alternately baffles and frightens the world’s citizens who can scarcely believe that so many citizens of this superpower nation, known for your leadership in science and technology, for crying out loud, are falling for the dubious charms of a globally well-known con-man. That one of your two parties, half of your entire political spectrum (seriously, America, how on earth do you do democracy in such a big diverse country with just two political parties? But let’s leave that question for another time!) has been hijacked by a narcissistic demagogue happy to use bombastic nationalism and xenophobia laced with racist and sexist slurs to score television rating in this election turned into reality show, is…incredibly depressing.

At the same time, though, what’s happening in the other party offers more hope for the world. A fierce battle over liberal/progressive ideology between, gasp, a woman and an old school socialist? Who could have even imagined this in America a decade ago? Now it appears that the woman may be winning the party’s nomination to become the first female presidential candidate ever in your long and storied history as the world’s leading democracy? And a majority of your citizens might well retain their senses to elect her to follow your first Black President? How wonderful of you to finally move into this new phase in this new millennium! (Let’s set aside, for now, the more touchy subject of how they both have continued to rain bombs on much of the world – but we must address that too, soon, after you send the lunatic orange man packing.)

What took you so long?

So many younger nations, often learning about democracy from your own history, have lapped you and surged so much farther ahead in how they run their elections now – you really should feel embarrassed. Looking at you from the polling booths of some of these younger nations might feel like looking at a venerable but arthritic old man who is too set in his eccentric ways and unwilling to adjust with the times to learn how to run things in this new millennium. We hope that you will pay attention to and build on the energy of your younger citizens, many of whom have been involved in this election campaign with no little passion, calling out the injustices of the really bizarre ways you still run your elections. Like it is still the 18th century and you are still an agrarian nation deeply mired in social, economic, and cultural inequalities spread across a vast and mostly depopulated continent.

But never mind that for now; let us be cautiously optimistic that you just might follow up on your first Black Man in the White House with your first Woman President! What a way to make another grand entrance on to the world stage, two hundred and forty years after your birth as a democratic nation! So please: don’t throw this opportunity away, and for Earth’s sake, don’t let the narcissistic con-man steal this election too, like his predecessor did at the turn of the millennium.

You still have much work to do in fixing your democracy and bringing it up to date though, all the way from the design of ballots to drawing of voting district maps to how votes are counted in different states to who actually oversees and runs your elections to these myriad and ludicrously convoluted ways your parties hold primaries… to who pays for the whole circus… the list is so long and so hilariously tragic! You really do have a lot of work to do – which may be why you show so little enthusiasm for actually cleaning up the mess! It is like the aftermath of a centuries old frat party (or democracy rave) in your living room when you just can’t summon up the energy to throw all the trash out and start a new day afresh. Yet that is what you need to do! And you might start with the odd thing that happened tonight, and keeps happening every election – when your media gives away the results of the game before the last votes have been cast! What’s up with that?

While we are getting ready to applaud this apparent imminent shattering of the glass ceiling in America, many of us are also baffled at how your much-lauded free press decided to declare the winner before so many states have even held the vote for their primaries! How does your free press, which is supposed to be such a crucial pillar for democracy in a free society, continue to undermine the most basic process at the heart of democracy: the casting of votes to elect representatives? How does this make any sense? I mean, sure, the press has an obligation – and more, a competitive drive – to report whatever it deems newsworthy, so some of the fault lies with those who release these results that can tip the electoral scales. Still, surely this is something that could be fixed by reminding the media of their serious responsibility and making them keep their megaphones switched off until the last vote has been cast? That’s how some other democracies do it, to protect the sanctity of every vote.

While there is much you should learn from studying how other nations run their elections, at least in this one instance, you might consider the Most Populous Democracy in the World: India. Did you know that the press there, while invited and encouraged to closely observe and report on the entire election, is nevertheless restrained from announcing any results until after all the votes are cast and counted? And mind you, restraint is not likely to be the first word—hell, not even among the first 100 words—to come to mind when one thinks of / observes the Indian media these days; they are a cacophonous, obnoxious, loud-mouthed, argumentative lot, are India’s TV talking heads, who seemed to have learned too well the ratings game from your television networks. Yet, when it comes to election results, they exhibit remarkable restraint (or pay the price of jumping the gun).

Media Coverage

In order to bring as much transparency as possible to the electoral process, the media are encouraged and provided with facilities to cover the election, although subject to maintaining the secrecy of the vote. Media persons are given special passes to enter polling stations to cover the poll process and the counting halls during the actual counting of votes.

Doesn’t that sound like something for your press to try, at least for the general election?

Do click on that link and look around the helpful website of the Election Commission of India: all the fascinating details of how that rambunctious cacophony of a democracy, with over a billion people scattered densely across a varied landscape with poor infrastructure and much less money than you, manages to run its parliamentary elections—featuring thousands of candidates from dozens of political parties vying for hundreds of millions of votes cast at nearly a million polling stations—with much less of a fuss and a bother. Imagine, for example, running your entire presidential election, from the first primary to the general election, in just a couple of months instead of the years-long and practically never ending campaigns you force your candidates to run now! Wouldn’t that be refreshing? And conducive to the actual business of governing the nation for the public good?

Of course there is much that is also wrong with the running of elections in India – just see who they elected Prime Minister in the last election. Has any nation figured out a fool-proof way to conduct the messy business of democracy? Shouldn’t they all be talking to each other and borrowing from each other the best ways to make things work most impartially and openly and fairly?

There is a great deal more we could tell you about how to improve and modernize your elections, to bring you up to date in the 21st century. If you really put your mind and considerable resources to it, you might even come up blazing the trail again for the rest of the world, showing us how to get it done properly. Many other nations would love to help you with that, even as you claim to be the designated driver of democracy around the world. It is past time you got your own house in order, and we would love to talk to you about that. Perhaps after you’re done with this most insane of your recent elections, and are able to take a breather. Hopefully.

For now, let us raise a glass to the sound of all that tinkling glass, beginning to fall down slowly from that almost shattered ceiling… the world may hold its breath waiting for the final blow that breaks it fully apart come November. Until then, you do you – in the best way you know how!

– from a humble representative of your friends and well-wishers, citizens of other democracies.

How do we get our global economy off the endless “growth” express and on to a human-scale path of plenitude?

An image I found and shared on Facebook this week, featuring a quote from the Dalai Lama, seems to have hit a nerve among my circle of friends there:

I’m not surprised, given the kinds of circles I hang out in, that this thought had such resonance. Most of us concerned about what we are doing to our environment and our own wellbeing and future appreciate and find much to ponder in that observation. Of course, it is nice of the Lama to share his profound insight from on high (so to speak) in his role as spiritual leader and a monk observing the rest of humanity with his cultivated sense of detachment. Would that the rest of us could also detach ourselves from the daily grind and engage in more meaningful quests for our lives. Most of us, of course, don’t really have that luxury—or have a terrible time finding a way towards that serenity. So we pause, briefly, at this poster, and share it among our friends (stepping lightly over the irony of doing so on these hyper-social online networks which may seem the very antithesis of what the Lama is talking about), file it away for contemplation, and hope we get the chance to do something about it in some small way in our own lives. And for that, we must be grateful to the Dalai Lama, for pulling us up short in our headlong rush of a life, even if for a brief moment of contemplation.

A bigger question, though, is how do we—those uf us not able to immediately extricate ourselves from the larger economy which pushes us into the endless pursuit of ever elusive wealth—begin to challenge and change the system? The dominant economic paradigm of our time is completely wedded to this pursuit of wealth, for individuals, corporations, and entire nations chasing endless growth. Even people who talk about sustainability within this paradigm talk about “sustainable growth“, an oxymoronic concept if there ever was one, given the natural resource constraints on this only planet we inhabit. More radical environmentalists and leftists have a deeper critique (e.g., read John Bellamy Foster’s “The Ecological Rift: Capitalism’s War on the Earth“) of the growth economy paradigm—but reading them often leads to more despair at the scale of the revolution we seemingly need to overthrow that paradigm.
The growth paradigm so dominates our entire public discourse that even moderately centre-leaning right-wing capitalists like Obama get labelled as communists who want to socialize everything! How then can we push the system onto a completely different path, one that may actually be sustainable in a truer sense of the word?
The burgeoning movement to Occupy Wall Street seems to have lit a spark across the US, creating opportunities to challenge at least parts of the capitalist finance-driven system. Breaking through the media narrative about how we must only “grow” our way out of the current economic crises, is an accomplishment worthy of note. The real challenge for this excitingly amorphous movement though is to present not only a coherent set of demands but actually offer alternative models (e.g. at for recovering the economy, alternatives which can redress the vast social inequities of the present as well as begin healing our ecosystems. We also need models that don’t call for radical / violent overthrow of the system with alternatives that are also imposed from the top-down (putting environmentalists and ecological economists in charge, for example)—but offer instead more distributed, diverse, grassroots alternatives that have a better chance of sustaining us in the long haul; models that build upon stuff many of us are already doing in our daily lives to break free of the dominant growth paradigm and take control of our lives in more meaningful ways.

One such alternative is seen in this video from the Center for a New American Dream, visualizing economist Juliet Schor’s alternative model of a Plenitude Economy:

What I particularly like about this vision is that it draws its strengths from stuff we ordinary people are already doing in the US (and elsewhere) to find our own ways out of the ravages of the collapsed economy during this current great depression. Unlike the last great depression of the 1930s in the US, this time around we don’t have the political leadership or will to create and offer solutions from above, unfortunately. That does not mean, however, that people are simply standing still in despair (although there is plenty of that to go around), waiting for handouts from the government or from charities. We are, in small ways, taking charge of some of the means of production (urban farming and homesteading being great examples) and creating/reviving alternative means of sharing what we produce, away from the globalized economic mainstream. These smaller scale actions offer a good antidote against despair at the ever increasingly gloomy global picture. This is how we can really start rebuilding our world, one garden, one rooftop, one school, one swap-meet, one community at a time, each with its own local adaptation to find its own unique solution. Who needs a world revolution from above when we can have a multitude of these smaller revolutions growing from below?

Life on this planet has always thrived on diversity and local adaptation; it is time for us environmentalists to also truly embrace that truth, and participate in these many movements within our own neighborhoods, even as we seek to change the overarching paradigm globally. As that seemingly forgotten early prophet of ecological economics, E. F. Schumacher, observed a few decades ago: Small is Beautiful, after all! It is useful to remember that.

As a friend remarked upon reading the Dalai Lama’s words: not all of us sacrifice our health in order to make money; some of us do so in pursuit of environmental and human justice, to help create a better world. But maybe, just maybe, we don’t have to sacrifice our health for that either: instead, let us find the time and space to sink our hands into the soil, get dirt under our fingernails as we grow our own food and create habitats for other species amid our urban sprawl; to chat with our neighbors as we exchange vegetables from each other’s yards or balcony container gardens; to rebuild the social fabric that we worry is fraying under globalization; and take that time to also breathe in the air and simply enjoy living in the present.

I’m sure the Dalai Lama would approve of that (even if we choose to talk about it online)!

Do we applaud when a President merely comes close to speaking the truth?

Or should we really be holding his feet to the fire until he does acknowledge the stark truth? And does so with a kick to the nation’s collective butt so we can begin to at last face up to the real challenges of weaning this economy off oil, rather than applying more palliatives that were too little too late several decades ago! I was deeply disappointed by President Obama’s address to the nation last night, for this was supposed to be the transformative leader who was going to change this country – and he couldn’t even do what mild-mannered Carter did 30 years ago?! And the end of the speech really left me gasping in astonishment – for here was the US President telling us to hang our hopes on prayer, “…that a hand may guide us through the storm towards a brighter day!” Huh?! Wasn’t that supposed to be your hand, Mr. Obama? Isn’t that pretty much why we elected you – to guide us through the storm towards a brighter day?!

As for the substance of the speech – and how many ways it fell far short of what it should have been – Sharon Astyk zeroes on on the key point, which is that this leader of leaders is simply unwilling to lead us away from the post-peak-oil chasm looming right in front of us, unwilling to even tell us that plain truth in a way that only he can to make a nation sit up and take notice. He came close, agonizingly disappointingly close, but couldn’t bring himself to make the real jump:

Obama doesn’t explain that most renewables are less energy-dense than oil or natural gas – that it isn’t a 1-1 transition, one solar panel or wind turbine for X barrels of oil, but that we need more renewables, and have to run faster and faster to keep up. Obama doesn’t explain that at every stage in the renewable transition, we depend on stable prices for oil, coal and natural gas – that we don’t make solar panels with solar panels, but with fossil fuels, and that shifts in price can change the economic equation dramatically.

It would have been too much to ask for all this information – the best presidential speeches are pithy. And it would also be too much to ask Obama to admit that it is only now, when people are asking “where the heck were you during this spill” that he’s committing publically to fulfilling his promises, only now that he’s talking about our energy limits, after approving increased offshore drilling and discussing the way the magic oil off our coasts would fix our problems. It is only now that we’ve already started sacrificing that he’s ready to call for sacrifice. And it all depends on language that implies that we can keep everything largely the way we want it to be – that costs will be largely economic, that a clean energy economy is something that will look like our own, that this isn’t going to hurt too badly, that the economy can recover and we can have a low-cost transition and a “victory” that gets us all the things we dream of.

And there was a time when all that was true. When Jimmy Carter was making essentially the same speech Obama just did, only in a cardigan, that was entirely feasible. It was almost certainly doable in the 1980s, and probably into the early 1990s. Now it is not. And Obama didn’t tell us about the most basic problem – that the speech he just gave is precisely the kind of speech that has been part of the process of not doing anything. That when George W. Bush said we had to get off foreign oil, and Bill Clinton said we had to get off foreign oil that they too talked about clean energy economies and incentives and making a better world for our kids.

And it isn’t that they didn’t necessarily even mean it. It is that the oil-addicted culture of America is so deeply dependent on fossil fuels and the economic growth they power that no leader, left or right has ever been able to figure out how to do this shift meaningfully – once we passed the critical moments at which we could have powered a smooth transition, the reality of making words energy – the economic and personal costs, the change required in our culture, those were too big to conquer.

The speech that needs to be given hasn’t happened yet, and every year it gets harder to give. It begins with the classic acknowledgement that good physicians give “this is going to hurt.” And it explains why – why the greater good comes from endurance. It begins acknowledging that everyone wasted a golden opportunity, and that now our choices are governed by material physical realities – that we face the pain of living with what is possible, rather than what is desirable. It includes both a call to build what renewable energies we can, and also the acknowledgement that we will not be living anything like the present American way of life. It involves a real call to sacrifice – the kind of sacrifice past generations endured in incredibly difficult times, the kinds of sacrifice that cost them a great deal, but for a vastly greater goal. It probably involves unpalatable words like “rationing.” It will involve admitting fault and responsibility, and then moving on, telling the public what they need to know, but also engaging them in the project of creating a future for their children and grandchildren.

Unite Arizona: harnessing the power of maps to fight back against the new anti-immigrant law!

Maps can be powerful tools for social change, and I sure hope this new one plays its part in beating back Arizona’s new anti-immigrant law. My friends who founded and run which has developed a number of interesting crowdsourced community mapping projects (including some work on the Fresno Bird Count), have come up with a good response to the new Arizona law requiring police to stop and demand citizenship/immigration papers from anyone they suspect of being an illegal immigrant. While many of my friends from other states are thinking of boycotting Arizona (in their summer travel plans, among other things) and others living in the state are angry and upset about their state’s legislature, NiJeL now offers a novel way to take action if you spot any incidents of harassment or victimization under the new law, or are subject to such yourself – read on for more about what you can do through Unite Arizona in this email they sent me today:

Dear Friends and Colleagues,

With the passage of Arizona Senate Bill 1070, global media, politicians, human rights groups, and concerned individuals have turned their attention toward Arizona, rightfully concerned about the negative impacts of this new law. Minority groups in Arizona have been and will continue to be subject to verbal and physical harassment and intimidation from organized hate groups, some members of law enforcement and xenophobic Arizonans. Moreover, many more victims will likely cease to report crimes out of fear of detention and deportation due to this law.

NiJeL created Unite Arizona ( to provide both a way for Arizonans to anonymously report harassment, intimidation, raids/sweeps, and an outlet for unreported criminal activity via SMS (text message), Twitter, email, or the web. These incidents will be filtered by the type of incident and visualized on a participatory map and a timeline for the community to see. This project was the subject of a recent NewTimes story ( and you may follow the project’s updates on Twitter (@immigrantharass) or at our Facebook Fan page (!/pages/Unite-Arizona/114811748558349?ref=ts).

Unite Arizona uses the Ushahidi Platform: free and open source software designed to gather real-time, crowdsourced data for crisis response. Unite Arizona is currently live and accepting SMS data at 602-824-TALK (8255), Twitter updates with the hashtag #MHRSAZ, and emails at

Incoming data can be tagged by location, category, date and time, and each report can include references to news items, photos and video. Trusted site administrators are charged with mapping and coding incoming messages, approving and verifying each incident, scoring the reliability of the source and indicating the probability that the event is real. Users of the site can also rate the importance of incidents, promoting those that are particularly egregious. Finally, anyone can sign up to receive alerts of approved incidents, filtered by location. With this system we intend to provide a powerful reporting platform for victims and activists, an alert system for crisis responders, and a compelling visualization of the scale and scope of harassment, intimidation and unreported crime in Arizona.

We would be very interested in partnering with your organization for several purposes. First, we could use your help in disseminating the SMS or text message number (602-824-8255 or 602-824-TALK)), the Twitter hashtag #MHRSAZ and the email address,, that people can use to report incidents. We would very much appreciate your help in disseminating this information to your networks. Thanks!!

There are a number of other ways to help us with this project:

Moderation Volunteering
If you would like to help us moderate reports of harassment, intimidation and unreported crime and comments from the public, please contact our volunteer coordinator, Layal Rabat, at You will need to go though a background check process and attend a training session to learn how to use the internal moderation tools. Thank you!

Organizational Support
If your organization would like to show support for this effort and would like more information about how to get involved, you may contact me at Thank you!

We are also accepting donations to help us support our volunteer coordinators, train new moderators, disseminate SMS and other site information, and improve the site technology among other items. Any amount would be much appreciated. Please follow the PayPal link below to donate, and thank you so much for your support of Unite Arizona!

Posted via email from a leaf warbler’s gleanings

Dreaded Bliss: when the formerly oppressed join forces to oppress someone else

How great a country is this where “people who had been discriminated against for their religion or the color of their skin can come together to discriminate against people for their sexual orientation”?! Ah human nature! And thank FSM for the Daily Show which keeps finding rich nuggets of irony in an irony-free culture. I wonder if that woman at the end actually watched herself in this clip – and what she thought afterwards…

Posted via web from a leaf warbler’s gleanings

Surely Rachel Maddow can’t be making this (fossilized) shit up!

Wow! What an incredible tale this is, from tonight’s “Moment of Geopolitical Geek” segment of the Rachel Maddow show.

Its a tale that has everything: international geopolitical intrigue, fossilized bird poop, international money-laundering scams, overexploitation of natural resources, Russian mobsters, failed musical theater investment scams, international fugitives… er… asylum seekers from Australia, political corruption all the way up to the UN, the seamy underbelly of globalization, all set on a tropical Pacific island nation that went from having one of the highest per capita incomes to desperately broke within a decade!! Oh, and did I mention fossilized bird poop?!

Tell me that isn’t a tale with a little bit for everybody – even the masala grinders of Bollywood would be hard pressed to cram so many ingredients together into such a juicy package! So why isn’t this story in the movie theaters? Or on our televisions in serialized form? Is there at least a bestselling book with all the sordidly entertaining details? One hopes… but for now, we have a gem of an under-five-minute news report thanks to the brilliant Rachel Maddow, who is giving the Daily Show a run for their money, not with fake news, but real news! Remember that concept? No wonder she’s rapidly become the brightest star in TV news. So, without further ado, let me share with you: “Poop Dreams

Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

Empty gestures and selective remembrances

Its the night before thanksgiving here in California, and – not unlike many American men – I am watching a game on the telly. Well, on the telly in India but funneled to my laptop via the intertubes in rather irregular fashion (but don’t tell the BCCI). And the game is one that is likely to bemuse my American friends who will indulge in what they call football after turkey tomorrow: the third day of a cricket test match (that’s the 5-day-long version of the sport) between India and Sri Lanka being played in Kanpur. And it looks like India may actually win this test match, just in time for me to enjoy after that turkey meal too! Not quite the thanksgiving tradition of the pilgrims and Indians, but this’ll do fine for a globalized diasporic Indian like me.

Yet the game started today on a curious note: the Indian team lining up to stand in 2-min of silence before entering the ground to resume play this morning! My wife happened to glance at my laptop as the game started, and wondered aloud who had died – and chuckled upon learning the real reason. Turned out this homage was for victims of what transpired a year ago today in the siege of Mumbai by a handful of young gunmen from Pakistan, or what’s been labelled 26/11 in India. Why must my countrymen mimic the Americans even in naming our terrorist attacks?. Turns out this anniversary of a particular act of terrorism is indeed being commemorated throughout India in various often curious ways, online and off, in the world of advertising and television (with the Zee channel apparently offering to go silent for a couple of minutes!). Why then did my better half chuckle ironically at the display of solidarity by the Indian cricket team? Well, in the scheme of terrorist attacks in India (or even in Mumbai alone), 26/11 didn’t claim a particularly high toll of deaths, nor did it come near many other traumatic acts of violence inflicted from forces within Indian society (communal riots and massacres), let alone the routine deaths from the mundane maladies of the developing tropical world (diseases chronic or epidemics, famines, droughts that everybody loves)! Why then do we single out this particular event – is it simply a sign of the increasing Americanization of Indian society, especially media? Even NPR here had a story about this anniversary today! Or did that attack really mean so much more? Perhaps it was the nature of the attack itself, revealing hitherto unexpected vulnerabilities in the Indian security apparatus, upending life on an ordinary day when seemingly ordinary young men turned the country’s financial capital upside down. Was this terrorism at its psychologically terrifying worst, arousing deep anxieties and leaving psychological scars? Or is much of this public breast-beating merely part of the routine cynical exploitation of such traumas by politicians? Surely it is far easier and simpler to have an external enemy to blame and rally the patriotic citizenry around rather than examine one’s own actions. Perhaps this anniversary contains a bit of all of these things. And many of the ordinary people, especially those commuters caught up in the events a year ago, seem to have moved on in that “resilient” city – or so suggests NPR’s voice from Mumbai – even as Pakistan drags its feet despite big brother US’ pressures to bring the “masterminds” behind the attacks to trial let alone justice.

So I turn to Prem Panicker to make sense of all this, and he has obliged by sharing his own blues in a thought provoking essay about the lost promise of lasting social change in the aftermath of the Mumbai attack. It was (besides my sister and brother in law) @prempanicker on twitter who helped keep me in the moment during the prolonged siege and the public response afterwards in Mumbai, who articulated beautifully the anguish of my home city, and who now reflects on what might have been. It was also Prem’s blow-by-tweet reporting a year ago that finally got me hooked on twitter, and I continue to turn to him for news from my native shores.

Via @prempanicker also comes a link to one of the best pieces written about the attack, by Jason Motlagh in the Virginia Quarterly Review. For lighter relief, afterwards, check out Girish Shahane’s evisceration of a couple of media pundit blowhards trying to cash in on this anniversary. And lest I be accused of falling in that camp, I will stop right here and get back to the cricket, which, for a change, has been quite enthralling and surprisingly good today.

Happy turkey day, everyone.

Listen to Oprah/Jenny McCarthy and help out the terrorists: don’t vaccinate your children

The anti-vaccination movement has really gone mainstream big time lately, with new celebrity spokesbimbos like Jenny McCarthy now being endorsed by the mighty Oprah! Even a recent episode of the venerable TV show Law and Order (SVU, I think) raised the issue by putting an anti-vaccination parent on trial for causing the death of another child due to measles. It was great that L&O took the rational position on this, but they don’t have Oprah’s reach, surely! If Oprah gets explicitly behind the anti-vaccination woo, the rest of us, esp. those who understand the science, must shudder at the likely consequences. Indeed we are already shuddering at the rising death toll from diseases we should have eradicated by now because we have vaccines that work against them!

Much has been written in the science blogosphere about this lately, and many are trying to sway Oprah away from the woo to consider the actual science. It amazes me that this unscientific movement has gained such traction among the populace of countries that are otherwise at the forefront of science, bastions of western civilization: places like the US and the UK! Why so many in these countries are unscientific is, of course, a much larger question, so I’ll just let you ponder that on your own for now. But I do wonder: what are the less knowledgeable populations in developing countries to make of this anti-vaccination movement? Does the celebrity woo of well-fed blond bimbos like McCarthy carry more weight with a parent in rural India or Africa over the sight of undernourished kids in their own communities hobbling around on polio-afflicted legs? Is it that western parents have forgotten, within a generation or so, what Measles, Polio, Whooping Cough, etc. really are like? I’m not that old (well, my daughters will dispute that) but even I do remember the last few fires from Smallpox raging through communities where I grew up in India, before it was eradicated in the 70s through vaccination. I can still see the pock-marked faces of survivors, some of whom are still alive in India. Indeed, I’m reminded of the value of vaccines every other day when my wife talks to her mother whose health is deteriorating daily due in no small part to complications from Post-Polio Syndrome! So it really is mystifying to me that there are parents around me who don’t want to vaccinate their children – even if it puts not only their own, but other children at risk by reducing herd immunity. The argument for vaccination is so strong, and the few studies touting their lack of safety have so little support and/or have been so discredited, that I am genuinely puzzled by the irrationality (and selfishness) of these parents. If you are still unsure about the rational argument on this, you really should read this Open Letter to Oprah, which lays it out clearly – and do what you can to keep raising this question until Oprah starts listening.

And while you read that letter, let me raise another spectre, of another group of bogeymen who might get behind the anti-vaccination movement enthusiastically: the terrorists, especially those bent upon “mass destruction” through biological weapons!! Seems to me that the anti-vaccination movement, if successful, will only make their jobs easier: if we lose our herd immunity, then they don’t need to spend much money inventing/pursuing new bioweapons at all – even good old measles might do the trick! How easy it would be to release some of these old viruses and cause an epidemic if more parents stop vaccinating their children. So if you are swayed by the fear-mongering of celebrities like McCarthy, pause for a moment to ask if Osama (or whomever’s next in line) might not be chuckling in their cave about the irrationality of the “modern” west for making their job easier! Should we bo doing some reverse fear-mongering of our own to counter the antivax hysteria? If swine-flu raised so much fear in the public here, why do these old viruses with a proven killer track record not scare these parents into vaccinating their babies? Why isn’t this vaccination debate being framed yet in “national security” terms? Which side of this debate is Jack Bauer on??!!