Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Right hypes panic for political ends.

The headlines were scary. Supposedly a flesh-eating virus was ravaging the gay community. Right-wing theocrats were in a dither. The crazed "Americans for Truth" group demanded to know why schoolchildren weren’t being taught that being gay was evil -- as if that would make any difference in the number of people who are born gay.

Christian groups called this “another homosexual disease” as if diseases have a sexual orientation. A rather young researcher, Binh Diep, seemed to encourage this hysteria. He warned: “Once this reaches the general population, it will be truly unstoppable.” Of course the religious Right jumped on that claim. The Conservative Voice crowed: “Those who denigrate the biblical data regarding God’s abhorrence of homosexual activity thereby aid in the furthering of widespread, deadly diseases.”

They claimed that “homosexual men are 13 times more likely to contract the potentially deadly, drug-resistant strain of staph infection, but the fear is that, because the infection is spread via skin-to-sking contact, homosexual men may soon spread it to the general population.”

What’s wrong with these panicky statements? Almost everything. They are just flat out wrong and wrong on several levels. But since the Christian Right hates homosexuals with an irrational intensity the facts don’t matter. They are happy to lie in order to slander the gay community.

The stronger version of the staph infection does exist but it is not exclusive to the gay community by any means. In fact, long before it appeared in the gay community it cropped up in other locations. Newsweek reported: “Once restricted to hospitals, these virulent forms of staph have increasingly afflicted day-care centers, schools, gyms and other public areas in the last decade.” If you read that carefully, something the conservatives aren’t doing, you will see that this infection has been around for a decade and is only now showing up in one section of the gay community, a small number of cases in the Castro area of San Francisco. In other words, this disease was found in the general community long before it was found in the gay community. The gay community isn’t infecting the general population but the general population was the source for the virus that infected a small number in the gay community. The Christian Right typically has everything backwards.

Newsweek notes that this strain of the infection, USA300, “has been around since 2002 and has appeared in at least 38 American states.”

Researchers said gay men were more likely to become infected but that is based on a rather limited study. They said that only one in 588 residents of the Castro have this variant of the infection. I’d like to see the actual numbers of infections because the Castro is not that big an area. I was just there recently at the Castro Theater for a concert. Depending on how widely defined “the Castro” is we are talking a neighborhood of a few thousand to maybe 10,000 people.

Certainly the heart of the Castro is mainly businesses and restaurants. But just outside that central business district it is residential. But these are mostly single homes or Victorians that at most have three apartments. A typical block could have between 12 and 15 buildings. They wouldn’t average more than 2 people per housing unit. Many of these building are single dwellings. If we average two units per building and two people per unit we are talking about between 96 and 120 people per block (counting both sides of the street). Even that may be high. Some of the blocks, such as Collingswood only have residential units on one side of the street with parks and schools taking up the rest.

A quick look at Google maps indicates that the Castro most likely covers about 4o blocks of area being nestled between Diamond Heights and the Mission area. Of course the study may have used different parameters for defining the neighborhood. But if it is 40 blocks then I’d estimate the total population of the area at between 4,000 and 5,000 people. Now if the infection rate is one in 588 that would mean the infection rate is based on less than ten cases of infection. Even if the number of residents were twice what I’m estimating then the number of infections would be less than two dozen. This is hardly a representative sample.

Before version of staph, MRSA, was found in the Castro it was also found in other parts of the country. For instance MRSA was detected in two day care centers according to a study from 1998. In one 3% of the children were infected and in another 24% were. For comparison the infection rate in the Castro was 0.0017%. I don’t remember any fear-mongering being done by the Right about the threat to the wider community posed by children.

In this study it was shown that 7 members of a high school wrestling team were infected. This included “persons whose MRSA-positive infection were identified at a hospital laboratory from January 1, 1993 through February 28, 1994. The “attack rate for the team was 21.9%.” This is well in excess of infection rate in the gay community yet again there were no Right-wing reports about the dangers of wrestling. And note that this infection took place almost 15 years ago. So it is difficult to see how people can claim the “wider community” is threatened by gays who have the infection today considering that the wider community had the infection first.

Six years ago the University of Southern California football team experienced an outbreak of MSRA. All the infected individuals were “healthy college-aged males who were active participants on the football team.” In 2003 “17 football players from a team of 107 (15.8%)” were diagnosed.

In each of these cases, and there are many more, the infection hit a segment of the wider community and did so at rates far exceeding the rate that caused the panic about gay men in the Castro. Compared to similar outbreaks at day care centers or sports teams the infection in the Castro is very low. And these other cases prove that the infection can’t spread from the gay community to the “wider community” because it was in the “wider community” before it was in the gay community.

What we have here is another politically motivated panic. Politics is ripe with such panics. A small bit of information that is factual is exaggerated, intentionally, by an organized political force in order to stampede the public and politicians into supporting measures which the special interest groups wishes imposed.

In this case the fear mongering is targeting the gay community. The goal is to scare the shit out of Christians and Right-wingers in order to keep them dedicated to the antigay jihad. This blog has repeatedly argued that much of modern politics today is fear-based and built around exaggerated, or completely bogus, threats. It is my firm belief that this is true with terrorism, immigration, drugs, global warming and a host of other issues. The perceived threat is vastly more scary than the reality. This appeal to fear is intentional. And it is engaged in by both the Right and the Left. The prophetic H.L. Mencken warned: ““The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary.” Almost a century after H.L. Mencken issued his warning things haven’t changed much.

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