The Biscayne Times

May 25th
Time for an Adult Conversation PDF Print E-mail
Written by Jay Beskin, BT Contributor   
October 2016

The lack of public information sharing has got to end

MPix_JayBeskin_10-16y career as a city council member in Aventura didn’t involve a party affiliation, and frankly few of my votes during the two-term tenure I enjoyed there could be characterized as Democratic or Republican in nature.

Now and then I was heard to say things like, “I won’t be a party to this” or “Do these people think the city should pay for their party?” or “Donna Shalala isn’t exactly a party animal,” but otherwise I was relatively free of partisan taint.

Still, as a disappointed Bernie Sanders donor, I suspect most of my erstwhile constituents expect me to cast a vote for Hillary Clinton because the alternative is too terrifying to even contemplate.

What disturbs me about this election season, aside from the bizarre cast of characters, is the lack of adult conversation on any serious subject. The candidates may have interesting, sometimes creative, policy approaches to major issues, loaded with real substance, and presumably you can track these down on their websites or in the obligatory campaign books with saccharine titles like Putting People First or Forward to the Future.

But you’ll listen in vain for a stump speech or a campaign ad above a sixth-grade level of insight. Instead of gunslingers from the Wild West, America has devolved into showdowns between mudslingers from the Dirty East. You wouldn’t think a campaign could be boring and nasty at the same time, but you’d be wrong; it is both of those and, more important, it’s childish.

My quest for maturity in public affairs has brought me lately to ponder the case of Zika. What it is, what it isn’t, what we know about it, what we should know about it, what we don’t know about it, what we should do about it, what we shouldn’t do about it.

Let’s review what facts we do know: A virus showed up in South Florida, presumably imported by tourists from distant climes. It makes people sick but not too sick, and they recover fairly quickly. The problem is that in pregnancy the virus is somehow empowered to attack the fetus, sometimes resulting in awful child defects. This is clearly a very deleterious medical phenomenon, and one that should be avoided.

But then a serious escalation occurred. Local mosquitoes began to carry the virus to some limited extent, providing a new source of infection. It now became necessary to avoid several sources of contagion. The Wynwood area of Miami was pronounced a danger zone for potential Zika transmission.

And eventually that zone was expanded to include a major part of Miami Beach. Most recently, Wynwood was removed from the danger list, and Governor Scott commended the locals for banding together to squelch the danger in that part of town.

The above narrative is known more or less to all citizens of Miami, but beyond that, our knowledge is mostly limited to the barest details. What are all the forms of contagion? What symptoms should we be alert to? If you see symptoms, who should you call? If you realize now that someone you met last week had symptoms, should you be checked? Should you chase that person down to have him or her checked?

These are among many questions most of us can’t answer with any degree of specificity.

In the meantime, we have friends and relatives from other states who are hesitating to visit. They’re asking us for guidance and clarification, which we are ill equipped to provide. And so all sorts of ignorant decisions are made.

People come here who probably should not, and people fly elsewhere from here who possibly should not either. For the most part we’re making our plans without a sense that lives hinge upon them. Perhaps they don’t, but even that would be nice to know for certain.

Despite living in an era of unlimited access to information and an unlimited range of communication, there’s no concerted effort to create a cosmic convergence between the people in the know and the people with the need to know.

So we all sort of muddle along in various blissful stages of ignorance and hope for the best. More often than not, the results are closer to the best than to the worst, but probably that is more attributable to systems built into the universe than it is to our conscious efforts.

Gov. Scott praised the community, as we mentioned, but it’s hard to know if the community really did anything at all. The only change I can attest to in my own behavior is a tendency to drive my car through puddles with greater gusto, hoping to shrink the pools of standing water that might attract the dreaded mosquito. Probably most of the water rolls back into the puddle after I pass through, laughing at my human ineptitude in the battle against nature’s miniaturized fighter bombers.

If we really ran a society in an adult manner, with a proper sense of consequence, wouldn’t we demand that every local television and radio station shut down its regular programming for an hour or two in the early stages of an epidemic? In that window of time, all the airwaves would be monopolized by a single event featuring the top epidemiologists in the world, perhaps even the top entomologists, explaining every key detail of the disease, describing every symptom, teaching every method of defense against the mosquito.

Yet, if you think about it, you’ll realize that if that was ever enacted as a scene in a movie, the audience would immediately be chilled into feeling it had been transported into a truly alien society. One could hardly contemplate a more un-American scene. Where could this possibly be happening…North Korea, perhaps?

If we take the stakes up a notch, we can appreciate the danger of our chronic immaturity. Suppose this wasn’t Zika, a fairly minor and manageable crisis. Suppose it was an outbreak of bubonic plague instead, or a raging return of tuberculosis in full force. Death would come swiftly to those stricken and not immediately diagnosed and treated.

Would we have the ability to shut down television programming for emergency broadcasts in the manner we described? Would we have the capacity to close roads, to ground airlines, to refuse entry to citizens of entire nations, to quarantine the terribly diseased and the powerfully contagious?

Perhaps the most important lesson of the Zika virus is not limited to one particular medical anomaly. Perhaps this is a wake-up call to communicate better and more honestly as a government and as a society. As for the election, may the least worst wo/man win!


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