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(en) Us, Boston Anti-Authoritarian Movement (BAAM)* #5 - page 1 - Bah, Christmas. by Adrienne + BU Bioterrorism Lab: Academy Raises More Questions by Dave

Date Mon, 24 Dec 2007 14:21:38 +0200

Welcome to the fifth issue of the BAAM Newsletter. We are a general anarchist
union in the Boston area. Our structure reflects our belief that anarchist
organizations should not be configured in such a way that conflicts with the
ultimate goal of a classless, stateless society. We feel that being class
conscious is not enough; we oppose authoritarianism in all its forms, including
capitalism, government, and all types of oppression such as racism, sexism,
nationalism, xenophobia, homophobia, and environmental devastation. To learn
more about BAAM, come to our monthly meeting: every 1st Tuesday of the Month,
7pm at the Lucy Parsons Center, 549, Columbus Ave, in the South End of Boston,
or visit our website:BAAMBoston.org

Bah, Christmas. by Adrienne
I'm sure you're all asking your-
selves what the birth of a long-dead Jew
from the Roman Empire has to do with en-
ergy-hogging lights and gadgets, red-clad
Santas branded on everything, and the de-
struction of forests for temporary display in
homes and offices. Or why every December,
we're guilted into buying shit for the people
in our lives to commemorate JC's birth when
the real JC was born in a warmer month. I
recall my mom, a Jeezus aficionado, once
speaking harshly about Halloween, saying it
derived from pagan celebrations. My rebut-
tal pleased not mom. There's a reason JC's
b-day is celebrated so far from its actual oc-
currence and with such irrelevant revelry.
Check out late December; we've
got Winter Solstice, Sol Invictus and, my
personal favorite, Saturnalia. Winter Sol
stice was/is almost universally celebrated
by non - major - monotheistic - religion - following people
[better knownas pagans] in the Northern Hemisphere on the
shortest day of the year, known by Germanic folk as Yule
Interpretations vary across cultures, but the overarching theme
is light and/or rebirth. Sol Invictus, the Unconquered Sun, was
(Bah, Christmas, continued from P. 1)
a popular Roman celebration that early Christians enjoyed tak-
ing part in. Saturnalia was a week long Roman festival that took
place around the temple of Saturn. Social norms were inverted as
schools shut down and slaves took control of their masters. Gifts
were given and the revelry often led to very gay, very public orgies.
As for the trappings of the current Christmas celebrations,
Yule logs and Christmas trees date back to Germanic veneration of
trees, a tribute to Thor. On the matter of Santa, that beloved commer-
cial figure, many of his current myths are directly traceable to the
bearded Norse god Odin who led hunting parties across the sky dur-
ing Yule with his eight-legged leaping, flying horse Sleipnir. Chil-
dren would leave out their boots filled with horse-food for Sleipnir,
and Odin, in appreciation, would replace the horse-food with gifts
and sweetmeats. In fact, one of Santa's reindeer is named Donner,
which means Thunder, something under the control of Mr. Thor.
Ancient attempts by church and state leaders to get the whole world
to practice Christianity involved taking non-Christian customs,
celebrations, or other familiar aspects of life and convincing the
masses that they had been doing it for JC all along. Odin?
He's kinda like St. Nicholas. Gift-giving? That's kinda like how the
astrologers brought baby Jeezus gold, frankincense and myrrh.
For me, I'll take no gods, no masters, and no kitschy
religio-cultural celebrations, plzthx.

BU Bioterrorism Lab: Academy Raises More Questions by Dave

The National Research Council (NRC), the arm of the
National Academy of Sciences responsible for studies and ad-
vice on scientific issues, released a searing report November 29th
criticizing the National Institutes of Health (NIH) assessment of
the risks from Boston University's "Anti-Bioterrorism Lab." The
National Emerging Infectious Diseases Lab (NEIDL) under con-
struction in Boston's South End is presumably intended to de-
velop defensesits required Final Environmental Impact completed
and published
against biological weapons. The NIH
(FEIS) in December 2005. However, pursuant to a federal court
order to address community concerns, the NIH conducted addi-
tional reviews in 2006, which were published
as the Draft Supplementary Risk Assessments
and Site Suitability Analyses for the NEIDL,
BU (DSER). The NRC was charged only with
reviewing the DSER. While not judging the
risks presented by the lab itself, the NRC noted
several shortcomings in the DSER: (i) inappro-
priate worst-case scenarios; (ii) inadequate de-
scription of risk assessment methodologies; and
(iii) insufficient scope of analysis. The NRC
report is as unsettling as it is incisive and fur-
ther calls into question the rationale for build-
ing a bioweapons laboratory in the South End.
Extremely secure facilities are re-
quired for biomedical research on exotic, in-
fectious disease agents with no available treat-
ments to prevent their unintentional release.
Because of the grave risks from these life-
threatening agents, research is conducted in
laboratories with the highest level of biological
containment possible, referred to as Biosafety
Level 4 (BL-4 or BSL-4). Salient features include:
(i) remote handling of agents with robots
in isolation chambers; (ii) hermetically-sealed personal protective
equipment (PPE) for lab workers; (iii) negative air pressure so that
agents can't leak out; and (iv) strict sterilization of all items leav-
ing the facility, including the air (but excluding people, of course).
BL-4 labs clearly have an important function in the diagnosis,
treatment, and prevention of dread diseases. However, diversion of
these technologies toward military goals is troubling. The agents
in question--bacteria, single-celled organisms like anthrax and E.
coli, or viruses, non-cellular genetic entities that replicate within
host cells like HIV or influenza virus--each have pros and cons as
bioweapons. While bacteria can generally survive outside a host,
they usually respond to antibiotic treatment. On the other hand,
viruses require a host for survival, but antiviral antidotes are not
uniformly available and can be toxic. Moreover, the small viral
genomes (maybe 1% that of bacteria) make genetic engineering
much easier. The BU Anti-Bioterrorism Lab is one of 3 that the
Bush administration sought to open in the wake of the 9/11. An-
other was constructed at the Rocky Mountain Lab, Montana and
a third is under construction at the University of Texas, Galves-
ton. These labs are funded by the NIH budget, a disconcerting
deviation from health research toward military ends. More dis-
turbing is the secrecy shrouding the labs and the real potential
for bioweapons development under the guise of national security.
The NRC was asked to answer three questions: (i) Was the
DSER sound and credible? (ii) Were worst-case scenarios explored?
(iii) Were the relative risks vs. alternative locations adequately
considered? The answer was a resounding "No" to each. While the
many technical details are beyond the scope of this article, the logic
behind the NRC conclusions is quite compelling. Furthermore, the
NRC questioned why the DSER literally ignored how the social and
economic conditions of the South End could worsen an outbreak.
To the first question, the NRC held that the DSER con-
clusions were not adequately supported by the analyses. This cat-
egory is rather technical and deals with risk assessment method-
ologies for infectious agent commonly accepted by the scientific
community. The NRC committee, several members of which have
expertise in communicable diseases, noted that the DSER utilized
non-standard methodologies without justification and disregarded
well-established principles. While many of these concerns are eso-
teric and difficult to describe simply, a couple straightforward ex-
amples will provide a flavor. One example is the reliance on agents
with low transmissibility, such as for Rift Valley Fever (RVFV),
a mosquito-borne virus infecting both humans and cattle. While
dangerous, the NIH simulation of an RVFV outbreak did not lead
to an epidemic, even in a crowded urban population, due to its low
rate of transmission from person to person. The NRC warned that
failure to consider more readily transmissible agents thus totally
underestimated potential dangers. Another example was an arbi-
trary reduction in the transmissibility of monkey pox. About 1 in 12
people infected with monkey pox pass it on to another person. The
NIH inexplicably downscaled this transmission rate to 1 in 3,000,
thus projecting to a very limited number of cases instead of a wide-
spread outbreak. Needless to say, one is left with a sense that the
NIH analysis was intentionally misleading, incompetent, or both.
To the second, the NRC stated that the pathogens exam-
ined in the DSER do not likely encompass worst cases for the South
End. The community had listed several possible scenarios, includ-
ing accidental release (laboratory escape, transportation of an infec-
tious agent or infected patient), infection by a mislabeled sample,
release of specific agents (Ebola virus, a poxvirus), and infection
of school children. To their credit, the NIH incorporated these sce-
narios and added 2 more agents for simulation. However, the NRC
criticized them for stopping there and not considering breaches
more likely than an infected worker or other more highly infec-
tious agents. For example, the NIH overlooked probable release
modes such as equipment failure, an inside job, or terrorist actions.
These safety breaches occur more often than infections of BL-4 lab
workers, so the NIH only examined the "least worrisome" possi-
bility. Another example is that bubonic plague, for which endemic
South End rodents would provide a ready reservoir, would have
been much more realistic than RVFV. Furthermore, the NIH failed
to consider accidental release of a natural or engineered agent with
"novel" or poorly characterized pathogenesis. All in all, these laps-
es by the NIH add to a massive underestimation of the lab's risks.
The third "No" was to the conclusion that a South End
lab presented no more risk than alternative locations. The NIH
considered only two, suburban Tyngsborough and rural Peterbor-
ough, NH. While providing some contrast to the South End, both
were judged equally "safe" to the Boston site. The real rationale
for choosing these was that BU owns the land in both commu-
nities, not any inherent contrast with the South End. Moreover,
one could not expect the minimalist models used by the NIH,
all of which led to low projected risk, to reveal any real differ-
ences for any site comparisons. The NRC judged these limita-
tions as far too restricting for the analyses to provide credible
evidence in justifying the South End as a "safer" location for the
lab than elsewhere. Needless to say, the current location suits
BU's agenda rather well as they try to compete for hegemony
in real estate with Harvard and in military research with MIT.
Finally, the NRC condemned the DSER for ignoring
justice issues. Several characteristics of the South End would ag-
gravate consequences of an accidental release. The prevalence of
asthma, immunosuppressive diseases (such as AIDS), and poor
nutrition increase the probability of infection and transmission
as well as the severity of illnesses. These consequences would
be exacerbated by public health responses that are clearly less
robust than in well-to-do areas (Did someone say "Katrina"?).
While not mentioned in the NRC report, building another high-
tech operation can only accelerate gentrification by inexorably in-
creasing rents and property values from the professional influx.
Mayor Menino has been salivating over the power of the BU
Anti-Bioterrorism lab to attract yet bio-tech companies to the area.
In closing, NEIDL is typical of the capitalist mentality.
Bioterrorism, if actually a credible threat, is created by unjust
accumulation of wealth and power. Building BL-4 labs enriches
capitalists, intensifies secrecy, provokes fear, and stands to pro-
duce yet more weapons of mass destruction rather than addressing
the inequities that foster anger. As a friend of mine noted, it's time
for us to shift our focus from national security to human security.

* A General Anarchist Union in the Boston Area
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