Long Story Short: Green Light, antivaxxers, Rodney Taylor
Take this quiz
You’re an elected official charged with implementing a new law you don’t agree with. What do you do?
a. Reluctantly execute your sworn duties under the law, despite your personal misgivings.
b. Reluctantly execute your sworn duties while perusing legal challenges through the courts.
c. Refuse to do your job.
Hint: it depends on who you are
If you’re Erie County Clerk Michael Kearns, the answer is c. Kearns has said he will refuse to issue driver licenses to migrants under New York State’s new “Green Light” law, which goes into effect today. Niagara County Clerk Joseph Jastrzemski has also expressed his opposition to the law, but says he will comply, though with restricted hours for the applications. Under the law, undocumented migrants who live in New York may obtain licenses without a Social Security number, though other documents such as passports will be required as proof.
Kearns has said he will not implement the law, even though a lawsuit he brought against Governor Cuomo and the state was dismissed in federal court. Friday, a similar lawsuit brought by a county clerk outside Albany was thrown out by a federal judge.
Since the lawsuits failed to get what the clerks want, Kerns and Jastrzemski have a new gambit: a plea to delay the law, claiming that inadequate training will create safety issues. Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) spokesperson, Lisa Koumjian, disagrees, noting that county clerk offices were provided training and new identification authentication machines, and that clerks are welcome to contact the DMV for help if they need it. They are using “well-established” protocols and tools, such as facial recognition, for reporting possible fraud. The DMV’s message: do your job.
Why give migrants licenses?
An estimated 940,000 undocumented migrants live and work in New York, providing essential labor. And they frequently drive illegally, without insurance, since they don’t have a lawful means of using a car. Many of these undocumented migrants are so-called Dreamers, who have only known life in the US, and depend on cars to get to work or school. As the thirteenth state to implement such a license law, New York will gain added revenues from license and insurance fees, while making the roads safer. New research finds that such laws reduce the number of hit-and-run accidents.
Those opposed to the laws base their concerns on unfounded fears that the licenses will facilitate fraudulent voting (they won’t) or other imagined nefarious acts. However, before 2001, New York residents could apply for driver’s licenses regardless of immigration status and there were no known problems. Then 9/11 happened, and Governor Pataki ended the practice.
Immigration rights groups are gearing up for possible litigation against county clerks who attempt to impede the implementation of the law.
On vaccines and billboards
When I was born, polio was an infectious disease with no cure. It usually struck children and seemed impossible to stop. Two years later, in 1954, Jonas Salk developed a vaccine to prevent the disease and children around the world began receiving it. Salk became a national hero. Growing up, I knew people who had been inflicted with polio, and every child imagined the horrors of the iron lung.
There were people back then who resisted having their children vaccinated for polio. But as medical ethicist Arthur Caplan says, “Arguments about medical freedom and choice are at odds with the human and constitutional rights of children.” Children are entitled to vaccines, he argues, regardless of parental opinions. Legislators across the country see it the same way. Supported by the Supreme Court, they soon mandated the polio vaccine for school children, just as they required the smallpox vaccination years before. Smallpox, a deadly disease, had been eliminated, and, by 1979, polio was eradicated in the US, though vaccinations continue today to prevent the disease from coming to America from countries where it has not been eradicated.
In order to attend public and private schools and daycare centers, all fifty states require children to receive vaccinations for chickenpox, measles, mumps, rubella, polio, diphtheria, tetanus, and whooping cough. Most states, including New York, require hepatitis B vaccine. New York recently eliminated the religious exemption for vaccinations, which had become a bogus excuse for many parents wanting to opt out. We should all be grateful.
Not all the vaccinations are for communicable infections. Tetanus is a horrific disease that can lead to death but is not contagious. All of the illnesses prevented by required vaccinations are rare in the US today. All the vaccinations are safe. Complications are uncommon and usually mild, with serious ones extremely rare. No vaccine causes autism. A single very poorly designed and unethical UK study started this widely circulated myth. Subsequent studies disproved it, and after an investigation, the original study was eventually retracted and deemed “utterly false” by the original publisher. The doctor who conducted the study was struck off the UK Medical Registry, barring him from practicing medicine there. But trying to curtail this myth is like trying to stop a raging bull.
A LAMAR billboard with a dumb message
A friend of mine recently posted a Facebook comment about a LAMAR digital billboard at the corner of Elmwood and Hertel, with the odd message: “NY DEMS WANT TO MANDATE FLU & HPV SHOTS FOR SCHOOL! Tell them YOU call the SHOTS!” Clever, huh? The sign lists the names and phone numbers of presumably sympathetic legislators. It’s short on real information, seemingly meant to whip up anger and fear. To achieve its desired end, it attempts to exploit the nation’s political divide, along with unfounded fears and ignorance surrounding vaccinations.
Is it necessary to politicize health issues? Shouldn’t we learn the facts instead?
You may be wondering why legislators put forth two recent bills that would require these vaccines for attendance in schools. Here’s the scoop.
The flu vaccine is safe. You can’t get the flu from the vaccine. Serious allergic reactions are extremely rare. When they occur, it’s usually within a few minutes to a few hours after the vaccination and they can be treated. The flu, on the other hand, can be deadly. Last week USA Today reported that the 2019-2020 flu season in the US began early, and “there have already been about 910 deaths, 16,000 hospitalizations, 800,000 doctors' visits and 1.7 million cases.”
People don’t understand how serious the flu is because they usually refer to every cold or tummyache they get during the winter as influenza, as in, “I have a touch of the flu,” or “I have a stomach flu.” No you don’t. If you get the full-blown flu, it will knock you off your feet. And it kills kids (among others).
The flu vaccine is never 100% effective, and some people never seem to get the flu, so why do they need to get a flu shot? Because it’s not just about you! There’s something called herd immunity, the point at which enough people are immunized so that the spread of a disease is stopped. And here’s something that seems counterintuitive: in years that the vaccine has a low rate of effectiveness, it’s more important to get it! That’s because the weaker the vaccine, the more people must be vaccinated to achieve herd immunity.
In the two states that already mandate flu immunization for children between six months and five years of age, flu-related hospitalization among that group declined twelve percent. Even after the cost of the vaccine, immunizing children would save more than $12,000 per child. But it’s not about cost; it’s about the health of our children.
If you still have doubts, here’s a reliable source of information.
As with flu shots, the HPV vaccine is safe. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are reliable sources of information on this and other concerns. HPV is the leading cause of cervical cancer, and one cause of many other cancers, as well as genital warts. The vaccine is highly effective in preventing HPV infection.
But here’s the thing; you get the HPV virus through sex. Parents don’t want to think about their children eventually having sex. And the argument—which would be the same for the tetanus vaccine—is since you can’t spread it in school, how can you justify forcing children to be vaccinated? Well for one thing, when they do become sexually active, it’s unlikely they’ll request the vaccine over the dinner table. As kids get older, trips to the doctor decline, and parental influence does too. Catching them when they’re young is the best way to protect kids against getting cancer from HPV for life. And here again, it’s about more than just your child. If they are vaccinated, they can’t spread HPV later, so it’s a public health issue. An article in Harvard Health Publishing offers more details.
Children’s health is a bipartisan issue, not a billboard meme. Get your kids vaccinated. Don’t rely on anti-vaccination propaganda websites or ex-Playboy playmates for information. Check reliable sources like the National Institute of Health to learn about the damage the anti-vaccination movement causes. There’s no big pharma or government conspiracy to hide the truth and force unsafe vaccinations onto an unsuspecting public, despite what the foil hat crowd believes. If you think it through, you’ll realize how dumb that is.
Artist Rodney Taylor remembered
It’s always painful when someone dies young. The hurt is more acute when death arrives suddenly, just before the holidays. And it’s extra tragic when a much-respected member of the art community passes away weeks before a career-affirming exhibition arranged by the Albright-Knox Art Gallery.
This is the case for Buffalo artist, Rodney Taylor, who passed away last Monday, the result of a stroke at age fifty-three. An exhibition of his latest work, Open House: Domestic Thresholds, will open at Albright-Knox Northland on January 17. It will be the first exhibition at the new temporary space, while the Albright-Knox Art Gallery is renovated and expanded over the next two years. It’s fitting that Taylor is included in the premiere show on Buffalo’s East Side, where the artist was born and lived in recent years with his wife, Annette Daniels Taylor, and four children.
A community reacts
As news of Taylor’s passing spread, an outpouring of sympathy and condolences arose from the local art community. Hallwalls’ curator, John Massier—who gave Taylor his first solo exhibition in Buffalo in 2008—says he was “crushed” to learn of the artist’s passing: “Rodney was always very affable and easygoing to work with. I thought so highly of his work; I was just really proud to exhibit his paintings.” The last time Massier saw Taylor, he expressed excitement about his latest work, which will be on view at Northland. “Rodney was a great artist, a devoted husband and father, and a great friend," says Massier, “I will miss seeing him.” A Facebook post from Buffalo Arts Studios states that Taylor is “loved in the community for his commitment to family, art making, and friendship.”
In a December 2017 review of Taylor’s exhibition of emotionally dark and foreboding works at Nina Freudenheim Gallery, former Buffalo News art critic, Colin Dabkowski, muses: “What's going on in these paintings, each one so visually arresting and laden with meaning?” The critic goes on to describe the work as, “engrossing” and “masterful visually.” Dabkowski posted his review last week with the message, “I'm heartbroken about Rodney Taylor, one of our region's great painters.”
Taylor’s reputation extends beyond Western New York. Born in Buffalo, he attended the Fashion Institute of Technology, S.U.N.Y., and later received a fellowship to attend the Skowhegan School of Painting Sculpture. He was also a Milton Avery school of the Arts Fellow at Bard, Annandale on the Hudson. His work has been exhibited in New York City, including at the Drawing Center, Snug Harbor Cultural Art Center, and Lincoln Center. He is included in numerous private and public collections.
Taylor’s passing is a loss to Buffalo and to the local African-American community. Readers are urged to consider attending the opening of his exhibition at 612 Northland Avenue, not for the art alone, but to show support for Taylor’s wife and children. For anyone so inclined, there is a GoFundMe memorial fund to help cover medical bills and the cost of cremation.
Long Story Short is an opinion column by artist and educator Bruce Adams, a longtime contributor to Buffalo Spree.
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