April 28, 2009

Swine Fool

Bob McCown posted this story as a comment on one of my Facebook entries yesterday:

The outbreak of swine flu should be renamed "Mexican" influenza in deference to Muslim and Jewish sensitivities over pork, said an Israeli health official Monday.

Deputy Health Minister Yakov Litzman said the reference to pigs is offensive to both religions and "we should call this Mexican flu and not swine flu," he told a news conference at a hospital in central Israel. (AP via Google - Israeli official: Swine flu name offensive)

I'm no expert on kashrut, but isn't the prohibition on pork specific in that orally ingesting pork is what is forbidden? Don't many Jews who keep kosher receive insulin injections which may contain porcine products, and they do so with the blessings of their rabbi?

Deputy Health Minister Litzman undoubtedly knows more about Judaism than I do, so I don't feel like I'm in a position to argue what is and is not offensive to Jews. But it certainly seems like he's presuming to speak for a lot of people. There are a lot of Jews and Muslims. He's not saying that the reference to pigs is offensive to him personally; he's saying that it's offensive to the religions. It's up to Jews and Muslims to decide whether he speaks for them on that account. As far as I'm concerned, he can make up silly rules all day if he wants. Just don't expect me to have much respect for him.

Not surprisingly, an ancient prohibition from eating pork won't make a damn bit of difference to your chances of getting the swine flu. Unfortunately there is no prohibition from getting coughed on by someone who has recently been hanging around an infected pig. Some might call that ironic. Some might find the word "ironic" offensive and prefer to just call it "Mexican."

I wanted to give Mr. Litzman the benefit of the doubt when I heard that he was afraid that the constant references to swine would stigmatize Mexicans in the Jewish and Muslim world. However, his insistence on renaming the flu as "Mexican Flu" does little to convince me of his altruism. Talk about stigmatizing.

I declare Mr. Litzman the swine fool of the day. I plan to have a BLT for lunch to seal the deal.

Posted by James at April 28, 2009 12:35 AM
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Maybe he figures that since Mexicans eat "carnitas" they wouldn't mind the name.

This is worse than political correctness run amok. It's simply creating an issue where there probably is none.

Posted by: Bull at April 28, 2009 1:59 AM

I had a Jewish friend who told me she couldn't use soap that was made with lard, so, apparently some interpret the pork prohibition more strictly than others.

Posted by: Julie at April 28, 2009 7:47 AM

When I was first diagnosed in 1970, my roommate in hospital was Orthodox. Although many rabbis say that medicine that saves your life is exempt from such rule, Ira used beef-derived insulin, which at the time was sold in any drugstore along with sheep insulin and beef-pork and whatever mix worked best for you.

In 1998, the FDA said that beef insulin might cause Mad Cow Disease, ignored the users of animal-origin insulin, and only approved American-made recombinant-DNA insulins -- deemed kosher because they are "synthetic." (They are also cheaper to produce while I've never seen the price go down in 25 years.) Foreign insulins are "dangerous and unapproved."

(You can still import up to a six-month supply of animal insulin from "foreign manufactirers" with the proper documentation from the USDA and customs and whatever other bureaucracy they name. Just don't sell any, or you will be in Federal lock-up for distributing dangerous drugs.)

Posted by: PJ at April 28, 2009 9:04 AM

I understand such prohibitions. I refuse to use soap made from Mexicans. But it's not so much of a religious thing as it is a superstition. I believe the ghosts of the Mexicans will haunt my fingers.

But I don't presume to tell other people to stop calling soap made from Mexicans "Mexican soap."

Posted by: James at April 28, 2009 9:34 AM

So are we supposed to pretend swine don't exist just because you can't eat it? Do Hindus call it Mad-Brit disease? Pigs are the source of the epidemic hence the name. That they happend to be in Mexico isn't really important.

PJ DNA insulin is NOT cheaper to produce than animal derived. Not by a long shot. You may be able to get foreign insulin cheaper because the requirements in that country are far less stringent and they may not be purifying the drug to the same level. Recombinant insulin is likely more effective because it is actually the same protein as is found in humans where animal derived insulins are slightly different.

Posted by: B.O.B. (bob) at April 28, 2009 10:17 AM

Speaking as the "reasonable Jew" (long story), I find the deputy health minister's complaint absurd. The disease has nothing to do with Mexicans. The outbreak, on the other hand, has quite a bit to do with them. If this turns into the feared pandemic, I would wholeheartedly support calling it the Mexican Swine Flu Pandemic of 2009.

Posted by: briwei at April 28, 2009 10:53 AM

I agree, Brian.

Mexico has a lousy, underfunded public health infrastructure, and we're seeing the result of that.

You would not be faulted today if you were reminded of the complaints a few weeks ago that anti-pandemic funding in the government was "pork."

Posted by: James at April 28, 2009 12:05 PM

What a maroon. The flu is called "swine flu" for the same reason there's a flu called "bird flu." These are named as such due to origin, not because each animal is tasty to some folks.

As we all know, the swine flu is so named because it's a respiratory virus that infects pigs. There's a place for religion, and there's a place for science. _This_ flu outbreak is the place for science.

More info on why swine flu is so named and how it spreads here:


Posted by: Patti M. at April 28, 2009 7:21 PM

Many thanks to B.O.B. (bob). I also apologize to the pharmaceutical industry for speaking recklessly.

I have been carrying a misapprehension around since 1982, when we were told that huge vats of recombinant-DNA insulin would be "so copious that it would be almost free." My disappointment has NOT stopped my use of the product.

Posted by: PJ at April 28, 2009 8:45 PM

I think the whole thing is absurd because it is a swine flu and not a Mexican flu (which just sounds offensive to Mexicans to me, to imply they originated a pandemic as if by choice), but my interpretation of the reason he thinks it's offensive is social, i.e. it would be hugely embarrassing or carry a huge social stigma to be said to have the "swine flu" since pigs are considered dirty by members of those religions. It would make you seem dirty. Like having the "leaking asshole flu," or the "molests little children flu" or you know, whatever really offends you and it would be very embarrassing to have. Something you wouldn't want people saying about you. That's my interpretation.

Posted by: Maggie at April 28, 2009 8:48 PM

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