Medicine Politics

One of the more annoying talk radio rants I’ve heard

Yesterday, on the way home, I was flipping through the AM dial. Yes, as embarrassed as I am to admit it, even now I still occasionally have a soft spot for conservative talk radio. At the risk of being shunned by my fellow ScienceBloggers (most of whom are–shall we say?–a bit to the left) and driving away half my traffic, I will even admit to having listened regularly to Rush Limbaugh for a period of several years back when I was in the lab fulltime. Say whatever you will about his views (which have tended to become more odious over the years), he was (and sometimes still is) a powerful and entertaining radio presence in a way that no one on, for instance Air America, comes close to, not even Al Franken (and I’ve listened to them all at one time or another). Wannabes like Sean Hannity (who tries to be like Rush Limbaugh, except that he doesn’t appear to be that bright and is neither as charismatic nor entertaining) don’t even come close.

But I digress. Eventually, I got fed up with right wing talkers like Rush and Sean, something that began in 2000, when they savaged John McCain and championed our current President, culminating in the leadup to the Iraq War, when they became the number one media cheerleaders for the war–and still are, to this day.

In any case, I happened upon the Mark Levin show. For those of you fortunate enough never to have heard one of Mark Levin’s tirades, let’s just say that he makes Rush Limbaugh look like he’s on Quaaludes. Of course, given Rush’s history, it’s quite possible that these days he is on Quaaludes, but Levin still makes him seem downright reasonable. In fact, few conservative talk hosts reach Levin’s level of vitriol, with perhaps Michael Savage being the only one who surpasses him–and then only sometimes. Hard as it is to believe from his rants, Levin is a Constitutional lawyer, who wrote a book called Men In Black, which, from what I’ve been able to glean from what he says about it on the air, is basically one long tirade against judicial activism–liberal judicial activism, of course; he doesn’t seem to mind conservative judicial activists like Antonin Scalia.

Before I get into what he said that was so offensive, let’s look at how the WABC Radio website describes Levin:

“He’s smart, witty, and fast on the draw,” according to WABC Program Director Phil Boyce. “He has this sharp sarcastic wit that can easily stun his opponents. I know I would not want to debate him.”

Well, not exactly. What he tends to do is to talk over callers with whom he disagrees, yell at them, and ridicule them mercilessly over the air, all the while only rarely putting together anything that even slightly resembles a coherent argument, all in the service of hyper-jingoistic tirades against our enemies, real and perceived, and about how great we as a nation are. One of his trademark moves is to hang up on a caller who is either (1) clearly not very bright and thus an exceptionally easy target or (2) clearly getting the better of him in an argument with, “Go away, you big dope!” Sometimes I find myself listening to him on the way home in sheer disbelief and fascination, much the way one can’t help but watch a car wreck encountered on the road. Usually these interludes only last five or ten minutes or so, and afterwards I feel dirty, asking myself why.

Yesterday, Levin was ranting about the Red Cross. What could possibly bother him about a humanitarian agency like the Red Cross? Easy. He didn’t like the fact that the Red Cross was treating Hezbollah wounded in Lebanon with the same compassion that they treated Israeli wounded. He ranted on and on about the Red Cross was “helping terrorists,” getting particularly peeved about statements from the Red Crescent (the Islamic version of the Red Cross) that the organization would treat all noncombatants impartially, be they Israeli or Lebanese, and that a wounded soldier who is no longer able to fight is a noncombattant, be he Israeli or Hezbollah. Particularly inflammatory to Levin was a statement that in Afghanistan the Red Cross would treat al Qaeda the same way it treats anyone else. Basically, the statements that so irritated Levin were restatements of the Red Cross and Red Crescent’s mission:

What are the fundamental principles of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement?

Humanity: The International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement, born of a desire to bring assistance without discrimination to the wounded on the battlefield, endeavours, in its international and national capacity, to prevent and alleviate human suffering wherever it may be found. Its purpose is to protect life and health and to ensure respect for the human being. It promotes mutual understanding, friendship, cooperation and lasting peace amongst all peoples.

Impartiality: It makes no discrimination as to nationality, race, religious beliefs, class or political opinions. It endeavours to relieve the suffering of individuals, being guided solely by their needs, and to give priority to the most urgent cases of distress.

Neutrality: In order to continue to enjoy the confidence of all, the Movement may not take sides in hostilities or engage at any time in controversies of a political, racial, religious or ideological nature.

Independence: The Movement is independent. The National Societies, while auxiliaries in the humanitarian services of their governments and subject to the laws of their respective countries, must always maintain their autonomy so that they may be able at all times to act in accordance with the principles of the Movement.

Voluntary Service: It is a voluntary relief movement not prompted in any manner by desire for gain.

Unity: There can be only one Red Cross or one Red Crescent Society in any one country. It must be open to all. It must carry on its humanitarian work throughout its territory.

Universality: The International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement, in which all Societies have equal status and share equal responsibilities and duties in helping each other, is worldwide.

What irked Levin so is that the Red Cross strives to be neutral, to treat all wounded and displaced equally. He seems to think the organization should judge who is and is not in the right in this war. Basically, Levin’s rant resembled a brief version of the comment thread after the story on Little Green Footballs about this, comments like this, this, this, and this. I’m sure Levin has no problem with the Red Cross helping Israeli victims of the war and any Israeli soldiers that might require assistance. In his frenzy, he also seems to forget that it is not the Red Cross’ job to make judgments as to who is or is not a terrorist, or which nation is in the right or wrong in any war. It is their job and mission to help the wounded and displaced. As one of the more reasonable commenters put it:

The Red Cross has a long and colorful history of helping combatants and non-combatants equally. They maintain their “Swiss Neutrality” approach to assert plausible reproach by either side for taking sides.

Just as the Israeli hospitals and doctors have a long history of treating Israelis and “Palestinians” alike when they are rushed in on gurneys with life threatening wounds of war.

Just as (from my good friend Dr. Anonymous, in Los Angeles) – public and private hospitals alike here in the States make no moral judgement about the patients piling up in their emergency rooms on Saturday night. Theirs is the job of figuring out how to staunch the bleeding, patch up the organs, detox the gut and stabilize the shock. Its the police’s job to figure out who shot who, and why.

Again … not so rough on the Red Cross. They takes their chances (at becoming collateral damage), but theirs is a pretty laudible neutral position as well.

Or perhaps he should consider what this retired Special Forces soldier says:

As an old retired Special Forces soldier, I have no problem with this. This is what the Red Cross is supposed to do.

Perhaps the folks commenting here ought to read the Geneva and Hague Conventions.

I am certainly on the side of Israel in this latest exercise, and really think that we ought to harm Iran; but, when the soldiers/insurgents are wounded and the Red Cross provides comfort and safe passage then we’re obeying the rules.

It’s no different than what I used to do when I covered trauma. It didn’t matter who the patient was or how he or she was injured. They got treated just the same, even though I often knew that I was treating a drunk driver who had killed someone in a crash or a gang banger who had gotten shot in a robbery attempt. It didn’t matter. As doctors and health care workers, we are obligated to treat any ill or injured human; it is not our job to judge them. And it is the same with the Red Cross.

In fact, it is this worsening attitude of “if you’re not with us you’re against us” coupled with “if you’re against us you’re somehow subhuman” that has in recent years driven me from the Republican Party and made me disillusioned with conservatism, at least as it exists now. Don’t get me wrong. To me Hezbollah is definitely primarily a terrorist organization, and I would shed no tears if it were utterly destroyed. However, the Red Cross is still right to treat wounded Hezbollah fighters the same way that it treats wounded Israelis and wounded soldiers and victims of war all over the world.

By Orac

Orac is the nom de blog of a humble surgeon/scientist who has an ego just big enough to delude himself that someone, somewhere might actually give a rodent's posterior about his copious verbal meanderings, but just barely small enough to admit to himself that few probably will. That surgeon is otherwise known as David Gorski.

That this particular surgeon has chosen his nom de blog based on a rather cranky and arrogant computer shaped like a clear box of blinking lights that he originally encountered when he became a fan of a 35 year old British SF television show whose special effects were renowned for their BBC/Doctor Who-style low budget look, but whose stories nonetheless resulted in some of the best, most innovative science fiction ever televised, should tell you nearly all that you need to know about Orac. (That, and the length of the preceding sentence.)

DISCLAIMER:: The various written meanderings here are the opinions of Orac and Orac alone, written on his own time. They should never be construed as representing the opinions of any other person or entity, especially Orac's cancer center, department of surgery, medical school, or university. Also note that Orac is nonpartisan; he is more than willing to criticize the statements of anyone, regardless of of political leanings, if that anyone advocates pseudoscience or quackery. Finally, medical commentary is not to be construed in any way as medical advice.

To contact Orac: [email protected]

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