SARS made by USA?

MINI CRITIQUE - MINI CRITIQUE By Isagani Cruz () - November 13, 2003 - 12:00am
On the airport shuttle to Iowa City last month, I met the world-famous American microbiologist Howard B. Urnovitz, who has become rich taking out patents for various medical breakthroughs and has been tapped as an expert by various bodies, including the US Congress when it investigated Gulf War illnesses. He is best known for proving that genetic material in plasma and serum originates from the host genome.

We got to talking about SARS. Urnovitz claimed that SARS was caused by the American bombing of Afghanistan. That bombing, he said, spread radioactivity all the way to Mongolia. Mongolian birds that would normally fly to Afghanistan were prevented from doing that by the bombing and instead flew to Hong Kong. In fact, only in the past two years have cranes and other such birds been seen in Hong Kong. These migratory birds brought radioactive material with them, interacted with the human beings in Hong Kong, and the result was SARS.

Readers that can understand microbiology (I don’t) may turn to http://www.i-sis.org.uk/SVGE.php for more information about this fascinating theory. That website includes this item: "Urnovitz believes that the spike protein of the SARS virus is the result of genetic rearrangements provoked by environmental genotoxic agents, much like those he and his colleagues have detected in Gulf War I veterans suffering from Gulf War Syndrome. But how did the virus get to south China? Migratory birds that frequent gene-swapping hot spots like southeast China could have carried the SARS virus there. Urnovitz himself doesn’t think the SARS virus is the real cause of SARS. Instead, it is the piece of reshuffled human chromosome 7 that others are referring to as the spike protein gene of the SARS virus. That alone is sufficient to trigger serious autoimmune responses in people."

That conversation with Urnovitz made my long trip to Iowa City through unrelieved corn and bean fields bearable and memorable.

LANGUAGE MATTERS: Reader Theo C.M. of SLU Laboratory Elementary School sent me a query about plural pronouns referring to singular words: "The following examples give me the impression that the words person, someone, and somebody take the plural form: ‘If you dug a tunnel from one side of the earth to the other and a person jumped down into it, what would happen to them?’ (Reader’s Digest, October 2003, p. 17); ‘Is there someone you know / loving them so / taking them all / for granted’ (David Gates, Everything I Own); ‘If you love somebody, set them free’ (Sting). Do these words take the plural form?"

This is a good example of the way grammar evolves. Grammar, like everything else human, is a product of time and a hostage to history. Some thinkers even say that grammar is a tool that the privileged classes foist on the unlettered in order to keep the latter mired in low self-esteem. Whatever.

What is undeniable is that grammar has indeed changed through time. For example, in English, we used to add letters to words to indicate whether they were in the nominative or the objective case. That was a long time ago, but even many adults still alive today remember putting hyphens in all sorts of words that are no longer hyphenated.

One of the changes grammar has seen in the last 40 years is the non-exclusive language revolution, known to most people as the drive against sexism, though it actually involves a lot more than discrimination merely on the basis of gender or sexual preference. (We can also discriminate against people because of their age, race, color, religion, physical disability, and so on.)

The word man, for example, used to refer to everybody, until feminists pointed out that only half of the human race is male. Today, it is not only impolite but even illegal in some places to use man to refer to a woman (as in Chairman Maria or Congressman Maria). Instead, we use chair or representative if we are referring to a woman or to an unspecified individual; of course, if the person being referred to is male, chairman or congressman is perfectly correct. The restriction applies only when there is no particular individual being referred to, in which case the use of the male indicator man falsely assumes that men are the only ones that can chair meetings or be elected to Congress.

The words person, someone, and somebody have been affected by this non-exclusive language revolution. If Sting said, "If you love somebody, set him free," then the song would obviously be bought only by women, thus cutting the music producer’s income in half. If Sting said, "If you love somebody, set her free," it would be the female half of the human race that would not buy the record. If Sting said, "If you love somebody, set him or her free," the song would be ruined (try it and see how the rhythm changes). The best solution is to use the feminist way: use the plural pronoun even if it violates Old Grammar.

The key phrase here is "Old Grammar." New Grammar regards the use of a plural pronoun for a singular antecedent as perfectly acceptable, if there is a possibility of discrimination according to gender, race, color, and so on.

Just like all other traditional beliefs, Old Grammar refuses to die. After all, there are still Americans who believe that the earth is flat, and there are still Filipinos who throw away the last drops in their glasses to feed the spirits living below the ground. If you surf the web, you will still see a lot of grammar websites that refuse to follow the new rules. Ignore them, just as you ignore the Flat Earth Society.

Sooner or later, these Old Grammarians will take a trip to the moon and see that the earth is not flat and that language, like everything else, has to evolve into a higher, more complex, and more sophisticated form.

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