Going Really Postal
  by Maureen Dowd


The federal government is starting to remind me of the Amity town council in "Jaws."

Afraid panic will spread and business will suffer, they keep telling us to go back into the ocean
before they've figured out how to fight the shark. And people keep dying.

Up until now, we thought the Centers for Disease Control was all- knowing about abstruse organisms.

But the U.S. Postal Service followed the C.D.C.'s advice not to test the Brentwood workers or give them
antibiotics after the poisoned letter to Tom Daschle passed through the facility, based on a specious assumption
that workers could not be contaminated by sealed letters (which are often not that tightly sealed anyway and
may have terrorist pinpricks and are put through machines cleaned by blowers).

"Apparently, closed envelopes can transmit as well," Dr. Jeffrey Koplan, the C.D.C. director, told the Senate
yesterday. A costly lesson, with two Brentwood workers dead and more infected.

After getting a slow start because they refused to believe the first Florida anthrax case was an instance of
terrorism, officials kept telling us not to worry, that anthrax was not dangerous unless the terrorists could find a
delivery system. They found it: a spore chain letter (or letters), scattering bacteria from New Jersey to
Brentwood to Congress to a remote White House mail room.

The government still doesn't know where the anthrax is from, who's sending it, how potent it is, how it spreads.
The germ is as old as man.  We had the ugly spectacle of Congressional employees and media big shots
getting prophylactic treatment and plenty of Cipro and time off, while the proles got the shaft.

At Brentwood yesterday, yellow police tape blocked the entrance tape that now signals contagion
as well as crime. No mail was being delivered, and carriers were steaming.

"Why didn't we get checked?" said Leslie Harris. "This stuff has to move from point A to point B.
The Senate is point B. We are A. They took care of point B, but what about us? Nobody told us nothing."
But while they were mad that Capitol Police dogs got tested before they did, they were going to keep working
to defy the terrorists.

"I'm just a regular guy trying to make a living," said Greg Ford, 51, a Vietnam veteran and 32-year employee.
"I'll do my job and hopefully the politicians will do theirs."

At D.C. General Hospital there was a long line of postal workers going postal because their bosses had still not
reassured them about what was going on or what they needed to do. "They're playing games," said Darryl Jones,
who delivers mail in the bleakest section of the city, Anacostia. "They don't know what the hell they're doing."

It's hard enough to deal with an invisible enemy using invisible weapons without also fretting that officials are
keeping us in the dark, or worse, that they are themselves in the dark.

We have been told to be alert. But what exactly for? The only alternative to paranoia and prejudice is solid information.
Officials should start telling us how much they don't know, instead of pretending they know more than they
know, or worrying excessively about freaking us out.

They should stop comparing the risks to car crashes. Stop being afraid to tell the drug companies what to do;
the government told the distilleries to produce tires instead of liquor during World War II. Be critical of
corporations for cutting back on jobs in order to boost profits and report earnings and have stocks go up, when
the patriotic thing at this point is not to cut back on jobs but to employ as many people as possible.
(The patriotic thing is also not to flee New York City.)

Americans comprehend we are at war. We understand we're unprepared for this sort of war, with biological
threats and hate-filled cavemen skulking around the globe. We also understand that things have to be rethought.
We do not need to be protected from the truth. We need the government to get its scientific and political and
rhetorical act together.

Tom Ridge is fine. But where is Robert Shaw to tell us how we're going to "get the head, the tail, the whole
damn thing"?

Privacy Policy
. .