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Saturday, July 26, 2014
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Published: Sunday, 6/3/2007

TB traveler's selfishness infects us all

The headlines sketch the story.

Tuberculosis man defends travel.

Airline Passengers: 'I Wish He Hadn't Been So Selfish.'

TB patient "very sorry," asks forgiveness.

How should we assess the saga of the lawyer now under treatment in a Denver hospital for a dangerous strain of tuberculosis?

Maybe the tale of Andrew Speaker is a harbinger of governmental response to pandemic flu or bioterrorism. Or, if you prefer, we could puzzle over the fact that Mr. Speaker flew unchallenged, despite being on a watch list. Then again, there are fresh jurisdictional questions about federal quarantines.

Personally, I didn't think in earnest about Andrew Speaker until Thursday night, while in the parking lot of a Target store.

A group of women who'd left the check-out just ahead of me were parked near my car. Loading my stuff into the trunk, I heard a clatter that made me look up in time to see one of the group continue to sweep litter from their SUV.

Soda bottles and cans. Drinking straws. Sandwich wrappers and other stray paper.

I watched it all tumble out onto the asphalt and thought: Andrew Speaker.

In an interview with the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the lawyer said:

"I'm a very well-educated, successful, intelligent person. This is insane to me that I have an armed guard outside my door when I've cooperated with everything other than the whole solitary-confinement-in-Italy thing."

other than the whole solitary-confinement-in-Italy thing

In the end, parking lot trash and passenger fears of TB pretty much come down to the same thing:

"Me." Me, me, me, me. Forget "you." Heck, there's not even much "us" left.

Whether U.S. officials directly forbade Mr. Speaker from flying to Europe remains up for debate. But once in Rome, American health officials ordered himto stay put after learning he'd contracted a more dangerous, drug-resistant form of TB than first diagnosed.

But the 31-year-old newlywed disregarded those instructions. Instead, he hopped passenger planes to Prague and then Canada, intent on sneaking back to the United States for medical care.

This is the same line of thinking that leaves an empty office coffee pot scorching on the back burner.

This is the same line of thinking that leaves a toilet paper roll bare; that has drivers speed up to beat a yellow light; that leaves tax cheats thinking they're only making adjustments they deserve, and that lets politicians, judges, councilmen, or other elected officials sleep nights even after pocketing bribes.

This is the same line of thinking that, come to think of it, gave us the industry we call "lobbying."

In a nation that reveres rugged individualism, the idea of "common good" slipped so far from mainstream thought that someone had to come up with a name for it.

In the early 1990s, Amitai Etzioni launched the Communitarian Network, recognizing "the need for a social philosophy that at once protected individual rights and attended to corresponding responsibilities to the community."

Less "me," in other words, and a whole lot more "us."

Novel concept. Quick! Someone buy it a plane ticket so it can come back home.



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