Tag Archives: AIDS

Death and Time

The death of actress and national icon Betty White on New Year’s Eve 2021 has left many of us here in the United States shocked and despondent.  White was just 17 days shy of her 100th birthday; an event which she and the rest of us looked forward to celebrating.  Now she’s gone.  Suddenly.  None of us really saw this coming.  How could this happen?  Why?  But none of us should be shocked.

Death doesn’t honor our designated times of order.  My paternal grandfather once said that he respected death because it bears no prejudice.  It takes who it wants when it wants.  According to my father it was painful for him to admit even that much; as he had seen so many very young people and/or very good people suffer an untimely demise throughout his time on Earth.  My grandfather died in 1969, and my father didn’t fully comprehend the meaning of what the old man had said until some years later.

Perhaps it’s easy for we older folks to have a more cynical if not sedate view of death.  I’m at the point where I know I have more years behind than ahead of me.  But currently I feel I’m surrounded by people enduring serious health struggles.  A close friend is showing signs of Parkinson’s.  Another friend is dealing with liver cancer.  His doctors gave him less than a decade, unless he has a liver transplant.  But his liver seems too badly damaged to qualify for a transplant.  So he’s resigned himself to decluttering his life and reconnecting with people.  One of my cousins who’s 10 years older suffered a heart attack in 2020 and is now battling kidney failure.  The 40-something son of another long-time friend is still recovering from a catastrophic stroke he experienced about 2 years ago.  He’s ensconced in a rehabilitation facility, but doesn’t appear to be making much progress – not according to his father.  The latter says it seems his son doesn’t really want to cooperate with the therapists; as if – just a few years from age 50 – he’s decided he’s lived life to the fullest.

As a manic depressive in my past life, death often occupied more space in my mind than thoughts of the future.  A typical artistic type, I experience the full range of emotions humanity possesses.  But death haunts all of us throughout our lives.  When I was in high school, a girl was killed when a train struck the car in which she was riding.  Around that same time, lightning killed a boy walking home from school.  Some years later, while working at a retail store, a teenage constituent was killed by a drunk driver, and another died in a car wreck.  In the fall of 1992, I happened upon the obituary of a young man I’d known in grade school; he was 29.  The following year a friend died of AIDS at the age of 31.

Looking at the myriad news events surrounding the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, I’m always heartbroken at the sight of very young people returning home with damaged bodies and minds or in coffins.  The epidemic of school shootings and deaths of those caught up in civil unrest is truly upsetting.

How is it these things are allowed to happen?  Isn’t there supposed to be an all-loving, omnipotent deity who could prevent such horrors?

I’ve always wondered what life is like on “The Other Side”; whatever it’s supposed to be and wherever that is.  I like to think all those I’ve known in decades past, including my parents and even my dogs, are safely enveloped in such realms; where (hopefully) they are happy and loved.

Back in 2012, I had a brief dream of an English and German instructor I had at a community college in suburban Dallas in the 1980s.  She was a quirky, yet truly inspirational character.  I hadn’t thought of her in years when I had that dream.  I think it was a day or two later when I found her obituary in the newspaper.  And I thought later that, perhaps, she flitted through my sleeping subconscious to say goodbye – for now.

Betty White’s “sudden” death saddened so many people.  But she was 99!  So she didn’t quite make it to her centennial birthday!  She always vocalized how fortunate she was to have lived so long and to have so many people admire and love her.  She had reached the end of her time in this world.

We all will at some point.  As sad as it may be sometimes, it doesn’t really matter one’s age or condition at the moment of death.  It just happens.  We have to make our time as valuable and fulfilling as we can.


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100,000 Dead and Still a Circus

“When the final bulb pops alight, and the smoke and sparks dissipate, it is finally legible, this elaborate incandescent sign. Leaning to your left to gain a better view, you can see that it reads: Le Cirque des Rêves. Now the circus is open. Now you may enter.”

– “The Night Circus”, Erin Morgenstern, © 2011

On Wednesday, May 27, the COVID-19 death toll here in the United States achieved a brutal milestone: 100,000Globally, some 5.6 million infections have been confirmed, with more than 353,000 fatalities.  Bearing only 5% of the world’s population, the U.S. has roughly one-third of deaths directly related to the COVID-19 scourge and about 1.7 million infections.  Sometimes being first isn’t such a good thing.

About 300 municipalities in the U.S. boast populations of about 100,000.  We have sports arenas that can seat 100,000 people.  Despite the viral carnage, many cities across the U.S. are moving towards a re-opening; albeit with a few restrictions.  The limitations appear subjective.  Some restaurants, for example, remain delivery or curbside pick-up only, while others allow a small number of patrons indoors, with tables kept at least six feet apart.  Most demand employees wear masks and latex gloves at all times, but don’t require the same of guests.  Then again, it’s sort of difficult to imbibe in food and beverages with one’s mouth ensconced in a piece of cloth – no matter how fashionable it might be.

Is this the new normal?  And who designates what is or is not normal?

For me social distancing and frequent hand-washing have been normal since color television was still a novelty.  Yes, I am that…mature and I was that precocious!  But, for some people, washing their hands after they pick up dirty laundry or take out the trash is a catastrophic lifestyle change.  Hence, my social distancing predilection.

Such habitual alterations aside, I can only shake my head at the blatant disregard some people have for their neighbors – what I also call downright stupidity.  Am I sadistic in chuckling at the thought of moronic infidels perishing in the morass of their viral incompetence?  I view it merely as being practical – in a Darwinian frame of mind.  Among lower mammals, those that cannot maintain pace with the herd are sacrificed to the course of nature.  Among humans – at least in democratic societies – even the stupid are afforded some level of sympathy.

However, it’s tough for me to sympathize with many of our elected leaders, including the psychotic, discombobulated clown the United States calls its president – Donald J. Trump.  The alleged liberal media has noted the president’s distortion of facts regarding the COVID-19 pandemic – from his pronouncement that April heat will kill off the virus to his suggestion that injecting basic household cleaning chemicals into one’s corpus is good preventative medicine.

One hundred thousand is not just a number – it represents human beings; lives lost to a disease that, oddly enough, has a low fatality rate.  The U.S. death toll to COVID-19 is equal to the number of fatalities in this country to the 1968 Hong Kong flu, which killed roughly 1 million people globally.  One would think a nation as developed and affluent as the United States would be able to confront any scourge as influenza.  But looks are often deceiving.  The U.S. has been good at developing weapons of destruction.  Our military is the most highly-trained and well-prepared fighting force in the world.  Yet health care issues always seem to be relegated to a Neanderthal-style the fittest shall survive type of mentality.

And it goes back to what political structure is in place at the time of the crisis.  Forty years ago, when AIDS arrived on the world stage, the U.S. was beset by the ultra-conservative Ronald Reagan – a half-ass actor cum political assailant.  While contemporary conservatives deify Reagan and tumble into near-orgasmic frenzies at the mere mention of his name, the rest of us clear-headed folks understand what an incompetent dolt he was.  And not just because he turned his back on the working folks of America!  As a social conservative, he and his minions felt justified in categorizing people into those who deserve to live and those who don’t.  With his banshee of a wife beside his feeble body and mind and an attorney general who thought waging war on the adult film industry was a noble cause, the Reagan Administration ignored the very real calamities of a growing crack-cocaine epidemic and the burgeoning AIDS crisis.  Thus, thousands died, while Reagan uttered a few quaint phrases that cemented his aw-shucks persona as adorable to his legions of blind disciples.

I see much of the same happening now with COVID-19.  As thousands fall ill and the economy sinks, Donald Trump is more engaged with his Twitter account and continues propagating the myth of rampant voter fraud.  Now we have 100,000 dead from this novel coronavirus – and growing – with more than 1 million infected.  And despite that low morbidity rate, just recovering from the ailment seems to be a slow ride through the fires of Hell wearing tissue paper-thin clothing soaked in lighter fluid.  Moreover, scientists still aren’t certain of the long-term effects of COVID-19.  Most people recover, yes, but at what cost?  How will the disease impact their health years from now?  What of their cardiovascular system?  Respiratory system, metabolism, digestive tract, immunity?  Like AIDS forty years ago, COVID-19 is fresh off the virological boat.  We just don’t know.

I do know, however, that a conservative ideology is bad for health care.  Like the schematics for the Titanic, everything looks great on paper – until it slams into something, and we see what happens.  No one knows what the hell to do!  Except pass judgment and make light of the matter.

That’s what Reagan and his ilk did during the AIDS mess: toss around cruel jokes and tap-dance on the graves of the fallen.  And it’s pretty much what Trump is doing now.  He’s not exactly making jokes – his presidency and leadership have taken the top awards on that.  But he’s not providing any true direction.  He did order some manufacturers to being producing much-needed medical supplies.  But even that came with some arm-twisting!

Think about that number, however: 100,000.  What number of dead do we have to see before everyone takes it seriously?  When is it no longer just a very bad day?  What price is a life?

Images: Alejandro De La Garza

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Gang of Imbeciles

Woodall Rodgers Freeway, heading into downtown Dallas, sat nearly empty at 7:26 am on Tuesday, March 24, 2020 – the first morning after Dallas County’s “shelter in place”. This stretch of highway is normally packed with vehicles during morning rush hour. Photo by Lynda M. Gonzalez, Dallas Morning News).

“Greatness in the last analysis is largely bravery – courage in escaping from old ideas and old standards and respectable ways of doing things.”

James Robinson

Crises can make or break a leader.  The 1979-81 Iran Hostage fiasco decimated Jimmy Carter’s final year in office and assuredly caused him to lose his 1980 reelection bid.  The 1995 Oklahoma City Bombing helped secure Bill Clinton’s image as a stalwart president.  The Hurricane Katrina debacle, on the other hand, proved George W. Bush was incompetent and ineffective as Commander-in-Chief.

The current COVID-19 scourge is Donald Trump’s national crisis.  It could be the savior of his presidency; the one element that ensures his place in the pantheon of great world leaders.  Or it could be his death knell; the catastrophic event which will equate him with failure, except his most devoted followers.  As things appear now, it’s turning into the latter.

Yesterday, March 26, Trump signed a roughly USD 2.2 trillion stimulus package unanimously passed by the U.S. Congress.  Because the COVID-19 mess has created a new set of “social distancing” protocols aimed at subverting the virus’ spread, a large number of Americans have suddenly found themselves jobless.  Restaurants, nightclubs, gyms, and tattoo parlors have been forced to shut down.  History will determine if that achieved its intended goals.  But, as of March 26, the number of jobless claims set a record at 3.3 million.  Who would’ve thought an invisible microbe could wreak such havoc?

Amidst this cataclysm, our dear leader, Donald Trump, has openly considered easing restrictions to the practices of social distancing.  Earlier this week, he suggested the U.S. could return to normal by Easter.  “I would love to have the country opened up and just raring to go by Easter,” he said.  That’s akin to the captain of the Titanic shouting, “Pool party!”

It’s almost painful to watch Trump and his band of clueless minions pretend this crisis will obey a presidential command.  Many conservatives tried to explain George W. Bush’s pathetic handling of the Hurricane Katrina fiasco by claiming his adversaries wanted him to stop the storm from terrorizing the Gulf Coast.  I heard a few actually say that aloud!  And I had the pleasure of telling them, ‘No.  The issue was RESPONDING to the hurricane!’  Bush and the Republican Party were quick to declare war on Iraq in 2003.  But, when a REAL threat emerges, they failed miserably.

If anything, the start of the AIDS epidemic in the U.S. some forty years ago proved how dangerous social conservatism can be to a health crisis.  Admittedly, thousands of people didn’t come down with HIV in a matter of days, as with the COVID-19 virus.  But the reality is that national policy should never be based on individual predilections or religious ideology.  Every time people make health-based decisions on their own personal religious beliefs, people die.  Every single time!

But the AIDS epidemic showed that a slow federal response to a health concern can be lethal.  I’m watching the COVID-19 pandemic unfold here in the U.S. in stark realism.  As of March 27, the U.S. has achieved the dubious distinction of the most number of COVID-19 cases in the world.  Meaning we’ve now surpassed China and Italy.  Trump always declared America is #1 – and what do you know?!  The old bastard has finally been proven right!

I really don’t want to see Donald Trump fail in this entire imbroglio.  It’s not good to wish your national leader stumble and falter as a national crisis of any kind grips the nation.  But, thus far, Trump has shown no real leadership, with the exception of the aforementioned stimulus package.

It doesn’t need to be this way for him – or for anyone.  This could be his golden moment to prove he’s an authentic leader, not the failed businessman / tax cheat others claim he really is.  Every country’s leader is forced to confront a national emergency of some kind or another.  It just comes with the territory.  The U.S. presidency, in this case, is not school a crossing guard-type of position.  It requires more fortitude and clarity than most jobs, when in fact, the presidency is not a standard job.  It’s more of a calling – kind of like human rights work, or teaching.

As I view it in this moment of national surrealism, Donald Trump is not listening to the tragic sounds of that call.

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Best Quote of the Week – March 20, 2020

“We’ll be thankful that we’re overreacting.”

Dr. Anthony Fauci, on CNN’s “State of the Union.”

I’ve been listening to Dr. Anthony Fauci for several years now and know that he tells it like it is and doesn’t care about political ideology or shy away from controversy.  Nearly four decades ago, he warned the burgeoning AIDS crisis posed a serious threat to the American health care system.  But the right-wing idiots in the Reagan Administration still perpetuated the myth that only “Those People” could get sick with HIV.  Now, we have another pack of right-wing dumbasses in the White House, and the same bullshit is spewing out.  As far as I’m concerned, Fauci should be the most trust person in America right now.

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Viral Vitriol


By the time the President of the United States made a public statement about the epidemic, several people had died and an untold number were already infected. But, when he stepped to the podium to address the media, his words weren’t anything some in the audience had hoped he’d say. His brief speech wasn’t about funding or education directed towards stemming the scourge and ultimately finding a cure; it was about policy. A cacophony of jeers slammed into his geriatric face, and he merely lifted an eyebrow, as if saying, ‘Well, that’s all I need to say about it.’ Indeed, that’s all anyone should have expected Ronald Reagan to say about AIDS.

On June 5, 1981, the “Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report,” a publication from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, presented data about the peculiar cases of 5 young men, “all active homosexuals,” who had developed Pneumocystis carinii pneumonia (PCP) at 3 different hospitals in Los Angeles. Two of them were dead by the time the report came out. PCP is a very rare form of pneumonia, occurring only in people with depressed immune systems. That seemingly healthy young men in large urban areas around the country were coming down with it seemed to contradict medical scripture about the ailment. Because the patients were all “active homosexuals,” however, the CDC labeled the new disease “Gay-Related Immune Deficiency” (GRID). Within months, however, the CDC realized that “active homosexuals” weren’t the only victims. Intravenous drug users were also coming down with the mysterious new disease; then prostitutes, but also other people who didn’t fit into any of those groups. They quickly renamed it Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS). But the damage was already done by those 2 words: “active homosexuals.”

When Reagan addressed the press on September 17, 1985, he mentioned AIDS only to declare a travel ban for all HIV-positive and AIDS-afflicted people. By then, scientists had identified the AIDS virus, and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) had approved usage of the first test to detect it, the ELISA test. Scientists had already confirmed one critical fact about the new scourge: it was a blood-borne pathogen; infectious, but not contagious. Still, panic had set into the nation. Gay men were being targeted with more violence than they ever had been in the nation’s history. Even as the gay-rights movement gained momentum in the 1970s, gay men didn’t face the sort of vitriolic backlash as they did with the rise of AIDS.

In 1983, Pat Buchanan, a former speech writer for President Richard Nixon, published a column about the AIDS epidemic, in which he claimed, “The poor homosexuals – they have declared war on nature, and now nature is exacting an awful retribution.”

In 1986, Libertarian Lyndon LaRouche proposed legal discrimination against people with HIV and AIDS as a matter of public interest. He wanted federal and state governments to protect people from AIDS in the same way it protects the citizenry against other diseases by quarantining them in concentration camp-like structures.

Reagan’s lack of concern for the burgeoning epidemic has always been a sore point for human rights activists. The former actor, however, repeatedly extolled the virtues of personal responsibility, even with health matters, and bemoaned government involvement. During his 1966 run for governor of California, Reagan denounced President Lyndon B. Johnson’s Medicare program as “socialized medicine.”

But, previously, the U.S. government did respond quickly to health scares. When several people attending the annual legionnaire’s convention in Philadelphia in September of 1976 came down with a vicious flu-like ailment, health care workers jumped into action and almost immediately identified the source: a water-borne bacteria later called Legionella.

That same year U.S. health officials warned the public about a pending influenza epidemic, swine flu, and urged people to get vaccinated as soon as possible. Panic set into the American psyche and several individuals rushed to their doctors. The resulting hysteria now stands as one of the worst debacles in U.S. healthcare history.

When 7 Chicago-area residents died from ingesting cyanide embedded in Tylenol capsules in the fall of 1982, the federal government jumped into action to help Tylenol maker Johnson & Johnson manage the crisis. The company pulled every single one of its products off store shelves, resulting in a multi-million dollar loss, and then reintroduced them with tamper-resistant packaging. It’s difficult for younger folks to imagine now, but there was a time when you could open a bottle of something and not have to peel away a layer of plastic or foil. The crime spawned only one known copycat incident – in Auburn, Washington in 1986 – but it remains unsolved.

For those of us who recall the hysteria over the AIDS epidemic in the 1980s, the current reaction to the Ebola fiasco is painfully similar. Like HIV, Ebola is a blood-borne virus; spread only by close contact with the body fluids of an infected person. They both originated in Africa. HIV has been traced to green monkeys, where it started out as simian immunodeficiency virus, or SIV. How or when it metamorphosed is still being investigated, but researchers believe it made its first appearance in humans in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of the Congo (then known as Zaire) in the 1920s. Scientists still don’t know the host source of Ebola, but they believe it comes from fruit bats. That’s pretty much where the direct comparisons end. Ebola is far deadlier; it induces a severe hemorrhagic fever, in which the internal organs not only collapse, but literally begin to disintegrate. Once an infected patient reaches the stage where they’re bleeding incessantly, it’s too late to save them. There are now drugs that can slow the advance of HIV and even full-blown AIDS. But, there’s not even a vaccine for Ebola. Agents like ZMapp haven’t gone beyond the experimental stage yet. Now some have the audacity to wonder why there isn’t enough of it.

It’s ironic that the world learned of Ebola before it learned of HIV and AIDS; yet more people have died from the latter. That the developed world never contemplated (outside of scientific circles) that Ebola could spread beyond remote Central African villages signals a certain degree of naiveté, if not stupidity. In this increasingly interconnected global economy, there’s no reason to suspect otherwise.

But, the attitude of ‘them-vs-us’ is what allowed the AIDS epidemic to get so out of hand. The “active homosexuals” comment – something the CDC regrets to this day – burned into the minds of socially conservative activists who saw the scourge merely from the viewpoint of a moral lens. Conservatives warned Reagan not to mention AIDS or HIV during his speech at the 1984 Republican National Convention in Dallas, lest he lose the party faithful. Those in control of the U.S. blood industry, such as the Red Cross, didn’t want to believe their products and patients were at risk from HIV; literally asking some hemophiliacs and organ transplant recipients if they wanted to be placed in the same group as “them” – meaning the gay male / drug user / prostitute gallery.

If the U.S. had taken AIDS seriously from the start, we might have developed protease inhibitors by the end of the 1980s, instead of a decade later. By now, we might even have a vaccine, if not a cure. (If you read my 2012 essay, “I Almost Hope They Don’t Find a Cure for AIDS,” you might understand my sense of trepidation about this particular matter.)

The perception of ‘it’s their problem’ has impacted countless issues of various types: economic, medical, political, religious and social. Some health officials saw the need to work towards a cure, or at least a treatment for Ebola long ago. Dr. Kent Brantly, a U.S. medical missionary, contracted Ebola this past July while working with patients in Liberia. When he was brought to Atlanta’s Emory University, looking like an extreme beekeeper, he became the first person with the disease to step foot on American soil, or anywhere in the Western Hemisphere for that matter. Some people have wondered aloud why he would have spent so much of his time and energy in the first place to work with Ebola patients in Africa, when we have people dying of obesity and drug addiction here in the U.S. Those are fair questions. Yet Brantly sees his purpose in life as more than just a dispenser of medicine and sage advice. His Christian outlook on life (and I don’t want to bring religion into this debate) prompted him to be concerned about everyone around him – not just his immediate circle of family and friends. More than just a few people have used their religious ideology to narrow their view of ‘Others.’ I’ve worked with plenty of them. Just look at the AIDS epidemic. Even now, more than three decades after the epidemic was given a name, several individuals still look at AIDS from a moralistic perspective. They still don’t understand that morality really has no place in health and medicine.

Right-wing extremists have proposed simple solutions to the Ebola epidemic. Sen. Ted Cruz called for a complete ban of people traveling from Ebola-ravaged nations in West Africa. “Common sense dictates that we should impose a travel ban on commercial airline flights from nations afflicted by Ebola,” he said. “There’s no reason to allow ongoing commercial air traffic out of those countries.”

He’s just one of many who have made such idiotic proclamations. But Dr. Anthony Fauci, an early proponent of AIDS research and current head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), literally scoffed at the notion; dubbing it “counterproductive.” “[W]hen people come in from a country, it’s much easier to track them if you know where they’re coming from,” he noted. “But what you do, if you then completely ban travel, there’s the feasibility of going to other countries where we don’t have a travel ban and have people come in.”

There are no direct flights from anywhere in Africa to the U.S. Thomas Eric Duncan, the Liberian man who developed Ebola shortly after arriving in Dallas last month and who died on October 8, had initially flown from Monrovia to Brussels; then from Brussels to New York City.

Reductions in the CDC’s budget also may have played a part in the Ebola mess. As usual, conservative Republicans were quick to demand cuts in health care; rampaging through the CDC’s financial allotments like a drunk rabbi in a Catholic boys’ school. Even President Obama bought into the philosophy that this was a wise move, slashing $72 million from the CDC’s public health emergency preparedness program for fiscal year 2012. I’ve noticed social conservatives are never so eager to cut military spending or funding for more prisons.

I don’t know what’s next in the Ebola scourge. It shows no signs of abating in West Africa, and there’s a good chance more people are going to contract the virus outside of that region. I shudder at the thought of it reaching India or China. Politics and religion don’t have places in health and medical care. Whenever they’re factored into the mix, people get hurt and die. In this modern world, we can no longer afford it.

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I Almost Hope They Don’t Find a Cure for AIDS


Yesterday, December 1, was World AIDS Day.  Since 1988, this day has been set to bring attention to one of the world’s greatest health crises.  Since the scourge was first identified in 1981, epidemiologists estimate that more than 25 million people across the globe have died of AIDS. The agent that causes AIDS – HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) – was first isolated in 1984.  But, AIDS surely was around long before 1981; wreaking havoc on the immune systems of unsuspecting people.  There’s anecdotal evidence that people were dying of AIDS in Africa and Europe in the 1960’s and in the U.S. by the 1970s.  Not all of the victims were gay/bisexual men, drug users, prostitutes or various other members of society’s miscreants.

In his 1987 book And the Band Played On, author Randy Shilts describes the early uncertain days of the AIDS epidemic; noting how even the gay male community was reluctant to admit there was a problem; and providing incredibly detailed scientific research.  He’d based it on a series of articles he’d written about the ailment for the “San Francisco Chronicle.”  The same year AIDS was identified Shilts had become the newspaper’s first openly gay employee.  While the novel was hailed as groundbreaking and a masterpiece of investigative reporting, Shilts took a big risk with both it and his series of articles for two reasons: 1) he brought attention to a health issue many at the time thought wasn’t worth covering, and 2) he revealed personal details of his own sexual proclivities.

Shilts (who died of AIDS in 1994) faced the same level of ostracism within the gay/lesbian community as writer and gay rights activist Larry Kramer did in 1978 when he published his book “Faggots,” a scathing criticism of New York City’s seemingly sex- and drug-obsessed gay male populace.  In the story the main character laments, ‘Why do faggots have to fuck so fucking much?!’  At the start of the AIDS epidemic, Kramer condemned gay men for “fucking themselves to death.”  Such honesty doesn’t correspond nicely with political correctness.  Neither do I.

AIDS is not really a disease unto itself.  As the acronym implies, it’s a syndrome in which the body’s immune system is adversely impacted and it’s acquired.  Once that happens, individuals can fall victim to almost any ailment.  AIDS is associated primarily with 2 diseases: Kaposi’s sarcoma (KS), a rare form of skin cancer, and pneumocystis carinii pneumonia (PCP), a rare form of double pneumonia.

Among cancers, KS is relatively benign.  Historically it usually strikes older men of Mediterranean extraction; perhaps, because they spent years fishing in the open sea without any of the now-recommended skin protection.  But, they often live long lives anyway and usually die of something else.

In 1910, a scientist named Antonio Carini Orsi discovered the PCP virus in the lungs of Brazilian guinea pigs.  In 1918, European doctors found it in the lungs of the common sewer rat.  Not until after World War II, however, did scientists realize it could live in humans; when European orphanages and Nazi concentration camps (where health conditions were deplorable) were evacuated.  In the 1950s, as organ transplants became possible, doctors realized they had to suppress the body’s immune system to prevent rejection – and discovered that PCP would then settle into the patient.  Once they started up the immune system, the PCP would disappear.

By the late 1960s, however, doctors in some of Africa’s largest metropolitan areas, such as Kampala, Uganda and Nairobi, Kenya, were startled to learn of a particularly vicious strain of KS coming from the continent’s heartland.  It didn’t make sense, since the region’s residents didn’t fit the traditional profile.  At the same time, doctors in many large European cities began to treat cases of both KS and PCP.  There was a tenuous connection: many of the European victims had either visited or lived in Africa.  They were military personnel, diplomats, missionaries and others involved in the health care industry; all helping various African nations to build their new-found independence after centuries of European imperialism.

Beginning in the late 1970s, doctors in such U.S. cities as New York and San Francisco were alarmed at increasing incidents of KS and PCP among otherwise healthy gay men.  Then, other doctors began to notice similar KS and PCP developments among intravenous drug users and prostitutes.  But, since those groups were generally considered the dregs of society, the mainstream medical community didn’t take their health concerns seriously.

In June of 1980, California state health officials met in San Francisco for their annual conference.  Dr. Mathilde Krim, an official with the San Francisco Health Department, expressed concerns about the relentlessly high rates of venereal disease infection, including Hepatitis B, among the city’s gay men.  Just 5 years earlier, scientists had confirmed that Hepatitis B could be sexually transmitted; the same year they identified Hepatitis C (initially called non-A, non-B).  In 1977, San Francisco established the “Cohort Study,” a program designed to track rates of Hepatitis B infection in gay men.  Administrators aggressively asked participants detailed questions about their sexual activities and drew blood and tissue samples.  A decade later, when the first test for HIV appeared, many of those blood and tissue samples tested positive for that virus.  That’s why the U.S. bans any man who’s had sex with another man since 1977 from donating blood or becoming an organ donor.  On the bright side, results of the Cohort Study led to the development of the Hepatitis B vaccine in 1983.

At the 1980 California state health conference, though, Krim warned that there was “too much infection,” later adding, “If something new gets loose here, we’re going to have hell to pay.”

That was a long time ago.  It’s 2012, not 1982.  We now know how HIV is – and is not – transmitted.  We know it’s not God’s condemnation of the homosexual lifestyle, and Ronald Reagan wasn’t responsible for its spread.  AIDS circulated rapidly among gay men not because of the type of sex they had, but because of the number of partners they had.  Beginning in the late 1960s, gay men took the sexual revolution and ran with it – further and faster than any other group of people.

AIDS didn’t spread in the U.S. and other developed countries as rapidly as in Africa and Asia for two main reasons.  In the developed world, there’s a generally higher standard of living; people have greater access to health care and information.  But, also women in developed countries are more empowered with education and economic security.  Unlike women in developing nations, women here know they don’t always have to jump in bed with a man; they don’t always have to resort to prostitution just to survive.  They can say no to those things and not be considered an outcast.  Women here also aren’t nearly as sexually promiscuous as men.  They’ve always considered the consequences of reckless sexual behavior; mainly an unwanted pregnancy.  But, if you have two men who are attracted to other men, there’s no cat-and-mouse game; no ‘he acts, she reacts’ type of situation.

HIV most certainly isn’t a new virus.  It’s probably lurked in the blood stream of humanity for centuries, if not millennia, waiting for something like the drug and sex revolutions of the mid-twentieth century.  In that respect, the AIDS death toll in the U.S. alone surely exceeds 700,000 and probably the 1 million mark.  Throughout the 1980s, many health care professionals – some long since retired – began recalling odd illnesses among people who didn’t fit the early AIDS profile: gay men, drug users and prostitutes.  Scientists are now certain that a man who died in what is now Kinshasa, Congo in 1959 succumbed to AIDS.  Doctors treating him at the time were so baffled by his illness they preserved samples of his blood, which later tested positive for HIV.  That same year a British sailor died of what was later confirmed to be AIDS.  His doctors also were confounded by his illness and preserved samples of his tissue, which tested positive for HIV in 1986.  Then, there’s the strange case of a teenager known only as “Robert R” who died in his native St. Louis in May 1969, following a 6-month bout with a series of debilitating illnesses.  Intrigued by Robert’s curious symptoms, a Washington University researcher froze some of his autopsy samples – which later tested positive for HIV.

A cure for AIDS would be a triumph of medicine and science; perhaps the greatest since the elimination of small pox.  It’s one of the many proverbial “Holy Grails” sought by medical researchers.  But – to some extent – I hope that day never arrives.  If it does, I’m afraid we’ll see a rebirth of the sex and drug revolutions.  Some people – realizing they could just take a pill or a series of shots if they become infected with HIV – will go wild and starting fucking around like rabbits on Viagra.  Then, within a decade or two – if that long – we’ll see a new, more virulent strain of HIV appear on the microbial horizon.  And, it won’t be so easily cured.  And, all that time, money and energy that went into AIDS research will be dumped into the sewer like a used condom.  That’s not something I wish for – it’s something I fear will happen.

Between 1981 and 2011, estimates put the AIDS death toll in the United States at less than 700,000.  But, since 1981, how many people have died of cancer?  Leukemia?  Diabetes?  Heart disease?  Suicide?  Each of those has taken several times more lives than AIDS.  Even among gay/bisexual men, HIV is not the number 1 health crisis.  It may be the top concern – as gay and bisexual men comprise nearly half of all people with HIV in the U.S.  But, heart disease and various cancers are taking the lives of more gay and bisexual men than AIDS; yet if you look at the literature and the propaganda, you’d think it was the only thing they’d have to worry about.  To make matters worse, HIV infection rates are rising among young gay and bisexual men – or “MSM” (men who have sex with other men), as if though the terminology makes a hell of a lot of difference.  Regardless, it doesn’t make sense.  This generation of young adults grew up reading and hearing about AIDS, safe sex and drug abuse.  I can understand 30 years ago when people had no real idea what was happening.  But, as a society, we’re not so ignorant – or we shouldn’t be.

HIV is difficult to get.  It’s infectious, but not contagious.  You don’t catch it from sitting next to an infected person in a movie theatre, or touching an elevator button.  It doesn’t float through the air like a flu virus.  It’s a blood-borne pathogen, and you really have to do something serious with an infected person – either by choice or unwillingly – to get it.  So, why do some people screw around aimlessly and then cry when they get sick?  It’s the same with folks who drink alcohol heavily for 20, 30 years and develop cirrhosis.  It’s the same with people who deal drugs and get arrested.  Why do they think they’re victims?  It’s tough to have sympathy for someone who recklessly, almost deliberately, puts themselves in danger and then, comes out injured – or dead.  It’s one thing if a firefighter charges into a burning building to save someone and dies in the process.  It’s another if someone races down a highway at 100 mph on a motorcycle without wearing a helmet and crashes.  Yes, you’d probably help the bike rider.  But, are you really surprised he or she crashed?

I’m not being judgmental, but I can be critical.  I’ve had unsafe sex with both men and women.  I’ve been fortunate, since I’ve never come down with anything.  One of my best friends died of AIDS in 1993, and another good friend has been battling HIV for more than 20 years.  Neither ever blamed anyone else for their circumstances.  About 10 years ago yet another HIV-positive friend of mine dismissed the severity of his affliction; claiming that, one day, AIDS will be a chronically-managed ailment, akin to diabetes and blood pressure.  I looked at him like the idiot he was and resented the comparison.  An AIDS death is not pretty, or even “chronically-managed.”  It’s painful and ugly.  Watching my friend die in 1993 made me leery of it and realize it’s not just an inconvenience.  There’s nothing manageable about that.

So, as the 25th annual World AIDS Day passes, I wonder how the ailment will progress in the near future.  I wonder how our global society will progress with it.  Yes, I’m certain science will discover a cure for AIDS – but, in some ways, I think that could be a bad thing.

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World AIDS Day


World AIDS Day

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What an Offer!

“For more than 20 years, Magic Johnson has been HIV positive – but it’s never been revealed who he contracted it from.  Last night on PBS’s Frontline documentary, ‘AIDS in Black America,’ Magic disclosed the same vague answer he’s given the press since 1991: “Sleeping with a lot of women.” Still, it seems odd that there’s been no follow-up about which of these women was HIV positive.  Or how many.  If anyone has any more information about who gave Magic Johnson HIV, please feel free to contact us.  I think we can afford to pay more money for this now.”

Gawker, a gossip web site offering money to anyone who can provide information about how Johnson became infected with HIV some 20-plus years ago.

Noting that the rate of female-to-male sexual transmission of HIV is very low, Gawker – and perhaps even the Frontline documentary that aired July 10 – speculates that Johnson may have contracted the virus from a transsexual prostitute at a party thrown by Eddie Murphy.

Some folks in America just don’t want to accept that HIV isn’t only a gay White man’s disease.  Of course, the vast majority of gay men don’t even have HIV, much less full-blown AIDS.  But, who wants facts when there’s a rumor to be passed around like…well, like a virus!

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