Monday, December 01, 2003

World AIDS Day

Today is World's AIDS Day. What does that mean anyway? Apparently it means that we need to send celebrities to South Africa. Beyonce, of the brigade of one-named R&B singers, visited Nelson Mandela's old cell on Robben Island, had lots of pictures taken and sang and danced her little heart out. She also gave sage advice. "There is nothing sexier than being confident and taking care of yourself. Protect yourself." Oprah was there too. We can't discuss a life and death issue for millions of people around the world unless Oprah is around and promoting her book club. Cry the Beloved Country, written 50 years ago, is the latest entry. I really should stop complaining that Oprah picked a well known but dated book for millions of her fans to read. Something post apartheid might have been nice, but after East of Eden all complaints should cease.

Whoever had the idea of using Mandela's prison ID number to market this event was a genius. It is a ploy that silences all but the most cynical, people like yours truly. I know I am a tough grader. Some say I am overly critical. I plead guilty. We first had celebrity self love charity events nearly 20 years ago to fight hunger. Wouldn't you know it, Bob Geldof of Live Aid has popped up again. I am not opposed to using celebrities to bring attention to important issues. But it is important to remember this World AIDS Day that our attention must be directed toward interests whose actions are responsible for the deaths of millions of AIDS sufferers. If we successfully fight those interests we won't need free concerts in South Africa to bring attention to AIDS because AIDS will be irrelevant.

One of those interests is the American pharmaceutical industry. American drug companies could end the majority of AIDS deaths tomorrow. But of course the same people who want to punish Canada for selling drugs more cheaply aren't going to give up profits to help sick, impoverished people around the world. The drug companies and their biggest ally, the U.S. government, are deliberately withholding cheap, life saving, generic AIDS medication from poor countries. A free concert is OK, admirable even, but if it isn't getting AIDS medicine to the poor, it is ultimately unimportant.

The other enemy interest in this fight is religious fundamentalism. The Catholic Church has said that condoms cause AIDS. You read correctly. The Catholic Church, which sways the thoughts and attitudes of millions of people around the world, is advising against condom use. Now that I think about it I should lay off Beyonce. At least she has common sense about condoms.

I know I have brought a skunk to the party. I am not against concerts and candle light vigils. It is important to do what we can to feel empowered and involved. But somewhere along the line we have to talk about what really counts. Celebrity charity concerts are 20 years old, but so is the discovery of the HIV virus. We know how to prevent AIDS, we know how to treat its victims. The only thing lacking is the willingness to confront powerful interests such as the United States government, drug companies and retrograde religious leadership. That will be a lot more difficult than having a concert.

Happy World AIDS Day.

"Why did they shoot a kindergarten with tank shells?�

Why indeed. News reports say that U.S. troops killed 54 Iraqi fighters who ambushed them in the town of Samarra. The residents of that town say that at most 8 fighters were killed. The remaining casualties were all civilians, some of whom took up arms after U.S. troops fired indiscriminately. The money quote, "They claim we are terrorists. So OK, we are terrorists. . ." Read it here.

Wife Swapping FDNY Style

After 9/11 firefighters were all but deified. I suspect that it was mostly the result of yuppie guilt. Too many Americans ignore or feel superior to blue collar workers. I recall one smarty pants New Yorker saying of firefighters, "I thought they just sat around with dalmatians all day." This gentleman and many like him realized that in fact their lives could be saved by people they thought little about. Some of the firefighters in the World Trade Center walked as far as the 80th floor before the buildings collapsed. Even though they were doing their jobs they still deserve our thanks. If the job paid six figures I still wouldn't do it. I shouldn't shrink from thanking those who do.

Of course, because Americans attack every issue with religious zeal that realization wasn't good enough. Firefighters were heroes, saints, angels. No amount of worship was sufficient. Well, it seems some of them are flesh and blood after all. According to the New York Post some of the surviving firefighters got a little too close to 9/11 widows and their children. Some have left their own wives and children to hold hands with the damsels in distress. Oops.

Apparently the same thing happened in Oklahoma City after the American led terror attack. The practice of sending married men to take care for lonely widows should go on the "don't" list after the next terror attack. Yes, I said next. We clearly aren't prepared and even more people around the world hate us. In all probability it will happen again. Hopefully we will have prevented the scourge of firefighting swingers.