Sunday, June 04, 2006

Lemons, garlic, and olive oil

No, this isn't a cooking-related post, although all the things in the title are great. I taped Frontline this week, and am about halfway through it. This four-hour, two-part series is titled "The Age of AIDS," and it's about the dawn of AIDS and its history up to now. I was pleasantly surprised to find that the entire program is available online in your favorite crappy streaming video format. Just as a side, note, this should be what the Internet is. An always-on, accessible-anywhere, comprehensive library.

Anyway, it's just amazing and simultaneously horrifying to realize that this disease has spread to seventy million people, but originated from a single event when it crossed over from apes to humans sometime in the 1930s. The oldest confirmed case of HIV infection dates back to 1959. It really makes you wonder what other nasty little bugs are waiting for us out there, or possibly are already circulating. I wonder if we will be able to cure those, or will religious nutjobs fight their treatment, saying that that would mean slutty women would not die in sufficient numbers from cervical cancer.

I remember back in the 80s, when people were very scared of this disease. There was so much misinformation spreading about the disease and how it was spread. That's probably not too unusual when it comes to things that people are irrationally afraid of.

People like to say that Reagan didn't even mention AIDS until 1987, but that's not strictly true. In 1985, after he was briefed that AIDS could not be spread by casual contact, he gave a press conference saying, in a very wishy-washy fashion, that he would not send his children to a school that had a student with AIDS. This was in response to a memo written by a White House lawyer that said:

There is much to commend the view that we should assume AIDS can be transmitted through casual or routine contact, as is true with many viruses, until it is demonstrated that it cannot be, and no scientist has said AIDS definitely cannot be so transmitted.
That lawyer is now the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.

Coincidentally, the NY Times has two editorials today related to AIDS. One is about how the response to AIDS in the gay community has ultimately led to the current debate on gay marriage. (Today, by the way, in the midst of a war in Afghanistan, a worsening war in Iraq, the President will be focusing on barring same-sex marriage in the Constitution.) The other Times editorial is about how HIV-denialists are hampering efforts to treat and prevent the disease. How people can, in this day and age, deny that HIV causes AIDS simply baffles me. I guess that's "faith-based" medicine for you.

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