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Six Poems by Shannon Hamann

Okay, one more post about my dead friend, but since this is the one post I've been wanting and waiting to get to, I think this is probably the end of them. Except I may make use of the occasional Shannon anecdote, of course, if and when one occurs to me and if it serves to illuminate one of the many trenchant, pungent, not to mention unguent points I am so apt to make in here.

I've been wanting to share some of his poetry but I didn't want to dishonor him by just typing in some of his stuff. It's not my property to hand around like that, after all. Fortunately there have been a few of his works legitimately published online, and there are a few more now inasmuch as the latest issue  of "Slingshot" magazine (#5) has been dedicated to him. Pointers to those poems below.

But before we get to that, herewith a brief story of a kind of recovery.

Shortly after Shannon died, I was ripping my apartment into pieces looking for a copy of , a book of Shannon's poetry published (in Italian and English) by publisher Cadmo (Firenze) in 1996. After ripping the place apart, an unhappy memory slowly crept into my enfeebled brain. I recalled giving my copy back to him some months earlier. He needed a copy for a grant or award submission he was making, so I made The Noble Sacrifice. And then the bastard up and died on me, leaving me without a copy.

I was bereft, not to mention pissed off. The book is, I think, out of print but in any case never glimpsed on bookstore shelves and so I thought I was going to be S.O.L. But then a couple of days ago I was walking past St. Mark's Bookshop right here in my neighborhood and the thought suddenly struck me... "Wait. Didn't Shannon tell me sometime ago that he had taken some copies in there and talked them into taking them for sale on consignment...?"

Quick as a hounded hare I zipped in, went to the poetry section, and I'll be god damned if there weren't two, two copies sitting there waiting for me. I stood there for a while with both copies in my hand, puzzling whether it would be better to leave one, in Shannon's honor, in the hope somebody would come along and just pick it up out of the spirit of adventure. But then I thought, no, I know people who would want the second copy, so I bought both. Glad I did, too, because when I got home I emailed my friend Vicky, Shannon's best friend (yes, she was a better friend to him than I was, but that's partly because she is a better person than I am), and I discovered that he had pulled the same thing on her that he'd pulled on me. Which is to say, she didn't have her copy anymore either. So directly into the post the second copy went, and now she's fixed up just like me.

Ha, ha, Shannon. We win. Neener, neener.

Trade you my copy of your book, though, if you will come back to life.

Well, I guess it was worth a try.

From the Contributors Page of "Slingshot", #5:

Shannon Hamann received a BA with distinction in 1986 in Communications, Film and Broadcasting and an MFA in Creative Writing in 1991, both from the University of Iowa. L'immaginazione violenta [The Violent Imagination], published in Italy, is a bilingual collection of some of his poems. Over 30 poems have been individually published in a variety of Poetry Reviews. He worked as a part-time instructor of writing, free lance copy editor, and associate editor of "Mudfish". He was working on getting his first novel, Scheherazade's Pornography, published. He was the recipient of a number of professional honors and prizes including the New York Foundation for the Arts Fellowship in Poetry, a Steinbeck Fellows Grant from San Jose State University, and most recently a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts to spend six months in Japan. He passed away unexpectedly Sunday, December 5th, 2004.

He also wrote some stuff for "Time Out New York". Sometime in the mid-to late 90s, I forget exactly when, he converted to Catholicism. A tattooed reproduction of a painting of St. Michael, defender of the church, covered his entire -- yes, his entire -- back. I've been trying to find a copy of the painting on-line, but haven't recognized it yet...

So anyway...

Shannon Hamann (1966-2004)

Bye, Shanny. I know you probably hate the idea, but rest in peace anyway.

Your Friend Michael.

First Annual (2004) Sack of Jawea Award

There's this continuum, see, and it goes something like this:

At one end, we have stuff that is well-reasoned and well-expressed. At the other end, we have stuff where the reasoning is hidden but detectable at some level below pure reason. It feels like it makes sense, but you can't exactly say why. I spend a lot of my time at a terrible spot somewhere in the middle where my stuff is not particularly well-reasoned and what little good reasoning it does have in it is poorly expressed and therefore rarely, if ever, detectable at all. The name of this award I'm giving here is a perfect example. Why do I call it the Sack of Jawea Award and what the hell is it for?

Well, it's for a blog that takes me places I barely or don't get at all, which is a trip I always like to take. This is me on Lewis and Clark's famous Voyage of Discovery:

"That's really cool. What's it for? I really like that. Dunno why."

I was born in Idaho and I really like it, but I don't really get it and so I can only say stupid and incomprehensible things about it. I think there is a universe where I am regarded as witty and insightful, a place where what I have to say makes perfect sense to people and they go "Ah!" whenever I speak.

Where I actually live, however, crazy people often make more visceral sense to me than I make to myself. I think I am imaginatively awkward. I think I am creatively clumsy. People talking to themselves on the street say more sensible things than I do.

I also like the fact that the name of my award sounds like it's about a bag full of something that sounds vaguely Middle-Eastern, which is a place I've never been and probably will never understand. And that reminds me of very bad men with big bags of candy they offer to unsuspecting children, which I generally don't like (the very bad men, I mean) but they do have the advantage of keeping life, um, interesting (for some disturbing value of "interesting").

One time when I was eleven, a very bad man drove by me on the street when I was walking home alone from school. He tried to talk me into his car. I balked, and not just because he was driving a Corvair. He beckoned me closer and because I have always been stupidly polite and persuadable, I crossed closer to him. He reached out and made a quick grab at me which I just barely managed to dodge. He drove off frantically. It probably would have been very bad if he'd gotten his paws on me, but the whole experience was nevertheless sort of... interesting. I told my mom about it when I got home and she looked disturbed but continued chopping carrots, and so far as I know that was about as far as things went. Times were different back then.

So, and none of this makes any visceral sense, I know... that is, you would never understand any of this if I didn't explain it to you and even when I do explain it to you, it still won't make any visceral sense in the way Fine Writing always does. It will only make sense in the sense that you will see the logic of it, but you will feel that the logic is stupid. I guess I must not care because that's what I'm naming my award anyway. Probably I would get better at this sort of thing if I actually did care, but I've always been a brat. I've always sort of done exactly what I wanted (even when I was being stupidly polite and persuadable) even if none of what I was doing made any particular sense.

There's probably some deeper explanation for all this, but I guess I'm either too dumb or too self-absorbed to worry about it. A very nice lady once told me that I was "off-putting" and I knew instantaneously that she was exactly right. I liked her even more after she said that than I did before. It's all pretty sad really. I think when I die and if there is a heaven and if I go there, everyone else will be standing around completely getting what life in heaven is like and I'll be standing there asking people if they have a Walgreens there. I don't know why. As drugstores go, I like Walgreens, I guess. I think God will probably understand even if he picks up all of his notions down there to the Stop-n-Shop.

Okay, so that's the name of the award, and What It Means (sort of), and so now who am I giving it to? More tedious explanation follows.

Well, not explanation so much as disclosure. The guy who perpetrates the blog I'm giving the award to tells me he remembers me from twenty years ago and I've told him his name sounds familiar and that I'm sure I would recognize him in an instant if only he would point me to a god damned picture of him, but this he apparently will not or cannot do. But that's okay, really, because I'd actually rather he spent his valuable time accumulating more of the astonishing material he puts up on his blog on account of I love the stuff he puts up on his blog. Duh. That's why I'm giving him the Sack of Jawea, after all.

But I just wanted, you know, to make sure that all of this was made clear in order to prevent a scandal wherein it is later revealed that I gave the award to somebody I feel bad about not precisely remembering when he, in fact, remembers me.

I love Give, Get, Take, and Have. I love the way it looks -- it's got the most entertaining sidebar art. I like the colors. I love what he writes although there seem to be a lot of what I take to be either typos, misspellings, or purposefully redesigned words. For example, at one place he uses the word "cackhanded", as in talking about somebody giving somebody else a "cackhanded compliment". At first I thought this was a typo, but what I like about this blog is that it puts me in a place such that I'm really not sure... maybe he meant to make up that word? Does it have something to do with cackling? Is "cack" a word we would see in a action comic book? "Pow! Whap! Cack!" I dunno. I just dunno. It probably is a typo, but I get to make it not be a typo if I want on account of Jay... oh, that's his name, by the way... the perp, I mean... Jay Niemann... sometimes known as Jays Niemann, apparently... on account of Jay's blog does that to me. It's got such a great kind of energy that I just don't care if I actually get what's going on all the time. It's like sitting on a train and staring out the window at stuff. I always do that. I always bring stuff to read on the train and I never read it because I always spend my time just looking out the window at stuff. It just goes by and by and by and never really tells The Story Of America or anything. It just, you know, goes by and by.

See, I can barely keep up with one blog but Jay has at least four going. There's his Main Blog, and then there's Bloghorrea (mostly about blogs and blogging, I think), BloodyMindedness (about exploding heads, I think), and Tuning (tons of really interesting mp3s). There also might be one about other media and another about Things to Make and Do (blogging and webbing resources, but it sounds like the name of a magazine you would find in a pediatrician's office so I also like it because of that). But maybe those are extra pages and not blogs. Whatever. They're interesting.

If you look around Jay's blog, you will find stuff like the lady who is channeling John Lennon, Ms. Polley, who reports on her site Songs From Beyond 2 (successor to, you know, plain old Songs From Beyond), dateline The Other Side, that John and George are back together now (and have a new band) and that John has resumed his songwriting career, recently penning a little number called "HUSSEIN'S BUTT SONG" (lyrics provided should you care to sing along).

You will also meet your new, real, live, Foul Mouthed Miniature Dog who apparently lives, for the moment anyway, in a coffee cup ("Please give me a home, you fucking bastard!") and you'll be able to say hello to the woman whose boyfriend is a twat. There are even some sites that even Jay doesn't get, about one of which he writes: "I've scratched myself a blowhole trying to figure it all out."

Which is the best expression of the primal human emotion "What the...?" I've come across in a very long time.

And, you know, other stuff. Tons of stuff. I can't believe how much stuff. Get on and ride the Jay Train. There's so much interesting stuff there I don't think you'll ever be able to see it all. I've been exploring it for a few weeks now and its surface is all I've been able to scratch. (So, you know, no blowhole yet, but I suppose it could still happen.)

I therefore and hereby give Give, Get, Take, and Have my First Annual Sack of Jawea Award (2004) and I will probably have to give it my Second Annual (2005) Sack of Jawea Award too, on account of I can't imagine I'll be done being fascinated by this site by next December.

Congratulations, Jay, whether you like it or not. Your prize is a punch in the nose if you ever come to New York City and don't let me know so I can buy you a satisfactory amount of whatever beverage you want me to buy you.

Tableau of Crimes and Misfortunes

For those of you addicted to web cams, those unblinking documentarians of the majesty and sweep of real-life history as we live it moment-by-moment, there has been an exciting turn of events at Dealey Plaza Cam.

Located in the sixth-floor window of what used to be the Texas Book Depository, the camera slowly pans from the intersection of  Main and South Houston streets over to the infamous curve on Elm. If you are patient, the camera will eventually arrive at a view of the spot where Kennedy and Connelly took their bullets, and there on the window you will glimpse a monumental streak of what appears to be dried pigeon shit.

Update, December 29, 2004, 8:20 a.m. EST: We seem to have a lock-down situation here, people. Sometime during the night, the camera stopped moving, is now stuck on Main & Houston and, indeed, appears to have stopped refreshing itself altogether. I suspect This Moment In History has passed.

Update, December 29, 2004, 10:00 a.m. EST: marrije reports in comments that the camera is working again. Indeed it is. However... somebody has washed the window. Move along, people. Nothing to look at here.

The Anarchic Tar

I want to introduce you to someone I have never met, spoken to, corresponded with, no, nor even heard of up until a day or so ago, though I feel in some sense we are old friends.

But more on that later.

His name is -- at least I presume, with some justification, this is his name and since I've never met him, presuming is all I can do here -- Mike Benham. I further presume with some justification that this is Our Old Pal Mike, himself:

I happened upon his web site, www.thoughtcrime.org, by a roundabout way, of course. I think I was pursuing a mysterious IP address (not his site's) by way of Google after a traceroute had previously ponied up unsatisfactory results. I was clicking randomly on the Goog's voluminous output, Benham's web site opened up, and bit by bit I was drawn in.

Observing obscure proprieties, let us begin with a brief biography. I have no real notion of how accurate the following information is. I happened upon most of it as I was drawn into Mike's site and found myself increasingly surrendering to my own notorious storiopathic tendencies. But all in all, the information seems to jibe with something-r-other; which is to say it all seems to add up, so let's just assume it probably approximates the truth.

From a May 2003 article in SF Weekly, we discover that Mike apparently grew up in Atlanta, an only child. While in high school, he'd worked for software companies as a programmer. He applied and was accepted to UC Santa Cruz but dropped out in frustration after one quarter because he had "tried but failed to get into advanced computer courses he felt he was qualified for". In 1999, a San Francisco software company hired him and he developed an interest in internet security. In August of 2002 Mike apparently uncovered a flaw in the way Microsoft's Internet Explorer handled SSL e-commerce transactions. "This is one of the worst cryptographic vulnerabilities I've seen in a long time," said [Bruce] Schneier. "What this means is that all the cryptographic protections of SSL don't work if you're a Microsoft IE user." After some griping, Microsoft provided a patch.

He's also an anarchist. And a pamphleteer. He's the founder(?) inventor(?) discoverer(?) of the Distributed Library Project. He cooks. He's a storyteller. He hitchhikes. He rides trains in the hobo manner and knits in counter-counter-revolutionary mode.

But the thing about him that first captured my interest is that he's a self-proclaimed (sea-going, not software) pirate.

That's what he calls himself, anyway. The term doesn't quite work for me inasmuch as there are some nasty connotations in my mind to the word "pirate". These additional meanings don't seem anywhere near appropriate in Mike's case so I prefer to think of him as The Anarchic Tar.

When I was a little squirt growing up in the Pacific Northwest, my family had a boat -- a "stinkpot" as opposed to a wind-powered vessel. Gas was cheaper in those days, and seemingly plentiful. We spent summers cruising Puget Sound, exploring both the American and Canadian San Juans, poking our nose out into the Strait of Juan de Fuca, tempting the mighty Pacific herself. I've always loved maps and charts so the navigational duties fell primarily on my barely pubescent shoulders. By the time I went away to college, I'd become quite the little sailor. Well, "stinkpotter", is the term upon which I suppose some would insist.

Anybody who has spent any time at all on open water learns pretty damn quickly that the ocean is an incredibly dangerous place. It's beautiful, it's inspiring, it's freeing, and it can kill you before you've even figured out it's stalking you. The scope of the literature of the malevolent and unforgiving sea stretches back over millennia. If you have any doubts on this subject, I can recommend many a good and convincing book since learning about any of this stuff firsthand will likely earn you your very own hook inside Davy Jones' Locker.

But, apparently, not in all cases. Some people obviously have ocean-chutzpah to a degree I find borderline unimaginable.

That's on the one hand. On the other, look at it this way: somebody, somewhere, had to be the first person to sail out into the open sea, knowing little or nothing about what the hell he was getting into, and then return in one piece to tell all his little sailor friends what they ought to look out for should they ever be so bold as he had been, and to try what he had tried.

I invite you, then, to read what you might call The Incredible Tale of the Sea Collective, or, as I think of it, The Voyage of the Anarchic Tar, or, in the words of the author himself, And Together We'll Face The World!

Okay, so it's not the most swashbuckling and seaworthy epic I've ever read, but I nevertheless admire it greatly. But why in god's name should I? Our Hero, Mike, seems foolhardy, after all. I think he's lucky to have survived. I would never have had the guts. I've had too many experiences of feeling the sea creeping up on me from behind, breathing down my neck, eyeing my frail form designed for terra firma, and wondering how I was going to like being fed to the fishes. I should be appalled at this stunt of his, but I'm not.

Readers of this blog will know that three weeks ago today my friend of many years, Shannon, fell off his building in Brooklyn and died. The shock and inexpressible sadness of this thing still clings to me like wet crape, though certainly with each day that passes it gets a little easier to live with the fact of my friend being so suddenly dead. I can feel the things I really miss about him sorting themselves out into various categories, and every once in a while in a fit of self-centeredness that appalls even me, I will think "Oh, my life is diminished to this or that degree by Shannon's sudden absence."

Shannon was not an anarchist in the political sense. He was an anarchist in the sense of Puck. He'd make mischief and most of the time it was benign, but sometimes, it has to be admitted, it was a little bit cruel. Nevertheless, I've realized over the last three weeks that some very welcome anarchy has fallen away from my life and this makes me incredibly sad. This is one of the things I will really and truly and deeply miss about Shannon. He was a crazy man, a demented archer sending strange and often astonishing arrows over the comforting ramparts I'd constructed around my vision of the world. The crazy man outside the fort is gone. Peace is at hand, and I pretty much hate it to death.

But then I encounter the Anarchic Tar.

Well, I didn't meet him, of course, and it's not likely that I ever will since we are on separate coasts and our circles seem so widely spaced. Still, in stumbling across Mike Benham's site, I'm reminded of something that (I'm astonished to realize) I'd managed to forget over the last three weeks. Anarchy, at least in some sense, is the natural state of the world and therefore far more robust than any vision of the world I could create in my own head.

I'm not a particularly spiritual man, but I do believe in spiritual things. I don't believe in ghosts, for example, but I do believe deeply in ghost stories. I used to think most ghost stories were about the dead longing for the living, but I realize now just the opposite is true: they are about the living longing after that which has died. I don't believe anything that actually constituted the being I knew as Shannon has survived his death, but I do believe things for which he served as a vessel still survive. Freedom is abroad in the world, but not in the sense George W. Bush means when he claims "freedom is on the march". Freedom exists, and it runs thread-like through all people. Some, like my friend Shannon, and apparently Mike Benham, carry the thread more convincingly than others. Their grip on it is more robust. I, in contrast, carry it a little more tentatively, but I admire enormously and maybe even envy a little those who grasp onto it with both hands. I'm the guy on deck looking up with admiration and glee at the sea-monkeys swinging through the rigging of the ship's top-sail. Every once in a while, with their trusted encouragement and reassurances, I allow myself to climb up and join them in their perilous and thrilling endeavors.

Nobody will ever replace my friend Shannon for me. But I do remember now that I don't have to think of him as the sole possessor of the many qualities I admired about him. Those qualities exist in the world, discernible through other people I meet and sometimes befriend. And so I remember now that I don't have to grieve for what Shannon was; I can be content with grieving for who he was. Which is, in itself, a lot of grieving, to be sure. More than enough, if I might be allowed an opinion on that subject. But still, the world seems a little less empty today for my having come across the existence of the Anarchic Tar.

So thanks, Mr. Mike Benham. May god grant you fifteen men on a dead man's chest. And, too, some yo-ho-ho and a bottle of rum.

And not that I have any right to make the request or anything, but, you know, do try not to fall off any tall buildings as you Spiderman your way across the face of the planet. That sort of thing so upsets the horses.

The Oceans of Kansas

Thank heaven this is a cool site (for sea monster mavens) because the name is so cool I would have to post it no matter what, even if the site was dumb. Which it isn't.

Oceans of Kansas, it's called. I've been saying the name over and over all day. Go there to see all sorts of stuff about all the Sea Monsters of the Great Plains. I especially like the notion of Kansas Sharks.

"What's the matter with Kansas?"

You can even read some Paleo-fiction: "A Day in the Life of a Mosasaur" and "A Moment in Time".

Leave yer Conestoga Wagon ta home, there, pardner. Pack yer Evinrude instead.

The Weathermen

Here's an encouraging thing. A sort of  factcheck.org to stand against clowns like Michael Crichton. (See: "Michael Crichton’s State of Confusion".)

It's a new blog called RealClimate.

Many scientists participate in efforts to educate the public and to rebut or debunk rather fanciful claims or outright mis-representations by writing in popular magazines such as EOS and New Scientist or in the Comments section of journals. However, this takes time to put together, and by the time it's out, mainstream attention has often moved elsewhere. Since these rebuttals appear in the peer-reviewed literature, these efforts (in the long run) are useful. However, a faster response would sometimes be helpful in ensuring that the context of breaking stories is more widely distributed at the time.

Journalists with deadlines and scant knowledge of the field quite often do not know where to go for this context on papers that are being pushed by some of the partisan think-tanks or other interested parties. This can lead to some quite mainstream outlets inadvertently publishing some very dubious and misleading ideas.

RealClimate is a commentary site on climate science by working climate scientists for the interested public and journalists. We aim to provide a quick response to developing stories and provide the context sometimes missing in mainstream commentary.

A December 18 entry is called "Fox News gets it wrong".

I'm shocked.

Greeting the Season

Look at these images:

Feel anything? If you do, what you are feeling may be the Vague Stirrings of your amygdala.

The images are from the Eyeswhite Project, an experiment conducted at the brain imaging laboratory of Paul J. Whalen, PhD. Subjects were shown a series of faces, all with neutral expressions. Before each of those faces, they were also shown a brief glimpse (too brief for them to actually be aware of it) of one of the two images above. Afterward, the subjects reported that they had seen nothing out of the ordinary -- just a series of faces exhibiting neutral expressions. But brain imaging of the subjects showed that on those occasions when the neutral face was preceded by the "scary eyes" image above, the subject's amygdala lit up.

Studies of this sort show that the amygdala is still responsive to fearful faces, even when subjects do not know that these expressions have been presented.  These data suggest that this ability is probably so important to the human condition that it has become highly automated.

Okay, I don't know if it works for you, but when I look at the images above my eyes go directly to the "scary eyes". I glance rightward, briefly, at the "neutral eyes" but my gaze is immediately pulled back to the "scary eyes". I can't say I can't take my eyes off them because I can, but if look at the images, the only one my brain seems to care about is the set of eyes on the left.

This has been a very strange and upsetting Holiday Season for me. Raw. Unpleasant. Diffuse. I'm not Scrooge so much this year as I am Marley, I think. Only I lack the kind of purity that Marley was blessed with, the clarifying simplicity that comes of spending seven years in the grave.

I discovered these images this morning and the "scary eyes" image immediately struck me as my Christmas Card to myself. It's pure. I look at it and I can feel myself, literally, inside my brain. It doesn't matter that the overriding emotion is uneasiness. The uneasiness is the direct and unmitigated response to a stimulus outside myself. I'm here in this world. I can feel it.

Merry Christmas to me. Finally.

Time to go buy some people some prezzies.

How To Live With Dead People

I can see this as something of a series, actually -- dead people being in not particularly short supply. Each entry in the series would offer helpful tips on how to live with various sorts of dead people.

For example, the skills required for living with a person who died after a long illness are likely different from those you'd want for living with a person who died unexpectedly. Likewise, living with a dead young person would be different from living with a dead Senior Citizen. And so forth. I don't know where we are at last count in terms of dead people, but my guess is the number is impressive. There could be a lot of work for somebody in this.

To begin, I will confront the difficulties of living with a dead person who died unexpectedly. Later I may have the opportunity to address issues involving other sorts of dead people. In fact, I feel almost sure of it. Unless, of course, I'm the next person to die, in which case someone else will have to carry on.

Step #1: Unexpecting your new friend.

This is often the most difficult step to master because unexpected deaths are unexpected and most people aren't very good with surprises. Generally, an unexpected death will be just about the last thing you would ever have been expecting just before the email or phone call arrives telling you that the dead person has unexpectedly died. Most people just aren't very flexible about this sort of thing.

For example, an email might arrive in your Inbox with nothing more than a friend's name in the subject line. You might find yourself staring at the Inbox, hoping to christ almighty on a god damned crutch that this email is going to be about a surprise birthday party for your friend. Don't be alarmed if a few seconds have to pass before you can actually bring yourself to open the email. After all, you know it isn't anywhere near his birthday, and though there is still a chance that the email might concern some delightful and harmless bit of gossip about your friend, you have a pain in your tummy telling you, no, things aren't going to be that easy.

Here, we shall pass over the moment when you allow yourself to actually see the words that carry the news. Here, most guides like this one will simply insert the words "something ghastly happens" and then move on, and so we will adopt that convention as well. There are, after all, no reliable reports of what this moment is really like.

Now you'll find yourself in a twilight place. You've become a sudden and involuntary convert to a religion that can only exist in Bizarro World. You know the thing is true, but you don't believe it. This is unfaith. Don't be alarmed. This moment will not last.

Step #2: Getting ready for the dead person to move in.

Moving in is always a chore and this is especially true when the person you are helping to move in is a dead person. One helpful thing to try, just after learning that a dead person will be moving in with you, is to stand up and look around at the room you will be sharing with the dead person. You will immediately notice how all pieces of furniture have moved themselves into the wrong places. This is much like boxing up your things when you, yourself, are preparing to move, only in this case all the prep work has already been done more or less miraculously for you. The shock may cause you to sit down again.

Step #3: Preparing for that first meeting.

For most of us, meeting new people -- especially dead people -- can be hard. Very few of us are as skilled socially as we would like to be. Here are a few tips.

Often those people who knew the dead person before he was a dead person will organize a gathering of some sort, formal or informal, it doesn't matter, at which they can all say hello to the dead person. Naturally, there is some awkwardness involved in meeting the newly dead, but this can be reduced if you do a little planning ahead. Write out your thoughts about what you might want to say to the dead person when you first meet him. Try writing as if you were going to say what you have to say on television to a nationwide viewing audience. This will make you sound like an asshole. Nobody wants to sit there and listen to you make up crap about somebody so you can please the people at home. Get an effing clue, why don't you?

After you have carefully written out what you want to say, read it several times aloud to yourself, alone in a room or before a mirror. Soon you will begin to see what a hopelessly brain dead and soulless piece of crap you've written. With any luck, you will get all of this out of your system before the gathering occurs.

Do not throw the piece of paper away, however. Keep it with you, tucked away. If your nerves fail you at the crucial moment, you can always fall back on your prepared remarks. You will still look like an asshole, but most people will forgive you. Knowing that you have something to say when the big moment arrives will help calm your nerves. In these situations, it is always better to look like an asshole than to be a coward.

Step #4: The big moment.

Now you are ready to step up to the plate and take your cuts!

Don't be shy. You have prepared a little something to say. Nothing to worry about. And don't forget that the dead person is probably just as nervous as you are.

As you walk to the podium to say hello to your new dead friend, consider this: you didn't ask for this, you didn't want it, you would never have wanted it in a million years, but it's what you've been handed, bub, so do your best.

In fact, why not embrace the moment with all your heart? If a job is worth doing -- even if it's a job that makes you feel like you want to dig your eyeballs out with an oyster fork and then start in with it on your adenoids -- then it's a job worth doing right.

Eject preparation. Say whatever the hell you want. Your new dead friend will admire your spontaneity. Say that you love him, because you did. Say that you miss him, because you will. Tell him something funny about himself, because he made you laugh so many times, for so many years. Tell him he's a pain in the ass, because he was. But remind him that he's worth it, too, because he always was, even when you couldn't believe you could ever get over being so angry at him that you never wanted to see him again.

Soon, before you know it, the bloom will be on the rose of your brand new friendship with this dead person. Just, you know, don't get used to that feeling. Don't think for a moment that your job is done.

Like any living situation, there will always be difficulties. Unappreciated twists, unanticipated turns. You will have to make compromises with the dead person as he wends his way deeper and deeper into your life. This is natural in any relationship that will last you to the end of your days. As the years pass, you may grow as comfortable with each other as an old married couple sitting on the porch, gazing up at the moonlit sky together, holding hands and quietly longing, each of them, for their separate deaths.

But all that's in the future.

Step #5: The courtship.

Welcome back to Bizarro World!

Here, you begin courting your dead friend by not going to any movies because you used to go to movies with him. Here, you won't rent a DVD because you used to do that with him as well, and then sit around discussing what you watched together. Here, you won't go out for a late-night bite to eat at the cheapo diner because that's what the two of you used to do. Welcome to Bizarro Dating!

But never fear. As you grow closer, more intimate with your dead friend, you will start going to movies again. And renting DVDs. And going to the Odessa Diner. In fact, you'll go back to doing lots of stuff together, you and your dead friend. Soon, you won't be able to ever be without him. You'll go everywhere, do everything, just like the old days. Only you'll be alive and he'll be dead, of course.

Which isn't quite the same, I guess, but it's kind of all you have to work with.

Step #6: In conclusion.

Okay, it's probably better if your friends don't die on you. Especially all of a sudden. But like I said, you sort of have to work with what you've got.

Good luck. You can do it. If I can, you can.


In 1983, in Paris, a woman found an address book lying in the street. She picked it up and later photocopied it, then returned it anonymously to the owner whose name and address were indicated inside.

Using the photocopy, the woman began contacting the people listed in the book.

Earlier, the French daily Libération had offered the woman part of its front page to use however she wished for an entire month. The woman told the people she was contacting that she wanted to use what they had to say about the unknown man, the owner of the address book, a man she had never met, to build a portrait of him. Over the period of a month, she told them, she would use what they had to say about him to construct a portrait of that man on the front page of Libération.

This apparently delighted the people she had contacted. They said that if it was anyone else but the man in question, they would never participate in such a thing. But they said since it was this man, they would do it. They said he would love it.

And so the woman went and talked to all the people. One man talked about the leak the unnamed man had once had in his roof. Another, who had not seen the unnamed man for 5 years, talked about the unnamed man's mother. Others had other, presumably less mundane things to say.

And so it developed that for 28 days, back in 1983, Paris was riveted by the portrait of this unnamed man developing daily on the front page of Libération. There were reports that during this time, circulation at rival Le Monde noticeably dropped.

By fortune or misfortune, the unnamed man was not in Paris when all of this was happening. In fact, he did not return until 3 weeks after the portrait's "run" was over. When he found out what had happened, it turned out that the unnamed man's friends and contacts had been wrong. He did not love the idea. He was outraged.

Lawyers were summoned. Suits were filed. Fortunately for the woman, the unnamed man (or, more likely, his lawyers) did not hold her responsible. They blamed Libération.

But then somewhere along the line, more imagination than anyone could have reasonably hoped for was introduced into the process. It turns out that sometime earlier, the woman, in exchange for free photography lessons, had modeled nude for a photographer. The unnamed man (or his agents) discovered a copy of this nude photograph, and so he made his settlement offer.

If Libération would publish the nude photo of the woman on its front page, the unnamed man would drop all legal proceedings. The woman was consulted. The solution seemed to her a far more intriguing and effective way of balancing the scales than anything any court of law might come up with, so she agreed. The picture was published, and for all official purposes, the incident was over.

Readers far more hip than I will have long ago recognized the woman in this story as Sophie Calle, a fascinating and disturbing more-or-less "accidental" artist born in Paris in 1953. The particular piece described above was called "The Address Book".

This morning, I heard a story on Ms. Calle on WNYC's The Next Big Thing. You can listen to an .ra of it here.

Now, there is a temptation here based on the above story to think of Sophie Calle as some sort of cheese-eating abuse monkey. What right did she have to make a "piece" out of some unknown stranger's life? She can do this, what, because she is an "artist"?

The truth is, though, it's not entirely clear that Sophie Calle started out actually trying to do the strange and (to me) fascinating stuff she does. The story goes that in the same year of "The Address Book", shortly before it, Ms. Calle was living in Paris and her life wasn't really going anywhere. She was, as they say, lost. She went to a party and met a man. He left for Venice the next day. Unbeknownst to him, she followed. She dressed in a trenchcoat and sunglasses and followed him around at a discreet distance, taking photographs of him, more or less documenting his life without him having any idea it was being documented. These days, of course, this is known as stalking.

In another of her famous pieces, she took a job as a cleaning maid in a hotel. When she entered a guest's room to clean it, she would carefully document the room, taking pictures and noting various items and their placement in the room. Then she would open the guest's luggage and go through it, documenting all of that as well.

Weird. Creepy.

In the WNYC story, she talks about what she is working on now. There was a young girl in Paris who had said that she wanted "to be like Sophie Calle". One day, this young girl was going down some stairs and some firemen who happened to be near saw her passing by. That's the last anyone has ever seen of the young girl. The police contacted Sophie Calle on the basis of the statements the girl had earlier made, but of course she had never heard of the girl and knew nothing of her disappearance.

But this got Ms. Calle thinking about missing people in general, which got her thinking about people hanging on to the notion that people missing in their lives must still be alive. And that got her thinking about ghosts of people. And that got her onto a project of trying to trace the collision, literally, of two lives. She wanted to trace back the lives of two people who died in an auto accident, from the moment of the collision back to when they had started the day. Two strangers, getting up in the morning, having nothing whatsoever to do with each other except for the fact that in a few hours they would become the most important people in each other's lives. They would bring each other death.

So she started by talking to a man whose son had been killed not too long before.

The project had to be abandoned almost immediately. In talking to that first man, both the man and Calle were so quickly overcome with grief that neither could go on. She was sitting there asking him what the boy had had for breakfast, what color his sweater had been that day.

The details were too much. The story was too harmful to tell.

And here we get, I think, to what fascinates me about this woman. She seems obsessed by narrative, but she doesn't seem to be able, in a sense, to control herself. She needs details. She needs to know what happened next in someone's life. In many ways she seems cruel and unfeeling and as insensitive as stone, but if you listen to the WNYC piece you find out rather quickly that she is not that way at all. She is still guilt-ridden about what she did to that poor unnamed man in "The Address Book". She seems to know, once she finds herself in a situation like the one with the man whose son had been killed, that what she is trying to do is a terrible mistake. You can't make a "piece", you can't document a "narrative" of what the boy had for breakfast, or what color sweater he was wearing on the day he died horribly. There might be other reasons to document those details, but her constructing a "piece" from them isn't one of them.

She seems, pardon the coinage, a storiopath -- a Nosy Parker quite insensible to the everyday norms and conventions of standard gossipry. It's normal to be curious about our fellow beings. It's normal to seek to satisfy that curiosity. To a point.

She seems almost oppressed by her need for stories. At one point, she asked her mother to hire a private detective to document her (that is, Sophie Calle's) daily routine. She didn't want to be aware that her story was being documented, but of course she could not help but know it was being documented. This is storytelling run amok. Certainly you could make the argument that this was a "piece", but it seems to me that it is more than that.

But then by now the careful reader will have guessed I would think that. By now it should be obvious to the careful reader that this particular post is more about my storiopathy than Sophie Calle's.

I wish I had her nerve, or her lack thereof. While I have always been open-minded and curious about this sort of art, I often feel that I don't quite get it, or that the point of the thing doesn't quite justify the effort that went into creating it. But Calle's work feels unequivocally compelling to me. I think I share her obsessions, but I lack the means to act on them, at least to the degree that she is able to act on hers. I should've grown up to be a detective, or a spy.

Stories feel like my way back into the world.

I did just start a blog, after all. I check my logs. I click through to see who these people are that are visiting the site, and what do I discover? Documents. Stories. Pieces of luggage open on hotel room beds. Rummage, rummage. Snoop, snoop.

You read a document by somebody who seems interesting. You google. You produce the papers. Nosy, nosy, nosy. Need, need, need to know more. Who is this document -- er, I mean -- person?

What document shall I produce today, for the consumption of all those other documents out there? Above all, it has to be interesting.

Document sharing. There's even a name for it now.

One time a guy accused me of being a stalker because I had googled his name which I'd seen in a public document on the web and then written him a pleasant email about something pleasant the google search had produced.

My god. A stalker, he called me. He was out of his mind. There was nothing further I could or even wanted to say to him. My documents had, in his view, violated his documents. There was nothing to be done except to go away.

I was innocent, but I've never repeated the mistake. And I have been careful ever since to conceal my storiopathy. I am not an artist. I am not a detective. I am not a spy. And so I strive to give every appearance of being nothing more than an ordinary, well-socialized gossip. Anyone just looking at me would think my curiosity could actually be sated somehow. I am among the ranks of story-obsessives forced to settle for narratively desperate lives.

Five Pieces of Uneasy.

For those of us sitting around in one of America's Great Cities, sipping latte in coffee bars while perusing Avant Garde publications, adjusting our berets and waiting to get blown up by terrorists, there are three articles in the current New York magazine that might or might not make your exotic joes go down a bit more easily.

The first attempts (and/or purports) to list the "Reasons They Haven’t Hit Us Again". The reasons are divided into "five principal theories":

1. We’re On Al Qaeda Time.

The notion here is that al Qaeda is both patient and cautious.

In fact, there are many terrorism analysts who are convinced that bin Laden fully anticipated that the U.S. response to 9/11 would force him and his militants into hiding and that he planned from the start to go dormant and reemerge years later, when he’d have a cleaner shot at a spectacular second attack on the U.S.

That's one theory. Others suggest that we will see a series of smaller attacks, Madrid being one measure here of what a "smaller attack" is. Advocates of that theory, I suppose, have to rely on the other four theories to explain why there haven't been any attacks on an American city in three years.

2. New York Has Become A Difficult Target.

Here's where New York City might differ from other U.S. cities. I'm grateful for what I read in this section inasmuch as I live in NYC. If you live in another city, you might want to do a little checking up on how things are going in your home town.

“Al Qaeda is an extremely opportunistic organization that wants a soft spot,” says [Michael] Swetnam [CEO of the Potomac Institute for Policy Studies], the author of Usama bin Laden’s Al-Qaida: Profile of a Terrorist Network. “So the best way to protect yourself is to be guarded.” And New York, says Swetnam, who has studied the city’s defenses closely, has been surprisingly successful at turning itself into a hard target.... “The New York Police Department has one of the most sophisticated terrorist centers I’ve ever seen,” says Swetnam. “[Police Commissioner] Ray Kelly is having great success getting what he needs from Washington and cutting through bureaucratic obstacles that are holding up other departments.”

The really encouraging thing about this section is that it seems New York City has acknowledged the fact that it simply couldn't rely on the Bush Administration to help the city protect itself. It has, apparently, gone Way Proactive. We have a 24/7 counterterrorism operation getting regular updates about "vehicles in every lot in Manhattan". Hmm. That seems difficult to believe, but maybe. Nevertheless, other features of the operation: "a sophisticated network of informants", language experts in Arabic, Pashto, Urdu, etc.  "monitoring transmissions and broadcasts". There used to be 20 NYPD officers on "the terrorism beat". Now there are 4,000. And other stuff I'm very glad to hear about.

The best is that NYPD has apparently "bullied" its way into getting regular and "unequaled" access to updates from the FBI.

“Remember when those disks were discovered with floor plans to New Jersey schools?” Swetnam asks, referring to the capture in July of a Baath Party operative in Iraq who was carrying a CD-rom with photos and safety policies for several schools in New Jersey and elsewhere. Though this information was later thought to be for educational use, not terrorism, the discovery raised serious concerns at the time. “I bet there wasn’t a police department in the entire state of New Jersey which knew about that disk till they heard it on the news. And I bet there wasn’t a police precinct in New York that didn’t know about it within hours of the discovery.”

But here's my favorite of the five theories:

3. The French Have Saved Us.

The article tells us there have been at least four attempts in the past 2 years to strike the U.S. One or more of those attacks was aimed at NYC. All have been "detected in advance and prevented".

How is that possible, when the CIA’s intelligence-gathering is supposedly in a shambles? Because of good friends in shadowy places. “The French intelligence services have been just phenomenal,” says Swetnam.... the French already have [an Arabic-speaking spy force], retained from their days as colonial masters of Algeria, Tunisia, and Morocco, not to mention their mandates over Syria and Lebanon. French intelligence knows how to root out Arabic-speaking insurgents. And while Jacques Chirac may not lend us any French soldiers, he’s apparently been generous with the French spy network.

Heh. "Freedom Fries", indeed.

4. Suicide Bombings Don’t Work Here.

Yeah, well. Guess we'll see. This theory essentially relies on the idea, with some research justifying it I must add, that the conditions that account for suicide bombings elsewhere do not obtain here. But like I said, I guess we'll see.

5. Bin Laden Isn’t A Terrorist, He’s A Killer.

Here is where you have yer Good News and yer Bad News.

“Al Qaeda isn’t interested in scaring people-it’s interested in killing people,” explains [one expert].

The idea being they will take their time and be careful to set up something really awful, something that will kill a lot of people. Part of this is contained in the notion that what al Qaeda is up to is not a campaign of terrorism, but a real-life, actual-fact war.

[Bin Laden has] concluded that the best way to wound the United States is to lock its military in an unpopular foreign war. He essentially confirmed this in his preelection videotape message.

That's one front in the war, others include bringing down the national economy by causing us to divert billions of dollars into a war overseas.


The article concludes with a reminder of what we all should already know, that New York "remains a magnet for terrorists". So I don't know how much my mind is eased by any of this. I do like hearing about how the NYPD has taken the initiative. At times I feel like I live in the safest city in the world. At other times, I feel like I have a target pinned on my back.

Basically I don't know who or what I trust anymore on this subject. We have tons of purported experts. I have great hopes that they actually know what they are talking about. But then I think back to Richard Clarke, and the time when everybody, including George Tenet, was running around with their "hair on fire". And Bush went on vacation. Condi Rice had other things to think about.

Crap happens. Airliners go down because a series of unlikely system failures string themselves together in an unlikely manner and then suddenly everybody falls down and goes boom. But I will admit that I feel somewhat better about The Question than I did before I read this article.

The other two articles are both worth reading.

"Anatomy Of a Foiled Plot" is a disturbing story, both because it suggests some scary stuff is going on down low, and because it suggests that maybe we aren't being quite as careful as we ought to be about distinguishing people who are real threats, and people who are not.

"Camp Jihad" is about an NYPD narcotics detective who attends a counterterrorism training camp.

When I ask what [the detective will] take back with him to the force, he says, “The worst thing in law enforcement is to say ‘That will never happen.’ What I take from this is, we’ve never got to stop thinking of all the different ways bad things can happen to us.”

It’s a disappointing answer, given that I had hoped this course might reveal some radical new insight for combating terrorism. But there’s reason to be heartened by it, too. If there’s a common theme unifying America’s blunders in the war on terrorism-from missing the warning signs before 9/11 to misreading the strength of the insurgency in Iraq-it’s a lack of imagination. We have consistently failed to conceive of an enemy who is as resourceful and clever as we consider ourselves to be. If cops like Dan, and his fellow students, can understand this and change their way of thinking, maybe it’s not too late for those leading the war.


Go, Detective Dan, go.

Update: All Aboard For Tuskegee!

By way of Electrolite, an intelligent and informed post on the matter I referenced here.

In summary, the BBC documentary appears to uncritically embrace the theories of AIDS denialists who believe that all HIV treatments are toxic. Their primary sources of information have no scientific or medical credibility. Neither the BBC piece nor the set of Scheff articles upon which the documentary was apparently based cite any mainstream experts in HIV or human subjects research - no appeal to the FDA, no experts from the National Institutes of Allergies and Infectious Diseases. They're not credible.

There is definitely a place for thoughtful argument about whether parents have the unrestricted right to withhold medical treatment from their children. There is a place for thoughtful argument about how to balance concerns about quality of life and treatment-related toxicity with the need for HIV treatment. But the BBC documentary and its source articles hardly provide that kind of thoughtful argument. Don't get sucked in.

From "Human Guinea Pigs?" at Respectful of Otters.

TNR: A Fighting Faith

There is currently a flurry of largely negative responses on DailyKos to Peter Beinart's article in The New Republic (A Fighting Faith: An Argument For A New Liberalism).

I actually think it is the best thing I've seen written on the subject of Where Do We Go From Here since the disaster of November 2, 2004. I say that not because I agree with it in its entirety, and not because I don't have reservations about it. I say that because it introduces some important arguments into the discussion -- arguments far more important, in my judgment, than who the next Chairman of the DNC will be.

I hesitate to make pronouncements such as this from my lowly perch, but I guess I will do it anyway: this is an important article. I intend to say more about it later, but in the meantime let me just urge my fellow Lefties to not dismiss this thing too quickly. Let me urge them to read it a couple of times before they give in to any urge they might have to toss it against the wainscoting.

...Islamist totalitarianism--like Soviet totalitarianism before it--threatens the United States and the aspirations of millions across the world. And, as long as that threat remains, defeating it must be liberalism's north star. Methods for defeating totalitarian Islam are a legitimate topic of internal liberal debate. But the centrality of the effort is not. The recognition that liberals face an external enemy more grave, and more illiberal, than George W. Bush should be the litmus test of a decent left.

Today, the war on terrorism is partially obscured by the war in Iraq, which has made liberals cynical about the purposes of U.S. power. But, even if Iraq is Vietnam, it no more obviates the war on terrorism than Vietnam obviated the battle against communism. Global jihad will be with us long after American troops stop dying in Falluja and Mosul. And thus, liberalism will rise or fall on whether it can become, again, what Schlesinger called "a fighting faith."

Of all the things contemporary liberals can learn from their forbearers half a century ago, perhaps the most important is that national security can be a calling. If the struggles for gay marriage and universal health care lay rightful claim to liberal idealism, so does the struggle to protect the United States by spreading freedom in the Muslim world. It, too, can provide the moral purpose for which a new generation of liberals yearn...

The war in Iraq was a stupid, misguided, ideological, expensive and deadly mistake. It has put us in far more danger than we otherwise would have been in. But a war, a smart war on Islamic totalitarianism is not a mistake. I'm sorry, it just isn't. Not to this Leftie.

And so let us proceed to thrash this thing out...


Some time ago, I was shopping for a friend's birthday present. She is one of those wonderful people so easy to buy presents for: smart, widely curious and widely read, and she loves books. So naturally there I was in the bookstore browsing the New Non-fictions. I picked up a book with an odd cover and an intriguing title. It was called Mutants: On Genetic Variety and the Human Body and it was by Armand Marie Leroi. I flipped through a few pages and soon realized that I had found the perfect present for my friend.

Bought it, took it home, wrapped it up, gave it to her. A few days later she called me, gushing. Yes, that's right. She just gushed all over me, right there over the phone. She couldn't gush enough about how much she loved the book.

And so it was with great pleasure that I read in this evening's Guardian that Mutants has  just won the 2004 Guardian First Book Award. A few details:

The nine judges were [Sir Richard] Eyre, the novelists Hari Kunzru and Ali Smith, the author Lewis Wolpert, the barrister Helena Kennedy, the author and comedian Alexei Sayle, the Guardian's deputy editor Georgina Henry, and Stuart Broom, who represented the Waterstone's reading groups.

The panel was chaired by the Guardian literary editor, Claire Armitstead.

Last night Ms Armitstead said: "What we found so impressive about Armand Marie Leroi's book was the scope of its reference, its elegance and its inquisitiveness.

"It is not just about the science of abnormality, but about everything that could possibly be affected by that science, from the lifespan of fruit flies to the depiction of nostrils in the paintings of Toulouse Lautrec."

While the subject matter of Mutants unsettled some involved in the judging, the overwhelming majority - both in the reading groups and the panel - found it fascinating.

So congratulations to Mr. Leroi and may he spend his 10,000 Limey Smackers all in one exceedingly delightful place.

Not Just Battyman Fi Dead

I've been mulling this one over for a few days, trying to figure just exactly where I wanted the pistol to be pointed when I finally pulled the trigger. Today being World HIV/AIDS day, though, guess I'll just stop worrying about it and do the old Quick Draw McGraw thing and start blazing away.

A few days ago, Human Rights Watch released a report named Hated to Death: Homophobia, Violence, and Jamaica’s HIV/AIDS Epidemic. I read the entire thing and found it shocking. I've never been to the Caribbean, and probably won't be going for some time. I'm not exactly yer Jet-Setter. Those commercials for Jamaica with Marley's "One Love" playing underneath sure make the place look sexy and hot and fun and full of love, though. That's for sure. Were I ever to go, that looks like the place for me.

Well, except I had some friends who went there a while ago and  reported back to me some very disturbing things about the place, things they saw a little bit off the standard, touristy, well-beaten paths. And now I read this Human Rights Watch report...

From its introductory summary:

On June 9, 2004, Brian Williamson, Jamaica’s leading gay rights activist, was murdered in his home, his body mutilated by multiple knife wounds.  Within an hour after his body was discovered, a Human Rights Watch researcher witnessed a crowd gathered outside the crime scene.  A smiling man called out, “Battyman [homosexual] he get killed!”  Many others celebrated Williamson’s murder, laughing and calling out, “let’s get them one at a time,” “that’s what you get for sin,” “let’s kill all of them.”  Some sang “boom bye bye,” a line from a popular Jamaican song about killing and burning gay men.

Jamaica’s growing HIV/AIDS epidemic is unfolding in the context of widespread violence and discrimination against people living with and at high risk of HIV/AIDS, especially men who have sex with men.  Myths about HIV/AIDS persist.  Many Jamaicans believe that HIV/AIDS is a disease of homosexuals and sex workers whose “moral impurity” makes them vulnerable to it, or that HIV is transmitted by casual contact.  Pervasive and virulent homophobia, coupled with fear of the disease, impedes access to HIV prevention information, condoms, and health care.


Victims of violence are often too scared to appeal to the police for protection.  In some cases the police themselves harass and attack men they perceived to be homosexual.   Police also actively support homophobic violence, fail to investigate complaints of abuse, and arrest and detain them based on their alleged homosexual conduct.  In some cases, homophobic police violence is a catalyst for violence and serious—sometimes lethal—abuse by others.  On June 18, 2004, a mob chased and reportedly “chopped, stabbed and stoned to death” a man perceived to be gay in Montego Bay.  Several witnesses told Human Rights Watch that police participated in the abuse that ultimately led to this mob killing, first beating the man with batons and then urging others to beat him because he was homosexual.

Because HIV/AIDS and homosexuality often are conflated, people living with HIV/AIDS and organizations providing HIV/AIDS education and services have also been targeted.  Both state and private actors join violent threats against gay men with threats against HIV/AIDS educators and people living with HIV/AIDS.  In July 2004, for example, the Jamaican Forum of Lesbians, All-Sexuals and Gays (J-FLAG) received an email threatening to gun down “gays and homosexuals” and “clean up” a group that provided HIV/AIDS education for youth.  In a 2003 case, a police officer told a person living with HIV/AIDS that he must be homosexual and threatened to kill him if he did not “move [his] AIDS self from here.”

Jamaica's Ministry of Health is working hard to end human rights abuses against gays and HIV patients because it understands that such abuses cause grave harm to its efforts to curb the epidemic of HIV in the Jamaican population. But other parts of the Jamaican government seem to do their best to undercut these efforts by "condoning or committing serious human rights abuses" against gays and the HIV infected. The country's sodomy laws are used to foster "a climate of impunity" and are sometimes used to "justify the arrest of peer HIV educators". Prime Minister P.J. Patterson and his Minister of Health "repeatedly refuse to endorse repeal of discriminatory legislation, ignoring not only international human rights standards but also reports by both the government’s national HIV/AIDS program and its advisory National AIDS Committee on the role of these laws in driving Jamaica’s HIV/AIDS epidemic."

In 2004, Jamaica launched an ambitious project to provide antiretroviral treatment to people living with HIV/AIDS and to address underlying human rights violations that are driving the epidemic.  These are promising initiatives.  They will be compromised, however, unless government leaders make a sustained commitment to end discrimination and abuse against people living with and at high risk of HIV/AIDS.  The government knows that although HIV/AIDS is stigmatized as a “gay disease,” in reality, in Jamaica as in most of the Caribbean, the most common means of transmission is heterosexual sex.  It also knows that if the epidemic in Jamaica continues to accelerate, all Jamaicans will suffer.

According to a number of online sources, back in 1993 the Very Rev. Jerry Falwell said "AIDS is not just God's punishment for homosexuals; it is God's punishment for the society that tolerates homosexuals." I haven't actually seen him saying that anywhere, so I dunno', maybe he did, maybe he didn't. But let's just say that whether he actually said it or not, there is some certain percentage of the population that believes it. Which raises the question, of course, what exactly is meant when people suggest that society ought not to "tolerate homosexuals"?

Do we like the Jamaica Model? Think that's a good fit in the U.S.A? If not, what sort of model would those opposed to "tolerating homosexuals" like to see?

 Me, I'm an atheist so I get to postulate any sort of God I want. I propose a God that actually understands the fundamentals of the science of public health. Sort of  a Dr. Koopy-type-God.

I say Dr. Koopy-type-God's  message in sending us HIV is to tell us that if, as a society, you are hateful and intolerant and if you condone human rights abuses against the least of His, then this disease will spread everywhere and all you bums will be punished. Ha-ha. Serves you right,  Dr. Koopy-type-God says.

"Not just battyman fi dead".

In Memory

May 2006

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