Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Pope: 'Condoms increase problem of Aids'

The Pope has said that condoms do not help in the fight against Aids. In an analysis of the background in Wednesday's Times I explain why this is inhumane. As Jonathan Clayton and I report, on his flight to Africa, his first trip to the continent most devastated by the disease, he ruled out any relaxation of the Roman Catholic Church's anti-contraception stance, even where lives are at stake. This rather extraordinary cartoon by Peter Brookes appears in The Times of Wednesday 18 March.

Innocence didn't count

The Daily Dish | By Andrew Sullivan (March 18, 2009) - The Truth About Cheney

Jon Cruddas: Labour has misunderstood Britain. Time to start afresh

Jon Cruddas: Labour has misunderstood Britain. Time to start afresh | Comment is free | The Guardian

Labour lost the language of generosity, kindness and community as it lost the tempo of the country. England's abiding culture was never socialist, but as we misunderstood its essential ethic of solidarity we lost our ability to build a politics beyond the market - to mould a radical hope for the country.

AIG Retention Bonuses Paid to FORMER Employees

AIG Retention Bonuses Paid to FORMER Employees | The Big Picture

The scale of corporate corruption now manifest among senior bankers as class is beyond anything the most extreme Marxist could imagine.

I suppose many of us on the left have long innocently just seen finance capitalism as a way to screw waged workers. But what we have here is a wholesale effort by the banking elite (an elite 1000s of people) to strip the wealth from more or less anyone who bought into the system - pension savers, home owners, 401k contributors, technological innovators.

What we really need, but will not get, is a proper way of assessing value in society. What we have now is just a huge system on expropriation.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Condoms Are The Problem - Not

The Daily Dish | By Andrew Sullivan (March 17, 2009) - Condoms Are The Problem

Pope Benedict, en route to Africa, goes there on AIDS and HIV:

''You can't resolve it with the distribution of condoms. On the contrary, it increases the problem.''"

This is simply disgusting. I have been busy today, so I just join with Sullivan here.

Look, whether or not contraception is a good or a bad thing, real actual people do stupid things. Condoms massively reduce the transmission rates of HIV.

I am HIV+, and I live in the UK with great health care. But HIV is an awful disease. Without disrespecting people with diabetes, it is not "just like diabetes now."

It can create horrible pain; it can corrupt all your sexual and erotic relationships; it, or the medications, can give you diarrhea so bad you cannot let toilet paper touch your arse; it can make other people hate you; and unless you have support it can make you hate yourself.

I remain completely Catholic, but Pope Benedict is simply being evil in these statements.

Here's a really Right-wing idea: learn poetry

Boris Johnson: Here's a really Right-wing idea: learn poetry - Telegraph

As anyone who loves poetry will testify, when you learn a good poem, you make a good friend. You have a voice that will pop up in your head, whenever you want it, and say something beautiful and consoling and true. A poem can keep you going when you are driving on a lonely motorway, or when you are trapped on some freezing ledge in the Alps, or when you are engaged in any kind of arduous and repetitive physical activity, and need to keep concentration. When some disaster overwhelms you, or when you are feeling unusually cheerful – or when you are experiencing any human feeling whatever – it is amazing how often some line or phrase will swim to the surface and help to articulate your emotions, to intensify them or to console.

That is why it is so sad that children are no longer learning poetry off by heart, and doubly sad because poetry is the one art form in which the English are unsurpassed. The Germans beat us at classical music. The Americans invented rock and roll. I am afraid that the Italians, the French, the Dutch and the Spanish can all boast a more illustrious roll-call of top painters, and the Russians have produced the greatest novels. But no other nation has ever produced so much high-quality poetry – mainly, I think, because of the language itself.

I really don't think this is particularly right wing.

Barack Obama drops 'war on drugs' rhetoric for needle exchanges

Barack Obama drops 'war on drugs' rhetoric for needle exchanges |

The Obama administration signalled today that it was ready to repudiate the prohibition and 'war on drugs' approach of previous presidents, and steer policy towards prevention and 'harm reduction' strategies favoured by Europe.

David Johnson, an assistant secretary of state, said the new administration would embrace policies supporting federally funded needle exchanges. The aim, he said, was to establish a policy based on public health needs. 'This will result in a policy that is broader and stronger than the one we had in the past,' Johnson said on the sidelines of a UN drug strategy conference in Vienna.

I suppose this is a start, but they need to bring down the entire structure of prohibition and the criminality that structure creates.

Will more people use drugs? Perhaps, but it's not really hard to get drugs if you really want them now. Portugal has decriminalised possession since 2002 and the policy seems to have been a success.

On the whole I think relatively low harm drugs such as cannabis, ecstasy and mushrooms should be legalised and taxed. They should be sold at fixed strengths in regulated shops. Such "good drugs" would destroy the market in fake and over-strength compounds, not to mention the criminal enterprise around them. In the UK at most of Europe at least, despite higher penalties on the books, it's fairly unlikely that mere possession of these drugs would currently bring about a prison sentence. In the US the situation is some states is insane with hundreds of thousands of people arrested and imprisoned each year.

The case is harder to make with heroin/morphine/other opiates. Here I think sale should probably remain illegal, but declared addicts should be allowed maintenance amounts on prescription. This would at least reduce level "getting a fix" crime, but probably would not dismantle the international crime rings. Such rings might, however, make so much less money that they would wither. I suspect there are only a limited number of people who would even want to use heroin. After all, codeine is available over the counter in the UK, and it is possible to remove the APAP/Paracetamol from bought pills, but fairly few people do.

Cocaine is the hard one. Here there is no question the that the drug is dangerous, and there is probably not much individual resistance to the drug. In other words, a huge number of people would try and would like cocaine. But it's equally true that the War on Drugs on cocaine is causing the post political destabilistion in much of Latin America, and now some African states, not to mention huge amounts of violence in the US and somewhat less violence in Europe. I cannot make my up on this - I see the case for continuing prohibition, but it may be that the social cost in Latin America and Africa is too high. There might be case for legalising cocaine as well.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Washington D.C. AIDS Epidemic - Over 3% are HIV+

Fenty Releases Report on D.C. AIDS Epidemic -

Mayor Adrian M. Fenty this morning released an 82-page report saying that 3 percent of District residents have HIV or AIDS, a total that surpasses the threshold that constitutes a severe epidemic.


Obsidian Wings: Bonuses At AIG

Obsidian Wings: Bonuses At AIG

This just gets worse. Employees of the division of AIG which caused the most problems are getting an average bonus of over $1 million each.

The seems to be no way out of this debt mess. Perhaps there should be a world wide cancellation of all debts and a new beginning. This was after all an approach that worked once in ancient Athens.

Deep Fried Scotland

Deep Fried Scotland // Current

How to fry Mars Bars and Pizzas.[Video]

[I lived in Scotland from 14-24, and I was 17 before I realised there was another way of eating pizza apart from frying it.]

Handful of 20-year HIV survivors hold key to discovering vaccine - Health News, Health & Wellbeing

Handful of 20-year HIV survivors hold key to discovering vaccine - Health News, Health & Wellbeing - The Independent

In a desperate attempt to reverse 25 years of failure to develop an Aids vaccine, scientists have a new approach: studying people who have been infected with HIV for many years without any signs of ill-health. The patients' secret? Natural immunity.

The researchers have investigated the virus-fighting antibodies found in the blood of six long-term survivors of HIV whose own immune systems appear to be capable of shrugging off the virus. Results of tests show that a prototype vaccine made from several of the antibodies produced by those long-term survivors can prevent HIV from infecting human cells. The experiments have been successful on human cells growing in a test tube. Now further trials are planned on laboratory animals and human volunteers.

French Physicist Wins $1.4 Million Religion Prize -

French Physicist Wins $1.4 Million Religion Prize -

French physicist and philosopher of science Bernard d'Espagnat won the Templeton Prize for religion on Monday for work which acknowledges that science cannot fully explain ''the nature of being.''

Expect some spewing from Dawkins.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

A.I.G. Planning Huge Bonuses After $170 Billion Bailout

A.I.G. Planning Huge Bonuses After $170 Billion Bailout -

"WASHINGTON — The American International Group, which has received more than $170 billion in taxpayer bailout money from the Treasury and Federal Reserve, plans to pay about $165 million in bonuses by Sunday to executives in the same business unit that brought the company to the brink of collapse last year.

I thought it was April 1st when I read this. It cannot be allowed to happen.

Rasputin's penis

Rasputin's penis - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

When Grigori Rasputin was murdered in 1916, some claim he was also castrated. Since then, a number of people boasting to be in possession of his severed penis and testicles have come forth, although none of them have been able to come up with definitive evidence.

In 2004, Igor Knyazkin, the chief of the prostate research center of the Russian Academy of Natural Sciences, announced that he was opening a Russian museum of erotica in St. Petersburg, Russia. Among the exhibits, Knyazkin claims, is the 30cm (12 inch) long "preserved penis" of Grigori Rasputin , along with several of Rasputin's letters.

I'm watching Nicholas and Alexandra on BBC2 today. Wikipedia dragged up this.

Graham Greene, Homosexuality and "The End of the Affair"

Rather surprisingly my LGBT book group has assigned for this evening Graham Greene's "Catholic" novel, The End of the Affair (1951). I had read this many years ago, and was surprised to see it on the syllabus of a gay discussion group. To me the Catholic aspects of his novels were always the most prominent.

There does, however, seem to be a rationale for an LGBT group discussing the novel. The story concerns a triangle involving the narrator, the woman he carries on an vigourously sexual affair with Sarah, and Sarah's husband Henry. Concentration the Catholic perspective in the past had led me to see the story as a kind of less aristocratic version of Brideshead Revisited, that is about the workings of grace.

Remarkably it could be argued that the most striking relationship is between the narrator and Henry. The novel begins and ends with them, and after Sarah's death they move in together. The narrator is resolutely heterosexual, but it turns out that the reason for Sarah's affairs was that Henry had not been able to bring her to sexual climax. After she dies, Henry notes "I am not the marrying kind."

I think this is the subtext we will be exploring tonight.

Here are some other pertinent views.

Paul Theroux, Damned Old Graham Greene NYT 2004

My own feeling is that there is something ambiguously homoerotic in a man's conducting a lengthy affair with a married woman who remains at home and continues to sleep with her husband. This was a habit of Greene's. And there is the twisted logic of Greene's proclaiming his fidelity to his mistress while cheating on his wife, and also of course seeing hookers, for whom he had a hopeless penchant.

Michael Thornton, The decadent world of Graham Greene - the high priest of darkness Mail on Sunday 2008

Once he had achieved his object and his wife was pregnant, he broke his marriage vows and became a serial adulterer with at least 47 prostitutes whose identities are known and with dozens more who remain unknown.

An alcoholic, he abandoned his wife and two children for affairs with a series of married mistresses.

And though he vehemently denied rumours of bisexuality, his closest male friend was a homosexual who daily preyed on young boys, while there is clear evidence that Greene regularly seduced under-age teenage lads on the Italian island of Capri.

In Thompson, Graham Greene, uneasy Catholic TLS 2006

Although Greene claimed to dislike the label “Catholic novelist”, he retained his faith, if not his belief, in Catholicism all his life. To his dying day he kept a photograph in his wallet of the Italian stigmatic Padre Pio, whose hands and feet were said to display the wounds of Christ. Whether these lesions were of neurotic origin – psychological rather than supernatural – Greene did not care to know: he wanted there to be a mystery at the heart of life. It may seem incredible that an intelligent man could be awed by the irrationality of stigmatism. But as Greene told the Tablet in 1989: “There is a mystery. There is something inexplicable in human life”.