On One Hand

May 4, 2010

Six Steps to Improve Urban Education in America

Filed under: Uncategorized — ononehand @ 11:54 am

I’ve been talking a lot about what doesn’t fix the achievement gap in public schools. Programs designed to fire teachers who have low-scoring students is an example of a fatally wrong-headed approach to education, because it creates animosity between teachers and low-performing students who drag scores down, and discourages teachers from working in the very schools that are hardest to recruit in.

So instead of being all negative and listing only bad proposals, here are the positive steps I would suggest that would create the greatest possible difference in the lives of students in schools that struggle most.

1) Recruit more minority teachers.

People who know what it’s like to be part of a minority group in America are intrinsically better prepared to connect with and understand students who know what it’s like to be a part of a minority group in America. Teachers of color and teachers who grew up in tough urban environments are most likely to apply criticism and praise in the right way to encourage students to take the path that they themselves took, to react positively towards challenging situations in which a student’s behavior is part of her or his culture, and to become good role models that the students can identify with. Teachers of color model success for students of color whereas an all-white teaching staff creates the image that white people are successful community builders who people of color are subjugated to. Having teachers from minority communities gives students hope that they, too can be successful, and that the path society generally sets for them – telling them that college and well-paying jobs are out of reach – can be changed if they focus on school.

A school with a student body that is primarily of color should be taught by a faculty that is primarily of color, and teachers of color should have a strong voice in explaining to their white colleagues how charged racial or cultural situations should be dealt with.

2) Reduce class size.

No teacher, no matter how skilled or brilliant, is going to be at her or his best in a class of 40 students. Dicipline issues will take up more class time than learning, and students who are diciplined in this way will become uninvested from school. Lecturing to a class of kids who are at different levels of ability is hard, and content always suffers; the best way to compensate is when teachers are able to answer individual questions and spend 1-on-1 time with students during work time. But 1-on-1 time is more or less impossible when class sizes are huge; there shouldn’t be more than 25 students in a classroom at at time under most circumstances, and the ideal is probably closer to 17 students. What this ultimately comes down to is funding, because increasing class size is unavoidable when schools have to cut positions.

4) Make education a community effort.

Schools should not be seen as places where kids disappear in for 8 hours a day after they wake up, and educators should not see the community as a place that students disappear to for 16 hours after the bell rings. Schools and communities need to be intrinsically connected to improve student achievement.

Again, this reflects on the need to recruit more minority teachers. An all-white teaching staff is often uncomfortable around or even adversarial to parents of color, who the teachers may blame for their students’ poverty or juge critically when they do not understand the community’s culture. Students are savier than they may seem, and pick up on animosity teachers have for the community, which further informs them that they don’t have much of a future as members of their race.

There should be thorough coordination between a school and the community, and local businesses, colleges, city councils and politicians need to play a direct role in educationg students. Legislators and community leaders should regularly put politics aside and take time to have non-political talks with students. Local scientists should visit classrooms. Businesses should encourage students to work with them in paid internships. Colleges should send tutors to work with younger students and writers and artists should be involved. The community should provide the manpower and interest, but the facilitators of this kind of activity will have to come from inside the school.

5) Increase the number of nurses, psychologists, psychiatrists and social workers in schools.

A lot of students in tough school districts spend more of their thoughts unpacking traumatic or challenging life situations than they do learning. How is a student who is homeless or living out of a car supposed to get homework done, or even care about homework? How is a student who has been subjugated to racism or homophobia in school supposed to feel good about going there again and again each day? How is a student with diabetes, epilepsy or any other potentially serious condition without regular access to health care that parents can afford supposed to get through the day where physical symptoms are interfering with work? How is a student with ADHD or depression supposed to deal when she or he is not getting professional help?

Students in challenging situations need to be allowed more time with school psychologists and counselors, and schools should provide these services to carefully monitor student achievement, and to be willing to investigate further and solve problems when disconnects show up. Someone in the school needs to know how to get a kid on Medicaid. Someone in the school needs to be able to talk to the parents about supplying medications. Someone in the school needs to be able to create a safe space for students to talk about their lives and ensure students are socially and psychologically healthy, so that class time can be spent on learning rather than other issues.

6) Ban junk foods from cafeterias.

Schools that provide free lunches are often relied on to give their kids nutrition that their parents are unable to afford, or to have time to prepare when they’re working multiple jobss. That being the case, it’s tragic when schools respond by providing salty fried potatoes with oil-based cheese sauce every day for lunch because it is the cheapest food they can get that the kids will eat.

It is known that the healthiness in childhood sets the tone for healthiness in adulthood, and sugar and junk food can have measurable negative effects on behavior and concentration. Of course, kids are going to order what tastes good, and it is often junk food that tastes the best, and it takes a while for kids (and adults) to adjust their tastes to prefer healthy foods – so junk food shouldn’t even be an option. Schools should outright ban sugars and chips, and should instead provide only whole wheat bread for sandwiches, non-sugar cereals, sauces that are not loaded with oil or white flour, fresh fruits and vegetables, cooked fruits and vegetables, and other whole meals.

This, again, comes down to funding, since it is slightly more expensive to provide this kind of food. But good health is the foundation for good behavior and productivity.

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April 28, 2010

Protected: Duncan Hunter thinks Latino Children Simpy do not have “America In Their Souls.”

Filed under: Uncategorized — ononehand @ 2:01 pm

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April 21, 2010

On Religion

Filed under: Uncategorized — ononehand @ 10:05 pm
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I have been, and am, somewhat critical of organized religion from time to time. However, a lot of people will note, and have noted, that I am a lot less critical of religion than a lot of other liberals, and I don’t rant against it or argue that it is all nonsense. I am also quite critical of those who condemn religion or refer to all believers as idiots or selfish miscreants. My thinking is very different from that of Bill Maher or other famous iconoclasts.

I’ll note that I grew up Catholic and do not “hate” my religion of birth (though I am extremely critical of Church politics at times), I spent two years of my life leading a youth program in a Unitarian Universalist church, I minored in Religions Studies in college, and I have and continue to support groups that use the word “ministry” or “stewardship” as part of their mission statement. Those who read my theological views know I differ greatly from many on the concept of “god,” the “soul,” and “afterlife.” Still, I find myself siding with certain kinds of “believers” or religions adherents quite often.

Religion is complicated, and people in the West living in the shadow of European-originated Christianity critique along the same paradigmatic lines that Christian conservatives/conservative Christians support it. This seems complicated; hopefully this will make sense as I explain.

Different religions (and different believers) use religion to answer different “questions.”

For example, most Americans think religion asks/answers:

1) what happens to me when I die?
2) who does God love/favor and who does he not love/favor?
3) how do I get to heaven/how am I saved from hell?
4) what is the origin of the universe and what is historically/factually true and untrue?

Even atheists and agnostics may accept a “Christian” definition of religion, so they oppose it for what they see to be rational reasons. I agree that religion is BAD at answering most of these questions; people who pursue these kinds of faith tend to favor their group and hate others, have unrealistic certainty about the nature of life, and decide that mythological stories are factually true. In most of these cases, science and philosophy are better at answering them, and in some of them nobody knows the answer and its foolish for a devout person to claim certainty or even any kind of evidence for belief.

However, for some people, religion addresses:

1) what is the ultimate purpose of my life?
2) how can I get out of my individual experience and care for others/community?
3) what is the value of deep reflection and how is it enhanced when we pursue it as a community?

These questions are asked by “humanistic” religions such as Unitarian Universalism, Progressive Christianity, Reform Judaism and others. Other religions will ask:

1) what is the nature of the individual/mind/consciousness?
2) how do I liberate the individual/mind/consciousness?

These are questions asked by Eastern religions like Buddhism and Hinduism, as well as other lesser-known religions around the world. Still other religions ask:

1) how do I define my people and what are our shared values?
2) what defines membership in my community?
3) what are our most valued/sacred traditions and histories?
4) what defines my community’s struggle and what are the lessons we learn from it? How does it tie to other kinds of knowledge such as scriptural/spiritual knowledge?

These questions are asked by ethnic religions such as Judaism and a lot of Indigenous religions in the world. It might also refer to “non-practicing” Muslims, who encompass a surprising percentage of the world’s adherents of Islam; in some cases even the majority of people in Muslim-dominated countries are not particularly religions and see “Muslim” as being primarily an ethnic identity. These questions are also, to an extent, addressed by Black churches and other religions groups that are associated with a community. Finally:

1) where did we come from?
2) how do I explain my connection to the objects/creatures/living things around me?
3) what is the value and being of me and of these objects? How are they like me and not like me?

This encompasses the rest of the indigenous religions in the world.

In most cases and for most believers, a particular religion or spiritual worldview will leak over into other categories; there are plenty of Humanist Christians, mystic Muslims, radical Buddhists and followers of indigenous religions who shun other groups or “prophesize.” There are plenty of American New Agers who fancy themselves Buddhist or Hindu but still have Christian-esque concepts of the soul, prophesy, and the afterlife, even with a more liberal moral system and an embracing of alternate mind states or reincarnation. These are general categories, addressing the fact that not all believers are concerned with the same things, and there are certainly many of them who distance themselves from our most recognized concepts of the “supernatural,” from the afterlife, and from heaven vs. hell.

Religion is mutli-faceted and complicated. One person’s religion is another person’s “philosophy” and another person’s “culture.” You cannot affirm or condemn religion in broad strokes. When you step outside of a Euro-centric, American-centric and Anglo-centric look at the world, it becomes harder to pigeonhole.

Most people who condemn religion do so because they see it as conservative. Ironically, they are taking a rather conservative position in regards to religion.

April 20, 2010

An Open Letter to Mitt Romney

Filed under: Uncategorized — ononehand @ 3:03 pm
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Dear Mr. Romney,

In 2006, as governor of Massachusetts, you worked with a Democratic legislature and signed a law that gave your state close to universal access to health insurance.

In it was an individual mandate, requiring everyone to buy health insurance to expand the pool reduce health insurance costs in the state, and subsidies for those who could not afford health insurance. The bill in Massachusetts forced insurers to accept all willing customers. It was not a perfect bill, and is not enough to solve all problems with healthcare, but it was a commendable step.

In 2008 you explained why healthcare in Massachusetts was in line with conservative principles. You explained that the individual mandate asked people to care for themselves, and that the bill would save costs and improve the efficiency of the health care system. Conservative organizations like the Heritage Foundation supported you and argued in favor of your bill.

Fast-forward to 2010. President Obama has signed a bill with crucial elements that are virtually identical to what you, a Republican, supported in Massachusetts four years ago. Its keystones are the individual mandate to expand the pool and subsidies for those who cannot afford health insurance, and the guarantee that anyone seeking health insurance coverage can get a plan.

The Republican Party has cast its lot against the White House, distancing itself in every way possible from President Obama and Democrats, in order to deny them any sense of accomplishment. When the President proposes policies that are Republican in origin, the Republican Party quickly disavows them to claim that Barack Obama is an angry leftist. This has done damage to your presidential ambitious, as countless pundits and policymakers on the Right announce that your plan – which they once hailed – is an epic failure and an example of a Leftist vision.

It is unlikely that the Republican party will ever come around on you; it won’t happen unless they come around on Barack Obama, which is a long shot, and that fact makes your current course of action even more perplexing.

Why have you, now, attacked “Obamacare” and favored its repeal? You have gone back on virtually everything you stood for in Massachusetts, and have gone back on your view that the individual mandate and universal healthcare are compatible with conservative principles – now you prefer to claim that your own policies via Barack Obama are leftist and dangerous.

Now you have not only your policies to explain to the Right, but you have a bizzare change in positions to account for. It is difficult for anyone to determine where you stand on anything; the only thing that is clear is that you will unequivocally oppose anything that a political rival supports, even if it is good policy that you favor. That doesn’t make you a leader, Mr. Romney, nor is it smart: it makes you cynical, bitter and opportunistic. Transparently so. And it makes you one of a pack of Republicans who did the same thing when they united their caucus against a moderate, even conservative, healthcare reform bill.

Truth be told, you have a chance to stand as one of the few Republicans who could publically approve of Obamacare. This will not endear you to the far-Right, who you are lost on anyway. It will, however, endear you to the center and make you palatable on the Left. It would help Presient Obama greatly – which is why you will not do it, since the President of the United States is your chosen enemy – but it would also greatly benefit America, and likely benefit your political future. It will help heal deep wounds in this country and I daresay even make you a leader.

You may never win a Republican primary. But you may take other jobs in either Republican or Democratic administrations, as a moderate, if you would simply tell the truth.

The Right has abandoned you, Mr. Romney. Conservative organizations are fleeing from you in an attempt to discredit Obama, and they will continue to do so regardless of what you do. They are not your allies.

There is only one hope for you to have any credibility and a political future: stand against your party. Tell them they are wrong on their efforts to repeal the Health Insurance Reform Law, and should support President Obama’s plan, which is centrist and indeed is far to the right of many other possible plans that could have been popular this year and could yet appear in America’s future. Tell them that Obama’s plan involves the least government intrusion possible to solve dire present problems, and with it is a significant reduction on government financial obligations. Tell Republicans that the plan will reduce the deficit, and is in line of what you approved (and many Conservative policy organizations supported, in theory) in Massachusetts.

Tell them that though you may remain a Republican, you will gladly ally with your president on this specific proposal, and explain why Health Insurance Reform is a good step for America.

Nobody is beleiving this bizarre tightrope act you are currently doing, arguing that your own proposals are great when you propose them, and terrible when a Democrat proposes them. The Right doesn’t beleive it, Republican primary voters don’t believe it, moderate voters don’t believe it and the Left doesn’t believe it. Its time to experiment with telling the truth.

It may be impossible now for you to be elected President someday, given the chaos on the Right. It is certainly becoming more impossible with each and every day that you continue to tow the party line with political doublespeak on healthcare reform. But it is not too late for you to claim some dignity and respect; stand against your party, and with your own beleifs, and stand with the people in America who will benefit from President Obama’s very moderate health care plan.

Thank you,
Matt Pizzuti

April 15, 2010

Yes, This is Really what I Believe about the Opponents of Healthcare Reform

Filed under: Uncategorized — ononehand @ 2:57 pm
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We’ve gone over the suffering that people without access to health insurance face.

We’ve gone over how expanding access to healthcare can save costs.

We’ve gone over countless plans at making access to healthcare universal, with minimal impact on those who already have health insurance.

We’ve gone over countless plans at making access to healthcare universal that would actually benefit most of those who already have health insurance.

And for many Americans, the answer is still, no. We don’t want that. It’s too expensive, it’s “too much government,” it’s too big, it’s too fast; those are the arguments that generally rise to the surface in the news. You hear polls indicating that people continue to believe that the uninsured still have reasonable access to healthcare even though this is clearly not true. People seem to be willing themselves into denial.

But if you listen closer to ordinary Americans who oppose healthcare reform, you hear things like “healthcare should be a privilege, not a right,” and “I don’t think everyone deserves healthcare.”

It’s time to admit what’s really at play here.

The opponents of healthcare reform, or anything that expands access, are not really concerned with compassion, cost, with the role of government or even with taxes.

It’s about protecting their privilege. “What good is my health plan,” they ask, “if people without my health plan can actually see a doctor too?” You don’t want to win a coupon to pay $2 for a sandwich and get to the stand and find out that the sandwiches are free anyway. If another country were to come in to the United States offering “foreign aid,” saying “we will pay for your uninsured to have healthcare at absolutely no cost to you,” I believe that many Americans who oppose healthcare reform would see even this as a negative.

The history of humanity is full of undeniable cruelty, and undeniable persecution based on constructs of class, race, or other identifiers. Think about American segregation, where white southerners overtly perpetrated their cruelty towards Black Americans for decades, to no benefit of their own. Think about the American Civil War, where poor white Southerners who did not own slaves or personally benefit from slavery still fought and died to protect slavery as an institution.

Look at Roman society, where people of all kinds derived immense pleasure from watching poorer people be tortured and killed in the arena. Look at Greek and Roman slavery, look at South African oppression of blacks, and look at the American genocide of the Native Americans, where white Americans actually overtly stated that extermination of another group of people was the goal. Look at the Holocaust, the irrational hatred so many Germans had for Jewish people, and the cruelties enacted that were of no tangible benefit to their perpetrators.

Look at every school yard where bullies taunt and persecute the outcasts, and you’ll see that even in Suburban America humans continue to exhibit a natural enjoyment of cruelty before they reach the self-criticism and maturity of adulthood.

It seems to be quite an audacious accusation to say that class cruelty is at play today; it is a thought that has been more or less banished from the general rhetoric. But if humanity is so wrought with unnecessary suffering, and even our own history is wrought with it, why do we think that we, modern America, are exempt, uniquely enlightened, and suddenly the only motivation of American Conservatism is economic pragmatism?

It’s not that rich or middle-class Americans don’t want to pay for universal healthcare, it’s that they think that limiting access is a good thing, that privilege is something to be enjoyed when you have it, and that one’s wealth or advantages are discernibly less enjoyable when they are given to others. Classism still exists. Americans feel good thinking the United States is the richest country in the world. Americans feel good thinking that their neighborhood is wealthier than another neighborhood, and that their home is bigger than another home. Americans, in a tendency that all human beings are prone to, feel good knowing how bad others have it. In other words, when you are not suffering, you see others’ suffering as deserved or even good.

The idea that this is what motivates American politics is cringeworthy. It suggests that the views of some on the Right come damned near being definable as hatred; it paints Tea Partiers or other status-quo groups clearly unethical, while we all like to see ourselves as moral and kind. That is why we come up with all kinds of rationalizations to explain the causes we support or oppose: Americans will argue that the uninsured don’t suffer that much, they’ll say fixing the problem would be nice but is too expensive, or they’ll say that they don’t believe it is a realistic goal. Most of these arguments are tacitly false, as demonstrated by many successful programs in other countries that make access to healthcare universal, but it is impossible to win the debate over healthcare by pointing out the falsehood of those arguments when those arguments are not what is actually motivating their proponents.

If you listen closely to Right-wing rhetoric, to the Tea Party protesters and to Conservatives who are not in public office who explain their views on healthcare, you will catch this – many people see universal access to medicine as a NEGATIVE thing. In other words, they’d pay extra to maintain their privilege and others’ suffering. They derive joy from a stratified world in which others are disadvantaged.

If you open up the New Testament, you see Jesus talking quite a bit about the Kingdom of God, and Heaven and Hell. When he talks about who is going where, the conversation is not about “sin.” It’s about how you view the structure of society. The rich and powerful are condemned. The poor and destitute are lifted up. Jesus forgives countless sinners, be they sexual deviants or tax collectors or adulterers. He does not forgive authorities who neglect the poor.

In the many parables in which Jesus discusses someone who is not forgiven, there stories of people literally entering Hell. The Rich Man from the parable of Lazarus and the Rich Man is an example. They are people who hoard their wealth and enjoy their privilege so that others may suffer; they are people who refuse to share their table scraps with a beggar. Jesus says that your treatment in the hereafter will be determined on how you treated “the least of these,” the poorest and most reviled in your society.

I am not a Christian, and am not advocating the view that rich or conservative Americans are going to Hell. I don’t believe that the Bible is literally true nor do I think it is free of countless distortions favored by the early Church. But of the reasons I will likely never be a Christian again (aside from lack of evidence and some absurdities in Christian theology) is that the modern church continues to be so self-damningly silent on the issue of privilege, which Jesus opposed more than anything else. The Church condemns homosexuals and birth control, to the extent that it advocates against the election of pro-choice Democrats, yet it allows the persecution of immigrants and uninsured people? The hypocrisy is palpable, and so is the hypocrisy of those who think our current stratification is a good thing.

But that is, ultimately, why people opposing universal healthcare are so careful to couch their sentiments in other arguments, to claim their opposition to reform is simply selfishness and not overt hate, or to claim it is pragmatism and that the bleeding-hearts are the ones who are irrational. Conservative Americans overwhelmingly identify as Christian, and don’t want to position themselves as the one group the Bible condemns more vehemently than any other. What intellectual acrobatics they’ll go through to claim other motives for supporting the same general consequence, of concentrating human suffering on one class of people: look to the last 18 months of healthcare reform to find the answer.

Another Stupid Legal Response to HIV

Filed under: Uncategorized — ononehand @ 3:44 am
Tags: , ,

Darren Chiacchia, an American equestrian athlete who won an Olympic medal in Athens in 2004, is on trial.

The charge? Exposing his partner to HIV in the state of Florida, where it is illegal for an HIV+ person to have sex with someone without disclosing HIV status. According to Chiacchia’s bitter ex-lover, Chiacchia hid his status from his boyfriend for years. Chiacchia said he was afraid to tell his lover about his HIV status because he was afraid it would go public. His lover found out and made it public anyway. Chiacchia probably deserves that much.

I don’t need to go into detail to explain that knowingly exposing someone to HIV is a shitty thing to do. I’m not going to talk about it – not because I don’t think it’s terrible – but because it is already obvious to everyone reading this and nothing needs to be added. There will be plenty who pile on Chiacchia for his actions.

But what I will say is that the situation has already been irredeemably mishandled, and that the law is bogus in the first place.

Laws criminalizing the transmission or HIV have been misused by ignorant prosecutors and public. In 2008, for example, a Dallas homeless man who is HIV+ was sent to prison for 30 years for spitting on a police officer. The jury, either unaware or indifferent to the fact that HIV is not transmitable through saliva, decided that the saliva was a “deadly weapon” before issuing a guilty verdict.

This is like charging someone with attempted murder for shooting somebody with a squirt gun.

It is hard to get HIV. There are two ways for adults outside a medical setting to get it: through sexual intercourse, and through injections. Inject HIV+ blood into your body, and you stand a good chance of getting HIV. Have unprotected sex with an HIV+ and you have chance of having HIV (between 1 in 50 and 1 in 200; have unprotected sex with an HIV+ person 100 times, as people in a new relationship may do over the course of a year, and your chance of having HIV is pretty high.) But getting HIV through tears, saliva, urine, feces or skin is impossible. Oxygen kills HIV. Nobody has ever gotten HIV through a cut or scratch; you can roll in a puddle of HIV+ blood on the floor, even with cuts on your body, and it’s not going to infect you.

HIV needs to be injected fresh, without exposure to air, from one body directly into your body. This happens during IV drug usage and through sex, it happens through organ transplants, it can potentially happen when an infant drinks dozen gallons of her or his mother’s infected breast milk over the course of a year, and can happen to an infant during childbirth if the mother is infected.


Source: Wikipedia: HIV Transmission

In the Florida case, too, there is much to question. It is more likely here that the two had sex, which can lead to transmission, but prosecutors have not said what risky behavior Chiacchia and his partner engaged in, or if protection was used. Chiacchia could have feasibly insisted on condoms knowing he was infected. Nor can anybody ever prove whether Chiacchia really lied about his HIV status; it is possible for any person in a relationship with an HIV+ person to claim not to have known about his partner’s status to satisfy a vendetta. Chiacchia’s partner has not become infected with HIV; the charge is that Chiacchia wrongly placed his partner at risk, though his partner has not been harmed.

The problems with criminalizing HIV transmission are numerous, but in my mind, the ultimate reason why I think the laws fail is because they do not prevent the spread of HIV – they actually promote it. I am more concerned with stopping a deadly disease than with some sentimental form of “justice” where people are locked up for selfish behavior. When the goals conflict, I side with the practical: with preserving human life and health is paramount. I do not allow innocent people to suffer to punish guilty people; that is not a good trade.

The reason criminalizing HIV is dangerous is explained:

Imagine you are a person who has engaged in some risky behavior; perhaps drug use, perhaps unprotected sex, and you are unsure of your HIV status. You think (as many hypochondriacs do) you might have it, but your mind waffles. You might wake up in the morning convinced you are going to die and go to bed at night feeling reassured, talking yourself out of it: “I felt great today,” you might think; “I had so much energy!” You might panic every time you get a cold or allergies thinking it is an early sign of AIDS. Even without treatment you will probably live for 10 years as an HIV+ person – which is why many people procrastinate on getting tested. You can put it off for a few months. It is February: lets say you resolve to get tested before the end of December.

An added deterrent is that if you do get tested and the result is positive, it will suddenly become illegal for you to have sex, and you know this. Perhaps you are already in a relationship, perhaps there is someone you have your eye on. Sure, if you tell your partner or partners your status and they consent to having sex using protection, it would be safe and not illegal. But you are convinced no one would have sex with you if they find out you have HIV. You are scared and irrational, and still believe that the world ends when you find out you have HIV. You still think that everyone you love turns their back on you – and sometimes they do. You wake up each morning terrified. You talk yourself down during the day; you’ve had panics before, and in the past you got tested and everything turned out OK. Almost everyone has a false panic sooner or later. You go to bed convincing yourself that all is well.

In the midst of this, you have sex with several people. You go to a bar and get drunk, and in your intoxicated euphoria you don’t even think about your risk; when drunk you decide that you are sure you don’t have HIV, and you have sex. Your anxiety actually drives you to the bars more often, or to use other drugs that lead to unprotected sex.

Lets say for the sake of the scenario that you actually are unknowingly HIV+, and infect several other people.

This could have been avoided had you been tested, and told, through counseling that is often provided with the test, that you have a wide number of options available to you as an HIV+ person, that you are not likely to die anytime soon because medication works very well now, that it is still safe to have sex if you follow certain procedures, that HIV+ people continue to find and have romantic relationships and this is actually encouraged by their doctors, and that the first step to reducing the spread of the disease is knowledge.

Instead, you have unknowingly infected people with HIV (and this is not illegal, since you never knew you had it), because the law terrified you away from getting tested. Many will say that putting others at risk in this way is still selfish and wrong, and sure, that is true, but many, many many people do it, far more than would knowingly infect others with HIV. Many people alive and healthy and HIV- today have had sex while not knowing their status, and are all equally guilty of putting others at risk though they got lucky.

That is just one way that criminalizing HIV transmission leads to more transmissions. The other problem is that it gives the community a false sense of security; if you are in a high-risk group, you may think it’s safe to have unprotected sex with strangers because they are required by law to tell the truth. You ask your partner or your acquaintance if he has HIV, he says no, so you decide not to use a condom. This is a common assumption. HIV activists fight to prevent it all costs and think it’s wrong, wrong, wrong, but many people do it anyway.

The problem is, most HIV transmissions come from someone who didn’t know her or his status in the first place. Your partner may say “I tested negative two months ago – I’m negative” and still infect you. You are most contagious when newly infected, which is ironically before you know you are contagious; it could be days after a test. The false sense of security encourages people to take more risks. The risks lead to more HIV transmission.

People who work full time to stop the spread of HIV know: the answer is to educate people to get over their fear, to encourage testing, openness, honesty, and to most of all, remove the stigma associated with HIV+ people. The view is that human beings are naturally good. They don’t want to spread HIV around. Very, very few want to willingly infect others, especially when they are given positive support and hope. Remove the fear, and they will get tested, live openly and honestly, and take steps to protect those around them. Research has shown that people do this and it works.

I do think that Chiacchia’s public trial will have a chilling effect on people considering getting tested in Florida. It will put unnecessary stigma on HIV+ people and it almost definitely will lead to more people getting HIV than would have otherwise. Is that a fair tradeoff in the District Attourney’s mind?

That’s up to the prosecutors, and apparently their answer is yes.

April 10, 2010

Journalists: Stop Rolling Over For Your Detractors

Filed under: culture,media — ononehand @ 7:02 pm
Tags: ,

Journalism is an important institution in the free world. Few dispute this. Journalism is an important institution in America, too; one so valuable that the framers of our Constitution chose to codify the freedom of the press in the First Amendment.

We live in a complicated world. Few dispute this. Nobody has time to absorb information found in every corner; ordinary Americans do not have time to resolve, for themselves, the inner happenings of the titans on Wall Street or the troubled alleys in Afghanistan. Ordinary citizens do not have time to investigate potential corruption in government or the potential outcomes of current economic trends.

We the people rely on other people to gather that information for us: we rely on journalists.

People will criticize the press for doing just that. This is not a new or controversial statement. The act of journalism has been imbued with constant accusations of “bias,” since its beginning, and on many occasions in history governments as well as private institutions have tried to shut it down. The way this story is written clearly benefits the Left, or benefits the Right, a detractor will say.

That may be true. But a story is still a story. (more…)

April 9, 2010

Journalists: Stop Rolling Over For Your Detractors

Filed under: Uncategorized — ononehand @ 4:50 pm
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Journalism is an important institution in the free world. Few dispute this. Journalism is an important institution in America, too; one so valuable that the framers of our Constitution chose to codify the freedom of the press in the First Amendment.

We live in a complicated world. Few dispute this. Nobody has time to absorb information found in every corner; ordinary Americans do not have time to resolve, for themselves, the inner happenings of the titans on Wall Street or the troubled alleys in Afghanistan. Ordinary citizens do not have time to investigate potential corruption in government or the potential outcomes of current economic trends.

We the people rely on other people to gather that information for us: we rely on journalists.

People will criticize the press for doing just that. This is not a new or controversial statement. The act of journalism has been imbued with constant accusations of “bias,” since its beginning, and on many occasions in history governments as well as private institutions have tried to shut it down. The way this story is written clearly benefits the Left, or benefits the Right, a detractor will say.

That may be true. But a story is still a story.

So when I read things like this – commentary on how most people just don’t seem to listen to journalists anymore – I’m disheartened. Timothy Noah’s article discusses one broad example: collectives endeavors by newspapers, magazines and networks all over the country to explain, as fairly and precisely as possible, what has been wrong with healthcare in the United States, and what a person without health insurance goes through in America.

About 85% of American adults are currently insured (it’s a lot lower for children), so most of us do not have the experience of trying to get medical care without insurance. A lot of others may have some individual plan that they think is working great for them, but haven’t gotten sick yet and hadn’t tried to use it, at which point they may find it less of a good plan than they expected. Our own healthcare costs are inflated by uninsured people who use expensive, late ER-care to treat conditions that should have been simpler, but ultimately can’t pay their bills and pass the costs on to us.

So for those of us who aren’t in the know – we benefit from having someone else to tell us what uninsured people go through, and we benefit from having independent parties, who are members of neither the health insurance industry nor government, mediate the conversation and bring us facts about what we pay because the system is broken.

People in the media know that the Republican party has been lying for approximately 16 months on healthcare. Exaggerations and politicking are strangers to no party and to no issue, but it is also a bona-fide FACT that Obama’s healthcare reform looks like what Republican Mitt Romney passed in Massachusetts, It is a bona-fide FACT that Republicans in Congress worked hard to get their moderate members to oppose a bill that was, ultimately, exactly what they had always been asking for (See Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins). It is a bona-fide FACT that the Republican plan for healthcare failed address most problems with American healthcare, and it’s a bona-fide FACT that Obama’s clan is close to the minimum amount of intervention required, far less than progressives wanted or advocated.

It’s a bona-fide FACT that most people polled on the healthcare bill don’t even know what’s in it, and it’s a bona-fide FACT that most people, in general, remain largely ignorant to the inner workings of business and government. It’s a bona-fide FACT that Barack Obama has cut taxes for most Americans since becoming president, and a bona-fide FACT that he has no plans of increasing taxes on the vast majority of Americans beyond what they were when he assumed office. It is a bona-fide FACT that a lot of voters form opinions, not on facts and information, but on how often they hear a certain sound byte, or on vague and general sentiments they see coming from the political party or pundits they trust.

This is not to their discredit, it is just how people process information when they are bombarded with countless, contradictory bits of information every day, and they have no time to do a thorough investigation for themselves. They try to find the “middle” of what they are hearing, or they find someone they trust, and take sides. They come to see anyone who tells them what they don’t believe (even if it’s the truth) as the enemy.

And the Right has, for years, been running against the media when it comes to truth on healthcare, immigration, the military and Wall Street. If you can’t come up with a clear and cohesive argument as to why you should should get to hang on to power and privilege to everyone else’s detriment, run against the media instead, and tell people that the media is lying.

Journalists need to speak up for themselves. Their institution is crumbling. The way to re-gain the public’s trust is not to suddenly try to side with your detractors and question even for yourself whether you are trustworthy – and hope then that your detractors will look more favorably on you.

Journalists need to insist, firmly, that they know how to tell the truth from a lie and that they have no incentive to perpetuate the wrong side. Liberals do not pay the media, corporations do. So when they public information that insults or damages the reputation of corporations, there’s no reason for it to be fabricated.

What we’ve had, though, is a timid, frightened and trembling media run away from itself, fearing detractors.

They hire opinionated pundits and columnists when they don’t trust their reporters; a liberal to praise Barack Obama, and a conservative to damn their very own reporters.

They think that somehow, taking a small step to the Right – which translates to talking less about what uninsured people are saying and a little more about what Republican congressman are saying – will put them in the clear or help them find the perfect center. They think that following the polls will work.

Sadly, politicians, who are often accused of bending their views at popular whim, aren’t nearly as poll-driven as reporters, who scatter like flocks of pigeons when Gallup or Rasmussen comes chasing. And what happens is that voters, also, try to find the mushy middle. If the media takes a step to the Right, the voters will take a step to the Right, and and then the media will take a step to the Right trying to keep up. Even the Right-leaning media will take a step to the Right.

News to CNN: Fox is still going to accuse you of being “the liberal media” no matter if you report the facts straight or if you uphold Ronald Reagan as the second coming of Jesus. Same for network news and MSNBC.

My advice is to stick to your guns. If you weren’t lying when you said all that stuff, then for heaven’s sake act like you weren’t lying and defend yourself. Run a clean, clear and professional news operation, consider all sides, and tell the truth. Hit back at Fox, hard, and hit back at Conservative lies about who journalists are and what they do.

This country depends on it.

April 8, 2010

Self-Employment and Taxes: anybody know how that works?

Filed under: Uncategorized — ononehand @ 3:46 pm

2010 might turn out to be the first year I actually make more than $400 over the course of the year by doing freelance writing. There’s a possibility that I will earn considerably more than that if I decide I want to go all-out and do it full time, but that’s probably not going to happen.

In any case, I’m already on track to exceed what amounts to about a month’s rent from writing.

I don’t know how the hell to account for this other than reporting “extra income” on my tax forms next April. I’m assuming it’s actually a somewhat complicated and tedious process, as I am told I can deduct the cost of Internet service and new computers and other things I paid for just for writing, as business expenses (and those actually cost me much more than I was paid for writing last year – maybe not this year though).

I’ve also been told I can walk into Wells Fargo and tell them I need to set up a business account, and put all my freelancing checks there (and buy materials from that account) and my income is what I “pay” myself by moving money from that account to my personal checking or savings. Those self-payments are all I’d need to pay income taxes on (except maybe for business/corporate taxes… which, for me, would be like, what, $0.85 a year?) I can even pay for my health insurance directly from my business account and that doesn’t count as income. Is that correct?

I just don’t want to get audited by the IRS and learn that I neglected to pay $40 in taxes, and then they’d like, I dunno, come in to take my fucking socks and incense burner or something.

Am I at all on the right track here? As of now, my official business records are this college spiral notebook with handwritten numbers and dried up wine or grape juice on it.

March 28, 2010

Out Front Colorado’s Stuff Gay People Like: Being Shirtless

Filed under: culture — ononehand @ 10:00 am

If a straight man suddenly strips off his shirt in public, it means he wants to fight somebody. Either that or he just found out there’s a bee in it. But the bottom line is that wearing shirts is considered the norm for most straight guys.

Not so for gay men, who take great pleasure in letting everyone know when they’ve been to the gym, and reminding them of it, again, and again, and again. A gay man requires little provocation to bare skin and any of the following factors suggest shirtlessness: It’s a nightclub. He’s jogging. It’s a sunny summer day. Somebody shouted “strip!” A webcam is on. He’s just been brutally defeated at beer pong. It’s his Connexion profile. He’s in California. He wants to get back at his boyfriend, or ex-boyfriend. He is in a gay-themed advertisement. His drunk friend made an unserious comment about him taking off clothes so now he has to make her regret it. He’s at Pride. Someone is taking a picture. He is dancing. It is part of his Halloween costume. He wants you to see his tattoo.

You get the idea.

And when it comes to willingness to take off pants in public, gay guys are light years ahead of straight guys. (more…)

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