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Living with HIV

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My sister is living with HIV.

I don’t remember when I got the call, perhaps six months or a year after my mother died, so in 2000, maybe even late 1999. I know that all the open wounds from Mom’s death hadn’t healed yet and none of us siblings were very close at that time.

She was crying. Actually, she was totally, utterly freaked out. Or maybe that was a later conversation, after the reality hit. She’d tested positive. There’d been a workplace accident, and she’d gotten blood in an open cut on her hand.  And now she had a deadly disease. And I was stunned, and devastated, and utterly helpless.

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Black Friday and Cyber Monday

Facebook is awash right now with calls to boycott Walmart, and Papa John’s Pizza, and Black Friday and Cyber Monday in general, in solidarity with underpaid retail personnel, and in general objection to the commercialization of whichever winter holiday(s) you celebrate.

Boycotts are a great tool of the people. Really they are. That’s not sarcasm. Even if there’s no direct financial impact, significant negative publicity can change the positions of people in power who are otherwise nearly untouchable.


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Imperial Daleks

Imperial Daleks (Photo credit: Kaptain Kobold)

But first, a quick introduction. I am a sophomore in high school, with decent grades in most classes, lots friends of varying styles, personalities, and morals, and a joy to experience many things and this has led to an interest of philosophy and so I think about EVERYTHING too much. I will lead you into conversations about zombies, Daleks, cooking, music, books, tv shows, video games, and philosophy. If any of you wish to rage about “teens today” then come to me, and I will often rage rage with you.

Now to the challenge:

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It’s easy to find ‘rape art’ in the rape culture

(trigger warning for rape and sexual assault discussion)

Rapists are not faceless strangers.

You almost certainly have at least one person in your personal circle who fits the definition of ‘rapist’. If you are a young man, that likelihood goes up close enough to certainty that I’m not sure you could slide a hair through the difference. In fact, you almost certainly know several people who have committed rape in your larger circle of acquaintances, regardless of who you are.

Here is a little fable that illustrates how many rapists are in the world – how normal, and every day, and every where they are. It is based on the common idea that women are responsible for preventing rape and punishing their rapists, and commits a reducio ad absurdium to underscore the point of exactly who is responsible for stopping them.

When someone tells me that rape would ‘go away’ if women would just arm themselves and shoot their rapists, I ‘entertain’ myself with imagining the world, national and local news reports on the day when suddenly every woman in the world obtains a weapon and succeeds in killing every person who ever sexually assaulted her. For the sake of this fantasy, lets imagine perfect justice – no one is killed that doesn’t deserve it, and no one escapes justice. If a rapist’s victim is already dead, your deity of choice steps in and finishes the job instead.

Rape of the negro girl, Christian van Couwenbe...Image via Wikipedia
More ‘rape art’ showing how acceptable it is

Sixteen percent of men will admit to committing acts that are legally rape if the word ‘rape’ is not used. Roughly one in three or four women (and one in ten men) are raped in their lifetimes. So the actual percent of male rapists in the world is somewhere between 16% and 33% of men depending on how many are repeat offenders and which rape victimization rate is more accurate (this numbers are notoriously difficult to pin down).

Let’s split the difference and say a quarter of all men are rapists, and include the much more rare female rapist in this statistic. (This is, of course, an arbitrary number, for illustration purposes only, and because it’s a nice ‘normal’ fraction). This means that approximately 1/8 of the world population dies on this day, mostly men, but enough women to be easily noticed.

Men (and women) from all walks of life. Politicians. Soldiers. Students. Police officers. Construction Workers. Salespersons. Business managers. Clerks. Religious leaders. Homeless people. Drug dealers. Doctors. Nurses. Fathers. Sons. Brothers. Mothers. Daughters. Sisters. Not a profession in the world is not impacted. Not a single community. Very few families.

Big holes in lives. Roughly one of four of the men you know, and some women too, suddenly gone. Is this an unqualified good, that the rapists of gone, regardless of whether or not it’s just? What do you do with all the people who shot them? Children, teens, adults, seniors. For some of them, the rape is years or decades in the past. For others, it happened as or a minute before the shooting.

Firenze enlevement des sabinesImage via Wikipedia
Rape is so acceptable we decorate our buildings with it.

They live under hundreds of different local law systems. Most of them will be arrested for pre-meditated murder. In some parts of the world, they will be subject to more immediate ‘justice’. So there are more deaths. Nearly a third of the women in the world are suddenly flooding jails.

I wonder how many children now have no adult to look after them? Someone needs to, but even after calling in the ‘relative brigade’, social services throughout the world will be stretched to the limit to provide emergency care.

Between the rapists who have been killed and the survivors who are now facing (at the least) an inquiry and (quite possibly) immediate lethal consquences or long prison sentences, a large percentage of the productive adults in the world are now out of commission. How do you think that would affect businesses?

So that’s the Rambo fantasy, pulled apart for the immediate consequences, and condensed down to a one day, all at a time event. Effective? No. Just? No. Does it improve the lives of those who have been raped? No.

It suffers from the idea that prevention begins at the act of rape, not in the culture, not in the raising of boys to be men or girls to be women, but at the point where a sexual predator identifies you as prey. It assumes that predators simply exist and cannot be controlled or contained, and that you, as a potential prey, are responsible to prevent your own victimization.

Wouldn’t it be just a wee bit better if, instead of holding women (and children, and men) who are being raped responsible for fighting off their attackers, we as a society hold rapists responsible for not raping? That we build a culture where rape is truly unacceptable, under all circumstances?

Don’t rape a woman who you have married, or who said no to your proposal.

Don’t rape a woman who has had too much to drink or to drug.

Don’t rape a child or elder or disabled person in your care.

Don’t rape a woman because her skirt is too short (or too long).

Don’t rape a woman because she is too meek (or too bold).

Don’t rape a man because he is too feminine (or too macho).

Don’t rape a woman because she danced with you.

Don’t rape a woman because she refused to dance with you.

If you see a friend, or a brother, or a parent, or a sister or a co-worker working to isolate someone, or get them drunk, or push their boundaries, stop them. Stop them and tell them in no uncertain terms that what they are doing is wrong, and if they follow through, it is rape. Tell them that if they won’t control their behavior, you will call the police.

If you are the victim of sexual assault, do what you have to do to survive, whether that is to surrender or to fight back, and seek help as soon as it is safe to do so – and do not blame yourself, or second guess yourself, or listen to those who will tell you it is your fault. It is not your fault. The only thing certain in a rape situation is that a rapist is involved. And no matter what, that is not your fault.

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Originally published at Am I the Only One Dancing?. Please leave any comments there.

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Barack Obama signing the Patient Protection an...



The bulk of this article first published as Health Care Reform: The Sky is Not Falling on Technorati. New content added to end of article.
A new statistic has hit the media cycle designed to send all of our hind brains into panic and pressure the Democratic party into backing off of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). The statistic is this: 30% of employers intend to stop offering employer based health insurance when the ACA comes to pass fully in 2014.

Enough to make you shake in your boots, right? How will all those people get insurance? They’re going to be abandoned! Things are going to be worse than ever!
Really. Just relax. The sky is not falling, Chicken Little.
The reality is – that’s what the ACA was (in part) designed to do. The United States is one of very few countries in the world that tie health care to job status, and there’s a reason for it not being a common model – it’s unattractive for both the employer and employee.
From an employer’s perspective, not having to cover health insurance makes small business startup a lot less expensive and a lot less risky. A small business which suddenly discovers that one of its key employees has an expensive health condition currently often has to make a heartbreaking decision about whether to continue to offer health care, as the small employee group can rapidly price premiums out of the business’s reach. Paying a penalty for not covering health insurance is a very risk-averse way to deal with the issue, but a valid one for many businesses.
The health care pools built into the ACA spread the risk much further, plus add in the young and healthy to the insurance pool (that is the justification for the provision allowing young adults to stay on their parents’ plans and for the health insurance mandate). This will bring the cost down for individuals significantly – and for low and some middle income families, the subsidy provided by the federal government will replace the current employer subsidy.
As we settle into the new law and unintended consequences become apparent, they will be dealt with as were similar issues with Social Security and Medicare – new amendments to the law will rectify the problem.
The ACA is not a perfect law. It has a lot of flaws and was far more complicated than it needed to be (a single payer ‘Medicare for all‘ would have both eliminated the current two-tiered system and been lower cost all the way around). However, on this issue, the fear is largely unfounded.
The transition is not going to be perfect. Some people are going to struggle with change and figuring out what to do. Gaps in service will exist and will need to be addressed. But the world will settle into a new normal that means that artists and writers and self-employed people and people who are employed by small businesses are just as likely to have affordable health insurance as those employed by large companies.
By the time 2020 rolls around, Americans will have gotten used to the new law, made some changes to improve it here and there, and be unable to imagine life without it. And the fiscal effects on the family and on the economy will begin to show, and the cost of health care for government, individuals, and businesses will begin to stabilize and eventually drop.
And that’s not a bad thing.
Here at my own blog I want to expand a bit on this very important topic to distinguish between what the Affordable Care Act actually does compared to what its demonizers accuse it of doing. I’m going to focus here on the individual mandate, the requirement that everyone buy insurance.
First of all, no one is going to jail for not having insurance. You might pay a fine, but you won’t go to jail. While there has been a lot of focus on the negative aspects of the individual mandate (the requirement that everyone has health insurance), there has been little focus on the positive aspects. Partially because of bias, I’m sure, but also because it’s somewhat harder to explain, so I’m going to try telling you a story.
In Job: A Comedy of Justice (one of my favorite books of all time), Robert Heinlein had his poor persecuted main character jumping from universe to universe, each a recognizable variation of our own, some clearly dystopian, others more utopian. In many of these universes, the character took a job as a dishwasher, a job that is easier for someone without papers or proveable history to obtain, that often pays daily or sometimes weekly, and isn’t a critical function that the next universe hop will disrupt.
On one such jump, the character (and his beloved companion) land in a country that has a social safety net paid for by taxes, much like ours. He is outraged to find that his old age (social security) tax is automatically debited from his check each week whether he wants the service or not, and insists that it’s a really nice service, but he can’t afford it.
Robert Heinlein was missing the point. While we can argue all day about how much poor ‘Job’ should have to pay for his retirement, and whether that cost could be borne better by those making significantly more than the average dishwasher, what isn’t really up for argument is that the consequences to not only the individual, but his family and community and society, for failure to plan for his future are too costly to be ignored.
Moreover, (and this is key), because the cost of the individual’s failure to prepare is borne in part by family, community, and society, society has a stake in ensuring that plans for his retirement are sufficient. That is both the legal and moral basis for taxation for contingencies such as retirement and other safety net issues.
Further, because these are unpredictable costs, but almost never negligible, and because they vary, and because there is a strong chance of discrepancy between an individual’s need for help with retirement funding and his ability to fulfill that, a system such as taxation is both practical and just.
So, even though Heinlein’s fictional hero suffered from the payroll tax taken from his income, the long odds were, had the character stayed in that universe (as most of us do) that not only would he have received the full benefit of that initial sacrifice, but that supplement from more highly compensated workers (rich people) would help ease his old age.
And how does that benefit rich people? In a lot of ways, actually. To start with, people whose basic needs are provided for have more money to spend, so if the rich person is selling a product or service, he now has a consumer instead of someone in crisis who is costing public systems money without contributing. A person who is living contentedly and well on an income that meets his or her needs is also less likely to foment rebellion and demand a greater share of the fruits of productivity.
This translates pretty well to health care insurance. The costs of the uninsured are shifted, and not in efficient or effective ways, to those of us who carry health insurance. When everyone pays for health insurance however, especially if, as in the ACA, there are supplements for those for whom health insurance would otherwise be priced out of practicality, all of us benefit in several ways.
  • The cost per individual for health insurance comes down.
  • The general health of the population, including communicable and chronic diseases that are expensive and/or deadly on a societal level, improves.
  • The effects of the two-tiered (wealthy vs. poor) health care system begin to be equalized (though it is important to note here that wealthy folks can buy better care in any country in the world, the care of the poorest goes up, not down, wherever Universal health care is implemented)
  • Artists and entrepreneurs and others who don’t generally work for a salary have far more access to health insurance, allowing for more innovation at the creative and small business level.
  • By moving health insurance (partly) from a business expense to a government expense, a significant burden is lifted from small business, again improving job creation.
  • People whose primary reason for being unable to work, or work to their greatest potential, due to the cost of insuring and/or treating a chronic condition, can improve both productivity and quality of life.
 Again, I’m not going deep into the specifics of the bill. The bill has issues, and some of those issues will have to be fixed. But the idea of the individual mandate, though it will probably need some tweaking to determine the optimal level of supplement for the ‘sliding scale’ feature, is not one that is going to lead to social or business disruption or ‘curtail individual freedom’ in any meaningful sense.
In fact, the ability of some people to obtain insurance affordably will lead to freedoms some of them have been craving for years. There is a reason that the people of western Europe are not rising up against their ‘health care overlords’ and demanding an ‘American-style’ system. It’s because universal health care is a vastly superior health care system to ours for nearly everyone in the country on virtually every measure at far lower cost. And that’s just a fact.
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Or: Why Liberals Support Food Stamps and other Government Food Programs:

CC by The Shopping Sherpa
Philosophers created the science of epistemology to explore how we know what we know and have been grappling with it for at least 4000 years without firm resolution. In today’s world, the issue is an incredibly complex one. We have multiple sources of information, with varying degrees of reliability and validity, and we often don’t know for sure which sources are more and which are less reliable.
This post assumes that you have a basic grasp of the scientific method and logic and critical thinking skills. Given that, and given what we know, and how we know, how do we decide how to live our lives? Usually, we make a moral decision about the nature of the world, and build our belief system to match it from the pieces of information we discover that most support our belief system.
Mankind is not primarily ‘the rational animal’, but the rationalizing animal. This has been demonstrated in experiment after experiment (ironic, I know). We often start from a conclusion we want to reach and build backwards to achieve philosophical unity with the conclusion. Scientists and people of faith (not a mutually exclusive group) are equally guilty of this, and with good reason. Our information overload leaves us with greater, not less, uncertainty, as we have to weigh many more variables.
Belief systems are frameworks that we build to make sense of our world. They are made up of many assumptions about the nature of knowing, about the reliability of facts, and about the nature of our relationship to other humans and the larger world.
Dunbar’s number (popularized as the ‘monkeysphere’) helps to understand why many humans are unable to empathize with people who are significantly different from them. If your social circle (monkeysphere) consists totally or almost totally of people who are essentially just like you are, it’s easy to fall into the belief that others (’Those People’) are fundamentally different from you.
How we react to those outside our monkeysphere in large part is defined by the two broadest classes of political philosophy. Liberalism rejects the ‘fundamental difference’ belief, while conservatism embraces it. It’s the question of what to do with ‘those people’.
Liberals generally assume that all human beings are intrinsically valuable (like we are) and we build systems outside the monkeysphere in order to provide as many opportunities as possible to potentiate (lovely word, that) their intrinsic value. In other words, ‘those people’ are just like me.
For instance,as a liberal, I might feed hungry people I’ve never met, and use my government’s food assistance as an automatic deposit system to set up a system to do so, because I assume that those other people, like me, have intrinsic value. Our primary view of those outside of our monkeysphere is that they are just like the people inside our monkeysphere, but not yet known to us, with the same basic needs, wants, urges, and potential, expressed, perhaps, in different ways.
Conservatives generally view those outside their own monkeysphere in one of three ways: Some ‘others’ are inferior in some way to the conservative and thus available to be used or thrown away. Other people outside the monkeysphere are a threat to a conservative, in which case he feels justified in depriving the other (’Those People’, again) in order to minimize the threat. Finally, some others are irrelevant to the conservative, in which case he doesn’t feel the need to consider the impact of his actions on them in any way.
A conservative, therefore, must allow a person into their monkeysphere, at least provisionally or tribally, in order to provide food assistance. A person must be ‘like me’ (race, class, or aspirations) in order to ‘deserve’ food assistance. A conservative can be just as generous as a liberal, so long as he has, to some extent, decided that this particular non-monkeysphere person or group has provisionally earned personhood.
In addition, the conservative is going to weigh whether it is useful to him to feed the other (he might support food stamps on the grounds that he will then be able to hire workers for lower wages without consequences in terms of their ability to perform the work). If a conservative views an outsider as a threat (racism comes to play here), he will actively fight providing aid to a group, viewing it as counter to his interests. This has been a primary driver of health care debates.
(CC by Jeffrey Beall) Which of these people deserves to eat?

As a conservative, I might volunteer at a food bank, or give a check to victims of a hurricane, or support a cause I grew to know through some personal connection, but it is anathema to me that others that I haven’t ‘pre-approved’ would get care that I in part pay for through a government program. This does not change even if I or someone I know benefits from this program, as I can then rationalize my monkeysphere-central acceptance of help as a ‘special case’.In the aggregate, conservatives live deep within their monkeyspheres and guard the borders. Liberals build bridges and roads between monkeyspheres and visit every now and again to see how things are going. It is up to the reader to decide which sort of life is more likely to lead to a better world.


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Originally published at Am I the Only One Dancing?. Please leave any comments there.

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The full article that inspired this post is here at Sociological Images

The author of this response, Beau Sia, has posted an excellent performance piece on the basic concepts of privilege and prejudice, in the voice of Alexandra Wallace of UCLA, without mocking her for being female, or for having large breasts. It is very refreshing to see a response that doesn’t rely on misogyny.  Watch the whole piece.

His piece does not only apply to Asians in the library, but to young Black men at the grocery store, or women at the construction site, or Muslims at the high school.  This is a fundamental bit of education, done in an entertaining fashion, that applies to the concept of privilege more broadly than the original prompt.  Beau Sia’s YouTube bio lists him as an Oklahoman who currently lives in New York City and is a slam poet, whose parents are Chinese immigrants from the Philippines.

This also goes back to the series that Chally at Feministe is doing about origins, titled Where Are You From (parts 1, 2, 3 and 4), and who really belongs someplace.  I am a Caucasian American, and most places I’ve been, I felt like I belonged, with one exception.  In the deep south, when visiting, I was clearly a Yankee, and it was made clear to me that if I lived the rest of my life there, I would never belong.

Beau Sia makes a poignant case (as does the Feministe series) that many, many Americans never have the experience that I have, that I am automatically accepted as belonging.  In some cases, as in the ever increasing hysteria on the Right regarding Hispanic Immigrants and Muslims, the ‘not belonging’ of it all is vicious hostility.

This has been perennially an issue for African Americans and women, two groups (among others) that wake up every day with the sure knowledge (conscious or unconscious) that the world they live in wasn’t built for them and doesn’t reflect their values.

Unconscious privilege is an insidious trap, and it is easy to get caught in it.  This makes Daniel Jose Older’s piece “Beyond Manning Up”, in Racialicious all the more astounding.  As an EMT, Older describes the process he went through as he realized, slowly and gradually, how normal violence against women is in our society, how utterly banal.

He compares the stages of understanding privilege to the stages of grief, and it is an apt description.  When you have been raised to believe in a “level playing field”, which is a truly wonderful ideal, to allow yourself to stop believing that it exists is a deep loss. He rightfully concludes, however, that getting to the final stage, understanding, is only the beginning.

I can only hope that Miss Alexandra Wallace at UCLA learns a similar lesson, and that the rest of us can take something from her example, the fine response of Beau Sia, the series by Chally at Feministe, and the excellent article by Daniel Jose Older.


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