Monday, January 23, 2006

We all have AIDS. Yep...AIDS. I think "Southpark" featured a spoof on the musical "Rent" with a similar sort of title. I don't know if Kenneth Cole, the primary sponsor of this campaign--which, by the way features some of the most regonizable celebrities in the world--was sticking it to Trey Parker et al, but this campaign in rather interesting for what it presumes.

"We all have AIDS--if one of us does." If I remember my logic systems correctly that means that since there is certainly one person in the world with AIDS (in fact there are millions), then we all have AIDS. But we don't all have AIDS. I know I don't have it, and I don't know anyone who does. Hmm. Confusing, no?

Ah, but my astute reader, you say that this campaign is more symbolic than literal. Of course, we don't ALL have AIDS. We're just showing solidarity. I'm waiting for the "We all have hemroids--if one of us does" campaign. Or perhaps the "We all have syphilis--if one of us does" campaign. What about the "We all have shy bladder syndrome--if one of us does" campaign? Those sound so silly, yet the principle remains the same doesn't it? So how can one pull off the "We all have AIDS" slogan so easily? What is it about AIDS that creates such zeal among celebrities? Why are other diseases which kill more people and have no cure left in the doldrums?

It's kind of the similar phenomenon as Breast cancer. Quick, what's the number one killer of women in the U.S.? Here's a hint: it's not breast cancer. It's heart disease. Where's the Race for a Cure for heart disease? Heart disease is usually thought of a "male" disease but it still remains the number one killer among both sexes. It's interesting how a disease can get hijaked in a way. AIDS, which was and still remains largely the disease routinely passes to those on the fringes of society--gay males, drug addicts, prostitutes. Yet it it affects such a small percentage of
American society. Granted, this Kenneth Cole campaign is directed to the AIDS fight in America and the rest of the world, but still.

Should AIDS research be funded--of course. All I'm attempting to argue here, is that there is an insanely disproportional zeal with which the AIDS fight it perpetuated. If one person has AIDS, we don't all have AIDS. Indeed, no man (or woman) is an island; one person's pain does affect others'. But let's not lose sight of where AIDS belongs on the list of awful diseases that cause pain and suffering not only among those who have it, but for those who love those who have it.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

From the Dallas Morning News...

There's a certain name on the "Honorable Mention" list that may ring a bell with of few of you loyal readers.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

A Wound that Time Cannot Heal?

Today's first reading at mass today:

Wrath and anger are hateful things,

yet the sinner hugs them tight.
The vengeful will suffer the LORD’s vengeance,
for he remembers their sins in detail.
Forgive your neighbor’s injustice;
then when you pray, your own sins will be forgiven.
Could anyone nourish anger against another
and expect healing from the LORD?
Could anyone refuse mercy to another like himself,
can he seek pardon for his own sins?
If one who is but flesh cherishes wrath,
who will forgive his sins?
Remember your last days, set enmity aside;
remember death and decay, and cease from sin!
Think of the commandments, hate not your neighbor;
remember the Most High’s covenant, and overlook faults.
(Sirach 27:30--28:7)

Part of Today's Homily:

Pat and Daniel grew up together. They were friends for 20 years before Daniel did something to Pat that Pat wouldn't forgive. Looking back it was a minor incident, but like a supperating wound, it grew and festered with time until Pat had become so consumed with it that God decided to step in. He sent down Pat's guardian angel.

The angel came to Pat and said that in order to heal the situation, he would offer Pat anything he wanted. But there was a caveat--if he asked for anything, Daniel would get double whatever was asked. Pat said, "So if I ask for a new house, you will give Daniel two new houses?"
"That's right," said the angel.
"And if I asked for a million dollars--"
"Daniel would get two million dollars, that's right," said the angel.
Pat mulled it over and asked the angel to come back the next day for his answer.

The next day the angel returned to Pat.
"Now, I want to make sure that I understand this. If I ask for something, you will give it to me AND you will give Daniel double of whatever I ask?"
"That is the deal, yes."
"Ok," said Pat, "I want you to make my blind in one eye."

Today is September 11, 2005.
How do you begin to forgive the events that occured four years ago?

Photograph courtesy of Chad C.

Sunday, September 04, 2005

National Geographic, October 2004. Written by Joel K. Bourne, Jr. with photographs by Robert Caputo and Tyrone Turner...

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Laissez les Bon Temps Roulette—No More.

In 1927 the Mississippi River flooded like it had never done in American history. Reports suggested that the river was perhaps 80 miles wide in some places during the height of the flood. Politicians and prominent New Orleans leaders decided to save the city by diverting the flood waters into southern Louisiana. New Orleans was saved, but the ensuing loss of life and damage to property in the southern portion of the state was devastating. In fact, socio-economic results was the mass migration of blacks to northern cities like Chicago (this is generally considered how the Blues started in Chicago). It completely transformed life in Louisiana.

Fast forward to 2005. Reports place perhaps as much as 80% of the city of New Orleans under some amount of water. The flooding, of course, extends into the neighboring states of Mississippi and Alabama. However, the city of New Orleans—the “Big Easy”, the “Crescent City”—has always been a colorful character in American culture. Few places draw instant images in one’s minds as New Orleans does.

To watch what is happening on TV (or perhaps more appropriately, sadly, is NOT happening) I’m left with various emotions. First, it’s obliviously a horrible situation that no one really expected. Everyone knew it COULD happen, but no one really expected it. I remember reading a National Geographic article from last year (October 2004, p. 89) that explained southern Louisiana’s soil erosion problems. They juxtaposed pictures of the same coast line from 40 years ago and in 2004, and the water has crept up hundreds of feet. There are a variety of reasons for this, some of which include oil exploration. But, if anything, such exploration has only sped up a process that nature continues to do anyway. The article suggested what might happen if New Orleans experienced a flood; how much water would inundate the city. Well, now it happened.

It’s unfortunate the city has little effective leadership or suitable plans for such a catastrophe. This is wholly apparent. A city that generally buries people above ground because of the water table, sits at about 8 feet below sea level, and it bounded by a river, a lake, and a large Gulf, should be prepared for a flood. And it should be prepared for a catastrophic flood. Maybe 80% of the city is a bit extreme to prepare for, but if they were prepared for a 40% flood rate, it seems a lot of what has transpired over the last few days would have been averted.

There are reports that rescue workers and police officers have been fired at, stores are being violently looted, bodies are floated in the water. This isn’t third world country, yet my TV is blanketed with images that suggest just that. The National Guard seems to have come in extremely ill-prepared; the New Orleans leadership, including Mayor Nagin, are effectively useless. It has been 4 days, and the city isn’t safe from its own people, let alone the disease and bacteria growing the strange brew of Gulf water, river water, and sewage. But that the city would need to be kept safe from its own inhabitants says a lot, doesn’t it?

New Orleans might be likened to the South’s version of Detroit. Although it has (did) have a thriving tourism industry (unlike Detroit), the population remains poor and commerce isn’t growing. About ten years ago, while on a trip to visit family, my family was robbed. Someone broke into our car and stole a few hundred dollars within minutes of our leaving the vehicle. And let’s be honest, granted the health situation is dire right now in the city, New Orleans wasn’t exactly a clean place to begin with. Bourbon Street—the cesspool of sin and alcohol—was an extreme microcosm of a city that was filthy and dangerous.

Now you have inhabitants, the majority of which problem came out of public housing, wandering aimlessly around the town. Maybe they’ll get on a bus to the Houston Astrodome. Maybe not. They don’t really have a home. There was a woman who complained that she hadn’t had a “hot meal” in 4 days. Hmm. If you don’t count the pizza I ordered on Tuesday, neither have I. And I haven’t even been through a hurricane. Other reports suggested that the New Orleans Superdome had turned into a bowl of urine and feces.

People pissing off the rafters and defecating on the bathroom floor. Who does that sort of thing? I also liked how people lined up to get into the superdome without any luggage. If I’m going into a shelter, I might want to bring something to eat, a pillow, a blanket, some clothes, a toothbrush. Maybe even—gasp—some soap. It’s basically like camping. But who am I kidding. If you didn’t bring it, I’m sure you can just steal it from some storefront. No worries. It’s disgusting. This whole situation is disgusting.

Optimistic forecasts suggest that bringing electricity and running water into the city will takes weeks, maybe even 3 months. Homes, neighborhoods, businesses are gone. Whole families are probably gone. And thousands of residents will be displaced to cities like Houston and Dallas to live for the time being. I’m not sure what percent will actually return, considering there won’t be much to return to. Maybe they will start a new life in a new city. Whatever the end result, I believe the social impact on the city will be huge.

I donated to Catholic Charities’ Hurricane Katrina relief fund today. I don’t recall the last time I made a donation to a major cause. I know some people (are and will) abuse the system. But whatever corners those people may cut, they will have much larger issues to face in their lives soon. Life in New Orleans as we knew it is over. The good times will not roll. The Big Easy is now just a big mess.

Saturday, August 27, 2005

An Exercise in Crowded Isolation.*

When I went to mass a few weeks ago, something interesting happened. I went to the 12:45pm mass, which is usually reserved for the most casual of adults. (The last mass, 5:30pm, is for the high schoolers.)

Sitting next to me in the pew was an older man. His hair was thinning quite a bit, so it was hard to tell just how old he was. I’d place him in his mid-50s, but he may have been a little older. He wore glasses and had shorts on—something you don’t normally see older adults with, at least not at a church service.

For those of you who haven’t had the opportunity to attend a Catholic mass: 1) you should give it a shot some time 2) there is a lot of oral reciting, interspersed with singing, which, not surprisingly, is usually done by reciting. This is a crucial point, for without it, nothing that follows will seem as interesting.

So back to this gentleman next to me: He had a normal voice when he recited various prayers and spoke, but his singing was something else. I’ve never heard someone who was literally tone deaf, until this man started to sing. I could understand completely such a singing disability if his voice was somehow abnormal. In fact, given the careers of successful singers, a poor speaking voice can be turned into an asset once sung. (Think Dylan and Cocker.)

Think of your average person with a hearing disability. When they speak, they tend not to have tonal control because hearing is such an integral part of speaking. If you cover your ears and talk long enough, your voice will probably change noticeably to the people listening to you. This man sitting next to me sang as if he were deaf. AND, to top it off, he made sure to sing as loud as he could. Wow.

“Biting one’s lip” took on a whole new meaning. The adolescents behind me snickered, and I just kept looking down, up, left, but not to the right. The voice that would make dogs cry was to the right.

But my story does not end here. Nay, it only gets stranger…

During the communion procession (where every one eventually files out of the pew and head up for the Eucharist), there is a song. It tends to be one of a handful of songs, all very well known. At this point I hear sniffling from the right. Sniffling tear? Or sniffling allergies? Which one is it going to be? Am I going to hear tone deaf sneezing? Is that even possible?

He’s not just crying, he’s balling. He takes his glasses off to wipe his eyes, and I just want to reach over and give the guy a hug. Sometimes these communion songs can make people emotional, but it didn’t appear he knew this one since he had to look it up. But there he is, crying. And I’m thinking that this is one of my strangest church experiences.

This leads me into the larger point of this post. Henry David Thoreau, the misanthropic American writer, said that “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.” I think that’s largely true. How many people are happy with their jobs? How many marriages end in divorce? Zoloft, anyone? And those are just a few things that make headlines of magazines and time-wasting websites.

We all suffer in life. Now that doesn’t mean we are all depressed. Depression seems to be more of a clinical, long-term sense of despair and longing. But sadness, loneliness, frustration, guilt, shame, etc. are a huge part of the human condition. Why are dramas so popular? Why is it Shakespeare's tragedies, rather than his comedies, that so often grab our attention? I think I've written on this topic in an earlier post. But seeing this man in church made me realize that even in a crowded house of God, we are so isolated from each other. We don't really know all of what is going on in one's life.

And even in our sleep pain that cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart, and in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom to us by the awful grace of God.” Aeschylus (525 BC —456 BC)

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