Browsing: May-June 2011

May-June 2011

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AS WE ENTER the fourth decade of AIDS, the crisis continues largely unabated. About 1.1 million Americans live with hiv/aids, as do 33 million people around the world. Every year, about 56,000 more Americans are newly infected; roughly half are gay men and half are African American. While the overall HIV incidence in the U.S. remains flat, infections among gay and bisexual men are increasing-the only risk group for which this is the case. Infections are increasing especially among young black gay men.

Globally, 2.7 million people were newly infected in 2008, down from a peak of 3.5 million in 1997. Despite this progress, for every two HIV-positive people who get into treatment globally, another five are newly infected. Most of the 33 million people living with HIV around the world don’t have access to anti-retrovirals (ARVs), the HIV medications that revolutionized treatment in the mid-1990’s, and are not likely to any time soon. In sub-Saharan Africa, where most of these people live, access to something as basic as palliative care (pain medication) is often beyond reach.

On a more positive note …

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IN THE END, what is most poignant about Undertow, a new film by Javier Fuentes Leon, is the plight of the ghost. In the small fishing village in Peru where this remarkable film takes place, the boyfriends are able to walk down the street holding hands only after one of them has died-and is therefore invisible to everyone but his lover.

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REMEMBER the “good old days” of AIDS service delivery, back when AIDS itself was still a terrifying epidemic? Not knowing how long we could keep our friends alive, wondering who would be next to fall ill-the tension kept us on edge. In the beginning, those of us touched by the virus, whether ourselves, our friends, or our lovers-we were alive back then, even amid the terror, anger, and death.

We held meetings, founded nonprofit service agencies, and started free clinics. We formed support groups, held auctions, dances, and AIDS walks, and sponsored bike rides. We scraped for money any way we could. We demonstrated, lobbied, wrote letters, organized. We wept, grieved and then wept some more. We found ourselves so far past grief that all we could do some days was laugh at the lunacy of death’s intrusion upon our young lives. We fought with those who feared and hated us. We fought with each other, our allies, among ourselves. We felt immersed in the moment and the times. We experienced a deep connection to each other-and to those who had died. We struggled together to make sense of it all, to bring some meaning into the sadness and sorrow.

By the late 1990’s, it appeared that we were succeeding, too. …

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THE FACT THAT Ronald Firbank was an innovator in his medium, that he was a humorous commentator on social mores, has long been recognized. That his novels are wise as well as witty has not been generally acknowledged, a fact that may be due to the strong influence of Oscar Wilde upon his work. However, as literary and cultural criticism has come increasingly to appreciate Wilde as a major writer and as a prophet of our age, Firbank’s fortunes have risen accordingly.

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All a Novelist Needs: Colm Tóibín on Henry James Edited by Susan M. Griffin
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When I first heard that Tóibín had written a novel about Henry James, I wondered why. We already had five volumes of the Leon Edel biography. What could fiction add to fact? The answer was a portrait of loneliness. This was an audacious thing to do; there was a certain chutzpah about The Master. Now comes All a Novelist Needs, a collection of book reviews and essays by Tóibín that reflects his deep immersion in the considerable literature by and about James.

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Michael Jackson: The Magic, the Madness, the Whole Story, 1958-2009 by J. Randy Taraborrelli
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SOME 700 PAGES into this comprehensive and even-handed biography of Michael Jackson, author J. Randy Taraborrelli remarks that the King of Pop would have paid a million dollars for a good night’s sleep. In the wake of his first child molestation scandal in 1994, Jackson worried that his image had been irrevocably tarnished, and there began a fatal descent into insomnia and substance abuse.

Given the details of his sudden death at fifty-he stopped breathing on June 25, 2009, due to an overdose of propofol, an anesthetic so powerful it’s known as “Milk of Amnesia” among surgeons-Jackson’s desperate search for the big sleep takes on an eerily gothic resonance.

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GREAT EMPIRES may come and go, but, like the tides, they leave behind a tangled assortment of treasures and trash. In the case of the British Empire, this included much that one might admire, but also a British Protestant morality that was codified in laws that persist to this day. Section 377 of the colonial Penal Code is a striking example. It classed consensual oral and anal sex as “carnal intercourse against the order of nature” and made it a crime punishable with imprisonment for life. When the British administrators withdrew, they took their soldiers, but left their law books behind. Section 377 was recently repealed in India, but it is still very much on the books in Bangladesh.

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