Archive for June, 2014


Minutia

I remember being eight years old. In those days, my best friend was a boy named Thomas.

My relationship with Thomas revolved around video games. Video games brought us together, and video games eventually tore us apart. In the ten years between those two events, we spent most of our time – you guessed it – playing video games. Almost every weekend, one of us would go to the other’s house and we’d amuse ourselves for a few hours with Mario Kart, Mario Party, Smash Bros, Pokemon, or whatever happened to be the game of the month.

The thing I always found weird was how, when it was time to go our separate ways, he would always tell his parents what we had accomplished in our gaming escapades: “We beat Bowser in World 8 and then Michael helped me capture Rayquaza and then we returned Neville to his portrait!” He would give long, drawn out descriptions that couldn’t possibly have made any sense to anyone in the room besides myself.

Even back then I thought it was odd. ‘Parents don’t care about that sort of thing’, I thought to myself. ‘My parents sure wouldn’t.’ But whatever Thomas’ parents may have been thinking, they always listened politely to his recounting of the afternoon’s events.

Now I wonder whether it’s weird that I thought Thomas’ behaviour was so weird. Maybe parents are supposed to listen to their eight year olds talk about video games, and maybe they’re supposed to nod politely at appropriate intervals and pretend to take an actual interest. My parents never did. It never occurred to me to tell them about what I had achieved in the virtual world. I just assumed that they didn’t care.

Even now, when I speak to my parents about my week I don’t bother going into any tremendous level of detail. I don’t want to bore them with minutia. I figure that if they’re curious about the finer details, they’ll ask.

They rarely ask. And maybe that’s what’s weird.

 

 

 

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UN-UNAIDS

Today we had the privilege of touring UNAIDS, the United Nations’ big anti-AIDS organization.

Given the relatively small number of people who identify themselves as pro-AIDS, you’d think that an anti-AIDS organization would be something that just about everyone on earth would support. And yet here I stand, anti-UNAIDS. Or “Un-UNAIDS”, as I think that looks a bit nicer, if less correct.

 

My main beef with the organization stems from its view on when criminal law should come into play in the case of non-disclosure of HIV status. The organization’s view is that failing to inform a sexual partner that you are HIV-positive should not be a criminal act unless the person intends to transmit the HIV virus, and that HIV is actually transmitted. The rationale is that in order for an act to be criminal there usually has to be some form of intent to cause harm attached. Quoth our presenter: “People who don’t disclose their HIV status to sexual partners don’t do so for the purpose of transmitting HIV – they just want to have sex.”

If that truly represents the viewpoint of the UN, then colour me extremely disappointed. It astounds me that such a well-regarded organization could have such a fundamental misunderstanding about how the law works. There are plenty of crimes which are punished for the the intent to cause the act alone, and not the intent to cause harm. Rape comes quickly to mind. In at least some rape cases, the offender doesn’t want to hurt anyone – he just wants to have sex. And according to the UNAIDS logic, we shouldn’t punish those offenders.  That’s concerning, to say the least.

When the presenter said this the room turned hostile on her, and rightly so. Perhaps it’s my Canadian bias speaking, but I think our Supreme Court has it pretty close to right: If you’re HIV positive and you fail to disclose your status and then proceed to expose them to a significant risk of transmission, you’ve just committed a sexual assault. What the word “significant” means is up for debate, but it allows some leeway for people who have such a low viral load that the probability of transmission is infinitesimal.

 

To further support UNAIDS’ position, the presenter gave us some statistics to show how much of a non-risk HIV really is. According to her data, I could have unprotected sex with 600 different HIV-positive women over the next 600 days, and after all that I’d still only have about a 50% chance of contracting HIV. Now, I’m not sure about these statistics. If true, they would seem to make it very difficult to contract HIV even if you wanted to. Wikipedia seems to suggest that the figures she cited are on the low end of the range, but for the moment I’ll accept them as correct.

Just a simple question then: If there was a 1/1250 chance of you contracting HIV from someone every time you had sex with them, would you want to know about it? Assuming you two have sex twice per week, that’s 104 rolls of the dice per year. Going by the law of averages, you’d have an 8.3% chance of contracting HIV every year that you remain sexually active with that partner. Would you feel entitled to know that information?

“Condoms can reduce the likelihood of transmission by a further 80%”, says my pamphlet. Fair enough. So rather than an 8.3% chance per year, the chance is reduced to 1.6% per year. Remain sexually active with that person for a decade, and the law of averages gives you a 16% chance of contracting the disease in that span. And I’ll ask you again: Would you feel entitled to know that information? And would you feel violated if someone had exposed you to that risk without your knowledge?

 

It would be wonderful to eliminate AIDS someday, and to its credit UNAIDS does a lot of excellent work on that front, making treatment and prevention options available where they are needed most. But although it is no longer the death sentence it used to be, there is still no cure and it remains a life-altering ailment. No one who contracts HIV just shrugs it off as they’d shrug off being diagnosed with the flu. People want to be informed so that they can protect themselves. By sticking its head in the sand and pretending that AIDS isn’t a big deal anymore, UNAIDS undermines its ultimate goal of eliminating the disease.

And so, I’m un-UNAIDS.

Drunk and Drunker

Hanging out with people who are significantly more drunk than you is both a happy and sad experience, I find.

The happy bit comes during the night. You’ve got to be somewhat buzzed yourself first, of course. Being stone cold sober in a room full of drunk people is no fun at all. But assuming you’ve got a good buzz going, you can usually enjoy the drunken behaviour of others without becoming annoyed. As the night wears on, you’ll find that you’ve inexplicably become great friends with people with whom you were barely acquaintances just a few hours ago. And that’s nice in a way. It’s fun to sing and dance and laugh with people as if you’ve known them all your lives. It’s a good way to make lasting memories, that’s for sure.

Well kind of. And that’s the sad bit. Because the next day, only one of you is going to have any clear memories of the previous night. The other will remember that they had a great night, and if you’re very lucky they may even recall that you were there. But that’s all. The ethereal force which made you two good friends for a few hours will have dissipated. The coach will have turned back into a pumpkin, as it were. Friends back to strangers.

I’ve never really understood why people drink to the point of memory loss. I mean, one of the best parts about having fun is that you get to go back and remember it later on. Depriving oneself of that seems both pointless and sad.