Thursday, May 25, 2006
This person ("Peter") and his partner ("Sam") have been together for about 4 years, so presumably Peter acquired the virus before he met Sam. Peter is in his mid-40's, so he was a young gay man during the early days when HIV/AIDS was killing so many and the medical community was helpless to stop it. Sam, on the other hand, is not quite 30, so he grew up in the 1980s and became sexually active in the early 1990s, by which time everyone knew that HIV was transmitted through sexual activity and that the use of condoms could greatly reduce the risk of getting HIV. Sam told me last night that even though he and Peter had only had "safe" sex perhaps 5 or 6 times over the course of their 4+ year relationship, he is not HIV+, at least for the moment.
Horrible as it may be, my first reaction was, "How stupid could you be?" As a young gay man in the early 1980s, Peter had a front-row seat to the carnage of HIV/AIDS and knows first-hand what the disease can do. Sam, on the other hand, learned about "safe sex" as part of the birds and bees, and can't say he didn't know that the risk existed and how to reduce it.
When I asked if he and Peter were going to take proper precautions at this point, Sam said, "Well, it depends on what we're doing." Again, I was incredulous. I can't imagine doing anything to hurt my husband. If I knew that I could potentially expose him to an ultimately lethal virus, I would do everything in my power to keep that from happening. I do not understand why Peter would not insist as a matter of course that he and Sam use condoms so that Sam does not get HIV. And why is Sam so lacking in the instinct of self-preservation (never mind common sense) to insist on this for himself? I don't understand!
When my husband and I were dating, before we had sex, we talked about our respective sexual histories. In our case, each of us had been in only one other significant relationship and had only slept with one other person. Furthermore, as frequent blood donors, we had been tested for HIV and had always tested negative.
Are we unusual in this regard? Don't other people do this before they hop in the sack without a condom? I guess I am just naive, but I would have assumed that Peter and Sam (1) would have had some discussion of their past sexual histories and (2) used a condom until they had (3) both tested HIV-negative.
I know that what is done is done. The past cannot be unwound and rewoven into a new present. And the future cannot be known, so all we can do is mindfully and with lovingkindness live in the present moment, which is really the only moment we have. But that said, I do not believe that one should blindly and recklessly live in the present moment without regard for the consequences of one's actions. And in a way, that looks like what has happened, and is happening, for Peter and Sam.
I feel as if my reaction is compassionless, and I feel bad about it. But right now I feel less sadness and more of a swirl of incredulity and anger. I want the best for Peter and Sam. I love them both. I do not want them to suffer. But I cannot help but look at this situation and think that these two men have not done what they reasonably could to avoid the pain of this situation.
. . .
In my own experience, the period of greatest gain in knowledge and experience is the most difficult period in one's life. ...Through a difficult period, you can learn, you can develop inner strength, determination, and courage to face the problem.
-His Holiness the Dalai Lama
Saturday, May 13, 2006
Friday, May 12, 2006
Today, Buddhists all over the world commemorate three great events: The birth, enlightenment and the passing away of Gautama Buddha. As Buddhism spread from India to all parts of the world, the teachings were readily assimilated with the cultures of the people who accepted the teachings. As a result, Buddhist art and culture took on a rich variety of forms with profound gentleness and kindness as the Buddha expressly forbade the use of force. The practice of Buddhism was adapted in many ways to suit the nature of the various cultures that accepted it. As a result of this, Vesak is celebrated in many different ways all over the world. But in essence many practices have become universal. This sacred day is purely a religious festival, and not a festive occasion. On this day all Buddhists are expected to reaffirm their faith in the Buddha Dhamma and to lead a noble religious life. It is a day for meditation and for radiating Loving-Kindness.
Today, devout Buddhists are expected to assemble in various temples before dawn for the ceremonial hoisting of the Buddhist flag and the singing of hymns in praise of the holy triple gem: The Buddha, The Dharma (his teachings), and The Sangha (his disciples). Devotees may bring simple offerings of flowers, candles and joss-sticks to lay at the feet of their teacher. These symbolic offerings are to remind followers that just as the beautiful flowers would wither away after a short while and the candles and joss-sticks would soon burn out, so too is life subject to decay and destruction. Devotees are enjoined to make a special effort to refrain from killing of any kind. They are encouraged to partake of vegetarian food for the day. In some countries, notably Sri Lanka, two days are set aside for the celebration of Vesak and all liquor shops and slaughter houses are closed by government decree during the two days. Birds and animals are also released by the thousands in a symbolic act to liberation, of giving freedom to those who are in captivity. However, it is not recommended that birds be released in the heart of crowded cities, because by doing so we may cause harm to the poor bewildered birds which are unable to fly far after a long period of captivity. Unscrupulous bird dealers would recapture such birds for resale to well meaning devotees. If birds are to be released it is recommended that this be done in rural areas where the birds can achieve real freedom. Some devout Buddhists will wear a simple white dress and spend the whole day in temples with renewed determination to observe the observance of the Eight Precepts.
On this day monks will recite verses uttered by the Buddha twenty-five centuries ago, to invoke peace and happiness for the Government and the people. Buddhists are reminded to live in harmony with people of other faiths and to respect the beliefs of other people as the Buddha had taught.
Celebrating Vesak also means making special efforts to bring happiness to the unfortunate like the aged, the handicapped and the sick. To this end, Buddhists will distribute gifts in cash and kind to various charitable homes throughout the country. Vesak is also a time for great joy and happiness. But this joy is expressed not by pandering to one’s appetites but by concentrating on useful activities such as decorating and illuminating temples, painting and creating exquisite scenes from the life of the Buddha for public dissemination. Devout Buddhists also vie with one another to provide refreshments and vegetarian food to devotees who visit the temple to pay homage to the Blessed One.
The Buddha himself has given invaluable advice on how to pay homage to him. Just before he died, he saw his faithful attendant Ananda, weeping. The Buddha advised him not to weep, but to understand the universal law that all compounded things (including even his own body) must disintegrate. He advised everyone not to cry over the disintegration of the physical body but to regard his teachings (The Dhamma) as their teacher from then on, because only the Dhamma truth is eternal and not subject to the law of change. He also stressed that the way to pay homage to him was not merely by offering flowers, incense, and lights, but by truly and sincerely striving to follow his teachings. This is how devotees are expected to celebrated Vesak: to use the opportunity to reiterate their determination to lead noble lives, to develop their minds, to practise loving-kindness and to bring peace and harmony to humanity.
Thursday, May 11, 2006
Monday, May 08, 2006
The local college kids from the University of Central Florida graduated last week. I saw a group of them at a restaurant and it made me think of that song, "Everybody's Free," by Baz Luhrman, that came out a few years ago:
If I could offer you only one tip for the future, sunscreen would be IT.
The long term benefits of sunscreen have been proved by scientists whereas the rest of my advice has no basis more reliable than my own meandering experience.
I will dispense this advice now.
Enjoy the power and beauty of your youth. Never mind. You will not understand the power and beauty of your youth until they have faded. But trust me, in 20 years you’ll look back at photos of yourself and recall in a way you can’t grasp now how much possibility lay before you and how fabulous you really looked.
You are NOT as fat as you imagine.
Don’t worry about the future; or worry, but know that worrying is as effective as trying to solve an algebra equation by chewing bubblegum. The real troubles in your life are apt to be things that never crossed your worried mind; the kind that blindside you at 4pm on some idle Tuesday.
Do one thing every day that scares you.
Don’t be reckless with other people’s hearts, don’t put up with people who are reckless with yours.
Don’t waste your time on jealousy; sometimes you’re ahead, sometimes you’re behind. The race is long, and in the end, it’s only with yourself.
Remember compliments you receive, forget the insults; if you succeed in doing this, tell me how.
Keep your old love letters, throw away your old bank statements.
Don’t feel guilty if you don’t know what you want to do with your life. The most interesting people I know didn’t know at 22 what they wanted to do with their lives, some of the most interesting 40 year olds I know still don’t.
Get plenty of calcium.
Be kind to your knees, you’ll miss them when they’re gone.
Maybe you’ll marry, maybe you won’t, maybe you’ll have children, maybe you won’t, maybe you’ll divorce at 40, maybe you’ll dance the funky chicken on your 75th wedding anniversary.
Whatever you do, don’t congratulate yourself too much or berate yourself, either. Your choices are half chance, so are everybody else’s. Enjoy your body, use it every way you can. Don’t be afraid of it, or what other people think of it, it’s the greatest instrument you’ll ever own.
Dance. Even if you have nowhere to do it but in your own living room.
Read the directions, even if you don’t follow them.
Do NOT read beauty magazines, they will only make you feel ugly.
Get to know your parents, you never know when they’ll be gone for good.
Be nice to your siblings; they are your best link to your past and the people most likely to stick with you in the future.
Understand that friends come and go, but for the precious few you should hold on. Work hard to bridge the gaps in geography in lifestyle because the older you get, the more you need the people you knew when you were young.
Live in New York City once, but leave before it makes you hard; live in Northern California once, but leave before it makes you soft.
Accept certain inalienable truths, prices will rise, politicians will philander, you too will get old, and when you do you’ll fantasize that when you were young prices were reasonable, politicians were noble and children respected their elders.
Respect your elders.
Don’t expect anyone else to support you. Maybe you have a trust fund, maybe you'll have a wealthy spouse; but you never know when either one might run out.
Don’t mess too much with your hair, or by the time you're 40, it will look 85.
Be careful whose advice you buy, but, be patient with those who supply it. Advice is a form of nostalgia, dispensing it is a way of fishing the past from the disposal, wiping it off, painting over the ugly parts and recycling it for more than it’s worth.
But trust me on the sunscreen.
Thursday, May 04, 2006
Regarding (1), the problem was that to prove conspiracy, you have to show an overt act in furtherance of the conspiracy. If I know that my neighbor is going to commit murder, legally speaking, that knowledge alone does not make me a co-conspirator. Now I agree, morally, I would have an obligation to step forward. However, our legal system protects due process of law by requiring more than immoral thoughts. Immoral actions (or, sometimes, inactions) make one legally culpable.
2) I agree that it was a jury that acted yesterday, but I believe that what the jury did is not an isolated incident. I do not think that one can impute the immorality of our government's actions upon the people as a whole. I believe the American people are starting to wake up to the immorality and injustice being carried out in their names. And I think the jury's actions might be an indicator of that.
3) I wear my seatbelt, too. But I think the "freedom" to go without a seatbelt is quite a bit different than the freedoms of speech, association, assembly, religion, etc. that are protected by the First Amendment. If given the choice between warrantless searches and preemptive, blanket wiretaps on the one hand and a graver risk of terrorist attack, I'd take the risk. But as the USA Patriot Act shows, we've invested a lot of energy in constructing a freedom-gobbling police state infrastructure to protect us from the risk of terrorism. The thing is, 45,000 Americans die in car accidents every year, well over half of whom are alcohol-related. But I don't see the kind of hell-bent enthusiasm about car safety and drunk driving that we see invested in the "War on Terror."
Thanks again for your comments, Tom.
Wednesday, May 03, 2006
ALEXANDRIA, Va. - Al-Qaida conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui escaped the death penalty Wednesday as a jury decided he deserved life in prison instead for his role in the bloodiest terrorist attack in U.S. history. “America, you lost,” Moussaoui taunted.
After seven days of deliberation, the nine men and three women rebuffed the government’s appeal for death for the only person charged in this country in the four suicide jetliner hijackings that killed nearly 3,000 people on Sept. 11, 2001.
Three jurors said Moussaoui had only limited knowledge of the Sept. 11 plot, and three described his role in the attacks as minor, if he had any role at all.
Moussaoui was wrong. Today, as a result of the jury's decision to sentence him to life in prison, America won. The sentence is a triumph of compassion, integrity and restraint over anger, hatred and revenge.
I will not launch into a lengthy dissertation about the death penalty, which I felt ambivalent about for many years and now oppose.
But I will say that this was the right decision for three reasons:
1) It shows that we are a nation of reasoned justice, not mob justice. Executing Moussaoui for failing to step forward with knowledge of the 9/11 plan would have been a revenge killing, intended not to punish him for what he did but to avenge the deaths of nearly 3,000 innocent lives taken in the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
2) It prevents us from sliding farther down the slippery slope of giving up civil liberties in exchange for perceived security. Speaking for the moment as a lawyer (I can't help it), it is worth noting that, had Moussaoui been given the death penalty, it would be the first time in the history of American jurisprudence that someone was executed for an act of omission. Remember, Moussaoui was charged with six counts of conspiracy, and the basis of the government's recommendation of the death penalty was that had Moussaoui (who was incarcerated on September 11, 2001) stepped forward and told authorities about the plot, the attacks would not have occurred. He would not have been executed for what he did, but what he didn't do.
3) It shows the world that we cannot be shaken from our core principles, even in the face of danger. In Israel, the day after a suicide bombing, the markets are full of shoppers, the buses are full of riders, and the sidewalk cafes are full of diners. Israelis refuse to allow the risk of terrorism--which happens there every couple of months--to change their way of life. So, too, by adhering to the principles of due process and trial by jury, we have shown the other peoples of the world that we will not be driven to barbarity by the threat of barbarity. Our commitment to our principles should be unwavering.
I hope that the Moussaoui sentence is a bellweather, a sign that we Americans are finally waking up and realizing that, if given the choice, it is better to be more free and less safe than less free and more safe.
May freedom ring!