Thursday, July 26, 2012

Spoiled Milk; No Tears

We have visitors this week:  my spouse's brother and his wife are here for the better part of a week.  Having visitors means certain delights come back into our lives:  more walks at the beach!  It also means we're running back and forth to the grocery store.  When we have guests, I feel like we should adopt the more normal eating patterns of the rest of the U.S.; I'm talking about eating at regular times--which, of course, means that we need food in the house.

Yesterday, my spouse was unloading groceries.  He said, "How long was this milk in the car?"

I said, "I didn't buy any milk."

"I brought in a gallon of milk."

I was confused.  I didn't buy milk yesterday; no, I had bought milk the day before.  "The dishwasher soap?"  It was vaguely gallon jug shaped.

"I put a gallon of milk in the fridge.  Warm milk."

"But I bought milk on Tuesday."  Realization dawned. Oh dear.  We had left the milk in the trunk.  Tuesday afternoon.  Overnight.  Throughout a hot summer morning.  Happily, it didn't explode.  What an awful clean-up experience that would be.

My brave spouse took the gallon of milk outside.  His scientist self could not resist finding out that it was so curdled that he could only pour out a cup.

Well, no use crying over spoiled milk.  Onwards to planning the week:  shall we explore area lighthouses?  Go to the Everglades?  Take another walk on the beach?  When can the cousin and her family join us?

Yesterday, after realizing that I'd left the milk in the car, I looked through the mail.  My contributor copy of Adanna had arrived!  It seems like moments ago that I submitted, and now, here's the journal.  I haven't had time to look through it much, but I see that some of my  favorite contemporary poets, like Kathleen Kirk and Karen J. Weyant, are here, wonderful as ever.  Weyant's "Sleeping with the Radium Girls" fits neatly with my recent nuclear reading.

But this week, with the International AIDS Conference meeting in Washington D.C., I've been plunged backwards to a different spectre from my youth.  Last June, in this blog post, I wrote:

"What scared me more, AIDS or nuclear annihilation? I had more bad dreams about that mushroom cloud. But in terms of an insidious threat that always seemed to whisper at my consciousness, AIDS would take that trophy.

Much like nuclear annihilation, AIDS too may seem to be vanquished, only to come back again in a scarier form. Those of us with health insurance may have the luxury of seeing AIDS as a chronic condition, but diseases morph and change."

The news from the AIDS conference seems very good.  Last week, the FDA approved a drug that seems to give prophylactic protection against the virus.  It's not the vaccine we've been waiting for, that miracle injection that would keep us all safe.  The new drug is expensive for one thing.  And it needs to be taken daily, from what I understand.  Still, what an intriguing development.

And the prognosis for those infected seems more positive, with the reports of patients who have seen their viral load drop to undetectable levels.  Who'd have thought we'd see this day?

Michael Gerson wrote a great article in The Washington Post where he praises all the people who worked to make this day possible: 

"In America, it is common to distrust institutions — to express a lack of confidence in Congress, the federal government and major companies. The response to AIDS weighs on the other side of the balance.

It has brought great credit to the scientific enterprise, which first helped allay unreasoned fears, then guided evidence-based treatment and prevention. It has illustrated the power of government to do good in ways denied to individuals and private groups. Public agencies — particularly the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) — met ambitious treatment goals, and on budget. The response to HIV/AIDS has been a reminder: The quest of politics is not big government or small government but effective government on the necessary scale.

The entities and individuals deserving a share of credit in the AIDS movement are marvelously diverse. Gay men in New York and San Francisco who refused to pass away in silence. Pharmaceutical companies that developed tests and antiretroviral drugs. Members of Congress from both parties who appropriated money to save lives outside their districts, outside their experience, outside their country. Taxpayers who paid the bills. Billionaire philanthropists, irritatingly persistent rock stars, nuns in Kericho. What other social movement, in its hall of fame, would need to reserve places for Gay Men’s Health Crisis and for George W. Bush, the author of PEPFAR?"

I am well aware of diseases that retreat and then come back with a vengeance.  But there are also diseases that once wiped out chunks of humanity which eventually become fairly mild childhood diseases.

It's easy to get bogged down by bad news.  It's easy to fear the future.  But it's good to remember that so far, humans continue to make astonishing progress.  In a recent interview on NPR's Fresh Air, Jill Tarter talks about the search for intelligence beyond our own planet and whether or not we should worry about what happens when the aliens arrive.  She says, "They [the aliens] are an old technology. How did they get to be an old technology? Well, one thing - one way might have been that they outgrew the aggressive tendencies that were probably at the base of their becoming intelligent in the first place. When you look at evolutionary biology - at least, on this planet - one explanation for how intelligence arose is the predator-prey situation that ratchets up intelligence.  But after a while, when the kill power becomes so extreme, then in fact, our evolutionary best strategy might be to back away from that. Steven Pinker has a recent book that argues that we are kinder today than we used to be. So I don't think you can get to be an old technology unless you manage to stabilize your population, husband your resources, and get your world in shape."

The news from the AIDS conference makes me think we are indeed stabilizing our population and husbanding our resources.  There's still much work to be done to get our world in shape, no doubt.  But how wonderful that AIDS now seems to be a manageable disease for most people.

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