A plague of lies
BY SANDRA STEINGRABER
In the early days, it was called "the Gay Plague." Then, when it be-
came obvious the virus had no particular sexual preference, it was deemed
by the media "the 20th Century Plague."
A host of morbid connotations are evoked by that label: gross suffer-
ing, contagion, hysteria, divine punishment. These accurately reflect the
anxieties many people harbor about AIDS. But the notion of AIDS as
plague reveals little that is truthful about the disease itself.
A plague implies massive and indiscriminate decimation. Nearly
100,000 people have died of AIDS worldwide since 1981. During the
same time period, 14 million people died of measles. Most of these cases
were in the Third World.
In places where water is clean and food abundant, measles is seldom
fatal. Measles is preventable with vaccines. AIDS is neither.
Maybe only diseases with no known cures get to be defined as plagues
in our modern First World imagination. Death by diseases we understand
- lives snuffed out by poverty and neglect - don't qualify as "a 20th
Century plague," no matter how high the casualties.
A plague implies destruction without prejudice. And yet in New York
City, the vast majority of babies born with AIDS (one in every 60) are in
fact Black and Latino. A disproportionate number of homeless people are
infected. Some Native American peoples are threatened with extinction
because of their high rates of infection.
The AIDS pamphlet sent out by the U.S. Surgeon General last month
to every U.S. household emphasized how democratically the disease
claims its victims: It is not the group you belong to, we are assured, but
rather the behavior you engage in which puts you at risk: Avoid the be-
havior and avoid the plague.
Such statements are tautological and misleading since behaviors -
such as intravenous drug use - define certain groups. It's a bit like say-
ing that freezing to death is caused by sleeping under bridges rather than
by being homeless. Funny how death by exposure strikes so few home-
In fact, heterosexual women as a group are more at risk from unpro-
tected intercourse than heterosexual men. Babies bom to mothers who
sleep with drug-abusing men are more at risk than babies born to non-
drug users. So much for groups.
While the pamphlet discusses semen as a possible route of infection,
menstrual blood is not even mentioned. Gay sexual practices are discussed
at some length; nothing is said about techniques common to lesbian sex.
So much for behavior.
A plague implies a state of emergency. But the designation of AIDS as
plague can't have much to do with the urgency of our society in respond-
ing to the crisis. The U.S. government spent more money in one month
of research on Legionnaire's Disease than it did in the first five years of
While the government's educational pamphlet blithely emphasizes the
democratic nature of the disease, no moves have been made to democratize
methods of prevention or treatment. The United States remains the only
nation in the world (other than South Africa) with no national health
plan. The drug AZT, the only known treatment, is available to those who
can pay. The President's AIDS Commission identified rampant
discrimination in housing, employment, insurance and medical care as
major factors in spreading the disease. And yet social spending in all these
areas has been slashed.
Maybe, as someone once suggested to me, AIDS is properly called a
plague because it is now possible to die from sex.
But if this is true, then AIDS must only be a plague for men since
women have always run the risk of dying from sex. The number of
deaths in the world due to pregnancies, abortions and childbirth is equiva-
lent to a jumbo jet full of women crashing every five minutes. No one is
calling these deaths a plague.
More likely, AIDS is given a special designation because of its con-
nection with blood and semen, because of the dread it engenders and the
suspicion it arouses.
Curiously, AIDS paranoia is not part of the human response among
the poor in Africa where the disease is taking a huge toll. Traveling
through East Africa last year, I met no one who felt there was anything
remarkable about AIDS - except one military officer in a garrison vil-
lage in Sudan. The occupying military forces were suspicious of the vil-
lage's political loyalties. The villagers were hungry and sick with dysen-
tery; their crops and cattle had been destroyed in the fighting.
One old man fell critically ill while I was there. When he died, the
villagers organized a funeral. The officers watched the ceremony nervously
and later one approached us, "Why did this man die? Did he have AIDS?.
If so, we will all run away!"
I almost answered yes.
The Michigan Daily - Friday, July 15, 1988-- Page 3
ISR director to
BY SUSAN LONGWORTH
The University's Institute for
Social Research director will leave
next year to assume a similar posi-
tion at Stanford University.
Philip Converse, who has taught
at the University for 28 years, said
the Stanford position will be a
"wonderful job," though he added
that he "would've been happy to stay
here" if he weren't offered the Stan-
Converse said his primary duty at
Stanford's Center for Advanced
Study in the Behavioral Sciences
will be operating its fellowship pro-
gram, but he hopes the position will
still leave a significant amount of
time for research. The University currently has no
Converse, a Political Science and plans to replace Converse, although
Sociology Prof. who became director a committee will be formed within
of the ISR in 1986, is well known the next couple of weeks to search
for his research of voting trends and for a replacement, Converse said.
American lifestyles. But until then, Converse's col-
William Bowen, chair of the leagues and students say he will be
Stanford center's board of trustees, missed. Joel Kaji, a University
announced Converse's appointmentg student in the polits
last week. Bowen called Converse an graduate mentnhaldtical sci-
ence department, called Converse
"outstanding scholar" who has a "One of the most available, accessi-
long association with the center and ble, helpful" professors he has ever
administrative experience. known
The Stanford center, an indepen- James Wessel, Assistant ISR Di-
dent organization created in 1954' rector, said Converse has a
allows 45 to 48 research fellows to "charismatic leadership style" and an
conduct social science research for "extremely good academic reputa-
nine to 12 months free of profes- ,"
Assoc. AD praises
BY NANCY LIPIN
Associate Director of Athletics
Donald Lund said this week the de-
cision to build a new $12 million
"Center of Champions" was a matter
of "keeping up with the Joneses."
But some members of the
Control Board for Intercollegiate
Athletics - which makes Univer-
sity financial athletic department
decisions - said they were under-
informed about plans for the pro-
posed football training center.
Lund said the building is needed
to maintain athletic competitiveness
with schools such as Ohio State,
Michigan State, and the University
of Minnesota, which have recently
added extensive football facilities.
Without the revenue generated
from football and basketball, he con-
tinued, the athletic department would
have to request University general
funds to support the less popular,
less profitable sports.
"Football and basketball carry the
department," he said.
Board member and Engineering
Prof. Steven Pollack agreed that the
existing center needed to be replaced,
but he said the board had not been
sufficiently informed of the depart-
ment's financial actions.
"We were told things were in the
works, but not details," Pollack said.
Ultimately, the regents must ap-
prove the center.
University Athletic Director Bo
Schembechler announced plans for
the center last week. He was unavail-
able for comment.
The funding for the center will
come from alumni sources. The de-
partment hopes to reach this goal
solely through fundraising and has
already raised $165,000 in outside
Lund said the center will be
completed by May, 1990. The foot-
ball team will use the football
stadium locker rooms during prac-
tices until then.
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