I must first apologize for a thoughtless omission from the first column, which focused on how there is a surge in the spread of HIV, even though Americans know how it is transmitted and therefore how it can be avoided. I certainly should have mentioned that there are children born HIV-positive and that, on a regular basis, brave and compassionate medical professionals risk becoming infected through their handling of needles and other sharp instruments. There is also the matter of spouses and partners becoming infected by those in whom they have mistakenly, and tragically, placed their trust.
These are all significant and devastating points that I should have touched on in the first column and was remiss in not doing so. And I certainly don't want to be responsible for anyone not getting tested. This is not about shame; it's about being sick, getting help and doing your best not to make others sick.
Still, I must say that I was dismayed by the correspondence I received after the column appeared, including the horribly misspelled death threat. The first e-mail I got (which also appeared in the Mailbag section) said that I am "the reason there is still HIV." How the hell?
In the quarter-century of the AIDS scourge, I have had sex with exactly one woman. Not just one time, thank goodness, but just one woman. That must sound grotesque and boring to some people, but besides a sense of commitment and devotion, there is the added benefit of not having to worry about body parts falling off. Furthermore, seeing as how I've never used any drugs, including nicotine and alcohol, it's pretty unlikely that I would inject myself using a needle that's clean or otherwise. I have nothing to do with HIV, nor it with me.
You'd think that such a lifestyle might be somewhat encouraging (if horribly anachronistic) to someone who identifies herself as an "HIV prevention educator, etc.," but such is not the case. Oddly enough, two women, who both said they work in HIV prevention, made several similar assertions. Both tried to make a point by stating that if people didn't drink and drive, there would be no drunk driving. Well, duh!
Actually, I believe we could eliminate drunk driving in a very short period of time. What if, in the United States, the penalty for a first-time drunk-driving violation was a mandatory five years in prison? Even the densest of you out there could visualize the mathematical model that would show drunk driving decreasing at an exponential rate (since many drunks drive so on a regular basis), approaching zero as a limit. But thus far, we lack the national will; 20,000 drunk-driving deaths a year are apparently OK as long as the liquor is flowing, and people don't have to be responsible for their own actions.
Letter writer Dan Ellerbroek made several good points, but then took me to task for my having limited sympathy. Let's say a 45-year-old man, legally drunk, runs a red light at a high rate of speed and crashes into a 16-year-old girl, driving herself to school for the first time. Do I feel equally sorry for both people, seeing as how they both died in the same crash? Hell, no. And I'm going to feel nearly infinitely more sympathy for the HIV-positive baby than I will for the mother who selfishly and recklessly had sex with multiple partners, even though she might have suspected that one or more might have been infected.
We all have selective sympathy; I'm just willing to admit it.
Mr. Ellerbroek ended his original letter by saying that my column belonged on Fox News or in The Washington Times. When did the rest of us relinquish the concept of personal responsibility to those on the far right? And why would we want to? The truly free among us embrace responsibility.
My editor, who exhibited great professional restraint and only responded to me after I asked his opinion, brought up sub-Saharan Africa, where AIDS has roared past the crisis stage and is approaching self-genocide. He asked if we were supposed to change the entire culture of the place. Well, either we do it, or AIDS will.
Illinois Sen. Barack Obama, who toured Africa last month, took Kenyan officials to task for approaching AIDS with witch doctors and folk remedies. It's OK for him to say that, but not for me.
I've lost two good friends to AIDS, and I'll be participating in Sunday's AIDSWALK, as I have in years past. Feel free to rag on me. Please believe me when I say that I hope a cure for AIDS is found today, and if not today, then tomorrow.
But that's probably not going to happen, however, so in the meantime, saving lives might require saying unpopular things and making tough choices.