Wednesday, December 1, 2010


55 years ago, an unassuming woman refused to give up her seat on a bus. The first volley in the modern civil rights movement had been fired. (Quote below from Campanastan, with the further note, "...her refusal to surrender her seat ignited the Montgomery Bus Boycott, which lasted over a year and left the public transit system with a crippling financial deficit.")
"People always say that I didn't give up my seat because I was tired, but that isn't true. I was not tired physically, or no more tired than I usually was at the end of a working day. I was not old, although some people have an image of me as being old then. I was forty-two. No, the only tired I was, was tired of giving in."-- Rosa Parks, in Rosa Parks: My Story (1992)
Another notable item from today's anniversaries came when I was very nearly two months old: via the NYT, "On Dec. 1, 1959, representatives of 12 countries, including the United States, signed a treaty in Washington setting aside Antarctica as a scientific preserve, free from military activity." In many ways, this can be seen as merely symbolic. On the other hand, this treaty has endured for 51 years now, and has for the most part been respected. Given the cynicism and despair with which I regard humanity's awareness of and respect for our basic life support system, I can still muster a bit of hope when I witness such an enormous expanse of potential resources- and potential enrichment- set aside for scientific purposes. There is hope for a species and culture that has the awareness to say "We don't really understand this. Maybe we shouldn't mess with it for the time being."

This is World AIDS Day. (Note that the link is to the first page of several; click the "next" button for more.) I remember when the condition that came to be called AIDS was first getting a lot of attention: it was pretty scary. It was also one of the events that spurred reflection on my unthinking homophobia: I was stunned and quite upset when a person who I respected, admired, and frankly, had a bit of a crush on- despite the fact she was married- said she thought it was a perfectly natural response to an unnatural behavior. If gays were going to have unnatural sex, nature would respond by creating a way to wipe them out. First, "nature" and evolution don't work that way. To assume that the natural world has a "purpose" is the first step in concluding that you are that purpose- the self-centric, or anthropocentric universe, so to speak. Secondly, in a world populated with so many sociopaths, those who see no further than their own ends regardless of what those ends cost others, to assume that "nature" is going to go out of its way to punish and exterminate those whose sex lives you disapprove of strikes me as repellant. Other people's sex lives have no effect on mine; why shouldn't nature kill off bankers and other con artists, whose shenanigans really have hurt me? Answer: nature and evolution don't work that way.

At any rate, while the news could certainly be better, most of items I'm seeing on AIDS today are pretty positive. Even articles that are attempting to take a hard, realistic look at the costs- both human and economic- of this epidemic seem curiously positive and optimistic. Though again, this is not to say the costs, as horrific as they are, are no longer worth worrying over.

Today is also the first day of Hanukkah. As I commented on FaceBook last night, "Yeah, I'm a non-believer. But as we start this season of gloom and cold, I wish joy and contentment for all my brothers and sisters, regardless of their faiths or lack thereof."

So the take-away message for this first day of the last month of the first decade of this new millennium is one that I would hope we can celebrate every day: empathy, compassion, and as hard as it may be for me to actually practice it, optimism.

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