Wednesday, 22 October 2014

The AIDS question

Whilst living in Spain I am mostly busy: building the extension to my little stone hut (the caseta), writing notes on our life here, social outings which usually involve eating and drinking, and the usual practicalities of life including visits to the shops and house maintenance. But, I still find time to read – mostly when eating, siesta time, or in bed prior to sleeping.

Recently I finished “Are you positive?” by Stephen Davies and started “The Ragged Trousered Philanthropist” by Robert Tressel,  “Chrome Yellow” by Aldous Huxley, and “Germinal” by Emile Zola. The middle two I have abandoned. “Ragged” because, though many socialist friends have recommended it in the past, I found it unreal, not well-written and belonging to an age of the past where most active socialists rest their case. “Chrome” because it was also unreal, set amongst a world of rich and shallow people to who I could not relate. “Germinal” I will finish because it is so powerfully written and convincing, and because it touches on both rich and poor of a distant past.

“Are you positive?” has no ending. It portrays a fictional court case and leaves the reader to decide the verdict. However, at the end of it all, my eyes have been opened: it has cast doubt upon a subject where before I had none. I knew that HIV caused AIDS, that you die of AIDS (or actually the diseases to which you are no longer immune),  and that HIV is passed by blood or semen or both which is of no direct concern of to me since I am not a haemophiliac, do not inject things into my body with dirty needles, and always wear a condom. Now I am not so sure, and have therefore discarded the condom.

The trial concerns a young man accused of murder. The prosecution state that he knowingly had unprotected sex with a younger woman fully aware that he was HIV positive. She consequently became HIV positive, took the prescribed medication and died of liver failure. The masterly defence lawyer calls upon expert witnesses from around the world in order to prove that:-
  • ·         The tests for HIV are flawed and anyway only show the presence of antibodies – proof that you have had HIV and your body’s immune system developed a defence against it, or that you inherited that defence.
  • ·         That there is no proof that HIV leads to AIDS.
  • ·         That the medication given to HIV positives to prevent the onset of AIDS kills many of them.
  • ·         That HIV is not transmitted by heterosexual intercourse.
  • ·         That the reason for death allocated to HIV positives is recorded as AIDS when it may be something else entirely.

All of this took me back to San Francisco, somewhere near Alcatraz prison, in the late 1980’s. Listening to the sales pitch of a super-confident and racist man who presided over the company supplying some technology we were about to buy, I was shocked when he suddenly announced, “AIDS…it's something that homos, actors and druggies get. We’re better off without ‘em.” And it reminded me too of TV coverage given to America’s favourite princess, Diana, bravely holding the hand of an AIDS sufferer to prove to us all that aristocrats were immune. It’s that blue blood, you know.

Is it possible that the entire AIDS mountain is based on a fallacy? That Robert Fallo who is said to have made a fortune from the patents surrounding the HIV virus and its detection in humans and who is also  said to have stolen the virus from the French (oh no, not the “French disease” again), was in fact, intentionally or otherwise misleading the whole world.

The trial and its background is seen through the eyes of a lady reporter who is convinced that her brother died as a result of taking the HIV medications and whom she had encouraged to do so. She has little doubt that the AIDS Industry is there to preserve itself and its income. Personally, I really don’t know.

If in doubt, consult the oracle. Not surprisingly, the Web is full of contradictory arguments. One site provides quote after quote disparaging the case for HIV=AIDS from seemingly pucker sources such as the Sunday Times and Lancet. However, there are others which argue the opposite, for example the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has an online paper providing a myriad of references to research studies which are said to prove the link between HIV and AIDS. It lists, then systematically destroys, a whole series of AIDS myths. Who is right? I still don’t know. But I am left with a question mark in an area of my brain that was formerly quite positive.

Meanwhile, should we be spending a fortune on medication for AIDS in Africa where there may be deeper problems like malaria and unclean water and civil wars – killers all? What do you think?

Wednesday, 8 October 2014

Walking, working and following the band - Spain again.

I‘ve settled back into my second country after the trek (in our motor caravan) across  Europe. It is nice here, though the weather’s a bit too hot so I’ve taken to a siesta. I start work on the caseta reasonably early, go home for lunch at one, by which time it is pretty much unbearable (especially becuase the flies love it), bit of a nap and a read then back down at three – by which time part of my little building site is in shade.

On Sunday I went on a walk organised, I think, by the local government. I’m not much of a group walker, but thought it would be interesting. A friend picked me up and we arrived at Nonaspe, a village some way to the north at nine-thirty. Things seemed pretty quiet at the starting point (the main square of the village) and that was not suprising since we were told that everyone else had started out two hours earlier!

We became known as “the ultimos” – the last ones -  and seemed to get special attention from the many helpers dotted along the way: we were often mentioned on the radio links (as the ultimos). The two ladies at the starting location actually applauded as we returned. Anyway, for us two it was not a group walk at all, though we did meet some of the returning heroes from the long route – they looked so professional, and hot. Nevertheless the walk was great; after a stumbling start we ascended to a ridge which gave a lovely view of the curving Mataranya River framed by a vast, striated cliff beyond which, I think was the Ebro, the river that ours joins and is then swept down to the Mediterranean.

The walk cost fifteen euros, and that included a meal – of sorts - canteen paella swilled down with dubious white and red wine diluted, for taste, with soda water. It was held in the vast and modern sports hall which even the smallest villages hereabouts seem to have. There were a few hundred of us there and we took up only a fraction of its extent. It was fun though. Once it was discovered that I came from La Fresneda, then someone was dragged out of the crowd and introduced to me. She was born in Nonaspe, but now lived in our village. Such camaraderie between fellow villagers.

Our favourite village in the area of the Mataranya, beside our own of course, is Cretas. We disliked it at first, seeing only its uninteresting main street and the unsightly modern development to the east. Then we discovered its wonderful plaza, its bars, its wine festival, and its late-in-the-year fiesta. Last night we went to the opening night of the latter, and followed the jota musicians and singers around the delightful antique streets. At regular intervals we stopped at tables laden with savoury or sweet tid-bits and, since this was supposed to be a tour of the bodegas (the wineries), there was also sweet, sour, or red wine available in little plastic cups – all free. I cannot imagine a better way to spend a warm October night – or maybe I can. Anyway, it was delightful. I was the only one left of our small party at the end – around two thirty in the morning – and they did save the best to last. More music, snacks and wine, but this time in the vast innards of an olive oil press, dwarfed by the olive grinder and using the presses to stand our drinks on. I was introduced to the mayor of Cretas, I believe that this glorious night’s expense was on his tab.