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  • February 25, 2009

    What if AIDS started in the Internet era?

    [Posted by ]

    I've spent the last couple of days re-reading And The Played On. I still think Randy Shilt's book about AIDS is the greatest piece of journalism in modern history. If you haven't read it, you should.

    Anyway, reading the book again made me wonder about how different the early days of AIDS would have been in the Internet era.

    First of all, the early days of AIDS are a prime example of how the "legitimate" mainstream media's gatekeepers can wreck havoc. Writing about one of the first CBS news stories about AIDS, Shilt says:

    Of all of the sentence in this story, probably none was so pointedly directed at the fundamental problem than Rather's own lead-in, "you rarely hear a thing about it." As managing editor of the "CBS Nightly News," Rather passed the news judgment that made AIDS a disease that one rarely heard anything about. Three years later, television commentators would still be talking about AIDS as that disease you rarely heard anything about, as if they were helpless bystanders and not the very people who themselves had decreed the silence in the public media.

    Imagine an epidemic like AIDS striking today. You wouldn't have to wait for the New York Times to write about it. You'd be reading about it in blogs, in forums, on Facebook. Hell, if you wanted to, you could read about the first cases in the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. The internet is access to knowledge - something that was tragically lacking about AIDS in the early 1980s. Think about it, MMWR was mailed out to clinics and hospitals every week back then. Doctors and nurses were probably the only people that saw it. Now, anyone can read it pretty much anywhere and anytime they choose. Isn't that amazing?

    To be sure, there would be lots of crazy theories about the disease online. But there were lots of crazy theories without the internet. At least today, in the midst of all of the noise, you'd have a chance of finding some truth and taking some steps to protect yourself. For example, imagine that you needed a blood transfusion in 1982. Would it change your actions and demands if you knew the risks that entailed? Of course it would.

    Likewise, I'd like to think that exposure to information would not only have affected the public, but also their government. In the early 1980s, the government basically held all of their information about AIDS. Some officials feared scaring and/or offending gays, others had a vested interest in downplaying AIDS in order to keep budgets down or making sure funds weren't diverted to another organization. I think an epidemic like AIDS today would cause a bottom up demand for action, rather than a top down suppression of it.

    Just writing the words "top down suppression" make me sad. I love and admire Ronald Reagan, but AIDS spread on his watch and he and his administration have to shoulder some of the blame. Having read enough about Reagan and by Reagan, I have to believe that if had been honestly confronted early on about AIDS he would have done more. Whatever you believe about the man, he certainly had a good heart and had proven before that whatever he was, he wasn't a homophobe. Being a conservative isn't about not spending money when needed, it's about spending it wisely and efficiently. In the case of a worldwide epidemic, even the staunchest conservative would agree that institutions like the CDC and NIH are the places to turn.

    Basically, the internet makes it harder to tell a President or a top official just what he or she wants to hear. Like any other individual, they too now have the ability to get their news from thousands of different sources.

    It's ironic that those of us in marketing talk about the viral element of the internet, isn't it? The same forces that spread the "Kittens, Inspired by Kittens" video to over 2 million people since September, are the same forces that could have stopped a virus in its tracks much sooner.

    Posted by at 09:01 PM | Comments (0)     
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    February 24, 2009

    What passes for racism

    [Posted by ]

    A UW-Madison researcher issued a report today that claims:

    a decrease in racial prejudice during the Fall 2008 period between the Democratic Party's nomination of Barack Obama and the Nov. 4 election. They call it the Obama Effect

    So far, that's buyable, but the devil, as always, is in the details:

    About 300 non-black (white, Asian or Hispanic) college students in Wisconsin and Florida participated in a variety of experiments and surveys designed to measure stereotyping and implicit prejudice that is, the kind of prejudice that is typically described as "automatic" or "knee-jerk" and, although not directly stated, can influence people's behavior. The researchers found that 51 percent of the participants demonstrated automatic preferences for white people. The others had no preference or preferred blacks.

    This is significant because previous research, even Plant's own studies conducted on the same college campuses, typically has found that about 80 percent of white people demonstrate an automatic preference for other whites.

    Well, now I'm not buying anymore. By this definition of "racism", the 96% of blacks who voted for Obama would represent a huge upswing in racism, right? But this isn't about that kind of racism, it's solely about perceived racism against blacks:

    The researchers suspected that the dramatic change could be attributed to exposure to Obama during his presidential campaign and sought to find out if there was indeed, a connection. To do so, they asked participants what comes to mind when they think of African-Americans and what they anticipated would come to mind for others when they think of African-Americans. Participants listed a range of responses, including traits, physical characteristics, food items and people. Almost 22 percent listed Obama on at least one list, and 50 percent named at least one other positive exemplar such as Martin Luther King Jr.

    I'm so curious about the criteria behind this. What traits or food items, etc. are considered "racist" to associate with blacks? If I associate "collard greens" is that racist? Likewise, if I saw the word "Wisconsin" on a screen and said "cheese", does that mean I'm racist against the good people of Wisconsin? I guess what I'm challenging here is the notion that stereotypes are "racist". It seems to me that "bad" stereotypes are racist while "good" stereotypes aren't. If this is the case, can someone send me a list of good and bad stereotypes by sex, religion and race so I know how to not offend anyone?

    Or maybe that's not it - maybe what the key here is is simply all about Obama. Any Obama association is somehow "not racist".

    Although researchers found a decrease in stereotyping of blacks, it is still notable that 51 percent demonstrated a bias against blacks, Plant said.

    "Our findings suggest that these people are less likely to have positive exemplars and words related to Obama's campaign come to mind when they think of black people," Plant said. "However, it is not clear why they responded this way. It is possible they were less exposed to the campaign media blitz. Alternatively, the strength and stability of their racial attitudes may have resulted in a resistance to change."

    Okay, read this sentence again: "Our findings suggest that these people are less likely to have positive exemplars and words related to Obama's campaign come to mind when they think of black people."

    Let me get this straight. Merely associating Obama's campaign with black people is a sign of not being racist? Really? So, in the future if I'm in a similar study and I associate the word "black" with "presidential failure" will that be a sign of my racism or my anti-racism? Just wondering.

    Posted by at 12:42 PM | Comments (1)     
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    February 21, 2009

    A Short & Incomplete List of Famous Twitterers

    [Posted by ]

    I've become a more of fan of Twitter in the last few weeks. I've been following the Tour of California through the tweets of various members of Team Slipstream.

    What I'm enjoying about Twitter is the ability to get completely unfiltered news - straight from the horse's mouth, if you will. Of course, "news" is defined rather loosely as "stuff I'm interested in". Anyway, here are a few celebrities/bloggers you might want to check out:

    Rainn Wilson
    Dr. Drew
    Ann Althouse
    George Stephanopoulos
    Dave Zabriskie
    Shreve Stockton
    Christian Vande Velde
    Snoop Dogg
    Lance Armstrong
    Glenn Reynolds
    Shaquille O'Neal
    James Lileks
    Summer Glau

    Anyway, that's just a few - I'd love to get tips on other interesting people in the comments.

    Also, does it strike anyone else that Instapundit was truly the original Twitterer?

    Posted by at 10:17 AM | Comments (1)     
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    February 14, 2009

    Hi Mom - Don't Send Money

    [Posted by ]

    When I argue against socialism, I always fall back on the familiar arguments about how socialism removes incentives to be great, rewards the lazy and encourages mediocrity. While I still think that's true to a certain extent, it's not the best argument. Truly great people aren't just driven by a desire for money. They're driven by the desire to be great. Plus, let's face it, financial success doesn't equal happiness for everyone. I was reminded of that by this cheesy website:

    On a beautiful beach on a far flung island lies a simply dressed young man looking out to sea. A well dressed stranger walks by and they get to talking.

    The well-to-do stranger asks the young man what line of business he is in.

    "I occasionally fish." he replies.

    "So", suggests the businessman, "why don't you hire a boat, work hard and make some "real' money?"

    "Real money?" enquires the younger man, intrigued.

    "Why in no time at all you could earn enough money to buy your very own boat!"

    "But, why would I want to do that?" asks the young man, confused by the idea.

    "Because then you could take out your boat and hire another boat and have two boats fishing."

    "Two boats? Sounds complicated. Why would I want two boats?"

    "Because, my friend, you could then work up to having a whole fleet of boats all fishing for you!" continues the businessman concerned at the young man's lack of ambition.

    "But, why would I want a fleet of boats?" asks the younger still failing to see the bigger picture.

    The businessman, clearly frustrated at his young charge's lack of understanding, continues: "Because, then you could retire and do whatever you wanted!"

    "Like what?" questions the young man still oblivious to the obvious rewards.

    "Like, like, like..", replies the businessman, not quite believing the young man's inability to grasp a relatively straightforward concept, "Like lie on the beach all day if you wanted."

    "But I am lying on the beach." replies the young man.


    Okay, so what my argument should be is that socialism puts us at the mercy of our government. When we become dependent on government, we also become beholden to them. Witness what happened to Associated Bank. They took bailout money and now the rest of us feel entitled to dictate to them about how to reward their best employees.

    When you take from the government, you give up your freedom:

    Callers suggested those taking social security and the like should now wonder if they will be dictated to. Possible, people on the dole (food stamps, welfare, etc) are dictated to based on the same thoughts. We are giving you charity for a basic survival not so you can eat fine food on our dime.

    Some of the recently unemployed may be dreaming of taking time off, of traveling, etc. But of course, they can't do this and collect unemployment benefits. Once you take that money, you're legally obligated to perform certain actions. You've given up some freedom. You may not have a problem with that, but it's important to be aware of the trade off. It's like an adult child moving back in with his or her parents. The rent is cheap, but you've got to follow their rules. There are always strings attached

    That's how I see government. It's like a parent. It's there when we really need help, but that help is best reserved for really big things or really dire times. You should dread taking something from the government the way you'd dread calling up your parents and asking for money.

    So basically, I want Americans to be independent adults, not losers living in their Mom's basement.

    Posted by at 11:53 AM | Comments (2)     
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    February 05, 2009

    Mt. Rushmores of Sport

    [Posted by ]

    ESPN has an interesting feature on each state's "Mt. Rushmore" of sports stars. The idea is simply to pick the four top sports personalities connected to each state. Sometimes the connections are a little tenuous. For example, Secretariat is on Kentucky's Mt. Rushmore. While I'll be the last person to debate a horse's place on the hypothetical monument, I will debate Secretariat's place for Kentucky as he was born in Virginia, raced exactly once in Kentucky and had a good, but not great, stud career in the state. If you're going to pick a horse, at least pick a Kentucky-bred like Man 'O War.

    Anyway, Wisconsin's four are Vince Lombardi (no real argument), Hank Aaron (I guess), Brett Favre (kill me) and Al McGuire (really?). Left off the monument are people like Barry Alvarez, Ron Dayne, Eric Heiden, "Badger" Bob Johnson, Pat Richter, Mark Johnson, Curly Lambeau, Alan Ameche, Bob Uecker, Paul Molitor and Robin Yount and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Wow, for such a small state, Wisconsin really packs a sports punch.

    It's hard to pick my personal top four. Lombardi is an easy pick. I think there needs to be a Brewer in the mix and I'd honestly choose Yount over Aaron. I'd love to put a Badger on the monument, but I'd take "Badger" Bob over Alvarez, Richter or Ameche. Hockey's not as popular as football, but Johnson better exemplifies what Wisconsin is about. Finally, I adore Al Mcguire. I love this quote from him:

    I don't like to make appointments. When I drive to work each morning, I get to Capitol Drive. If I turn left, I go to the office. If I turn right, I go to Kenosha, Oconomowoc, all the little towns west, right down the line. And I always like to have the prerogative, to be able to turn right if I want to, drive up the road to a little bar where I can have a beer and a sandwich. Oh, I don't do it more than once every 10 or 12 times, but I like to know that I can do it. So I don't make appointments.

    I admire how he lived his life consciously, and also how he so obviously did exactly what he wanted.

    But I digress. As much as I like McGuire, he doesn't belong on Wisconsin's sports Mt. Rushmore. In his place I'd actually put Uecker. So that's my four: Lombardi, Uecker, Johnson & Yount. To me, those names best represent the sports accomplishments, culture and personality of Wisconsin.

    Posted by at 09:53 PM | Comments (2)     
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