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Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Where Do You Get Your Ideas - Part 2

by Guy Stewart

Some months ago, I promised Bruce I’d write an article if he gave me a book. Rather than the usual “review” thing, I challenged myself and told him I’d not only write an article, I’d generate one hundred science fiction or fantasy ideas from said book. Then I’d throw them into the ether and see if anything came of them.

Ahem…just so you know, I failed my challenge.

The book Bruce sent me was an uncorrected proof of Jonathan Engel’s THE EPIDEMIC: A Global History of AIDS. Among other reasons for my interest was the fact that my brother-in-law Dan had AIDS for over a decade, and yes, I wrote what I meant, he had AIDS. No, I do not mean he was HIV positive. I mean, he had AIDS, full blown with symptoms and various and sundry opportunistic infections that come with an AIDS compromised immune system. Because he was part of a massive research program through the University of Minnesota, and because he never gave up and was determined to beat the demon, Dan survived his AIDS infection. He got it through a blood transfusion because of some accident or another in the mid-1980s. Dan has been a hemophiliac since conception.

The book intrigued me and though I tried for an even 100 ideas, all I have to offer you is an odd 75 that were sparked by reading this book. Because I don’t want to overwhelm you (or bore you) with all 75 at once, I’ll give it to you in three parts. This is part 2 (Part 1 is here)

I’d give a bit of history, but if you don’t know anything about Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome, then go here (no matter what you think of Wikipedia, I contend that it’s a good place to START.)

All right then, to continue:

Idea # 26 – If “90 percent of gay men engaged in anal intercourse in the previous six months knew that condom us would diminish their exposure to AIDS” and “over 65% of them had engaged in unprotected sex during that period” (and these “results correlate with experiences of servicemen in WWI and WWII…”) what does this say about our methodology in educating not ONLY responsible sex…BUT THE REGULAR EDUCATION OF ALL HUMANITY. What if a real paradigm shift took place?

#27 – “condoms, when used properly…were impermeable to HIV…in vaginal intercourse”… “leaving researchers unsure of the efficacy of condoms in retarding the spread of HIV during anal intercourse.” Like all Humanity, condom makers went on a rampage passing out condoms and telling everyone it was the only way to stop AIDS…when it wasn’t. What if they had simply said they didn’t know? Where would the epidemic be today?

#28 – Regarding a testing regime…“Overall, the counsel argued, precise knowledge of the disease must supersede virtually all other considerations if an immense catastrophe was to be thwarted.” “Reagan…refrained from issuing a binding injunction.” But this provoked a massive gay march and the ACLU sued the government for $ 1 billion. All legislation was repealed. Conversely, a sorcerer enraged by his perceptions of a government that doesn’t care, curses Reagan and the assassin does not miss…

#29 – “Patients would need to be quarantined for life…” It didn’t happen, but if it DID and cities grew up around these quarantine zones. How did the face of North America change? How did the face of Africa change when witch doctors joined forces to lift every curse ever placed on the land, air and water?

#30 – The health crisis the Democrats are trying to solve in 2010 was started by them in 1986: “Democratic Washington, DC was the first to pass a law….against testing or anti-AIDS discrimination in any form…insurers were prohibited from testing, inquiring, or in any other way adjusting insurance premiums based on HIV status…insurers stopped offering individual policies entirely…” What if testing had been mandated from that point onward? Sketch the life and conflicts of an insurance adjustor in the early 21st Century that resulted from that decision.

#31 – “Like the GMHC (Gay Men’s Health Crisis) and Whitman-Walker, both Shanti and the AIDS Foundation had transformed themselves from informal community groups to sophisticated bureaucracies in the space of half a decade.” What if there was ONE shady character who embezzled $38 million from these organizations? What is the life of his executive secretary like?

#32 – “…ACT UP and the Lavender Hill Mob alienated the preponderance of people who witnessed their actions, possibly damaging the cause of AIDS more than it helped.” An urban sorcerer like Matthew Swift (A MADNESS OF ANGELS) becomes part of ACT UP and using soporific magic, calmed those actions…

#33 – “…1983 as the AIDS Medical Foundation…by Memorial Sloan-Kettering researcher Mathilde Krim, along with her husband United Artists chairman Arthur Krim…driving force behind GMHC...” What if these two met the ACT UP and Lavender Hill Mob and, unidentified, were targets of their “actions”?

#34 – “…while in most cases the drugs and regimens they found were worthless, the mere act of seeking seemed to assuage the need for action.” ONE of the drugs, while unable to cure or slow down AIDS, became known as the Seeker’s Cure, giving an almost beatific sense to the victim’s life. Conversely, rather than a drug, an incantation that does the same is discovered written on the walls of a London subway and begins to appear the world over.

#35 – “The tenor of drug regulation changed…with thalidomide…marketed broadly…was prescribed to over 20,000 Americans between 1958 and 1961, including 624 pregnant women…gave birth to hundreds of severely deformed babies, causing public outcry…” What if thalidomide and the Elixir Sulfanilamide (1937 – antibiotics in antifreeze given to children…) – which created the FDA never happened. Until 2007. Prior to that, tens of thousands of “AIDS cures” were put on the market. Predict the results and write a story about a “survivor”.

#36 – Same situation as above, however in the early stages of research into Children’s Antifreeze Flavored Syrup (1937) and the Tuskeegee Syphilis experiments (1932-1972), whistleblowers from the future exposed the whole thing before kids and men died and ushered in the Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act which birthed the FDA as a Work Projects Act employing thousands…and you take it from there.

#37 – “…the FDA…in 1987 formalized a system of accelerated trails in those situations where drugs could potentially remedy a life-threatening disease.” But say this never happened. Instead: “Besides being generally ineffective, many of these early drugs and interventions were actually harmful…contain toxic doses of lead…herpes and HIV…painful and damaging side-effects…” THIS happened on a gigantic scale, the government was blamed for the unconscionable murder of tens of thousands of AIDS patients.

#38 – What if “gay playwright and activist Larry Kramer” and a founder of ACT UP who wrote in the mid-1980s, “After three years, you have established only a system of waste, chaos and uselessness…” had DIED in the first wave of AIDS infections?

#39 – “Warned NIH researcher Fauci, ‘If you want to get the drug earlier to people, they’ve got to understand that the risk of toxic side effects is going to increase proportionately to the time that you give it earlier.’” A ‘wonder drug’ pushed through looks as though it’s a cure but small amounts that accumulate in the brain turn the person into an undead zombie who can pass AIDS to anyone it bites.

#40 – “One stunning statistic that came to light at this time was that 9 percent of all street children (“runaways”) [in New York and LA] were HIV positive by 1988, having contracted the disease through either childhood prostitution, drug use, or some combination thereof.” What if this number was 46%?

#41 – “The ‘shooting galleries’ where the [600,000] needle sharing [addicts] were not places where drugs were generally sold. Rather, addicts bought the drugs on the street and retreated into the galleries – often abandoned apartments in derelict buildings…Shooting galleries were most common in the poorest areas…” What if the number was 1,600,000 and, damning ACLU protests, the military intervened, clearing out and blowing up galleries everywhere, beginning and ending The War on Drugs of 1988-1991.

#42 – In 2020, a “Kramer”, wealthy, addicted – and HIV+ – and a son of a prominent televangelist , gets “religion” and travels back in time and initiates the arrest of or kills early, identified AIDS carriers.

#43 – “For nearly all the drug addicts at risk to AIDS exposure, the virus was of less concern than servicing their drug habits. Fear of a death a half-dozen years or more in the future paled in comparison with the driving need to get the next heroin injection or crack hit.” A descendant of several AIDS survivors whose blood carries powerful immune agents, travels back in time to change it all.

#44 – “Private [insurance] payers estimated that by 1989 they were paying nearly 50% of all medical costs associate with AIDS (versus the usual 34%), driving most to cut benefits for AIDS, exclude those who had the disease, or in the absence of information about disease status [it was illegal to ask] find proxies by which to exclude AIDS victims.” A being who lives on pain, terror – and in particular the despair associated with AIDS – is also an insurance actuarial mathematician and uses his job to locate…meals. What if you were a compassionate Christian and found out about this…creature. What would YOU do?

#45 – “…[in 1991] the usually liberal editor of the NEJM, Marcia Angell [wrote] ‘I believe that on balance, systematic tracing and notification of the sexual partners of HIV-infected persons and screening of pregnant women, newborns, hospitalized patients and health care professionals are warranted.’…Many people, including virtually all active members of AIDS activist organizations, gay community groups and civil rights groups rejected the proposal… ‘an erosion of civil rights and privacy protections could simply not be justified’” Place this belief system in Europe at the inception of the Black Death and write the story from the viewpoint of a Sister of Mercy who works with lepers.

#46 – “More acceptable than mandated testing to federal lawmakers and regulators was spending on education and outreach, which had been funded at increasing levels through the 1980s.” Americans have a fundamentally religious belief that education will solve all of our problems. But what if that belief grew into a REAL religion during the early years of the AIDS epidemic – the Church of the Education of Humanity? How would a former disciple be treated who saw reality and questioned the tenets of the new faith?

#47 – By the early 1990s, “One unexpected consequence of the strange patterns of AIDS was a housing crisis for patients. AIDS patients died slowly, often living two years or more after contracting the disease…AIDS patients found themselves on the street, and frequently even beyond the help of local shelters, which refused to allow them in. Their Orwellian plight seemed beyond the reach of social service safety nets.” What if AIDS was treated without emotional hyperbole and US citizens (and remember, the rest of the planet was suffering from AIDS as well) and other world citizens actually discussed the plight online and with an hyperbole filter, came to consensus (special interest groups were blocked as were people with known special interest affiliations). Just normal people talked…

#48 – Alternately, wily politicians on both sides of the political spectrum purchased a tract of land in central Arizona, perpetual funding and any variance they wanted and constructed a 1.5 million inhabitant, 21st Century AIDS colony staffed by volunteer doctors and health personnel and sealed off from the rest of the country (as well as protected by USAF jets to prevent nuking). What is the view from the inside? What is the view from the outside? Call the story “Colonizing Humanity”…

#49 – “A sort of nationally epiphany followed in the wake of [Magic] Johnson’s announcement [in the fall of 1991 that he was HIV-positive], and millions who had seen AIDS as beyond their purview and concern suddenly regarded the disease as a legitimate threat.” What is Magic had just curled up and slunk away?

#50 – While gay activists claimed slight, prejudice and Christian intolerance of their lifestyle and plight, “…the numbers simply did not support these harsh judgments. Whatever Bush’s personal feelings may have been toward gays, drug users, or AIDS victims generally, his POLICIES had favored AIDS to an unprecedented degree in the history of US health and research programs…the administration had raised its funding…by some 170% since 1988, with a projected $2.1 billion to be spent…AIDS spending topped all other diseases…120,000 AIDS patients annually [received] $20,000 per each death in 1992 versus $5000 for diabetes, $4000 for cancer, and $1000 or less for heart disease…” What if vindictive rhetoric had given way to FACT and COOPERATION rather than partisan name-calling? Where would the fight against AIDS be today? What if a democratic coven of witches had cursed Bush, bringing him down BEFORE his policies had been put in place?

So there you have it, 25 more ideas – I’m not taking votes on whether they are good, bad, or indifferent. They are simply here for your delectation. If they spark a different idea, cool! If a viable story comes from any of these ideas, I ask that you include my name in some form (forward, backward, first name, middle name, curse of power, name of a cow or pet rat, whatever) – oh, and let me know about it, too; I’d sort of like to keep track of what grows from these seeds.

All quotes above are from THE EPIDEMIC: A Global History of AIDS © 2006 Jonathan Engle. The following pages of the Uncorrected Proof are referenced:

#26 – p 85 ; #27 – p 86 ; #28 – p 93 , #29 – p 96 ; #30 – p 99 ; #31 – p 104 ; #32 – p 111 ; #33 – p 115 + 109 ; #34 – p 127 ; #35 – p 131-132 ; #36 – p 132; #37 – p 133; #38 – p 136 + 6 ; #39 – p 137 ; #40 – p 149 ; #41 – p 151 ; #42 – p 152 + 110 ; #43 – p 153 ; #44 – p 176; #45 – p 182; #46 – p 185 ; #47 – p 186 ; #48 – p 186-187 ; #49 – p 190 ; #50 – p 191-192
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