Blog of Mass Distraction

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Mistakes have been made

The big news these past few days has been about the 17 men arrested in the GTA for plotting a terrorist attack on targets in Southern Ontario. While there was one man who was older, I believe he was a bus driver in his forties, most of them were young men from middle class families living in the suburbs. They attempted to purchase 3 tons of fertilizer that could be used in a bomb similar to the Oklahoma city bombing (by Timothy McVeigh which only used 1 ton of fertilizer). The alleged terrorists were said to have been inspired by Al Qaeda and certain websites they visited but otherwise are not known to have links to international terrorist groups. They don't seem like they were the most cunning of terrorists (which I suppose is a good thing). The fertilizer they tried to buy was actually from an undercover officer and the 'training camp' they went to was just some paintball on some land they were trespassing on north of the city.
The real question is how could these young men have taken such vile and misguided views of their society and religion? How could their friends and families have failed them so miserably as to not foresee this kind of turn and prevent it from happening?
Unfortunately these arrests have also brought Canada on to the US security through insanity bandwagon. There are already people calling for curtailing of freedoms in hopes of increasing security. Cracking down on rights and freedoms rarely deters those that are determined. However more (and better) education along with a little guidance and leadership would go a long way in preventing young men and women from throwing their lives away by making such horrible mistakes. At least it's good to know that our security agencies were able to stop these men before anything terrible happened.

The Hamas led government in Palestine has been having its share of problems recently as well. Palestinian President Mahmood Abbas has proposed a referendum on an independent Palestinian state as part of a two-state solution (effectively declaring peace with Israel). Hamas has condemned this as an attempted coup against their democratically elected government. Also, in response to the Israeli murder of a Palestinian family, the Hamas government ended the truce with Israel. Israel shelled a beach claiming they thought rocket attacks might be coming from there. As a result they killed members of a family including a mother and several children.

Friday, June 02, 2006

25 years later

It was 25 years ago that HIV and AIDS first appeared. It was first seen as a rare form of pneumonia, or other AIDS related illnesses, that affected gay men in the United States. It was a few years later that it was discovered to be the monster virus that it is known as today. When scientists found out how it behaved they realized there was a pending epidemic; the extended dormancy of the virus (up to 10 years) meant that there were thousands if not tens of thousands already infected and showing no signs.
Moreover, because of the strange biology of the HIV virus it's extremely difficult to fight it, within ourselves or with medications. HIV has a high sugar molecule content in the shell that surrounds its genetic material. This provides a barrier that protects the virus and the shell itself is seen as an innocuous sugar particle by our immune system. The virus can also rapidly mutate giving it a very strong resistance to treatments and possible vaccines. The long dormancy period, previously mentioned, allows it to infect many other people while it quietly inhabits a victim's body.
While was initially seen as a disease affecting gay men (and the homosexual community is still dealing with it today), globally the face of AIDS has become poor women in the developing world. Women are disproportionately affected because men tend to have high risk behaviours and more sexual partners. Thus infected men will infect all women they have unprotected sex with. Marriage has become one of the highest risk factors for women in developing countries. Many husbands are forced to migrate to other regions to search for work and support their family. Many of these men will have other sexual partners while away from their wives or make use of sex workers. The husband becomes infected, returns to his family and infects his wife and she infects any new children they may have. This pattern has lead to an enormous number of AIDS orphans since both the parents eventually die of the disease and the children, many already infected, are left to be cared for by relatives or the eldest sibling. This has happened to millions of children in Sub-Saharan Africa.
Recently as well, India has gained the dubious honour of having the highest number of people living with HIV. It surpassed South Africa and now has some 5 million infected. The percentage of population however infected in India is still incredibly low; India has over 1 billion people, as opposed to South Africa with nearly 50 million.
Since its discovery AIDS has killed some 25 million people and there are now over 40 million people living with HIV. Last year alone about 2.8 million people died of AIDS related illnesses.1 That's over 7500 people each day. And over 500,000 of those whom died were children.

1. UNAIDS 2006 Global Report