HIV-2: How are we not all dead?

I’ve been reading tons of books on emerging viruses and watching TV shows like the Syfy channel’s new HelixNot only am I convinced humankind is on the brink of annihilation, I’m actually surprised we’re not all dead yet. My latest fright came from reading up on the origins of the name “HIV” for the virus that causes AIDS. I was trying to get the timeline correct before my blog entry on how badly the makers of The Dallas Buyers Club got some of the specifics wrong. What I found really blew my mind.

HIV-1 up close

HIV-1 up close

Did you know that there are two types of HIV? I thought that I was well-educated because I understood that the virus could mutate into slightly differing forms and that this is why creating a vaccine is challenging for all viruses — that’s why our flu vaccine each year targets several strains instead of there being a “universal” flu vaccine. I sort of had that right. But not really.

There is actually HIV-1, and that is the virus that has so tragically killed all of my gay brothers throughout the United States and Europe. HIV-1 comes in all types of lovely subtypes, wherein type “M” is the most common “major” grouping. It is composed of subtypes A, B, C, D, F, G, H, J, and K. Sometimes, two of the subtypes meet up and have babies (called circulating recombinants) such as CRF A/B — the result of subtype A meeting up with subtype B in a cell and mixing up all of their genetic material to create something new and horrible and deadly. In addition to the major grouping “M”, there is the “outlier” group “O” and the “new” group “N”. Some scientists suspect that the types M, O, and N were created during specific, unrelated jumps of monkey viruses to humans.

All of these different subtypes can be tied to areas of the world where they are most common. For instance, subtype C is what’s infecting everyone in Africa. Subtype B is what wiped out San Francisco and NYC.

And it gets worse. You can get infected with one subtype of HIV and then get “coinfected” with another. Then they double team your body to make things even worse. Scientists didn’t always believe that this was possible. In fact, in the 80’s when the CDC was trying to get the gay men of the US to alter their sexual habits, they specifically said that things would be fine if all HIV+ men slept with other positive men, and all HIV- men slept with only negative men. They mistakenly lead the positive men to believe that they didn’t need to protect themselves anymore. I don’t think this issue is common knowledge even today.

And it gets even worse. This is all without mentioning HIV-2. HIV-2 causes a disease like AIDS, but it isn’t AIDS. It just seems like AIDS. I’m a little confused by that. I’m also a little confused by the fact that we don’t test for HIV-2. Supposedly, it is really rare, and that is why we don’t test for it. I’d love to hear someone explain that to me. Back in 1976, HIV-1 was pretty rare — but it sure would have saved a lot of lives had we been able to test for it…did test for it. Why is HIV-2 not a threat? Available treatments for HIV-1 related AIDS are not effective on HIV-2 related AIDS, so it seems like it would be a HUGE threat to all of us.

Why have I not heard more about this, and why aren’t we more frightened?

Thanks to for sharing this information.

When Feminazis Attack: Dunham Mauls Reporter Over Nudity Question

I’ve become a pretty loyal fan of the HBO show GIRLS — that fresh new take on NYC life from the perspective of a pack of early 20-something girls right out of college (written, produced, directed, edited, cast, and generally birthed by Judd Apatow’s new wunderkind, Lena Dunham). The show consistently scores major publicity (nearly always good), and I think this is because of its combination of particularly well–scribed leading characters and the writers’ complete lack of fear in granting them a POV without filter.



One of the most noted missing filters thus far is the lead character’s clothing. Yes, Hanna Horvath — another role filled by creator Lena Dunham — is naked a LOT.  She’s naked so often that I hear there is a college drinking game keyed to the number of boob shots in each episode. It’s been talked about quite a bit in the media, and such discussions ran a little heated last Thursday during a panel interview at the Television Critics Association press tour in Pasadena, CA. Dunham was asked to comment by a male reporter at the event:

I don’t get the purpose of all the nudity on the show by you particularly.  I feel like I might be walking into a trap where you’ll say something like, “Nobody complains about the nudity on Game of Thrones,” but I get why THEY are doing it — they’re doing it to be salacious and, you know, to titillate people.  But your character is often naked just at random times for no reason.

One would have thought the man had stood up and basically said, “you aren’t very attractive, and your show doesn’t seem to be very ‘deep’, so how do you explain the nudity?”

The panel was instantly enraged. One could barely distinguish the different speakers as they all yelled at once to answer the reporter who dared to find fault with their art — or with Dunham’s body.  In fact, after reading the entire transcript three times, I’m still not certain exactly what caused the infernal blowup. I must be another insensitive man.

Nudity...Just Because

Nudity…Just Because

From my interpretation, the reporter has noted that conventional cinema (i.e., not porn) sometimes contains nudity, but that nudity is shown for only two reasons he undertsands:

  1. It has artistic value. It is shown as part of a larger context; that is, the combination of the nudity and the dialogue and the expressiveness of the actors — blended within a specific environment and augmented with meaningful back story and carefully incubated tone — it all becomes a work of art that has value greater than the sum of its individual elements. In synergistic creations like these, to leave out the nudity would somehow radically destroy the artistic value of the entire scene. You know, it’s “deep”.
  2. It is shown for the sole sake of satisfying the audience’s prurient curiosity and fantasy. That is, it’s porn.

Dunham reacts explosively to the question. As do her fellow panelists. Executive producer, Jenny Konner, was even unable to answer the next question fielded to her…saying instead:

I literally was spacing out because I’m in such a rage spiral about that guy that I literally could not hear. I’m so sorry. I really don’t mean to disrespect you. I was just looking at him and going into this rage — this idea that he would talk to a woman like that and accuse a woman of showing her body too much. The idea, it just makes me sort of sick. And I just want to apologize to everyone. I’m going to try to focus now, but if I space out, it will be because of that guy. I’m not usually like that but I can’t believe he would speak to a woman like that.

Some newspapers writing about the event are throwing around words like “misogyny”. “Testosterone dominated press”. The “out of line” reporter.

Personally, I thought that it was a fair question. Given that she is not our society’s typical ideal of beauty, I think it does warrant an answer. I believe that she must have desired to be provocative by performing in the nude in unusual contexts — so it is also somewhat disingenuous of her to pretend to be surprised or insulted when asked to explain the intent behind it. For example, I’ve not been able to divine any deeper meaning from the scene where she eats cake while sitting naked on the bathroom floor. I’m left guessing that it might have something to do with women’s body image struggles. Or it might have been really hot outside.  I’d honestly like to know what her answer to that question would have been if she had not been so offended by it. For all I know she’s revealing a long hidden secret about all women. Or cake tastes better in the buff. I’ll never know.

UPDATE 2014/01/13: When I wrote this post, I totally forgot that I had given a shout out to the series in an earlier blog entry — an entry where I myself posed the question, “why are you naked all the time!?!?” It’s a question on peoples’ minds whether Dunham wants to admit it or not.

Scotopic Sensitivity (Meares-Irlen Syndrome): Proof English Teachers Suck

I stumbled across a medical journal article completely by chance not that long ago, and it focused on the disorder called Scotopic Sensitivity (aka, Meares-Irlen Syndrome). In a nutshell, this is an eye disorder that causes text seemingly to vibrate when there is high contrast between the ink and the paper — such as black text on bright white paper. 1 I have the disorder.  Unfortunately, I had no idea.

Read what?

I have to read what?

From my earliest memory of reading books, I can recall that it hurts. Real, physical pain. The effect of the vibrating letters is one of a headache. It’s much like the “brain freeze” that one gets when drinking too quickly a beverage that is too cold, except that this pain happens continually while I’m reading, and it stops almost instantly when I look away. It only happens with textbooks and other print on similarly bright–white paper. The fluorescent lighting found in most classrooms exacerbates the effect.

Until recently, I didn’t know that this had a name. I didn’t know that others experience it. In fact, I didn’t exactly know that *I* experience it. When one has a certain physical sensation his entire life, he often doesn’t perceive it is a special feeling that is totally distinct from just “being”. Yes, it comes and goes with the reading — but it isn’t necessarily clear that reading should not feel that way. Like a brain freeze. You assume that’s just the way cold drinks feel sometimes.

As with any hardship in life, people adapt. Because I found it to be so unpleasant, I adapted simply by reading as little as possible. My adaptation has led me to an epiphany about my educational experiences:

You don’t have to read the material to do well in literature courses, and most teachers are horrible.

The teachers want you to distill the text into a set of themes/issues that are common to our lives. The literature means something beyond the obvious. “Good writing” tells a story on the literal level and on the metaphorical level. Talented teachers can lead a discussion that incorporates both. Untalented teachers too quickly stray from the text and facilitate group discussions that are only about the theme subjects, and students don’t need to know the text to give their opinion on issues like good versus evil, forms of love, the essence of bravery, etc. In one of these poorly run discussions, a student only needs to be reasonably articulate. No answer is the “right” answer because students are not required to give opinions that are directly supported by specific character dialogue or plot points. It’s a circus of dull opinions. The teacher mistakenly believes that the students are “engaged with the material” as they argue the inevitability of fate (or some other generic theory given to them). Best of all, the untalented teacher will outline the entire plot of the text as he forms ever more obvious, leading questions such as “when John stabs his mother and says, ‘oh shit’ — is he thinking about literal shit related to his work at the shit factory, or is it metaphorical shit because the act is so distressing?” Got it. John works at the shit factory and stabs his mother to death in Chapter 2.

The reading list for my “honors” English course in college had 30+ books on it — everything from Freud’s On Dreams to Homer’s The Odyssey. They were printed using text that vibrated. I read none of them. I listened intently to the class discussions and participated in class whenever possible. Before making a bold statement in a paper, I would ask a friend if there were obvious contradictions to it in the story that “I had missed somehow”. I got an ‘A’ on every paper and an ‘A+’ for the course.

Adaptation is everything. Well, that and having horrible teachers.

UPDATE 2014/01/10: A good friend sent me an email asking me how it is that I am able to make a living in which I’m constantly having to read text. It’s simple, really. I adjust my computer monitors to very low contrast, and the issue goes away. I often receive comments from people seeing my computer screen for the first time saying things such as, “how can you read that — it’s so dark?”  That’s how.


  1. If you’re curious about the experience of Scotopic Sensitivity, check out this online demonstration showing how text on white paper appears to me.