“Everyone has AIDS!” – When Did AIDS Become a Punchline?


I watch an undue amount of television and films and have begun to wonder: when did it become okay to joke about AIDS? And when is a joke a joke too far?

When did AIDS stop being a histrionic soapbox issue in one isolated, “very special” TV episode (à la Designing Women) or a story arc for a regular character (à la Life Goes On and its Chad Lowe character “Jesse” – which actually handled it pretty well – but didn’t that show have enough going on with an economically strapped middle-class family rearing a Down Syndrome kid, an overachieving nerd kid and a late-in-life, unplanned pregnancy, among other things?).

Back in the early days of the crisis, which rightfully terrified every person conscious and alive at that time, we did not see a lot of gay stories on TV (we know of course that all AIDS stories were not gay stories, but the dearth and lateness of mainstream stories can be placed squarely on the fact that network television was not the semi-gay-friendly place it has now become), but there were some exceptions – Designing Women had a particularly poignant episode guest starring a very young Tony Goldwyn (yes, yes – President “Fitz” Grant from Scandal).

AIDS showed up in pop culture now and then… but when did it become okay to joke about it?

When you think about treatment for HIV and AIDS – and the awareness of it – it has advanced further and faster than advances in almost any other disease or illness. I’d attribute it to the persistent, loud demands of won’t-take-no-for-an-answer activism from an hitherto marginalized community of gay men who were disproportionately affected by this epidemic. We can all thank them – even if, as one characterization of the crisis puts it, we have ended up in a “complacent” or “indifferent” place in society with regard to what is now a treatable illness.

But does this advancement mean that all of societal perception has shifted? Does the tempering or perceived neutralization of the threat and the almost-distant memory of the devastation AIDS once caused in the western world mean that we have reached a stage where we can laugh at it? Young people today (I know I sound elderly starting a sentence that way) did not live through the fear and terror of those early years and thus don’t feel the same limitation or deference to the topic’s seriousness. It’s seen as a “developing-world issue” if it is thought of at all. Taking that into account, is it possible for some of the humor to be intelligent analysis or satire of the place we are with the disease – or with other things in society when held up to it? And where is that line? What happens when someone crosses it?

A woman named Justine Sacco found out the hard way, as she completely failed to walk the tightrope when she tweeted something that went viral and was widely seen as completely inappropriate and in horrible taste. (Her Tweet read: “she tweeted: “Going to Africa. Hope I don’t get AIDS. Just kidding. I’m white!”)

“Despite Ms Sacco only having around 200 followers, the message quickly spread to online news organisations, with social media users around the world expressing their disgust.

The irony of a supposed public relations expert tweeting such an insensitive comment, and the fact it could not be corrected during a 12-hour flight without an internet connection, meant the hashtag #HasJustineLandedYet was soon trending on the social media site.”

Apart from being a perfect example of displaying very bad judgment, it is also a perfect illustration of the viral nature of social media and why we have to be careful.

But pop culture is… well, popping with all kinds of increasingly frequent joking references to AIDS. From the parody of the popular musical Rent in Team America: World Police with its “Everyone Has AIDS!” song

to the South Park play on the different meanings of the homophones “AIDS” and “aides” (which reminds me of my days observing TESOL/ESL courses; one afternoon one of the teachers discussed acronyms and had used AIDS as an example – later in the lesson, although on a different topic, she introduced the word “aides” and asked the perplexed class, “Do you think Bill Clinton has aides?”).

What prompted this entire train of thought on the subject, apart from watching the heartwrenching HBO treatment of The Normal Heart last week, was my marathon-viewing of Comedy Central’s Inside Amy Schumer, and an episode in which Amy’s boyfriend announces he has AIDS (humorously summarized here). Seeing it almost shocked me because I was not sure whether to find it funny or not. I think Schumer stayed on the right side of the humor because she was not actually laughing at AIDS but was shining a light on a lot of different issues, ranging from hypocrisy to the awkwardness of conversations in which you feel a certain pressure to accept or agree to things that you need time to process, regardless of what they are (but when put on the spot, it is not like you know what to say, so when the boyfriend asks if his having AIDS is a dealbreaker, she nervously, awkwardly chimes, “No, it’s great!”).

The question, though, cannot really be answered universally – where is the line?

RIP Maya Angelou – The Nature of People


I have given a lot of thought to people, their behavior and what those behaviors mean – what they say versus how they actually behave and the space between those two things. People do give a lot of indications about who they really are in how they handle things – even if their verbal statements say something entirely different (verbally, people project who they wish they were as opposed to who they actually are. Words vary between good intentions and false advertising, but they are never the actual measure of a person.)

I enjoyed, therefore, revisiting some of Maya Angelou’s wisdom on the recent occasion of her passing. One of the starkest, truest pieces:

“I’ve learned that you can tell a lot about a person by the way he/she handles these three things: a rainy day, lost luggage, and tangled Christmas tree lights.”

RIP Maya Angelou.

Baked goods & recipes – May 27


When I finally came out of hibernation and baked, I ended up making nine different things to take to my office. I had a list of more things than that but was so slow in the baking process that I was not even sure I would manage to make the nine things I did. But here is the recount and all the recipes, for those who care:

M&M cookies

MMM MMMMMM ... M&M cookies

MMM MMMMMM … M&M cookies

White chocolate macadamia nut cookies

Ever-popular favorite: White chocolate macadamia cookies

Ever-popular favorite: White chocolate macadamia cookies

ANZAC biscuits

Deceiving you into thinking they're healthy: ANZAC biscuits

Deceiving you into thinking they’re healthy: ANZAC biscuits

Nanaimo bars

Nanaimo bars for all those times you don't count calories and/or want to pretend you're Canadian

Nanaimo bars for all those times you don’t count calories and/or want to pretend you’re Canadian

Coconut macaroon shells filled with dark chocolate ganache

Gluten-free doesn't mean it's not amazing: Dark chocolate ganache filling in coconut macaroon tart shells

Gluten-free doesn’t mean it’s not amazing: Dark chocolate ganache filling in coconut macaroon tart shells

Chocolate chip cookies stuffed with Reese’s peanut butter cups

Heart attack in cookie form: Reese's peanut butter cup stuffed in giant chocolate chip cookie

Heart attack in cookie form: Reese’s peanut butter cup stuffed in giant chocolate chip cookie

Chocolate cookies with Andes mint chips

Using the rare Andes mints for chocolate mint cookies

Using the rare Andes mints for chocolate mint cookies

Chocolate cookies with Reese’s peanut butter chips

Using up peanut butter chips brought by "chip mule" from the States - chocolate cookies with peanut butter chips

Using up peanut butter chips brought by “chip mule” from the States – chocolate cookies with peanut butter chips

Shortbread with chocolate sprinkles

Perennial favorite - buttery shortbread with chocolate sprinkles

Perennial favorite – buttery shortbread with chocolate sprinkles

Coconut macaroon shells with dark chocolate ganache filling

coconut macaroon chocolate ganache tarts

coconut macaroon chocolate ganache tarts

Yes, a whole new experiment. Gluten-free and probably delicious if you like coconut and/or dark chocolate. I tried to make some gluten-free carrot cookies the other night – no dice. Horrible disaster.

But these – they look and seem (although I don’t know about taste) lovely.

You can make them yourself – not difficult!

Coconut macaroon shell recipe
1 1/2 cup coconut
2 large egg whites
1/4 cup sugar

Combine ingredients. Mix and press into mini muffin pans that have been sprayed with non-stick spray. Bake at 175C for 18 minutes until the edges of the shells are golden brown (but the inside is not!). Let the shells sit for five minutes when removed from the oven. Remove from the pan while still warm. Let them cool completely.

gluten-free coconut macaroon shells

gluten-free coconut macaroon shells

Dark chocolate ganache filling
8 ounces dark chocolate
1 cup heavy cream

Heat cream to a simmer. Pour over chopped chocolate. Let it sit for a minute to soften. Whisk until completely smooth and thick. Fill cooled coconut cups with the ganache and refrigerate.

coconut macaroon chocolate ganache tarts

coconut macaroon chocolate ganache tarts

The Neutrons


I got pulled into (not by gravity) the reboot of COSMOS hosted by Neil deGrasse Tyson and spent all of Saturday watching it. While it was fascinating, I found that the explanation of the atom could not compare with the one presented on the late 70s/early 80s tv sitcom WKRP in Cincinnati, in which a character, Venus Flytrap, actually breaks down these complicated concepts into the most understandable terms possible. Watching this clip actually led me down nostalgia lane, so I watched a few other classic WKRP clips and laughed all over again.

Gluten-free carrot sandwich cookie: FAIL


I have a great recipe for carrot sandwich cookies. People love them.

Because a colleague in my team at work eats gluten-free, I attempted to adapt these by substituting the flour with almond flour. I am not sure whether that was just not “flour-like” enough or, quite possibly, the carrot was just too wet – I tried to dry the grated carrot, but it produced what seemed like liters of carrot juice… and that may well have been the culprit. Or a disastrous mix of both!

The consistency of the dough/batter was right – that is, it was the same as when I have made these with regular wheat flour. But that means very little in the big scheme. These still just *did*not*work*. No two ways about it.

Auspicious beginnings for failed gluten-free carrot cookies

Auspicious beginnings for failed gluten-free carrot cookies

And my state of mind otherwise, with a mini-marathon bake and little private life worries… another week.

Built my world around certain things you say,
I think of nothing else at the close of day
except for maybe how I ended up this way
another drink before you go…

Collection of Political Incorrectness


Sometimes many years pass between having contact with people. So much time passes, in fact, that when your mind’s Rolodex (and yeah, old-style folks like me have a mental Rolodex rather than some slick electronic device or database) hits upon someone from the past, good or bad, it does seem like such a length of time has passed that it is unlikely you will ever talk to them again.

One such person, for me, was a friend/roommate I had in Iceland about 15 years ago. Our lives have moved forward in very different ways, and after about 2004, we did not talk much – a few times between 2004 and 2008. But I moved to Norway and I don’t think we had so much as one conversation after that.

Tonight, he was sitting in the airport in my hometown and rather randomly thought of me after all this time and gave me a call. Nice to catch up, of course, but the point of all this (and this is something I had sort of forgotten about him – this unintentional humor. Not unintentional humor of the Road House variety. Unintentional humor that he is fully in on/understands, i.e. he does something silly, sticks his foot in his mouth and immediately gets that whatever it was was not smart… but he can laugh about it).

During our call, he was sitting in the airport talking loudly, saying, “All the cashiers at the burger place are Asian women. I think they found something more they could do than just work in massage parlors.”

Then there was a pause, and he said in a very serious, matter of fact way, like he was going to change the subject, and say something like, “I learned you have to take a little subway to get to the other terminal.” But instead he deadpanned, “I just learned that I cannot say things like that out loud.”

I burst out laughing so hard and could not stop, imagining the disapproving dirty looks people were giving him for his loud, unintentionally racist commentary. HAHAHAHA. Too much.

Not that racism of any kind is funny – it was imagining the setting – this guy oblivious to everyone around him, saying everything that came to mind – kind of the danger of mobile devices. People tend to forget to censor themselves.

And for kicks…

About other people I have not seen in years – but in this case keep up with on social media – a former colleague recently posted an article, “I Have Dwarfism and It Shouldn’t Be Awkward to Talk About It”. The article delves into the subtle and not so subtle forms of discrimination people with dwarfism may face beyond just that general awkwardness people feel talking about it – or talking to them about it, rather.

Good article, and it brought to mind an unrelated news article I had seen a few days ago. The writer of the article on dwarfism stated, “I often think that it’s a good job the Metropolitan Police don’t operate a policy of ‘size profiling’. If they did, life would be constantly interrupted by being stopped and searched, mistaken for someone else who wasn’t me; they just fitted the description: white, male, and under 4’6”. To be clear: this is not about dwarfs like myself being more likely to commit crime than average height people.”

In the news article I read, a woman asks a gas station clerk for help because her boyfriend (who is outside the store) has terrorized and abused her. How the aforementioned dwarfism article, though, sprang to mind is because it states, “Dean (the gas station attendant) looked out to the car and saw a familiar face. He didn’t know the name, but he knew the man. He says it was Mark Francis Valucus. Valucus is especially distinctive because he is small; 4 feet, 3 inches.”

After reading the dwarfism article, I wondered if the store clerk actually recognized a ‘familiar face’ or, like the guy in the dwarfism article posits, “all people with dwarfism look the same”.



The fact that I am home on a Friday night watching Cosmos and catching up on the week’s The Daily Show and Colbert Report while thinking about the discussion of big data going beyond just big data into “fast data” (that is, real-time data) and considering nature and its weirdnesses (for example, the Swede who crashed into a moose with his car; the moose was killed. Imagine the car driver’s surprise to learn that the moose, whose body was completely slashed open when it crashed through the windshield, had… “deposited” her as-yet-unborn calf in the backseat of his car. Stranger than fiction).

Fridays – cementing my nerdiness as usual.