Saturday, July 22, 2006


Are there benefits to cultivating the idea that you have AIDS? Cassey Weierbach thought so, correctly, and allegedly defrauded the state of Pennsylvania of $66,000. In addition to medical benefits, Weierbach's fake AIDS status inspired do-gooders to pay her rent, wash her clothes, and buy her groceries. It gave her a degree of celebrity. It allowed her to make an income on the lecture-circuit, partly through a group called Hope's Voice. "All I've ever wanted was to educate people about an illness that I live with every day," Weierbach told HIV Plus magazine. "I'm at the end of the disease, and I want to use the time I have left to put all I have into this project." She did that by speaking at colleges, high schools, and churches. The executive director of Hope's Voice cut ties with her when one night at a bar, during a speaking tour, Weierbach, supposedly in the final stages of full-blown AIDS, rose from her wheelchair, began dancing, and pounded shots.

But it was a local pastor who "outed" Weierbach as an HIV-negative individual. Reverend Lois Randolph, after leading efforts to help Weierbach, suspected that she was perfectly healthy, physically at least. She persuaded Weierbach to take an HIV test, and it came back negative. Weierbach denies she is HIV negative, and claims that her life as a lesbian caused a hateful preacher to destroy her life. ''It seems like she is going to make my life living hell,'' Weierbach told Allentown's Morning Call newspaper of Reverend Randolph. ''Do you hate me so much because I'm gay that you are willing to destroy my life?''

While it's easy to jump to the conclusion that the overall story supports the idea that AIDS no longer bears a stigma, a part of Weierbach's imaginative yarn, at least, undermines that notion. Weierbach claims she contracted the disease by being raped as a child. In other words, she didn't get the disease through behavior that parts of the population find objectionable. She became an AIDS victim through innocence--as a child, as a rape victim.

It's this part of the story that, psychologically speaking, is more intriguing, and perhaps more insulting to the groups traditionally afflicted with HIV. Weierbach felt comfortable claiming HIV status, but, for whatever reason, didn't concoct a more believable story about contraction, i.e., through drug use or chosen sexual activity. She said she was not only raped, but raped as a child. Naturally, this absolves her of the stigma of the disease even in the eyes of those most liable to stigmatize AIDS. Or, perhaps this con-woman knew, from observing the sympathy poured upon Ryan White, Mary Fisher, and others who had contracted the disease from means other than sex or intravenious drugs, what AIDS victims the public fawns over most. Since Weierbach still denies her clean bill of health, it's not likely that these answers will be forthcoming. Even if they were, deconstructing the motives behind those answers, rather than accepting the answers at face value, might be the unsatisfying result.

We know that Miss Weierbach claimed that she had AIDS when she didn't. We don't know why she claimed that she contracted the disease through a fantastic set of circumstances, when more readily believable explanations existed within her real life's behavior.

But why AIDS? Why not heart disease, multiple sclerosis, or some other horrible disease? Do they not pay, in terms of sympathy and dollars, the way AIDS does? Is there no lecture-circuit cash for, say, victims of cancer? Won't the government pay for the health care of all carriers of fatal illness? Cassey Weierbach knows the answers to these questions better than most.

HIV isn't what it used to be. It doesn't develop into AIDS and kill so quickly, and it no longer elicits such an awful stigma. Freddie Mercury, Eazy E, Liberace, and Rock Hudson saw no benefit in declaring their AIDS status to the world. But, unlike most other diseases, which inspire privacy in the afflicted, there is today a cottage industry of professional AIDS victims. That the disease is preventable, and can make life lonely among those in whom the disease is no longer preventable, makes such activity quite honorable and necessary. But, like everything, there's another side to things, another side where making a buck off such a horrible disease--a horrible disease that has an exalted status among diseases--stikes many as off-putting and unseemly. AIDS isn't just a death sentence any more. For Cassey Weierbach, AIDS is a living--and a lucrative one at that.



Or so food-faddist logic would say. Report from Britain below:

Many popular breakfast cereals contain as much salt and sugar as a packet of crisps or a chocolate bar, according to new research. There is even one brand with as much fat as in a packet of thick pork sausages. Parents will be shocked by the latest findings from the consumer organisation Which? as most believe a bowl of cereal is a healthy start to their children's day.

Despite claims by manufacturers that they have cut down on salt and sugar in cereals the watchdog scrutinised 275 brands and found that an overwhelming majority, some 76 per cent, had high levels of sugar, a fifth had high levels of salt and seven per cent contained saturated fat. The probe also found that of the 52 cereals marketed specifically for children some 88 per cent were high in sugar, 13 per cent high in salt and 10 per cent high in saturated fat.

The three overall worst offenders for children were Quaker Oatso Simple Kids (any flavour), Kellogg's Coco Pops Straws and Mornflake Pecan and Maple Crisp. These get red alerts for sugar and saturated fat. Kellogg's Coco Pop Straws contained the same amount of sugar as a two finger Kit Kat which has 34g sugar per 100g.

Which? is now calling on manufacturers to do more to reduce levels of these nutrients particularly in products appealing to children. It is also pressing firms to adopt the red, amber and green labels on front of packs so that shoppers find it easier to pick out the healthier products.

So far Tesco and leading manufacturers Nestle, PepsiCo, Kraft, Kellogg and Danone, have refused to endorse these red junk food labels on food advocated by the Food Standards Agency and instead prefer a complicated system of guidance daily amounts on packs.

Researchers at Which? worked out the colour coded alerts that should be included on front of pack traffic light labels for each product. The five worst offenders for sugar contained 10 or more teaspoons per 100g and three are aimed at children - Asda Golden Puffs, Sainsbury's Golden Puffs and Kellogg's Ricicles. The other two are Morrissons Golden Puffs and Tesco Golden Honey Puffs. A teaspoon of sugar is equivalent of 4gs sugar. Four of the five products contained more sugar per 100g than a Toffee Crisp which has 47.9g sugar. The highest were the Asda and Morrissons Golden Puffs with 55g sugar per 100g. Another nine cereals contained more than four teaspoons of sugar per suggested portion of which several were mueslis where the sugar came from dried fruit. Only 13 per cent of all products would have scored a green light label for sugar content.

More here


Last Monday, the usual gathering of dog-walkers were wandering the cliff-side park near Sydney's Clovelly beach. But the peaceful early morning scene was disturbed by the arrival of policemen who explained they were looking for a man with a baby. As they peered over the cliff face to the rocks far below, they were joined by the police helicopter, hovering along the rugged coast line. A desperate man with a two-month-old son. Yet another tragedy in the making, with a father pushed to the edge by fear our family law system would rob him of his child.

This baby and his father are still alive, but so often we've seen these situations end in disaster. Yet, never before, has a father had a better chance of fair treatment. In the past few weeks a revolution has taken place in the family-law system, designed to improve the lives of divorced children by letting dads remain part of their lives.

Sadly, the man responsible for this family-law revolution didn't live to see it. John Perrin didn't look like a powerful man. At first glance, John Howard's social issues adviser seemed plucked straight from the set of Yes, Prime Minister. With grey suit, thinning hair, glasses and a trim moustache, this formal, mild-mannered man was the very model of the silent bureaucrat. But Perrin, who died in late May at 53 from cancer, was a mighty influential political operator, who changed the social map of Australia. This month, some of his most important reforms were set in motion.

Perrin was long determined to fix our family law system, a system which he knew to be a festering sore of discontent in the community. Inquiry after inquiry had shown that there was bias against fathers in both the Family Court and the Child Support system. For years, Perrin talked and listened -- prodding the experts for new ideas. A plan for a revamp of the system gradually emerged.

This month would have been a great one for Perrin. The first Family Relationship Centres have opened their doors. These are key to the new system, which is all about trying to keep children's matters away from the adversarial system of lawyers and courts. The aim of the FRCs is to revolutionise the way parents care for children after divorce. This should see the fortnightly dad model thrown out the window and replaced by a range of alternatives that evolve and adapt as children grow older or family arrangements change.

There are also new laws which talk about children's right to know both their parents -- new language that pushes the notion of equal time, or at least "substantial and significant time", a very big shift from the fortnightly access pattern that has dominated in the past. Plus, the new laws stress that children benefit when parenting issues are decided outside the courts. The whole system is set up now to try to make sure this happens, with the FRCs offering child-centred mediation to help parents sort out parenting arrangements that are in their children's interests. Some will need only a few sessions, but warring couples will be referred to the high intensity Children's Contact Programs, which deal with highly conflicted couples who have often spent years fighting through the court.

Those who do end up in court will be also greeted by a new system, the Children's Cases Program, where judges talk directly to the parents and help them focus on their children's needs. And finally, there are changes to the Child Support system, designed to help fathers afford to care for their children. This remarkable package is only part of Perrin's legacy, but quite a tribute to an extraordinary man.


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