Friday, May 19, 2017

Introducing: Cross & Stethoscope

Exciting news:

I've started a new blog that actually has a direct purpose. Whereas TCM was built more for my odd ramblings and musings as they come, this new blog, Cross and Stethoscope, is going to be a life chronicle of where God is taking me though service, medicine, and missions.

It'll be a weekly blog, being published every Monday, with the odd extra bit thrown in mid-week. Monday is the guarantee, though.

Friday, January 20, 2017

A New Chapter

Today is an auspicious day. Today, Donald Trump, as the result of an extremely polarising election, becomes the 45th President of the United States.

Now, I know he was not the choice of ~ 51% of you, myself included, but the election is done. It's over. Trump won and, whether we like it or not, he is the soon-to-be POTUS.

Yes, he's got baggage. Yes, he's about as unpolished as a piece of gravel, but today begins a new chapter, both for America and for Trump, and I implore you, just as I did for Obama a little over 5 years ago, and again, and again, to grant Trump the respect due to his newfound position as POTUS.

Instead of responding with anger and fear, let us respond with prayer, love, and respect. Let us not hold his past actions over his head as he begins his presidency, but let us grant him a blank slate. During his time as president, let us judge him solely by his actions as president.

Who knows, he may surprise us in a way that we may have thought to have been out of character but we will never know unless we grant him that courtesy of a blank slate and pray.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

First AID(S)

Dec 1 is a day set aside globally to recognise an ongoing fight in public health. This fight, unfortunately, is often overlooked in the US, despite a large number of sufferers - after all, there's a solution and it's well-managed, right?

Not quite.

True, antiretroviral therapy (ART) is available to combat HIV/AIDS, but it's no silver bullet. No these drugs, at best, keep the virus in stasis (provided the drugs are taken like clockwork) and bring a host of negative side effects to the patients.

Did I mention that these drugs meed to be taken for the rest of one's life and that they aren't always cheap? Right, fancy that.

To put that in more perspective, though, let me run you by some statistics:
  • In the US
    • > 1.2 million individuals are living with HIV
    • ~39 500 individuals were newly-diagnosed in 2015
      • 67% were gay & bisexual men
        • 82% of all male diagnoses
      • 24% attributed to heterosexual contact
      • 6% attributed to injection drug use
    • African-Americans are 13% of the population, but represented ~ 45% of new diagnoses
New HIV Diagnoses in the United States for the Most-Affected Subpopulations, 2015
    • ~ 13 000 passed away from AIDS-related complications
    • Approximately 37% are on ARTs
  • In Sub-Saharan Africa
    • Approximately 24.7 million people are living with HIV
    • In 2014, there were 1.5 million new infections
    • Roughly 1.1 million individuals died from HIV/AIDS complications in 2014
    • Only 39% of individuals are on ARTs
    • South Africa, where I grew up, has a 19.2% prevalence of HIV in the adult population
      • Only 48% of those are currently receiving ARTs
      • South Africa has the biggest HIV epidemic of any country in the world
  • In Asia and the Pacific
    • Roughly 5.1 million are living with HIV
    • 300 000 were newly diagnosed in 2014
    • 180 000 passed away in 2014
    • 41% are on ARTs
  • In the Middle East and North Africa
    • 230 000 people are living with HIV
    • There were 21 000 new infections in 2014
    • There were 12 000 new deaths in 2014
    • Only 17% are on ARTs

  • In Latin America
    • 1.6 million are living with HIV
    • 94 000 are newly-infected as of 2014
    • 47 000 have passed away in 2014
    • 44% are on ARTs
  • In the Caribbean
    • 250 000 are living with HIV
    • 12 000 were newly-infected as of 2014
    • 11 000 had passed away
    • 42% are on ARTs
  • In Eastern Europe and Central Asia
    • 1.5 million were living with HIV in 2014
    • There were 190 000 new infections
    • 47 000 passed away from HIV/AIDS complications
    • 21% were on ARTs
  • In Western and Central Europe
    • Approximately 1.2 million are living with HIV
    • Approximately 50 000 were new infections
    • Approximately 9000 passed away
    • 59% are on ARTs

So, now that you're just a slight bit more aware of the global AIDS crisis, please, get involved. There are a myriad of organisations committed to HIV/AIDS research and awareness, including the NIH, amfAR, UNAIDS, (Red) campaign, One, and more.

Maybe supporting an AIDS orphanage is more up your alley. If so, Beautiful Gate is one I know of personally, but there are many similar organisations around the world.

The point is, please, speak up, get tested, fight the stigma, and, most importantly, campaign for a cure.

Sources
  • https://www.aids.gov/hiv-aids-basics/hiv-aids-101/statistics/
  • http://www.avert.org/global-hiv-and-aids-statistics

Friday, November 11, 2016

11/11

Today is of twofold value to me. In the US, it's Veterans' Day. Overseas, it's Remembrance Day or Armistice Day.

(Memorial Day, in the US, is on the anniversary of the end of the Civil War and has been a holiday here, obviously, longer than Remembrance/Armistice Day has been in the rest of the world)

To my friends, family, and colleagues in the US:

For those of you who have served, thank you. Whether in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, or Coast Guard, whether based abroad or at home, whether in combat or out of combat, you have risked and given much in the defense of this country and the ideals it holds dear.

For that, you will always have my thanks and appreciation.

To my friends and former colleagues overseas:

Today, we remember those who paid the ultimate price. WWI and WWII exacted an extreme toll on many countries and many communities around the world. Of course, these are not the only wars waged on a global scale. Immediately coming to mind are the Vietnam war and Korean conflict. These men and women gave their lives to pursue and protect the ideals we hold dear in our modern, Western age.

From the rising of the sun to the setting of the same, we will remember.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

On Electoral College

All right. So, I want to tackle something that it appears many individuals in my generation don't quite get (and, frankly, I didn't fully understand until the night of the election, thanks to a couple friends of mine): Why the heck do we have an electoral college and what is its purpose?

Something that was a big help to me was the following video:


The way I understand it, when we vote in Nov, we're not actually voting for our president. We're voting for our states' representatives to the electoral college. 

To make a comparison to another branch of government: we don't vote as an entire populace on legislative matters. Instead, we elect individuals to vote on our behalf, trusting them to make their decisions on the behalf of their constituents.

Here's the deal, from what I understand, when a party puts itself on a state's ballot (or as a write-in), they must provide a list of individuals who will serve, basically as the electors, or, if you want to think of it this way, the potential ambassadors from that state to the electoral college, should that party win.

So, if I understand properly and if electoral college is done well, we are, in essence, electing our electoral committee who will then elect the president. The reason we tend to think of the Nov election as basically the presidential election is because it's very rare, and in certain states, illegal, for electoral college members to vote for a party candidate not from their own party.

Why do some sparsely-populated states, like Wyoming, have a stronger proportional representation per capita than more populous states, like California?

From what I understand, this was done to prevent the interests of the populous states, and especially the interests of densely-populated urban areas from overshadowing the interests of other, less densely-populated parts of the country. This helps to ensure that the presidential candidates make some kind of effort to reach out to these states.

To put it in a kind of perspective, the system has a measure of short-term unfairness of voter representation in it to prevent a more severe long-term unfairness of votee representation.

Why do a majority of states have a winner-takes-all approach to assigning their electoral college members?

I have no bloody idea. Frankly, that frustrates me, too. If part of the purpose of electoral college is to induce coalition-forming across political lines, then surely a proportional representation would be better for the country overall, right?

As a proponent of third parties, first-past-the-post, winner-takes-all approaches merely secure a duality of dominant parties, because the states then become the filtering ground to snuff out any third party opposition. Would it not be in the interest of the greater populace if, because of third parties, neither major party would alone be able to reach the 270 of 538 electoral college votes necessary to appoint the president? 

My question/proposal is this: 
  • Currently, the wining party being awarded the entire gamut of elector slots for a particular state, gaining disproportionate representation of the state's populace.
  • If the elector slots are distributed proportionally as represented by the state's vote, would third parties be able to gain traction as swing parties, comparable to how certain states are swing states, being able to be the determining factor in which party's nominee?
  • This would necessitate that electors not be under compulsion to vote their party, but be given the freedom to be swayed by argument and debate.
I know that, initially, the electoral college would become a reflection of the popular vote, becoming subject to its "tyranny", but my hopeful vision is of a 40%-40% split in electoral college, with the remaining 20% being a scattering of third-party representatives.


How are a party's potential electors for each state chosen?

Frankly, I don't know. I wouldn't be surprised if they're appointed by the state chapter prior to or as a requirement for obtaining ballot or write-in access. Personally, I think it would be beneficial to have greater transparency, for registered members of a party to be able to vote for the electors in their state's conventions. Of course, this is just a speculative example.

In closing, clearly, I am a fan of the electoral college system. I think there are tweaks that could be made to improve it. I also think that we need to stop portraying the Nov election as the presidential election. The Nov election, while currently the de facto presidential election, is actually the election of our electoral college representatives. This false portrayal of the Nov elections needs to stop. We, as a populace, need to educate ourselves into the workings of our representative democracy, to be better informed about the effects and implications of what we are truly voting for. Only then will we be able to petition for reform, if we still deem it necessary.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

As the Dust Settles

So, another arguably successful election season has passed. Someone has won. Many have lost. Some feel vindicated, some disappointed, and some like they've sold their souls (yet justified that they did what was necessary).

All of these sentiments I agree with and understand. Me, I voted for a third party. I was under no illusions that they would win, but I was at least hoping for a major spoiler effect due to the sum total of third party votes. (Props to Utahland for a 20% McMullin spoiler).

For those a little out of touch with the American political race, this was a hugely heated race. As a fan of neither dominant party candidate, I saw, on the one hand, a hardened career politician with pending criminal cases and, on the other hand, a bragadocious demagogue spouting populist rhetoric. These caricatures were and are just that - caricatures. Hillary and Trump are both more and less than their media portrayals, as are every other candidate who ran.

As I wrote I the aftermath of the last election and the one before it, we, as citizens, and we, as Christians, have a responsibility to respect and honour our leadership. I know that sounds archaic and dated in our advancingly progressive society. After all, that's the beauty of Liberalism, right? I am beholden to no one and am completely free to speak my mind and take my own action as best befits what I deem best for myself. And yet, I admonish you to set a small measure of individual liberty aside for the benefit of the community. If we all set aside a measure of "I"-ness, of "Me first"-ness, of "Validate my ideas"-ness, or any other breed of self-seeking and instead seek the benefit of our local and national communities, then we can and will see our nation grow closer in understanding.

How do we do this?

Well, for starters, we can:

I know it seems like a lot, but, please, join with me as I seek to make the best I can of the new, upcoming political and social environment of this country for the benefit of my local community. If enough people from diverse backgrounds and regions begin to carry and act upon these type of ideals, perhaps we will see healing happen within our generation

** For my non Christian readers: I do not and will not apologise for my faith. Active evangelism and discipleship are integral components of Christianity. 

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Option C

I've not been a fan of Trump or Hillary from the beginning. With Hillary, it's been the pending trial - I already have one president with "postponed" investigations (approx 783 of them, to be specific) and I don't want a second. With Trump, it's been his character and demeanour - from the get-go, he's struck me as a populist and demagogue, the likes of which I used to see every election in South Africa or a neighbouring country.

Now, courtesy of my South African upbringing, I am not overly close-minded to minor political parties. After all, at least one new party is formed every election back home. In previous years, I had dismissed third parties as a trivial waste of a vote, especially when there was a candidate I didn't mind voting for.

I watched in horror as Dr Carson, Rubio, and Kasich, the three Republican candidates that I, as a conservative-leaning moderate felt able to vote for, fell before the steamroller that was Trump. I admire Kasich for his conviction and unwillingness to step down - his tenacity spoke volumes about his character and, as more came out about him, I continued to be impressed, but I digress.

Seeing the Trump/Hillary split, I began researching third party options. I was only familiar with the Libertarian and Green parties and so, settled on Johnson as my choice for president. Now, yes, I've heard the arguments from Trump/Hillary supporters that "A vote for a third party is a vote for Hillary/Trump," and I happen to disagree wholeheartedly. Yes, electoral college muddies things up, but a third party vote is not a vote in favour of "The Opposition"; it is a vote in favour of that specific third party. Consider the following opinion:


Like the Redditor I've quoted above, I'm of the mindset that too many people vote Republican or Democrat over their personal convictions because they're afraid that everyone else is going to do the same. If everyone who was considering voting for a third party did so, there would be a massive disruption. Would the GOP or Dems probably still win? Perhaps, but it wouldn't be a clean, near 50-50 division. Instead, I wouldn't expect either party to get above 40%, let alone reach 40%. Can you imagine the effect on the political climate if neither Republicans nor Democrats obtained higher than 35%?

Back to my story.

In the last month or so, I became personally convicted over my view towards presidential candidates. My old view was very pragmatic - I didn't care if they were pro-choice, pro-gay, pro-anything-opposing-Christianity. None of that I deemed necessary to run a country, so I simply voted on policy and capability. I looked down sometimes on Christians who would rather vote for a pro-lifer whom I thought was a poorer choice for the country as opposed to a better-qualified pro-choicer. Gary Johnson, in my opinion, was one such choice. I disagreed with his platform on many areas, but I was willing to vote for him as the best of three options.

Then my perspective was changed.

I don't remember what prompted the change, but I had a priority shift. Part of my realisation, you see, was that it was of greater importance to honour God than to pick my choice of what's best for the country. After all, Ahab was an excellent king by the world's standards. He conquered territory, forged treaties, and maintained Israel as a prosperous nation, but because he would not honour God, he is considered a terrible king. Conversely, David was nobody's pick to be king. He was the youngest son of a small shepherding family, but he sought to honour god to the best of his abilities and God gave him what he needed to rule effectively.

That realisation coincided with a post from The Gospel Coalition. The fact that there is a Christian Democratic party in the US that seeks to honour God through the planks in their platform blew my mind. I thought most Christians, like myself, just tried to make do with unpalatable options, but we don't need to. Someone else, fed up with the lack of God-honouring options, decided to make their own party in the mid-late 2000's. Now, do I agree with all aspects of the ASP's platform? I wouldn't say so - I tend to lean a little more fiscally conservative than they do - but I do agree with their overarching goal, vision, and motivation enough that I am willing to throw my lot with a young, small party. I can vote for a candidate whom I trust will seek to honour God and have faith that God will give what is needed to run this country.

This is my Option C. What's yours?