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A Post-Thanksgiving Cornucopia: World AIDS Day, The Birth of (RED)WIRE, Milk and Prop 8

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In case you didn't know, today, December 1st, 2008, marks the 20th anniversary of World AIDS Day, with this year's theme continuing its message to "Lead, Empower & Deliver." It was originated by the World Heath Organization back in 1988 to raise awareness, and over the last 20 years, more and more countries, organizations and those who have loved ones or are themselves suffering from HIV or AIDS have utilized the day for raising public awareness. Traditionally, nations across the planet sponsor cultural events to educate and increase public participation in programs focused on the prevention and elimination of the disease.

In addition to the usual and expected stories of Western countries attempting to raise consciousness, this year, a couple of interesting news items involving two of the world's most populated nations, India and China, slipped-in, as they also will spend the day focusing their nations' attention on the epidemic. India will hold major rallies, one of which will start at the gate of Patna Women's College and end at the war memorial, Kargil Chowk, with Health Minister Nand Kishore Yadav officiating. China announced it will help to eradicate discrimination against its AIDS-infected citizens, symbolically sprawling a large red ribbon across its Olympic Bird's Nest stadium. To further illustrate the country's growing concern and desire to further educate its population, in the recent past, Premeir Wen Jiabao visited and spent time conversing with patients in a village that had an unusually high AIDS epidemic. Publicly and physically addressing one of his country's long-standing fears, Jiabao took the hands of children infected with the disease as he comforted them to disprove that such contact spreads the affliction -- a myth believed by nearly half of China's population (700,000 of whom contracted either HIV or AIDS by the end of 2007).

Also of interest, UNICEF will release a report today that shows "diagnosing newborns with HIV and treating them before 12 weeks drastically increases their chances of survival by 75%." And this weekend in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, free concerts titled "Voices Of Hope" (that included performances by jazzist Molly Johnson) were held in the county's first national event in recognition of World AIDS Day. Toronto also marked the anniversary by featuring a coordinated 54-bell concert performed on carillons throughout the city, that was dramatically accompanied by candlelight.

In the States, the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, the biggest U.S.-based AIDS group that provides medical care and assistance in 22 countries, organized the One Million Test campaign intended to test at least that many people for free in the United Stated, Latin America, the Caribbean and Asia between November 26th and December 1st. The initiative had 1000 partners in a 72 country span ranging from government participation to local and faith-based groups. On November 26th, President George W. Bush announced through a press release, "As Americans, we believe in the inherent dignity and value of every man, woman, and child. On World AIDS Day, we recommit ourselves to the global challenge of combating the HIV/AIDS pandemic, and to showing our compassion for those affected here at home and around the world." It also was announced that a program titled the "President's Emergency Plan For AIDS Relief" has, since 2003, partnered with "other countries, local communities and faith-based organizations around the world" to support treatment, care and prevention activities. In July, Congress reauthorized the program for five additional years.

On the musical front, the new online digital magazine (RED)WIRE will sponsor a series of unique performances by artists such as U2, Jay-Z, Colplay, John Legend, Dixie Chicks, The Killers, Elton John, The Police, Elvis Costello, Death Cab For Cutie, and Sheryl Crow, in its bid to help fight AIDS. This innovative entity, in conjunction with the Global Fund -- a financier of programs in 139 countries to fight AIDS to the tune of billions of dollars a year -- and MSN, will broadcast world premiere songs and videos throughout the day, with proceeds from its online magazine subscriptions donated to combating the disease. Today, Director Lisa Gurry of the Microsoft company proudly announced, "MSN is honored to introduce (RED)WIRE to the hundreds of millions of people that visit MSN each month. The launch event on MSN today is an amazing opportunity for people to view incredible performances by top artists while helping save lives at the same time." Live listening parties of the event will be hosted by the "W" chain of hotels, and iLike, one of the web's most popular music discovery and social-networking sites. The online entity will have (RED)WIRE broadcasts syndicated to its 30 million participants through multiple means including its Facebook music application and iTunes sidebar. Ali Partovi of iLike commented, "We're delighted to serve as a global platform for artists and fans to come together around a shared goal of saving lives." Conceived by Hear Music's founder and former VP of Music and Entertainment of Starbucks Coffee Company, Don MacKinnon, (RED)WIRE will launch officially as a new music content discovery site with its own roster of artists on December 10th.

Now, has everyone Got Milk? It's a truly special film that deserves every drop of its Oscar buzz for Best Picture and Sean Penn for Best Actor. This movie both entertains and informs as it explores the San Francisco gay rights movement through the life of its super-activist, Harvey Milk. Director Gus van Sant expertly cast this cultural counterpunch disguised as a bio from an A-List of young Hollywood, with relaxed yet intense performances by Into The Wild's Emile Hirsch, Spider-Man's James Franco, W.'s Josh Brolin and even High School Musical's Lucas Grabeel. And just the connection someone's brain made that Sean Penn was born to play Harvey Milk shows absolute genius, almost as much as that actor's portrayal of the murdered organizer.

Much screen time was spent on Milk's fight to shut down California's Prop 6 that was sponsored by republican State Senator John V. Briggs to deny employment to homosexuals in the public school system. But the underlying message of having to fight hard and strategically for one's rights seemed as appropriate about Prop 8 as the intended law the film was covering. Both Props share a common theme, that is, to treat gays as less than citizens. In the '70s, sanity prevailed and thankfully, Prop 6 was defeated, mainly due to Harvey Milk and company's brilliantly coordinated and politically-orchestrated efforts. In 2008 (can you believe this happened in 2008?), Prop 8 denies the basic civil right of marriage to gay couples, and its approval is mainly the result of a flood of money spent on a misinformation campaign conducted by a partnership of extreme conservative and religious groups. (Wouldn't it be cool if next year, we could vote on a new Prop 8 that instantly cancels the tax-exempt status for any religious organization that participates in politics?)

Following Prop 8's defeat, a prominent voice in both the gay and music community threw us a scrap for intellectual debate. One might consider Melissa Etheridge's suggestion that gay citizens possibly are experiencing taxation without representation not that far off. What a slippery slope many Californians unintentionally created by voting to deprive its fellow citizens civil rights. And really? This happened in California? It was so dumb that Keith Olbermann devoted a Special Comment to the matter.

Strangely, in a Bizarro Universe kind of way, one of the best rallying cries of Milk came from conservative republican, Anita Bryant. Addressing a crowd after Dade County, Florida, soundly defeated an equal rights measure for gays, she proclaimed, "Enough, enough, enough." Considering anti-marriage propositions just passed in Florida and Arizona, considering an anti-gay adoption proposition recently was approved in Arizona, Milk-style activism may still be the best path and hope to protect the gay community against further erosion of its rights as American citizens. It was only a decade ago when poor Matthew Shepard was killed ruthlessly in Wyoming, and we watched the news in disbelief as the horrific details of the kid's murder were revealed. But just as heart-wrenching was to observe fellow Americans proudly displaying signs around the country that hatefully declared Matthew deserved his torturous death, and how he was burning in hell. "Thou shalt not kill" apparently was an optional commandment for these folks and Matthew's murderers. That was just 10 years ago. Twenty-two years ago, in the touching song, "The Killing Of Georgie" (featured on The Definitive Rod Stewart), there was the line, "Never wait or hesitate, get in kid before it's too late, you may never get another chance." Well, there was that guy named Harvey Milk who wisely fought back against oppression through smart organization. He may be gone, but you know he still would like to recruit you.