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Dear Snuggie™ advocates,

I spent much of Friday flexing my would-be public intellectual muscles at a lively and illuminating roundtable discussion on the healthcare crisis (media coverage, the public option, the Stupak amendment) organized by Harvard’s Women, Gender, and Sexuality department. Yet as Jill Lepore’s recent Talk of the Town plainly shows, healthcare has been an ongoing dilemma in this country for nearly a century.

For a peek into the ways health and medicine were popularly understood and discussed in the early 20th century, skip over to the Indiana Public Health Digital Library for images culled from the Monthly Bulletin of the State Board of Health. Take these two, for example: on the left, a heartwarming illustration of two girls at play; on the right, a terrifying image of Death himself. I wonder where he stands on the “death panel” debate.

And while you’re at it, take a look at the images digitized by the National Library of Medicine, like the warning on the left against lice, also known as “cooties” or “seam squirrels,” or the Women’s Army Corps recruitment poster on the right.

Preventively yours,

Stephen

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To those of you blaming tryptophan for your Monday morning lag,

Tomorrow, December 1, marks World AIDS Day, which seems like a good moment to point to some online resources about the history of the illness, its impact, and the art and activisim it inspired.

The Carpenter Center here at Harvard has organized an extraordinary exhibit on the art of ACT UP (that’s AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power) that runs until December 23. For those outside the Cambridge area, you can see many of the powerfully confrontational posters, stickers, and postcards designed by ACT UP artist group Gran Fury online at the New York Public Library.

The Carpenter Center exhibit also includes hours and hours of testimonies from the ACT UP Oral History Project, but you can also visit their site to view excerpts and complete transcripts. Interviewees include ACT UP founder Larry Kramer, journalist Michelangelo Signorile, filmmaker Tom Kalin, and NYC artist Peter Cramer.

For a sense of how AIDS was covered by the mainstream press, check out this 1983 cover story from New York magazine, and this 1985 Time article, which hit the stands shortly after Rock Hudson’s death.

For a more visceral sense of how the queer community itself experienced the frightening and devastating spread of AIDS, I recommend watching Bill Sherwood’s astonishing and unsentimental 1986 film Parting Glances, starring a young Steve Buscemi, available for instant viewing on Netflix.

Even in the 1980s, of course, AIDS was on its way to becoming a worldwide epidemic. UCLA’s AIDS Posters collection includes health advisories from Japan (on the left) to Uganda (on the right).

For the record, at last count, the World Health Organization estimates that 33.4 million people are currently living with HIV/AIDS worldwide.

Yours sincerely,

Stephen

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