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Arijit, 31, is graduate student in Arizona who was diagnosed about a year and a half ago with stage IV colon cancer. He endured multiple surgeries, and grueling rounds of chemotherapy. Then, in February, 2012, the cost of his treatment exceeded the lifetime limit on his graduate student health plan, which is managed by Aetna.
His coverage was terminated. His cancer was not.
He launched what we cancer patients sometimes refer to as an internet lemonade stand: a site called Poop Strong (a light-hearted parody of "Livestrong"). At poopstrong.org, he invited well-wishers to make a donation or buy schwag, with all proceeds going to his healthcare.
But, big news today, as his pal Kirk Caron tells Boing Boing,
In the six months between when he was dropped and when he'll be picked up by another student health plan, he's been looking at well over $100K in medical bills for his treatments. In addition to updates about his own condition and the state of Poop Strong, Arijit's been tweeting (naturally) about the state of health insurance, and recently, Aetna got involved. The conversation (as Twitter convos tend to do) sort of spirals out from the main thread between Arijit and Aetna.
That's an understatement! Arijit ended up debating directly with the CEO of Aetna, Mark T. Bertolini. The tl;dr: Aetna, and Mr. Bertolini, agreed in the end to cover the full extent of bills that accrued since Arijit was dropped from insurance (about $118,000).
"The system is broken," said Bertolini. "I really am trying to fix it."
Arijit is redirecting all of the donations he received the University of Arizona Cancer Center Patient Assistance Fund and The Wellness Community (Arizona), to directly assist other people with cancer who cannot pay for the life-saving medical treatments they need.
I spoke with Arijit today, and will be publishing a transcript/audio of our conversation soon. He's a really cool guy, and he has some insights from this experience that I think everyone should hear. It looks like Arijit is covered, for now, but the system is still broken. The debate over health care costs has become a political football—but for people like me and Arijit and everyone else in America who isn't in the 1%, health care costs are literally a matter of life and death. No one should suffer or die because they can't afford medical treatment. It really is that simple.
Arijit's friend Jen Wang created a Storify of the twitter exchange between Arijit, Aetna's PR reps, and Aetna's CEO. You can read this below.
Samaritan Magazine has a fun article here about Henna Heals, a charity based in Toronto, Canada that offers a free service to cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy: beautiful henna designs applied to their chemo-bald heads. The organization was created by photographer Frances Darwin, who also captures the resulting designs in photos. Snip:
The swirling, intricate drawings, which are safe, temporary and applied by skilled artists, command the eye to the head of the henna wearer, inspiring awe rather than pity while offering an alternative to wigs or hats. Perhaps more importantly, these henna "crowns" offer women suffering hair loss -- and the accompanying lost sense of femininity that brings -- a chance to feel uniquely lovely while inviting gentle dialog about a tricky subject.
When I began chemo as treatment for breast cancer, a number of friends suggested henna designs to me, too. I haven't done it yet, but I'm still chemo-bald... so it's not too late! Might be worth a trip up to Toronto to visit these guys. A beautiful project, and really pretty designs.
(Photo: Frances Darwin; model: Tara Schubert; henna: Darcy Vasudev. Link via Chris Woodfield)
Japan's burgeoning anti-nuclear movement will be marking the three month anniversary of the March 11 quake and tsunami with a nationwide day of protests, amidst reports that Japan's nuclear reactors may all be shut down by next April. Organisers are touting the day as a '100-man-nin akushon' (1 million-strong action), and there are nearly a dozen marches happening in Tokyo alone - although whether that's evidence of widespread support, or of a movement that's still hopelessly fragmented, is debatable. The largest demos will centre on Shinjuku, Shibuya and the well-trodden route from Shiba Park to Tokyo Station.
Hashtag to follow related activity on Twitter: #611nonukes. Looks like the primary organizing site is nonukes.jp (partial English translation here). They are calling for supporters around the world to organize demonstrations in solidarity:
The day marks three months after the Fukushima nuclear disaster triggered by the earthquake and tsunami. The plants are still spewing radioactive materials. No one wants such dirty electricity harmful to human and nature. Join us on June 11th with million-people action throughout the world and let our voice heard. (...) Our solidarity, if you are in Japan, in Asia, in Europe, in Americas, or anywhere in this world, will soon end this dark age of nuclear power generation.
The bodies of Amazon rainforest activist Joao Claudio Ribeiro da Silva and his wife Maria do Espirito Santo are carried to burial by friends and relatives, in the municipal cemetery of Maraba, in Brazil, on May 26, 2011. The identity of those responsible for the shooting in northern Brazil on Tuesday has not yet been determined, but da Silva predicted his own death six months ago, and was the recipient of frequent death threats by illegal loggers and cattle ranchers.
"I will protect the forest at all costs. That is why I could get a bullet in my head at any moment -- because I denounce the loggers and charcoal producers," he said.
Watch his speech at TEDxAmazonia, below, in which he says he believes killing trees in the rainforest is murder (click the "cc" button in the player for English subtitles).
The murders of da Silva and his wife took place as Brazil's Congress debates a divisive bill that threatens to further expand deforestation. Da Silva and Espirito Santo were active in the same organization of forest workers that was founded by legendary conservationist Chico Mendes. Al Jazeera has a video report here, and a first-person account from the funeral for the slain activist here.
Photos above and below: Reuters. Read the rest
Read the rest
Earlier this week here on Boing Boing, I posted a video by former BB guestblogger Bassam Tariq and Omar Mullick—an incredible little vignette about a father of 6 in a poor community in Pakistan who publishes a Hindu newspaper for the minority Hindu community there, with a message of intercultural peace and tolerance. What amazed me, and BB readers, about the story most? The guy is a shoe-shiner who taught himself how to use computers and do desktop publishing by himself, and he is using a massive, older desktop computer and literally carrying this huge PC on his back to the city, where the newspaper is printed.
Some readers wanted to help out, either with cash donations or by sending a laptop or flash drives, something to make the process easier for him. I asked Bassam, and he writes, "Sabeen Mahmud heads up Peace Niche and she is the one that people can send donations to. People can send her an email at firstname.lastname@example.org."
Panera Bread has been experimenting with "pay what you can" restaurants for about a year, at three of its 1500 US locations. So far, the model seems to be working.
Most patrons, it finds, drop the entire retail cost, or more, into the voluntary donation box, in essence subsidizing a meal for somewhat who can't pay the full amount. Panera says about 60 percent leave the suggested amount; 20 percent leave more; and 20 percent leave less. The largest single payment so far? One person paid $500 for a meal.(CSM via BB Submitterator, thanks Ari B)
Few people seem to be taking unfair advantage of the system. Most know that wouldn't be fair. Not paying when you could "is like parking in a handicapped spot," Mr. Shaich says. "The lesson here is most people are fundamentally good."
A growing number of ex-Peace Corps volunteers are speaking out via blogs and in news interviews about having survived rape and other forms of sexual assault while assigned overseas. They say the agency ignored their concerns for safety or requests for relocation, and tried to blame rape victims for their attacks. Their stories, and support from families and advocates, are drawing attention from lawmakers and promises of reform from the agency.
One of the women whose story is receiving renewed attention is Kate Puzey (shown in the photo at left). The Peace Corps volunteer was murdered in Benin, apparently by a contractor for the agency she was attempting to anonymously report for the rape of girls at the village school. As I blogged in 2009, I was in Benin, pretty close to that village, the same day she was killed. I remember our local friends from that region expressing horror and sadness at her murder. But we didn't know the backstory yet. More on her case follows.
The Peace Corps 2010 budget: $400 million, government funding, your tax dollars at work. The current director today apologized for the agency's poor response to victims, and specifically the Puzey case.
First: In today's New York Times, an article about the volunteers who are speaking out on sexual assault:
In going public, they are exposing an ugly sliver of life in the Peace Corps: the dangers that volunteers face in far-flung corners of the world and the inconsistent -- and, some say, callous -- treatment they receive when they become crime victims.From 2000 to 2009, an average of 22 Peace Corps women each year reported being the victims of rape or attempted rape, according to the agency's own records. During that period a total of over 1,000 volunteers reported sexual assaults, including 221 rapes or attempted rapes.
His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso, was in Long Beach, California this morning to accept the inaugural edition of a "Shine a Light on Human Rights" award from Amnesty International. My notes from the event follow.
He accepted the award with characteristic humility and good humor, saying, "I am just a single monk; no more, no less," later adding for the Amnesty volunteers and human rights advocates assembled, "Your work is good. Please continue."
Addressing the crowd before the spiritual leader spoke, Amnesty International's U.S. executive director Larry Cox said the award honored the fact that he has "tirelessly and peacefully defended the rights of people everywhere" for over 50 years. This month will also mark the 50th anniversary of the human rights organization's own founding.
The Dalai Lama took questions from Amnesty volunteers for more than an hour, and spoke of the imperative to protect those who are engaged in human rights work, as well as the need for freedom of information and expression in Tibet, China, and around the world.
Speaking through a translator, he described a Tibetan concept of generosity that encompasses not only material goods or comfort to those in need, "but also protection from fear."
"Individuals in some ways have more power than governments; the individuals, the artists, the activists who are compelled to change society—we must protect them."
Despite the white stubble he pointed to on his shaved head, the 76-year-old monk said he was optimistic that he would witness Tibetan "reunion" and peace with China in his lifetime.
"If you start a noble effort and encounter problems, and just stop— it is wrong," he said. "You must persist. If you believe that the goal of your work must materialize in your lifetime, it is wrong. It's still worthwhile, even if you never live to see it materialize."
The internet's enabling of increased access to information, and the increasing velocity of information, he said, is a good thing. "Because of new media, the news [of human rights violations] reaches us immediately."
Censorship and seemingly ever-tightening restrictions on internet flow are a predictable response from the Chinese government, he continued, but they are fundamentally unsustainable. "More soldiers, more [surveillance] cameras, they build mistrust and fear. Harmony is based on trust... so this is totally the wrong method. Censorship should not be there; there should be free information, a free press, and then an independent judiciary and gradual government change can follow. That will develop trust and harmony within China, and with the outside world. A closed society with no transparency creates suspicion."
Remember that viral video that made the rounds last week, of a woman being kicked, beaten and spat upon, on the floor of a McDonald's in Baltimore—then going into an epileptic seizure, as the attack continued for what seems like an eternity? Chrissy Lee Polis, 22, was the victim. She is epileptic. She is also transgender, and that was apparently the motivation for the attack. She spoke to the Baltimore Sun today.
"They said, 'That's a dude, that's a dude and she's in the female bathroom. They spit in my face."Victim of McDonald's beating speaks out (baltimoresun.com)
A worker at the restaurant taped Monday's attack and created a graphic video that went viral last week. After the video garnered hundreds of thousands of views on websites, McDonald's issued a statement condemning the incident, and on Saturday the worker who taped the incident was fired. The video shows two females -- one of them a 14-year-old girl -- repeatedly kicking and punching Polis in the head as an employee and a patron try to intervene. Others can be heard laughing, and men are seen standing idly by. Toward the end of the video, one of the suspects lands a punishing blow to the victim's head, and Polis appears to have a seizure. A man's voice tells the women to run because police are coming.
"I knew they were taping me; I told the guy to stop," said Polis, a resident of Baltimore. "They didn't help me. They didn't do nothing for me."
Related: there have been demonstrations in support of Polis, and in support of a transgender non-discrimination bill that was killed by the Maryland Senate just a week prior to the attack. (toweleroad.com)