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6/20/2003

Redneck Yuri

There is must be something in the air, or in the water, but once a Southerner (no matter how secular or modernized) heads below the Mason-Dixon, a magical transformation occurs. Then again, it could also be the stacks of Budweiser that greet you immediately upon entering the grocery store. Or the country music blasting through the car stereo: "I may be bad, bad boy/but, baby, I'm a real good man..." Or the billboards on the side of the road blaring: "Nervous Charlie's: Beer, Gas, Fireworks" (no wonder Charlie's nervous!). Whatever it is, if you've been here, you know what I'm talking about.

Today I went shootin' with my 10/.22 and my 9mm at the rifle range. There was a sign hanging up at the shooting gallery that could only exist in this half of America: "RIFLE RANGE: There is no shooting before noon on Sundays due to local church services." What kind of fucking redneck is going to go shooting on Sunday morning anyway? Well...I say that, but I know for a fact that there had to be people going out there doing it before they would have put up a sign. Just don't judge us all by those folk.

It was pretty fun, though, and it helped to clear my mind. There is just something soothing about taking a case of ammo and some soda (and/or beer), and popping off rounds until sunset. I don't get nearly as much of a kick out of it as my dad does though. Everytime I come home, he has a new gun, or a new scope, or... I mean the people at the local Hunting/Fishing store know him by name, and they are always talking to him about a new Keltec or a new Glock. ALWAYS! He is a true-blue gun fanatic: member of the NRA (naturally), member of the American Legion, member of (fill in blank with random right-wing gun lovers group). It provides for a nice contrast with all those lilly-livered anti-gun fanatics in California, but personally I don't get either one of 'em. Guns are useful, and I think everyone should know how to use one, but I don't feel the need to hunt deer at every opportunity, or have a massive gun safe in the living room (like my dad).

6/19/2003

Back Home

On the plane ride back home I was reading through James Kugel's magisterial The Bible As It Was, which brought back memories of religion classes of yore. It really is a fantastic book, though, even for the irreligious. It dissects various interpretive traditions in the Hebrew Bible to the smallest gory detail, but it does it in a way that is actually interesting at the same time. The book is a charm, and the scholarship is unbelievable (he mentions, and quotes from, nearly every obscure resource imaginable). The kind of gymnastics that religious Jews and Christians have to go through to maintain belief can only be appreciated when it is laid out by a book like this (of course, in my experience, most of them don't even know all that much about their own sacred texts).

On non-book related matters, I had a layover at the Phoenix airport before going on to Nashville, and the place was stacked with dreamy girls for some reason. While I was standing in line to get on the plane, I felt someone's eyes walking over my body and I turned around to see who it was. She was pretty cute with blond hair and dreamy blue eyes, but I'm a loser, so I don't know what to say to girls like that. So she took the initiative, and dropped her purse at my feet (totally on purpose) and said something funny. I talked to her for a few minutes, but I didn't try and kick any game since my parents were picking me up (ughh...that's the worst. I hate not having a car). Still, after being at Caltech for a year, even this was awesome.

I have to admit that being home is pretty sweet, but I hate not having my own computer. I can only steal a few minutes a day on the comp, to check my email and blog a tad. No KaZaa, no WinAmp, no AIM, no Shakira (can you believe that!), no Elissa. I guess it's for the better though, it gives me time to read (in addition to Kugel, I'm flipping through David Edward's Before Taliban: Genealogies of the Afghan Jihad). People should send me email, since I'll be reading those more often than blogs (this means you wendot).

6/17/2003

Phaedo Exclusive: Unnamed Senator was behind Foster inquiry

About two months ago, on Friday April 18, 2003, two articles went to press in the New York Times and Science concerning congressional scrutiny of federally-funded studies on HIV/AIDS among sex workers in San Francisco and Miami. The Times article, by Erica Goode, was a lightweight in the fact department, and relied on only a single named source for the allegations of a right-wing inquistion, Alfred Sommer, Dean of the Bloomberg School for Public Health at Johns Hopkins University. The Science article, by Jocelyn Kaiser, revealed the name of the "researcher at the University of California," mentioned by the Times as having been advised to cleanse a research application, as Tooru Nemoto. Science went on to mention an unexpected site visit to UCSF by NIH and SAMHSA which was apparently instigated by a memo sent on 13 March to Marc Smolonsky, Assistant Director of the Office of Legislative Policy and Analysis at NIH, by Roland Foster, a congressional staffer for the House Subcommittee on Criminal Justice, Drug Policy, and Human Resources.

I first heard about the story while reading Charles Murtaugh's blog, and he had been referred to it by Ogged of Unfogged. I wrote to Jocelyn Kaiser and received a copy of both the 13 March memo and an 11 April memo sent by the Subcommittee to NIH. I posted both of those memos on this blog in their entirety (copies can be found in my archives and also at Phaedo's annex - The Bridgewater Treatise). Shortly thereafter, I began a correspondence with Mr. Foster trying to get him to clarify a few things.

The Racism Question

In particular I was concerned about a comparison he had made in the 13 March memo between the sex worker studies in question and the horrific Tuskegee experiment.

This study suffers from the same dearth of scientific ethics that the U.S. Public Health Service demonstrated when it funded the notorious Tuskegee experiment in which African Americans with syphilis where observed for decades but never notified that they were infected or given treatment that was available to cure the disease. The Tuskegee experiment was dehumanizing and laden with racism. The San Francisco study examining Asian women is based upon a similar, unethical, racist, dehumanizing concept. Another similar NIH project in Miami [this study was led by James Inciardi of the University of Delaware -- YG], that received nearly $600,000 in federal funds last year, includes African-Americans and Latinas.

It is abominable that the U.S. federal government, in the name of scientific research, is funding efforts to legitimize the commercial sexual exploitation of Latinas and Asian and African American women.

(13 March Subcommittee Memo to NIH)


However, the memo came with the abstracts for the UCSF and University of Delaware studies attached. I quoted from the Miami study abstract in my original post on the matter, and I will quote from it now:
The sample includes African-Americans, white-Anglos, and Latinas in proportion to their estimated representation in the active Miami sex worker population.

(Abstract of NIH Grant # 5R01DA013131-03 and 3R01DA013131-03S1 -- Full abstract available from CRISP)


From this, it seemed to me that mentioning the UD study in the same paragraph as Tuskegee was a bit overwrought, to put the point mildly (he also seemed to be unconcerned that the SF study was being carried out by a scientist who was himself Asian). Perhaps as a result of not phrasing my email correctly, Foster completely ignored my point regarding the UD study and instead reiterated himself on the UCSF study (Note: I will only quote certain passages from his emails. I don't feel comfortable posting them in their entirety since Foster had some reservations):
I have not yet received a response from NIH regarding their unethical studies on victims of the sex trade. The SF study clearly is racist since it focuses entirely on Asian victims of sex trafficking. It is unfortunate that treating women as commercial items is acceptable to some in the scientific community and even worse, that it is financially supported by the federal government. Do you support financial assistance by the federal government to those who are breaking the law and enabling the sexual abuse of these women?

(Personal Communication, 1 May)


Note the failure even to mention the Miami study. I pointed out this unresponsiveness to Foster, and received this reply.
Sorry if I did not directly answer your question. You should not imply anything by my absence of a response. I am working on a bill on the floor right now so I will give you a more thorough response when I am not distracted.

(Personal Communication, 1 May)


As it turned out, I didn't receive any answer from Foster on this issue for another month (actually, a little more than a month). When he finally got around to mentioning it, he had this to say.
My comment was "The San Francisco study examining Asian women is based upon a similar, unethical, racist, dehumanizing concept." I then went on to mention that the other study "included" other minorities. Our questions and concerns were focused more on the SF study, but we were also looking at a similar atmosphere in this other study. We did not say that either were racist but were based on a similar concept. Shades of gray, yes, but not an outright allegation, which we wouldn't do without reviewing the actual information we have requested (and still have not received).

(Personal communication, 11 June)


This seems like a somewhat plausible answer, and, more importantly, it was the one I was expecting. I leave it to the reader to decide whether that is sufficient.

In another email on the same day, Foster also raised the issue that the studies were also sexist, in addition to being racist.

After reviewing your comments, I realized I should have called the studies in question sexist in addition to being racist since they all focus only on girls. There are plenty of male prostitutes, including in San Francisco where this research is being conducted, but these studies seem more interested in just allowing women to serve as scientific guinea pigs. That may be a subjective opinion to which we will have to agree to disagree, but there certainly is a history of subjecting Africans, women, and gay men either in the U.S. or abroad to questionable research, with the Tuskegee syphilis study being the most notable. We are very concerned with unfairness and unethical approaches to public health. We held a hearing that focused entirely on minority health disparities. Of course, the media ignored this and but for some reason chose to focus on a single e-mail regarding research on prostitutes.

(Personal Communication, 11 June)


Quarantine?

While doing some background research on Foster, I came across an episode that occurred about two years ago in San Francisco. A feature in the Washington Monthly by Andrew Webb had paraphrased the Director of STD Prevention and Control Services in San Francisco, Jeffrey Klausner, as supporting a quarantine for HIV+ homosexuals who were incapable of curbing their appetites.

Putting aside political realities when brainstorming on this subject, Klausner also raised the possibility of quarantining those who cannot control their infectivity---e.g., those barebackers who've infected 20 different people and still refuse to use condoms. Many of these measures would probably be infeasible in the current political climate. Still, this doesn't mean they shouldn't be discussed. After all, in an environment where there are no consequences for actions that threaten the public health, it may be necessary to create some.

Klausner denied that he put this forth as a serious option, and insisted that Webb distorted his words (which was plausible since Webb failed to quote him even once). Webb, for his part, sent an email to Mitchell Katz specifically stating that it was he, not Klausner, who raised the issue of quarantine in the conversation.

Roland Foster apparently sent an email to Klausner around the time that this issue was exploding among gay and lesbian circles. I asked both Klausner and Foster for a copy of the email. Neither had a copy in their files. Furthermore, Klausner said of Foster that, "his activities are not particularly helpful in advancing public health." (Personal Communication, 19 May) My curiosity in obtaining the text of this email was more than just academic though, since I had stumbled across a letter sent by AIDS activist Michael Bellefountaine of ACT UP SF that made a serious allegation regarding the contents.

Please don’t let history repeat itself. Right now we are faced with federally funded public health officers who are raising the specter of quarantine. Indeed, Roland Foster, from the House of Representatives, has already sent Jeffrey Klausner a letter asking him if federal assistance is needed for San Francisco’s planned quarantine. If, as you state, Klausner’s comments were taken out of context, then he should provide the public with a statement clarifying his -- and the San Francisco Health Department’s -- position on quarantine.

(Letter from Bellefountaine to Mark Leno)


I sent an email to ACT UP asking Bellefountaine to substantiate this allegation, and, if possible, send me a copy of the letter so that I could see for myself. I will quote his response at length:
For the record I am not in the habit of sending inflamitory letters to members of government without backing it up first - as I recall my letter to all of the membrs of the supervisors contained a copy of that letter. This should be located in the archives of City Hall, I can check the ACT UP archives to make sure. I got the copy of his letter from Michael Petrelis - who may also have a copy in his archives as well.

As I remmeber, though it has been some time and I am responding to you without refering to my notes, Roland's offer of assistance was taken seriously by activists at that time. You should understand that Roland was working with Michael Petrelis very closely on this issue, and was posing to have the Feds come into SF to look at funding issues.

(Personal Communication, 9 May)


Foster strenuously denied this claim, on more than one occasion.
My e-mail to Klausner did NOT support the AIDS quarantine. I asked him for clarification on a statement he made in support of a quarantine. I pointed out to him had his city effectively treated HIV as a public health problem then such extreme measures would not have to be considered. Quarantining those with HIV would be both impractical and counter productive, to say the least. It is disappointing that a health official would frighten people by threatening such a possibility.

(Personal Communication, 1 May)

Whatever I wrote in it [the email -- YG], I certainly stand by. I can assure you I did not and DO NOT support an HIV quarantine as Dr. Klausner proposed.

(Personal Communication, 11 June)

I can assure you I have NEVER called for an AIDS quarantine. I have long been involved in work to provide care and treatment to PWAs [People With AIDS -- YG].

(Personal Communication, 11 June)


I have yet to receive a copy of the email in question, and in light of Foster's passionate denial, I will give him the benefit of the doubt. Nothing I have seen supports Bellefountaine's accusation, but this is still an open question.

Some background

Perhaps I should give a little background on Foster at this point. Foster worked for the Children's AIDS Fund from January to March 2001, spending most of his time preparing a report on Baby AIDS. The CAF is an outfit run by Americans for a Sound AIDS/HIV Policy (ASAP), a conservative Christian group founded by Shepherd Smith, which promotes abstinence as a method of reducing the spread of AIDS. Some may recall that Patricia Ware (who was formerly the director of educational services for ASAP), while serving as the Executive Director of the Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS, nominated Jerry Thacker (of "gay plague" fame) for a position on the Council. This caused a controversy and eventually led to Ware's removal from the Council.

I asked Foster to say a few words about this.

I met Jerry Thacker once many years ago (before I worked for CAF). I really don't know much about him or his views. I am proud to call Pat Ware a friend. She is NOT the person she is made out to be in the press. She has a very impressive story, growing up poor, being a single mother who worked to help the community and then being appointed to the Bush Administration. She has had many friends and relatives die from AIDS. Pat doesn't have a hateful bone in her body.

(Personal Communication, 11 June)


I think it would be a mistake, though, to dismiss Foster as a simple ideologue because of his various connections. He seems like a sincere and passionate person, although, like many people so burdened, he sometimes goes a bit off the reservation (like his concerns about scientific racism). His work with CAF is laudable in my view, and I don't think that a difference of political opinion should lead people to dismiss this. Also, Foster brought to my attention the role that the Subcommittee played in cutting through the red tape in securing funding for a rapid HIV test that provides an indication for HIV antibodies in minutes. I think that Foster genuinely wants to eliminate AIDS, and he thinks he knows how to do that (although, of course, reasonable people can disagree about whether he is right).

Roland Foster: Loose Cannon?

Chuck Murtaugh had originally brought up the issue of Foster being a loose cannon after digging up a Washington Post article where Claude Allen, deputy secretary of HHS, characterized Foster's activities as a "witch hunt."

Foster sounds like a scarily loose cannon, rather than a hit man for the Bush administration. Maybe some other more partisan liberal blogger, like one of those who gets thousands of hits every day for my paltry few hundred -- you know who you are -- might want to raise some sort of a stink about him. I suspect he will shrivel up pretty fast if the big media actually trains their klieg lights on him.

When I asked Kaiser what her opinion was, she stated that, "Yes, I think he is a loose cannon."

As it turns out, Foster does not appear to be a rogue.

Foster helpfully explained to me the ontogeny of the 13 March inquiry, which reveals another angle to the story that was missed by both the New York Times and Science.

As an oversight subcommittee, most government information is generally available to us for review. We don't usually release any of this information. I actually requested the panel composition at the request of a different office that was concerned about this study. The study itself was brought to our attention by a Senate office. What some people don't understand is that many of these requests, while placed by me as the staff point person, come to us from other many other offices. As the Subcommittee of jurisdiction, we are more likely to get a timely response (even though I am waiting for such a response three months after I sent this) than an individual office. Because of this, people have focused on me personally.

(Personal Communication, 11 June)


I pressed him to reveal the names of the two offices who were also involved (I even offered to quote him off-record, which as a blogger I considered a pretty big compromise), but he declined. Still, I think it is obvious that Foster is not working apart from either his boss or anyone else. There is undoubtedly a bigger story here, but I leave it to better men than me to uncover it.

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