Monday, February 25, 2008

AIDS, Sex and the Condomaniacs


Copyright © 2008 by Mark Gabrish Conlan for Zenger’s Newsmagazine • All rights reserved

The AIDS establishment — the network of researchers, doctors, drug companies and staff members of social-service organizations that have managed near-total control over what we’re allowed to do, say and think about AIDS for nearly a quarter-century — is having a royal hissy-fit over some members in Switzerland who dared to break ranks on one of the fundamental pronouncements of AIDS orthodoxy: that it’s never O.K. to have “unprotected” — i.e., natural — sex with an “HIV-positive” person.

Four of the top “HIV/AIDS” researchers in Switzerland —Pietro Vernazza of the Cantonal Hospital in St. Gallen, president of the Swiss Federal Commission for “HIV/AIDS”; Bernard Hirschel from Geneva University Hospital; Dr. Enos Bernasconi of the Lugano Regional Hospital; and Dr. Markus Flepp, president of the Swiss Federal Office of Public Health’s subcommittee on the clinical and therapeutic aspects of “HIV/AIDS” — dared publish a letter in the Bulletin of Swiss Medicine in early February that said it was safe for an “HIV-negative” person to have sex with his or her “HIV-positive” partner if the positive partner were on antiretroviral medications, their “viral load” tests showed “undetectable” levels of virus (less than 40 copies per milliliter of blood) and they had no classic sexually transmitted diseases (STD’s).

You might think the rest of the AIDS establishment would have hailed this as good news. Given the difficulty of keeping so-called “asymptomatic” — i.e., not sick — people on highly toxic drug regimens with potential side effects ranging from wasting, bloating and fat redistribution to potentially fatal kidney and liver failure, one would think the establishment would welcome this big new inducement to stay on the meds: “Keep taking them and you can have normal sex again!” Instead, the establishment — especially the non-medical parts of it that run AIDS service agencies and dispense advice on how people should manage their sexuality in the face of the so-called “HIV epidemic” — is having a sort of collective hissy-fit that anyone with establishment AIDS credentials dared suggest any set of circumstances that might actually let sexually active “HIV-positives” off the condom hook.

“Not only is the Swiss proposal dangerous, it’s misleading and it is not considering the implication of the biological facts involved with HIV transmission,” said Dr. Jay Levy, director of the Laboratory for Tumor and AIDS Virus Research at the University of California in San Francisco.

“You can never guarantee that somebody will not be infectious,” said Charlie Gilks, director of AIDS treatment and prevention at the World Health Organization (WHO). “We are not going to be changing in any way our very clear recommendations that people on treatment continue to practice safer sex, including protected sex with a condom, in any relationship.”

The critics of the Swiss report do raise some reasonable points. The report was based on four separate studies, all done exclusively with heterosexual couples. Among them was a Spanish study conducted between 1990 and 2003, in which 393 couples with one “HIV-positive” and one “HIV-negative” member were tracked. None of the “negative” partners became “positive” during those 13 years. Another study the Swiss researchers relied on came from Brazil, in which six of 43 negative partners of positive people seroconverted — attributed by the Brazilian researchers to lapses in the positive partners’ adherence to their drug regimens.

The studies on which the Swiss report was based didn’t look at Queer people of either gender, didn’t take into account the potentially higher risk of anal over vaginal sex (a question which divides even researchers who don’t accept HIV as the cause of AIDS), and were based on the assumption that the couples were mutually monogamous. So the applicability of these studies to Gay and Bisexual men, especially those in urban settings in advanced countries with access to a wide range of potential sexual partners, is limited.

But that’s not the point. The point is that in responding to the Swiss report, as in just about everything in which their authority is challenged, the official voices of the AIDS establishment have adopted their usual holier-than-thou attitude in which any dissent from the official line is considered dangerous at best and lethal at worst. The establishment has decreed that no “HIV-positive” person shall ever have sex unless a condom is used, and they have responded to the Swiss researchers the way they’ve responded to “dissident” scientists who questioned the HIV/AIDS link as well as researchers who bought into HIV as the cause of AIDS but questioned the validity of toxic “antiretroviral” chemotherapies that might kill HIV at the cost of potentially lethal collateral damage to the immune system: “We are right, you are wrong, shut your silly little mouths or accept that people will die because of what you’re saying.”

This tone of permanent outraged self-righteousness has dominated the public discourse on AIDS ever since HIV was politically proclaimed to be the syndrome’s cause in 1984. It has channeled the debate over AIDS policy into a narrow range of sexual repression, fear-mongering and a giant corporate-welfare program for Big Pharma. Misled rock stars like Bono and Bob Geldof hold telethons and super-rich folk like Bill Gates and Warren Buffett donate huge sums of money to buy anti-AIDS drugs for Africans in countries that really need adequate supplies of food, clean water, sewage systems and simple drugs like quinine and basic antibiotics to treat malaria, cholera, leprosy and the other real diseases that are killing their so-called “AIDS patients.”

And few of the AIDS establishment’s orthodoxies are held or enforced so strongly as the one that seeks to deny any and all possibilities of natural sexual expression between men. We saw that a month before the Swiss report was published, when the U.S. journal Annals of Internal Medicine published a report that “a new variety of staph bacteria, highly resistant to antibiotics and possibly transmitted by sexual contact, is spreading among Gay men in San Francisco, Boston, New York and Los Angeles.” Reading the report in the January 14 San Francisco Chronicle, from which the above quote was taken, you had to wait until the third paragraph to find that the so-called “new” bacterium was in fact MRSA, a resistant staph bacterium that’s evolved in response to American medicine’s scandalous overuse of antibiotics — and you had to go through two-thirds of the article to find out the real risk factor.

“Gay men are being infected with the staph germ regardless of whether they are HIV-positive,” conceded the Chronicle reporter, Sabin Russell, two-thirds of the way through the piece. “One factor that could be in play is a medical history of heavy use of antibiotics, which creates conditions for breeding drug-resistant strains. Any patient, HIV-positive or not, who has had high previous exposure to antibiotics might be more susceptible.” Russell then went on to say that preventing the spread of the so-called STD staph might be as simple as taking a shower after sex— and quoted Dr. Chip Chambers, director of infectious diseases at San Francisco General Hospital and a co-author of the study, as saying, “Ordinary soap will do. It dilutes the concentration of bacteria. You don’t need antibacterial soap.” (Indeed, if antibiotic exposure is the risk factor, antibacterial soap could be counterproductive.)

Those of us, both scientists and lay people, who have remained unconvinced that a single virus could possibly be the source of the various and highly distinct phenomena lumped together under the label “AIDS” — a syndrome defined completely differently in Africa and the rest of the Third World than it is in the U.S. and western Europe — have long argued that the real causes of AIDS are long-term factors, both infectious and toxic, that wear down the immune system over time. Among these, quite likely, are repeated infections with genuine STD’s and repeated antibiotic treatments for them. Ironically, if HIV really were the cause of AIDS, condoms wouldn’t do much to prevent it because HIV particles are so small they can pass through condoms. (This is why, in the great herpes scare of the early 1980’s that preceded the great HIV scare, we were solemnly warned that condoms were useless to protect against herpes — which is caused by viruses larger than HIV.)

So if condoms really do protect against AIDS — and it’s not clear whether there’s actual research to support that or whether, like so much of what we think we know about HIV “science,” it’s just been assumed — it’s more likely they do so by doing one of the two things they were designed to do, protecting against sexually-transmitted bacterial infections like syphilis and gonorrhea, and thereby reducing the need for antibiotics to treat them. (The other thing condoms were designed to do is protect against unwanted pregnancies, which for exclusively homosexual men is not a problem.)

There are reasonable grounds for sexual caution — traditionally, the more sex partners you have the more likely you are to encounter an STD — but that’s not the agenda of the AIDS establishment. Their agenda is to keep all homosexually active men in an abject state of fear regarding their own sexuality — which is why they promoted all the scare stories about an allegedly sexually-transmitted antibiotic-resistant staph and why they attacked four good, solid, HIV-believing AIDS researchers in Switzerland for daring to suggest that there might be some circumstances under which “HIV-positive” people could have sex without paying obeisance to the gods of condom-mania.


Bringing New Meaning to the Phrase “Horsing Around”


Copyright © 2008 by Mark Gabrish Conlan for Zenger’s Newsmagazine • All rights reserved

When the San Diego Leather community gave its holiday party at the Joyce Beers Community Center in Hillcrest last December, Jim Compton, founder and proprietor of Olde Armoury Leather in La Mesa, brought something that even people who’d been around the Leather/BDSM (bondage & discipline, dominance & submission, sadomasochism) community for quite a while might not have heard of before. It was a flyer advertising “Human Pony Harnesses” he could custom-make for you, along with a magazine called Equus Eroticus — “a publication about the fetish of ponygirls and ponyboys” — showing in both words and pictures how such items could be used.

Compton got into making fetish gear after establishing a livelihood of manufacturing leather goods for more “vanilla” customers — people who wanted leashes, harnesses and restraints for real-life dogs and horses. A published author, amateur composer and man of eclectic tastes, Compton claimed an unusual entrée into the Leather world and praised its nonpolitical character and the wide variety of friends he’s made through his Leather activities. His Leather gear for humans is available through Pleasures & Treasures, 2228 University Avenue in North Park, or directly from him at P. O. Box 1351, La Mesa, CA 91941, phone (619) 698-4237.

Zenger’s: Tell me a little about your background, and how you got involved in the Leather scene.

Compton: I always have been interested in, and had a significant talent for, working with leather. In 1997, after having read too much Anne Rice, I decided to get involved in the current scene, and that was basically through Club X of San Diego. I’ve been active in their activities, and I was on the 2002-2003 board of directors of Club X. And it’s a personal background, in other things, it’s rather eclectic.

Zenger’s: So what got you into the scene in the first place?

Compton: Oh, as I said, it was Anne Rice, particularly the Beauty series. She wrote Exit to Eden under her own name, and that led to the Sleeping Beauty series, which she wrote under a pseudonym. The Sleeping Beauty series is all about erotic bondage, domination and service. It’s actually an allegory on several levels, and on a physical level it’s quite enticing.

Zenger’s: Most people I’ve interviewed in the Leather community said they had these feelings from childhood: they got a whip as a toy, or they got a rope and liked to tie up their dog as a kid. I haven’t meant very many people who got into it as adults, and especially who got into it from a book.

Compton: Right. You give two kids a coil of rope. What are they going to do with it? Their first inclination is to tie each other up and try to escape. It’s an innate part of human psychology.

The Leather community, so to speak, has a number of facets. The Gay male Leather world is sort of a spinoff of the motorcycle culture, even in terms of its artifacts: the cheeks and chaps, athe hanky protocol, and so forth. You meet some delightful people, very interesting people, with a lot of varied backgrounds. And then tend to have their own watering places, which are very good bars.

Also, what I like about the Leather community, as opposed to quite a lot of other “communities,” is it’s politically neutral. Its only source is sort of a disciplined hedonism, which involves basically mutual respect and the ability just to let go and just do your thing.

Zenger’s: What does your business do?

Compton: Basically, I make three separate lines. The primary line is pet leather: dog harnesses, leashes, collars and harnesses. The secondary line is leashes, collars, harnesses and restraints for people, specifically for BDSM use. BDSM, as you know, is bondage/domination/sadomasochism, for the BDSM, which is a rather open pansexual crowd, which suits my particular psyche very well. You meet a lot of very serious people there, and they use it for therapy and diversion.

Zenger’s: What would you say is the point of this? What do the participants, both top and bottom, get out of it?

Compton: Pleasure. That’s it.

Zenger’s: But it’s so alien from what people who aren’t part of the scene would consider pleasure.

Compton: What separates the BDSM community from what we cal the vanilla world is the physical contact. It’s also the use of force applied between one person and another, which is consensual. On a deeper level, it causes an energy flow between top and bottom, and at the same time a direct result of the spanking, paddling or flogging is the creation of endorphins in the bottom. Endorphin is a neurochemical which counteracts the pain, and it somewhat leads to a pleasurable sensation. So much for physiology.

Zenger’s: So you’re saying there’s actually a physical difference between people who would enjoy being BDSM bottoms and people who wouldn’t?

Compton: Oh, yes.

Zenger’s: Whether you generate these endorphins when you’re whipped or flogged or whatever, or whether you just get hurt.

Compton: Right. Actually, if a person knows what they’re doing, nobody gets hurt. The object is not to inflict damage, but to inflict the sensation and the threshold of pain without damage. The human body is a very resilient thing. Also, if you’re expecting something, you react differently to it, psychologically.

And, of course, there’s a very strict protocol as to where force can be applied to another person. The area of the kidneys, the knees, the joints and such, and anywhere on the head are basically off limits. So there’s nothing that could produce what could be medically defined as a physical trauma.

Zenger’s: So the places you would go after if you were trying to hurt somebody, to be aggressive, to subdue them, are the places you avoid if you’re doing BDSM.

Compton: Right. They’re the places which are the no-hit areas. The thighs,, buttocks, back — with the exclusion of the areas of the kidneys — are all safe areas to contact.

Zenger’s: Isn’t it common for a lot of negotiation to go on between the parties as to what’s going to happen, exactly, precisely, so the bottom gets what he or she is bargaining for, and nothing worse?

Compton: Correct. Every scene has to have a negotiation. If a person has a regular play partner, they know what each other’s expectations are. All these things have been covered in basic texts, such as S/M 101 and a number of other ones.

Zenger’s: of the things that fascinated me was when you came to the Leather holiday party with a line of horse gear. That was a new one on me. Puppy fantasies I knew about. Horses, I’d never heard of.

Compton: Horses are originally more of a European thing, though like any sort of fantasy play, it’s a field which extends beyond the S/M community. It overlaps a lot of different things, even the expression between several people, “horsing around.” There are people who like to dress up to be ponies, in costume-party sorts of things. What makes Human Equus different is that the participants actually become horses, in a sense, and do things like wear saddles, wear tack, pull carts, things that in a more mild sense could actually go over into the vanilla community.

Back in the days before computer games, kids liked to play outside. There’d be a wagon, and somebody out of the group would be delegated to pull the wagon, and they’d be designated a horse, you know? In more realistic terms, rickshaw pullers have been doing pony play for thousands of years. They simply don’t dress up with a full bit and bridle, although in China in the old days they did have chest harnesses so that they could pull the trails — the two bars that go out in front, that the rickshaw pullers hold on to. It was often common to have a simple harness, which would hang from eye bolts or such on a certain place on the rickshaw trail, so that stopping didn’t dislocate a rickshaw puller’s shoulders.

The pony harnesses I make are designed as an ergonomic way to pull a cart. At the same time, they also have the head harness and the bridle and such. The owner or driver communicates with the horse through the reins, and through a gentle tap with what’s known as a buggy whip, which is roughly a six-foot-long stick with a little flail at the end. It’s used for tapping the shoulders and such. The bridle commands could be the same as those used with an actual horse: i.e., pull to the right/turn right, pull to the left/turn left. On both, slow/slow down, sharply back on both. Stop. Basic carriage.

Zenger’s: What does the horse person get out of this?

Compton: Lots of healthy exercise. Are you familiar with the idea of “sub space”?

Zenger’s: Well, I’ve certainly heard the phrase “bottom space.” It seems to be one of those concepts that’s inherently difficult to explain.

Compton: Right. It’s something that you have to experience. In a normal S/M scene, the bottom goes off into their own little mind space as a reaction to the stimulus. What the animal play allows the bottom to do is — I think you said you were familiar with puppy play. Well, the puppy just takes a vacation in their mind from being a human and becomes a puppy. And the horse, or the pony, or the filly, or the mare, takes a vacation and they become a horse, generally to the point that if somebody breaks in and breaks the chain of thought, they can find that highly annoying.

Zenger’s: When you design your products, how do you make the decisions as to what is going to work — from your own experience, or from what other people have told you about how these things should be made?

Compton: From my own experience. Specifically with the horse tack, I have a long working experience with real horse harnesses, real animal harness. It’s just a matter of adapting it to the human form. You have to use your creativity and your adaptability. You must be quick of wit, and have sure judgment, and have a general idea of what you’re doing.

My line of work is I make dog collars, harnesses and leashes. For humans, it’s an adaptive technology. My things are found in a number of establishments everywhere between here and Pennsylvania. I like to design the bondage gear so that there’s a wide width of a cup or whatever on the skin, and a lot of suede lining on it, so the lining will overlap so there can never be any discomfort wearing it. I don’t design anything that could cause any possible injury, even inadvertently with someone pulling some sort of muscle or bone out of joint. And I do have a Master’s of Science in occupational health and safety, so I’m a certified safety engineer, which helps when you’re designing things.

And there are various levels. Most people do this thing as sort of one weekend or two a month or so, and there are other people who have this as a lifestyle. What makes the Equus thing so interesting is that most of the people who are into it are either horse owners or they like horses, love horses, and they just wonder, “Wouldn’t it be fun if I could do that?”

Zenger’s: So it’s mostly people who have experiences with real horses.

Compton: They tend to be the ones who get the most out of it. Horses are the most honest creatures out there. If they ever bite you in the butt, it’s because you probably deserved it. Which is another point about pony play: if a top mistreats a pony bottom, the top can expect to get the same reaction from the human pony than he’d get from a four-legged one. So that’s why you must always be nice to your pony, or you’ll get two right hooves right where it hurts.

Zenger’s: What’s it like to be a horse?

Compton: Well, you just sort of let go of your human side, and you try to adapt the mannerisms and responses that you think a horse would have. Here’s where having an affinity for real horses comes in, because if you’re around horses long enough, if you have an idea of what their psychology is. Also, you open a box of Quaker Oats a bit differently from the way you normally would.

The care and feeding of horses, to keep them in the horsy mood: just water, granola bars and such during the play and such. Keep your horse hydrated, so they have some energy. At the same times, feeding a suitable food: granola is generally good for horses. I wouldn’t go so far as the daily ration of 24 pounds of alfalfa and hay plus a quart of oats. That’s overdoing it. The human digestive system isn’t designed for that.

Equality California Launches “Decline to Sign” Drive

Effort Seeks to Keep Anti-Marriage Initiative Off the Ballot


Copyright © 2008 by Mark Gabrish Conlan for Zenger’s Newsmagazine • All rights reserved

Facing the prospect of an anti-marriage initiative on the November 2008 ballot that will permanently amend the California state constitution to keep same-sex couples from having access to civil marriage — which will mean having to raise millions of dollars to defeat it — the Equality for All coalition campaign is adopting a strategy to keep the initiative from getting on the ballot at all. It’s called “Decline to Sign,” and it’s aimed at getting volunteers out at shopping malls and other spaces where the anti-marriage petition is circulating to let people know it’s a discriminatory measure against Lesbian and Gay couples, and therefore they shouldn’t sign it.

“We’re looking for volunteers to speak to voters about why they shouldn’t sign this petition,” Geoffrey Kors, executive director of Equality California, one of the major participants in the Equality for All coalition, told Zenger’s. Equality for All has chosen San Diego as one of five target areas for especially intense decline-to-sign work and held a meeting February 20 at the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender Community Center in Hillcrest to launch the local wing of the decline-to-sign drive. Over 50 people, many of them recognized local community leaders, packed the Center’s library for this meeting.

According to Sarah Reece, field organizer for the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force (NGLTF) who has been on loan to Let California Ring — another wing of the campaign for marriage equality in California — for the last year and was just “reassigned and redeployed” to San Diego until the end of April, the backers of the anti-marriage initiative got authorization to circulate it in mid-January but didn’t start using paid circulators until the end of the month. Reece explained that the marriage equality opponents are using a two-pronged strategy to get their initiative on the ballot: holding “faith leader meetings” to get church pastors to urge their congregations to sign, and to mount a campaign with paid signature gatherers.

Paid signature gatherers are a regular fixture outside California supermarkets and shopping malls in the run-up to election deadlines. Often they’re hired by agencies who take on whoever will pay them — which means the people on the street are often carrying four, five or more petitions that range across the ideological map, “including animal rights, the environment and parental notification,” Kors explained. According to Reece, the initiative’s supporters already have over $650,000 to pay people to circulate it, including $250,000 from the Knights of Columbus. Kors named several other out-of-state organizations, including the Colorado-based Focus on the Family and the Virginia-based National Organization for Marriage, as major donors to the anti-marriage equality campaign.

“The petition is to redefine marriage in the state constitution as between one man and one woman,” Reece explained at the Center meeting. The version being circulated now is the milder of the two anti-marriage initiatives proposed by the radical Right: it would ban marriage for same-sex couples but would leave in place California’s system of domestic partnership, by which Gay and Lesbian couples can receive most of the same rights straight couples get through marriage. Reece called this “a double-edged sword; it doesn’t roll back domestic partnership rights, but it could be easier to get people to sign.”

Kors said he’s convinced marriage equality opponents focused on the milder initiative because “their polling, like ours and all the others, say Californians support treating Gay and Lesbian couples equally and would not support an initiative that would repeal domestic partnerships.” The last chance California voters had to vote on marriage rights for Gay and Lesbian couples was Proposition 22 in March 2000, which banned California from legally recognizing same-sex marriages performed in other states or countries. It passed overwhelmingly, 61 to 39 percent — but Kors said the current polling on Californians’ views of whether to recognize same-sex marriage as such shows an almost even split.

“Californians have rapidly moved towards an awareness that it’s fair to allow Gay and Lesbian couples to marry,” Kors told Zenger’s. “That’s why they’re doing this now: to amend the state constitution to freeze the current discrimination in place while there are still a lot of people who support it.” Nearly every poll on the subject has shown that the younger people are, the more likely they are to support marriage equality for same-sex couples — hence the urgency on the part of marriage-equality opponents to get these initiatives before voters now while they still have a chance to pass.

The first phase of the “Decline to Sign” campaign is a so-called “Rapid Response Team,” aimed at getting people to report where the anti-marriage initiative is being circulated and what arguments the signature gatherers are using to persuade people to sign it. “Please ask what petitions people have when you see them,” an Equality California e-mail suggests. “In many instances, the signature gatherers will have more than one. It is O.K. to ask them, ‘What petitions do you have?’ Please ask them if they are paid or volunteer — that’s also O.K. to ask. Take samples of any literature they are offering.” The e-mail instructs volunteers to “not engage in debate’ with the signature gatherers, and to report the date, time and location where the anti-marriage petition was being circulated — along with whether the circulator was a volunteer or paid — by e-mail to

The February 20 meeting at the Center was held to organize the second, and more aggressive, phase of “Decline to Sign”: actually sending teams to go where the anti-marriage petition is being circulated and urge people not to sign it. Both supporters and opponents are on a strict set of deadlines mandated by state law: the initiative’s backers have until April 19 to collect 670,000 valid signatures, and by the usual rule of thumb they’re probably shooting for at least 1.1 million to cover themselves in case signatures are invalidated. (The usual reasons signatures are thrown out include that the person is not a registered voter, the name or address is illegible or incorrect, or the signature blank is incomplete.)

The “Decline to Sign” team in San Diego will be organizing people to go out to shopping malls and other public and semi-public places every weekend until April 19, the deadline for the other side to qualify. Teams will be working in three- to four-hour shifts, organizing in the North County and East County areas where most of the signature gathering for this initiative is expected to be. Each shift will begin with a half-hour training session and end with a debriefing to collect information on what arguments the people asking for signatures for the anti-marriage initiative are using and what counter-arguments are most effective to get people not to sign.

“If we keep them off the ballot, it will be a big victory for us and the progressive community,” Reece told the activists at the Center. “Decline-to-sign campaigns almost never work, but they [the initiative sponsors] have a compressed time line. We have to get everyone mobilized in the next seven weeks. I believe it is our responsibility as good stewards to our community to do everything we can to stop this.”

To volunteer for the “Decline to Sign” campaign, please call the Center at (619) 692-2077, extension 206.

Speakers at the “Decline to Sign” meeting in San Diego February 20:

Caroline “Cara” Dessert, public policy coordinator, Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender Community Center, San Diego (San Diego is one of five focus points for the “Decline to Sign” campaign)

Sarah Reece, 6-year project director and field organizer for National Gay and Lesbian Task Force; has worked the last year as Let California Ring field coordinator and has been “reassigned and redeployed” as San Diego field coordinator until the end of April. Pictured at top of article above.

Fernando Lopez, former regional organizer for Equality California and statewide coordinator for Marriage Equality U.S.A.

Amber Cook, COLAGE (Children of Lesbians and Gays Everywhere): San Francisco resident sent to work on the San Diego campaign

Kristi Shaw, Marriage Equality Project coordinator at the Center (for the past year) — worked on marriage for four years and in California for two years

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Over 50 Attend Progressive “Mega Summit” in Hillcrest

Effort Attempts to Bring Activists Together for Common Causes


Copyright © 2008 by Mark Gabrish Conlan for Zenger’s Newsmagazine • All rights reserved

Over 50 people turned out to the Joyce Beers Community Center in Hillcrest February 17 for the awkwardly named “San Diego Mega Progressive Community Coalition Summit,” an attempt to bring Left-of-center activists together for common causes. Though the event was co-sponsored by San Diegans for 9/11 Truth — which holds two meetings per month at the Center to challenge the conventional wisdom about 9/11 and allege that the U.S. government either knew about the attacks in advance or actually perpetrated them — the dominant voice came from African-American activist Walter Davis, who chaired the meeting and made two long speeches during it.

Davis, who while still a child lived in Birmingham, Alabama in 1963 and took part in Martin Luther King’s campaign there, survived the infamous bombing of the16th Street Baptist Church by Ku Klux Klan racists and knew the “four little girls” who were killed in that attack. A 25-year veteran of the U.S. military, he founded the Citizens’ Internet TV network and regularly covers progressive events for his Web site,, as well as his radio talk show and columns in local North County community newspapers. Davis is also a former insurance agent, a job he said he got into “because my pregnant wife and daughter were shot in Los Angeles right after we came back after four years in Tokyo. The insurance company wouldn’t pay death benefits, so I started to study the insurance business and I eventually got my license.”

It’s that kind of grit and determination that Davis said, in his two big speeches at the Mega Summit — one at the beginning and one at the end — would turn the U.S. around and bring progressive victories. After talking about the persistence of racial discrimination and segregation against African-Americans and how his parents suffered from it most of their lives, he said, “Things changed when we got youth and outside people involved. It seemed like we were never going to win, but things changed in the 1960’s. … We need to look at how people won those battles. They were tenacious. We also have tl make our issues international.”

Davis said the biggest problem in organizing progressives is “we’re not goose-steppers like the conservatives. Our greatest strength is individual liberty, but that’s also our greatest weakness.” He said the task of the Mega Summit is to find the “little pieces we can all agree on” despite the differences within the progressive movement. “We can say we believe in standing up for justice and the environment, and fighting poverty,” he said. “This is about finding common ground.” He also said a progressive coalition has to think both strategically and tactically — both pursue long-range goals and respond to what’s going on day-by-day.

A wide variety of organizations was represented at the Mega Summit. In addition to the co-sponsors, the San Diego County Community Coalition (which Davis organized and heads) and San Diegans for 9/11 Truth, the summit attracted individuals from Nonviolent Peaceforce (the local branch of an international organization that is already sending mediators to trouble spots worldwide), the Drug Policy Alliance and A New Path (challenging the so-called “war on drugs” and how it’s led to the imprisonment of more Americans per capita than in any other country in the world), Progressive San Diego, Activist San Diego, the North County Coalition for Peace and Justice, Californians for Humane Farms, All of Us or None (which supports restoration of civil rights and employment opportunities for released ex-convicts), the Caring Council, San Diego Young Democrats, North County Democratic Club, the Ocean Beach People’s Food Co-op and the Islamic Public Affairs Council.

In addition, the summit drew at least two candidates for elective office. One, Mike Coppas, is challenging Congressmember Susan Davis in the June 3 Democratic primary on the ground that the district is “a progressive district” and needs, instead of a wishy-washy moderate like Davis, a representative at least as consistently progressive as San Diego County’s other Democratic Congressmember, Bob Filner. The other candidate was Eric Bidwell, a dreadlocked young man who’s running for mayor of San Diego on what he calls a “revolutionary mayor” platform. One of the most interesting people there was Colin Leath, urban gardener and member of San Diego Food not Lawns and a new organization currently being built, San Diego City Repair, which seeks to reduce the amount of paved space in the city and return as much of it as possible to nature.

Though most of the organizational representatives were only allowed to say a sentence or so about what their groups did, a few got to make longer presentations. “Peace is actually happening,” said Gloria Joyce of Nonviolent Peaceforce. “Just this week in Sri Lanka, we learned from third-party international workers that they’re beginning to get ready for another election and one of the Tamil groups has agreed to stop fighting. We helped mostly from our influence and example. We were there during the tsunami, and none of the looting that happened on other islands in Sri Lanka happened on ours.”

Despite Davis’s attempt to keep things on an even keel and encourage the groups represented at the summit to concentrate on points of unity, differences emerged. After Davis identified “peace” as one of the goals of the summit, veteran San Diego peace activist Tanja Winter suggested “anti-militarism” as a more specific goal than just “peace,” since even the American military claims to be in the business of ensuring “peace.” “Building up the weapons of the world makes war inevitable,” said Winter — and Davis, who mostly agreed, said that as a 25-year military veteran he felt left out by an attack on “militarism.”

In addition to the usual activities of progressive organizations — including lobbying elected officials, staging street protests and doing educational events — Davis strongly suggested that the Mega Summit bring forth a coalition that can actually stage boycotts against local outlets of major corporations. He identified Exxon Mobil and Wendy’s as potential targets, Exxon Mobil because as the world’s largest oil company they’ve been the principal profit-makers from the skyrocketing cost of gasoline, and Wendy’s because they’ve been a major contributor to Right-wing organizations opposed to universal health care.

The San Diego County Mega Progressive Community Coalition Summit will be holding its next general meeting Sunday, March 16, 6 p.m. at the Joyce Beers Community Center, Vermont Street north of University between Terra and Aladdin Restaurants in Hillcrest. Breakout sessions will be held every Tuesday in February and March at 6 p.m. at the Hot Monkey Love Café, 6875 El Cajon Boulevard in the College/Rolando area. For more information, visit the Web site

Monday, February 18, 2008

We Are Our Biochemistry, Says George Riddle

Cites His Uncle’s Work on Hormones and DNA


Copyright © 2008 by Mark Gabrish Conlan for Zenger’s Newsmagazine • All rights reserved

The February 17 meeting of the Humanist Fellowship of San Diego featured a strange, intense look at a brave new world of genetic engineering from a speaker who had little scientific expertise himself, but whose uncle was one of the pioneers in the field in the 1930’s. The speaker’s name was George Riddle, and his uncle Oscar Riddle made the cover of Time magazine in 1939 for his work on prolactin, a hormone that controls the human sex drive. Oscar also published a book called The Unleashing of Evolutionary Thought — which his nephew acquired the rights to and had reprinted — which offered a far-reaching agenda for genetic manipulation that couldn’t have been implemented during Oscar’s lifetime (he died in 1952), but much of which is either possible or routine today.

George Riddle began his presentation by talking about his own life. He was born in 1949 in Stockton, California. His father, Edward Riddle, was a security person at the China Lake missile test range for the FBI, Secret Service and CIA. At 20, George married a Christian activist and “went into Bible college and missionary work.” When he returned, he went to the University of California at Riverside to study geology. After he and his wife split up, George did construction work for four years — three of them working for Frank Sinatra’s contractor (a job he recalled as the most demanding he ever had) — and then became a gem miner and later a gold miner.

“In 1985,” George recalled, “I met Doris Van Tassel, president of the world’s first UFO organization. She was in deep trouble and I got involved in it, and after she died I inherited 400 tons of unpublished UFO material.” Drawing on these files, he wrote two books and started marketing them through the then-new Internet. Then he did an Internet search on his uncle Oscar. “I found out what my uncle had done, and decided to dedicate myself to my uncle’s work and life. I went to my uncle’s publisher, Vantage Press, and met with the man who did the contract to publish my uncle’s book in 1951. We arranged to reprint the book.” For George Riddle, the Internet soon became not only a research tool but a source of income; he makes his living today designing, building and administering Web sites.

“I had been taught by my family that my uncle distinguished himself among other scientists,” George Riddle recalled. “My uncle’s specialty was the pituitary hormone prolactin. The pituitary is the master gland that controls all the other glands, and my father found the hormone that controls nesting behavior.” George said his uncle documented prolactin’s role in controlling the human sex drive. “Prolactin inhibits the activity of the sex gland, which is natures way of quieting the sex urge to make people able to parent. … Prolactin was very difficult to isolate because it affected our bodies in every way,” George explained. “They would give prolactin to a man and he’d have the same feelings as a woman.”

According to George, his uncle’s message went far beyond the effects of one hormone and one gland on human behavior. “The time has come for man to control his own biological destiny,” Oscar Riddle wrote — and George added that modern advances in DNA research give us the opportunity to eliminate at least three human diseases — cancer, diabetes and Parkinson’s — just by learning to repair the DNA of a living human being. “You can pay a price to have a picture of your genome taken, and then they can repair it and you never have that disease again,” George claimed. What’s more, he added, the repairs will eliminate the disease from your germ line so your descendants won’t be at risk for it either.

George admitted that this message was a political hot potato when his uncle first talked about it in the 1930’s — and it remains so today. “In 1933 in Germany, someone was saying, ‘We can create a master race,’” George admitted (for some reason he made several such references but didn’t let the words “Hitler” or “Nazi” cross his lips), “ and my uncle faced tremendous opposition because he sounded similar. His argument was, ‘We have benefited so much from science, why can’t we apply that to our own bodies?’ In 1937 he went to a feminist meeting and said we could look in the womb and control a baby’s sex. He faced a lot of opposition from the church, because they felt these things should be left alone.”

According to George, his uncle “dealt with name-calling” because of the controversial nature of his ideas. “Three book companies wouldn’t publish his book because it sounded like Mr. H.,” he said — at least in part because Oscar insisted on expressing his ideas “without adulteration,” in an in-your-face manner exemplified by the title of the sixth chapter of Oscar’s book: “The Biological Inequality of Men.” George too has a penchant for in-your-face expressions; during his Humanist Fellowship talk he said flat-out that “we have a society that encourages inbreeding of defective DNA. You have all these defective people, and some of them are leading science and medicine.”

The basic message of Oscar Riddle’s work, according to George, is that everything we are — including what we think, what we believe and all the aspects of our consciousness religious believers refer to as the “soul” — is the product of biology. What’s more, the theory holds, each emotion, each feeling, each thought and every other manifestation of consciousness can be traced to a specific chemical and a specific site on the genome that produces it. “Our feelings are controlled by our hormones, by a molecule that’s gone through five million years’ worth of mistakes to get where we are,” George explained. “Now we can approach this and have an effect on it.”

George Riddle mentioned Susan Smalley, professor of behavior sciences at UCLA, as a modern researcher who is continuing his uncle’s work and expanding it with the benefit of today’s advances un genetics. Her specialty, George explained, is “the genetics of psychological disorders, gene identity and how it influences health and well-being. Is the brain identical to the mind, and what do the genetics tell about the connection between the two? Does changing your mind physically change the brain? We all know mind and brain are intertwined. Mind is what you experience and brain is the physical organism that controls and houses it.”

One of the most startling contentions of this branch of science is that outside stimuli and experiences can literally change the chemistry of your DNA and therefore the genetic heritage you not only carry within yourself but transmit to your offspring as well. (Could the much-ridiculed Soviet geneticist Trofim Lysenko, who won Stalin’s endorsement of his theory that learned behavior could change one’s genes, have been right after all?) “There is a program that is going to change your brain as well as your mind,” George said. “We mean that literally. What you hear will affect your brains, right down to the neurons and the genes that control them.”

George Riddle claims that we already know about factors that can affect the chemistry of DNA and the functioning of the central nervous system, including nutrition and magnetic fields. He cited research that said if pregnant women who were carrying fetuses at risk for Down’s syndrome were given “a certain amount of B-vitamins,” their babies would be born healthy. He also claimed that the reason magnetic fields affect animals (but not plants) is that chlorophyll and blood cells are virtually identical chemically except for one atom: where chlorophyll contains magnesium, which is unaffected by magnetism, animal blood contains iron.

Therefore, said George, “magnetic fields can affect the makeup of DNA. It causes DNA shifts. Every 10,000 years there’s a magnetic shift on the planet, and it affects us. The lattices between the two rungs of the DNA molecule respond to certain magnetic frequencies. … If you have control of the magnetic field around your body, you can produce certain frequencies and key into parts of our DNA.” George Riddle argues that by manipulating DNA through magnetism, nutrition and medicine, “at a certain time in our lives we can eliminate [the risk of] Parkinson’s disease.”

George Riddle argues that individual DNA profiling should be a routine part of medical practice, just as blood tests are today, “so that patients can be treated in a really specific manner. Most doctors are not up for that because they don’t want to give up control. … The best way [to implement Oscar’s ideas] is to inform people so they can do it for themselves” — so they can get their own DNA screened and make whatever “repairs” are now possible.

The question-and-answer period following George Riddle’s lecture was respectful but did raise some obvious concerns. One, especially in the U.S. with our system of private funding of medical care through for-profit insurance companies, was the likelihood that the benefits of genetic screening and “repair” will be available only to the rich — and over time the rich might use this knowledge to evolve into a new species, a “homo superior,” thereby creating not only socioeconomic but biologically determined divisions between classes. George’s answer was that the cost of a genetic screening is still relatively modest, about $500, though that screening can only give you a “look at the weaknesses” of your DNA, not actually repair them.

Other questioners asked if there could be adverse consequences from this technology. One person was concerned that scientists might make mistakes and modify the human genome in ways that would be destructive rather than constructive. Another person asked if this technology could be used to turn someone “bad” or “good.” “There are people looking to become more evil,” George conceded. “To become more ethical, you can develop your intuition. A lot of your ethics is learned.” He added that intuition is “almost like an instinct,” and that by using genetic techniques to make your intuition more sensitive, you could develop more empathy and therefore be a “better” person.

One audience member cited a lecture he’d seen on the Web site from a researcher who worked with fruit flies and led his audience to believe that scientists already know how to manipulate DNA in this far-reaching fashion. So far, he added, all commonly practiced genetic modifications have involved chemical alterations in the DNA sequence — and most of the tools used to splice a new gene into an existing genome have been quite crude. George Riddle agreed that the kinds of environmental and nutritional gene manipulations he and his uncle were talking about don’t yet exist, but the research to create them is going on and he expects rapid results.

Finally, one Fellowship member questioned the stridency of George Riddle’s presentation and said he’d be better off framing his ideas in the way author E. O. Wilson did in his book Consilience, which was an attempt to bridge the gap between religious and scientific understandings of the world. George’s reply was an intensely emotional one that revealed that his break with religion was the humanist’s equivalent of a born-again experience — only one that took him out of religion rather than bringing him to it. “I’ve had them brainwash me,” he said, “I’ve seen them brainwash other people, and I want to try to integrate ideas inside the humanist movement, to put the tools on the workbench.”

Sunday, February 10, 2008

“Gay Marine Porn Star” Returns to San Diego

Rich Merritt Hits Town to Promote Anti-“Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” Novel


Copyright © 2008 by Mark Gabrish Conlan for Zenger’s Newsmagazine • All rights reserved

Rich Merritt, author of Secrets of a Gay Marine Porn Star, opened his February 9 talk at the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender Community Center in San Diego by asking the audience to do a thought experiment. A president named Clinton has just replaced a president named Bush and promised to end the ban on Gays and Lesbians serving openly in the U.S. military. But the proposal to lift the ban has run into major, highly publicized opposition and as a result Clinton and a hostile Congress reach a compromise that, in practice, leaves the situation of Queers in the military as bad or worse than it was before.

No, he explained, this isn’t a prediction of 2009: it’s what actually happened in 1993, when it was Bill Clinton replacing George H. W. Bush and the policy that emerged was called “Don’t ask, don’t tell, don’t pursue.” But the “don’t tell” parts were enforced with a vengeance that actually increased the numbers of people discharged from the U.S. military on the grounds of homosexuality — while the “don’t ask” and “don’t pursue” parts were honored far more in the breach than the observance. This, in a nutshell, is the premise of Merritt’s new book, a novel called Code of Conduct set in the mid-1990’s in San Diego and the North County Marine base at Camp Pendleton, where Merritt actually served through much of his 13-year stint in the corps.

The publication of Code of Conduct is only the latest episode in Rich Merritt’s remarkable life. He grew up in a Fundamentalist Christian home, was educated in the ultra-conservative Bob Jones school system, joined the Marines as an act of personal liberation, came out as Gay in the service, did porn videos, got discharged, drifted into the circuit party scene and the drugs that went with it, sobered up, went to law school, became an attorney and wrote a memoir that sold well but raised the hackles of many Queer community leaders because of Merritt’s insistence on using the word “porn” in the title. He now lives in New York with his partner Jonathan, works as a researcher on securities fraud cases, and says he’s gradually moving out of legal work to pursue a writing career full-time. “As my attorney career is going south, my writing career is going north, so that decision is being made for me,” he said,

The lead characters of Code of Conduct are 33-year-old career Marine Don Hawkins and the man he’s falling in love with when the book opens, helicopter pilot Patrick McAbe. The villains are Congressmember Ed Coughlin from Orange County(based on real-life former Congressmember Bob Dornan), who emerges as one of the principal campaigners against Queers in the military; and Jay Gared, an investigator with the Naval Intelligence Service (NIS), feared by Queer servicemembers in the Navy and Marines because of their reputation for infiltrating Queer bars, community centers and other gathering places in search of servicemembers to bust.

“When I was in the Marines at age 25,” Merritt recalled, “we lived in fear that NIS had agents in the Center, in the bars, everywhere.” Only in his book he’s drawn Gared as a deeply closeted character, Gay himself but so conflicted about it he can only have sex with men in a context of attempting to entrap them. “It’s obvious to everyone except Jay that he’s Gay,” Merritt said, “and I began to wonder if anyone would think he was real. Then along came Senator Larry Craig tapping his feet in that restroom, and I could say, ‘I’m not making this up. Those guys exist in real life.”

While Merritt insisted that his characters — except for Congressmember Coughlin — weren’t patterned directly on real-life models, much of the book was formed out of his experiences as a Marine stationed at Camp Pendleton and coming to San Diego to socialize and cruise. He read a section of the book in which Patrick is invited to an officers’ dinner at the U.S. Grant Hotel and realizes he’s the only Gay Marine there who hasn’t brought a female date for cover. This was for real, Merritt explained. “We would bring a fake ‘date’ and pretend to have a girlfriend,” he said. “We’d call her a ‘stunt babe.’”

Though published later, Code of Conduct was actually written before Secrets of a Gay Marine Porn Star, Merritt said. He began the novel in 1993 — in that first flush of hope that President Clinton was actually going to lift the ban on Queers in the military outright — and finished it in 1997, then put it aside. After the success of Secrets, Merritt said, his editor asked if had anything else. “I told my editor about this old manuscript and sent it to him, and he loved it,” Merritt said. He did revise the book before it was published, mainly to improve the writing quality; he joked that much of the revision consisted of finishing sentences he’d left incomplete in his 1990’s draft.

After joking that he tells people who ask if they’re in the novel that if they’d been important enough for him to write about, they’d have been in his memoir, Merritt said he thinks novel writing is more satisfying. “I love fiction,” he acknowledged. “I personally believe that memoirs are not the best way of telling a story. That’s what Norman Mailer said, and now that I’ve written one I see what he meant. “ Merritt explained that if you’re writing an out-front autobiography you’re stuck with your recollections of what “really” happened, but when you’re writing a novel “you can take all these little bits of things and put them together.”

Asked about the likelihood that the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy will be repealed after President George W. Bush leaves office in 2009, Merritt said, “The key number to look at is public opinion. In 1993, 42 percent of the public was in favor of allowing Gays and Lesbians to serve openly, and over 50 percent were against it. Now those numbers have turned around. Today it’s over 60 percent who support allowing us to serve openly. That’s why it will eventually change. It’ll be easier to repeal it if both the President and the Congress are Democratic, but I think even John McCain would sign a bill to repeal ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ if a Democratic Congress sent him one.”

Asked whether his memoir had been used by any of the Queer lobbying groups working on the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell,” Merritt said rather ruefully that “the Gay and Lesbian groups run as afar away from my book as they can” because of what he called “the hypocrisy about pornography among Gay leaders. I’ve received so many e-mails [from Queer activists] saying the book was great but I shouldn’t have put the word ‘porn’ in the title. I was booked for an interview with a Gay radio station called Twist, and then they cancelled me at the last minute, saying they were owned by Clear Channel and they couldn’t broadcast a show with someone who’d written about doing porn. No Gay/Lesbian organization working for repeal will use my memoir — or even my novel, because my name is attached to it.”

Similarly, Merritt reported that the word “porn” in the title of his memoir had kept major chain bookstores from doing author events with him. He said the frequent argument that it doesn’t matter if independent Queer-oriented bookstores close because people can now buy Queer-themed books at mainstream stores or on the Internet is belied by his own experience — including the cancellation of an event at the Borders in heavily Queer Fort Lauderdale, Florida because the manager flatly refused to promote a book with “porn” in the title. “This time around, I’m having better luck because the word ‘porn’ isn’t in the title,” Merritt admitted.

Merritt said that this was his 10th event promoting Code of Conduct, and some of the previous ones had been in rather unlikely places — like Melbourne, Australia and Hawai’i — because he was vacationing there and seized the chance. He also got to do an event at the Chelsea Barnes and Noble in New York — which, he joked, was good because he and Jonathan could push all their friends to go — and has appeared on Sirius satellite radio. After his San Diego appearance he was scheduled for Acres of Books in Long Beach, an appearance before a Queer student group at USC Law School (where he attended after he left the Marine Corps) and A Different Light in Los Angeles. Admitting that “most authors are afraid to talk in public” — a problem he didn’t seem to have — Merritt said that they nonetheless have to accept that they have to do tours to promote their books.

Asked if he’d had any interest from the movie business in either Secrets of a Gay Marine Porn Star or Code of Conduct, Merritt said he’d actually written his own screenplay based on his novel. He did a reading of the script with 10 friends, “and halfway through we decided it was terrible” — mainly, he decided, because he’d indulged in a common failing of novel writers who try their hands at plays or scripts: he’d made it too wordy and written unnaturally long and detailed speeches for the characters. “The problem is that authors like words,” he said, “and on the screen you have to show other things.

Not that he’s expecting either of his works to hit the big screen any time soon. “I’ve had a lot of interest in Secrets from producers, directors and studios,” he said, “but the problem is who’s going to pay for it and who’s going to see it. They just don’t make Gay movies. Brokeback Mountain was three years ago, and that was the Gay movie for this decade.”

Saturday, February 02, 2008

Obama for President


Copyright © 2008 by Mark Gabrish Conlan for Zenger’s Newsmagazine • All rights reserved

This was the year California was supposed at long last to have a say in who the major-party Presidential nominees would be. Though moving the California primary to February 5 was in large measure an attempt by a corrupt political cabal in the state legislature to extend their terms artificially through Proposition 93 — which essentially would restart the clock for existing legislators and allow them to serve 12 years more, while maintaining the blatantly gerrymandered redistricting system that has essentially eliminated party competition for legislative and Congressional seats in this state — it was also supposed to have the effect of making our votes count once again. No more would California be voting at the tail end of the process, after smaller states with earlier primaries and caucuses had already had their say.

Except it didn’t work out that way, because 23 other states set their primaries for February 5 as well. Hamstrung by the Republicans’ and especially the Democrats’ bizarre, inexplicable fealty to the arrogant demands of Iowa and New Hampshire for perpetual primacy in the process — so much so that the Democratic party this year denied Wisconsin and Florida any convention delegates at all for scheduling their primaries “too soon” — over half of all American voters will have their say at the ballot box, if at all, on what’s been called “Super Tuesday,” “Super Duper Tuesday” or even “Tsunami Tuesday.” Already the early states have decimated the field and forced such high-flying early favorites as Rudy Giuliani out of the race — and among the casualties have been my top two choices in the Democratic field, Dennis Kucinich and John Edwards, respectively.

With the choice for the Democratic nomination now down to Barack Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton, the choice is no choice: no self-respecting Democrat who wants to see his or her party win in November can do anything other than vote for Obama. In an election in which “change” has become the mantra, the Holy Grail voters are seeking, the choices are between a candidate who represents the past and one who represents the future. In a country that has been riven by intense partisanship, where surprising minuscule differences in the two major parties have become the currency of bitter-end battles, the Democrats’ choice is between a woman who — largely through no fault of her own — epitomizes partisanship and partisan hatred, and a man who at least offers the tantalizing hope of being able to reason across the aisle.

What’s astonished me most during the primary season — since I wrote my article “Hillary: Democrats’ Death Wish” for the November 2007 Zenger’s — has been how the support between Clinton and Obama has broken down. According to the pollsters, Clinton’s strength has been among working-class people, people with less education, “core” Democrats and partisan Democrats, while Obama has been strongest among the college-educated, the middle-class and independents. And the reason that astonishes me is that, as President, Hillary’s husband systematically screwed over the very constituencies his wife is now relying on as her base. Much of the damage Bill Clinton did to the American working-class and middle-class was part of a long-term bipartisan project since 1973 to redistribute America’s wealth and income away from working people and towards the rich — but much of it was uniquely his.

Though the North American Free-Trade Agreement (NAFTA) was negotiated under the administration of the elder Bush, it was Bill Clinton who pushed it through a reluctant, Democrat-controlled Congress and also signed on to the creation of the World Trade Organization (WTO). NAFTA and the WTO have been unmitigated disasters for America’s working people; they have accelerated the flow of jobs overseas and wiped out avenues of economic advancement that previously moved millions of Americans from blue-collar jobs to the middle class. What’s more, by opening the Mexican economy to cheap grain from U.S. agribusiness, NAFTA dispossessed and displaced virtually all of Mexico’s small farmers — forcing them, for their own survival, to emigrate to the U.S. America’s current immigration “crisis” and the success of the radical Right in exploiting it for their own racist, xenophobic agenda are direct results of the Clinton legacy on “free trade.”

What’s more, though America’s two wars against Iraq were started under the two Presidents Bush, it was Clinton who ordered air attacks on Iraq in 1993 and 1998 and the Clinton administration that insisted that the United Nations maintain its ruinous regime of economic sanctions against Iraq that led to the deaths of over 1.5 million Iraqis between 1991 and 2003. It was also Clinton who involved the U.S. in the Yugoslavian civil wars on the side of the Muslim extremists in Bosnia — repeating the mistake of the Reagan administration in Afghanistan that brought about the Taliban, al-Qaeda and 9/11. And need I remind anyone reading this that Hillary Clinton not only voted to give the Bush administration the green-light to wage its illegal war of aggression against Iraq but (unlike John Edwards) has never repudiated that vote or apologized for it?

It was Clinton — not Bush — who signed into law the first version of the USA PATRIOT Act (the “Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act”) into law in 1996, eviscerating the right of habeas corpus and paving the way for Bush and a later Congress to destroy it completely. It was Clinton — not Bush — who started the practice of “extraordinary rendition,” by which the U.S. essentially kidnaps individuals and, rather than holding them in this country, ships them overseas to countries where they will be tortured. And for my Queer readers, it was Clinton, not Bush, who signed into law the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy banning Queers from serving openly in the U.S. military (which is not only an offense against civil rights but has hamstrung our ability to deal with the Muslim world because it’s led to the mass discharge of Arabic-speaking linguists) and the “Defense of Marriage Act” banning legal recognition of same-sex marriage by the federal government.

Another frequent comment from Hillary’s supporters I can’t fathom is all their references to her “experience.” Experience at what, actually? Watching her husband be President for eight years? It’s true Clinton has been in the U.S. Senate longer than Obama has, but counting his tenure in the Illinois state legislature he’s had far more time in elective office than she has. It’s amusing that the Right-wing propagandists on talk radio, who during Bill Clinton’s presidency delighted in portraying him as a shuffle-footed idiot chasing girls around the White House while Hillary actually ran the country, are now working overtime to convince the American people that Hillary had nothing to do with any of the decisions of the Clinton presidency — but, quite frankly, aside from the health-care debacle of 1993-94 (which she was directly in charge of, and ran with a level of internal secrecy and demands for “loyalty” that anticipated the current President and his administration), there’s no evidence that Hillary did have anything to do with the decisions of the Clinton presidency.

Finally, a lot of Hillary’s supporters argue that in a race in which the economy is emerging as a major issue, we should support her because Bill Clinton’s years in the White House were good times economically. This is nonsense. In fact, the Clinton and Bush records on the economy are surprisingly similar: Clinton’s presidency was a period of artificial prosperity generated by an unsustainable boom in high-tech stocks that collapsed in the last year of his administration, while Bush II’s was a period of artificial prosperity generated by an unsustainable boom in real estate that collapsed in the next-to-last year of his. It’s true Clinton wasn’t quite as blatant as Bush II in ensuring that the rich would get richer and the poor poorer as a result of his economic policies, but by buying into the Wall Street consensus and using the tax money generated from the boom to pay down the national debt instead of helping working-class people and rebuilding America’s infrastructure, Bill Clinton showed his true center-Right colors.

In fact, it’s clear from the record of the Bill Clinton presidency that both Clintons are center-Right politicians, and Hillary’s election as president will no more bring about a progressive revival than Bill’s did. Indeed, not only is Hillary Clinton almost certainly unelectable — when polls indicate that 40 percent of the American people regard you as the candidate they most want to prevent from becoming President, the writing is on the wall and it spells near-certain defeat — but even, if by some fluke she wins, she won’t be able to govern. The Republicans in Congress, even if they don’t regain their majority (which they probably will if someone as bitterly hated in Middle America as Hillary Clinton heads the Democratic ticket), will still have enough seats to block anything and everything she tries to do. Hillary Clinton’s presidency will be four years of brutal partisan gridlock, at a time when the nation can ill afford it because of the crises we face, both domestic (the threatened meltdown of the U.S. economy) and foreign (the fallout of Bush II’s malevolent unilateralism and the human-rights abuses committed in the name of the “war on terror”).

But there are more reasons to vote for Barack Obama than the fact that he isn’t Hillary Clinton. The flip side of his “inexperience” is he’s blessedly bereft of the wrong kind of experience. Maybe he just lucked out by not being in the U.S. Senate yet when the vote to authorize the Iraq war was taken — and he didn’t have to listen to the siren calls of the so-called “realists” who told Clinton, Edwards and John Kerry that anyone who didn’t vote for the war would be killing his or her future political credibility — but the fact remains that Obama has been against the war from the get-go while Clinton can’t even bring herself to say she’s against it now. Obama’s supporters have compared him to Abraham Lincoln and John Firzgerald Kennedy, and while this has given Clinton’s backers conniption fits, the fact remains that both comparisons are appropriate.

When he became President, Lincoln had even less experience in elective office — just three terms in the Illinois state legislature and one in the U.S. House of Representatives — than Obama has now. (Indeed, William Seward, the early front-runner Lincoln beat for the 1860 Republican nomination, made the same kinds of “inexperience” arguments against Lincoln that Clinton and her supporters are making against Obama.) Lincoln gained national prominence the same way Obama did: by making a series of inspiring speeches on the major national issue of the day during a campaign for a U.S. Senate seat from Illinois — a campaign Lincoln, unlike Obama, lost (admittedly against a far stronger opponent).

The comparisons between Kennedy and Obama are even stronger — so much so that I suspect Ted Kennedy’s endorsement of Obama may have been motivated by how much Obama reminds him of his late brother. Though Kennedy had served in the U.S. Senate longer than Obama has, he’d been chronically ill much of his term and therefore had little more “face time” on the floor than Obama’s today. Like Obama, Kennedy deliberately kept his election promises vague, committing less to specific positions on specific issues and more on a pledge to “get America moving again.” Like Obama, Kennedy saw the presidency largely as a platform for inspirational leadership rather than the nuts-and-bolts of policy wonkery. And the most important parallel between them is that they both ran for the highest office in the land despite repeatedly being told that no one of “their kind” could ever win. Kennedy successfully challenged anti-Catholic religious bigotry, and I think Obama is uniquely qualified (largely because he’s the son of an African immigrant rather than the descendant of slaves) to challenge America’s lingering racism. Indeed, one of the most inspiring aspects of Obama’s candidacy is he's running for the highest office in a country that until 40 years ago had laws on its books designed to prevent people like him from even existing.

For me, the issue in the Presidential election is a simple one: where do we want this country to go? If you want a continuation of the policies of the 2000’s, the unending “war on terror,” the destruction of the U.S. Constitution in the name of “security,” the preservation of Bush’s tax cuts for the rich and the hatred with which we are greeted through much of the world, vote for the Republican nominee. If you want a return to the trivial gridlocked politics of the 1990’s, when Republicans and Democrats alike quibbled over the semen stains on Monica Lewinsky’s dress while Osama bin Laden organized his jihad in Afghanistan and Pakistan, vote for Hillary Clinton. If you actually believe that America has a future, and can do better than it did in either of those two sorry decades, please, please, please vote for Barack Obama.

Heath Ledger and “Legal” Drugs


Copyright © 2008 by Mark Gabrish Conlan for Zenger’s Newsmagazine • All rights reserved

Brokeback Mountain star Heath Ledger’s sudden, tragic death January 22 has evoked comparisons between him and James Dean: two young, hot movie stars with intense personalities that crossed sexual boundaries (though Dean was a real-life Bisexual while Ledger just played one in a movie), both of whom died in their 20’s and stuck the same company, Warner Bros., with the chancy task of selling epic movies (Dean’s Giant and Ledger’s The Dark Knight) that still had months of post-production left before they could be released.

But if the preliminary evidence on Ledger’s death checks out — particularly the fact that the New York loft where he died contained no illegal “recreational” drugs but at least six different prescription drugs, including the highly toxic sleep medication Ambien — the list of celebrity deaths Ledger’s belongs on is the one that includes Marilyn Monroe, Judy Garland and Elvis Presley. They didn’t get their drugs in glassine envelopes from grubby street pushers; they got theirs in little brown bottles with doctors’ names on them. Over time, they became so addicted to prescription drugs that they were able to tolerate quantities that would have killed a first-time user instantly — until one day a lethal combination of drugs finally did them in.

The technical term for what killed Elvis, and what probably killed Heath, is polypharmacy: the lethal interaction of several drugs taken at or near the same time. Drugs are chemical compounds, and when you take more than one at a time they have the potential to react with each other and create new compounds far more toxic than the initial drugs. Also, most of the commonly abused prescription drugs are either synthetic opiates (like Elvis’s favorite, Dilaudid; and Rush Limbaugh’s drug of choice, Oxycontin), sleeping pills or psychotropic drugs: all of which affect the brain and make it difficult for the person using them to keep track of just what he or she has already taken, when and how much.

For too long, prescription drug abuse has been America’s great hidden drug problem. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC), “unintentional poisoning deaths” — almost all of which are overdoses of either legal or illegal drugs — increased from 12,186 in 1999 to 20,950 in 2004. What’s more, according to CDC researcher Len Paulozzi, during that period prescription drugs became the leading causes of overdose deaths, more than cocaine and heroin combined. Overdose deaths from psychotropic drugs — including sleeping pills, antidepressants and tranquilizers — increased 84 percent from 1999 to 2004, according to Paulozzi’s study.

A survey by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University in New York reported that the number of Americans admitting to using prescription drugs for non-medical reasons has almost doubled, from 7.8 million in 1992 to 15.1 million in 2003. Abuse among teenagers almost tripled, this study said. But the implication that prescription drugs are only dangerous if they’re sold illegally is wrong. Stars at the level of Marilyn, Judy, Elvis and Heath collect doctor-groupies just like they frequently collect other sorts of groupies — M.D.’s like two of the doctors implicated in Elvis’s death, George Nichopoulos and Elias Ghanem, perfectly willing to write unnecessary prescriptions (often in the names of members of the stars’ entourages as well as the stars themselves) in order to get celebrities as friendx.

The explosion in prescription drug-related deaths has tracked closely the explosion in prescription drug use, which has soared nearly 500 percent since 1990. That in turn has come about for two reasons: the increased use of drugs to treat conditions like ulcers that used to require surgery, and the government decision in the 1990’s to allow makers of prescription drugs to advertise directly to the public.

We’ve all seen those commercials: luscious pieces of filmmaking with good-looking people proudly proclaiming how these drugs have saved their lives, while in the background we hear treacly New Age music and see glorious landscapes in twilight (what cinematographers call “magic hour”). Often the ads are more informative about what the drugs look like than what they treat; the ads for Nexium make a big to-do about the purple color of the pill (the drug maker’s Web site for it is even called “”), while you have to listen very carefully to find out exactly what Nexium is supposed to do.

It’s true that, by law, the TV commercials for prescription drugs have to disclose the potential side effects — but those disclosures are usually delivered by an announcer suddenly accelerating his voice to near-warp speed in the auditory equivalent of fine print. What the commercials are all about is what all TV advertising is about: creating a warm, comfortable image for the product so you feel you just have to have it. Ambien, one of the most potentially lethal drugs in Heath Ledger’s personal pharmacopoeia (and one he was so addicted to at the end that, according to his own admission, two pills would only put him under for an hour or so), is advertised with a digitally animated butterfly against a deep blue background flying through an open window and bestowing the blessed gift of sleep on you.

What’s more, the pharmaceutical industry in general has followed a marketing strategy designed literally to create addicts. As Melody Petersen noted in an op-ed in the January 27 Los Angeles Times, “A Bitter Pill for Big Pharma,” “executives have shown less interest in medicines like antibiotics that actually cure disease than in those that only treat symptoms. Most blockbuster [drugs] are pills for conditions like anxiety, high cholesterol or constipation that must be taken daily, often for months or years. They are designed for rich Americans who can afford to buy them. Medicines for tropical diseases, including malaria, which is devastating the developing world and killing a child every 30 seconds, have never been an industry priority.”

That’s not only for the reason Melody Petersen cites in her article — “The poor can’t pay the high prices a blockbuster demands” — but also because drug companies have made the perfectly understandable decision that they don’t want to sell a “cure” for a disease. What they want is to put you on the hook for their product and keep you there. We saw this in the discourse around AIDS, which quietly shifted in the mid-1990’s from talk about a “cure” to talk about making AIDS “a chronic, manageable disease” — in other words, one you wouldn’t die from but only if you took three or more pills a day for the rest of your life.

In today’s mainstream medicine, “preventive care” doesn’t mean what it used to — educating people about diet, exercise and other nonpharmaceutical ways of maintaining good health. Instead, it means encouraging people to take “tests” for everything from cholesterol level to HIV status, then telling them that based on the results of these tests they’re going to get diseases unless they sign up and pay Big Pharma’s going rates for the latest drugs. Not coincidentally, these are the ones that have been developed and approved in the last 20 years and therefore are still under patent protection, meaning only one company can make it and therefore they can make you pay however much they think they can get.

“The marketing of pharmaceuticals that we’ve seen on television in the last 10 years — the whole ‘get some medicine for whatever you need’ attitude — has really increased the acceptability of prescription drugs,” said Richard A. Rawson, UCLA professor of psychiatry and associated director of its Integrated Substance Abuse Programs. “There’s a stigma that’s associated with illicit drugs that isn’t associated with legal drugs.” And yet the two industries are using similar marketing plans and targeting consumers at the same point of vulnerability.

Celebrities, with notoriously fragile egos and locked in a cutthroat business dependent on the good will of a fickle public that can be withdrawn at any moment, are infamously susceptible to the appeals of both legal and illegal drug pushers. The first drug-related death of a movie star, Wallace Reid’s, occurred in 1922. (Only 31 years old, Reid became addicted to medically prescribed morphine and was so weakened that he died of influenza in a sanitarium where he was trying to kick his habit.) Heath Ledger was no exception; at the end he was reportedly run down both by his breakup with actress Michelle Williams (who played the wife he cheats on in Brokeback Mountain and with whom he had a daughter, Matilda) and the intensity of playing the Joker, a psychopathic villain with no redeeming human qualities, in the Batman series film The Dark Knight — and instead of taking some time off for non-chemical rest and relaxation, he’d gone right into making another film.

In life, the solidly heterosexual Heath Ledger became an unexpected Gay icon with his performance as Bisexual cowboy/sheepherder Ennis del Mar in Brokeback Mountain. “Heath Ledger will forever be remembered for his groundbreaking role as Ennis del Mar,” said Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamationi (GLAAD) president Neil Giuliano.. “His powerful portrayal changed hearts and minds in immeasurable ways. He will be greatly missed.” It would be nice if, in death, Ledger becomes an equally powerful silent advocate warning of the dangers of prescription drug abuse and the need to resist drug-company marketing strategies that seek to define every less than wonderful aspect of the human condition as a “disease” that can only be treated with a high-priced drug.


Veterans for Peace President on Activism and Iraq


Copyright © 2008 by Mark Gabrish Conlan for Zenger’s Newsmagazine • All rights reserved

Every week, peace activists and ordinary people concerned about the seemingly endless U.S. occupation of Iraq gather together in at least eight locations in San Diego County to say, “Enough!” — enough of war, enough of occupation, enough of the suppression of constitutional liberties and civil rights in the name of a perpetual “war on terror,” and enough of the Bush administration. Only one of these vigils, every Friday from 4 to 5:30 p.m. at the corner of Sixth and University in Hillcrest, is in a relatively “liberal” area where one might expect regular peace demonstrations.

The others are in places like Vista, Ramona, La Mesa, Poway (where the movement actually started), Encinitas, La Jolla and Carmel Valley, where Gil Field and his wife live and turn out every Sunday afternoon at 1 at the corner of Del Mar Heights Road and El Camino Real. Field is also the president of the San Diego chapter of Veterans for Peace, a nationwide organization of peace activists who have served in the U.S. military — many of them (though not Fried himself) in combat.

Zenger’s caught up with Field at the Hillcrest vigil on January 18 and interviewed him afterwards at Cofe Café, a new independent coffeehouse on Fifth and Washington that grabbed the location out from under the Starbucks mega-corporation. He talked about his organization, his hopes for peace and the effect the 2008 Presidential election is likely to have on war, peace and America’s role in the world.

Zenger’s: What branch of the military did you serve in, when, and what was your story?

Gil Field: I was not in any war. To be a veteran, you have to have 180 days of active-duty honorable service. I was in the Coast Guard from 1970 to 1974, and after my training I served three years on an island in New York harbor. The island is called Governor’s Island. It’s one of the three islands in New York harbor, along with Ellis Island and Liberty Island, There were 6,000 Coast Guardsmen on Governor’s Island doing a whole host of activities regarding the Atlantic Ocean.

I’m the exception to the rule in my organization. Most of the people in my organizations were Marines or Navy people, as you can imagine, San Diego being a big Navy and Marine center. Many of them were in the Viet Nam war. Many of them are in their early 60’s, and therefore were in the Viet Nam war in the late 1960’s.

Zenger’s: How did you come to be anti-war? Did you always feel that way, or was it a gradual conversion?

Field: No, I pretty much always felt that way. I was a mild activist in the 1960’s in college. Even during my stint in the Coast Guard in the early 1970’s, I was often involved in anti-war rallies in New York City. I lived 300 yards off lower Manhattan, so it was very easy for me to attend the big anti-war rallies in 1971, 1972, 1973.

Zenger’s: You’ve mentioned that most of your life you’ve lived in the East Coast. What brought you to California?

Field: I was working for the Department of the Navy as a contracting officer, which was a civilian civil-service job. I lived most of my life in the Washington, D.C. area, but in 1997 the Navy moved the Navy agency I was working with to San Diego from Washington, D.C. I elected to bring my family out here and continue working in my job until I retired last year. We’ve enjoyed San Diego.

Zenger’s: How did you get involved with the San Diego Veterans for Peace?

Field: Strangely enough, I ran across them at Moonlight Beach in November 2005, when they were putting up their “Arlington West” memorial, which is a series of crosses, each one with the name of a U.S. soldier killed in the Iraq war. I read about it in the paper, and my wife and I went up to see the memorial. We started helping with the memorial and met the people in the Veterans for Peace, and started to attend Veterans for Peace meetings.

Zenger’s: Had you been an activist previously since the 1970’s, or had you dropped out? And if so, what brought you back?

Field: Unfortunately, I did drop out as I got married and had children, but what brought me back was George W. Bush and the Iraq occupation. I came to realize early on that Bush was bad news, and our country was headed in the wrong direction. After the invasion of Iraq, I, like a lot of other people, saw the light and realized that this was not something that our country should be doing. Then I became more politically aware and active again.

Zenger’s: You dated it from the beginning of the war in Iraq. How did you feel when the 9/11 attacks occurred, and during the year to year-and-a-half after that, before Iraq became the main focus of our response?

Field: Like everybody else I was outraged by the 9/11 attacks, and like a lot of people I was confused as more and more the drum was sounded to attack Iraq. It seemed like an odd choice, given that we had not been attacked by Iraq and that Iraq was a rather strong secular state in the Middle East, where many of the other states were much more religiously based and therefore could be tied to al-Qaeda.

I was familiar with the writings of the Project for a New American Century. When I started reading them, I came to the conclusion that perhaps this was really the agenda of the Bush administration. They wanted to follow the plans and goals of the Project for a New American Century, and 9/11 had just been a good opportunity to do these things and get the mainstream of the country to go along. The country got snookered.

Zenger’s: I remember going to one of the early anti-Iraq War demonstrations, and a heckler actually came up to me and said, “So you don’t believe we should fight back when we’re attacked?” I just looked at him nonplussed and said, “Who attacked us? Not Iraq! Where did the people who actually did 9/11 come from? Saudi Arabia and Egypt. Where did we go to war? Afghanistan and Iraq.”

Field: Right. If we really wanted the oil, we should have attacked Canada, because Canada is our number one oil source. An attack on Canada would have made more sense. And I guess I should say for the record that I don’t recommend an attack on Canada.

Zenger’s: I noticed a number of people at today’s demonstration were talking about 9/11 as an inside job: this whole idea that the Bush administration either had advance knowledge and allowed the attacks to happen, or actually sponsored them in some way. As an individual, not speaking for the Veterans for Peace, how do you feel about that?

Field: I don’t go along with that line of thought too much, although I must admit that, having listened to these people quite a bit, I have my own questions as to bits and pieces of the 9/11 activities that make me wonder. I’m concerned about Building 7 of the World Trade Center complex, and why it fell when so little damage had been done. I’m also interested in things like the bin Laden family being swept out of this country, things of this nature. But for the most part, I’m not convinced that it was an inside job or that the Bush administration let it happen. I think we got surprised.

Zenger’s: What exactly does the Veterans for Peace do?

Field: Veterans for Peace is an organization, a national organization with about 150 chapters and about 7,500 veterans and associate members who have five primary goals in their statement of purpose. The first is to increase the public’s awareness of the total costs of war. We do this by memorials, demonstrations and whatever to show people that there is a cost to war.

Secondly, we’d like to restrain our government from intervening, overtly or covertly, in the internal affairs of other nations. We have an anti-imperialism philosophy that the United States should not be intervening in the affairs of other nations.

Thirdly, the Veterans for Peace is a proponent of ending the arms race and reducing, and eventually eliminating, nuclear weapons. Fourthly, we are strong advocates for additional veterans’ benefits, which is a big issue right now as more and more people come from the Iraq occupation wounded and ill taken care of.

And lastly, we are strong proponents for abolishing war as an instrument of foreign and international policy. Our government historically has used war not only when negotiations have failed, but often as an alternative to negotiations. War has been something that our nation has gone to way too fast, and often unnecessarily.

Zenger’s: The counter-argument to that is there comes a time in the history of every nation where you do have to use some kind of military force. One of the frequent criticisms of peace activists generally is that we’d be unwilling to see force used, and oppose it, even when there was a really overarching danger that could only be met by the military. Adolf Hitler and Nazism, and fascism in general, is usually the example that is cited. How would you respond to that?

Field: The aspect of our group that may be a little different from other peace groups is that the vast majority of our members have either been to war or been involved in something approximating war. We have members from World War II, we have members from the Korean war, we have a lot of members from the Viet Nam war. We have members from the first Iraq war and we have associate members from the second Iraq war, the current Iraq occupation.

I would say, looking back at our history, that our country often goes to war for the wrong reason. We don’t go to war because we have been challenged. One of our older members recently said that he had been in the Korean conflict. He was loaded onto a ship on the West Coast — I don’t know whether it was San Diego or San Francisco — and it took him 17 days to get to Korea on the ship. During those 17 days, he came to the conclusion that if it took him 17 days to find the enemy, maybe that enemy wasn’t his enemy, because that enemy was so far away from us as to be irrelevant to the challenge facing America.

We know that the Viet Nam war was not what it was advertised at the time. We certainly know that the Iraq occupation is not anything close to a defense of America. If anything, it’s making America’s military and international position weaker by the day. I personally — and I think even the Veterans for Peace [as an organization] — would say that there are times that a military response is called for. I would say that World War II was definitely one of those times.

But when you look back at the recent military involvements of our country, going back in time with the Iraq occupation; the Grenada involvement, whatever that was about; Viet Nam, again, hard to justify that as anything other than a voluntary war; the Korean conflict, which was a U.N. action but, again, could likely have been settled by the Korean people — when you team that up with things like the military involvement in Haiti, the military and the CIA involvement in Iran in 1953, it becomes obvious that our country has a tendency to use its military or go to war when negotiations, discussions or just leaving things alone would be better.

Zenger’s: How do you see these issues playing out in the current election? Do you think that it’s going to make a difference who wins the presidency, who’s in control of Congress? What would you see your group doing after 2008 — give both scenarios: if the Republicans win, and if the Democrats win?

Field: O.K. First scenario is that a Republican president is in charge. I guess the scenario would have to go along that we’d either have a Republican Congress or a go-along Democratic Congress. We would continue to do exactly what we’re doing now, which is to push back against the policies of the administration, assuming that the Iraq occupation would be continued, made greater, or other adventures begun with Iran. Who knows what else someone would do?

Given the reality that we’re likely to get a Democratic president, and the even stronger reality that we’re likely to get a more Democratic Congress, I think the Veterans for Peace would hope to continue to influence those in the peace community, and members of Congress who are on the correct side of the issues, in such a way that the troops could be brought home, if not immediately, then as soon as possible. Then we would want to see our government cease to be interested in imperial adventures. We could be such an amazing force for good in the world, such as eradicating disease and poverty and all the things that America could be doing, when in fact we’re wasting our fine service personnel and our treasury on this misadventure in the Iraq occupation.

Zenger’s: But isn’t the history of the United States since World War II one of imperialism basically being bipartisan? The Korean war was started under a Democrat, the Viet Nam war was started under a Democrat, and while both Iraq wars were started under Republicans, in between Clinton ordered at least two major air attacks on Iraq. And all three of the major Democratic candidates for President have pledged that U.S. troops will remain in Iraq at least until the end of their first terms.

Field: All very true. Everything you just said is very true. I would hope that, having seen the horrible outcome of the Iraq occupation in terms of blood and money and poor standing in the world, that this may be the time that America could wake up and understand that we can’t gain advantages in the world by being a bully, but instead by being a good citizen in the world. We have such an abundance of wealth and an abundance of talent. I think about the Peace Corps in the 1960’s, and how that was on a small scale such a major influence in the world, and how we were welcomed into some of the most hostile countries in the world, because we sent these 25-year-olds, 22-year-olds there.

You always have to hope that in the 21st century we have the ability to see the errors of our ways as a country, and to cease imperialism, bipartisan though it may be, and start thinking in terms of being a good citizen in the world.

Zenger’s: One statistic that haunts me is that the United States contains six percent of the world’s population and uses, depending on what source I read, between 25 and 33 percent of the world’s resources. Doesn’t the U.S. have to remain an imperialist power to keep being able to do that?

Field: Well, does it have to? On the one hand, if we are to maintain our use of oil and our wasteful lifestyles here, there is some degree to which you could say that we almost have to be an imperialist power, because I think the clock is running down against us. We know that the oil in the world is going to be gone in 80 to 100 years. We know that the price of oil will go through the roof once people realize that we’re on the second half of the oil situation, particularly with China and India coming on line with oil use.

But on the other hand, we have the ability through technology, through our own lifestyle changes, and through a certain amount of government intervention, to radically reduce the oil that we use and go to alternative sources of energy, fuel, and reduce the need for oil to the point that we won’t need to be an imperialist force. We pull about 40 percent of the oil that we use out of the United States, and we import 60 percent. I really don’t believe that it would be out of the question that someday we could operate on the 40 percent that we’re pulling out of our own country, and stop worrying about the politics of the Middle East so much.

Zenger’s: Could you tell me about the campaign the Veterans for Peace is currently doing, the “Enough!” campaign, the vigils like the one we just went to?

Field: Actually, the San Diego Veterans for Peace are not specifically in charge of the “Enough!” rallies. The “Enough!” rallies are an independent grouping of individual weekend vigils, and the San Diego Veterans for Peace participate in the vigils, but we are not specifically the sponsor of the “Enough!” rallies. Many of our members are participants, and a variety of our members actually lead certain of the vigils, but the Veterans for Peace are not sponsors of the “Enough!” vigils.

Zenger’s: As you mentioned, there are quite a few of them, and they’re in some places that you’d think of as pretty unlikely venues for peace activism in San Diego.

Field: Yes, very true. My wife and I lead the one in Carmel Valley. We started it. July 28 was our first vigil. Having heard of the Poway vigil three weeks before, and being distressed by what we thought was the nature of the average Carmel Valley resident, who we thought was a Republican and also perhaps pro-war, or certainly not anti-war, we e-mailed a dozen of our friends and said, “We’re going to be down on the streetcorner at 1 o’clock on Sunday with a few signs against the war, against the Iraq occupation. We’d really like you to join us and see what happens.”

The first week we had 15. And within three or four weeks we had 30 on a regular basis on the corner. The positive responses versus the negative responses are running anywhere from 25-1 to 50-1. We have just been overwhelmed with the positive responses from the average Carmel Valley resident driving by on a busy Sunday, which has made us feel amazingly good with the fact that if Carmel Valley is against the war, then San Diego and the rest of the country has to be even more so against the war.

Zenger’s: If you’ve got all these people against the war, why does it continue, and what do you see as the “push” that we will need to defeat or stop it?

Field: The “war” itself is actually over, of course. It ended about three weeks after we invaded Iraq. We’re now into the fifth year of the Iraq occupation. I guess the only reason it’s continuing is we were unfortunate enough to elect George Bush in 2004. He’s still our President, and notwithstanding what Congress either could do or won’t do, and notwithstanding a 75 to 80 percent negative response to the war, George Bush is still our commander in chief, and by the nature of our constitution, he makes the calls of this nature. And our Congress was foolish enough back in 2002 and 2003 to give him the authority to do this.

How will it end? I hope it will end when we elect a new President who will bring the troops home, if not immediately, then quickly. I see a handful of Democrats as good candidates to do this,. I don’t see any Republicans in the current crop as offering to do this. So I guess I would have to say, in a non-partisan sort of way, that I hope a Democrat is elected President in 2008.