Tag Archives: covid

AIDS in the ’80s: one book, one movie

When I first read Randy Shilts’ AND THE BAND PLAYED ON: Politics, People and the AIDS Epidemic, I saw it as a current-events book that would be worth reading as history in decades to come. Rereading it recently I still think so, with one large exception (discussed in Killing Patient Zero further on).

As the book begins, gay men in San Francisco and New York — two hotspots for gay life at the time — start coming down with Kaposi’s sarcoma, a skin cancer that typically affects elderly Jews and grows slowly. These cancers did not. Other victims are hit with baffling bacterial growth in the lungs or brain diseases. Before long it becomes clear that something is killing gay men but is it drugs? An STD? How can it be stopped? And what do you call it: what started as “the gay cancer” became Gay-Related Immune Deficiency and then Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome.

Shilts’ book is fueled by rage at pretty much everyone. Gays who refused to believe their sex life was the issue, and refused to practice safe sex. Government officials in both cities who sat on their hands about doing anything to help gays, or refused to close gay bathhouses for fear of offending gay supporters. Media that had zero interest in writing about some disease killing those icky people (the first stories focused on It Might Affect Straights!!!). Blood banks that resisted taking precautions against tainted blood — their blood does not have gay cooties! And it would be expensive to test! The Reagan administration lied through its teeth saying, over and over, that they’d funded every possible AIDS research and mitigation project when requests for funding were piling up. University administrations refused to expedite research requests by staffers and punished anyone who made an end run.

The result? Years wasted, lots more people dead. I’m not sure if AIDS was, as many people describe it, the most terrifying disease of the century (was it scarier than the Spanish flu or the possibility of kids getting polio?) but it was a horrifyingly lethal one. It might have been even worse if Rock Hudson, closeted Hollywood gay, hadn’t come down with AIDS. Here was a star who could put a face on the disease (though TYG says for people her age, young Ryan White getting AIDs from a transfusion was a much bigger deal): if a Hollywood icon and manly man could get AIDS, nobody was safe!

All that said, Shilts writes about a number of admirable figures too: people who fought for funding, researched the disease, pushed for safe-sex measures and struggled to save lives (right wing Senator Orrin Hatch was, to my surprise, one of them). Plus those who died, whether with dignity, resignation, fury or tears (or a mix of all of them). It’s the mix of individual experience and big-picture worldview that makes the book so effective.

Even though I lived through the era it feels unreal to me now. Shilts, writing in 1987, talks about how our lives are broken into Before the epidemic and After which is how it felt at the time. It was a seismic shock that made it suddenly acceptable to talk about condoms on TV (a big taboo previously) but now it’s a musty memory (keep in mind I was a straight guy living a low-risk life so I didn’t go through the harrowing some of the book’s subjects did). It makes me appreciate how the Spanish flu and polio have receded into history. It also makes me see some of the covid insanity with fresh eyes. Religious conservatives insisting their right to hold superspreader services — who knows if covid’s even real? — aren’t that far off from the reactions some gays had to the news sex could kill them.

The one place Shilts blows it is his portrayal of Gaetan Dugas, the man he fingers as Patient Zero, the gay dude who brought AIDS to America and spread it through a promiscuous lifestyle that kept going even after his symptoms became obvious. Except as KILLING PATIENT ZERO (2020) shows, AIDS had a much longer latency period than first appeared, taking as much as a decade to destroy people’s immune systems; that meant it was established in the American gay population well before Dugas, a Canadian flight attendant, supposedly began spreading it.

Dugas was, like many gay men, skeptical about AIDS being spread by STDs (one of the things better funding might have confirmed sooner); the movie points out that for many gays, sexual freedom in the 1970s was proof they were no longer the love that dare not speak its name and they didn’t want to withdraw from that. Dugas, ironically, came off looking like the prime mover because he cooperated so much with the CDC, providing lots of information about his sexual contacts; had other men been as forthcoming the map of who infected whom would have looked very different. And Patient Zero — a term that didn’t exist before AIDS — was really a misinterpretation of “Patient O” in one file, short for “Out of California.”

Shilts’ editor (the author himself has passed) says he seized on Dugas as a way to put a face on the epidemic; giving readers and the media a Typhoid Mary figure (and Typhoid Mary herself was nowhere near the lethal carrier legend has made her out to be) would generate enough attention people outside the gay community would read the book. Giving them a Typhoid Gay guaranteed right-wing media would flag the book as one of interest (right-wing outlets, as I recall from the time, took great glee pointing out it was All Gays’ Fault for their lechery, but ignoring Reagan’s role). Shilts didn’t like demonizing Dugas but he went along with it and the tactic worked. The documentary does a good job painting Dugas as human being rather than a deviant monster. I’d recommend anyone who reads Shilts’ book follow up with the movie. “It seems to me reality shouldn’t come ready-packed with metaphors.”

#SFWApro. All rights to images remain with current holders.

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Republicans are The Other they imagine the Other to be

I’ve been reading a book about lynching which points out how deeply it tied in to the Othering of black Americans. Savages. Subhuman unintelligent brutes, little better than apes, dangerously violent. Unfit to live as equals with their superiors.  Etc.

The Othering of white supremacy’s enemies hasn’t gone away. The Nashville school shooter may have been trans (it’s unclear at this point) so that proves trans people are dangerous. Why are people talking about bigotry against trans people when they’re so filled with hate and rage? — say right-wingers who shriek at the idea their rhetoric has ever inspired violence or that any right-wingers are terrorists (many are). They’re even squealing about how most mass shooters are trans, which is a flat-out lie, but undoubtedly makes their whiny voters feel better. As C.S. Lewis says, hating your enemies is both poisonous and addictive. Bearing false witness against the Other makes it that much easier to hate them.

As someone once said (actually multiple someones phrasing it various ways), one of the basics of being a civilized person is the willingness to coexist with people who are not you. Different attitudes. Different faiths. Different races. That has always been a challenge in America but most Republicans aren’t even trying: they equate respecting the rights of people they don’t like with oppression. When those people — trans people, gay marriages, independent women, Muslims — demand equal rights, it’s an imposition on Real Americans.

In short, Republicans are the barbarians and savages they imagine other people to be, and that fuels their policies. Many of them support the death penalty for gays, restricted voting for The Other, overturning The Other’s votes, levying anti-trans bills against adults (regardless of potential collateral damage), calling drag queens demonic, book burning, and shrieking about gay and trans grooming while ignoring the elephant in their own living room. A number of them express creepy enthusiasm for running this country like the Taliban or the North Korean government.

Then there’s the endless paranoid rants about covid vaccines. If this were a 1950s movie, the anti-vaxxers would be the stereotypical third-world natives freaking out because the witch doctor says white man’s medicine is evil magic. Blood transfusion is a lifesaving medical technology but some anti-vaxxers want blood from only unvaccinated people. In Montana there’s a bill banning covid-vaccinated people from donating blood even though this would create major blood shortages (see also …)

The Republican Party is working hard to turn off its brains and make itself unfit for civilized life. Which is unfortunate because we’re sharing this civilization with them and will be for the foreseeable future; unlike some on the right, Taking away their rights, mass murder, or concentration camps are not acceptable solutions for dealing with them, even though many of them are down with doing it to us.

On the plus side, they’re a minority in the US now, for all the noise they make. They have outsize power because of the way our government is structured — by 2040, two-thirds of Americans will get to elect only 30 percent of the Senate — but just as we’re living through the backlash against the civil rights gains of the last few decades, I’m hopeful we can find a way to backlash against their backlash.

In the short term, it’ll be tough, as witness Perry Bacon discussing the challenges and role of being black and liberal in a conservative community. As a former resident (though a white one) of the very, very red-state Florida Panhandle I feel for him.

I’ll leave you with the words of playwright Charles Mee about how he loves Greek drama because the Greeks “take us back to what we know is true: how immensely hard it is to make a great civilization out of the raw material we humans are.” Truth.

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Republicans say they’re protecting children. But they lie a lot

“The consequences are already playing out in Columbus, Ohio, where a child with measles was able to wander around a mall before showing symptoms in November, potentially spreading the highly contagious disease. The state legislature in 2021 had stripped the city health commissioner’s ability to order someone suspected of having an infectious disease to quarantine.” — from a WaPo story about how Republicans, shrieking FREEDOM, have justified gutting public health powers. It’s an unholy alliance of sincere anti-vax sentiment, blind loyalty to God-King Trump, and greed (right-wing attorney Mat Staver begging for money to fight evil vaccine mandates). Or Ron DeSantis wanting anti-vax votes.

For years Republicans have insisted that they’re the party that cares about children. Protects children. They have more children that liberals so they care about the future more; J.D. Vance has suggested parents should get extra votes for their children because having children means you’re invested in this country. They’re banning drag shows to protect children from groomers! Purging school libraries to protect children’s innocence!

It’s the logic by which Oklahoma State Rep. Warren Hamilton thinks aborting ectopic pregnancies is bad: it doesn’t matter if the fetus can’t survive and the mother has serious health risks, it’s a baby — you can’t kill it!

Yet somehow, when it comes to protect them from serious illness, they’re on the side of Plague.

Or consider Lauren Boebert. Her son is about to become an unwed father at 17, but according to her, that proves conservative values are awesome: “‘Teen moms’ rates are higher in rural conservative areas, because they understand the preciousness of a life that it’s about to be born,” and don’t get abortions. Birth control and better sex ed would cut the teen birth rate and the abortion rate but they hate those things. Of course, this is the party that resists any attempt to ban child marriages so what do I expect?

Having kids grow up in a healthy environment is good for them too, but Republicans don’t support that.

And unsurprisingly, Arkansas Governor Sarah Huckabee Sanders signed a bill making it easier to use child labor. Teaching poor kids their place and reducing the pressure to pay workers more — a win-win (if you’re a shitty human being). She’s part of a trend (supported, the article notes by some Democrats) and in at least one state they’re considering immunizing employers from liability, even in cases of negligence.

They protect kids the same way they support cops and the military — when it advances their political agenda. Otherwise, children (other than their own) are just lumps of flesh to them.

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The password for 2022 is: recalled to life

Sitting here at the end of the year, it really feels that way. It was a good year for me and TYG in multiple ways.

It started out with lots of room to improve. TYG got a massive, urgent project in her lap starting in January and it kept her running at top speed through March. Then she spent a couple of months on another demanding project, after which she happily jumped to a new job with more pay for a less insane workload. Not that it still doesn’t get extreme but she has more free time to go out with me, go out with friends, sit and read and she’s relishing it.

Needless to say, when she’s happier and less stressed, I’m happier and less stressed. Plus I’m happier to see her happier.

And while covid is hardly gone — a lot of our friends finally came down with it this year — getting vaxxed and boosted has left us both confident enough to resume a lot of normal stuff like going to art museums and eating out. Not to mention finally visiting the North Carolina Zoo.

Coupled with TYG’s added time we’ve been having an official date night every week (usually on weekends) to do something couple-ish, whether it’s watching a movie, taking a walk without the dogs or playing board games. I think it’s really boosting the pleasure we take in our marriage (not that we were miserable before or anything like that).

One of my goals for 2022 was to end the year with more money than I started with. I managed that, partly because I signed up for Social Security early: the payout is slightly less but the added number of payments over the next few years compensates for that.

This was a good year for writing. I got some wonderful compliments on my work from one of my paying clients and I self-published or sold way more than any time in recent memory. For example, The Aliens Are Here is now out.Questionable Minds is available in ebook on Amazon or other retailers.The Savage Year came out at Metastellar. Death Is Like a Box of Chocolates is live on Metastellar. And I finished four short stories this year; my goal was six, but four is closer than I usually manage.

Plus, of course, I kicked off the year by self-publishing Undead Sexist Cliches, available as a Amazon paperback, an ebook and from several other retailers.

Along with my writing here I’m still blogging regularly at Atomic Junk Shop and doing panels for Con-Tinual.

Plus 2022 included the usual stuff — eating, reading, playing with pets, snuggling with TYG — and what used to be usual, such as visiting my family in Florida.

What lies ahead in 2023? Well no-one can be certain but I’ll be back with my hopes in my Sunday blog post.

#SFWApro. Questionable Minds cover by Samantha Collins, Undead Sexist Cliches by Kemp Ward, rights are mine.


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Party hearty!

Last weekend, for the first time since 2019, TYG and I got to host my writer’s group’s Christmas party. We’d hoped to do it last year but covid trends convinced us to hold off.

Despite several friends coming down sick (not Covid, though) and bowing out, we had more than a dozen people. I made chili, cornbread (from the Bread Head book I mentioned a week ago), apple tart (a very easy recipe) and gingerbread and got rave reviews. TYG did an amazing job organizing party prep and laid out a cheese and a dip tray, which you can see below.My stuff is tasty, but rarely looks that good.

There’s also the side effect that we had to do some straightening out and throwing out before the party, so that’s an extra win.

I know covid’s still out there, and still killing lots of people. Even so, little steps towards normalcy like this make me so happy.


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Assorted political linkage

Abby Johnson is an anti-feminist who got some attention in 2020 for saying only the head of the household should vote — which (as covered in Undead Sexist Cliches) is one of the standard excuses sexists offer for why women not having suffrage is justifiable: the man, as head of the household, voted for his family.

Which is bullshit. Widows who headed households couldn’t vote. Single women couldn’t vote. Single men with no household could vote; sons living with their parents could vote; younger brothers living with  wealthier brothers could vote. But she’s also a devoted forced-birther who recently declared her enthusiasm for executing ob/gyns who perform abortion (I’m unclear whether she includes the patients as well, but it sure sounds like it).

It’s not a good sign when they feel comfortable saying the quiet parts out loud, like right-winger Patrick Howley saying he supports free speech until the right is able to take it away from liberals.

I’m not sure what it signifies that Jim Bakker claims Christian pastors are already being executed for controversy.

Missouri Republicans want to prevent pharmacists from saying ivermectin isn’t a covid cure. Over in Florida, Typhoid Ron DeSantis has wealthy anti-vax supporters. And Senator Ron Johnson accepts claims that covid vaccines give you AIDS. An Oklahoma Republican wants Fauci executed.

Florida Republicans are bad in other ways, too. And yet other ways.

Fascist attorney John Eastman had a simple path to Trump stealing the election: make numbers up.

Some conservatives insist the Alito draft opinion on Roe v. Wade won’t affect gay marriage, contraception rights or interracial marriage because they’re so popular. Of course, that’s what they said about overruling Roe … and right-wingers are eager to get to the overruling.

A mostly black town in Tennessee looks to benefit from a Ford plant opening near by. State officials want to take over running the town.

Republicans continue equating gay characters to adult sexual material that should be kept from kids. Even to the point of hiding it in library databases. At least some teens are fighting back.

The Texas Bar is suing allegedly corrupt state attorney Ken Paxton — who by amazing coincidence is now suing them.

Despite all the right-wing lies about “groomers” they’re fine when the grooming’s coming from inside the house. Fred Clark links to a few more examples. And here. And here.

The real reasons gas prices are so high. And prices in general are going up so companies can enjoy record profits.

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So the Trump Virus is still with us …

But first, a reminder. When 3,000 people died on 9/11, we created a new security agency that can stop us from flying on planes. We got a no-fly list that takes away the right to fly completely. The government locked up José Padilla, an American citizen who’d committed no crime, for four years without trial because he’d allegedly bragged about working on an Al Qaeda terrorist plot. Plus all the enemy combatants locked up without trial, even though most of them were innocent.

As noted in the comments on this post, for right-wingers all of that is good government. Requiring citizens to wear masks — even if it’s private business doing it — encouraging them to get vaccinated, that’s a loss of our freedoms! If TSA agents request you wear a mask, now it’s okay to harass them.

Not that this is new. When I wrote columns pointing out that more U.S. soldiers had died in Iraq than Americans died on 9/11, someone would invariably respond that the military deaths were less than traffic accident fatalities every year.  Which was true of 9/11 too, but they didn’t admit it. So it’s no surprise that Republicans are doing their best to get the people who listen to them killed.

As noted at the link, Tucker Carlson, asked if he’s been vaccinated, claims that’s a vulgar question, just like asking “what’s your favorite sexual position?” Which I take to mean that the lying shit has indeed been vaccinated but he wants to keep drawing anti-vaxxer eyeballs. Carlson’s brand is whining about oppression of white Americans so I imagine whining about vaccines is just one more card to play. Don’t get me wrong, I think he’s sincerely racist and misogynist, but he can also be a grifter.

Of course he’s not alone. Tennessee fired its top vaccination official, along with its push to reduce vaccination in schools. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis bragged about how he kept Trump virus cases down with minimal pandemic restrictions; now Florida cases are rocketing up.

And let’s not forget, it was The Former Guy who got the ball rolling. He insisted the virus was going away. Thought it would mostly affect blue states, so no problem (which shows the advantage Republicans have in the media. If Biden had made a similar decision about conservative areas, it would be front-page news). Scoffed at masking, refused to take precautions, allegedly thought of sending Americans returning home with COVID to Guantanamo Bay. And after becoming seriously ill with the Trump Virus, surviving thanks to the best medical care — he took that as a sign it was no big deal. Because he’s the right wing’s divinely anointed god-king of America, that made it a culture war issue.

Nevertheless, National Review wants to blame liberals for the right-wing reluctance to vaccinate — as always, we’re just too mean to the other side. Not because Republicans are propagandizing against it.

As a friend of mine said, we’ll end up with the virus as just another “unavoidable” cause of death, to be lived with like gun fatalities.

Damn them.

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Links of luck and chance

Vox says “acknowledging luck is profoundly threatening to the lucky.” Lots of people, as Texas Governor Ann Richards once said of George W. Bush, are born on third base and think they hit a triple. Being reminded they’re not all-star material upsets them no end

Trump, of course, was profoundly lucky. Born to a millionaire. Won the presidency partly on luck — if not for factors such as the FBI’s Comey announcing a last minute investigation into Clinton (who already had decades of right-wing propaganda painting her as the devil incarnate), he’d have missed his shot. Of course he also has the advantage that when you’re rich and well-connected you don’t need luck. “One of many undeniable truths about the American elite is that once you’re in it, you can get away with nearly anything providing you have the right friends.”  Trump, of course, ignores all of that and believes that he’s some kind of superman.

Another advantage is that Trump’s a sociopath who doesn’t give a crap about the law. As Above the Law says, the system only works, to the extent it does, because “most people, most of the time, follow the law, for no reason other than it happens to be the law. We don’t run red lights even when nobody is around, we don’t piss in the elevator, we don’t maliciously defame our enemies, we don’t solicit prostitution, we don’t leave the restaurant without paying our bill, we don’t cosh random black people in London.” The system isn’t good at dealing with people who do whatever they damn well please and will sue you if refuse to cooperate

Not everyone is that lucky or secure. And even if we are, “when considering whether we should endorse a proposed law or policy, we can ask: if I did not know if this would affect me or not, would I still support it?”

What does the Bible teach about wealth and poverty? That fortune and misfortune are often just a matter of dumb luck. Merit, blessing, cursing, reward and punishment don’t enter into it, “but time and chance happen to them all.””

Some things aren’t luck though: the failure of complex systems is inevitable. Some things aren’t inevitable: contrary to libertarian dictum, the “tragedy of the commons” is a myth. More here.

But what about Jew-hating preacher Rick Wiles, who declared the vaccines were Satanic and now has the Trump Virus? Obviously if you catch a pandemic you’re not protecting yourself from, that’s not luck. Or more precisely, there’s still an element of chance but the odds are going to shift against you. Or I suppose we could take a leaf out of the “God sent that hurricane to punish us for abortion!” school of Christian thought and assume this is God warning anti-vaxxers to stop that shit.

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