Christine Maggiore, author and 10-year AIDS survivor was fielding questions Friday night at the Current Affairs Bookstore in North Park when she was rudely interrupted. “That's it. She is so full of shit,” said a thin man with glasses and a predominant nose sitting on a couch at the back of the room.
Maggiore, whose book, What If Everything You Thought You Knew About AIDS Was Wrong? takes a strong stance against current AIDS research, didn't hear him and continued on a digressive path, talking about vaccines, their ties to autism and the profitability of requiring vaccines in schools.
“That's not true,” the man said. He corrected her, saying pharmaceutical companies are not allowed to profit from vaccines, and then he launched his attack on her book.
When AIDS was first identified in the early 1980s, doctors essentially told victims to cross their fingers and count the minutes. But by the mid-'90s, a handful of doctors and HIV-positive individuals were questioning the philosophy of the “AIDS establishment.” More importantly, the dissidents began to question the establishment's methods for diagnosing and treating AIDS.
Maggiore, a heterosexual, white female, does not fit the AIDS profile. Gay men account for 90 percent of AIDS cases in the U.S. But in 1992 her gynecologist suggested she take an AIDS test as a “matter of social responsibility.” The results came back HIV-positive. Doctors told Maggiore her choices were “death or drugs” and they gave her five to seven years to live. She dropped out of school and bought a wedding ring to ward off potential suitors.
When a new doctor suggested she take another AIDS test, the results, this time, came back indeterminate. In the following years, Maggiore took several more AIDS tests, all of which determined infection by different methods; she came up negative, then positive, then negative, then positive.
The teeter-tottering results put her in a state of emotional vertigo, so Maggiore began looking for answers outside established AIDS groups. First, she discovered that AIDS tests produce “non-specific results” because the HIV virus has not been isolated, but then she found out that AIDS might not have anything to do with HIV at all.
In her book, Maggiore lists alternative risk factors for AIDS, including chemotherapy, chronic infections with syphilis and other venereal diseases, chronic anxiety and the use of nitrites, or poppers-a drug popular in the gay community.
Also on Maggiore's list are AIDS drug manufacturers that have spawned a “pharmocracy” of treatment options that favors drugs over alternative methods like homeopathy or Chinese herbology. Moreover, the drugs used to combat AIDS are tested solely by the manufacturers, without placebos, and sometimes in conjunction with other treatments. AZT, Maggiore pointed out, is a highly toxic chemical compound that was originally designed, then rejected, for cancer treatment more than 30 years ago.
Collectively, pharmaceuticals used to slow AIDS, she said, have been known to accelerate deterioration, as well as cause heart attacks, diabetes and liver disease, all of which decrease the quality of life.
Joel Harrison, the guy on the sofa, who's also an epidemiologist, didn't buy it. “I read your book,” he said. He showed up for Maggiore's talk to defend the scientific community's stance on AIDS.
Maggiore, whose book is in its fourth printing, likens current AIDS research and subsequent documentation to corporate accounting scandals: “The numbers are off,” she claimed.
“Infectious disease kills 6 percent of the people in the U.S.,” Harrison countered. “You wrote that it was 1 percent. And the longest you could look back at retroviruses is 30 years, not 70, as you would have us believe.
“I've seen an electron micrograph of the HIV virus, budding from the cell,” he pointed out, tearing into Maggiore's argument that the HIV virus has never been isolated. “I saw it on a slide.... It's available in the library.”
“It belongs in the lab,” Maggiore retorted, apparently dubious of Harrison's claim.
“I have one simple question,” Harrison said. “What if you convince people of this and you're wrong?” He expressed concern that AIDS patients who take themselves off medication at Maggiore's suggestion might regret it.
But Maggiore backs up her research with her life-literally. The last word from medical doctors was that Maggiore is HIV positive, and she should have died four years ago, but she didn't and she shows no signs of deteriorating health. Since she was diagnosed, Maggiore has given birth to two children, neither of which have tested positive for HIV or AIDS.
The discussion degenerated to a your-opinion-versus-mine debacle, Maggiore's attempts at diverting Harrison's attention with humor largely ignored.
“OK,” she said. “ Do you want to come here and take over?” Harrison didn't even pause. By the time a Maggiore supporter suggested they have a formal debate in a structured format, it was already too late. Harrison had things to say about genomes and viral structures and he was going to say them whether anyone was listening or not.
Maggiore thanked everyone for coming and encouraged her audience to buy her book. But even as the room was emptying, Harrison continued talking at Maggiore, who nodded graciously while chasing her toddler around the room.
Beans, parents make loud noises at school meeting
There's a tradition in some labor unions that if a member gets arrested for demonstrating, the union will treat that person to a steak dinner. Eric Olson, an organizer with the California School Employees Association (CSEA), the union that represents San Diego City Schools' non-teaching employees, wasn't actually demonstrating at last week's Board of Education meeting and he didn't quite get arrested, but his peers feel he's deserving of the steak dinner nonetheless.
At 7 p.m., a large group of concerned parents showed up for time the board agenda allots for public testimony-as the final page of the biweekly agenda reads, “public hearings” are set for “7:00 p.m., or at the conclusion of all other business, whichever occurs earlier.”
Clare Crawford, a representative from ACORN, the community activist group that's been working with parents from the usually overcrowded, usually struggling south-of-Interstate-8 schools, said a lot of parents feel left out of district budget decisions. ACORN had asked the board to set aside a 6 p.m. slot for working folks so they could give their input before the board voted on the first round of budget cuts-some $50 million in services, personnel, magnet programs and parent outreach, among other things.
“The reality,” Crawford noted, “is that it is unrealistic for most parents to participate in a significant way in school board meetings. First, you have to know specifically which agenda item you will speak on, and you have to register in advance. You rarely know what time your agenda item and the public comment will come up, so you have to arrive at 3 p.m. and have time to stay potentially until 7 p.m. or later.”
Parents with 9-to-5 jobs, she said, don't have the luxury of spending all afternoon to get their two-minute turn at the podium.
A couple weeks back, ACORN sponsored a parent forum on budget matters and invited all five board members to attend. Only Fran Zimmerman and John de Beck showed up.
Denied their request to speak at 6 p.m., the parents opted to shoot for the 7 p.m. slot. Precisely at 7, they marched en masse down the aisle of the Eugene Brucker auditorium carrying discrete signs that read: “Parents need a minute.”
To make a long, though observationally interesting story short, Board President Ron Ottinger said no. Parents began to chant and shake cans of dried beans (for noise effect). Police were called. People were escorted out of the building. Entry doors were locked. And Olson, a natural do-gooder, trailed behind the crowd to see what he could do to help ease frustrations.
Some 10 minutes later, a uniformed district police officer was telling an incredulous Olson to pass his leather organizer over to a friend or co-worker, lest it be confiscated at the police station.
Olson asked what he was being charged with.
The charges, the officer told Olson, were “failure to disperse” and “demonstrating.”
“I didn't fail to disperse,” Olson contested. “I was talking to Willy Surbrook,” he said, pointing to the district's mustached, dark-suit-wearing labor relations specialist, who had, a few minutes prior, pulled Olson aside for a chat. And true, he had walked out with the parents, but he was not part of the commotion.
Unfortunately for Olson, the arresting officer's superior, Detective Ray Hubbard, deemed Olson a troublemaker and within a few minutes Olson was led off-sans handcuffs-to the district's makeshift police facility behind the auditorium. District Director of Communications Peri Lynn Turnbull came out of the auditorium just in time to see Olson being lead away. “Don't be arresting people,” she said pointedly to Hubbard.
Eventually charges against Olson and a second CSEA employee were reduced to a citation, and then a warning, but not before the board voted 3-2 to accept the budget cuts. The warning, Olson said later, was kept on file. “Consider it probation,” a police lieutenant told him.
“No other political body allows this kind of disruption,” Ottinger said once things had calmed down in the auditorium, referring to the frequent, angry outbursts from parents and teachers that have plagued board meetings over the past few years.
“ACORN,” said Crawford, “did not specifically intend to cause a commotion, but rather to have a visual impact that parents do care about what is happening in their schools and want to have a say. But, after the district brushed them off, they were upset and decided to cause a commotion to force the issue.”
And ultimately, she said, the minor uprising might be seen as a victory of sorts. “What happened really ended up being productive,” she observed. “[It] pushed the board in a way they need to be pushed.”