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I am Albert Einstein, and I heartily approve of this blog, insofar as it seems to believe both in science and the importance of intellectual imagination, uncompromised by out of date emotions such as the impulse toward conventional religious beliefs, national aggression as a part of patriotism, and so on.   As I once remarked, the further the spiritual evolution of mankind advances, the more certain it seems to me that the path to genuine religiosity does not lie through the fear of life, and the fear of death, and blind faith, but through striving after rational knowledge.   Certainly the application of the impulse toward blind faith in science whereby authority is treated as some kind of church is to be deplored.  As I have also said, the only thing that ever interfered with my learning was my education. I am Freeman Dyson, and I approve of this blog, but would warn the author that life as a heretic is a hard one, since the ignorant and the half informed, let alone those who should know better, will automatically trash their betters who try to enlighten them with independent thinking, as I have found to my sorrow in commenting on "global warming" and its cures.
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Celia Farber profiled as articulate, ‘obsessive’ AIDS ‘anarchist’ by NY Observer

Detailed front page story stays away from saying she is wrong


Deft sketch portrays her as basket case study of her theme of censorship

Whatever you make of it as science politics, Sheelah Kolhatkar’s take on Celia Farber today (Wed Jun 28) in the elitist pink gossip sheet of the chattering classes in Manhattan draws an accurate picture of a tough minded but supersentient being who has suffered the tortures of the damned for twenty years in pursuing the off limits topic of whether HIV is valid as the key to AIDS.

On the night of Saturday, June 10, the controversial journalist Celia Farber was holding court at a quiet cocktail party in a roped-off section of the Roosevelt Hotel bar in midtown Manhattan. “What does an animal do when they know they’re going to be killed?” she asked, her voice taut, as a handful of people looked on. “They play dead.”

Ms. Farber was in the midst of an anecdote about one of her preferred subjects, her persecution at the hands of a vast network of enemies, and its effect on her writing career. “I’ve been there,” she continued. “You lose interest in doing well; you stop caring about being successful.”

The author of this tragicomedy, the slim, brunette Kolhatkar, is a young beauty who while at the party mentioned in the piece admitted to this writer that she was so devoted to her work writing up various figures in circles of publishing power and influence in Manhattan that she finds herself dreaming about it, and she does a very sophisticated job, handling Farber with care and the perceptive ear of a good theater critic.

She is noticeably polite about Farber’s iconoclastic view on HIV?AIDS, and after the obligatory quote from Moore’s Op Ed piece, gives no extra space to Celia bashing by calling on the likes of a John Moore or Martin Delaney, the paradigm palace guard who can be counted on to make cheap cracks deploring Farber’s misguided resistance to the authority of the HIV?AIDS scientists who are in fact the chief suspects in this case.

The gossipy but telling piece feels to us like a wry Manhattan inner circle assessment of another member of the media power club, who however renegade in her work is not treated here as someone to be trashed as beyond the pale. Although she may be taken aback at being sketched as unremittingly doleful, we hope it will be a pleasant surprise for Farber to read this, when she does – at the moment she has fled to the country with her family and a robot is answering her email.

For while the elephant in the room is largely overlooked as usual, the “blonde, thin AIDS anarchist” is framed in a worldly manner that leaves plenty of room for the possibility that she may be right to champion the censored side of the issue – that is, it does until the very end of the article. Then in a rather abrupt windup it seems to us that Farber is finally patronized as an obsessive who according to her friend and one time editor Bob Guccione of SPIN and Gear has spent a little too much time on “her holy quest”. And in Sheelah’s own view, Celia is a born agitator who would be “lost without her battles”:

When asked how the endless contrarianism might have impacted Ms. Farber professionally, Mr. Guccione, another believer in the “fostering debate” approach to publishing, said: “I think she has paid a terrific price.” He continued: “You know, the flip side of that is, I think she spent too much time dwelling on the AIDS beat. It’s been a holy quest for her.”

In any case, Ms. Farber would be lost without her battles. She said that she’s always been fascinated by Stalinism, Communism, the Holocaust, witch hunts; she visits “as many dictatorships as I can.” “

Seems to us this is going overboard, like the headline – Celia is a paradigm revolutionary in our book, not exactly an anarchist. She is fighting spurious and abusive authority, not all authority, all the time. But perhaps the writer is handicapped by the almost universal inability to conceive that the whole world is wrong on HIV?AIDS. What’s nice is that she dosn’t push it. On the other hand, she doesn’t justify Celia’s quest either.

For most of the deft article as we read it she is respectful of Celia’s work and of her pain, though she doesn’t seem to be entirely clear that Celia was and is not always as she is painted here. Celia’s present preoccupation with the hostility aroused by her work quoted throughout the piece is to our ear the sound of nervous fatigue, coming after twenty years where huge demands were made of the talented author with very little recompense, by the standards of the market today.

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“And this may be the genius of the piece: by depicting so well the plight of a literary victim, it makes exactly the point that Celia wants to demonstrate in her work, which is that it is the censorship which is killing people.”

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Sheelah hints at the financial stress over the years mentioning Celia’s jobs as dishwasher etc but she doesn’t seem to realize that this sacrifice is far from over. Celia is suffering from nervous exhaustion after two years of superhuman effort with not enough emotional and professional support from colleagues or editors, let alone proper pay for her efforts and talent. This is the price demanded of those who flout the current media-science-industrial complex, at least in HIV?AIDS.

That is why the charmingly unpretentious picture of Celia by Melanie Flood accompanying the article (titled Celia Farber in her apartment on the Upper West Side) looks a little more bedraggled than a personal publicist would like (on the Web only — in the print version, where the inside full page is headlined “Celia’s Offensive”, nice pun, the photo looks absolutely beautiful, for some reason). Here is another one of Celia two years ago, looking a good deal fresher at a HEAL gathering in Manhattan, where her colleague in paradigm dismantling, scientist Harvey Bialy, gave a lectern-pounding reading from his “Oncogenes” book. It was the night she heard from Lapham that her piece was accepted.

Here at least she does get credit for her achievements. The “rag tag band” of dissenters would still look like 9/11 conspiracy theorists except for two things that have emboldened them recently, Kolhatkar reports. These are Farber’s twin literary successes – the big piece in Harper’s March issue and now her new book that is just out (July 1st publication date, but already available for three weeks on Amazon), a collection of her key pieces on HIV?AIDS.

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Commercial interruption: Let’s hope a lot of people buy “Serious Adverse Events: An Uncensored History of AIDS”, as they should – it is a great read for any nonscientist (or scientist) who wants to catch up with this scene, unique in its vast social and political distortion of sense and science, which Celia describes with a true writer’s thoughtfulness and clarity in vivid story telling from the front lines.

The paperback, which has the cover design of a literary classic and deserves it, includes the first draft of what she wrote for Lapham, a lovely, telling piece which centers on Peter Duesberg’s travails as well as his science; the biographical part was eventually displaced in Harper’s by the newer topic of cooked and lethal AIDS drug trials. It’s worth the price of the book – but so is every well told, illuminating chapter, in which science derailed is described with the clarity of an on-the-scene report from a critical observer.

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As we say, the Observer piece falls apart at the end, we find, though others may read it differently. The last paragraphs shortchange Farber’s intellectual cause by reducing it to reflex anti-fascism and saying that she has taken refuge in appealing merely for free debate. Here given Celia’s deep moral sensibility and her outrage at the deaths of patients, and her twenty year championing of Duesberg’s consistent position that there is nothing in the HIV argument, we expect that she will feel insulted and cheapened.

By focusing her outrage on her opposition’s desire to silence dissent rather than on the actual scientific arguments, Ms. Farber finds protection under the idea that no subject or theory, regardless of its implications, should be taken off the table; continuing to ask the questions can be more important than answering them.

But even if it finally does go off the rails in this way, perhaps due to hasty editing, this is in many ways the first intelligent, worldly article about the leading HIV?AIDS lay critic and her cause, and it is certainly unfair to expect a young woman however smart who is unfamiliar with the field of unscience involved to catch up with the real situation in only three weeks.

All in all, for a gossip piece this is a brilliant encapsulation of a unique spirit and her predicament, even if the forces that have led to it – and the validity of her cause – are not fully depicted by the profiler. Truth to tell, it seems pretty clear that in her extended conversations and emailing with a very thorough reporter her subject neglected the issue herself.

And this may be the genius of the piece: by depicting so well the plight of a literary victim, it makes exactly the point that Celia wants to demonstrate in her work, which is that it is the censorship which is killing people.

(show)

AIDS Anarchist Farber

Hops Back in Whirlwind

By Sheelah Kolhatkar

On the night of Saturday, June 10, the controversial journalist Celia Farber was holding court at a quiet cocktail party in a roped-off section of the Roosevelt Hotel bar in midtown Manhattan. “What does an animal do when they know they’re going to be killed?” she asked, her voice taut, as a handful of people looked on. “They play dead.”

Ms. Farber was in the midst of an anecdote about one of her preferred subjects, her persecution at the hands of a vast network of enemies, and its effect on her writing career. “I’ve been there,” she continued. “You lose interest in doing well; you stop caring about being successful.”

Most of the 15 or so at the party were members of Rethinking AIDS, a group of scientists, writers and others who propagate the radical idea that H.I.V. does not cause AIDS. One of Ms. Farber’s beliefs, for example, is that the scientific explanations for the AIDS epidemic are corrupted by drug companies that seek to show that AIDS is amenable to drug therapies—profitable ones.

Their esoteric ideas have far-reaching implications, to say the least. If H.I.V. doesn’t cause AIDS, then “safe sex,” drug “cocktails”—in short, everything that the medical establishment says about prevention and treatment—is wrong.

Not unsurprisingly, the group is small, marginalized and the object of intense criticism in public-health circles. (They view themselves as AIDS “dissenters,” while their critics refer to them as “denialists.”)

Ms. Farber is a central figure among the AIDS “dissenters.” She isn’t a scientist herself; instead, she champions the scientific work of Peter Duesberg, a cancer researcher at the University of California at Berkeley. Ms. Farber sees herself as some sort of modern-day Clarence Darrow to Mr. Duesberg’s Scopes—an advocate whose lonely battle will be vindicated through the prisms of history and science.

Her two-decade career has been dominated by her efforts to keep debate about the dissenting AIDS theory alive, and nearly every piece she publishes on the subject triggers a seismic backlash. An Op-Ed piece in The New York Times on June 4 accused her camp of “Deadly Quackery”: “The truth is that H.I.V. does exist, that it causes AIDS and that antiretroviral drugs can prevent H.I.V. transmission and death from AIDS,” it read. “To deny these facts is not just wrong—it’s deadly.”

One could argue that Ms. Farber gave her life for her obsession with the cause. A few months ago, she and her ragtag band of colleagues might have been considered, by some, to be one step away from the conspiracy theorist’s asylum, next in line behind the 9/11-was-an-inside-job crowd. But they’ve been feeling emboldened by two recent successes: the publication of Ms. Farber’s first book, Serious Adverse Events: An Uncensored History of AIDS, by the independent press Melville House; and, perhaps more significantly, the appearance of a 15-page article by Ms. Farber in the March issue of Harper’s Magazine.

Indeed, as one party attendee pointed out, not everyone in the media world regards Celia Farber as a petrified animal. “There are so many people who admire her,” said Thor Halvorssen, a personal friend of Ms. Farber, who was there solely to lend her moral support. He paused. “[Former Harper’s editor] Lewis Lapham, for one.”

UP CLOSE, MS. FARBER, 40, HAS A DAMAGED, fragile air. She is tall and exceedingly thin, with limbs that look as if they might snap to the touch. Her facial features are dramatically chiseled, with large brown eyes topped off with carefully tousled blond hair. “After all these years, the spotlight is on me,” Ms. Farber said, sipping a glass of white wine. “It’s come at the same moment when I’ve ceased to care any more. There comes a point where I don’t crave respectability, I don’t expect to get it from the outside.”

Ms. Farber sees AIDS through the lens of totalitarianism (American society in general, American science specifically and the National Institutes of Health all earned the label). To engage with her is to enter a surreal plane where her intensity threatens to overwhelm. Dozens of e-mails arrive in the night filled with angry rantings, impassioned pleas, links to articles and letters to the editor—all offering a glimpse into the emotional seesaw that is her existence. She seems riven by anxious energy, and her long fingers tend to flutter around her temples like butterflies as she speaks.

At the Roosevelt, she was seated on a couch next to her friend Mr. Halvorssen, a preppy libertarian with a cowlick, whose preoccupations that night included the evils of communism, political correctness, environmentalists and the charges against the Duke lacrosse team.

“I’m an unusual subject in that for years it’s been written that I’m in denial of reality, a mass murderer …,” Ms. Farber said.

At that moment, Barry Farber—Ms. Farber’s father, the anti-communist and conservative radio host who ran for Mayor of New York in 1977—ambled over with a big grin, his tie askew.

“We’re talking about your daughter!” Mr. Halvorssen said to him.

“Ah, my favorite subject!” Mr. Farber said in his Southern drawl. He collapsed on the couch and started punching at his cell phone.

“If you are deprived of respectability over time,” Ms. Farber continued, “what happens is, it’s wounding—but eventually you get freed of the addiction to respectability. I think a lot of media people crave respectability.”

Her friend wasn’t buying it; he thinks she is too timid and insecure. “How often in the past two years have you pitched a story?” said Mr. Halvorssen in a scolding tone.

“Um … ,” Ms. Farber said, “I have pitched stories, probably …. “

“She just does not do it!” Mr. Halvorssen said. “She could get $20,000 a story, she’s so good. But she just. Does. Not. Do. It. She’s still bleeding. If we could just cover these wounds …. “

“I said this to Lewis Lapham, actually,” Ms. Farber said: “‘You are interfering with my persecution complex!’”

“You see this?” Mr. Halvorssen said. “She has a Joan of Arc complex!”

“A persecution complex does not develop out of nothing,” Ms. Farber said.

AIDS “HAS HAD ME IN ITS JAWS FOR 20 YEARS, and I’ve occasionally tried to get away from it. And I have found that there’s not nearly as much free will as you’d think,” said Ms. Farber. “I am not obsessed with it. I probably seem to be obsessed with it—people probably think, Can’t she shut up about AIDS? But in actual fact, I’ve been trying to, for a long time. But some portion of the culture keeps coming to me and asking me to please address it again.” Ms. Farber, however, is unable to “shut up about” AIDS for very long.

Celia Farber is a New Yorker by birth (she now lives on the Upper West Side). Her mother was a Swedish Pan Am stewardess and a nurse; her father is of Russian Jewish ancestry and grew up in North Carolina. She lived from age 11 to 18 in Sweden, which she described as an oppressive, overly socialist, weird place. She joined the alternative-rock scene, and when she returned to New York she enrolled at N.Y.U. and drummed in bands.

She began writing her infamous AIDS column, called “Words from the Front,” at Spin in 1987.

It was in the midst of the so-called “AIDS war,” when public fear (Ms. Farber likes to call it “mass hysteria”) about the disease was at its peak and there was a scientific space race underway to understand it. But: “I didn’t come in and say, ‘I wanna write about AIDS!’” Ms. Farber said. “I wanted to find something out, ideally something that really needed to be found out and nobody else had found out. That was my thing.”

Her pieces, many of which are collected in her book, raised questions about whether H.I.V. was the sole cause of AIDS, about the side effects of the AIDS drug AZT and about the severity of the AIDS epidemic in Africa. Her second installment was an interview with Mr. Duesberg, who is also known for his hypothesis that AIDS is caused by heavy recreational and anti-H.I.V. drug use rather than H.I.V. itself. Mr. Duesberg was shunned by the scientific community after publishing his theory that H.I.V. cannot cause AIDS; Ms. Farber has been aligned with him ever since.

Needless to say, many in the medical establishment, as well as gay and AIDS activists—and Ms. Farber’s own colleagues at Spin—found her columns destructive. Spin’s publisher, Bob Guccione Jr., personally shepherded her pieces into the magazine. “There was always a sense of violence and sabotage,” Ms. Farber said, adopting the cadences of a grizzled war reporter. “There were times when Bob and I had to actually walk the boards to the printer—there were people, copy editors and fact-checkers, who hated the column so much they would cut things out.”

There was also another matter: Ms. Farber was romantically involved with Mr. Guccione, which created resentment in the office. This culminated in 1994 when an employee named Staci Bonner filed a sexual-harassment lawsuit against the magazine and Mr. Guccione.

Ms. Farber had by then gone freelance, gotten married to someone else and given birth to a son just that year. In a time line she provided in an e-mail, she wrote: “The years 1994-1997 were consumed with fighting the charges which culminated in Federal Court, 1997. Hospitalized briefly for suicidal urges. Lost 25 pounds. Lost will to live. Betrayed by best friend at Spin (plaintiff).” She said the trial “absolutely leveled me—it was the darkest, scariest, most traumatic, merciless, brutal thing I’ve ever seen or imagined; it took me 10 years to even begin to want to live again.”

Shortly after that, she went to Los Angeles and spent three months shadowing O.J. Simpson for Esquire, which resulted in a sensational cover story in 1998. She wrote for Mr. Guccione at his new magazine, Gear, and had an AIDS column on the Web site Ironminds. She separated from her husband. She organized a concert called “Rock the Boat,” which was intended to raise awareness about alternative AIDS theories; the concert fell apart, and Ms. Farber said that “financial decimation” followed. She worked at a series of odd jobs—in hotels, trade shows, making candles, catering, dishwashing.

Around 2001, Tina Brown commissioned her to write a story about gene therapy for Talk. The piece was killed. She said that she has been broke, and has given up on journalism, ever since.

(There was one bright spot: Ms. Farber said in an e-mail that after she wrote a piece for the New York Press about Bill O’Reilly’s sexual harassment case in 2004, the founder of American Apparel, Dov Charney, called her up “yelling about the whole fake feminism ordeal.” Mr. Charney had been dealing with his own harassment accusations, and he hired her as a “consultant and writer.” Ms. Farber referred to Mr. Charney as her “secret benefactor.”)

She speaks of her Harper’s article as if it was a divine accident, but in reality Mr. Lapham was the puppet master. After meeting him at a party several years ago, Ms. Farber said he urged her to pitch him stories. “He said, ‘I really need someone to write about science for me,’” Ms. Farber recalled. “He said, ‘I really have a sense that it’s kind of … ,’ and then he paused, and I said, ‘Diabolical?’”

She eventually proposed a piece about the same H.I.V.-does-not-cause-AIDS virologist she’s been championing since Spin. “I had no intention whatsoever of writing about AIDS in Harper’s,” Ms. Farber said, somewhat implausibly. “The original story was about Peter Duesberg’s cancer theory. And I remember saying to Lewis Lapham: ‘The AIDS question—we’ll just fly right over that, right?’ And he said, ‘Yeah, we’ll fly right over that.’” (Mr. Lapham declined to speak to The Observer.)

Ms. Farber turned in that piece, which appears as the first chapter in her book. Mr. Lapham handed the text over to an editor, Roger Hodge, to edit. While it was being worked on, news of a problematic AIDS drug trial appeared in the press. Ms. Farber brought it to her editor’s attention and said that she was urged to look into that story: “I felt like, ‘Oh, God, what a pain in the ass. I don’t wanna go into that extraordinarily difficult, impossible, explosive, life-destroying stuff!’” Ms. Farber said. “But you don’t say that to your editors.”

The piece that ultimately ran was an awkward marriage of the two stories. Predictably, it triggered a considerable level of anger directed at Harper’s. Letters were published both in support of the article and taking issue with some of Ms. Farber’s contentions. The AIDS researcher Robert Gallo and doctors from the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation, among others, wrote in protest.

Ms. Farber said that she’d tried to warn Messrs. Lapham and Hodge of her reputation and biases. “In this discredited little cadre of scientists, I’m their champion,” she said she told them. In an e-mail, Mr. Hodge, who is now Harper’s’ top editor, wrote: “Yes, we knew what we were getting into.” He also wrote: “Celia is an excellent reporter and I hope she brings us more good stories in the future.”

It’s not entirely surprising that a figure such as Ms. Farber would appeal to a particular brand of right-thinking liberalism, the type embodied by Mr. Lapham’s former magazine. By focusing her outrage on her opposition’s desire to silence dissent rather than on the actual scientific arguments, Ms. Farber finds protection under the idea that no subject or theory, regardless of its implications, should be taken off the table; continuing to ask the questions can be more important than answering them.

When asked how the endless contrarianism might have impacted Ms. Farber professionally, Mr. Guccione, another believer in the “fostering debate” approach to publishing, said: “I think she has paid a terrific price.” He continued: “You know, the flip side of that is, I think she spent too much time dwelling on the AIDS beat. It’s been a holy quest for her.”

In any case, Ms. Farber would be lost without her battles. She said that she’s always been fascinated by Stalinism, Communism, the Holocaust, witch hunts; she visits “as many dictatorships as I can.” She described herself alternately as a lapsed hard leftist, a proto-anarchist, a libertarian sympathizer and a “bit punk.” When asked if she somehow took pleasure in the turmoil triggered by her journalism, she said: “I would vastly prefer a quiet life, without roiling bands of furious AIDS activists—I mean treatment activists—smearing my name all over the world. I mean, I don’t like it. I don’t take it lightly.”

Then she thought for a moment. “I think I was built to take it,” Ms. Farber said. “I just had a very, very unsparing childhood. And I was never any ‘the world is my oyster’ kind of person. Things were always tough, and I developed kind of an identity, I guess, where maybe I relished something about the dynamic of being attacked. It’s a really good question …. It traumatizes me very much. Less now than it used to. I find it boring now. Very, very boring.”

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