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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blog, insofar as it seems to believe both in science and the importance of intellectual imagination, uncompromised by out of date emotions such as the impulse toward conventional religious beliefs, national aggression as a part of patriotism, and so on.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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Larry Kramer billed $19,000 annually for drugs “I never took”

Andrew Sullivan joins him in setting a very bad example

Having been called out of order for crucifying the increasingly bewildered playwright Larry Kramer by a distinguished comment writer to the last post, we feel rather guilty at having to drive the nails in further, but after all, the self-serving arrogance of the misinformed exploiting the trust of the ignorant and vulnerable is the theme of this blog. (Click photos twice for maximum size)

At 71 Kramer is still the grand old activist hero of the gay community when it comes to HIV?AIDS, influential in media circles and a performer who can pack the great Cooper Union hall with hundreds of men so attentive that you can hear a condom packet drop as he declaims his poetically styled despair at their unwitting cooperation with the Bush administration in murdering each other with irresponsible partying.

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PERSONAL RESPONSIBILITY DEPT.

NOWHERE

New Yorker Issue of 2004-11-22

Posted 2004-11-15

Larry Kramer delivered a long and fiery speech at Cooper Union last Sunday night. That, of course, was nothing new. Kramer, the playwright who founded the activist group act up and was the signature voice of the age of aids, is famous for his fury: once, he and thousands of his supporters invaded St. Patrick’s Cathedral during Mass; another time, they wrapped Jesse Helms’s house in a giant yellow condom. Over the years, they hounded pharmaceutical companies and the government into developing and providing drugs and treatments.

In the early days of aids, straight people disliked Kramer for his aggressive honesty and gays ridiculed him for what they saw as his prissiness about sex, but now, at sixty-nine, he seems to have outlived the animosity of both groups. He has also outlived almost all of his friends. “It’s funny,’’ the playwright Tony Kushner said recently. “These days, audiences are fond of Larry. They seem wistful. Can you imagine that? Being wistful about Larry?”

Kramer surprises people who have seen him screeching on television or have read one of his radioactive e-mails. In conversation, he tends to speak so softly that one has to lean in to hear him. At Cooper Union, Kramer wore his usual uniform: overalls and a sweater with an American flag on it, over a red turtleneck. He looked stooped, old. He spoke for more than an hour, at the same lectern that Abraham Lincoln (who Kramer ceaselessly insists was gay) used when he addressed New Yorkers, in 1860. On Sunday night, the Great Hall was full; hundreds of people were turned away.

The speech, entitled “The Tragedy of Today’s Gays,” began with a dire assessment of the Presidential election. “I hope we all realize that, as of November 2nd, gay rights are officially dead,’’ Kramer said. “And that from here on we are going to be led even closer to the guillotine. Almost sixty million people whom we live and work with every day think we are immoral. ‘Moral values’ was at the top of many lists of why people supported George Bush. Not Iraq. Not the economy. Not terrorism. ‘Moral values.’ In case you need a translation, that means us.’’

But Kramer has never been harder on others than he has been on homosexuals themselves. It is the main reason that he has occasionally been dismissed as a febrile modern version of Cotton Mather. “I know many people look to me for answers,” he went on. “Perhaps that is why many of you are here. You want answers? We’re living in pig shit, and it’s up to each one of us to figure out how to get out of it.” By pig shit, he meant, more or less, a heedless life of unprotected sex and crystal-meth addiction. “It takes hard work to behave like an adult,” he continued. “It takes discipline. You want it to be simple. It isn’t simple. Yes, it is. Grow up. Behave responsibly. Fight for your rights. Take care of yourself and each other. These are the answers. It takes courage to live.”

He went on, “Does it occur to you that we brought this plague of aids upon ourselves? I know I am getting into dangerous waters here, but it is time. With the cabal breathing even more murderously down our backs, it is time. And you are still doing it: you are still murdering each other. . . . From the very first moment we were told, in 1981, that the suspected cause was a virus, gay men have refused to accept responsibility for choosing not to listen, and, starting in 1984, when we were told it definitely was a virus, this behavior turned murderous.”

A few weeks earlier, there had been a tribute to Kramer at the 92nd Street Y, produced by Kushner. On that evening, actors read from Kramer’s novel “Faggots,”from his plays “The Normal Heart” and “The Destiny of Me,” and from other works, including his prescient 1983 essay “1,112 and Counting,’’ in which he asked, incredulously, how many more people would have to die before gays got serious about aids. That was, roughly, seventy million infections ago.

“I guess if you live long enough people give up and accept you,’’ Kramer said that night, with something approaching giddiness. “I got invited to the National Cancer Institute, to a conference that is so high-level I don’t even understand the topics. And Harvard just called.”

Kramer understands, however, that acceptance doesn’t mean much, in the scheme of things, since it seems not to extend to gay people in general. “Nobody listens to us,” Kramer said at Cooper Union. “There is not a single person in Washington who will get us or give us anything but shit and more shit. I’m sorry. This is where we are now. Nowhere.”

COMMENT

PERSONAL RESPONSIBILITY DEPT.

— Michael Specter

Meanwhile Tony Fauci, that he once called a “murderer”, is now his savior and best friend since he arranged for Larry to get a new liver, at a time when HIV-positive patients were typically low priority candidates for these organ transplants.

All Larry’s crowd-swaying rhetoric and newfound fondness for Tony Fauci is precariously predicated on one tragically questionable premise, however, and that is that the decline in gay men’s immunity to the impressive range of chemical and biological assaults on their bodies to which they are exposed in heavy partying is not due to the alien substances and internal flora and fauna themselves but to a negligible wisp of RNA whose genetic machinery is so limited that it cannot even reproduce without the help of a healthy cell.

That wisp is HIV, a 9 kilobase retrovirus, an otherwise inert entity belonging to a species of virus which has never been proven to cause any harm to any person (pace Robert Gallo and his not so leukemic HTLV-1 for which the US blood banks test blood for his profit and our supposed security, although most of the population in Japan in a certain large region have it in their veins with nil effect on their leukemia rate – Hi Bob!) despite billions being spent on testing them in the Nixon War on Cancer in the vain hope that such retroviruses might be a cause of human cancer, since one and only one of the species is able with a little encouragement to cause a tumor in chickens, which is hardly a cell killing activity.

Faced with long and alien words like ‘retrovirus’, however, it’s possibly understandable that the artistic temperament of key players in HIV?AIDS gay politics such as Larry and the ebullient Brit Andrew Sullivan should be short circuited into a kind of mental paralysis which leaves them the passive recipients of whatever their more authoritative connections want to tell them.

Kramer has paid no attention even to members of ACT-UP the organization he founded when they changed their tune. A typically presumptuous 2000 piece by a reporter in POZ, always resolutely head-in-the-sand when it comes to HIV?AIDS, contains this quote:

But if the ((ACTUP/SF HIV rejecting)) members see themselves as unheeded, others see them as unhinged, and increasingly a public health menace. “To maintain that AIDS is not caused by HIV, to disrupt government and other official hearings to argue that money should not be voted for AIDS research and patient aid, to utilize vicious smear campaigns and to threaten legitimate activists with physical harm is beyond any intelligent comprehension,” said ACT UP founder Larry Kramer in a widely circulated e-mail in June. “Truly, in the face of our worldwide plague, such actions can only be construed as crazy”

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“Larry’s research method into whatever is really going on in HIV?AIDS, scientifically and medically, consists of a) palling around with Tony Fauci of NIAID and b) forwarding copies of articles by Celia Farber to his well placed media and activist friends and asking what they think of them.”

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Andrew Sullivan sideswipes Harper’s

For it now seems clear that it is not just Larry whose homework on the rationale of HIV?AIDS has been neglected in favor of partying, politicking, playwriting, appearing on television and on panels and performing rhetorically on the eternal theme “They all want to murder us”. Though very different in stance Sullivan’s political instincts have led him to make the same knee-jerk responses as Kramer when he hears that HIV is questioned.

Thus in his “Daily Dish” blog two weeks ago, ironically on April 1, he reveals that it goes without saying that HIV causes AIDS and to think otherwise is a superstition peddled by magazines “like Harper’s”, whatever that phrase means (Saturday, April 1, 2006 Andrew Sullivan’s Daily Dish – Elites and Medicine 1 Apr 2006 02:01 pm:

One of the most persistent sub-currents out there among people with HIV and AIDS is superstition, or the notion that all drugs are somehow poisonous, or that homeopathic quackery can replace actual science, or that HIV doesn’t cause AIDS, and so on. This is particularly widespread among some gays and African-Americans, some of the populations most at risk. You have magazines like Harper’s giving credence to “theories” that HIV is unrelated to AIDS – in 2006!

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Saturday, April 1, 2006

Elites and Medicine

01 Apr 2006 02:01 pm

A reader makes a good point:

“One interesting case study for elitism is medicine. Your familiarity is through experience with HIV; mine, cancer. The point though is the same. There was at first an unresponsive God-like community that made unassailable pronouncements about the science and medicine. Correctly this was rebelled against. But now we have charlatans and healers who have no basis, except anecdotes if that, for their claims. And substantial members of the public believe them over the science. Part of this is because for cases like AIDS and cancer, sometimes science hasn’t an answer yet. Nonetheless, the “everyone’s opinion is equal” attitude is now as destructive as the God-like elitism. Somehow we need a happy medium – acknowledging expertise while demanding that it explain itself. The anti-knowledge forces are not just religious fundamentalists; read some of the anti-medicine nonsense out there.”

I have to agree. One of the most persistent sub-currents out there among people with HIV and AIDS is superstition, or the notion that all drugs are somehow poisonous, or that homoepathic quackery can replace actual science, or that HIV doesn’t cause AIDS, and so on. This is particularly widespread among some gays and African-Americans, some of the populations most at risk. You have magazines like Harper’s giving credence to “theories” that HIV is unrelated to AIDS – in 2006! In the early days, you had people like Larry Kramer telling everyone that AZT was poison, despite the fact that it was then and remains today a critical component of many effective anti-HIV cocktails (it was disastrous only as over-dosed mono-therapy). Every day, I get emails telling me to try aspirin or St John’s Wort for HIV. The right response, I think, is not to take what the science establishment says on faith – let alone the public health establishment. The answer is to try and understand the science as best you can, to ask the right questions, to keep asking, to get second opinions. There is an alternative between fundamentalism and relativism, between authority and nihilism. That alternative is curious and empirical skepticism, which must, of course, respect those whose knowledge of any particular subject is inevitably far deeper than our own. That kind of skepticism is important not only for a patient with a life-threatening disease, but also for liberal democracy and liberal learning. We need to recover it.

To this cheeky dismissal of his betters, one can only say, if Andrew is truly interested in demonstrating empirical skepticism perhaps he should make a supreme effort to heave himself out of his pundit’s armchair and hit PubMed on his desktop to find out the difference between superstition and “actual science” as peer-reviewed in leading journals, and the difference between “theories” and professional scientific reviews of those “theories”, if only for his own benefit, since he seems to be so cheerfully taking a standard range of HAART drugs known to have rather unpleasant effects on the body, though not in his case, he tells us.

I’ve been on the new meds for a couple of months now and after a week or so of torpor, have no side-effects that I can speak of. My viral load – i.e. the amount of virus in my bloodstream – went from 141,000 particles per cubic mililiter of blood in late May to 1500 after ten days on June 2 and has now come down to a grand total of 121. Still not good enough. We’re hoping for under 50 at the next count. My CD4 cell count – a sign of the strength of your immune system – has gone back into its normal range. Thank God for the evil pharmaceutical companies. One day, when the history of this period is written, I have a feeling we will look back with astonishment as we recognize that advances in medical science, particularly pharmaceuticals, were arguably one of the most significant developments of this era. And yet the people who pioneered these breakthroughs were … demonized and attacked. Baffling and bizarre. I’m merely grateful the attacks haven’t stopped the research progress.

Here’s the whole post:

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From andrewsullivan.com Daily Dish September 19 2005:

BACK FROM THE DOC: Just an HIV update. I’ve been on

the new meds for a couple of months now and after a

week or so of torpor, have no side-effects that I can

speak of. My viral load – i.e. the amount of virus in

my bloodstream – went from 141,000 particles per cubic

milliliter of blood in late May to 1500 after ten days

on June 2 and has now come down to a grand total of

121. Still not good enough. We’re hoping for under 50

at the next count. My CD4 cell count – a sign of the

strength of your immune system – has gone back into

its normal range. Thank God for the evil

pharmaceutical companies. One day, when the history of

this period is written, I have a feeling we will look

back with astonishment as we recognize that advances

in medical science, particularly pharmaceuticals, were

arguably one of the most significant developments of

this era. And yet the people who pioneered these

breakthroughs were … demonized and attacked.

Baffling and bizarre. I’m merely grateful the attacks

haven’t stopped the research progress. They’ve merely

slowed it. Oh, and I talked my doc into giving me a

pre-emptive treatment of Tamiflu. I won’t use it,

unless the birdshit hits the fan. But I’ll have it

just in case. I’m not relying on Mr Bush. Fool me once

All very impressive, with those specific numbers.

“My viral load – i.e. the amount of virus in my bloodstream – went from 141,000 particles per cubic milliliter of blood in late May to 1500 after ten days on June 2 and has now come down to a grand total of 121. Still not good enough. We’re hoping for under 50 at the next count. My CD4 cell count – a sign of the strength of your immune system – has gone back into its normal range.”

There is something very persuasive about quantitities one can measure so precisely. Gauging precisely with instruments is the essence of good science, after all. You get away from human speculation and nail down the facts with cold, objective measurement.

But maybe Andrew should read Peter Duesberg’s letter in Nature on May 19, 1995 (page 197) and mathematician Frank Bulanouckas’s even more damning letter that follows it and see that all these “virus particles” are not measured accurately by PCR (they cannot be, as Kary Mullis, who won the Nobel for inventing PCR, has said) and probably exceed by as much as 60,000 fold the real count of virus in his blood, so it is not as impressive as readers may think.

Plasma virus levels determined by QC-PCR correlated with, but exceeded by an average of 60,000-fold, virus titers measured by endpoint diln. culture.

That’s from the abstract of the 1993 paper Duesberg quoted in his letter to Nature, which letter read as follows – we quote it in full since it is a classic statement which illuminates the shell game perpetrated by the HIV wide boys with Maddox acting as the muscle:

“HIV an illusion”

Letter from Peter Duesberg and Harvey Bialy, Nature 375: 197, 18 May 1995

SIR-In an editorial in the 19 January issue of Nature, John Maddox invited “Duesberg and his associates” to comment on the “HIV-1 dynamics” papers published the previous week, indicating that these new results should prove an embarrassment to us. Although we do not think that a scientist should be embarrassed for pointing out inconsistencies and paradoxes in a hypothesis that have only been reportedly resolved 10 years later, we nonetheless prepared a fully referenced, approximately 2,000-word critique of the Ho et al.2 and Wei et al.3 papers that we believed met the criteria of “not being longer than it needs to be, and pertaining to the papers at hand” that Maddox set out in his widely read challenge.

Unfortunately, he did not share our view and agreed to publish only a radically shortened version, and only after he had personally “gone over it with a fine-tooth comb” to remove our perceived misrepresentations of the issues. We found these new conditions so totally at variance with the spirit of free and fair scientific debate that we could not agree to them.

Readers of Nature who are interested in these questions, and feel that they do not need to be protected by Maddox from our ill-conceived logic, can find the complete text of our commentary in the monograph supplement to the most recent issue of Genetica4. Here we would point out only that the central claim of the Ho et al.2 and Wei et al.3 papers-that 100,000 HIV virions per ml plasma can be detected in AIDS patients with various nucleic-acid amplification assays is misleading. The senior author of the Wei et al. paper has previously claimed that the PCR method they used overestimates by at least 60,000 times the real titer of infectious HIV5: 100,000/60,000 is 1.7 infectious HIVs per ml, hardly the “virological mayhem” alluded to by Wain-Hobson.6 Further, Ho and a different group of collaborators have just shown7 that more than 10,000 “plasma virions,” detected by the branched-DNA amplification assay used in their Nature paper, correspond to less than one (!) infectious virus per ml. And infectious units, after all, are the only clinically relevant criteria for a viral pathogen.

Finally, in view of Wain-Hobson’s statement6 that “the concordance of their [Wei and Ho’s] data is remarkable,” note that Loveday et al.8 report the use of a PCR-based assay and find only 200 HIV “virion RNAs” per ml of serum of AIDS patients-1,000 times less than Ho and Wei. So much for the “remarkable concordance.”

Peter Duesberg. Harvey Bialy.

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“HIV an illusion”

Letter from Peter Duesberg and Harvey Bialy, Nature 375: 197, 18 May 1995

SIR-In an editorial in the 19 January issue of Nature, John Maddox invited “Duesberg and his associates” to comment on the “HIV-1 dynamics” papers published the previous week, indicating that these new results should prove an embarrassment to us. Although we do not think that a scientist should be embarrassed for pointing out inconsistencies and paradoxes in a hypothesis that have only been reportedly resolved 10 years later, we nonetheless prepared a fully referenced, approximately 2,000-word critique of the Ho et al.2 and Wei et al.3 papers that we believed met the criteria of “not being longer than it needs to be, and pertaining to the papers at hand” that Maddox set out in his widely read challenge.

Unfortunately, he did not share our view and agreed to publish only a radically shortened version, and only after he had personally “gone over it with a fine-tooth comb” to remove our perceived misrepresentations of the issues. We found these new conditions so totally at variance with the spirit of free and fair scientific debate that we could not agree to them.

Readers of Nature who are interested in these questions, and feel that they do not need to be protected by Maddox from our ill-conceived logic, can find the complete text of our commentary in the monograph supplement to the most recent issue of Genetica4. Here we would point out only that the central claim of the Ho et al.2 and Wei et al.3 papers-that 105 HIV virions per ml plasma can be detected in AIDS patients with various nucleic-acid amplification assays is misleading. The senior author of the Wei et al. paper has previously claimed that the PCR method they used overestimates by at least 60,000 times the real titer of infectious HIV5: 100,000/60,000 is 1.7 infectious HIVs per ml, hardly the “virological mayhem” alluded to by Wain-Hobson.6 Further, Ho and a different group of collaborators have just shown7 that more than 10,000 “plasma virions,” detected by the branched-DNA amplification assay used in their Nature paper, correspond to less than one (!) infectious virus per ml. And infectious units, after all, are the only clinically relevant criteria for a viral pathogen.

Finally, in view of Wain-Hobson’s statement6 that “the concordance of their [Wei and Ho’s] data is remarkable,” note that Loveday et al.8 report the use of a PCR-based assay and find only 200 HIV “virion RNAs” per ml of serum of AIDS patients-1,000 times less than Ho and Wei. So much for the “remarkable concordance.”

Peter Duesberg

Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology,

University of California,

Berkeley, California 94720, USA

Harvey Bialy

Bio/Technology, New York, New York 10010, USA

Notes and References

1. Maddox, J. Nature 373, 189 (1995).

2. Ho, D. D. et al. Nature 373, 123-126 (1995).

3. Wei. X. et al. Nature 373, 117-122 (1995).

4. Duesberg, P. & Bialy, H. Genetica Suppl. (in the press).

5. Piatak, M. et al. Science 259. 1749-1754 (1993).

6. Wain-Hobson, S. Nature 373, 102 (1995).

7. Cao, Y. et al. New Engl. J. Med. 332, 201-208 (1995).

8. Loveday, C. et al. Lancet 345, 820-824 (1995).

Here is the full abstract from Science in 2000:

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High levels of HIV-1 in plasma during all stages of infection determined by competitive PCR

Piatak, M., Jr.; Saag, M. S.; Yang, L. C.; Clark, S. J.; Kappes, J. C.; Luk, K. C.; Hahn, B. H.; Shaw, G. M.; Lifson, J. D.

Science (Washington, DC, United States) (1993), 259(5102), 1749-54 CODEN: SCIEAS; ISSN: 0036-8075. English.

Quant. competitive polymerase chain reaction (QC-PCR) methods were used to quantify virion-associated human immunodeficiency virus type-1 (HIV-1) RNA in plasma from 66 patients with Centers for Disease Control stage I to IVC1 infection. HIV-1 RNA, ranging from 100 to nearly 22,000,000 copies per mL of plasma (corresponding to 50 to 11,000,000 virions per mL), was readily quantified in all subjects, was significantly associated with disease stage and CD4+ T cell counts, and decreased by as much as 235-fold with resolution of primary infection or institution of antiretroviral therapy. Plasma virus levels determined by QC-PCR correlated with, but exceeded by an average of 60,000-fold, virus titers measured by endpoint diln. culture. Quantitation of HIV-1 in plasma by QC-PCR may be useful in assessing the efficacy of antiretroviral agents, especially in early stage disease when conventional viral markers are often neg.

Ask-John – the time saving modern approach to scientific fact checking

But it is probably hopeless to suggest further reading of any kind for Andrew. It is pretty clear from the results that his sources for a second medical opinion on his trusted doctor’s advice are the same as Larry’s. That is to say, Larry’s research method into whatever is really going on in HIV?AIDS, scientifically and medically, which consists of a) palling around with Tony Fauci of NIAID and b) forwarding copies of articles by Celia Farber to his well placed media and activist friends and asking what they think of them.

The main problem with this approach is that it is circular ie the friends and colleagues consulted typically follow the same research procedure themselves: when in doubt Ask John. Heck, why not? The Ask-John method is how most scientists double check their understanding of HIV?AIDS, according to our own interviewing. When they see that the cause of AIDS has been challenged by Peter Duesberg in a top peer reviewed journal such as Cancer Research or the Proceedings of the National Academy, they do not read the article concerned. Instead, they mention it to John, their colleague in the field of HIV?AIDS, and John reassures them that there is nothing in it.

*************************************************

“There is no scientific question which has been settled so completely as the question of the cause of AIDS, the Ask-John method reveals. ”

*************************************************The reliability of the Ask-John approach to resolving cognitive dissonance in science was officially recognized in print more than a decade ago by none other than John Maddox, the editor of Nature, when he was provoked by the London Sunday Times running a huge series of articles in 1992 by science editor Neville Hodgkinson over several weekends reporting evidence that Duesberg was right when he reasoned that the chances of HIV being the cause of AIDS were smaller than a 9 kilobase wisp of RNA.

Maddox reacted swiftly to this suggestion that Nature had printed page upon page of HIV?AIDS papers based on a false premise by telling his readers that they need not buy the Sunday Times and look into the matter, he would let them know if there was anything worthwhile in the articles concerned. In other words, no need to read anything, just Ask John.

What is most reassuring to those who use the Ask-John method is the typically supreme confidence with which those they consult tell them what they need to know, eg that HIV causes AIDS, there is overwhelming evidence, that Duesberg is on the wrong track and there is absolutely no question about it. None at all. There is no scientific question which has been settled so completely as the question of the cause of AIDS, the Ask-John method reveals.

For example, only yesterday we asked the charming ex-editor of Scientific American, Jonathan Piel, whom we happened to run into quite by chance at a burial, whether he was aware of the challenge to HIV as the cause of AIDS. **************************************************

“If there is a less appealing topic in the whole of science and medicine, it is difficult to think of it.”

*****************************************************

Having moved on from science to other topics – his green eyed wife Madeleine runs two cable shows, one on a community issue and the other where she interviews people in science and the arts, but he told us he helps out only as a producer – Jonathan seemed to struggle to recall it but eventually allowed that he had heard something of the kind, but there was nothing in it. Nothing at all. Wait, we assured him, this was not quite the case, there definitely was something to it, according to the scientific literature. He grimaced momentarily as a frisson of cognitive dissonance hit his left frontal cortex, but in a second it resolved. No, he said decisively, evidently drawing on the results of Ask-several-Johns, that was quite wrong. Definitely nothing to it. Absolutely not.

Why people prefer to Ask John about the miseries of HIV?AIDS

Of course there is also a particular reason why Ask-John is the preferred method of researching questions about HIV?AIDS and its cause. Let’s face it, no one really likes to think too much about the whole unattractive field if they can help it. If there is a less appealing topic in the whole of science and medicine, it is difficult to think of it. The aesthetic drawbacks simply put a lot of people off. Explaining the scientific questions surrounding of HIV?AIDS would be a fascinating topic – the whole world misled!? surely not! – if it didn’t demand imagining the goriest details of human sexual activity, and the grimmest path of decline into the grave.

Certainly we find the whole subject area unappetizing for the most part, and admit quite frankly our only reason for pursuing HIV?AIDS is that it is the best example extant of how science can go very, very provably wrong, and a very important health paradigm can escape serious peer review for two decades even in a life or death matter. We believe a big reason that HIV?AIDS eludes scrutiny so successfully – it is as slippery as a naked Indian house burglar greased to evade capture – is that it is simply not dinner party conversation.

Opinion leader Larry’s dereliction of duty

But Larry is a leader of his community. The Ask John approach is an abdication of responsibility if you are a respected leader of the gay community in this life or death matter, certainly if you are aware of the serious professional challenge to the HIV?AIDS paradigm, as Larry has been from the first, since he is known to have been sent on request a copy of at least one of Duesberg’s early papers, and he is known to have followed Celia Farber’s columns in SPIN.

It is thus hard to sympathize with his evident disinclination over many years, to do any serious reading himself into the peer-reviewed, two decade long scientific challenge to his key assumption, the one peddled by the activist-friendly scientists, official and reporters who so zealously purvey the standard line in HIV?AIDS to the general public, especially when his own health is at stake, let alone the health and lives of his followers. Like the sensitive, thoughtful and street level columns of Celia Farber the twenty or so popular books on the topic are all very accessible, after all. Has he read any of them, apart from The Band Played On? They should have been his bedside reading, even if he can’t handle the Duesberg papers.

But sadly, it seems that Larry has just assumed all along that the scientific dispute is beyond him, although he has by his own account become a master of the complexities of which pills to take when.

Thus his response to being sent the latest cannonade fired by Duesberg into the side of the good ship HIV=AIDS, a vessel so many years becalmed in the doldrums of no cure, no vaccine, no explanation and still no hope of eventually avoiding death, was not promising. As mentioned Duesberg recently emailed him a pdf of his 2003 Journal of Biosciences paper. Larry’s response was a faint “It’s not quite within my ken, but I’ll try”.

He should try. Come on Larry, read it. OK, we admit that the chances of you being able to get through all 270 pages of the best recent briefing on the topic are small. We mean the book by Harvey Bialy, the uncompromisingly accurate and scientifically and socially precise account of the way scientists have really thought and behaved in HIV?AIDS and cancer research, “Oncogenes, Aneuploidy an AIDS: The Scientific Life and Times of Peter H. Duesberg” (North Atlantic Press 2004).

Bialy’s paperback is high quality, and parts are gossipy in a meaningful way, but it’s not for the science challenged. Larry tackling that might be too much like a tugboat trying to break through thick winter ice in Hudson Bay. Bialy’s clarity is as exact as Duesberg’s. But even with some familiarity with the scene it describes we had a hard time staying the course through every page of that scintillating but diamond hard jewel of science history and analysis, already saluted by some as a classic of its kind. A pity really since it is the one book that slows down the scientific shell game to slow motion for all to see.

But couldn’t lazy Larry have read and understood the gist of Peter Duesberg’s writings over the years, especially when his own life was at stake? Did he even try to? As an artist he would have appreciated the finesse and elegance of Duesberg’s texts, which we daresay are among the finest scientific papers extant in that regard. If truth and beauty are related, Duesberg’s historic papers persuade with style as much as substance, so even those readers who do not have time to pore over every sentence can be convinced that there is something to what he argues.

Angry and hysterical people who are alarmed at the idea that these papers overturn their world view accuse us of hero-worship when we compliment Dusberg for his work, but we challenge them to a) read his papers and b) suggest any in science that rival them in academic and even literary quality. We know of none. Certainly any effort by Robert Gallo or Anthony Fauci or David Baltimore to rival them in clarity, elegance and power of analysis will be a long time acoming.

It is that mastery of the topic that makes it quite easy for a patient lay reader to follow the points of Duesberg’s definitive latest paper, which sends the main pillars of the paradigm flying like pins in a bowling alley. This is the 2003 Journal of Biosciences paper, Duesberg, P., Koehnlein, C. and Rasnick, D. (2003) The Chemical Bases of the Various AIDS Epidemics: Recreational Drugs, Anti-viral Chemotherapy and Malnutrition.(J. Biosci. 28: 383-412), which can be downloaded as a pdf from that link, which is listed in the Scientific Papers page of Duesberg’s AIDS (non cancer) site. Anyone attentive can read the list of AIDS claims and facts which do not accord with established science or common sense and realize just how bereft of reason and evidence the current paradigm appears to be.

Not that there is anything new in it. The same points have been made for twenty years, with no good answers yet except evasion, obfuscation and ad hominem politics. Duesberg’s own very readable book, Inventing the AIDS Virus (Regnery, 1995) is still as valid as ever, and makes the political context clearer as well. Then there is a slew of other books, including one by Christine Maggiore, which can be understood by a child of twelve, What If Everything You Thought You Knew About AIDS Was Wrong? There is really no excuse for anybody not to read this lay literature with attention, if they are diagnosed HIV positive.

Too late for Larry

But now, of course, it may be too late for Larry, who may well be on his last legs. After a liver transplant and years of deleterious drugs, it seems that Kramer is not in any shape to undertake such a challenge. That he didn’t do it in the past seems like wilful neglect, since he was after all the best known HIV?AIDS agitator in the gay community, which has lost so many lives, including many distinguished artists of all kinds. But now it seems that he has lost his grip completely, contradicting himself in his own account of whether he has taken drugs or not.

Certainly he misled Peter Duesberg in his recent attempt to get the lowdown from the scientist on his own particular case. As noted in the last post Larry told the distinguished Berkeley scientist that he had been diagnosed HIV positive in 1987 and had not taken any party drugs or anti-HIV drugs until the liver transplant he endured in 2001, when antiretrovirals were prescribed.

Here is what he actually wrote:

“would you explain something to me. i never used poppers. i never took drugs. i never had any chemo. i do not suffer and never have from malnutrition. i did not start taking anti-hiv drugs until 2001 when i got my liver transplant and they were required. i tested positive in 1987. you say these are the causes of hiv infection. i am hiv infected. i have and had many friends in the same boat, who simply do not fall into your criteria.”

As we pointed out this claim seemed rather inconsistent with his politics but he has said this before in public, for example, in his 2003 interview for the MIX Film Festival:

I never had to take any HIV drugs, until I got my liver. And the only reason I had to take it was because the transplant people insisted, to protect the liver. They wanted to keep HIV in check – whether it was out of check or not.- Larry Kramer Interview November 15, 2003, MIX -– The New York Lesbian and Gay Experimental Film Festival Interview Number: 035 Interviewer: Sarah Schulman

Of course, this is perfectly possible, since there are other reasons why a liver can be so damaged that a transplant is undertaken, including alcoholism and Hepatitis B and C.

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The liver, the largest organ in the body, is essential in keeping the body functioning properly. It removes or neutralizes poisons from the blood, produces immune agents to control infection, and removes germs and bacteria from the blood. It makes proteins that regulate blood clotting and produces bile to help absorb fats and fat-soluble vitamins. You cannot live without a functioning liver.

In cirrhosis of the liver, scar tissue replaces normal, healthy tissue, blocking the flow of blood through the organ and preventing it from working as it should. Cirrhosis is the twelfth leading cause of death by disease, killing about 26,000 people each year. Also, the cost of cirrhosis in terms of human suffering, hospital costs, and lost productivity is high.

Causes

Cirrhosis has many causes. In the United States, chronic alcoholism and hepatitis C are the most common ones.

Alcoholic liver disease. To many people, cirrhosis of the liver is synonymous with chronic alcoholism, but in fact, alcoholism is only one of the causes. Alcoholic cirrhosis usually develops after more than a decade of heavy drinking. The amount of alcohol that can injure the liver varies greatly from person to person. In women, as few as two to three drinks per day have been linked with cirrhosis and in men, as few as three to four drinks per day. Alcohol seems to injure the liver by blocking the normal metabolism of protein, fats, and carbohydrates.

Chronic hepatitis C. The hepatitis C virus ranks with alcohol as a major cause of chronic liver disease and cirrhosis in the United States. Infection with this virus causes inflammation of and low grade damage to the liver that over several decades can lead to cirrhosis.

Chronic hepatitis B and D. The hepatitis B virus is probably the most common cause of cirrhosis worldwide, but it is less common in the United States and the Western world. Hepatitis B, like hepatitis C, causes liver inflammation and injury that over several decades can lead to cirrhosis. Hepatitis D is another virus that infects the liver, but only in people who already have hepatitis B.

Autoimmune hepatitis. This disease appears to be caused by the immune system attacking the liver and causing inflammation, damage, and eventually scarring and cirrhosis.

Inherited diseases. Alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency, hemochromatosis, Wilson’s disease, galactosemia, and glycogen storage diseases are among the inherited diseases that interfere with the way the liver produces, processes, and stores enzymes, proteins, metals, and other substances the body needs to function properly.

Nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH). In NASH, fat builds up in the liver and eventually causes scar tissue. This type of hepatitis appears to be associated with diabetes, protein malnutrition, obesity, coronary artery disease, and treatment with corticosteroid medications.

Blocked bile ducts. When the ducts that carry bile out of the liver are blocked, bile backs up and damages liver tissue. In babies, blocked bile ducts are most commonly caused by biliary atresia, a disease in which the bile ducts are absent or injured. In adults, the most common cause is primary biliary cirrhosis, a disease in which the ducts become inflamed, blocked, and scarred. Secondary biliary cirrhosis can happen after gallbladder surgery if the ducts are inadvertently tied off or injured.

Drugs, toxins, and infections. Severe reactions to prescription drugs, prolonged exposure to environmental toxins, the parasitic infection schistosomiasis, and repeated bouts of heart failure with liver congestion can all lead to cirrhosis.[Top

But in fact we don’t have to look so far on the Web for the real causes of Larry’s liver deterioration into what his surgeon called a “really disgusting” condition. In the first place, he had Hepatitis B. Secondly, he was taking liver damaging HIV drugs, including AZT, according to his own words. His mind is apparently so muddled that this “I took no drugs” assertion is not only contradicted by statements he has made in the past, but in this 2003 interview, he makes a new and conflicting statement within a few pages.

So, which HIV meds are you taking? LK: I took AZT when my liver started going bad, when my platelets went down. AZT, unknown to a lot of people, raises your platelets, so I took it for that. And then, I took Epivir, 3TC – whatever it’s called – for the Hep-B. And, that’s all I took for a number of years. And then since the transplant started, I’ve taken a bunch of them. I took Viracept, until I became resistant to it. I took Sustiva, which I loathed, until fortunately I became resistant to it, because it drove me nuts. And now, I’m on something which is an amazing drug, because it has absolutely no side effects – it’s like taking aspirin – it’s called Reyataz. Only now, they’ve just discovered – Steve Miles, the UCLA AIDS man has just discovered that Reyataz interacting with the other drugs I take is bad for Hepatitis-B. We know so much now, and I have so many doctors that I correspond with. I mean, talk about patient empowerment. I brought it to a new art. I have six doctors who I e-mail everything about me, and I pester them all to death, and I take advantage of everything that I possibly can, to get the information I need – just what we advocated everybody to do

So it certainly looks as if Larry is good at pestering doctors, at least, for information. Why doesn’t he think of pestering scientists, or looking in the literature which is the ultimate source, or should be, of the doctor’s pescriptions.

Anyhow, it is clear that before his liver transplant, he was taking AZT. How early? Apparently not much earlier, but he was certainly taking some drugs before 1996, $19,000 worth of them annually, in fact. For in 1996 Larry himself was the author of a piece in the New York Times Magazine on July 14 in which he wrote:

The cost of my current drugs, which do not include a protease, already amounts to about $19,000 a year; this does not include visits to my doctor or the batteries of blood tests that he, and this virus, routinely require. And I am what’s called asymptomatic: I am not and have not been sick. A New York Times article earlier this year estimated that drugs for someone with full blown AIDS cost about $70,000 a year; in response, Tom Stoddard, New York University adjunct law professor and gay-rights advocate, wrote a letter to the editor saying that his cost $84,000 a year. Indeed, the seriously sick can find their annual drug cost exceeding $150,000.”

This statement was quoted by Duesberg in a subsequent papers. Thus in “The AIDS dilemma: drug diseases blamed on a passenger virus” by Peter Duesberg & David Rasnick in Genetica 104: 85-132, 1998 Duesberg referred to his drug use as follows:

Some insiders have described how the medical establishment urges HIV-positives to take countless anti-HIV drugs and how these drugs affect their lives. In “Checking in, my chart” the HIV-positive playwright Larry Kramer describes his own polypharmacy of 19 drugs composed by several AIDS luminaries such as Anthony Fauci, David Ho, Joseph Sonnabend, Alvin Friedman-Kien, and others: AZT, acyclovir [for genital herpes], Zantac, colchicine [mitosis blocker], propranolol, spironolactone, myphyston [for liver cirrhosis and hepatitis], Eucerin, Moisturel, Retin-A, mycolog, flucinonide, sulfacet-r, Nizoral [fungal dermatitis], Hisminal and Humbid [bronchitis], and Shaklee vitamins, zinc, NAC and a ‘turquoise stone which a fortune teller, many years ago, advised'(Kramer, 1994) – for an annual price tag of $19,000 (Kramer, 1996).

Nor is Kramer unaware that HIV drugs cause liver disease. In an interview on January 7, 2000 now at WebMD Transcript/AIDS Decade in Review With Larry Kramer, Richard Marlink MD and Parnessa Seele he was able to inform his MD listener that

“We’re finding out, for instance, that 50 per cent of people who take certain drugs die from liver disease rather than AIDS, because the drugs are so harsh on the liver. Norvbir has now been discovered to cause liver cancer in so many of the people who take it. I said to a friend of mine, David Sanford, who’s editor of the Wall Street Journal, who has AIDS, and who just feels so awful from all of these drugs, and I said ‘why don’t you get out there and say I feel awful from all these drugs?’ And he said, “well, because I’m alive.”

Thus the Ask-John method of confirmation at work, and an extraordinary quote from a Wall Street Journal editor, for whom, it seems, everything follows from the assumption that HIV is the danger being kept at bay, so everything suffered in this overriding cause is worth it, even, it appears, liver transplants and death. In other words, one’s own experience counts for nothing if authority says otherwise.

Elsewhere in print, months before his liver transplant, Larry also admitted to taking HIV meds prior to the transplant, and said that one them, 3TC (Epivir), “caused…the liver disease than now is requiring a new liver.” In other words, he conceded Duesberg’s point: that HIV drugs can cause the liver disease seen in HIV positive patients.

Apparently for years now poor Larry has not been in good shape and can forget what he said only a few moments earlier. Fair enough. That is no crime for a man of 71 who has endured whatever attacks the drugs have made upon his system throughout the years, let alone more recently the mother of all organ operations. And let’s give him credit for avoiding crystal meth and antiviral drugs as best he could. But one thing is clear. Over two decades Kramer has not been well qualified to lead his community in this vexed and deadly issue because he has not met his responsibility to double check the science thoroughly.

In the end, does the fault belong to the shepherd or the sheep?

That all these supposedly alert people have followed the Pied Pipers of ACTUP and the NIH into drug hell and eventually decline and death, and agitated for the privilege of doing so, is something that can surely be blamed on the sheep as much as the shepherd. For there is no reason why any one of them should have ignored the many warnings sounded at such great personal cost by Peter Duesberg and by other scientists, academics, journalists, lawyers and independent minded laypeople such as Kary Mullis, Walter Gilbert, Harvey Bialy, Serge Lang, David Rasnick, Richard Strohman, Charles Geshekter, John Lauritsen, Celia Farber, Charles Ortleb, Katie Leishman, Anthony Liversidge, Jad Adams, Joan Shenton, Marco Mamone Capria, Gordon Stewart, Gordon Moran, Neville Hodgkinson, Robert Leppo, Etienne de Harven, Rian Malan, Anthony Brink, David Crowe, Liam Scheff, Christine Maggiore, Robin Scovill, Michael Ellner, David Steele, Frank Lusardi, Marcus Cohen, Robert Houston, James Hogan, Tom Bethell, Bryan Owen, Robert Laarhoven, Dean Esmay, Rebecca Culshaw, Mark Biernbaum and countless others in a list (to be extended) which is an honor roll as far as this blog is concerned.

The mental paralysis induced by medical and scientific authority is a phenomenon which has no excuse for intelligent, educated people, seems to us, even if they are unfamiliar with the details of science and medicine. We will always remember telling an HIV-positive writer for Vanity Fair at the San Franscisco AIDS Conference about Duesberg and the fact that he had reviewed the HIV paradigm with every intention of hopping on the funding bandwagon himself only to find there was nothing in it, and suggesting the writer look into it himself before taking any more AZT.

We even took round a long piece we had written for Harper’s on the subject (never published, as noted in an earlier post, because of Lewis Lapham’s unwillingness to get into bed, politically speaking, with the Heritage Foundation, which published Duesberg in Policy Review while our draft was being reviewed) to this poor fellow when we were both back in New York. He opened the door a crack and reached his hand through to take the paper and said he would let us know.

Two weeks later we called and exactly like Arthur Ashe in similar circumstances, he said, yes, it all looked very convincing, but he would just have to continue trusting his doctors. Five months later he was dead.

3 Responses to “Larry Kramer billed $19,000 annually for drugs “I never took””

  1. No Name Says:

    In the case of Larry Kramer I can accept that the “sheep” need to take as much responsibility as the “shepherds.” Of course Kramer is also a “shepherd” and curiously has been one of very few apologist activists who has widely criticized the ARVs.

    Prior to the internet however I am not sure I can always blame the sheep. I do not live in a major urban centre which has had access to the New York Native and hence John Lauritsen’s writings. Spin would never have been my first choice of reading material and certainly not a place I looked for information on “AIDS” anymore than Hustler. Certainly some blame should be placed on the desks of gay reporters and editors who have failed their communities since 1984.

    I had many, many friends die in the early 90s of what was supposed to be “AIDS.” They were all gay, but none of them were party boys (the drug using, promiscuous stereotype) or suffering from ill health prior to their “positive” tests. They all tested out of a sense of responsibility. They all became ill when they began AZT and other prophylactic drugs. All died within a few years of diagnosis and often from liver failure.

    In 1994 I did view a tape by Coleman Jones called “The Other Side of AIDS” which included an interview with Duesberg. However this was one of nearly one hundred tapes I viewed that year. I only recall one other (a short from Nova Scotia by James McSwain) that even suggested that AZT and other prescription drugs was in fact the source of the illness and death visited upon the gay community. Like reporters and editors, artists clearly deserve to be blamed as well.

    When I tested “positive” in 1999 I had a definite advantage over my dead friends. I had access to the internet and I was not dependent on my local bookstore — I could order via amazon. Still it took me over a year before I stumbled on virusmyth and healtoronto, and began to access dissident arguments. Had I limited my online searches to pubmed I would probably still be a believer today.

    I now find the biggest threat to my health is not being able to locate dissident health care. Every time I see a doctor I risk harassment to go on ARVs and a failure to diagnose and treat my actual conditions as everything is blamed on “HIV.” Doctors clearly deserve much blame for continuing deaths and illness.

    Yes, the sheep need to take responsibility, and clearly ACT UP has played a significant role in promoting hysteria and iatrogenocide. Still I can’t hold many dead “AIDS victims” any more responsible than others who have died and continue to die due to modern medicine and pharmaceuticals.

  2. Dean Esmay Says:

    Question: when was Duesberg published in Policy Review?

  3. truthseeker Says:

    Dean: In the Summer 1990 issue, Number 53, the top cover headline article was “Is The AIDS Virus a Science Fiction?” Peter H. Duesberg and Bryan J. Ellison (12 pages from 40 to 51). The Fall 1990 issue, Number 54, had 14 pages of letters (pages 70 to 83).

    The reply included an offer by Duesberg and Ellison, his graduate student co-author at the time, to take the “Fumento test: if he will arrange for sufficient national publicity, if he would be convinced by our action, and if he will thereafter help us bring exposure to our viewpoint, we will indeed be quite happy to have ourselvs publicly injected with HIV. Perhaps Fumento will also be willing to check on our health status in the year 2000, or after whatever additional time is eventually added to the virus’ latent period.” (p 83).

    It was not surprising that Harper’s felt that Policy Review had stolen their thunder, for the treatment was much more thorough and longer than my piece was intended to be. The long coverage included all important points, and was very clear, with pictures of a starving African kid, Ryan White, a protest against AZT, and a large lymphocyte infected by HIV. It told the whole story, and the follow up had their replies to all the usual objections. Little has changed since, except to defeat some of the arguments raised against Duesberg’s reasoning.

    Possibly after 15 years Harper’s excellent Farber article will get further in changing public opinion and lead to an official review, but would you bet on it?

    By the way, why isn’t NewAIDSReview listed in your blogroll, when we list you in ours? Even the link to us you gave recently didn’t state the name of the blog. What can we do to earn this important recognition?

    Cheers AL.

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