column from author/activist
The Royal Treatment
Critics Say White House Skews Science
So said the SF Chronicle headline on December 27th. The article details some of the controversy over recent changes to the Centers for Disease Control website, including misleading information about a possible link between abortions and women's cancer risk and the role of condoms in effectively preventing sexually transmitted diseases.
Before you condom-haters do the Crash Bandicoot dance and toss out your rubbers -- hey, the government doesn't recommend them! -- stop for a second and remember which government we're talking about. You might like the Republican's approved STD strategy even less, which basically suggests that you tie a knot in your dick. That's right, Bucky it's 2003, and abstinence-only "education" has infiltrated the highest levels of government-sponsored sex information. You're either married, you're not having sex, or you're doomed.
This is a surprise only because we're talking about the CDC. That agency has taken more leadership around the HIV epidemic than any other part of the US government, mostly because a lot of the folks who work there are scientists, doctors, and public health professionals. In short, they ARE weathermen, and they know which way the wind blows. Even in administrations filled with craven idiots, you can usually count on CDC folks to get at least part of the picture. And to be fair, there are doubtless folks within that agency now who are hopping mad over the political changes being forced on their agency by the same people who are about to make you fight for your right to pornography. But as much faith as Americans supposedly place in Mr. Science, the CDC is a government agency, and with each new day that dawns under the current administration, we get more and more Bush Science.
It's not even just the sex-related stuff -- anyone could have predicted that. Some of us may be bitter, but who's really surprised? But then we have the Bush Science version of water quality -- hey, arsenic isn't so bad! -- and air quality -- people, this global warming business is just a theory! I'd say this was 1984 Science, but 1984 is over, and you remember who was in power that year.
And to be fair, it's not just the PR people associated with the White House, though these peoples' spin is unmistakable. Disinformation is everywhere. Perhaps the Bush Scientists are having such an easy time at the CDC because the medical industry has already been spun clean off its moorings. Managed care doesn't help matters, but the real culprit is PR and the fancy footwork that happens in the lab when a big pharmaceutical company is trying to score at New Drug Roulette. Before we could get those arty, vague, and somehow sinister TV ads, somebody had to cook up a new drug, power it through the FDA, and say, "Purple! We'll make this pill purple!"
Last spring, at a conference designed to draw attention to the medical and drug industries' search for a "female Viagra," we heard stories about the way pharmaceuticals are currently marketed to physicians. They don't just get ballpoint pens and memo pads with the name of the drug on them that was the kind of influence our parents' doctors had to contend with. Now the docs get flown to Burmuda for "information sessions." At the International AIDS Conference in 1994, held at the vast conference center in Amsterdam, I saw huge booths representing every multinational drug company that manufactured anything at all to do with HIV disease. They were handing out brochures, yes, but they also had swag that had nothing to do with information provision -- one booth was steaming cappuccinos, and another handing out potted tulips!
Even I, who have never been bought dinner by a drug company, am reminded to write about Viagra every so often because I own not just a Viagra wall clock, but also a Viagra wristwatch. What possible message could they have wanted to convey besides "Time to pop a Viagra!"? And this drug's very name is a result of pernicious spin; it is meant to remind you of Niagara Falls, hence the honeymoon -- the one time in a straight guy's life, I suppose, when he is almost guaranteed to get laid.
There is one great difference between this sort of spin and the kind that has been performed at the CDC. Pfizer wants your money, and if making you dream of getting laid makes you part with it, Viagra has served its purpose. But the folks whose influence is showing on the CDC's website want your soul. Casting supposedly scientific aspersions on condoms and abortion is not a way of controlling public health, but rather public morality. It's the Church coming to visit the State and getting the red carpet -- not even a hint of a demure behind-the-hand whisper: "Church! The Constitution says we shouldn't be meeting like this!"
And let's not fool ourselves: If it wasn't such a wrong metaphor, I'd say that this CDC business amounts to no more than a stolen kiss from Church -- not enough to make State so much as blush. Let's see what happens if they get to third base.
Like I said, wrong metaphor but somehow I feel like an anxious parent whose unruly kid is out past curfew.
But Back Home In San Francisco
We are fortunate enough to live in a sensible place, far from the Beltway. Sure, I know our "liberal" media is trying to make Nancy Pelosi out to be the wildest-eyed radical in the country. This would be worth a laugh, if it were not so vile.
Here, we are home to a few sensible politicians but more importantly (because politicians come and go, but a good-quality silicone dildo will last forever, unless the dog gets hold of it), we are also home to Good Vibrations, which just celebrated its 25th anniversary. Twenty-five years! And I have been part of the team for approximately half that time. As such, I got to greet everyone at our recent, fabulous anniversary party, some pictures from which accompany this article.
We hosted many of the people who make San Francisco such a wonderful place to live. Tom Ammiano came to deliver us a petition on behalf of the Board of Supervisors: December 5th was Good Vibrations Day in the City and County of San Francisco! We had other visiting dignitaries: Joani Blank, our founder; Mark Leno was seen in the crowd; many of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence were on hand; Annie Sprinkle and Nina Hartley came to visit; it was grand. And my personal dressers were our friends at Stormy Leather -- they sure do know how to make a girl look pretty in pink. Also in attendance: Kat Sunlove, Shar Rednour and Jackie Strano of SIR Video, porn great Aunt Peg, and more.
Good Vibrations has become a quintessentially San Francisco institution people bring their cousins from the Midwest to shop and marvel. (Soon, when the Polk Street store opens, downtown visitors will not even need a native guide to get them to the store they'll be able to take a cable car!) But such a business would perhaps not have flourished anywhere else. It's not just that San Francisco is sex-positive it's that San Francisco has become more grounded in sexual (and gender) diversity than any other US city. From Barbary Coast days to the present, this is the place Americans come to live lives free of the long arm of the morality police, the same ones who have been fucking with the CDC website.
Because in the halls of Congress there'll always be a struggle for power if it's not for your soul it's for your pocketbook, and if it's not Strom Thurmond and Trent Lott on race it'll be Jesse Helms and John Ashcroft on sex. Around and around they go. But here, we try to live lives that are humane. We can't successfully export everything about San Francisco, I guess, but we're trying to be part of the solution -- because what those people need, my friends, are vibrators.
Buzz off, and leave that website alone.