Friday, December 30, 2011

Wash Post: 'Gay Damascus Girl' 
Hoaxer Among 2011's Memorable Faces

 (MacMaster, left, and Jelena Lecic, who is not the lesbian Syrian at the center of an international controversy. Credit: Julius Just, via the Post.)

Over at the Blog Post of the Washington Post, Elizabeth Flock today writes about the year's most memorable faces and among them is Tom MacMaster, the hoaxer behind the phony Gay Girl in Damascus blog. Flock provides an excellent update on where he is now using the file I pried loose using FOIA laws across the pond, and also informs us about the BBC including the young woman whose photo was used by MacMaster to carry out his sham. From the Washington Post:

Using documents released by the University of Edinburgh under the U.K.’s Freedom of Information Act, San Francisco activist and blogger Michael Petrelis found that MacMaster was allowed to stay on as a student at the university under two conditions. One, he promised not to create any more fictitious personas online, and two, he vowed not to discuss the Gay Girl in Damascus hoax with the media or public. 

MacMaster’s words, from the documents:

The documents include a letter sent to MacMaster from the University of Edinburgh’s Vice Principal for Equality and Diversity Professor Lorraine Waterhouse and Chief Information Officer Jeff Haywood. In the letter, they ask that MacMaster not engage in any more hoaxes. MacMaster replies:
I will not engage in any further actions of this kind whilst a student of the university.
Petrelis writes: “If there was a genuine effort to deliver authentic accountability over MacMaster’s links to the university and the hoax, it’s missing from the file released.”

As for Jelena Lecic, the unsuspecting London-based Croatian woman whose photo MacMaster used to pretend to be Amina Arraf, she has been staying out of the limelight ever since the hoax. On Wednesday, however, BBC chose her as one of the women in their list “Faces of the Year: 2011.”
SF AIDS Exec: Pipe Ban
Needed to End Meth Abuse

This column of mine appeared last week as part of the Edge Network's Let's Talk HIV blogging project. At a time when a local politician has roiled the local community with a rush to increase nanny-ish legislation of highly dubious merit, the last thing we need is an AIDS executive director pushing for a glass pipe prohibition.


A tragic death took place on San Francisco’s Castro Street on December 8, in broad daylight. Pedro Villamore was found dead in a doorway on the busy street, and facts about his death and life before he became homeless have poured forth from friends and family members.

What we know is that Villamore was 44, a person living with AIDS, lacked housing and used speed. A former partner, David Kilgore, stayed on friendly terms with him after they separated, but soon after they broke up Villamore began a downward spiral according to the Bay Area Reporter. The paper also reported:

Villamore spent a year living in a Marin park, Kilgore said. After he returned, Kilgore and another friend convinced Villamore to go to a treatment center so that he could get housing, even though Villamore wouldn’t acknowledge his drug use, Kilgore said.

He said that eventually Villamore’s T-cells dropped to 20 or 30, and he started getting $1,300 a month in Social Security Disability Insurance. Kilgore bought a condo in the South of Market neighborhood for Villamore and was his landlord for two years. He appeared to quit drugs, but started again after a year, Kilgore said.

Before we go any further, I wish to disclose that I used meth three times in the late 1970s and it was three times too many. Meth gave me incredible energy and a hunger for sex, and I comprehended its allure, but the crash when coming down from meth brought on suicidal thoughts.

The depth of the mental anguish as the meth high wore off cured me of any thought to do it again. Having used meth thrice, I have a very small window into the motives and mindset of my gay brothers who have been or are caught now in meth’s grip, but lack enough knowledge to suggest ways of helping gay men get off meth.

But there is one thing of which I am certain and that is stopping the sale of glass pipes isn’t going to do a damn thing to address the meth destruction in our community.

The executive director of the AIDS Housing Alliance, Brian Basinger, made this comment in response to the BAR’s latest story on Villamore’s death:

Every time I walk by those businesses in the Castro that sell drug pushing paraphernalia, I’m reminded of what those people are doing to our community. Supervisor Scott Wiener should push legislation banning the sale of crack pipes.

What meth users need are counseling services, stays in rehab facilities, affordable healthcare, their own personal commitment to helping themselves stay clean, and decent-paying jobs.

Can we talk misguided and harmful public policy ideas regarding drug use among gays, please?

Before considering Basinger’s pipe prohibition proposal, take into account that amyl nitrates are banned by federal law and you’ll find plenty of shops peddling that product on Castro Street. Oh, and meth is also banned from being sold openly -- and a lot of good that does.

I just don’t see how a pipe prohibition would in any way have kept Villamore off drugs, clean and sober, on his AIDS cocktail, and taking care of himself. There were a multiplicity of factors that pushed Villamore into his years of self-destructive behavior and he apparently made no effort to avail himself of services to address his many needs.

For all we know, Villamore could have injected meth or other drugs into his veins, using a syringe provided by a needle exchange program or purchased over the counter at the nearby Walgreen’s drug store. Should we then use this face to champion ending access to clean needles for all? I say no.

Alcohol prohibition didn’t work, closing the San Francisco baths didn’t stop HIV transmissions, and outlawing marijuana from being grown, distributed, and smoked doesn’t keep people from enjoying their weed.

What meth users need are counseling services, stays in rehab facilities, affordable healthcare, their own personal commitment to helping themselves stay clean, and decent-paying jobs. They must also hear safe sex messages and develop practices that keep them either HIV negative or, if positive, from transmitting the virus or other diseases.

Maintaining existing services and outreach agencies for those among us on hard drugs or alcohol or maintaining sobriety is a constant battle and as with so many health-related organizations, there are more funding cuts expected from governmental and private donors. Adding to the agencies’ burden is that with so many folks out of work or losing their homes or insurance, there’s a growing pool of at-risk individuals tempted by meth or getting hooked on it, increasing demand for ever-shrinking services.

It’s going to take our collective will power and creativity to confront the harmful destruction and deaths meth causes. Reaching community consensus about effective control and decrease of speed use requires long-term thinking and solutions.

Drug paraphernalia prohibition suggestions are not helpful to the discussion we as a community are having in the wake of Villamore’s demise.

The cause of death has not been released by the city’s medical examiner.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Feds Force Closure of One of 
SF's Oldest Pot Clubs on Jan 9

The leaders of one of San Francisco oldest and best medical marijuana dispensaries have announced they'll be closing up shop early in the new year, because of the federal Department of Justice's crackdown on landlords who rent to the dispensaries.

The Market Street Cooperative has been in operation for more than a decade, meeting the needs of its diverse clientele with high quality products at affordable prices. Why it is all of a sudden a target for the feds, as are so many other dispensaries, is quite mysterious and many suspect has a lot to do with President Barack Obama's reelection next year.

Services such as drop-in acupuncture and chair massages were offered, along with small packets of free medicine with people lacking funds. And when the Lyon-Martin Health Clinic was about to go out of business earlier this year, the coop was among the first businesses to step up and make a robust donation to keep it open.

I have been a member of the club pretty much since it first opened it doors, and I am sad and furious that it will soon be gone. To everyone at the coop, allow me to say thank you for years of service to the medical marijuana community. You will be dearly missed.

More info on the coop is here, and this is their letter about the upcoming closure:

Dear Market Street Cooperative Members and Supporters,

With much regret we must announce that we will be closing the doors of our dispensary and client services space at 7:00 pm on January 9, 2012. After years of providing affordable medical cannabis and other health services to our community, we are being forced to close after a San Francisco Assistant United States Attorney threatened our landlords with property forfeiture if the cooperative does not stop dispensing cannabis at our current location.

We apologize for the short notice to our members. Unfortunately, we were just notified that our landlords received the forfeiture letter from the feds and had to act fast.

In an effort to assist our members while they locate a new cooperative or collective to obtain their cannabis and other services, we will be offering a 15% discount on all medicine until we close starting January 1.

This discount cannot be combined with any other discount.

Our hope is that our closure is temporary. At the present moment we do not have plans to offer delivery services. We hope that our current federal administration will reconsider its attack on California's medical cannabis patients and caregivers and stick to its promise to allow law abiding cooperatives, such as Market Street Cooperative, to again provide affordable medical cannabis.

Market Street Cooperative has always strived to be a leader in our community by not only providing low cost medical cannabis, but also providing information and free health services to our membership, by donating to community and non-profit organizations, and our commitment to a mission of helping our community, humanity, animals, and the planet.

Unfortunately, the federal government would like to see an end to medical cannabis in California and the additional contributions to the community it offers. We hope they do not succeed.

Thank you for your support over the years. We will continue to keep our membership updated as we know more.

In Solidarity,
Market Street Cooperative
Edinburgh U's 55-Page 'Gay Damascus' 
File Omits Results of Investigations

The Records Manager for Edinburgh University on December 23 emailed me a two-page letter and fifty-three-page file in response to my Freedom of Information request, seeking the results of their two investigations into the Gay Girl in Damascus hoax perpetrated by their student Tom MacMaster (pictured), and what is clear from the records is that the institution was never committed to releasing the results.

Emails between university officials shows an overriding effort to avoid creating an email or paper trail, with the preferred method of any communication about the matter being personal chats, and a full understanding of FOI requirements regarding destruction of records to better cover the institution's ass.

If there was a genuine effort to deliver authentic accountability over MacMaster's links to the university and the hoax, it's missing from the file released.

When the press office announced two investigations into whether MacMaster, a visiting student from the United States, had violated computer rules or ethical guidelines the officials knew full well they would never reveal the results of the probes.

Privacy sections of United Kingdom FOI laws allow schools to withhold confidential information pertaining to students and their conduct, and the university conveniently omitted this important fact when they issued a statement regarding the probes. Student privacy is why the results of the investigation have not been made public.

It's also why the letter from MacMaster, who is still a student at Edinburgh University, to one of the investigators responding to their charges is 99 percent redacted. That letter is page 30 of the 55-page file, all of which is available here:

Edinburgh University Reply

After receiving the university's file, I contacted Benjamin Doherty of the Electronic Intifada site and shared the file with him. Back in June when MacMaster's hoax was unraveling, it was all due to the diligent research of Doherty and his colleague Ali Abunimah, and their evidence was presented here.

Doherty provides these helpful background details::

MacMaster’s blog, “Gay Girl in Damascus,” featured a character named Amina Arraf who was a US citizen, lesbian, literate and leftist. Tom had written Amina Arraf before, but this time his work would achieve international notoriety and similarly earn him international scorn.

The “Gay Girl in Damascus” was written to appeal directly to liberal, English-speaking readers. Moreover, Syria has been in a state of near media blackout especially since the breakout of revolts there in March.

In June before going on vacation to Turkey with his wife Britta Froelicher, MacMaster introduced a plot twist: Amina Arraf was mysteriously seized from the streets of Damascus. This led to genuine and global concern that a real person had been seized and faced imminent harm at a time when activists and bloggers were facing repression by Syrian authorities.

Doherty goes on to note the small acts of accountability carried out by the university investigators:

The first evidence of discipline is the University’s official statement on 13 June 2011, the day after the hoax was exposed:

The University will investigate whether the student has breached University computing regulations. The Principal has directed Vice Principal Knowledge Management and Chief Information Officer [CIO] Jeff Haywood to suspend the student’s computing privileges pending the outcome of the investigation.

Finally a letter written by Vice Principal for Equality and Diversity, Professor Lorraine Waterhouse and CIO Jeff Haywood (28 June 2011 on page 29) demands of MacMaster:

You must give, in writing, an unequivocal assurance that you will not engage in any further actions of this kind whilst a student of this university.

MacMaster responded on 1 July 2011 in a letter (page 30) that says in part:

I will not engage in any further actions of this kind whilst a student of the university.

And that is the extent of the public accountability from Edinburgh University over this sordid affair. In my view, the university was shamefully lax in holding MacMaster to account and was all too willing to keep the public in the dark about the results of the investigation, which are omitted from the 55-page file.

Thanks to the UK's FOI laws, both MacMaster and Edinburgh University have been subjected to a small degree of additional accountability.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

BAR: Transparency Needed
on Castro's Rainbow Flag

(Leather folks receive special rights from MUMC every year when they are allowed to raise their flag on city property, while the rest of us are denied equal access to the flagpole. The black-and-blue kink flag flying during September 2010 Leather Week. Credit: Bill Wilson.)

Last week, I was surprised to see the Bay Area Reporter's editorial about Supervisor Scott Wiener, who received their endorsement in 2010, delved into the rainbow flag controversy that's been alternately raging and simmer over the eleven-months since I launched a campaign to bring public control to the public flagpole on city property.

While the SF Chronicle, on the front-page no less, SF Weekly, Bay City News (whose story via the KPIX-TV site was linked to by the Drudge Report), the Castro Courier, SFist, the SF Appeal and a good number of personal blogs, all ran stories about the iron-handed control of the flagpole, the BAR has not covered the controversy in its print edition, and their February 3 blog post about efforts to lower the flag for murdered gay Ugandan David Kato should have been the topic of a followup piece.

The BAR blog in February said:

[Steve] Adams pledged to have MUMC’s board address the community complaints about the flag policy. “I am open to dialogue. There may be a compromise between the activists and MUMC,” said Adams. ...

“The bottom line is a lot of it is tourists. They want to see that flag up,” said Adams, who plans to bring up the matter with his board. “It is not my decision; it is a board decision.” He said based on the phone calls he has had this week with board members, the majority support keeping the status quo.

“I am open to dialogue though,” said Adams. “They may not get what they want, but I am open to talk about it. That is a democracy.”

What richness. A banker who acts like a banana republic despot lecturing everyone about democracy. Lemme know when democratic engagement takes root in the Castro.

Twice it's stated MUMC would have open dialogue with activists and the larger community, and as the BAR staff wells know, every effort made at the Castro Benefit District, Department of Public Works, MUMC and through the City Administrator's office have been killed either by Adams or Patrick Batt of MUMC, Wiener, or a combination of those three.

The BAR could do the community a huge favor and simply write about the current status of the controversy, and how we got to the point where one bully at a bank is the sole controlling agent for an important piece of LGBT property that belongs to the city? Report on the killed meetings, why they never happened and get the victims of Adams and Wiener's bullying to go on the record about the crap Adams and Wiener have done over the months?

Very odd of the editor to lament Wiener's silence on the flagpole, when her own paper has been silent too and they could have broken that silence simply by putting a reporter on the story. It's not too late to do that, in the name of ethical, community journalism. From the BAR last week:

One issue people do seem to want addressed is control of the flagpole in Harvey Milk Plaza, and on that topic Wiener has been mostly silent.

While the flagpole itself is on city property, the city had passed off management of it to the Castro merchants' group.

This year alone, several people have requested that the flag be lowered to half-staff in memory of a murdered gay activist (David Kato), an icon's death (Elizabeth Taylor), or due to national import (the 10-year anniversary of 9/11), with mixed results.

There ought to be some sort of process – rules! – so that the public can make a request and it can be quickly vetted. No one's going to understand why the flag was lowered weeks after someone's passing.

Or, if it's decided that the flag will never be lowered, as is the case now, then the Merchants of Upper Market and Castro should stop complaining and be prepared to deal with the requests and criticism that will inevitably come.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

NYT: Larry Kramer
is 2011's Most Resilient Gadfly

(Larry on the left, with Joe Mantello who played Ned Weeks in the Broadway revival of "The Normal Heart". Credit: Walter MacBride, Retna.)

My old friend and political inspiration Larry Kramer received a fabulous accolade from the Gray Lady on Sunday. One of the New York Times' theater correspondents, Patrick Healy, on Christmas Day had a look back at 2011's notable theatrical productions and people and Larry was singled out for his persistence:

MOST RESILIENT GADFLY Larry Kramer, the 76-year-old gay activist, who marked his long-awaited Broadway debut — the critically acclaimed production of “The Normal Heart” — by handing out letters to theatergoers after performances, imploring them to keep pushing for government action on H.I.V. and AIDS.

Congratulations, Larry! No need to say "keep it up" since we all know there is no chance of Larry going silent or inactive. And exactly what did he have to say in his message as folks left the theater? Here's the full text of the note:

Please know that everything in The Normal Heart happened. These were and are real people who lived and spoke and died, and are presented here as best I could. Several more have died since, including Bruce, whose name was Paul Popham, and Tommy, whose name was Rodger McFarlane and who become my best friend, and Emma, whose name was Dr. Linda Laubenstein. She died after a return bout of polio and another trip to an iron lung. Rodger, after building three gay/AIDS agencies from the ground up, committed suicide in despair. On his deathbed at Memorial, Paul called me (we'd not spoken since our last fight in this play) and told me to never stop fighting.

Four members of the original cast died as well, including my dear sweet friend Brad Davis, the original Ned, whom I knew from practically the moment he got off the bus from Florida, a shy kid so very intent on become a fine actor, which he did.

Please know that AIDS is a worldwide plague.

Please know that no country in the world, including this one, especially this one, has ever called it a plague or acknowledged it as a plague, or dealt with it as a plague.

Please know that there is no cure.

Please know that after all this time the amount of money being spent to find a cure is still miniscule, still almost invisible, still impossible to locate in any national health budget, and still totally uncoordinated.

Please know that here in America, case numbers continue to rise in every category. In much of the rest of the world - Russia, India, Southeast Asia, Africa - the numbers of the infected and the dying are so grotesquely high that they are rarely acknowledged.

Please know that all efforts at prevention and education continue their unending record of abject failure.

Please know that there is no one in charge of this plague. This is a war for which there is no general and for which there has never been a general. How can you win a war with no one in charge?

Please know that beginning with Ronald Reagan (who would not say the word 'AIDS' publicly for seven years), every single president has said nothing and done nothing, or in the case of the current president, says the right things and then doesn't do them.

Please know that most medications for HIV/AIDS are inhumanly expensive and that government funding for the poor to obtain them is dwindling and often unavailable.

Please know that the pharmaceutical companies are among the most evil and greedy nightmares ever loosed on humankind. What 'research' they embark upon is calculated only toward finding newer drugs to keep us, just barely, from dying, but not to make us better or, god forbid, cured.

Please know that an awful lot of people have needlessly died and will continue to needlessly die because of any and all of the above.

Please know that the world has suffered at the very least some 75 million infections and 35 million deaths. When the action of the play that you have just seen begins, there were 41.

I have never seen such wrongs as this plague, in all its guises, represents, and continues to say about us all.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Christmas Eve in Jail 
With the Terrible Tenors

You've heard of the Three Tenors, opera singers Luciano Pavarotti, Jose Carreras and Placido Domingo, right? Well, this tale is not about them.

Ten-years ago on Christmas Eve, I was locked up at the San Francisco county jail, pictured, with David Pasquarelli because of charges stemming from our over-the-top AIDS accountability campaign that included phone calls at midnight. We each had half-million dollar bail hanging over us, as we waited for the preliminary phase of our case to be heard before a judge.

Neither one had that kind of money sitting in the bank, so our 2001 holiday season was spent in the county lock-up. It's depressing being in jail at anytime, being in the slammer on Christmas Eve can really bring on mental troubles. We simply had to make the best of our bad situation.

After dinner on Christmas Eve, the mood in the pod where were incarcerated was subdued and everyone, including the sheriff's deputies, wanted to be anywhere but inside a jail. Most of the inmates were watching a holiday special on the TV, a few were playing cards or chess, and I was on my power-walk trying to exercise away the blues.

From the sheriff's perch overlooking the pod, one of the deputies demanded everyone's attention. He announced that an inmate, a 20-ish Asian guy charged with shoplifting, wanted to sing for us. The Asian guy sang some of "Jingle Bells" and the TV volume was muted so we could hear him, until he started laughing so hard from who-knows-what he had to end the singing. That brought much-needed good cheer to the pod.

Another inmate, a dark-haired and naturally built straight white guy in his forties (who reminded me of Jim Eigo, a hero of mine from ACT UP/New York), facing auto theft charges walked up to the perch and asked the guard if he could sing.

He sang all of "Silent Night" and brought a feeling of contemplation to many of us, stuck in jail on that cold, dark night. The applause for him may have been not as hardy as for the first inmate, but it was because the mood was quite sad.

"Hey, what about me? I wanna sing too," soon came a voice from the upper level of the pod where the transgender inmates had their segregated section (for their own protection after several of them were sexually groped by horny inmates). The voice belonged to a 40-ish black transgender woman finishing off a sentence for drug use and parole violations.

Try as she did to imitate Eartha Kitt performing "Santa Baby", the sounds out of her mouth were very male, but we all cheered her on even when she couldn't remember all the lyrics. She gave us all a genuine reason to laugh.

After she left the stage, er, sheriff's perch, the deputies said we were getting an extra hour out of our cells because it was Christmas Eve and since all inmates were on their best behavior. This news made us inmates happy and everyone got back to what they were doing before the singing started.

In that bleak situation, the free gifts of song and laughter and extra time to exercise sure brightened my mood, and all because the Terrible Tenors, as I dubbed them, simply had to sing for the inmates and guards. We were all stuck in the Gray Bar Hotel, away from loved ones on the outside, but for a short time that Christmas Eve there was genuine good cheer in our pod.

If you're reading this, count your blessings that you're not in the county lockup! Merry Christmas to all!
Season's Greetings From Mike + Mike

We decided to get a Christmas photo card printed on recycled tree, so we could send out holiday greetings the old-fashioned way - via snail mail. This fabulous photo was snapped at San Francisco's Union Square with the most colorful street performer posing with us. Best wishes to everyone for a joyous, happy and healthy holiday season, from Mike + Mike!

Friday, December 23, 2011

SF DPH: Dramatic Declines 
of Opportunistic Illnesses for PWAs

This is another column of mine for the Edge Network's Let's Talk HIV series. There's incredibly uplifting news regarding infections among the AIDS population of SF and I sure hope the stats are mirrored around the country for other PWAs:

Dramatic Declines of OIs in San Francisco

A recently released HIV/AIDS epidemiology report from the San Francisco Department of Public Health (SF DPH) described a continuing general decline of opportunistic illnesses (OIs) among those newly diagnosed and the aging population of people with AIDS (PWAs).

For AIDS cases in the early years of the epidemic, individuals were frequently diagnosed with CD4 cell counts under 200 and an OI such as Candidiasis, Kaposi’s sarcoma, pneumocystis jiroveci pneumonia (PCP), and wasting syndrome.

However, the health officials observe the following positive development:

--In the most recent years, more than 80% of (AIDS) cases were diagnosed by CD4 levels alone.

--This means newly-infected individuals are not as ill when receiving an AIDS diagnosis, giving them better chances of maintaining wellness and a robust immune system.

This 2010 annual report provides background about the history of tracking OIs:

The SF DPH has collected the initial and subsequent occurrence of AIDS opportunistic illnesses since AIDS surveillance began 1981. To our knowledge, the SF DPH is the only health department in the country to have done so. This provides us with a comprehensive understanding of the spectrum of opportunistic illnesses over time.

Possessing decades of collected data gives the epidemiologists data from which an invaluable picture of OI trends emerges. The section for OIs contains much good news regarding the falling frequency of incidences:

--Declines in opportunistic illnesses can be attributed to prophylaxis and improved antiretroviral therapy and to earlier diagnosis of HIV infection.

[A chart illustrating] the incidence rate of eight major opportunistic illnesses between 1993 and 2008... [shows] dramatic declines in the most frequently occurring illnesses. Though more difficult to appreciate, there have also been declines in the less frequently occurring illnesses occurring over this time period.)

The decline in PCP in the early to mid-1990s can be attributed to widespread use of PCP prophylaxis. Declines in Mycobacterium Avium Complex (MAC) are likely due to use of prophylaxis as well, although this is more difficult to observe because of their small numbers.

Improved care, including HAART (highly active antiretroviral therapy), is likely to be responsible for most of the decline.

In other words, AIDS cocktails are directly boosting the immune function of PWAs who are contracting fewer OIs and statistical trends show steady rates or drops, with no OIs on the rise.

The report examined OIs in three time-periods: pre-HAART (1993-1996), early HAART (1996-2000) and late HAART (2001-2010), and the following declines were recorded for the ten most-frequent OIs:

OIs by year..........’93-’96...’96-’00...’01’10

PCP .....................559.........410........343
Kaposi’s sarcoma.....226.........155........131
Wasting syndrome....176..........107.......69
Candidiasis ...........113...........91.........81
Recurrent bacterial....77............80.........31
HIV encephalopathy.....60.........37.......28

Dr. Grant Colfax, the SF DPH director of HIV and OI prevention, said the numbers are motivations for treatment adherence and regular visits to the doctor. Asked to interpret the data and what lessons the aging PWA population should learn, Colfax said:

--Recognize that aging is part of the natural life process, though there’s evidence that HIV (especially untreated) accelerates this process. Stay active, exercise, maintain a strong social network, don’t use tobacco and drink only in moderation, if at all.

--Diet and a healthy weight are also important. Eat meat in moderation, lots of fruits and vegetables, avoid processed foods.

--Plan for longer-term needs including the possibility of long-term medical care. Write a living will with clear instructions regarding life support.

Colfax’s best practices suggestions for PWAs as they age are echoed by Gary Virginia, a Castro neighborhood resident living with AIDS since the late 1980s, who describes himself as "a survivor and thriver."

Virginia says he’s maintained wellness through simple health habits, and offers these recommendations:

--It’s critical for newly infected and long-term HIV survivors to have regular lab work (every six months minimum) to monitor viral load and CD4/T-cell counts (immune system health). Baseline figures and changes alert your healthcare provider to whether or not you should start or change your HIV medications.

--The newer drugs have fewer side effects and often are more effective and stay in the blood system longer which helps fight drug resistance. Trouble with drug adherence should be discussed because many drugs are now combined to reduce pill count or frequency in taking them.

--Many HIV meds can cause dry mouth, which affects dental health, so it’s important to stay on top of routine dentist visits and use products to prevent decay.

Both Colfax and Virginia emphasize that OIs are preventable for the most part if you keep a low or an undetectable viral load and a stable CD4 cell count over 200.

The benefits of AIDS medicines are clearly measurable and through the years have directly contributed to people living with HIV infection and averting OIs that once disfigured bodies, ravaged compromised immune systems, and all-too-quickly lead to death and funerals.

What cannot be measured are the years of extended lives, all the holidays and birthdays, the vast numbers political and medical advances and setbacks for the gay and AIDS communities, myriad laughs and tears of modern life, and so many additional facets of living that PWAs have lived to witness and experience.

It is frequently said by public health experts that AIDS trends seen in San Francisco over time are replicated in other American urban areas. Thomas J. Coates of the University of California is one such HIV prevention expert and he maintains that, "what happens in the HIV epidemic usually happens here first."

Many hope those words will apply to OI rates outside of San Francisco.

(The 2010 SF DPH Annual HIV/AIDS Report can be read here: Data on OIs was extracted from pages 32-34.)

Thursday, December 22, 2011

TB or Not TB:
An Antibody Positive Freakout

I'm cross-posting more of my columns from the Let's Talk HIV series over the Edge Network site, and today I'm sharing an abbreviated essay about testing positive for TB. You can read all of the posts in this 60-day blogging project from myself and the two other writers, River Huston and Earl Plante, at this link. My column:

Don't Mess With TB

As I approached my fiftieth birthday, it was time for me to get several regular tests, including one for tuberculosis. It used to be that I was pricked in a forearm and had to wait a few days before returning to see my doctor, so he could look at the prick marks and see if they indicated a positive reaction.

But that all changed with the development of a blood test for TB antibodies, one that was much better at detecting positivity. I was pleased that, instead of four pricks, only one prick in my vein would be necessary - a relief when I also had a blood draw for T-cells, HIV viral load, and related tests.

Less than a week after the draw, my primary care physician left me a voice mail saying my TB antibody test came back positive and that I needed to immediately start taking drugs to treat it. A nurse from the TB clinic at San Francisco General Hospital also called, urging me to come to the drop-in clinic the next day.

Thus began my crash course in the world of TB issues. I freaked out, thinking the result meant I was infected and would soon experience symptoms, and that my partner and husbear Mike may have been infected by me. He spoke with his doctor, took the test and we were relieved he was negative.

Two possible drug regimens were presented to me, the first being five-months on ribavirin, a drug with a mediocre success rate among patients, versus nine-months on isoniazid, or INH for short, and a much better track record of preventing the development of full-blown TB. After reading up on the disease and clinical research involving INH, and asking my doctor lots of questions, I quickly began treatment with INH.

Every month I dropped in at the TB clinic, where plenty of fans were always in use, keeping the air well-ventilated, and visitors who had coughs were encouraged to wear masks. The nurses drew blood, took chest x-rays, asked how I was coping, and gave me a month’s supply of INH.

They told alarming stories about patients not adhering to the regimen, going off INH and feeling better for a short while, only to receive a diagnosis of active or drug-resistant TB, requiring more difficult-to-tolerate medicines and additional medical problems.

All of a sudden, I went from living with AIDS to living with TB antibodies and contending with the side effects of the new drug I added to my daily cocktail.

Two times every week I sought out acupuncture treatments at a low-cost community clinic, getting physical and mental relief from all the additional stress. Acupuncture has long been a favorite healing modality, and during the nine months of INH, nothing quite relaxed me like the needles working the right points.

I also increased my daily exercise routine and tried drinking more water, because both things gave me a sense of being in greater control of my health during this period. There were times when my mental health was so negatively impacted by the INH, I fully understood why some patients stopped taking it.

My level of newfound fear of TB led me to open windows at political meetings when there was too much hot air and no circulation. At cafes, in movie theaters, and on public transit systems, when someone nearby coughed hard or more than once, I moved away and found another place to sit.

Why risk more exposure from potentially infected TB people in closed quarters?

Ageing with AIDS is complex and challenging enough just dealing with HIV, existing infections, and side effects of my regular cocktail. Throwing TB into the personal medical mix was certainly a bummer, but it was crucial to remember the benefits of the routine testing for TB antibodies. Better to fight off just the antibodies and not come down with a case of active TB.

At the end of the nine months of treatment with INH, I patted myself on the back and sought praise from my traditional medical health-care providers and alternative healing practitioners, for completing the course.

This story and advice is shared with readers to remind other persons with AIDS to regularly test for exposure to TB antibodies, quickly determine a treatment plan if positive to antibodies, and develop a plan to counter the side effects.

Don’t mess around with TB.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

S.F.'s Last Working Telephone Booth?

Yesterday was my follow up eye exam at the California Pacific Medical Center over at their Pacific Heights campus. As I walked past the parking lot at Webster and Clay Streets, my eyes noticed the top of a Pacific Bell telephone booth inside the gated lot.

My first thought was that the booth was an empty relic from bygone days, with a two-piece door, but lo there was a working phone inside, a metal shelf and underneath it a recent phone book inside a thick, plastic cover.

Googling for relevant info turned up a February 2008 report and photo at the SFist site about a phone booth on Treasure Island, and June post and picture at the SF Citizen pertaining to a cluster of phones on Market and 6th Streets, but they're of the bare-bones variety without booths.

I'm not sure if the phone booth at Webster and Clay Streets is the last operational one on the streets of San Francisco, so if you know of another, please let me know.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Edinburgh U's 'Gay Damascus Girl'
Hoax Investigations: Results When?

After Tom MacMaster (pictured), a straight American scholar studying at the University of Edinburgh was revealed in June to be the creator of the hoax Gay Girl in Damascus blog, the press office for the university promised not one, but two investigations would be conducted. In November, unable to find a shred of evidence that the investigations actually happened and produced transparent results, I submitted a request for information to the press office:

Readers of my blog have asked me what ever happened to the University of Edinburgh's investigations into Tom MacMaster potentially misusing university computer equipment or violating equality and diversity policies. The answer, of course, is I don't know and that is why I write to you today.

I have followed your institution's online paper trail on these serious matters of international importance related to MacMaster and his Gay Girl in Damascus blog hoax, and found this scrap of information from June 24 on your site:

The University of Edinburgh is very concerned about recent reports relating to the activities of postgraduate student Tom MacMaster.

His use of University computing facilities has been suspended while Vice Principal Knowledge Management and Chief Information Officer Professor Jeff Haywood conducts an investigation into possible misuse.

The Vice Principal for Equality and Diversity, Professor Lorraine Waterhouse has also been asked to investigate the matter in the context of the University's Dignity and Respect Policy and list of Disciplinary Offences.

Let's get to the questions. Have the investigations concluded? If they have, how has the university conveyed the findings to the general public? Where on the web is your paper explaining if MacMaster violated your rules and regulations? Should the investigations be ongoing, why are they taking five-months to conduct and when do you expect them to conclude?

Please provide me with the status of the university's accountability to the global human rights and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights communities and the date of when you will publicly produce the results of the MacMaster investigations.

When Rob Tomlinson, the head of media and communications for the university, replied with a terse and vague note, I got pushy for specifics about when substantive results would be released. Tomlinson wrote:

Rest assured, we will be in touch just as soon as we possibly can. The University is a large, complex and diverse organisation with almost 30,000 students and around 8,000 staff and there are a number of individuals who have to be consulted on such matters. I'm sure you understand that within a university community, the people that one sometimes needs to consult with are not always immediately available, particularly those senior members of academic staff who are sometimes on long periods of sabbatical leave, often overseas, for research purposes etc. As I said, we will be in touch once we are satisfied that we have all the information with which it is possible to supply you.

Not sure what the heck the high numbers of students and faculty have to do with producing accountability from Haywood and Waterhouse, the investigators, taking so many months to examine the evidence and issue a report. I nudged the university in a followup note for a details about the investigation, which I believe should have already conclude. Tomlinson sent this reply last week:

The University is treating all your requests for information as Freedom of Information requests which means that you will receive a response within the statutory 20 working days of your initial request.

Never one to take a single route when searching for answers, on top of contacting the press officials, I also filed a separate Freedom of Information request with the university's records management office, which sent me this reply signed by Sara Cranston:

Thank you for your email of 29 November requesting information about MacMaster investigations. I am writing to let you know that we have received your request and will process it as soon as possible, and certainly within 20 working days of the day we received the request. You will hear back from us by 29 December at the latest.

The University of Edinburgh should be ashamed for not acting responsibly and informing the global public about the end results of its two investigations, within a reasonable amount of time and six-months should be sufficient to conduct a responsible inquiry. Sad to imagine that this institution announced the investigations at the height of the hoax's controversy, to better appease the wide calls for Macmaster to be held to account, and was all too happy to let everyone's attention go on to other international LGBT and Syrian concerns.

In my latest email to Tomlinson and other press officials, I thanked them for preparing to release files responsive to my requests, and also wanted to know where on the university web site they would post the investigations' full results. It's not enough to provide me with the files and accountability. The university must be transparent with the results and prominently share them on their extensive site, while also issuing a news release once the results are finalized and ready for public inspection.

I hope the university delivers the public accountability they promised regarding MacMaster, his phoney blog and the international firestorms he ignited.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

100s Hear Occupy the Castro's 
General Assembly Plea: Recall Wiener

The first General Assembly of Occupy the Castro today shared Harvey Milk Plaza with the Western Star Dancers, who were swinging their partners round and getting warmed up for a neighborhood outing spreading holiday cheer when we arrived. Nice to have music and dancing serve as a prelude to our Occupy work.

The GA ran over an hour and attracted 60-70 participants and speakers, while hundreds of people either exited the Muni underground trains, waited for a bus, rode by on bikes or in cars, or just walking past Castro and Market Street.

Among those who showed up or spoke were Milk Club member Rafael Mandelman, lesbian Middle East peace activist Kate Raphael, person with AIDS and Gays Without Borders organizer Gary Virginia, transgender labor advocate Denise D'Anne, housing rights activist Tommi Avicolli Mecca, bisexual vegan and animal rights organizer Nadia Winsted, formerly homeless queer youth The Fabulous Christopher, public nudist practitioner Mitch Hightower and others whose names I didn't catch but who contributed to the fabulous day.

We interrupt this report to present a gratuitous photo of a young slab of beef who stopped by for a few moments to check out the GA.

Folks made their own signs and decided what messages were important for them. Mitch Hightower made stickers and hand-held fans out of Clinton Fein's Recall Scott Wiener images, that were a hit with the crowd. All anti-Wiener talk was greeted with cheers. One marijuana activist found a piece of cardboard to denounce the Supreme Court's United Citizens decision recognizing corporations as people.

The man on the left live-streamed the GA on his smartphone and our wonderful main cheerleader speaker was Gary Virginia, who knows hows to use a bull horn.

We wrapped butcher paper around one of the public (and generally empty) news racks, then taped a box of markers to a corner for people to use to leave messages and drawings. It was our Comment Wall and one more way for everybody to make a statement.

After the GA, a handful of us walked down to the next block of Castro Street to the spot where Pedro Villamore, a homeless gay man, died on the street in the middle of day. His family had placed flowers there in remembrance of Pedro and we wanted to pay our respects. We left a Recall Scott Wiener sticker with the flowers.

I simply had to be photographed wearing and holding anti-Wiener messages! Big thanks and hugs to everyone who joined our first Occupy the Castro GA, or heard our message and expressed solidarity, wrote notes on the Comment Wall or simple made the Castro fabulous today.

(Credit for all pix: Petrelis Files.)

Friday, December 16, 2011

Homeless Person Dies on Castro Street;
Sup. Wiener Remains Silent and MIA

I just read this tragic story from yesterday's Bay Area Reporter, which curiously reported nothing about trying to contact Supervisor Scott Wiener or whether he's made a comment about this death on the streets of his district. Just one more example of the BAR not subjecting Wiener to any accountability, who received the paper's endorsement in 2010?

Doubtless, Harvey Milk would not only have spoken up about the death but would have also told the community how he will will help the homeless folks in his district, but Wiener ain't no Milk.

Neither Wiener's Facebook page nor his Twitter feed say one word about this death that happened more than a week ago. The Castro's supervisor does mention several times his dog-walking legislation and his work on that important issue, but nothing about our homeless brothers and sisters living and dying on the district's streets.

If he's said or done anything about the homeless population in our midst and how he's helping them, I missed it.

From the BAR:

A homeless man died in a doorway on Castro Street last week, in the middle of the day.

The San Francisco Medical Examiner's office has identified him as Pedro Villamore Jr., 44. He had no fixed address, and the cause of death hasn't been determined.

His passing, likely not the only one of its kind in San Francisco as the days get colder, came just before National Homeless Persons' Memorial Day, which is Wednesday, December 21.

Villamore's death on Thursday, December 8 also occurred at a time local and state leaders are working to address homelessness, particularly regarding LGBTs, although it is not known how Villamore identified.

San Francisco Police Sergeant Chuck Limbert, the LGBT liaison to Mission Station, said there were no signs of foul play in Villamore's death.

Eddie Lundeen, 44, is one of the owners of Mudpuppy's Tub and Scrub, a dog-washing service at 536 Castro Street, near where Villamore died.

He had seen Villamore in the doorway and had been buying him coffee and food for a couple weeks. Lundeen last saw Villamore alive last Thursday morning.

Thursday night Lundeen hung a sign in the doorway where Villamore died that mentioned the "simple gifts" he'd given the man in the previous weeks.

"My one wish is that I would have taken a moment to get to know him better," the sign read. Lundeen also placed candles and silver Christmas decorations in the spot. ...

Pedro will be remembered tomorrow, Saturday, December 17, at the Occupy the Castro General Assembly that starts at noon at Harvey Milk Plaza. Please join us!

Thursday, December 15, 2011

SF Ex: 'Recall Scott Wiener'
Campaign Starts on Facebook

Nice of our local daily tabloid to write up a news note about this political development. From today's San Francisco Examiner:

Supervisor Scott Wiener, who represents the Castro district, among other neighborhoods, is the target of a Facebook campaign to recall him from office. The Petrelis Files blog reported that Castro resident and attorney Stephen Zollman created the page, which had more than 50 supporters as of Wednesday night. Wiener was elected to the board in 2010.

Click here to visit the Recall Scott Wiener Now page on Facebook.

It's my hope that at this Saturday's Occupy the Castro General Assembly, that there are folks who address the many reasons why Wiener is such a bad Supervisor and should face a recall vote. The assembly begins at noon at Harvey Milk Plaza. Come speak out and voice your concerns about all issues related to the Castro and the larger LGBT community.

(Image credit: Clinton Fein.)
Laura Truffaut Introduces 
'Bride Wore Black' on Friday at SF Film Society

About three years ago, Laura Truffaut, one of Francois Truffaut's daughters who lives in Berkeley, spoke after a screening of her father's classic film "The Wild Child" at the Opera Plaza Cinema. It had been newly restored and was beginning a successful limited run back in theaters.

The screening was packed, with maybe a third of audience comprised of film buffs under thirty, and Laura shared behind-the-scenes tales of the making of "The Wild Child" and its cultural impact in France when first released. The young film buffs showed off their knowledge of Truffaut's body of work, asking terrific questions about his career.

I asked Laura if she thought necessary to start a foundation dedicated to preserving, restoring and exhibiting her father's films, along the lines of what the Rainer Werner Fassbinder and Pier Paolo Pasolini foundations were doing. I said such a foundation might help get more Truffaut films shown theatrically again, especially "The Bride Wore Black", which I'd only seen once but wanted to see again on the big screen.

She didn't think a Truffaut foundation was needed because enough of his work continues to be shown at rep houses and film archives. Regarding "The Bride Wore Black", she said it wasn't a film her father was very satisfied with.

Thanks to Laura's engaging conversation, the audience experienced a most entertaining conversation exploring the joys Truffaut's many terrific films and how he made them.

This Friday, the San Francisco Film Society begins a five-day run of a new print of "The Bride Wore Black" at their theatre in Japantown, and Laura will be at the 7 pm screening to introduce the film. Joining her will be Eddie Muller of the Film Noir Foundation.

Truffaut's homage to Alfred Hitchcock didn't receive a warm reception from either critics or audience, and when I saw it at New York's old Thalia Theatre it left me unimpressed and wondering why it was a misfire for the director. I'm thankful to have another opportunity to see this film on the big screen with an audience and hope to make it to the 7 pm showing tomorrow night.

Click here for more information on showtimes and tickets at the San Francisco Film Society Cinema, located at 1746 Post Street near Webster. Here's the original trailer for "The Bride Wore Black":

Finally, in other Truffaut news today from San Francisco, the Castro Theatre today is showing two of his other films from the early 1960s, "The Soft Skin" and "Shoot the Piano Player". Click here for programming notes and showtimes.

What a treat for Bay Area cineastes to have the chance to catch three Truffaut film!

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

'Recall Scott Wiener' Facebook Group
Launched by Castro Attorney Zollman

I'm not a Facebook person, so I have not seen the page created by Castro resident and attorney Stephen Zollman to recall Supervisor Scott Wiener, but if you're on Facebook you can check out the page here.

The last I heard, over fifty people had joined the Recall Scott Wiener effort and I wish them the best of luck.

Local political artist and activist Clinton Fein has created the two images you see posted here, and if you use his artwork be sure to give him proper credit.

I've invited Zollman to speak about his recall organizing on December 17 at noon in Harvey Milk Plaza, during the latest Occupy the Castro effort and our first General Assembly. Come join the GA in the Castro on Saturday!
HRC's Solidarity with Queer 99%?
Will They Be at Castro's General Assembly?

The Advocate's web site earlier this week got around to posting an article and video about the Occupy the Castro neighborhood tour in early December, and our stop at the Human Rights Campaign's tee-shirt and housewares shop. We had a message for the local branches of CitiBank and Bank of America, and HRC's employees: Address the economic inequality of ordinary gays.

HRC's spokesman Michael Cole-Schwartz told the Advocate that the group agrees with us protesters:

We understand and share the concerns over the unmet needs of our community — particularly among those most vulnerable. Every day the Human Rights Campaign works to make better the lives of LGBT people and we will continue to work to erase discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

If HRC's agenda includes working on the unmet basic needs of average lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Americans, needs like healthcare, jobs and housing that are out of our reach because of economic injustice not anti-gay discrimination, I've not seen proof of their work for low-income LGBT people.

Did I miss HRC's statements endorsing calls to make banks pay for public health and education, and for 1 percenters to be taxed more?

HRC enjoys long-term partnerships with the likes of Wells Fargo, Bank of America, CitiBank, Nationwide Insurance, Prudential, British Petroleum, Chevron, Chase, Morgan Stanley, Met Life and Goldman Sachs, and has said and done nothing to curb Wall Street greed or advocate for economic equality for 99 percenters.

When it comes to their corporate sponsors, HRC has tunnel vision and only looks at how their sponsors treat LGBT workers. While there is much good in rating corporations for their gay employment protections, that is not the only standard upon which they should be judged.

In March, Goldman Sachs won HRC's Workplace Equality Innovation Award for 2011. Together, the financial services giant and the Democratic gay organization created this video,which focuses solely on workplace issues for LGBT people, with economic justice issues omitted:

This Saturday, December 17 starting at noon in San Francisco's Harvey Milk Plaza, two blocks from HRC's souvenir store, there will be another Occupy the Castro action and this time it's a General Assembly.

Will HRC executives or members show up on Saturday and tell us what they're doing about addressing economic inequality, or how they're moving their corporate partners to pay more taxes? It's one thing for HRC's spokesman to give a nice-sounding quote to the Advocate about how they supposedly are in solidarity with the queer Occupy the Castro effort. Quite another story to have HRC actually do something tangible to back up their claim.

Let's see if anyone from HRC speaks at the Castro's General Assembly on December 17. There will be an open mike, should they care to address the crowd.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Cute Mormon Teens Resist My
Recruiting Them for the Gay Life

In recent years I've developed a routine of approaching young and handsome male recruiters from the Mormon religion prowling the streets of San Francisco for converts, chatting them up and snapping a few pix of them. The boys are well-trained to deal with all sorts of unique people and situations, and I try not to disappoint them for a few brief moments.

After introducing myself and making sure they're genuine Mormons, not just cute dudes satirizing Mormons, my second question is are they recruiting for Jesus Christ and their particular beliefs. They speak of their mission and ask for my time. I've performed this routine previously here and here and here and here.

Tonight these two nineteen-year-olds, Elder Lai, born in Singapore, left, and Elder Wilson who hails from the South, showed up at our door wanting to preach their religion to me.
It was hard for them to get a word in edgewise, as I snapped away and peppered them with questions about joining the gay life, and keeping their religion if they wanted to.

Lai made a valiant attempt to speak about God, but I derailed him by asking where he got acquired his adorable smile and accent. Wilson spoke of guys with "same-gender attraction", and impressed with use of the phrase, who worship at their San Francisco congregation.

Told them to get with accepting gay people and go way beyond tolerance, and to preach that message at their local congregation and wherever they go next as part of their missionary duties.

When asked if they were gay, both said no in most friendly way. I sent them on their way with advice to wear a hat and avoid getting a cold. Ah, the pleasures of giving a lesson or two to young Mormons who need exposure and engagement on all levels.

Why not talk to a these guys the next time you see them? They are quite ready to have conversations with people who don't agree with them.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Avalos & Dufty Break Promises to Help
Reclaim Castro's Public Rainbow Flag

Supervisor John Avalos and former supervisor Bevan Dufty may occupy different points on the San Francisco political spectrum, but there is one area where they have much in common. Both men promised in writing to work on reclaiming the iconic rainbow flagpole that supposedly belongs to the public at Harvey Milk Plaza.

(Smooth talker Avalos has trouble keeping an important gay commitment. Credit: SF Gate.)

This is what Avalos wrote to me at the end of September:

Several months ago, I said that I am interested in reclaiming public space at the plaza. My staff has been stonewalled in this effort ... After the election in whatever capacity I serve, you have my commitment to bring people to the table to share views and hopefully work out more flexible use of the public space at the plaza.

Despite seeing him at his campaign office a few days after the election, and hearing with my own big ears from Avalos to contact him at his City Hall office, which I did via telephone and email, because he would keep his promise, it's a month later and Avalos and his staff have not contacted me. If they've done anything to keep his commitment, I'm not aware of it.

With conservative Supervisor Scott Wiener proposing sweeping changes at Harvey Milk Plaza, now would be an ideal time for Avalos to step up to the plate and finally make good on his promise. I won't hold my breath waiting for that to happen, but if Avalos find his backbone on the flag issue, I'll be the first to laud him.

(When it comes to promise-keeping, Dufty should hold a NO card. Credit: SF Gate.)

Also in September, Dufty shared this written promise with me:

Thanks for entreating me to become involved in the issue around control of the Rainbow flag at Harvey Milk Plaza. ... After November 8th I will revisit the situation.

After receiving that note, my activist colleague Bill Wilson and met with Dufty at his campaign office and he told both of us to our faces that once the election was over, he'd meet with us and other flagpole activists. Dufty he'd give us the full behind-the-scenes machinations over the rainbow and work to make it more community-controlled.

In early November, via emails and phone chats, Dufty reiterated his promises, and he's not kept them. He's not replying to my emails anymore. So much for Dufty's hot air.

With Dufty, I always thought he'd find a way to wiggle out of his commitment, what with him needing the financial and political support of the bully who now single-handed controls the flagpole, Steve Adams, the VP of Sterling Bank and head of the Merchants of Upper Market/Castro. Adams endorsed Dufty and MUMC ran ads for his campaign.

My sense is that Dufty knew he wouldn't keep his promises after he lost the election, but he said what he did just to keep me out of his hair.

However, I expected Avalos to be a different kind of San Francisco politician, what with his progressive beliefs and all. Sorry to say this, Avalos is just one more politician who talks a great line when running for office, and when it comes time to deliver on a promise disappears into the woodwork.

Avalos the progressive and Dufty the moderate. On the matter of returning the public's rainbow flag at Harvey Milk Plaza back to the at-large lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgeneder community and general public, they both have not kept their word. Political b.s. as usual in Ess Eff.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Union Leader Breaks Promise to Occupy San Francisco

Mayor Ed Lee finally evicted the Occupy San Francisco encampment at Justin Herman Plaza earlier this week, and the media coverage of the early morning raid and clean up was moderate compared to other Occupy evictions. I checked a lot of the independent and corporate news attention paid to the raid and saw no mentions about hundreds, or even dozens, of union members present or arrested.

Back in November, the Bay Guardian's blog posted a laudatory piece about the alleged commitment of unionists when the eviction was imminent and a huge promise was made:

Tim Paulson, director of the San Francisco Labor Council, just told me that he's got as many as 500 union members on alert to stand with the OccupySF encampment if the city attempts to evict the protesters. The Labor Council has put together a communications system to let members who have volunteered to help know when a showdown with the police is coming, and the volunteers are ready to spend as much as 24 hours at Justin Herman Plaza, and if necessary, in jail.

"We mobilized for last night, but nothing happened," he said. "We're in a state of constant vigilance." ...

I was a tad skeptical reading how Paulson (pictured) and his members were going to be able to decide for themselves how long they would be incarcerated. Somehow they, not their jailers or judges, would say if they were to be held for four or twenty-four or longer hours for their civil disobedience.

What happened to that promise of hundreds of union supporters on behalf of Occupy San Francisco? The Bay Guardian has done no followup about Paulson boast and I hope the alternative weekly gives readers a report about why the Labor Council broke its commitment.

Occupy the Castro General Assembly;
12/17 at Noon in Harvey Milk Plaza

Next Saturday, December 17, marks the three-month of anniversary of Occupy Wall Street's launch and Occupy the Castro (OTC) organizers will honor the occasion with our first General Assembly.

We will gather on December 17 at noon at Harvey Milk Plaza under the iconic rainbow flag and invite all interested activists to come out and speak out. There will be a comment wall of paper where comments and artwork and political demands can be left.

The lack of respectful, civic democratic engagement by neighborhood institutions including the Merchants of Upper Market/Castro, the Castro Benefit District and Supervisor Scott Wiener, is just one motivating factor pushing the OTC organizing efforts. Those institutions need to understand they do not own our gayborhood and that we are tired of being left out of the decision making process regarding public spaces and policies.

Tommi Avicolli Mecca and I are spearheading bringing folks together for OTC's first General Assembly next Saturday, but we are not in charge of what will be on the agenda. That will be decided by everyone who shows up at noon to participate. Tommi's bringing the chalk to draw a soap box space on the plaza's sidewalk where speakers will stand, and I'm bringing the bull horn.

He and I will give brief reports on OTC's successful actions a week ago. Then it is open mike time and we invite all of you to attend. Bring your anger, creative ideas, political acumen, posters expressing your demands, a couple of friends and pitch in to make the Castro's initial General Assembly fabulous.

Friday, December 09, 2011

Castro Theatre's Deep Throat Revealed

(An extreme example of what goes wrong if you don't see films in theaters. When was the last time you saw a movie at the Castro Theatre?)

Bill Longen, who formerly worked at America's cherished Castro Theatre in many capacities from programmer to technical director, deserves cheers for starting a long-needed public discussion about the future of this movie palace. He is the Deep Throat for my post on Tuesday about changes comes to the Castro.

Before getting to the statement he emailed me today, I wish to point out we were all reminded this week about the national and global affection folks have for the theatre, and the concerns about its future.

Our cultural and civic landscape has been altered by the demise of single-screen cinemas and rep art houses. I'm old enough to recall getting film fixes at the Park Theatre in my hometown Caldwell, New Jersey, New York City's Bleecker Street Cinema, the Regency and Thalia, Center for Living Cinema and Theatre 80 St. Marks, and San Francisco's Cento Cedar, Surf, Strand, York and the recently shuttered Red Vic.

It was never too early to sound an alarm about the problems of dwindling attendance and profits at those lost venues.

I spoke with friends about my ideas to enhance the Castro's engagement with its audience in the new year, and asked for their suggestions to present to the Nasser family. Here a short list of ideas:

1. The Nassers should speak directly to concerned supporters at an open forum. They would also hear the concerns and ideas of people who see movies at the theatre, and what better place to hold such an open dialogue but at the Castro! Let the forum be the first step of an expanded outreach effort. The Nassers need to step up providing constant communication.

2. There is a new booker/general manager coming on board and he should take this opportunity to introduce himself to us. Tell us what his plans are for upcoming shows, both cinematic and live performances, and hear how he plans to work with audience and give us what we want.

3. Let's start a Castro Film Society and hold salons in the upper lobby on the mezzanine. Invite Bay Area film scholars,critics and bloggers, movie buffs to facilitate chats bringing forward words expressing cinema love. Get three film queens in a room, get nine opinions. Offer memberships and include benefits like salons, a discount on tickets and at the candy counter.

4. Regardless of membership, find ways to reward frequent patrons. Might also have a separate discount card like the Roxie offers, for people who don't want to join the society.

5. Start merchandising the famous marquee on clothing, mugs, hats, etc. Not only would this bring in revenue, having lots of people wearing Castro apparel equals free advertising and reminds everyone to see a flick at the venue. Create a glossy booklet on the Casto's history, ask Armistead Maupin to write an introduction. Hire someone to run a movable lobby stand hawking the booklet and Castro kitsch, just like at Broadway shows.

6. Collaborate with our wonderful local historic preservation and cultural experts to create dynamic weekly tours of the Castro Theatre. Charge a few bucks, educate locals and tourists about its history and significance.

7. Pick a night when the audience gets to decide on what will be shown. Select a slow night, announce the choice of two films, say, "The Last Picture Show" or a recent new film, and have everyone vote on which one they would come and see.

8. Can something be done about structural issues beyond redesigning the stage areas? The current bathrooms are inadequate to the needs of patrons, particularly when Frameline or the San Francisco Film Society or the Silent Film Festival are thronged with movie mad people. A single disabled toilet that also serves as a women's toilet is not enough to meet the needs of our disable and senior patrons. I'd love to hear from architects about ways in which they would improve the number of toilets and urinals, and access to them.

9. Castro Street is so windy and standing in front of the theatre when one needs to herbally medicate can be near impossible. How about a 420 smoking area in the alley next to the parking lot?

10. I extend my deepest cineaste gratitude to the Nassers for their stewardship of this phenomenal gift - the Castro Theatre. It is the living embodiment of diverse audiences who adore the place and have saved it as an operational venue. Beyond keeping the doors open, on most nights, I'm not aware of how the Nassers give back to the community, and I'm sure they do. In whatever form they are involved with the neighborhood and our very diverse constituencies, details about their giving back and civic engagement should be explained on the Castro's site.

And now, Deep Throat Bill Longen's message:

Let me try to clear up the issues before everyone's head explodes into atoms.

I came on board the Castro in early 2005 and worked with a small group of dedicated professionals. Through creative programming and lots of hard work we brought the theatre from a money hemorrhaging mess to the peak of success, with 2009 and 2011 having the biggest incomes in the 90 year history of the theatre. I am very proud to have been involved.

The facts are:

As technical director/community liaison of the Castro Theatre, over the last 18 months, at Mr. Nasser's request I initiated many meetings, some including Mr. Nasser. Topics discussed included sound design and installation, stage lighting and design, and structural engineering.

I spoke with a restoration specialist, the Taylor family (owners of the Wurlitzer organ) and theatre equipment installation companies, about converting the Castro stage for live entertainment use.

This involved removing the screen, speakers, moving organ pipes and structural reinforcing. I participated in many weekly meetings where future live stage events were discussed at length. The Castro Theatre was designed and built to show movies and at the time small vaudeville acts, it was never intended for large stage presentations.

Major changes in management brings with it major changes in programming and the way of doing business. Mr. Nasser should take this opportunity to step forward and explain in detail to the community, his plans for future programming at the Castro.

The Castro Theatre should do what it does best and what it was built for: movies. The best screen presentations possible, that was my job and what I continually attempted to achieve.
A ten dollar double feature evening of classic films at the Castro Theatre is a joy, for all lovers of movies, don't let that experience disappear!

The Castro Theatre building may belong to the Nasser's, but the Castro Movie Theatre belongs to all of us!

I am off to other challenging movie theatre restorations.
I hope this blog has rattled a few heads and caused some rethinking. If it has, then my work is done.