Sunday, November 29, 2009


(For the time being.)

May the new December days be joyful and inspiring,
With each moment full of love and news of good things, only;
And the words you hear must be appreciative in nature:
Compliments and kindness and encouragement, forever
(Not the other sort, the ones all weighted down with judgment).
Wishing you reflection and a shining new direction
As the year winds up and time winds down (there goes perfection).
Few things really matter, no, not when it comes down to it--
Love each other and your much-flawed self, and most of all,
To that much-flawed self be true, through every storm and squall;
Hold that self aloft so she can breathe until it's calm.

-- DNT 11.29.09

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Swine Flu update: did CDC's fuzzy math fuel vaccine-maker profits? And GlaxoSmithKline now warns of dangerous batch of vaccine in Canada

Above, watch CBS investigative reporter Sharyl Atkisson (a fellow UF Journalism School grad, by the way, though I doubt she'd remember me) discuss the H1N1 swine flu positive rates, data which the CDC has apparently been extremely slow to release. As it turns out, according to Atkisson's findings after her three-month-long investigation, only a small fraction of cases flagged by doctors as possible H1N1-swine flu actually tested positive for the virus, and some weren't even influenza cases at all; furthermore, the per-state rates of Americans testing positive for this so-called pandemic are surprisingly low--so low, in fact, one might, like Atkisson's guest, Alicia Mundy (reporter for the Wall Street Journal), be moved to question the media panic, not to mention the logic--and economic sense--of calling for so many school-closings and business shutdowns. Please watch and draw your own conclusion.

In related news: early this morning comes disturbing news that Big Pharma giant GlaxoSmithKline has notified Canadian healthcare professionals that a batch of their vaccine may trigger life-threatening allergies. GlaxoSmithKline, Sanofi-Aventis, AstraZeneca, CSL Limited, and Novartis are the major multinationals producing the vaccine that is currently in wide promotion and use in the US, Canada, and Europe. The US Department of Health and Human Services decided to use only non-adjuvated H1N1 vaccine at this time (a decision they argue was a good one). The corporations' non-US formulations (like GSK's) contain a controversial adjuvant and are being administered in Canada and Europe.

Vaccine adjuvants are various substances, like aluminum or water-oil mixtures, that are added to a vaccine to boost its effectiveness; in turn, they allow smaller doses to be administered and thus can stretch supplies, should they become limited. No adjuvated flu vaccine has ever been approved for use in the US. Critics argue that adjuvants are responsible for various ill effects of vaccines, including allergic reaction and death. While there is an obvious need to address the problem of vaccine demand outpacing supply, ongoing adjuvant research and development does not always turn up positive developments toward this end. If health organizations and vaccine makers aim to overcome potent anti-vaccination sentiment within the culture and win consumer confidence and trust, especially in the United States, they have no choice but to address the risks of adjuvant-related adversities, like autoimmune disorders, when they occur in trial:
The use of immunostimulatory molecules as immunopotentiators/vaccine adjuvants raises theoretical safety concerns, owing to the possibility that some might induce overproduction of inflammatory molecules, leading to overt inflammatory reactions or induction of autoimmunity. Recently, human trials with Heplisav (developed by Dynavax), which combines hepatitis B antigen with a CpG sequence (ISS 1018), a TLR9 agonist, were halted in response to a serious adverse effect report from a Phase III trial. After receiving two doses of Heplisav, one of the vaccinees was preliminarily diagnosed with Wegener's granulomatosis, an autoimmune disease involving production of antibodies against neutrophils leading to inflammation of the vasculature.

Also at Cogitamus.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Wanda Sykes: Esther loves bread and alcohol. And cheesecake.

In honor of the upcoming feast-season that many of us are kicking off this Thursday, here's wonderful Wanda, who calls her tummy-roll "Esther" and describes her hilariously futile efforts to keep Esther in line.

Wanda also riffs on "broke dick" and other middle-age woes. Did I mention how much I love this woman?!

NOT safe for work, by the way!

Today in apocalyptic omens: Kraft may take over Cadbury


In the name of all that is bittersweet, say it ain't so, Cadbury--say it ain't so. It's bad enough that Hershey bought out Scharffen Berger and proceeded to utterly ruin one of the best chocolate brands on the planet. Criminal, in fact.

Now it appears Kraft, makers of boxed macaroni and these little brown cubes of glue-like substance I'm told are caramels, is going after Cadbury. Cadbury, who in turn own the excellent brand Green & Black's, makers of the heavenly dark-chocolate-with-crystallized-ginger-pieces bar that has seen me through many a horrid plane trip, ear-splitting family argument, lonely night, lonelier weekend, depressing election, nasty marital spat, nastier still marital stressfest (complete with airborne crockery), and even the occasional marital Chernobyl incident.

Writing in the New York Times, fellow chocoholic Arthur Lubow is worried, too:
But I found it hard to care much whether Asian consumers will have an easier time procuring Planters peanut bars and Toblerone bars at their corner store. What frightened me about the proposed deal was the threat to the privileged autonomy of Green & Black’s.

Although Cadbury rejected the offer, Kraft has continued to push. Still, I began to think that maybe I was being too pessimistic. As Kraft shares dipped, its offer was diminishing in value. Cadbury might very well retain its independence.

And even if Kraft does buy Cadbury, I assured myself, the American giant will see the wisdom in maintaining the quality of Green & Black’s, a brand that has no reason to exist if it does not continue to satisfy connoisseurs who can tell that a Milk Dud is really a dud. Yes, Hershey had perversely seduced a high-quality brand and then stripped away its conquest’s quality. But perhaps Kraft would be better about honoring the artisanal excellence of my 85 percent bar than Hershey had been with the lamented 82.

Last week, it was reported that Hershey is considering its own offer for Cadbury. I have started the search for my next chocolate bar.
There is news, and then there is the kind of news that has a direct effect on one's own day-to-day existence. Sarah Palin being booed by hundreds of furious, rain-soaked fans after quitting in the middle of a book signing, hopping into her airbrushed portrait-bedecked bus, and leaving them cold, wet, and sans autograph would qualify as the first sort: it's news (of sorts)--perhaps it's even amusing news--but it has no measurable impact on my life. However, Kraft's escalating bids to take over Cadbury--and the ghastlier-still notion that it might all land in the chocolate-ruining hands of the Hershey corporation--qualify as the second kind of news. That's some serious day-darkening, mood-crushing, disgust-evoking, personally affecting news right there.

In fact, concerns about family abandonment repercussions aside, I feel moved to (once again) threaten to haul my elitist, socialist, book-reading, independent-movie-loving, health-care-having, EU-belonging ass back to England, where even the tiniest supermarkets carry Black Magic and Quality Street.

Please don't yawn.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

AP Fact-checks Lynn Vincent's Sarah Palin's magnum opus

Question: if a reporter sets out to fact-check a document wherein no facts in fact exist, has he still engaged in fact-checking?

Pity the hapless AP worker-bee on whose desk this assignment fell. It's not a job I'd want to take on, not unless my desk was like the one in that Quit Smoking commercial that's currently airing--in other words, well-stocked with a large vat (or three) of something strong, a selection of pretty cocktail umbrellas, and an industrial-strength blender. For starters.

And really, isn't the entire book a lie, given that it's written in the "voice" of Sarah Palin (my apologies to anyone who experienced involuntary shrinking of his masculinity upon hearing the phrase The Voice of Sarah Palin) but was in fact "written"--with written, in this case, defined as Set forth into print a series of words in an order that closely resembles understandable human language--by a hombigoted conspiracy theorist who, unlike her boss, is possessed of rudimentary grammar and spelling skills?

I'd say yes. The whole book is lie.

In this country, however, we have a longstanding tradition of giving our politicians a pass when it comes to expecting them to actually write their own stuff, as it were. I'm not talking about having speechwriters, either: I'm referring to the sorts who get book deals, and whose through-the-screen projection skills and starburst-generating notoriety translate to the kind of handsome, seven-figure advances actual writers could only envision in their wildest dreams, you know, those booze-fueled flights of fancy to which writers treat themselves every once in a while, and you can tell that's what they're dreaming about because they'll be mumbling things like, Yes, Oprah, it was painful, but in the end, it was all about the journey... as drool starts to trickle from their motionless, slightly-parted lips, at which point the whole sorry tableau shatters when the landlord comes to call and his incessant door-banging startles the writer into knocking over what was left of the Don Eduardo.

But if we're going to be broad-minded here, and do away with that particular conceit--that people who go on book tours as authors ought to be, you know, authors--there remains a body of work, just the same and regardless of who actually tapped on the keyboard, which custom, propriety, and (oh gawd) journalistic ethics dictate ought to be critically examined and fact-checked.

Which brings us back to our hapless AP reporter. Or reporters, plural, because I wouldn't be surprised to learn that the sheer volume of lies shoehorned into Going Rogue had inspired the Associated Press to summon an unprecedented number of lie detectors to the task force room, lay in a couple of crates of the aforementioned Don Eduardo--and probably an assortment of pharmaceuticals, just in case--and ask them to read Going Rogue, first as a fact-checking exercise, and later, no doubt, in the interests of upholding basic workers' rights to not be tortured, as an order to just aim for the goddamned needle-in-haystack goal and see if they could locate, within Palin's book, anything reality-based whatsoever.

Thus far, quelle surprise, the falsehoods are winning at a rate that would threaten to short circuit every bulb on the LIES side of the scoreboard.
Sarah Palin's new book reprises familiar claims from the 2008 presidential campaign that haven't become any truer over time.

Ignoring substantial parts of her record if not the facts, she depicts herself as a frugal traveler on the taxpayer's dime, a reformer without ties to powerful interests and a politician roguishly indifferent to high ambition.

Palin goes adrift, at times, on more contemporary issues, too. She criticizes President Barack Obama for pushing through a bailout package that actually was achieved by his Republican predecessor George W. Bush – a package she seemed to support at the time.

In the interests of not short-circuiting my own meager equipment, I won't even attempt to print out the long list of lies contained in the Vincent/Palin propaganda vehicle. (And that's what they are, folks--lies. Can we please do away with mealy-mouthed euphemisms like misrepresentations, inaccuracies, and distortions?) But if you're interested, The Huffington Post has published the AP's initial findings.

However, I can't resist sharing with you this one comment gem:
There are going to be a lot of homes in this country owning their second book very soon.
Also at Cogitamus.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Your Friday meditation--Be Strong, Be Gentle, Be Beautiful: the story of Keiko Fukuda

This is an excerpt from a work-in-progress documentary telling the beautiful, powerful story of Keiko Fukuda, the highest-ranking judoka alive; the granddaughter of a Samurai; and the last living disciple of Jigoro Kano, the founder of judo. At age 93, after working toward it for her entire life, Sensei Fukuda was finally promoted to ninth dan. Via Lauredhel of Hoyden About Town, who writes:
[...] Fukuda talks about how she was ‘frozen’ at fifth dan (fifth degree black belt), for no other reason than that she was a woman. She was finally promoted to ninth dan at the age of 93. She talks, emotionally, about having had to choose between marriage and judo.
In the film, Fukuda, who at 96 still teaches in San Francisco--yet another reason to envy those lucky Northern Californians--is shown, in archive footage, demonstrating the exquisite ballet of power and grace that is known as the kata. She is also shown teaching a present-day class, getting out of her wheelchair to demonstrate an armlock; she gives her students homework, too: Go home and ponder the essence of the word "ju" for a year.

Ju, like many Japanese words, carries many layers of meaning within the shell of its lone syllable; it translates approximately as soft, gentle, flexible, adaptable.

San Francisco filmmaker Yuriko Gamo Romer of Flying Carp Productions continues to work on this documentary and is trying to raise funds in order to complete it. Please go here for information on donating.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

On the dark logic of guns versus butter

Shorter Far Too Many Members of Congress:
"Health care, did you say? What the fuck is that? If it isn't on these pages, we can't afford it. Go away, you silly media outliers and you, you even sillier bloggers, go away. Isn't there a beauty queen sex tape you should be investigating, just like all the mainstream Big Boys?"
This document discloses only yesterday's awards. Of our money. To various private defense corporations who make the things--and the technology to run the things, and the vehicles to transport and deliver the things--that we use to kill brown people. Every afternoon at 5 pm, the DOD publishes another day's worth of expenditures.

Especially chilling is this line, at the end of the Northrop Grumman award of a $6,793,942 cost-plus-fixed-fee contract (just one of countless such awards to that particular company over the past few years):
Work is expected to be completed July 31, 2012. Contract funds will not expire at the end of the current fiscal year. The contract was not competitively procured.
You were wondering how, and why, we stay in Afghanistan (and everywhere else we invade) so very long? Now you know. Ah, forgive me, you probably already knew and are (wisely) trying to not pay attention to this stuff.

But me, well, I can't help myself--following the weapons and defense markets is my own private Vertigo wherein, again and again, I gaze upon this neverending trainwreck accompanied by firestreams and high-tech thunder, all set to Tchaikovsky on a loop; meanwhile, watching from the wings, evil masterminds the likes of which Ian Fleming never imagined are stroking their calculators in eerie unison. I gaze upon them, too, and in my small, pathetic way, I pray to someone, somewhere, and ask for justice, only justice.

And again. And again.

Also at Cogitamus.

Saturday, November 07, 2009

More teabagging goodness: the I'm so glad irony didn't live to see this* edition

When it comes to the epic (and terribly comic) ongoing disaster known as the Teabagging Express, this Thursday's tiny tantrum in St. Petersburg represented but the tip of the iceburg, it seems. At the Main Event in Washington, DC, a much larger pro-freedom-agenda gang managed to topple Old Glory; meanwhile, their erstwhile leaders botched the Pledge of Allegiance, and confused the Constitution with the Declaration of Independence. A semi-sane person, had one been present, might have assessed the damage to cause and reputation alike and decided to call things off in the interests of cutting losses, etcetera, etcetera.

Had one been present, being the operative phrase. Because--surprise!--one wasn't. OH no, no sanity allowed, sorry--no no no (hey, we're the party of it!)--that evil, science-based "sanity" stuff is much too centrist and traitorous, too popular with the liberal elite, and too anti-pro-freedom for that particular crowd.

So yes, to get to the point here, the show rolled on, and there was, as you'd expect, more. So much more (emphasis mine):
More ominously, a man standing just beyond the TV cameras apparently suffered a heart attack 20 minutes after event began. Medical personnel from the Capitol physician's office -- an entity that could, quite accurately, be labeled government-run health care -- rushed over, attaching electrodes to his chest and giving him oxygen and an IV drip.

This turned into an unwanted visual for the speakers, as a D.C. ambulance and firetruck, lights flashing, pulled in just behind the lawmakers. A path was made through the media section, and the patient, attended to by about 10 government medical personnel, was being wheeled away on a stretcher just as House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) stepped to the microphone. "Join us in defeating Pelosi care!" he exhorted. A few members stole a glance at the stretcher. Boehner may have been distracted as well. He told the crowd he would read from the Constitution, then read the "we hold these truths" bit from the Declaration of Independence.


By the time it was over, medics had administered government-run health care to at least five people in the crowd who were stricken as they denounced government-run health care. But Bachmann overlooked this irony as she said farewell to her recruits.

"You," she said, "are the most beautiful sight any of us freedom fighters have seen for a long time."
(H/T Shadowfax)

* this line belongs to the awesome Doghouse Riley (if memory serves.)

Thursday, November 05, 2009

The view (and racket) outside my window: St. Petersburg teabaggers attend party of NO class

A couple of hours ago, a chorus of beeping horns and argumentative shouting emanating from the street below penetrated my apartment building's 80+ -year-old concrete-and-steel walls and made it difficult to concentrate on the letter I was trying to write.


There were no emergency vehicle sirens (as there are right now).

Probably someone standing in the middle of Central, holding up traffic and ranting about the latest alien sighting or something, I thought.

Fifteen minutes passed; the noise only intensified. Boy, this guy's stubborn.

Eventually, my curiosity got the better of me and I went to the window, opened the blinds, and looked across the street. This is what I saw:

And as if the din of car horns and shouts--both supportive and oppositional--wasn't loud enough, the modest-sized St. Petersburg chapter of The Michelle Bachmann Invitational Teabagging FreedomChantFest put on their best off-key tavern voices and howled God Bless America, threatening the integrity of nearby glass curtain walls, traumatizing poor Marley the Cat, and leading this writer to wish that God would indeed bless at least this part of America and call forth one of those wonderfully sudden cloudbursts for which Florida is famous.

No such luck.

The sky couldn't have been bluer, and the teabaggers seemed happily oblivious to the anti-pro-freedom people of the Socialist Fascist Republic of Democrat Healthcare, responding to the odd appreciative beep with a wave of the flag or a flutter of the sign.

They're clearly ignorant about matters sociopolitical, but at least the St. Pete Teabaggers can spell. (Assuming these folks actually live in St. Pete, of course.)

Unsurprisingly, the teabaggers didn't offer any solutions--or even an idea for a solution or a brainstormed theory that might, given enough debate, turn into an idea for a solution--for the healthcare crisis and runaway costs that currently account for nearly two-thirds of the nation's bankruptcy filings. They sure were fond of one monosyllabic word, though:

воспрещаться Kein NOOOOOOOOOOOO! We are the party of it!

And then there were these senior citizens, and theirs were the signs I found to be most confusing of all: they're simultaneously insisting--nay, demanding--that government not take over their healthcare, even as government, insofar as I'm aware, continues to run (and fund) Medicare, the very, very popular health insurance program for American senior citizens that was signed into law by President Johnson in 1965; the social insurance program these gentlefolk apparently want preserved as hands off.

Okay, then.

I suppose I could've done the right thing, saved them from any further embarrassment, and, er, corrected them--after all, I can do Liberal Fortissimo Con Brio pretty impressively when the spirit moves me, and hell, they were just across the street, six floors down. But I started having visions of the old country, with Pythonesque peasant-wives screeching from upstairs windows as the cart clattered along the cobblestones, its driver repeatedly droning, Bring out your dead! Bring out your dead!

Not wanting to assume a position in that disturbing (and perhaps comic) mise en scène, I closed my window and opened my laptop instead.

Also at Cogitamus.