5. Followups

Oct-26-2012 | Comments Off

Bird’s Eye: This should have been the headline in every newspaper in the world: Tepco (who ran Fukushima) admits they knew the nuclear power plant needed more protection, but they didn’t improve safety for fear it would lend support to anti-nuclear groups. That leads naturally into a zombie mask (it should lead to a firing squad, but.) The Guardian’s editorial notes the disaster that is Afghanistan, and we have two followups on drug issues, both legal and otherwise. The closing graph, which shows how anti-drug spending has had zero effect on drug use, is a keeper.

* Fukushima Disaster Could Have Been Avoided, Nuclear Plant Operator Admits The Guardian

The company at the centre of Japan’s worst nuclear crisis has acknowledged for the first time that it could have avoided the disaster that crippled the Fukushima Daiichi power plant last year.

In a reversal of its insistence that nothing could have protected the plant against the earthquake and tsunami that killed almost 20,000 people on 11 March, Tokyo Electric Power (Tepco) said it had known safety improvements were needed before the disaster, but had failed to implement them.

….In a rare moment of introspection, an internal task force set up to reform the embattled utility said the firm feared that improvements in safety would highlight the risks to nuclear power plants and encourage the anti-nuclear lobby. “There was a worry that if the company were to implement a severe-accident response plan, it would spur anxiety throughout the country and in the communities near where nuclear plants are sited, and lend momentum to the anti-nuclear movement,” the report said.

* May I present to you my Zombie Walk makeup?

* Afghanistan: Beating A Retreat  Editorial from The Guardian

As western forces eye the emergency exit in Afghanistan, not a month goes by without someone in charge lowering expectations. Last week,Nato’s secretary-general, Anders Fogh Rasmussen told this newspaper that the retreat could come sooner than expected in 2014, as morale had been sapped by insider killings. A day later, Sir Richard Stagg, Britain’s ambassador in Kabul, said the west had done enough “hand-holding” and Kabul should be left to get on with running the country. They are not moving the goalposts. They are walking off with them.

Remember the old trope about conditions on the ground dictating the pace of Nato’s withdrawal? It comes as no surprise to learn that conditions are, on some counts, worsening. The much-vaunted drop in civilian casualties may just have been a result of record snowfalls. August this year became the second deadliest month on record. TheTaliban have not just weathered the US troop surge – the coalition forces, or Isaf as they are known, have been unable to dislodge them from the south and east. Next year’s spring offensive promises to be the deadliest yet, spurred on by the imminence of withdrawal and elections.

Targeted killings of government officials and politicians have tripled. Three elections are to come as the Taliban press home their advantage – provincial councils in 2013, the presidency in 2014 and parliament in 2015, so the opportunity for mayhem is unbounded.

* Speed And The City: Meet The Adderall-Addled Adults Of New York   Arwa Mahdawi The Guardian

New Yorkers, it’s fair to say, have something of a reputation. They’re brusque and they’re brash and they will trample you with their ambition. But it’s not something in the water that makes them like this; it’s something a lot of them are swallowing with expensive bottles of Smartwater. It’s Adderall.

Adderall is the brand name for a cocktail of amphetamines packaged up by big pharma for the treatment of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). This being a disorder that presents with extraordinary frequency in the US, particularly amongst the offspring of pushy parents. Type A-sorts intent on their kids getting straights As, even if it means putting them on Class As. Because, here’s the thing: Adderall is basically legalized speed. And here’s the other thing: Adderall works. Or rather, it makes you work. It makes you alert and focused and able to concentrate for hours on end.

Adderall works so well, in fact, that some doctors are advocating its use in schools, whether the kids have ADHD or not. This week the New York Times published an article about a Dr Michael Anderson, who prescribes Adderall to low-income schoolchildren struggling with their studies. Dr Anderson doesn’t even believe ADHD is a legitimate illness, but he does believe that taking Adderall can help disadvantaged children compete with their more privileged peers. “We’ve decided as a society that it’s too expensive to modify the kid’s environment,” he explains. “So we have to modify the kid.”

There has been some justifiable outrage about Dr Anderson’s standpoint. After all, doling out hardcore drugs to kids who aren’t even legally able to buy a beer is deeply weird. But then again, so is America’s attitude to drugs. This is a country that has spent 40 years and $1 trillion warring against drugs – or, rather, the “wrong” sort of drugs. This is a country that shuts its borders to anyone who has been convicted of taking a Class C drug. And yet this is a country that not only tolerates certain Class A-type drugs, it actively embraces them.

* Number Of Drug Addicts Vs Drug Control Spending

6. The Drug Problem

Oct-12-2012 | Comments Off

Bird’s Eye: Remember when the drug problem was those teenagers hanging out in the high school smoking area? These days we’re getting pills that don’t work, prescribed by doctors who have been mislead by companies who lie. Glaxosmithkline gets fined $3 billion dollars for lying about pills on which they made a $30 billion dollar profit. That will sure teach them a lesson… to keep lying, and keep the profits coming in.

* Attention Disorder or Not, Children Prescribed Pills to Help in School New York Times

CANTON, Ga. — When Dr. Michael Anderson hears about his low-income patients struggling in elementary school, he usually gives them a taste of some powerful medicine: Adderall. The pills boost focus and impulse control in children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Although A.D.H.D is the diagnosis Dr. Anderson makes, he calls the disorder “made up” and “an excuse” to prescribe the pills to treat what he considers the children’s true ill — poor academic performance in inadequate schools.

“I don’t have a whole lot of choice,” said Dr. Anderson, a paediatrician for many poor families in Cherokee County, north of Atlanta. “We’ve decided as a society that it’s too expensive to modify the kid’s environment. So we have to modify the kid.” (<= Quote of the Week here)

* The Drugs Don’t Work: A Modern Medical Scandal   Ben Goldacre  The Guardian

Reboxetine is a drug I have prescribed. Other drugs had done nothing for my patient, so we wanted to try something new. I’d read the trial data before I wrote the prescription, and found only well-designed, fair tests, with overwhelmingly positive results. Reboxetine was better than a placebo, and as good as any other antidepressant in head-to-head comparisons. It’s approved for use by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (the MHRA), which governs all drugs in the UK. Millions of doses are prescribed every year, around the world. Reboxetine was clearly a safe and effective treatment. The patient and I discussed the evidence briefly, and agreed it was the right treatment to try next. I signed a prescription.

But we had both been misled. In October 2010, a group of researchers was finally able to bring together all the data that had ever been collected on reboxetine, both from trials that were published and from those that had never appeared in academic papers. When all this trial data was put together, it produced a shocking picture. Seven trials had been conducted comparing reboxetine against a placebo. Only one, conducted in 254 patients, had a neat, positive result, and that one was published in an academic journal, for doctors and researchers to read. But six more trials were conducted, in almost 10 times as many patients. All of them showed that reboxetine was no better than a dummy sugar pill. None of these trials was published. I had no idea they existed…..

 * Glaxosmithkline Fined $3Bn After Bribing Doctors The Guardian

The pharmaceutical group GlaxoSmithKline has been fined $3bn (£1.9bn) after admitting bribing doctors and encouraging the prescription of unsuitable antidepressants to children. Glaxo is also expected to admit failing to report safety problems with the diabetes drug Avandia in a district court in Boston on Thursday.

The company encouraged sales reps in the US to mis-sell three drugs to doctors and lavished hospitality and kickbacks on those who agreed to write extra prescriptions, including trips to resorts in Bermuda, Jamaica and California.

…Despite the large fine, $3bn is far less than the profits made from the drugs. Avandia has made $10.4bn in sales, Paxil took $11.6bn, and Wellbutrin sales were $5.9bn during the years covered by the settlement, according to IMS Health, a data group that consults for drug makers.

6. LDS, LSD, & DSL

Oct-05-2012 | Comments (1)

Bird’s Eye: Don’t know about his eye, but the bird’s beak curls with scorn, “These have nothing in common but their letters. This is pointless.” Your crow is not a postmodern creature, nor has he been sitting on two excellent stories for too long. But he may still be right.

* Mormonism’s History and Meanings Adam Gopnik The New Yorker

Stereotypes and pigeonholes can, in a stable multiethnic society, act as sanctuaries as much as cells. In the heyday of urban ethnic immigration, even anti-Semites allowed that Jews were good at selling dry goods and producing movies, just as Irish Catholics were known to keep a good saloon and walk a decent beat. The ugliest of these pigeonholes suggests a comparative advantage, anyway: to be thought to tap-dance well implies that you can, at least, do that….

A lot of this is standard minority-faith stuff, including the perceived power of popular entertainment to validate a whole group. (Recall how Nathan Zuckerman’s father swells with pride when the Andrews Sisters sing “Bei Mir Bist Du Schoen.”) It’s only later in the cycle of integration that the group comes banging on the door—as Jews and Catholics did, in the nineteen-fifties—for more general admission, not as cardboard stage-ethnic types good at one or two things but as people available to do everything, just like the ruling Wasps. That’s when everyone starts asking what it is these people really believe. So, right on cue, we find ourselves in the midst of an efflorescence of Mormon jokes, Mormon books, a Mormon-themed Broadway show—and four new scholarly books….

LSD research study, dosed scientists achieved creative breakthroughs Boing Boing

A wonderful long-read at The Heretic by Tim Doody, on 1966 LSD studies that took place as the US government’s position on acid research shifted from “sure, go ahead, scientists” to “nope, this is now banned.” The series of tests described in the article took place at the International Foundation for Advanced Study (IFAS) in Menlo Park, CA. Scientists from Stanford, Hewlett-Packard, and elsewhere participated. The volunteers each brought “three highly technical problems from their respective fields that they’d been unable to solve for at least several months.” They took “a relatively low dose of acid,” 100 micrograms, to enhance their creativity.

…In surveys administered shortly after their LSD-enhanced creativity sessions, the study volunteers, some of the best and brightest in their fields, sounded like tripped-out neopagans at a backwoods gathering. Their minds, they said, had blossomed and contracted with the universe. They’d beheld irregular but clean geometrical patterns glistening into infinity, felt a rightness before solutions manifested, and even shapeshifter into relevant formulas, concepts, and raw materials.

… But here’s the clincher. After their 5HT2A neural receptors simmered down, they remained firm: LSD absolutely had helped them solve their complex, seemingly intractable problems. And the establishment agreed. The 26 men unleashed a slew of widely embraced innovations shortly after their LSD experiences, including a mathematical theorem for NOR gate circuits, a conceptual model of a photon, a linear electron accelerator beam-steering device, a new design for the vibratory microtome, a technical improvement of the magnetic tape recorder, blueprints for a private residency and an arts-and-crafts shopping plaza, and a space probe experiment designed to measure solar properties. Fadiman and his colleagues published these jaw-dropping results and closed shop.

* DSLThe Cost of Bandwidth: Canada versus the World Infographic

6. The Depths of Sales Evil

Aug-31-2012 | Comments Off

Bird’s Eye: Not all sales or ads are bad. But sometimes they are morally reprehensible scumbags who should burn in the sulphurous flames of hell till eternity is just a distant memory. And I mean that in the nicest way. Take these guys for an example….

* Rogers Misleading Advertising Case Heads To Ontario Court Huffington Post

“Rogers Telecommunications, having been ordered to pay a $10-million penalty for misleading advertising, is arguing before an Ontario court this week that regulations preventing it from providing false information violate its Charter right to freedom of expression.”

* Does Cigarette Marketing Count as Free Speech? - Garrett Epps - The Atlantic

In other words, free speech has taken on a strange shape in recent years. These reflections are sparked by the decision of the District of Columbia Circuit Court in R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. v. Food and Drug Administration. By a vote of 2-1, the Court invalidated an FDA regulation requiring color photographs and text warnings on each pack of cigarettes sold in the U.S….The cigarette companies rushed to court, claiming a gross violation of their First Amendment rights. They concede that the government can require some kind of warning; but not these, because — well — they might be effective. “FDA is communicating an ideological message, a point of view on how people should live their lives: that the risks from smoking outweigh the pleasure that smokers derive from it, and that smokers make bad personal decisions, and should stop smoking,” the companies’ brief complained. In the new world of the First Amendment, the claim that smoking is good is an “ideology,” and government attempts to combat this public-health scourge are a kind of politically correct liberal propaganda.

Two judges of the court bought the argument.

* Map Blips Sink Ships The Tyee

I’m speaking here of a video Enbridge has made and circulated far and wide to demonstrate the North Gateway pipeline project’s route from Alberta to Kitimat, making it look safe and doable, including sending the diluted bitumen forth in tanker ships out of Douglas Channel. However, opponents of the Northern Gateway pipeline have created their own video showing how the Enbridge video grossly misrepresents the logistical challenges, and risks, of building the massive project. Enbridge has, you can see, altered the overview of Douglas Channel down which tankers will, if we’re dumb enough to let them, go from Kitimat to the Pacific. After the clip passes the Rockies rendered as mere gently rolling foothills, you will see, Enbridge takes us down Douglas Channel and manages to erase most of the islands!

The opponents’ video shows what the overland route and channel really looks like. Have a look:

* The Top 10 Most Dangerous Ads | Collectors Weekly

Often the criticism of vintage ads focuses on their inherent sexism, racism, or other displays of social prejudices, which we find laughable today, despite their continued presence. But what about ads that steered consumers into dangerous territory, espousing outmoded scientific evidence or misleading half-truths to convince people that appallingly toxic products, or even deadly ones, were actually good for them?

While some faulty campaigns were merely the victims of evolving scientific knowledge, many blatantly ignored facts in their race for the dollar, using so-called experts to promote products terrible for public health, like cigarettes. Revered professionals like doctors and scientists routinely told us precisely the wrong things to do, as they are likely still doing today.

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