Monday, March 31, 2008

Bad Cholesterol or Bad Science?

The Washington Post reports thatA divided cardiology community is trying once again to make sense of a trial showing that a drug can lower levels of "bad" LDL cholesterol and yet give no apparent benefit to people at high risk of heart attack and other cardiovascular problems

Here’s a recap of the situation (first a quick summary of the medical aspect, and then a quick look at the TV-commercial aspect of drug sales in America):

Statins are really effective drugs that offer protection against cardiovascular disease. They can slow down the build-up of fatty plaque in arteries, and they also lower LDL cholesterol levels in the blood (by interfering with cholesterol production in the liver). It has long been assumed that lowering the levels of LDL cholesterol should be protective against cardiovascular disease.

Enter the drug ezetimibe. Ezetimibe has also been shown to reduce LDL cholesterol levels, albeit by a different mechanism than statins--- ezetimibe acts by preventing the absorption of cholesterol in the intestines. As I understand it, ezetimibe was approved by the FDA solely on the basis of the fact that it could lower LDL cholesterol---there had been no study to investigate whether ezetimibe could actually slow down the accumulation of fatty plaque in arteries or whether it could reduce the incidence of heart attacks or stroke.

A few years ago, Merck (which makes Zocor---a statin) and Schering-Plough (which makes Zetia—an ezetimibe) came out with a drug called Vytorin which combined the two drugs. As most of you have doubtless seen at some point from the TV commercial blitz for this drug, the idea was that this could attack the cholesterol problem from two angles---that which results from genetics and that which results from diet.

Anyway, there was a two-year study (called the ENHANCE trial) conducted to investigate whether Vytorin (simvastatin+ezetimibe) could reduce arterial plaque build-up better than Zocor (simvastatin). Back in January, some of the results of this study were released and it appeared that while Vytorin could reduce LDL cholesterol levels better than Zocor, it was no better than Zocor at reducing arterial plaque build-up; by inference, ezetimibe didn’t necessarily contribute to better cardiovascular health.

Over the weekend, the full results of the ENHANCE study were presented at the American College of Cardiology annual meeting in Chicago, and well, nothing changed; there is still no evidence that ezetimibe can reduce arterial plaque build-up.

So what are the possibilities here?

1) That the ENHANCE trial was flawed, either due to the small sample size (~750 patients) or the nature of the patients in the study. A larger study would be needed to clarify this issue---indeed Merck says that a study with 18000 patients is currently underway and the results should be out in 2012;

2) Either that the method of measuring arterial deposits (ultrasound) is unreliable ---this is unlikely---or that the thickness of arterial plaque is a poor predictor of cardiovascular disease --- this is even more unlikely;

3) That lowering of LDL-cholesterol has nothing to do with arterial plaque build-up and cardiovascular disease (this is blasphemous to much of the medical community). This would also mean that statins primarily work not via lowering LDL-cholesterol but via an as yet unidentified or unrecognized mechanism.

This would also be mightily embarrassing to the FDA, as it approved ezetimibe based on LDL-lowering data, not on studies relating to occurrence of heart-attacks or strokes.

4) That lowering of LDL-cholesterol is beneficial, but that ezetimibe also has other (as yet unidentified) effects on the body that negate its beneficial action, resulting in arterial plaque build-up despite the lowered LDL-cholesterol.

Any which way you look at it, from what we know and have known, there has never been any direct evidence to suggest that ezetimibe can reduce the incidence of cardiovascular disease.

Which brings us to this: The New England Journal of Medicine, which has published the results of the ENHANCE study, has issued two editorials (here and here) stating essentially that Vytorin and Zetia should only be used as a last resort. But I thought that had been the recommendation to the medical community right from the beginning!

In any case, what happened? How and why did Vytorin become so popularly prescribed in the absence of any substantial data showing that it is beneficial?

From an International Herald Tribune article on this matter, “The New England Journal also published a report showing that Vytorin and Zetia's use soared in the United States amid a $200 million…advertising blitz. In Canada, where marketing drugs directly to consumers is not allowed, sales were four times lower.” (emphasis mine)

From the Washington Post article:

“Dr. Harlan M. Krumholz, a professor of medicine at Yale University School of Medicine and co-author of another of the journal papers…(which)… compared use of Vytorin in the United States and Canada. The proportion of cholesterol-lowering drug prescriptions represented by Vytorin rose from 0.2 percent to 3.4 percent in Canada from 2002 to 2006. In the United States, the increase was from 0.1 percent to 15.2 percent of all such prescriptions.

"That is a pretty remarkable difference," Krumholz said. "If we had adopted the drug at the same speed as in Canada, we would have saved $1.5 to $2 billion in health-care costs. What did we get for that? Did it produce benefits for patients? We can't say we're sure of that."

It's also possible that the new cholesterol-lowering agent might turn out to be harmful, Krumholz said. He recalled the history of torcetrapib, a drug developed by Pfizer that increased blood levels of HDL cholesterol, the "good" kind that prevents plaque formation. Pfizer stopped tests of the drug in 2006 because of a trial showing higher mortality among those taking it.

"It was a new drug, the first in its class," Krumholz said. "The laboratory results looked great, and it ended up hurting people."

It's not clear whether the same will be true of Vytorin, he said. "The evidence we have on hand makes a benefit less likely," Krumholz said. "We have a $5-billion-a-year market without outcomes data." (all emphasis mine)

Anyway, maybe someone with more Med Cred (Abel Pharmboy, or DrugMonkey or PhysioProf ) care to comment on/do a more scientific work-up on this matter?

Friday, March 28, 2008

Warren Buffett Invests Like a Girl

Great article by LouAnn DiCosmo at The Motley Fool

An excerpt:

........What is it that makes Warren Buffett such a consistently phenomenal investor? Is it that he's zigging and zagging along with the market's every move? Is he trading all the time, buying this and selling that, racking up taxes and commissions all the while?

No, no -- what makes Warren Buffett the investor whom every investor wants to be like is that he approaches investing differently from the way most men do. He's patient and does thorough research. He waits for the right price to buy. He seeks to never sell the companies he invests in. He's the anti-trader, if you will.

Yep, you heard it here -- Warren Buffett invests like a girl. And that's a very good thing.....

Good stuff.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Why are the monks acting like punks?

The Guardian runs an article in which Pankaj Mishra has an interesting take on the turmoil in Tibet.


..........Tibet has been enlisted into what is the biggest and swiftest modernisation in history: China's development on the model of consumer capitalism, which has been cheer-led by the Wall Street Journal and other western financial media that found in China the corporate holy grail of low-priced goods and high profits......... How is it that, as the Economist put it, "years of rapid economic growth, which China had hoped would dampen separatist demands, have achieved the opposite"?
For one, the Chinese failed to consult Tibetans about the kind of economic growth they wanted. In this sense, at least, Tibetans are not much more politically impotent than the hundreds of millions of hapless Chinese uprooted by China's Faustian pact with consumer capitalism......

........Far from losing his aura during his long exile, the Dalai Lama has come to symbolise more urgently than ever to Tibetans their cherished and threatened identity. It has also become clear to Tibetans that they pay a high price for other people's enhanced lifestyles.......
..........Propelled by an insatiable global thirst for consumer markets and natural resources, China has done little to allay the fear that Tibetans could soon resemble the Native Americans languishing in reservations - reduced, in the words of the Tibetan novelist Jamyang Norbu, to a "sort of broken third-rate people", who in some years from now will be reduced to "begging from tourists"

Interesting read. Do check it out.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Actually, only a liberal can

Today's NYTimes asks "Can a liberal be a unifier?"

Let's start by checking in with our handy

Here are some of the things that come up under the Definition of Liberal: (emphasis mine)

1. favorable to progress or reform, as in political or religious affairs.

4. favorable to or in accord with concepts of maximum individual freedom possible, esp. as guaranteed by law and secured by governmental protection of civil liberties.

6. of or pertaining to representational forms of government rather than aristocracies and monarchies.

7. free from prejudice or bigotry; tolerant: a liberal attitude toward foreigners.

8. open-minded or tolerant, esp. free of or not bound by traditional or conventional ideas, values, etc.

9. characterized by generosity and willingness to give in large amounts: a liberal donor.

Here are some of the things that come up under the Definition of Conservative: (emphasis mine)

1. disposed to preserve existing conditions, institutions, etc., or to restore traditional ones, and to limit change.

2. cautiously moderate or purposefully low: a conservative estimate.

3. traditional in style or manner; avoiding novelty or showiness: conservative suit.

6. having the power or tendency to conserve; preservative.

9. a supporter of conservative political policies.

So, contemplating that for a bit, only a liberal can be a unifier.

Of course, if they mean ‘unifier’ in doublespeak…….

as in Dubi-ya’s promises of “I’m a uniter not a divider”(he is a “decider”);
Or someone who is a “reformer”; Or a “president of all the people not just those who voted for me”; Or someone who “restores integrity to the White House”; Or someone who believes “It’s the people’s money, not the government’s" etc etc etc......

for those doublespeak values, you need someone endowed with the certitude of bigotry, greed and lack of conscience. Someone disposed to preserving existing conditions, to limiting change....

then no, a liberal is not what you’re looking for.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

The resonance of Obama's 'The Speech'

My initial reaction reaction to Obama's landmark speech on race in America was that history would probably accord it a place alongside a couple of other historic American speeches. One of the most impressive things about Obama's speech was how frank and comprehensive he tried to be on the issue, in a thirty-odd minute span.

Here's an interesting take on the speech that shows how well it resonates with someone coming at it from a 'foreign' viewpoint....
(via 3QuarksDaily) This piece by Shadi Hamid in the Washington excerpt......

---"While Barack Obama's speech on race earlier this week was geared primarily toward domestic concerns, as an American of Middle Eastern origin, watching from a café in Jordan, I was struck by the possibilities it offered not only for race relations at home, but for our relationship with Arabs and Muslims abroad"---
---"....Obama is right that in order to address that anger and radicalism -- whether it comes from the young Muslim underclass or in a milder form from pastor Jeremiah Wright and others in the black community -- we must understand the context in which grievances came to be and target the conditions that continue to nurture those grievances. On Tuesday, watching his speech from Jordan, I felt for the first time in a while that we could begin coming to terms with the past and accounting for the injustices committed against those at home, and those abroad, who are waiting to see what America will do next"---

I would be remiss if I didn't point out that Robb, over at Tokatakiya, foresaw something like this back in January in his post endorsing Obama. The relevant excerpt from Robb's post....

---"President Barack Obama's name and face on TV screens across the Middle East, Africa, and Asia will fundamentally reshape the way America is viewed abroad. They will see that, for once, America elected a more diverse leader. One who for many, will seem much more similar to them than anything they have ever seen from an American president. This will all happen at a time when much of the population of developing countries (especially Arab and African countries, not to mention Iran) are under the age of 25 and vastly more impressionable than they will be in 8 more years. I don't think it is an exaggeration to say the best thing we can do to win hearts and minds in the War on Terror would be to have Barack Obama as President. We have a singular opportunity for this right now that will pass away in a short time"---

This was my reaction to Robb's comment then:
---"Robb makes several good points, but that one is particularly perceptive. I don’t think most people appreciate how powerfully and how well the election of Barack Obama to the presidency will resonate with the rest of the world---and not just because of his ethnic origins, but in equal measure because of how well he represents himself and the USA"---

Shadi Hamid's article seems to echo these hopeful views on the international front.

The bottom line: Barack Obama has the makings of a great statesman and leader; the other remaining presidential candidates don't.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Oh! This should go over real well

in some parts of the world.
Pope baptizes famed Muslim convert.
And featured in the undercard, German Jewish leader criticizes Pope over prayer.

BTW, I'm not going digging for these stories. I went to the Yahoo page and there it was........

And for those who were more interested in the London ATM story in the screencap, enjoy!

Friday, March 21, 2008

When you wish upon a star

This is our Attorney General Michael Mukasey, who has joined in the random fearmongering campaign, when asked about the latest taped comments from al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden (and I quote from the article)

Mukasey shook his head. "Am I alarmed? I'm alarmed, I guess. I wish he weren't in a position to issue them."

Oh Mike. You must not be wishing correctly because,

"When you wish upon a star, makes no difference who you are
Anything your heart desires will come to you...."

Either that, or you could ask the president why, six and a half years into the war on terror, bin Laden is still free while Americans are increasingly not.

Partying Like It’s 1929

With a short primer on the current financial crisis,

Paul Krugman, in the NYTimes.

An excerpt:

Contrary to popular belief, the stock market crash of 1929 wasn’t the defining moment of the Great Depression. What turned an ordinary recession into a civilization-threatening slump was the wave of bank runs that swept across America in 1930 and 1931.

This banking crisis of the 1930s showed that unregulated, unsupervised financial markets can all too easily suffer catastrophic failure.

As the decades passed, however, that lesson was forgotten — and now we’re relearning it, the hard way.

To grasp the problem, you need to understand what banks do.

Check out the piece; it is a quick read.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Sad and funny

Sad, because this kind of crap happens. What happened to freedom (intellectual or otherwise)?

Funny because, well, read it in PZ Myers' own words......

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

The Onion brings tears to my eyes

Every now and then The Onion really delivers......This is funny......
(Thanks for the tip G-man)

Black Guy Asks Nation For Change

I bet Faux News/Conservative News Network/and other fascist mouthpieces are kicking themselves that they didn't think of spinning Obama's campaign this way.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Four score....I have a dream....and this...

The Huffington Post has made available the text of Barack Obama's speech in Philadelphia today. Read it. I will not be surprised if history accords it a place alongside the two speeches I alluded to in the title; this speech deserves it.
Obama has courageously taken the issue of race head-on----and how! Today I believe that he is not just a good politician; I believe that he has all the makings of a legendary statesman.
People can always debate what any given candidate can or will achieve if elected into office. But what should be beyond debate is the articulation of their understanding of the country's problems, their prioritization of these problems and their plans to address these problems within the framework of the strengths and weaknesses of our nation at the present time. Over the course of the campaign, Obama has consistently done the best job of that.
This speech puts him over the top, if only for the guts it took to put his candidacy and entire political future on the line. If he can speak about race so starkly and so well, if he can boldly grab that third rail of politics and electrify the nation instead of being electrocuted himself, I have to believe that there is no challenge too big for him to take on boldly and intelligently as President.
I have made some occasional commentary on this presidential race but till now have refrained from endorsing any candidate. Today, Barack Obama leaves me with no choice but to endorse him as my candidate for the presidency of the United States of America.

Quantifying Greatness: Tiger Woods

A quick look at how ridiculously good Tiger Woods has been:

He has won all 3 of his starts on the PGA Tour this year;

He has won his last 5 straight (and 7 of the last 8) PGA Tour starts going back to last year;

Including the 2 non-PGA Tour events he played in (and won) between the two seasons, he has won his last 7 straight starts;

Going back to the start of the 2006 season, Tiger has played in 34 PGA Tour events; he has won 18 of them;

Going back to the start of the 2006 season, Tiger has played in 42 events totally world-wide; he has won 22 of them.

Any which way you look at it, he is winning more than 50% of his starts over the last two full seasons and change……this is incredible. By way of perspective: During their very best years, Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer couldn’t match this kind of dominance, and they were really, really good! Jack won 14 of 37 PGA Tour starts (38% wins) over 1972-73 and Arnie won 15 of 41 PGA Tour starts (37% wins) over 1962-63. Tiger posted a 48% winning clip over 2006-07 and has extended that to 53% to date.

The World Golf Rankings (rolling week-to-week, computed based on performance over the trailing two-year span) reveal another facet of Tiger’s dominance. As of last week’s rankings, Tiger is #1 with an average of 20.54 points; the #2 player in the world Phil Mickelson has an average of 10.02 points. The gap between Tiger and the #2 player in the world is therefore 10.52 points. The gap between the #2 player in the world and the #1000 player in the world is 9.97 points. (Actually, I don't think that there is a negative world golf ranking; therefore the gap between #1 and #2 is greater that it can possibly be between #2 and any other ranked golfer in the world!)

It has long been evident that Tiger is the best golfer in the world today. But it is not often in sports that one can quantify greatness so clearly, and shut out debate so convincingly. Tiger is demonstrably, over time, at least twice as good as his closest competitor. It gets better. The #3 player in the world is Ernie Els, with 6.67 points. The #16 player has 4.15 points and the #17 player has 3.84 points. So, Tiger is, demonstrably, at least 3 times as good as all but one other player in the world, and is at least 5 times as good as all but 15 other players in the world. Any questions?

For his career so far, Tiger has won 64 PGA Tour titles in 233 starts, at a clip of 27.46% (Cal Ripken Jr. had a career batting average of .276; Tiger is trying to do that in golf tournament wins).

Again, by way of perspective: Jack Nicklaus is still arguably the greatest golfer that ever lived, certainly the most accomplished. In the productive years of his career, 1962 to 1980 (I used 1980 as the cutoff as it was the last time Jack had multiple wins in a year on Tour), Jack won 70 titles in 370 starts (18.9%). This is remarkable by any yardstick.

Tiger has to win only 7 more times in his next 137 starts to beat that pace.

Lastly, it is debatable whether the talent at the top today is as good as what Jack and Arnie had to deal with, but there is no question that the overall fields are significantly deeper than they ever have been.

Also, Tiger has achieved this dominant separation in an era where technology makes it difficult to do so. Golf clubs and golf balls are so brilliantly engineered now that the game is far more forgiving. The forgiveness of technology has shifted the advantage unfairly towards the less skilled golfers, even at the top levels of the sport. If the players today went back to using the technology of Jack’s and Arnie’s time, chances are that Tiger would win at an even greater clip. And I bet you that even other Tour players will admit that.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Sean Sutton beats Pat Knight in Fortunate Son Bowl

American values in focus this edition: Class, responsibility, meritocracy

‘Murkan values in focus this edition: Lack of all of the above.

I apologize for being a couple of days late on this one…..just got caught up on this news. But read on, for more Pat Knight ‘Murkan ‘class’ is forthcoming…..I promise, this will not disappoint.

Last week, a historic game was played in the opening round of the Big 12 conference basketball tournament. Oklahoma State played Texas Tech. Why is this historic? Well, OK State is coached by Sean Sutton, who (for no apparent merit-based reason) inherited the head-coaching job from his father Eddie Sutton (who, incidentally, had to quit after getting into an accident while driving drunk), while TxTech is coached by Pat Knight who (for no apparent merit-based reason) inherited the job from his father Bob Knight after Bob quit on his players and his program mid-season, because, well, he’s Bobby freaking Knight and who the hell are you to question him you miserable worthless piece of shit? So anyway, this TxTech-OK State game was a historic tussle between two teams coached by 'legacy' coaches a.k.a. fortunate seed.

As it turned out, TxTech lost to OK State, and I thought it would be worth looking into the Pat Knight post-game presser (we know from previous pressers that poor Pat Knight is burdened with a team full of stupid, heartless, gutless players who just don’t get the goddamn genius that is his coaching)---anyway, without further ado, I give you Coach Pat Knight, from his presser after the OK State loss:

We made a lot of dumb mistakes. It comes from being casual. Kids think they've got a thousand possessions. They make a bad pass or they walk with it and they think they've got a couple hundred more to get it back. It was a hard-fought game offensively and defensively. We just made too many dumb mistakes”

And more from the ESPN report:

Knight said the overall season had "been a real letdown."

"The only guys that have the killer instinct on this team are my staff," Knight said. "The energy has to come from us. We've not had that extension of the coaching staff out on the floor. And you have to have that to be very good”

If only the kids could coach themselves on the floor….or if only there were someone who could effectively teach kids how to actually do all these things……if only there was a ‘teacher’….a ‘mentor’….to help….so that Pat can just focus on ‘winning’ and cashing his head-coaching salary checks and not be bothered with loser-agenda issues like ‘teaching’, ‘responsibility’, ‘planning to one’s resources’, ‘execution of a plan’ etc. Poor, put-upon, Patrick Knight.

By the way, Pat and Bob Knight actively recruited and signed all these players. Poor legendary Bob---these vile kids hatched an elaborate scheme all their lives just to hoodwink him into picking them. And poor Pat Knight---stuck with this abomination of talent….with a head coaching gig that pays hundreds of thousands of dollars that he didn’t have to qualify for…..stuck with with a free pass from the national press that took Billy Donovan to task, deservedly, for throwing his players under the bus, but curiously chose not to rake Pat over the coals for repeated offenses in that same category.

But he’s Pat Knight. Son of The General! The Sultan of Slap! The Suleimaan of Spank! The Admiral of Abuse! The Wizard of the Whip! The Pontiff of the Paddle! Patrick is a Diaper Dandy bayyybeeee! He’s unbelievable……he’s Awesome with a capital A!!!

Pay attention to Tiger Woods--Why?

Pay some attention to Tiger Woods.......even if, and especially if, you don't care for golf.

If you don't care much for art, you still need to try and appreciate daVinci and Dali and vanGogh and Monet. If you don't care for music you still need to try and appreciate Beethoven and Bach and The Beatles and....well, you get the picture....So even if you don't care for sport, but if you get a kick out of seeing human beings make the sublime seem routine, pay some attention to what Tiger is doing and how he's going about it.

By the way, too bad he signed on to be the spokesman for Buick and not Lexus, because nobody better embodies and personifies the concept of 'Relentless Pursuit of Perfection'.

A more substantial article follows, hopefully tonight....but I had to post this now because Tiger, whose chances this week looked bleak Saturday morning, is tied for the lead going into Sunday at the Arnold Palmer Invitational. In his career, he has entered the final round of a tournament in the lead, or tied for it, 45 times. In 42 of those 45 instances, he has ended up winning the tournament. The odds are that he will win his third straight PGA tournament this year.

Anyway, this is a once-in-a-generation human being who is currently better than he has ever been at what he does. Enjoy it while it lasts.

Friday, March 14, 2008

The Global University

(via 3QuarksDaily)

Andrew Ross has written a fascinating, must read, article titled "The Global U Phenomenon".


"In the larger world of higher education, the distinction between onshore and offshore education – like that between private and public, or non-profit and for-profit – has become very blurry indeed................
..............................This is how global firms have learned to operate, by assessing and equalizing the relative return on their investments in various parts of the world, both in the world of real revenue and in the more speculative realm of brand-building for the future. University accounting departments have begun to juggle their budgets in a similar way. A deep revenue stream from a facility in the Middle East will be viewed as a way to subsidize unprofitable humanities programs at home (as is the case at one Midwestern institution where I inquired) just as an onshore science center capable of capturing U.S. federal grant money may be incubated to help fund an Asian venture considered crucial to brand-building in the region."


"For all the zealous efforts to steer higher education into the rapids of enterprise culture, it would not be hard to demonstrate that, with the exception of the burgeoning for-profit sector, most universities do not and cannot, for the most part, function fiscally like a traditional marketplace, and that the principles of collaboration and sharing that sustain teaching, learning, and research are inimical or irreducible, in the long run, to financialization after the model of the global corporation. Yet one could say much the same about the organizational culture of the knowledge industries...............
.....................From this perspective, talk about the “corporate university” is a lazy shorthand."


"In all likelihood, we are living through the formative stages of a mode of production marked by a quasi-convergence of the academy and the knowledge corporation........."

It is a very interesting read. Check it out.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Hillary apologizes but the Gerryslandering continues

Hillary Clinton (speaking at a forum sponsored by the National Newspaper Publishers Association, a group of more than 200 black community newspapers across the country) repudiated Gerry Ferraro's recent remarks and apologized for a couple of things.

If this had come before it was obvious her campaign was taking a hit, and before much criticism including Olbermann's special comment, it may have had a lot more credibility to it. Still, she was pretty definitive about her stance on Ferraro's remarks,

"I certainly do repudiate it and I regret deeply that it was said. Obviously she doesn't speak for the campaign, she doesn't speak for any of my positions, and she has resigned from being a member of my very large finance committee"

so it is a step in the correct direction.

Gerry Ferraro however, still doesn't get it. She claims that the Obama camp owes her an apology. Later she apparently expressed the desire to put this controversy behind her, but ended up, again, accusing the Obama campaign of being in the wrong in this entire affair and of therefore practicing divisive and bad politics.

This cluenessness and apparent senility was vaguely familiar---and today it hit me. You tell me----separated at birth?

*Barbara Bush was referring to Katrina evacuees who were being housed in a freaking stadium.

(I am too dumb to figure out how to get this pic to read better. Click on it to open it in new window where it should be clearer)

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

UPDATE: Hillary’s campaign hits a NEWER low….

….whether by omission or by commission, we don’t know yet…..

Geraldine Ferraro is quitting the Clinton campaign----but not in a good way, not out of contrition for her racist remarks. She’s just going freelance.

From her resignation letter:

Dear Hillary, I am stepping down from your finance committee so I can speak for myself and you can continue to speak for yourself about what's at stake in this campaign. The Obama campaign is attacking me to hurt you. I won't let that happen.

So this works out to be the best of both worlds for Hillary; the racially divisive message against Obama can still be shrilly propagated by Ferraro, but Hillary is no longer accountable for it.

Until Hillary categorically and unequivocally denounces Ferraro’s comments and clearly and loudly separates herself from Ferraro, she is complicit in whatever Ferraro says and does. “Unfortunate comments” just doesn’t cut it, lady.

The worst part in all of this is that Ferraro doesn’t understand why her comments are racist. She essentially said, “He’s nothing special, his message is nothing special. HJust because he’s black and he speaks well and presents himself well for a black man so the country got taken in by him”. Well Gerry, this is the WORST kind of racism and you just revealed how deep-seated it is in your mind and your heart.

Actually, that is not the worst part. This is: The next time a worthy woman candidate runs for president, she will have overcome this burden imposed by the selfish and bigoted stupidity of ‘trailblazing pioneers’ such as Geraldine Ferraro (and, if she doesn’t act quickly to separate herself from this travesty in no uncertain terms, Hillary Clinton).

Yetanotherupdate, 3/13/08:

BikeMonkey tipped me off about Olbermann's comments from last night---thanks.

Here's the link to the transcript of that special comment.

Olbermann's Special Comments could really use an injection of some of PhysioProf's lexicon; nevertheless, Keith nails it.

Hillary's campaign hits a new low

Yesterday, Geraldine Ferraro, a prominent Clinton supporter and fundraiser, was quoted as saying:
"If Obama was a white man, he would not be in this position. And if he was a woman (of any color), he would not be in this position. He happens to be very lucky to be who he is"
(I saw this first on BikeMonkey's site, and the entire soap-opera so far has been well summarized over at Huffington Post).

Of course, that comment drew criticism, deservedly, and this is the best Clinton could come up with in response to that:
"It's regrettable that any of our supporters _ on both sides, because we both have this experience _ say things that kind of veer off into the personal"

Really Hillary? Obama's aide calling you a monster for your despicable tactics (privately too, as she did, immediately upon uttering the word, try to keep it off the record with the reporter) is the same as Ferraro publicly attributing all of Barack's success to his skin color? Seriously?

Also, do these people think that the candidate that is Obama would have fared worse if he were a bright, young, charming and articulate white man? What manner of delusion are they suffering from?

Could Hillary not condemn Ferraro's blather in stronger terms; or at all, for that matter?

But it gets worse. Ferraro not only refused to back down from her asinine statement, but went on to accuse the Obama camp of attacking her because she is white! And the Clinton camp, instead of apologizing categorically and whacking Ferraro from the campaign, actually had the gall to put out a memo claiming that Obama is playing the race card!! Go read the whole nauseating story at HuffPost.

Here's a video that perfectly describes what the Clinton campaign is doing to the party and to the liberal nation.
If you cant spare the entire 6 mins or so, just skip forward to the 1:40, 3:40 and 5:40 marks and you'll get the idea.

Some people just can’t keep it in their genes

This is not going to sit well with the fundies…. “OMG, evilution is teaching our chilluns infidelity!!” But anyway, David Barash, evolutionary biologist and professor of psychology at the University of Washington, writes about the relation between sexual infidelity and the selection over time of our genetic wiring.


Part of being successful, moreover, is a tendency to feel entitled and often to be uninhibited -- in part because one outcome of our species-wide polygamous history is that successful men have been those who took risks, which paid off. The losers were mostly found among the unsuccessful bachelors who, by definition, did not contribute very much to succeeding generations of men, or to their inclinations.......

........Some readers may bridle at this characterization of Homo sapiens as EPC-(Ed: extra-pair copulation a.k.a. infidelity) inclined, but the evidence is overwhelming. That doesn't justify adultery, by either sex, especially because human beings -- even those burdened by a Y chromosome and suffering from testosterone poisoning -- are presumed capable of exercising control over their impulses….

….. But even a smidgen of evolutionary insight suggests that maleness plus money plus political power isn't likely to add up to the kind of sexual restraint that the public expects.

Interesting read. Check it out.

For human populations, a corollary consequence of such selection of genetic wiring (which I have long thought to be self-evident) is that, from a purely reproductive-success standpoint, ignorance and impulsiveness constantly breed and succeed while intelligence and restraint largely select against themselves. This explains a lot about the world we live in.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Obama introduces Shillary to a fistful of logic

Barack Obama, today, in response to Hillary Clinton's attack on his experience as well as her attempts to shoehorn herself into the ticket with him.....

You can’t say that he’s not ready on day one, unless he’s willing to be your vice president and then he’s ready on day one.

I want everybody to be absolutely clear — I’m not running for vice president, I’m running for president of the United States of America.

and this...

So I don’t want anybody here thinking that somehow, “Maybe I can get both.” Don’t think that way. You have to make a choice in this election. Are you gonna go along with the past, or are you gonna go towards the future? Are you gonna do the same old thing, or are you gonna try something new?

Full report at Talking Points Memo.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Ain’t that ‘Murkah? A Fortunate Son Chronicles’ Money laundering update

American Values in focus this edition: Citizens’ concern, corporate responsibility, governmental accountability.

'Murkan values in focus this edition: Cronyism, money laundering, corporate greed, government-sanctioned piracy, complete and utter lack of shame.

Remember Kellog Brown and Root? KBR is the nation’s top Iraq war contractor and till last year was a subsidiary of Halliburton (you know, one of Darth Cheney’s many conflicts of interest in office). Anyway, the Boston Globe reports that KBR has been avoiding paying federal Social Security and Medicare taxes, estimated to be over $500 million, by operating through offshore shell companies.

So, these Bush/Cheney crony companies get handed billions of taxpayer dollars, much of it in no-bid contracts. Much of this money unaccounted for by these companies; tens of billions of dollars have just disappeared in Iraq and these cronies may just as well be walking away with it. But that isn’t sufficient for them. They have to cheat on taxes on this money too.

At least KBR is performing valuable services in Iraq, right? Such as serving our troops spoiled meat and providing them water contaminated with human feces. Yep, they made our troops eat shit, literally.

But I’m sure that these KBR folks have yellow ribbons on their cars and a Chinese-made flag lapel pins on their suits. So it is A-OK; they are 'Murkan patriots. Don’t be surprised if the top cronies in KBR and Halliburton get awarded Medals of Honor before the Fortunate Son Exemplar has to leave office.

Ahhh, but ain’t that 'Murkah something to see baby…..

Friday, March 7, 2008

Fortunate Son Chronicles: Pat Knight Update

Yesterday, I wrote about Warren Buffett and his campaign to preserve meritocracy, the system that helped make America the land of opportunity. But we don’t live in America so much any more; mostly, we live in 'Murkah. So in fairness, I have to give equal coverage to 'Murkan values such as dynastic wealth propagation, conflict-of-interest-based policy making, cronyism, and of course, nepotism.

While low on the scale of egregiousness (compared to the many global atrocities currently unleashed by 'Murkan values) the Pat Knight story is nevertheless entertaining. Bob Knight quit coaching mid-season so that his son Pat could use the rest of the year as on-the-job-training as head coach; this is tremendously noble on Bob’s part and really co-operative on the University’s part. In particular, those players who will not play next year will always fondly remember the experiment that was their last collegiate season; so I figure an update is in order.

Texas Tech (TT) is 4 and 5 since Pat Knight took over. Not bad, especially for a coach starting out in a major athletic conference like the Big 12. Also, TT has had two good wins during that stretch; they beat then #18 Kansas State and then #5 Texas. That’s pretty darned good at any time.

However, they have also been blown out by historic proportions in two of their last 3 games; a 44-point loss to Texas A&M and a 58-point loss to Kansas a couple of days ago. This last blowout may not have been all bad for TT as Pat Knight showed signs of greatness during, and particularly after, the loss. Here are a couple of quotes from Coach Pat Knight from the post game presser:

“The thing that upsets me again, just like the A&M game, is that we didn't compete. I had guys that I honestly thought looked scared when they got out there on the court. Not one guy showed up tonight”


“I warn them, and I talk to them, and I beg them, but I can't play for them," he said. "What I need to do is have a heart and brain transplant during a timeout. But I can't do that. They have to learn from it. I told them you can't play casual basketball in the Big 12 or you'll lose by 20 or 40 points”

See, right there you know Pat’s a great one---he knows it is not his fault! A chip of the old block, if I ever saw one! See, a lesser coach would have said something like “We beat a #18 team and a #5 team recently; clearly we have the talent and the guts to play with anyone. But, in these two losses we came unprepared and uninspired---and the responsibility for that lies squarely at the feet of the coaching staff, beginning with me”.

But the great ones know that that’s just loser-talk. The great ones always know that it is the undisciplined, heartless, brainless, ungrateful kids who are to blame. Stay classy, Knight!

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Warren Buffett, American Hero.

Warren Buffett is officially the richest man in the world today.
Maybe now the idiots who talk about giving more tax breaks for the rich will pay a little more attention to what he says....

From the opening statement of his testimony (appealing against the elimination of estate taxes) to the Senate Finance Committee last year:

Dynastic wealth, the enemy of a meritocracy, is on the rise. Equality of opportunity has been on the decline. A progressive and meaningful estate tax is needed to curb the movement of a democracy toward a plutocracy.

Take the few minutes to read that entire opening statement, by the way.

But this is nothing new. Buffett has been talking about sensible taxation for years. From a 2001 BBC article:

Mr Buffett.......said that repealing the estate tax would be a "terrible mistake". It was like "choosing the 2020 Olympic team by picking the eldest sons of the gold-medal winners in the 2000 Olympics".

And this, when he decided to give the bulk of his fortune away:

"I love it when I'm around the country club, and I hear people talking about the debilitating effects of a welfare society," he said. "At the same time, they leave their kids a lifetime and beyond of food stamps. Instead of having a welfare officer, they have a trust officer. And instead of food stamps, they have stocks and bonds."

So when McCain talks about making the Bush tax cuts permanent, maybe someone will have the balls to tell him, preferably in a widely televised public forum, that when meritocracy dies people like Dubya become president.

Update: 11.50 am:

I can't believe I left out this beauty from a Times Online report from last year:

Mr Buffett, who runs Berkshire Hathaway and is generally regarded as the world’s most successful investor, said he was a Democrat because Republicans are more likely to think: "I’m making $80 million a year, God must have intended me to have a lower tax rate."

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

The Cost of the War in terms of NIH funding

PZ Myers has a good post on the cost of the Iraq war.
I wrote something last November on this topic (over at Tokatakiya) that may interest scientific I'll repost the relevant part here:

While on hypocrisy, it is in all of your interest to know that Bush just vetoed a bill that would raise the NIH budget from about 29 billion to about 30 billion annually. He vetoed a billion dollar (about 3%) increase for the single most essential funding mechanism for biomedical research in this country. Apparently, (and I quote from the article) “the president decried the Democrat-led Congress for engaging in what he called a "spending spree," and said that the legislative majority was "acting like a teenager with a new credit card." You have got to be kidding me, right?

Through 2008, we would have spent at least $600 billion on an avoidable, useless war in Iraq. That money (Ed: that has, essentially, already been spent) could have funded ALL of NIH biomedical research at current levels for the next 20 years.

If you trust the latest congressional projections on the total cost of the war and its aftermaths (approx. $1.6 trillion), then that money could have funded the total NIH budget, with an annual 10% increase, for at least the next 40 years ! (my calculations: 30 billion at 10% compound interest over 40 years turns into approx 1.3 trillion).

I was going by the congressional projections then of a $1.6 trillion bill for this war. Going by the new estimate of a $3 trillion bill, the numbers fall as follows:
The same money could have funded the total NIH budget, with an annual 10% increase, for over 48 years; or with an annual 20% increase for over 25 years (30 billion at 10% compound interest over 48 years amounts to 2.91 trillion; 20% compound interest over 25 years amounts to 2.86 trillion).
Over the past couple of years, there has been a lot of talk of reforming peer review --- essentially because of the scientific funding crunch. While peer review is not without its problems, I have always thought that one immediate and effective solution is to double the freaking NIH budget. The current review system may serve us just fine if there was more bread to go around. It's not like we don't have the money---when politicians want something, it is amazing how the money appears. But as of now, the NIH system says, in effect, that 4 out of 5 grant applicants are incompetent. This is abyssmal; every year we churn out more bright and enthusiastic scientific minds and every year we crush a whole bunch of them on the pretext of not having enough money.

Look at the numbers above. We can already see what tangible destruction that money has caused. Now try and imagine how much good could have been done with it, just from this one NIH-funding-perspective. It is a damn shame.

2nd UPDATE, 12.50 pm:

Turns out DrugMonkey was way ahead of me and had posted something on these lines (i.e. cost of war analyzed in NIH funding terms) in May last year. He has analyzed the cost in terms of RO1 grants. Check out his article.

One more thing: If you want to see what the cost of this war means in terms of other aspects of life, such as education, healthcare etc., check out this Dynamics of Cats link from DrugMonkey's aforementioned article and the National Priorities Project page on the cost of war.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Just Say No

I think people should get to vote ‘No’ if they so choose, on Election Day. I don’t mean 'vote for the least disagreeable candidate' or 'vote for another random candidate in protest', but actually vote against a candidate. Why not?

It is pretty simple really: You still get only one vote, but you get to use it for or against any of the candidates. After all, if you don’t like any of the candidates, why are your only choices either to vote for someone you don’t like or not participate at all? Why can’t you say, “Well, you are asking me choose from a slap in he face, a punch in the gut or a kick in the groin. For too long I have voted for the slap in the face (or abstained from choosing); often only to be punched in the gut or kicked in the groin anyways. This time is different--- I say, I certainly do not want to be kicked in the groin!”

Now, you may get kicked in the groin anyways, but at least you’ll feel better about it, and feel like you acted in a less morally-repugnant manner. You didn’t passively sit by and accept your fate; you didn't actively choose some bad option; you actively chose against the worst! While not ideal, I think this could better convey your feelings on the matter.

Besides, when the votes are tallied, the public sentiment would be better summarized. Instead of the traditional “50 million people voted for a punch in the gut while 51 million voted for the kick in the groin” we could have a more realistic breakdown like, say, “27 million people voted for the kick in the groin and 30 million voted for a punch in the gut, and while 32 million voted against the punch in the gut, only 28 million voted against the kick in the groin. So kick in the groin wins by a final tally of minus-one million to minus-two million. Turns out that the evangelical vote carried the kick in the groin; miraculously too, as the kick was trailing in many key states late in the afternoon, but it turned out that the exit polling was incorrect in only all those states that the kick made a great comeback. Truly God works in mysterious ways, so gird your loins now for the kick in the groin”

So anyway, such a system could provide a real, meaningful protest vote, as it will make a voter’s voice better heard. It is still entirely possible that some blithering idiot of a 'winner' could still take the aforementioned results and claim a ‘mandate’, but it will be a bit more transparent.

Finally, such a voting system could also inject some humility back into the office of the presidency; don’t you think it is time to knock down some of the supercilious arrogance that accompanies the office and bring some of the ‘servant’ back into ‘public servant’?

As for me, I’m going out to buy a steel-reinforced cup.

UPDATE: I guess this is not the best year for the preceding article, as Obama is running a smart, positive campaign that holds appeal and both Hillary and McCain (despite their recent campaign-related ineptitude, shameless pandering and ideological prostitution) largely have a track-record of being a fairly smart and decent people. But the idea was born after reading much of the Nader-bashing that was prevalent over the past week and contemplating the protest-vote factor.

As an aside: I am not a fan of Nader, but he has a right to run---whether he has a tangible impact on the voting or not, whether he is motivated by the right reasons or not, whether he has a chance to win or not. People who blame him for Dubya’s 2000 win are deluded and are giving many other people a pretty easy pass. The primary culprit for Gore’s loss was Gore himself. Much of the time, he came across as a condescending pompous ass. He refused to use the mighty momentum that Bill Clinton could have brought; he was too stupid or too arrogant to figure out that if he brought Bill front-and-center, people would be reminded of the good times and that no one was going to confuse his morality with Bill’s. Gore set out to pander to the moderate republicans (a bloc that was never going to vote for him) and ended up alienating a bunch of his democratic base. At the end of the day, that election shouldn’t have been even close---but the fact is that Gore couldn’t put together a campaign to win an un-lose-able election. Deal with it.

Besides, if Nader did cost Gore the election in 2000, we all owe him a huge thanks. The past seven years have seen an alarming erosion of basic rights and a systematic perversion of the rule of law in this country. Simultaneously, these seven years have starkly exposed, like never before imaginable, the extent of ignorance and/or apathy and (more importantly) the political impotence of the people of this nation.

So don’t hate the playa, hate the game. And change it if you can.