Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Archive for March 3rd, 2007

Protecting Big Pharma at the price of public health

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Front page story. The GOP, Defender of the Strong.

The government is on track to approve a new antibiotic to treat a pneumonia-like disease in cattle, despite warnings from health groups and a majority of the agency’s own expert advisers that the decision will be dangerous for people.

The drug, called cefquinome, belongs to a class of highly potent antibiotics that are among medicine’s last defenses against several serious human infections. No drug from that class has been approved in the United States for use in animals.

The American Medical Association and about a dozen other health groups warned the Food and Drug Administration that giving cefquinome to animals would probably speed the emergence of microbes resistant to that important class of antibiotics, as has happened with other drugs. Those super-microbes could then spread to people.

Echoing those concerns, the FDA’s advisory board last fall voted to reject the request by InterVet Inc. of Millsboro, Del., to market the drug for cattle.

Yet by all indications, the FDA will approve cefquinome this spring. That outcome is all but required, officials said, by a recently implemented “guidance document” that codifies how to weigh the threats to human health posed by proposed new animal drugs.

The wording of “Guidance for Industry #152” was crafted within the FDA after a long struggle. In the end, the agency adopted language that, for drugs like cefquinome, is more deferential to pharmaceutical companies than is recommended by the World Health Organization.

Cefquinome’s seemingly inexorable march to market shows how a few words in an obscure regulatory document can sway the government’s approach to protecting public health.

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Leisureguy

3 March 2007 at 10:48 pm

The GOP FCC: bad for the US

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Via Kevin Drum, an important article in Mother Jones. It begins:

Senate reconfirmation hearings tend to be predictable affairs, marked by polite give-and-take and senatorial grandstanding, but generally free of surprise plot twists. And so it was supposed to go last September 12, when Federal Communications Commission (FCC) chairman Kevin Martin appeared before the Commerce Committee. In March 2005, following the departure of Michael Powell (Colin’s son), President Bush had named the young Republican lawyer to head the extraordinarily powerful five-person panel that oversees the nation’s media and telecommunications policies. Martin, a boyish-looking 40-year-old who’d been on the FCC since 2001, planned to carry on much of his predecessor’s unfinished business, particularly stiffening penalties for on-air indecency and the sweeping deregulation of media ownership rules. But unlike Powell, who was confrontational and contemptuous of his critics, the bland and soft-spoken Martin seemed unlikely to attract controversy.

But controversy caught up with him when Senator Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) strayed from the script at his reconfirmation hearing. Boxer began by asking Martin about an FCC study, commissioned by Powell, on the impact of media ownership on local news. Unsuspecting, Martin said that it had never been completed. Then, as he watched glumly, Boxer brandished a draft of the study, which had, in fact, been written more than two years earlier, only to be buried by the FCC. The report found that locally owned television stations, on average, presented 5 1/2 minutes more local news per broadcast than stations owned by out-of-town conglomerates. The findings squarely contradicted the claims made by Martin, Powell, and big media companies, who have argued that lifting limits on ownership would improve local news coverage.

“Now, this isn’t national security, for God’s sakes,” Boxer continued, unable to resist making Martin squirm. “I mean, this is important information. So I don’t understand who deep-sixed this thing.” Martin meekly said he had no idea, and promised he’d look into it. Within a week, a former FCC lawyer claimed that “every last piece” of the report had been ordered destroyed before it was leaked, and a second unreleased study came to light, prompting Boxer to refer the matter to the FCC’s inspector general.

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

3 March 2007 at 7:35 pm

Best Buy: worst deception

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Running a parallel Web site just to scam customers:

Under pressure from state investigators, Best Buy is now confirming my reporting that its stores have a secret intranet site that has been used to block some consumers from getting cheaper prices advertised on

Company spokesman Justin Barber, who in early February denied the existence of the internal website that could be accessed only by employees, says his company is “cooperating fully” with the state attorney general’s investigation.

Barber insists that the company never intended to mislead customers.

State Attorney General Richard Blumenthal ordered the investigation into Best Buy’s practices on Feb. 9 after my column disclosed the website and showed how employees at two Connecticut stores used it to deny customers a $150 discount on a computer advertised on

Blumenthal said Wednesday that Best Buy has also confirmed to his office the existence of the intranet site, but has so far failed to give clear answers about its purpose and use.

“Their responses seem to raise as many questions as they answer,” Blumenthal said in an interview. “Their answers are less than crystal clear.”

Based on what his office has learned, Blumenthal said, it appears the consumer has the burden of informing Best Buy sales people of the cheaper price listed on its Internet site, which he said “is troubling.”

What is more troubling to me, and to some Best Buy customers, is that even when one informs a salesperson of the Internet price, customers have been shown the intranet site, which looks identical to the Internet site, but does not always show the lowest price.

Blumenthal said that because of the fuzzy responses from Best Buy, he has yet to figure out the real motivation behind the intranet site and whether sales people are encouraged to use it to cheat customers.

Although Best Buy also refused to talk with me on specifics of the intranet site or its use, it insisted that its policy is to give customers the best price. Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Leisureguy

3 March 2007 at 4:44 pm

Posted in Business, Daily life

A poetry moment: Teeth, by Spike Milligan

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English Teeth, English Teeth!
Shining in the sun
A part of British heritage
Aye, each and every one.

English Teeth, Happy Teeth!
Always having fun
Clamping down on bits of fish
And sausages half done.

English Teeth! HEROES’ Teeth!
Hear them click! and clack!
Let’s sing a song of praise to them –
Three Cheers for the Brown Grey and Black.

— Spike Milligan

Written by Leisureguy

3 March 2007 at 2:50 pm

Posted in Art

Have you had your spelt today?

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Here’s a cool post on spelt, a great grain. Trader Joe’s sells little boxes of spelt mixed with herbs. I cook it up whole (using the rice cooker) and use it as a component of bean salad. It’s extremely tasty and, as you will note at the post, quite good for you. (Post includes photo.)

Get some. Even if you don’t eat it, you may have the opportunity to say, “I spilt the spelt.” 🙂

Written by Leisureguy

3 March 2007 at 2:42 pm

Posted in Food

The US military, sticking with failed policies

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Last January, Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) wrote a letter to Defense Secretary Robert Gates asking him for his opinion on the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT) policy “in light of the growing call of military leaders to reconsider DADT and the mounting evidence that calls into question the rationale for this policy.”

In a letter obtained by ABC’s The Blotter, Pentagon official David Chu responded by claiming that even a debate about the issue would hurt the war effort:

“The Global War on Terrorism is far-reaching and unrelenting,” wrote David S. C. Chu, Defense Undersecretary for Personnel and Readiness… “A national debate on changing” the Pentagon’s ban on openly gay service members would bring “divisiveness and turbulence across our country,” which “will compound the burden of the war.”

This is a shoddy attempt to stifle debate, and in fact the opposite is true — repeal of DADT would relieve, not worsen, the “burden of the war” on our military.

Since DADT went info effect, the Pentagon has dismissed more than 11,000 servicemembers, around 800 of whom had “some training in an occupation identified … as ‘critical.’” At a time when the military faces a readiness crisis, the Pentagon can ill-afford to dismiss two service members a day as it is doing under the current policy. One study by the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network found the U.S. military could attract as many as 41,000 new recruits if gays and lesbians were allowed to be open about their sexual orientation.

Written by Leisureguy

3 March 2007 at 2:33 pm

Improving car mileage

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The average mileage a car gets today — around 25 mpg — is what a Model T got. Not very impressive progress, is it? Now there’s a $25 million prize for designing a car that will get 100 mpg. It’s not far off.

Written by Leisureguy

3 March 2007 at 12:31 pm

Designing to minimize energy demand (and cost)

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As we begin to battle global warming, it’s becoming increasingly evident that great steps can be taken that actually save money for those taking them. (The same thing happened when companies finally got serious about cutting pollution: they discovered that pollution—creating unuseful by-products—actually was costing them money, and doing away with pollution saved them money.)

Take a look at the new Bank of America building in New York and the incredible savings they will realize through sensible design.

Written by Leisureguy

3 March 2007 at 12:27 pm

Moon against the sun

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Take a look at this amazing video.

Written by Leisureguy

3 March 2007 at 9:13 am

Posted in Science

Marijuana as wonder drug

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An Op-Ed in the Boston Globe today, pointer from Alert Reader. It’s written by Lester Grinspoon, an emeritus professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and the coauthor of “Marijuana, the Forbidden Medicine.”

A new study in the journal Neurology is being hailed as unassailable proof that marijuana is a valuable medicine. It is a sad commentary on the state of modern medicine — and US drug policy — that we still need “proof” of something that medicine has known for 5,000 years.

The study, from the University of California at San Francisco, found smoked marijuana to be effective at relieving the extreme pain of a debilitating condition known as peripheral neuropathy. It was a study of HIV patients, but a similar type of pain caused by damage to nerves afflicts people with many other illnesses including diabetes and multiple sclerosis. Neuropathic pain is notoriously resistant to treatment with conventional pain drugs. Even powerful and addictive narcotics like morphine and OxyContin often provide little relief. This study leaves no doubt that marijuana can safely ease this type of pain.

As all marijuana research in the United States must be, the new study was conducted with government-supplied marijuana of notoriously poor quality. So it probably underestimated the potential benefit.

This is all good news, but it should not be news at all. In the 40-odd years I have been studying the medicinal uses of marijuana, I have learned that the recorded history of this medicine goes back to ancient times and that in the 19th century it became a well-established Western medicine whose versatility and safety were unquestioned. From 1840 to 1900, American and European medical journals published over 100 papers on the therapeutic uses of marijuana, also known as cannabis.

Of course, our knowledge has advanced greatly over the years. Scientists have identified over 60 unique constituents in marijuana, called cannabinoids, and we have learned much about how they work. We have also learned that our own bodies produce similar chemicals, called endocannabinoids.

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Leisureguy

3 March 2007 at 8:41 am

Posted in Drug laws, Medical

In on Lavender, out on Lavender

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That refers to the shaving week—I started with Castle Forbes Lavender this week, and ended today with D.R. Harris Lavender—but also to today’s shave: the final step was the Thayers Lavender Skin Toner.

The lather I built with the Edwin Jagger shaving brush, and then shaved it off with the Merkur Slant Bar—such a fine and underappreciated razor: shaving without effort, getting a BBS shave in three passes, no nicks or cuts. The alum bar, and then the Thayers Lavender.

I cannot see that anyone who has a tough beard—especially when combined with sensitive skin—would use any razor but a Slant Bar. But so it goes.

Written by Leisureguy

3 March 2007 at 8:20 am

Posted in Shaving

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