Later On

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

Archive for January 10th, 2009

FDA scientists complain to Obama

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Glad they’re speaking up, and I hope Obama is listening. The story:

In an unusually blunt letter, a group of federal scientists is complaining to the Obama transition team of widespread managerial misconduct in a division of the Food and Drug Administration.

“The purpose of this letter is to inform you that the scientific review process for medical devices at the FDA has been corrupted and distorted by current FDA managers, thereby placing the American people at risk,” said the letter, dated Wednesday and written on the agency’s Center for Devices and Radiological Health letterhead.

The center is responsible for medical devices ranging from stents and breast implants to MRIs and other imaging machinery. The concerns of the nine scientists who wrote to the transition team echo some of the complaints from the FDA’s drug review division a few years ago during the safety debacle involving the painkiller Vioxx.

The FDA declined to publicly respond to the letter, but said it is working to address the concerns.

In their letter the FDA dissidents alleged that agency managers use intimidation to squelch scientific debate, leading to the approval of medical devices whose effectiveness is questionable and which may not be entirely safe.

“Managers with incompatible, discordant and irrelevant scientific and clinical expertise in devices…have ignored serious safety and effectiveness concerns of FDA experts,” the letter said. “Managers have ordered, intimidated and coerced FDA experts to modify scientific evaluations, conclusions and recommendations in violation of the laws, rules and regulations, and to accept clinical and technical data that is not scientifically valid.” …

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

10 January 2009 at 2:22 pm

Extremely interesting post on healthcare proposals

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Matthew Yglesias has the post, which is illustrated with two graph, one showing the number of Americans that would be newly covered by each proposal, and the other showing the cost of each proposal.

Surprise: the proposal that newly covers the greatest number (by a wide margin) also is the least costly (by a wide margin). The decision, thus, would seem easy. And it is: that proposal will be roundly rejected.

UPDATE: In addition to the post above, here is an excellent report (PDF file, and includes graphs) of the healthcare situation in the US and how it got there.

Written by Leisureguy

10 January 2009 at 2:19 pm

One George Bush success

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The success is that he failed to privatize Social Security, which today looks like a very good thing. (BTW, Bush himself calls this failure a “success” in his legacy tour interviews.) Paul Krugman:

What would have happened if George W. Bush had actually succeeded in his plan to privatize Social Security? Ask the Italians.

Italy did for retirement financing what President George W. Bush couldn’t do in the U.S.: It privatized part of its social security system. The timing couldn’t have been worse.

The global market meltdown has created losses for those who agreed to shift their contributions from a government severance payment plan to private funds meant to yield higher returns.

Gaetano Turchetta, a Rome office manager, made the irreversible move to a private plan after a union representative boasted of the potential for 20 percent annual returns. The 43- year-old father of three now says he would sign with “two hands and two feet” if he could switch back.

Written by Leisureguy

10 January 2009 at 11:57 am

Congress acts after disasters

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It’s a pattern, and it’s happened again. McClatchy reports:


Federal regulations are needed to make sure that ash from coal-fired power plants is stored safely, Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., said on Thursday as the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee held a hearing on the spill of 1 billion gallons of toxic sludge in East Tennessee.

Republican and Democratic lawmakers promised to make sure that the Tennessee Valley Authority helps the region recover from one of the nation’s worst spill and looks for ways to prevent other spills and leaks.

Continue reading.

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10 January 2009 at 11:49 am

John Pizzareli on Marian McPartland

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I really like John Pizzarelli and in fact saw him perform with his trio at a wonderful Baltimore Museum of Art function—my one tuxedoed social occasion. He’s a wonderful guitarist and singer, and you can hear him on Marian McPartland’s program here, via James Fallows.

Written by Leisureguy

10 January 2009 at 11:40 am

Posted in Jazz

Starbucks has wrong attitude toward unions

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In fact, their attitude is illegal. That’s pretty much wrong. Here’s the story:

Starbucks, once the undisputed leader in premium-price caffeine fixes, has long cultivated a corporate image for social responsibility, environmental awareness, and sensitivity to workers’ rights. Now that carefully crafted reputation is under assault, thanks to a messy legal dispute with a group called the Starbucks Workers Union (SWU) (part of the Industrial Workers of the World, or IWW), which started recruiting employees in 2004 and now claims 300 members.

The National Labor Relations Board found on Dec. 23 that Starbucks had illegally fired three New York City baristas as it tried to squelch the union organizing effort. The 88-page ruling also says the company broke the law by giving negative job evaluations to other union supporters and prohibiting employees from discussing union issues at work. The judge ordered that the three baristas be reinstated and receive back wages. The judge also called on Starbucks to end discriminatory treatment of other pro-union workers at four Manhattan locations named in the case. The decision marks the end of an 18-month trial in New York City that pitted the ubiquitous multinational corporation against a group of twentysomething baristas who are part of the Industrial Workers of the World.

The timing isn’t ideal for Starbucks, which faces lower demand from the recession, an overall loss of panache for the brand, and a sliding stock price. “[The ruling] is a real thumb in the eye—a real gotcha moment with potential for heartache,” says Eric Dezenhall, chief executive officer of Dezenhall Resources, a crisis management public relations firm in Washington D.C. “I don’t think it’s a crisis, but it hovers between [being] a nuisance and a problem.” …

Continue reading. Note that this is the current National Labor Relations Board, which is not especially friendly to labor.

Written by Leisureguy

10 January 2009 at 11:36 am

Posted in Business, Daily life

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Hydraulic hybrids

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Very interesting idea: using a hydraulic system to store and provide energy for a truck:

In the next few months, United Parcel Service (UPS) will begin testing an automotive breakthrough that comes straight from the Environmental Protection Agency. UPS will launch two prototype delivery trucks whose ordinary-looking brown exteriors mask an exotic assembly of pumps, tanks, and high-pressure hydraulic fluids. Working in concert with a diesel engine, these novel parts will replace the transmission and other standard components.

The big brain behind such “hydraulic hybrid” vehicles is Charles Gray, a top scientist at a laboratory the EPA operates in Ann Arbor, Mich. Barack Obama may never have heard of hydraulic hybrids, but such fleets could go a long way toward meeting goals the President-elect has spelled out in many speeches, says Gray, whose team has racked up 60 patents on green automotive technology. The payoff is not just cleaner air, he says, but something “very important right now—jobs for Americans.”

It was UPS that proposed a joint research project in hydraulics when it learned of the EPA’s efforts back in 2004. After studying the agency’s work, UPS concluded that this sort of hybrid truck, when mass-produced, would cost about $7,000 more than standard delivery trucks, which run $40,000 to $50,000. But the EPA said savings on fuel and maintenance over the life of the truck could be as much as $50,000, while reduction in carbon dioxide emissions would be 30% or more. “I think we’re going to be able to help the environment, but certainly it’s going to be a good business decision, too,” says Robert Hall, a UPS vice-president versed in the hybrid project.

If the upcoming trial goes well,  …

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

10 January 2009 at 11:32 am

A problem with Adm. Blair

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Paul Rosenberg points out a problem with Adm. Blair: Blair has no problem with the massacre of civilians. Read the column, which begins:

An article at Counterpunch over the holidays by Gary Leupp-which kicks off with a quote from our own Chris Bowers talking about frustration with Obama’s cabinet picks-reminds us:

During his debate with Clinton on January 31, Obama declared, “I don’t want to just end the war, but I want to end the mindset that got us into war in the first place. That’s the kind of leadership that I think we need from the next president of the United States. That’s what I intend to provide.”

This is the kind of talk that seriously raised a lot of people’s hopes.  How many hundred thousand volunteer hours was that soundbite worth?  Odds are, quite a few.  Sure, Digby’s right (too many times to link to, just read her blog, okay?) there was plenty of evidence to the contrary-but that’s why God invented soundbites-to get people to ignore evidence.  And it was so.

Now we have the unveiling of his top-tier intelligence team, and one man-Leon Panetta–caused an uproar because he’s anti-torture and not part of the intelligence problem clique.  Plus DiFi needed to throw her weight around.  The other two, however, are everything Obama seemed to be campaigning against.  John Brennan we already know-he’s the one who resigned because of the mean old bloggers in their PJs (yeah, right, wanna buy a bridge?)  But the one who’s escaped major scrutiny, Admiral Dennis Blair, is just as out of synch with Obama’s promise to change the mindset as Brennan is.

As award-winning journalist Alan Nairn explained on Democracy Now! on Tuesday, Blair had acted to support the Indonesian military in 1999, while they were involved in civilian massacres in East Timor, after the US official policy had finally changed.  Nairn had written about this at the time for The Nation, when, apparently no other reporters remained covering the story.  Nairn and Democracy Now! host Amy Goodman survived a 1991 massacre in Dili, East Timor, together, so they tend to not overlook what happens there.

ALLAN NAIRN: Well, Admiral Blair was involved in supporting the Indonesian armed forces as they were massacring churches in East Timor, as they were killing civilians in 1999 in the run-up to a UN-sponsored free election. That election was due to decide whether East Timor would become independent. The Indonesian army was trying to stop the occupied Timorese from voting for independence, so they set up militias, which went on rampages.In one incident, they went into a church in Liquica where refugees were hiding. They massacred them with machetes. Their flesh was found plastered to the walls. Two days after that, Admiral Blair went to meet with the Indonesian commander, General Wiranto, and he gave him reassurances that the US was still behind him. He offered him new US military aid. And even though Blair had been told by the State Department and the White House to tell Wiranto to stop the massacres, Blair did not do that. This is according to classified US cables which I obtained in 1999 and reported in The Nation magazine.

After that, when people at the State Department heard about what Blair had done, he was told to talk to Wiranto again. He again spoke to Wiranto, on the phone, and again reassured him, offered him new US military aid. Blair even offered Wiranto aid for the specific unit, the Brimob, the paramilitary police who had gone into that church as they chopped up the refugees and chopped up the clergy who were hiding there. General Wiranto naturally took this as reassurance. He escalated the attacks. Wiranto was later indicted for crimes against humanity. Blair has not been held to account.

And now, they say Obama wants to make him Director of National Intelligence. You know, Richardson is in trouble.

AMY GOODMAN: We have five seconds.

ALLAN NAIRN: Blagojevich is in trouble. That’s small potatoes compared to what Admiral Blair did. ETAN, East Timor Action Network, is running a campaign to stop this nomination.

This is from an ETAN press release date Jan 7: …

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

10 January 2009 at 10:20 am

Another good analysis of Obama’s DoD picks

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Fred Kaplan in Slate:

President-elect Barack Obama named the Pentagon’s deputy secretaries and undersecretaries today, and, like many of his other appointments, they signal a return to professionalism. It’s not a revolution—except that, after the last eight years, restoration is revolutionary.

The nominee for deputy secretary of defense—whose job is to manage the Pentagon, not create policy—is William J. Lynn III, who, during Bill Clinton’s presidency, served as the Defense Department’s comptroller and director of its office of program analysis and evaluation.

The undersecretary for policy is Michèle Flournoy, who is now president of the Center for a New American Security—Washington’s most creative military think tank—and a former deputy assistant secretary of defense for strategy in the Clinton era.

The new comptroller is Robert Hale, currently executive director of the American Society of Military Comptrollers and a former comptroller of the Air Force, again under Clinton.

In other words, Obama proposes to have an experienced manager managing the Pentagon, an experienced policy wonk running policy, and a comptroller among comptrollers keeping track of the budget.

A similar pattern can be seen in reports earlier this week of special envoys who might be working for Hillary Clinton at the State Department, most notably Dennis Ross on the Middle East and Richard Holbrooke on India and Pakistan.

Some might have problems with those two; they’re controversial, to say the least, and I’m not sure whether …

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

10 January 2009 at 10:15 am

Bill Moyers on the Mideast situation

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And along with watching that, read Glenn Greenwald today. His column begins:

On his PBS Journal Show last night, Bill Moyers delivered a poignant essay on Israel/Gaza (video below).  The whole segment is worth watching — it begins with coverage of a mostly ignored anti-war march this week in Washington (while media hordes, down the street, fixated on the Roland Burris circus) — but Moyers’ essay begins at roughly the 2:20 mark.

The most striking aspect is that sober, fact-based, even-handed commentary like this about Israel automatically subjects one to widespread, profoundly ugly accusations of being “anti-Israel” and even “anti-Semitic,” to the point where not a single U.S. Senator and no House member other than a handful dare utter anything other than unquestioning support for Israeli actions, such that most members of the U.S. Congress are, literally, far more willing to question and oppose American military actions than Israel’s military actions (the establishment discussion rules are virtually identical to those that prevailed in the pre-Iraq-war days, though even more rigidly enforced:  one can question the efficacy of the Israeli attack from the perspective of Israeli interests, but may not question its morality, legality or justifiability). …

Also, from the same column, this sobering note:

… The Weekly Standard claims that Condoleezza Rice strongly advocated that the U.S. vote in favor of the U.N. Resolution which the Security Council approved on Thursday by a 14-0 vote and which urges a cease-fire in Gaza; Dick Cheney argued that the U.S. should veto the Resolution, and Bush ultimately adopted Stephen Hadley’s compromise suggestion to abstain, thereby allowing the Resolution to pass.  Hamas and Israel competed with one another to see who could refuse most quickly to abide by the Resolution, and now — as Haaretz reports this morning — this is Israel’s response:

The Israel Air Force has dropped leaflets on the Gaza Strip warning residents that it plans to escalate its two-week-old offensive.

The army says it has dropped the fliers throughout Gaza. It says the notices are meant as a “general warning.”

The notice says Israel is about to begin a “new phase in the war on terror.” It says it will “escalate” an operation that already has killed more than 800 Palestinians.

It’s hard to imagine, short of full-on indiscriminate civilian bombing, how this attack can be “escalated.”  Is there any limit at all to the number of civilian deaths that Israel is willing to cause?  And, given that Palestinians are not allowed to leave Gaza and have no safe haven within the Gaza Strip, what is the point of dropping leaflets warning the civilian population of “escalation” other than, as Moyers put it, to sow further terror? …

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

10 January 2009 at 10:12 am

Teacher’s unions: desirable or not?

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Matthew Yglesias addresses this question quite well. And his answer matches what I would say, overall. My take: teacher’s unions will not of themselves cure the ills of education, nor will those ills be helped by not having teacher’s unions. But overall, in the scheme of things, I believe that teacher’s unions work to make teaching more attractive and thus in the long run will be better for education than not having teacher’s unions. Yglesias’s answer is more specific and better overall.

Written by Leisureguy

10 January 2009 at 10:02 am

Posted in Daily life

The Guide to Gourmet Shaving stands at #350

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I wanted to record how Leisureguy’s Guide to Gourmet Shaving is doing. It begins the year (after the December and sales are accounted for) standing at number 350 in sales: securely within the top 400. Where will it stand come January 2010? Want to guess?

On the one hand (ho men), the book’s been out there for a while (the Second Edition since this summer), so sales would be expected to trail off. On the other hand (ho day), the book sells mainly by word of mouth (my advertising budget is nil), so as more are sold, the word of mouth can be expected to spread. Also, the economy might drive some men away from the disposable multi-blade cartridges, which run up to $3.50 each, and make a 9¢ razor blade more attractive.

And, of course, all those other books are also selling and improving their own standing.

My guess: rank of 250.

Written by Leisureguy

10 January 2009 at 9:38 am

Posted in Books, Shaving

Food note

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I find that my resolution to increase the ratio of veg to meat is working well and easy to follow. When I go to the supermarket, I linger in the produce aisle, buying enough produce for the next two days (not more: I lose track and stuff turns into brown liquid in the plastic bags at the back of the refrigerator), then look at the fish case and breeze past the meat section.

That is not to say that I skip meat altogether: Yesterday I made a stir fry using a small amount of pork, and one night I had lamb chops. But my taste for beef has fallen sharply, and the number of all-vegetable meals has increased.

Today I have a bunch of fresh collards for lunch, perhaps with a small amount of pork and onions cooked with, and for dinner I’m making a kind of caponata: in a large skillet, I’ll sauté an onion and a fair amount of garlic in a little olive oil, then add minced celery, a chopped (and unpeeled) eggplant and a can of diced tomatoes and cook that covered until it’s mushy, then add capers (and a little caper juice), pitted Saracena olives, and pine nuts. I bought some crackers, anticipating this treat for dinner.

Written by Leisureguy

10 January 2009 at 9:29 am

Nothing like wool fat on a winter day

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Mitchell’s Wool Fat, of course. The Rooney Style 2—still, I think, the best brush for creating lather—did a fine job, as did the Edwin Jagger ivory-handled Chatsworth. And Parfums de Nicolaï New York is certainly one of my favorite aftershaves: very debonair.

Written by Leisureguy

10 January 2009 at 8:39 am

Posted in Shaving

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