Sunday, June 27, 2004

Michael Moore--the new Leni Riefenstahl?

Click the link to see a detailed rebuttal from Christopher Hitchens, worth reading if you've seen Michael Moore's latest propaganda film, Fahrenheit 9/11. It'll help set the record straight. The comparison of Michael Moore to Leni Riefenstahl is not misplaced -- as a film, it comes off as the same style of blatant propaganda as Leni's films did praising the virtues of the Third Reich.

It is my belief, from personal experience that Michael Moore's entire premise in his movie Roger and Me, that he couldn't ever get Roger Smith (Chairman of General Motors) to talk to him about various factory closings, was a lie. I had the good fortune to meet and talked with Roger Smith and his lovely wife Barbara, over dinner one evening. I asked Roger Smith point blank if Michael Moore had ever tried to get in touch with him, and he said that the first he heard of him was when the movie came out. He said he checked his records and could find no mention of Michael Moore ever trying to contact him. I have no reason to doubt Roger - when you meet him you learn he's a self-efacing man who would admit to the error of putting off talking to a film-maker like Michael Moore, if he had made it.

So it's no surprise to me that Michael is lying in this movie, too.

Believe what you will - what's true for you is true for you.

But read that rebuttal before you condemn President Bush for his tenuous family connections to Osama Bin Laden.

Here's another link that will open your eyes to more Michael Moore lies. Dave Koppel's List of 56 Deceits in Fahrenheit 911.

Friday, June 25, 2004

SpaceShipOne's First Flight

My old friend Stu Sjouerman of Sunbelt Software, who publishes the popular W2Knews zine for those using Windows 2000 server software, sent out some very interesting links in his newsletter. One of them was to some excellently commented photos of the first space flight of SpaceShipOne, which occurred on Monday, 2004-06-21. The site is published by Richard Seaman, a terrific roving Kiwi photographer. Here are his photos of SpaceShipOne's flight.

Two big problems on the flight got little play in the press - I read about them for the first time in Richard Seaman's comments.

As I understand it, first, the flight was nearly aborted, and the pilot nearly bailed out, when the craft rotated 90 degrees -- it went 20 miles off course in the few seconds it took for the pilot to correct the problem.

Then on the descent, the pilot described a loud bang, which probably happened when the craft re-entered the atmosphere at great speet (but not orbital speed, by a long shot!) which created a sonic boom and apparently did some damage to the rear section of the craft - you can see a crinkle in the shell of the craft just below the nozzle, in one of the pictures.

Live relay of the radio chatter to the crowd was also supposed to be piped in, but was not for reasons never explained.

The gist of it - space flight is a risky business. Even with private funds in great quantity, and plenty of testing, it's still risky.

But when they get the bugs worked out of it--which they undoubtedly will--and it goes through a few more evolutions in size, we'll have an orbital shuttle that will be cheaper, safer, and less prone to the beaurocratic errors that have led to the crash of two of the shuttles. By beaurocratic errors, I mean the beaurocracy that ignored the warnings from the engineers who warned about launching the shuttle with frozen o-rings in subfreezing temperatures, and the other engineers who warned that there could be damage to a wing from falling ice during liftoff.

Much as I hate to admit it, our shuttles are huge, overpriced, over-regulated, and over-engineered in some ways, while under-engineered in others, using antiquated technology. You know the old saw about an elephant being a mouse designed to government specs.

We may not have the technology to do this right, but we're getting there. And private industry will see it done.

Will we have "beanpoles" like those Heinlein described in his sci-fi? Long cables attached to the ground, with the other end attached to a satellite? Will we have ground-based mag-lev launch tracks that simply accelerate something like a boxcar to orbital velocity along an upward-curved track? I don't know. But rockets are risky, complex machines that have too many moving parts to work well ALL the time.

Let's go for something simpler...

Before I forget - here's a salute to the pilot -- no, make that Astronaut! -- of SpaceShipOne -- 63 year old Michael Melvill. Hats off to you!

Thursday, June 24, 2004


Occasionally one is startled by the quiet professionalism of someone who has been patiently working on his passion or "hobby".

What got me thinking about this was stumbling across the works of Russell Croman, an "amateur" astronomer. He has a 14-inch telescope in his back yard, with which he has taken some absolutely stunning photos. Here's one he took of the Orion Nebula:
Orion Nebula photographed by Russell Croman


It reminds me of an essay by L. Ron Hubbard, written in 1954, which is engraved on a plaque in my office:

Don't ever do anything as though you were an amateur.

Anything you do, do it as a Professional to Professional standards.

If you have the idea about anything you do that you just dabble in it, you will wind up with a dabble life. There'll be no satisfaction in it because there will be no real production you can be proud of.

There's more to that essay, which I try to apply to what I do. Russell Croman has certainly achieved professional results of which he can be proud.

Sunday, June 20, 2004

"Emotional Lability"

I should stop reading the New York Times - it's just bad for my blood pressure.

Today's NYT insanity: 'emotional lability'.

Definitions of labile:

1. Open to change; adaptable: an emotionally labile person.

2. From chemistry: Constantly undergoing or likely to undergo change; unstable: a labile compound

From the New York Times today

Those children taking Paxil were reported by Glaxo-Smith-Kline's own data as follows:
In GlaxoSmithKline's trials, depressed young people given Paxil fared no better than those given placebos. It was a disappointing result for GlaxoSmithKline but had no effect on its application for the six-month extension. Still, a reviewer at the Food and Drug Administration noticed something strange about the trials: teenagers given Paxil suffered more problems of 'emotional lability,' or instability, than those given a placebo.

The reviewer, Dr. Andrew Mosholder, thought 'emotional lability' was overly broad. He asked the company to resubmit its data, this time using a separate category for suicide.

That report, given in May to both American and British health authorities, was alarming. Teenagers and younger children given Paxil were much more likely to become suicidal than those given placebos. In June, both the British and American authorities warned doctors against prescribing Paxil to youngsters. Worried that the problem could extend far beyond Paxil, the F.D.A. in July asked the makers of eight other antidepressants to submit data from their studies in youngsters.

So, now that the cat is out of the bag on the fact that children given paxil are twice as likely to have suicidal tendencies - and that there is NO BENEFIT beyond the placebo effect for the kids - the drug companies are retrenching. They are asking Columbia University to go through the data again and re-classify the "suicidal tendencies" so the drug will come up "clean" in the revised study.

Senator Charles E. Grassley, Republican of Iowa, is not at all convinced this is a good thing - Give 'em hell Charlie!

Some emotional lability is a good thing. One should not be stuck in grief if one is at a birthday party or a wedding. That's mis-emotional. One should not be stuck in cheerfulness when someone close to you dies. One should be able to move on the emotional tone scale, as appropriate. (The sci-fi movie, "Equilibrium" does a good job portraying a society where everyone is required to take their drugs at specified times during the day so they never feel anything.)

Too much emotional lability is a bad thing. One should not slide wildly from exhilaration to despair to grief to apathy to rage because of ingested chemicals--whether those chemicals are angel dust supplied by the corner drug dealer, or those supplied by Glaxo-Smith-Kline and cheerfully handed you by your neighborhood pharmacist.

The kids at Columbine who shot up the school and killed themselves were on psych drugs at the time. And there are many more instances of children NOT ONLY going suicidal on these drugs, but taking their fellows with them.

If you have kids taking Paxil - get them OFF! Re-defining "suicidal tendencies" as "emotional lability" is just the latest attempt of Glaxo to wiggle off the hook.

Related articles:

NY Times (free subscription required)
SF Gate - a well done satire.

Saturday, June 19, 2004

A Lament for "Deanotations"

"Deanotations", one of my all-time favorite subscribed newsletters, is putting out its last issue. Dean Blehert has published it semi-monthly for the last 15 or 20 years, and his wife, Pam Coulter, has illustrated each issue with simply amazing line drawings.

The last one is on its way to me, so says Dean. There will be no more.

Dean tells me it is the end but I don't want to believe it.

I've got a file of Deanotations that goes back to the last ice age, or so it seems. It has been growing at glacial speed no matter where or how many times I've moved in the last 20 years. After this, it will be getting no thicker. When I die (some unthinkable time in the distant future) whoever has the task of weeding through my papers will undoubtedly toss the folder, thinking it of no value. How wrong they will be!

Deanotations was usually filled with "light", funny, touching poems - Dean is a master of puns and palindromes, sestinas and limericks - he can do it all well.

I like the space he makes for readers - it is a fun place with wide horizons where people play tricks on you and you can fall down dead and spring up again like the much-abused Roadrunner.

He's moving on, says Dean.

I find I want to stow away with him to wherever Dean is going.

When I was reading more today from The Genius of Haiku, which is a condensed version of the works of R.H. Blyth, this section reminded me of Blehert's gentle humor, so ably expressed in his poems:
The fundamental thing in the Japanese character is a peculiar combination of poetry and humour, using both words in a wide and profound yet specific sense. "Poetry" means the ability to see, to know by intuition what is interesting, what is really valuable in things and persons. More exactly, it is the creating of interest, of value. "Humour" means joyful, unsentimental pathos that arises from the paradox inherent in the nature of things. Poetry and humour are thus very close; we may say that they are two different aspects of the same thing. Poetry is satori; it is seeing all things as good. Humour is laughing at all things; in Buddhist parlance, seeing that "all things are empty in their self-nature", and rejoicing in this truth.

Tuesday, June 08, 2004

Common Sense Government

My friend John Eberhard of has a new article posted on his website, about the failings of liberalism. John's clear and cogent style is good to read - there's little hype in it and it does make common sense. Not that there's no controversy in it - in fact he's being attacked on one of the lists I belong to for being part of the conspiracy to "re-define" the word "liberal".

That's pretty much already been done, and by the liberals themselves.

The tenets of liberals today would not be recognizable to those who called themselves "liberals" 40 or 50 years ago. Nowadays liberals have boxed themselves into a platform of support for the downtrodden victims of the world. As John explains in his article, when you spend all your time and resources helping victims - you are encouraging the self-creation of whole classes of victims who have somehow gained "rights" to their entitlements. John's article exposes what a crock this is!

Monday, June 07, 2004

Haiku - more insight

I've gained more insight from reading R.H. Blyth's notes on Haiku than I ever expected to get. He says well what I dimly understood, and in clarifying things has made me more appreciative than ever of the beauty of this medium of poetry.
...the art of haiku is as near to life and nature as possible, as far from literature and fine writing as may be, so that the asceticism is art and the art is ascetisism.

That's the minimallist "Zen" concept behind and reason for hauku that is only dimly realized in the West - the reason for its perceived sparseness and discipline.
What distinguishes haiku from (other forms of) poetry is this physical, material, sensational character, and it might be termed what Buchanan called the pre-Raphaelites, 'the fleshly school of poetry', but with no sexual implications.
The self in haiku should be looking out, not in. These are not introspective poems - they are 'exo-spectrive' poems. And for that I am grateful.

Drug companies under investigation - at last!

From the website belonging to the Aliance for Human Research Protection - comes this list of recent and long-overdue investigations into drug companies:

March 25, 2004 - the US Attorney in Pennsylvania announced an investigation of ELI Lilly's marketing promotion of Xyprexa (olazapine), Prozac (fluoxetine) and Evista (raloxifene).

April 19, 2004, a class action lawsuit was filed in federal court against Eli Lilly, accusing the company of heavily promoting Xyprexa as a safe and effective drug for psychotic disorders, while virtually concealing the risks of side effects from doctors and from the patients. Zyprexa has been linked to severe side effects including diabetes, hyperglycemia and pancratitis. In 2002, both the Japanese Halth and Welfare Ministry and the UK Medicines Control Agency issued emergency warnings concerning Xyprexa and diabetes-related complications.

May 13, 2004, Pfizer pled guilty to criminal charges and civil liabilities in connection with illegal and fraudulent promotion of unapproved uses of Neurontin and agreed to pay $430 million in penalties.

May 18, 2004, New York City filed suit against GlaxoSmithKline, charging the company with "anticompetitive, frudulent, and inequitable confuct," when it acquired patents for its anti-depressant Paxil, and for obtaining "frivolous" patents to unfairly keep cheaper, generic versions of the drug off the market.

May 26, 2004, Italy's finance police ended a two year investigation of GlaxoSMithKline leading to criminal charges against the company and of 4,440 doctors, including more than 2,500 GPs and 1,700 specialists. It is reported that GSK spent $278 million in bribes whose purpose was to influence the doctors' prescribing. The practice, according to British analysts, is common in the pharmaceutical industry. The doctors have been criminally indicted and could face jail sentences. According to the suit "Glaxo employees in Italy in question had offered cash, gifts and prizes to doctors and other healthcare professionals to encourage them to prescribe Glaxo drugs."

On June 2, NYS Attorney General filed a lawsuit against GlaxoSmithKline charging the company with fraudulent marketing of its antidepressant, Paxil/paroxetine and concealment of the drug's hazardous adverse effects from physicians.

Fraudulent pharmaceutical marketing practices affect more than economics, they undermine health and cause preventable deaths. Multi-national pharmaceutical companies that engage in fraudulent marketing cause more harm than illicit drug traffickers. Inasmuch as pharmaceutical companies who engage in fraud have demonstrated that they are not deterred even when fined hundreds of millions of dollars, violators should be jailed, not merely fined. Fraudulent drug marketing practices should, therefore, be
criminalized. Pharmaceutical company employees who violate marketing standards should be prosecuted and held liable under the same drug enforcement rules that are applied to those who traffic in illicit drugs.

Contact: Vera Hassner Sharav
Tel: 212-595-8974

At long last, the real drug companies are being looked at for criminal behavior. Remember in the movie "The Fugitive" when the bad guys turned out to be a drug company and his old friend? I think that movie is a lot more representative of what actually goes on in the "testing" of drugs for market than Glaxo or Lilly would like us to believe.

The FDA itself is the next culprit on my list. Now there's an organization ripe for investigation!

How is it that so many ex-FDA employees and directors wind up on the boards of the drug companies? The graft is so deep I can smell it from here...