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37 posts from June 2009

June 20, 2009

Mermaid Parade, 2009

Mermaid Parade 2009, originally uploaded by Lindsay Beyerstein.


More pictures of the 2009 Mermaid Parade at Coney Island.

Mermaid Parade, 2009

Mermaid Parade 2009, originally uploaded by Lindsay Beyerstein.


Gearing up for the Mermaid Parade at Coney Island.

Seashell Lady, for the win!

More pictures of the 2009 Mermaid Parade.

Mermaid Parade 2009

Mermaid Parade 2009, originally uploaded by Lindsay Beyerstein.


I bailed on account of rain, but I got some good shots before the actual parading started.

More pictures of the 2009 Mermaid Parade.

June 18, 2009

Right on, Sen. Boxer

Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA), originally uploaded by Lindsay Beyerstein.

Sen. Barbara Boxer reminded a witness just whom he was addressing:

During a terse exchange, as Boxer pressed Walsh on why the levees in New Orleans are still not repaired nearly four years after Hurricane Katrina, she said to Walsh:

"Could you say 'senator' instead of 'ma'am? It's just a thing. I worked so hard to get that title. I'd appreciate it."

The general's response? "Yes, Senator."

Some right wingers are shocked and appalled that a U.S. Senator would assert her authority over a witness testifying before her committee. Evidently they don't watch a lot of congressional testimony.

It's all in the game, yo. Ask a lawyer, a reporter, a cop, or anyone else who questions people for a living. These little primate dominance displays are a good way to throw a target off his game, especially if he isn't used to being challenged.

It's irrelevant whether the general was wrong to call her ma'am, or whether Boxer was being polite. It's not a Senator's job to be polite when she questions witnesses, that is, unless politeness suits her purposes.

It's amusing to see insecure men howling in vicarious indignation over Sen. Boxer's mild dominance display. Echidne even spotted a commenter on a video clip of the exchange dubbing Boxer "Senator Cuntface." If the gambit got such a rise (or wilt) out of bystanders, it probably had the desired effect on the target.

WaPo, bring back Dan Froomkin

Damn. The Washington Post fired Dan Froomkin:

POLITICO learned today that the Washington Post has terminated its relationship with liberal columnist/blogger Dan Froomkin. Froomkin authored the "White House Watch" blog and was told today that the blog had essentially run its course. [...]

Froomkin was none too happy with the decision, telling POLITICO that he's "terribly disappointed."

"I was told that it had been determined that my White House Watch blog wasn’t 'working' anymore," said Froomkin. "Personally, I thought it was still working very well, and based on reader feedback, a lot of readers thought so, too. I also felt White House Watch was a great fit with The Washington Post brand, and what its readers reasonably expect from the Post online. As I’ve written elsewhere, ( I think that the future success of our business depends on journalists enthusiastically pursuing accountability and calling it like they see it. That’s what I tried to do every day. Now I guess I'll have to try to do it someplace else." [Politico]

White House Watch is a terrific blog. I suspect that Froomkin's high-profile advocacy of accountability journalism dimmed his career prospects at the Post. Froomkin argued that journalists shouldn't be afraid to passionately call out bullshit when they see it instead of keeping up a bad faith facade that allows the reporter to write as if s/he finds all assertions equally credible.

Politico reports that bloggers from Andrew Sullivan to Glenn Greenwald to Wonkette are bemoaning Froomkin's ouster. Even the painfully cynical Gawker is crying foul. Add me to the list of deeply disappointed readers.

Froomkin is a very rare commodity--a skilled reporter who is also a talented blogger. He's a gem and the Post was foolish to let him go.

Adult baby food and the science of overeating

Katharine Mieszkowski has a fascinating interview with Dr. David Kessler, the former head of the FDA and now the author of a The End of Overeating. His book reviews the science of appetite and self-control and describes how food scientists exploit the flaws in our natural appetite control systems to create foods hyperpalatable foods that people can't stop eating:

KM: What makes a food hyper-palatable? Even if you like apples, you're probably likely to eat one and not gorge yourself on four more. Where if you like nachos, you might eat way more than you had intended to when you started. What is the difference between these foods?

DK: It starts with how many chews there are in a bite. If you take a stimulus and you get a sensory hit and it disappears, what do you do immediately next?

KM: You take another bite.

DK: Yes. We're eating, in essence, adult baby food. Twenty years ago the average chews per bite was about 20, now it's two or three. The food goes down in a whoosh and it's very stimulating. It's layered and loaded with fat, sugar and salt. It's as if you have a roller coaster going on in your mouth. You get stimulated, it disappears instantly and you reach for more.

We're often told that the secret to healthy eating is to listen to our bodies. Kessler argues that a lot of junkfood is engineered to make sure those messages aren't sent even when we've eaten plenty.

Tobacco companies have been accused of spiking nicotine levels in an attempt to make their product more addictive. These allegations sparked massive public outrage. Even people who think it's okay to sell of potentially addictive products to adults may bristle at the thought of a company deliberately engineering a product to make it even more addictive. I don't know if the nicotine-spiking allegations were ever proven, it's not in Big Tobacco's interest to give more buzz for fewer cigarettes. But the very idea certainly touched a nerve.

Will the public have the same reaction to junkfood manufacturers when they learn that scientists have studied the instincts that tell us we're full and schemed to defeat them?

Homeopathy FAIL, Parts I and II

FBI agents were sent to comb through a dumpster in Schenectady New York after receiving reports that the dumpster might contain anthrax.

The search was prompted by the discovery, somewhere else but the FBI wouldn't say where, of a vial labelled as a homeopathic "anthrax vaccine"--a product reportedly available on the internet. (I can't decide what's more disturbing, crackpots rejecting perfectly good vaccines administered by doctors or crackpots buying homemade vaccines online.)

The FBI was right to be concerned. Homeopathy is based on treating disease with massively diluted solutions of compounds that, in their pure form, cause the very symptoms that the tincture is supposed to cure.

Most homeopathic preparations are harmless ripoffs, since they are diluted so much that it's unlikely that even a molecule of the active ingredient remains. But if we've got self-styled homeopathic counter-terrorists diluting anthrax at home, that's seriously bad news.

And sometimes homeopaths skip the dilution step. The FDA is warning consumers to steer clear of Zicam, a zinc-based cold medicine that can permanently destroy the user's sense of smell by deadening the nerves in the nose.

The manufacturers of Zicam had to shell out over $12 million dollars in 2006 to settle 340 lawsuits lodged by alleged victims. Because Zicam was labelled as a homeopathic product, the manufacturers didn't have to get FDA approval before inviting cold sufferers to bathe their mucous membranes in zinc.

June 17, 2009

Wilkins Coffee ad as metaphor for US foreign policy

In this clip you will see a series of real ads for Wilkins Coffee starring real Muppets. The puppetmaster is the late great Jim Henson who did 179 commercials for Wilkins products between 1957 and 1961. These ads are riveted on message: Bad things happen to people who don't drink Wilkins Coffee, up to and including decapitation by guillotine, Ignorance is no excuse. You're either with Wilkins or against it. So, drink up for your own good. If you substitute "democracy for "coffee" you get a pretty good metaphor for US foreign policy.

June 16, 2009

Meeting with Bill Clinton: Paul Farmer to USAID?

Former president Bill Clinton invited about 20 progressive bloggers to his Harlem office for an informal discussion about the work of the Clinton Foundation...and whatever else we wanted to talk about. I was one of the bloggers who attended the on-the-record chat.

As president, Clinton was known for corralling aides and guests impromptu seminars, often at odd hours. Though pre-scheduled, our meeting had a similar feel. Officially, we were there to talk about the environmental and humanitarian projects of the Clinton Foundation, but Clinton's handlers warned us to expect digressions from the nominal agenda. The Big Dog was true to form.

The discussion ranged from the Clinton Foundation's campaign to provide AIDS drugs in the developing world, to reimporting drugs from Canada (he thinks the drug companies are raising spurious objections), to the prospects for health care reform this year (he's optimistic), to the basis of personal identity.

My question for Clinton was whether legendary humanitarian and global health activist Paul Farmer would be tapped to head United States Agency for International Development (USAID). Rumors have been circulating for weeks that Farmer is in line for the job--but so far, nothing has been announced.

Farmer is best-known for his years of work in Haiti as the founder of the NGO Partners in Health. Clinton is the newly-minted  UN Special Envoy to Haiti. Between that and his marriage to the Secretary of State, I figured there was a good chance he'd have the inside scoop on the likelihood of a Farmer appointment.

So, I asked him. Clinton laughed and said that that wasn't his announcement to make. Was he implying that someone else would be making that announcement, I asked. Clinton said he didn't know whether Farmer was in line for the job, but he praised Farmer lavishly calling him a "magnificent man" and holding up his work as an example to NGOs worldwide. Clinton argues that partnerships between the government and NGOs like Farmer's are a model for transforming US foreign aid.

Clinton joked that if Farmer does take the job, it would make Clinton's "life difficult" because Farmer is working with the Clinton Foundation to deliver health care to Rwanda.

The dean of Harvard Medical School recently tapped Farmer to chair the school's department of Global Health and Social Medicine, effective June 1--which might be a sign that he's not planning to join the Obama administration after all.

June 15, 2009

Bob Woodward

Bob Woodward, originally uploaded by Lindsay Beyerstein.

Bob Woodward at the Investigative Reporters and Editors conference in Baltimore this weekend.

Woodward argued that Barack Obama has yet to be tested by a crisis--which struck me as a bizarre assertion, in light of the financial meltdown and the worst economy since the great depression.