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34 posts from November 2009

November 22, 2009

Obama picks Perino to exemplify a "free and professional press"

Obama nominated former Bush press secretary Dana Perino to the Broadcasting Board of Governors:

President Obama has nominated George W. Bush's former press secretary Dana Perino for a post on the board overseeing government-sponsored international broadcasting.

Perino, who worked in the Bush White House from 2005-2009, was appointed Wednesday to the Broadcasting Board of Governors, AFP reported. Her nomination must be confirmed by the Senate.

"I'm honored by the president's announcement and I'm looking forward to serving on the bipartisan board, if I'm confirmed," Perino said.

The BBG administers overseas media outlets like Voice of America, Radio Free Europe and Radio Free Asia. Created in 1994, the agency "works to serve as an example of a free and professional press," according to its Web site. It is funded by taxpayers and had a budget of $717.4 million in 2009. [Politics Daily]

I initially wondered why Obama was appointing Dana Perino to anything. Turns out, the BBG is legally required to be bipartisan.

(via Julia at Running Scared)

November 21, 2009

Sick fucks lose: CafePress drops "Pray for Obama: Psalm 109:8" merch

CafePress and Zazzle have wisely decided to drop user-designed merchandise bearing the slogan "Pray for Obama: Psalm 108:9"--perhaps because they've figured out that it's unseemly to do business with people laughing up their sleeve about killing the president under cover of Christian piety.

The Big Fat Undertaking: Blogger to cook through Blumenthal's "Fat Duck" cookbook

Hats off to a blogger in the Netherlands who is cooking his way through Heston Blumenthal's bible of molecular gastronomy, the Fat Duck Cookbook. He's documenting his culinary odyssey at The Big Fat Undertaking.

One of the early recipes he tried was grapefruit and crisp candied beets lollipops in edible transparent wrappers. He did very well, especially considering he didn't have the refractometer that Blumenthal recommends for making the candy.

November 20, 2009

Biblical assassination bumper stickers

Eliminationist wags were selling bumper stickers that read "Pray for Obama: Psalm 109:8" on Cafe Press. Psalm 109:8 reads: "Let his days be few. Let another take is his office." The next verse is, "Let his children be fatherless And his wife a widow." Followed by, "Let his children wander about and beg; And let them seek sustenance far from their ruined homes." How long before one of these is spotted on the bumper of a hapless Republican county chair? I'm taking bets.
Cafe press pray for obama

November 19, 2009

A Botox tax is kind of sexist

Like Jill, I've got misgivings about the provision in the senate healthcare bill that would defray the costs of reform by levying a 5% tax on cosmetic surgery.

In practice, a plastic surgery tax would be relatively economically progressive. Plastic surgery is, after all, a luxury. But if this is really about progressive taxation, why not just tax the rich? Why single out relatively rich people who get their eyes done, rather than buying Hummers, or other luxuries?

According to one estimate, 91% of cosmetic surgery patients are women. (The American Society of Plastic Surgeons says 86%.) Yet, it's not as if women who get cosmetic surgery get 100% of the benefits, nor do they supply 100% of the pressure on other women to get these procedures.

It’s one of those classic sexist double binds: Society tells you that you have to look perfect and then sticks you with a ’sin’ tax when you do what’s expected of you. If you tax cosmetic surgery, boob jobs will titillate men and subsidize their health care. Cui bono?

Continue reading "A Botox tax is kind of sexist" »

My first Newsweek story: Senate May Thwart Stupak

My first Newsweek story, on the Stupak Amendment, the senate, and what's next in the fight over abortion access under health reform.

Bad Mommies Jump the Shark: Mom let cop taze her 10-year-old daughter

This story should put the annoying "bad mommy" confessional genre out of its misery. Nothing can top this. Bad mommies have officially jumped the shark:

An Arkansas mom allegedly allowed a police office to taze (link fixed) her 10-year-old daughter because the girl was having a tantrum. The girl will face disorderly conduct charges. The head of the Arkansas State Police says he isn't sure if the officer made a mistake when he shocked an unarmed child who wouldn't take a shower.

November 18, 2009

C Street house no longer tax exempt

The IRS finally figured out that the fundamentalist flophouse on C Street owned by the secretive Christian group known as "The Family" is a dorm. Until recently, the C Street home for legislators avoided paying property taxes by claiming to be a church.

This is big news, not only because C Street will have to start paying property taxes on its snazzy digs, but also because its new status has transparency implications. If I understand correctly, claiming to be a church also exempted C Street from disclosing financial details that an ordinary non-profit would have to divulge on its publicly accessible tax returns. If it continues to operate as a non-profit, it will have to file 990s like other non-profits.

November 17, 2009

The truth hurts: Newsweek's Palin cover


Newsweek used this photograph of Sarah Palin as this week's cover shot.

The headline reads, "How do you solve a problem like Sarah? She's bad news for the GOP--and for everybody else, too."

It's a damned good question, and I couldn't think of a better image to make the point.

Palin posed for this picture as part of a photo essay captioned Governor Palin, The Runner, which ran in the August issue of Runner's World. When I saw this image in its original context, I was appalled that a sitting governor would pose for a shot like this; or this stretching shot that puts the visual center of gravity squarely on her crotch.

Maybe Palin didn't realize that the photographer, Brian Adams, was depicting her this way. If so, he totally fucked her over. But I think she was on board with the concept. If Palin had assailed Runner's World for making fun of her, I might now take her complaint about Newsweek seriously. She liked the Runner's World spread, though. She thought it was appropriate. [NB: In an earlier version of this post, I misspelled Brian Adams' name "Bryan Adams." Today, I got an email from a firm called Web Sheriff telling me that they'd take legal action if I didn't apologize to the rock star Bryan Adams and ACI for any injury I might have caused to his reputation. So, I sincerely apologize to Bryan Adams. I wouldn't want my name associated with these ridiculous pictures either.]

There's nothing scandalous about Palin showing some skin, or wearing Spandex. But this cover image is deliberately styled to make the then-governor of Alaska look like a Vargas pinup girl. Unlike the other images in the series, this one references her status as a governor. As she poses like a swimsuit model, she's clutching one icon of political power--the Blackberry--and leaning on another. The theme isn't Sarah Palin, athlete. The theme is Sarah Palin, Sexy Governor. (As in: one of those dime store Halloween costumes: sexy cop, sexy lady bug, sexy sanitation worker...)

Predictably, Palin complained that Newsweek's use of the image was sexist. Yes, the image was plucked from its original context. The whole point was that the picture was appalling it its original context. Newsweek is holding this picture up to the world and asking: Who does this? 

The bottom line is that Palin's a clown. She doesn't get a pass because her chosen clown persona is stereotypically feminine.

She caricatures herself. Day in and day out. Good for Newsweek for pointing and laughing.

The story is about why Sarah Palin is a problem for the GOP. The picture answers the question. She's a problem because she's a freak with no judgment who regularly makes a spectacle of herself.  Obviously, she's a potential problem for America because she's an incompetent leader who supports terrible policies. But that's not Newsweek's question.

Newsweek's question is why she's bad for the GOP. The answer is that she's dragging down her party because it's impossible for adults to take her seriously. Not because she's beautiful or maternal or fit, but rather because she has no decorum, no dignity, and no common sense. I mean look at her, she's working the goofy MILF persona like that's a perfectly normal thing for a governor with presidential aspirations to be doing.

Palin's not even bad news for her party because she's ignorant or radically reactionary. Lots of American politicians are both and they do just fine. Palin has the double whammy of being ignorant and absurd. She's absolutely not ready for prime time. John McCain plucked her from obscurity as a publicity stunt and he lived to rue the day.

The tighter the wingnut base embraces her, the more clownish they reveal themselves to be.

November 16, 2009

Continuing Medical Propaganda Education

A little known provision in the House health care bill would require the $1 billion continuing medical education (CME) industry to disclose more about what it's teaching the nation's doctors:

WASHINGTON—Health legislation moving through Congress would force drug makers to disclose how much they spend on continuing medical education classes for doctors, sparking some resistance from the industry.

For-profit continuing medical education companies have seen revenue fall by double digits in the last year, according to industry statistics, following congressional investigations into the influence of drug makers on medical research and course content. [WSJ]


I used to write CME modules on high blood pressure drugs, sleeping pills, anti-malaria medicines, anti-depressants, hepatitis vaccines, and other remedies. Keep in mind that I quit medical writing several years ago and the rules have changed a lot since I left.

Sometimes these CME modules were financed by drug companies. In which case, they'd often consist of PowerPoint slide decks summarizing industry-funded research, which had been presented by industry-funded experts at industry-funded conferences.

The drug companies would give these training modules away. Doctors could answer multiple choice questions to earn points towards renewing their medical licenses. Sometimes CME companies would commission CME modules to sell to doctors for a profit. Some CME is produced by non-profit corporations and/or independent academic or professional outlets.

The drug companies did hire real doctors and lawyers to make sure that non-doctors like me didn't accidentally recommend anything lethal or fictional. This was called "med/legal review." Med/legal sent stuff back to us all the time when creative excess got the better of us and we started making claims that were "too promotional." This was a necessary check because we answered to marketing executives.

Review was thorough because the company didn't want to get sued. But a CME module that will stand up in court isn't automatically a quality teaching tool for your doctor. The standard for a true claim was basically whether the statement had been accurately paraphrased from an approved source, typically a peer-reviewed study. Usually, the drug company would tell us which papers to use. More often than not these were write-ups of research sponsored by the company. 

It was obvious to me at the time that this was no way to go about educating the nation's doctors. It wasn't that the information was false, it was just profoundly biased in favor of whoever was selling the drug. The drugs with the most money got the most exposure. Doctors could learn about the latest blockbuster for free, but they'd have to pay out of pocket to learn about a less heavily marketed alternative. So, doctors being much busier versions of normal people, were more likely to learn about whatever the industry literally put in front of them.

The overriding goal was to familiarize doctors with the key sales points for that drug. The specific claims were backed up by research, but at the end of the day doctors were getting a heavily-footnoted sales pitch. The primary object of the exercise was to hype a product, not to disseminate scientific truth.

At a time when the future of health reform depends on cost control, it might not be such a good idea to let pitchmen educate doctors.

More transparency in the CME industry can only be a good thing. The public might not like what it sees.