Saturday, October 01, 2005


Advertising Slogan of the Day

It descends from the heavens. Ironically it unleashes hell.
—sponsored by Boeing and Bell Helicopter to promote the V-22 Osprey tiltrotor aircraft which, according to Bill Rigby of Reuters, was pictured as it descended over a mosque

Related post
The descent of the Holy Ghost—the lucrative Crusade (8/29/04)

Friday, September 30, 2005


Quote of the Day

The choice we have is not between reasonable proposals and an unreasonable Utopianism. Utopian thinking does not undermine or discount real reforms. Indeed it is almost the opposite: practical reforms depend on Utopian dreaming - or at least Utopian thinking drives incremental improvements. —Russell Jacoby, American social critic, as quoted by Polly Toynbee in "This strangulation of dreams is creating a phantom party"

Samizdat and other matters

Alex Beam writes one of those "journalist-insider" pieces— "The Greatest Stories Never Told" —for the November issue of Atlantic Monthly. If you're truly a journalist-insider— preferably Jewish— or would just like to know how they behave around each other, read it. Otherwise you will certainly wonder what the fuss is about, since journalist-insiders tend to snigger amongst themselves in much the same way as intellectuals and literati.

But Beam reintroduces a word that used to be a favorite among intellectuals in the days of the Cold War: samizdat. Meaning "self-published," it referred to the works of the Soviet intelligentsia who were forced to pass around typed manuscripts, either because the official organs of the Soviet media wouldn't publish them or because it would be dangerous even to offer them.

I thought Beam was going to make some astute comparisons between samizdat and the blogosphere, but only at the end did he come up with this—

Samizdat is no longer a matter of punching typewriter keys through recalcitrant carbons and hoping the neighbors don't tip off the KGB. Now self-publishing is waking up in the morning, turning on your computer, and sharing your thoughts with the hypothetically limitless audience of the Internet. The San Francisco-based consulting firm Technorati recently estimated that the number of digitally published Web diaries, or blogs, almost doubled in the first half of this year, from 7.8 million to 14.2 million.

Forget writing for "the desk drawer." Forget mailing copies of your unpublishable work around to your friends. To paraphrase Yogi Berra ("Nobody goes there; it's too crowded"), so many people are doing it, it's hardly worth doing at all.

The idea of valuing writing for its rarity probably hasn't occurred to anyone since the invention of the printing press. Perhaps it's an idea that Beam should promote as venues for his own writing, such as the Atlantic, become increasingly rare.

But certainly I haven't written all this to criticize Beam's article. You know me better than that! Actually I wanted to share a parody of "folksy, anecdotal first paragraphs" (or ledes) that Beam offers—

DALLAS, Nov. 22—Elvira Brown's aging face seems almost to be a map of the parched, weatherbeaten Texas countryside that has been her home for 83 years. Through the eyes that squint in the harsh sunlight, she has seen Dallas grow from a tiny cowtown into a midland capital. The street outside of her tiny house used to be nothing more than a dust trail in summer and a mudhole in winter.

Years ago, she would sit on this porch and watch cattle drives pass. Today, a procession of quite a different sort passed along the now-paved course. It was a motorcade. It flew by at top speed on its way to Parkland Memorial Hospital. Top speed, because, it seems, the President of the United States was inside. And he was dead.


Google's blog search engine sucks (but it's still in beta)

I don't really understand the great importance of a blog search engine at all other than to compete with Technorati, which seems to be doing a tolerable job of doing what it's doing if it would upgrade its servers.

But if Google plans to have one, they have a long way to go between the beta version and the official launch. With the new search engine you see at the top of the page, I can no longer search my own blog and find material I know I've written. This is a problem I didn't have with their general search engine.

So if you're trying to find something you think you remember reading here, your best bet is to search for it using a standard Google search, putting Simply Appalling in quotes and then the material you're looking for. At least that's what I do.


Rather wants another go at Bush; CBS says no

Remember "Rathergate," also known as "Memogate"? The charge that anchorman Dan Rather of CBS had used forged documents to support the claim that Bush had failed to meet his National Guard obligations? As the claim was aired on 60 Minutes, the Right was ready to pounce. Within hours questions were raised on the web as to the documents' authenticity. When it came out that CBS had less-than-sterling authentication of the documents, the story was effectively discredited, even though it was based on a number of sources other than the documents.

September 8 was the first anniversary of Rathergate, and Dan Rather was interviewed recently on C-SPAN, which is where retired anchormen go to tell their tales. Don Kaplan of the NY Post reports that Rather still wants to investigate Bush's National Guard duty but CBS won't let him—

"CBS News doesn't want me to do that story" .....

"They wouldn't let me do that story," he said during the shockingly frank interview with former NBC newsman Marvin Kalb.

Rather continues to insist that the story was correct and suggested in the interview that he and the network may have been set up by some outsider.

"There are some strange, and to me, still mysterious things," he said. "Certainly unexplained things that happened about how it got attacked and why, even before the program was over," Rather said.

Memo to Dan Rather: You've made all the money you need to make at CBS and you've been demoted. Time to leave the network. "They won't let me" is a pathetic excuse from a man of your age and supposed venerability.

Related post
Dan Rather vs. Carl Cameron (updated) (corrected) (10/2/04)

Thursday, September 29, 2005


Factlet of the day

DeLay is the highest-ranking member of Congress ever to be indicted. —Don Ritchie, Senate historian, as reported by David Espo of AP

Cultural Observation of the Day

What Swedish companies like ... my electricity company ... understand is that in Sweden, service means not how quickly customers are served but how well-informed they are about the time they will have to wait.
—Expatriate in "Stockholm Syndrome: The Waiting Game"

Wednesday, September 28, 2005


Cherie Blair: Nancy Reagan Redux

In the final year of Reagan's presidency, a memoir by his chief of staff Don Regan confirmed what so many of us had suspected—that whatever was running the White House wasn't human. It turned out to be the Zodiac.

Scandal ensued, and this one was dubbed "Astrologate." The cover of Time for May 18, 1988 gives something of the flavor of it. An editor for Enigma, D. Trull, offers an interesting and fair account—

Towards the end of Ronald Reagan's second term, sordid unpleasantries were finally starting to stick to the Teflon President. In May 1988, the crushing liabilities of Iran-Contra, the bloated national debt and Reagan's faltering mental acuity were joined by a new revelation: that for the previous seven years of his administration, the president's every important action had been orchestrated by Nancy Reagan's astrologer, Joan Quigley.

Trull quotes from Regan's memoirs—

"Although I had never met this seer -- Mrs. Reagan passed along her prognostications to me after conferring with her on the telephone -- she had become such a factor in my work, and in the highest affairs of the nation, that at one point I kept a color-coded calendar on my desk (numerals highlighted in green ink for "good" days, red for "bad" days, yellow for "iffy" days) as an aid to remembering when it was propitious to move the president of the United States from one place to another, or schedule him to speak in public, or commence negotiations with a foreign power."

Don Regan was forced from the White House for his involvement in the Iran-Contra affair, so his revelations were considered to be somewhat vengeful.

In the case of the Blairs of Britain there appear to be a number of aides with tales to tell. Journalist Paul Scott says he's compiled them into a new account of the less-than-royal couple—Tony And Cherie, A Special Relationship. Though I haven't acquired a copy (and doubt I ever will), Cahal Milmo of the Independent gives a good rundown of some of the juicier parts—

Even by the standards of the alternative therapies said to be used by Cherie Blair, seeking enlightenment by submitting her husband's toenail clippings to a health guru's pendulum takes New Age obsession to a higher level.

Cherie Blair, a senior human rights lawyer, has been the subject of a succession of claims about her fondness for weird and wonderful treatments, ranging from a Mayan rebirthing ceremony to eating strawberry leaves to cure swollen ankles, since she entered Downing Street in 1997.
Downing Street felt moved to issue a forthright denial, describing the contents of Tony And Cherie, A Special Relationship as "gossip and fantasy".

The book, written by journalist Paul Scott, uses alleged conversations with members of the couple's entourage to paint a picture of Cherie Blair as ambitious and intelligent but in the thrall of a series of eyebrow-raising practices.

She supposedly uses "white witchcraft" to cast a circle around her and create a "sacred space" while her husband carries a grey velvet pouch around with him wherever he goes, containing a fraying piece of red ribbon and rolled up paper.1

One technique said to be used by Cherie Blair was to take a number of small jars containing hair and nail clippings belonging to herself and her husband to Jack Temple, a gardener turned health guru. Temple, who died in 2004, is claimed to have "dowsed" the jars by waving a pendulum over them to detect "poisons and blockages" that could affect the couple.

Quoting a number of unnamed "Blair court insiders", the book ... said: "Temple told Cherie that his pendulum could tell her when it was a good time or bad time to make major decisions."2

Scott, who spent five years researching the book, claims that Cherie Blair would fax sheets ... to Temple listing decisions she needed to make, which he would list in order of importance according to the "vibe" he received from the prime ministerial nail clippings.

Problems with Princess Anne — Why was this not foreseen?

Scott claims that Cherie Blair has also been locked in a feud with Princess Anne since they first met in the wake of Labour's landslide election victory in 1997. Cherie Blair is alleged to have said "Do call me Cherie", to which the Princess is said to have replied, "Actually, let's not go that way; let's stick to Mrs Blair".

On another occasion, the Princess is claimed to have turned her back on Cherie Blair, prompting her to remark: "That bitch completely blanked me."

I'm always thrilled to learn how government really works.


1That would be the codpiece Bush wore that glorious day he accomplished his mission on the flightdeck of the USS Abraham Lincoln. [back]

2I have doused any number of objects while waving my pendulum over them. Little did I know I could use it to make decisions; I just knew I felt better. [back]


Now free from dilution

In the Washington Post's coverage of the antiwar protest, they noted the presence of a Buddhist delegation—
The Buddhist Peace Delegation took up most of 14th Street NW with its golden banner that read: "May all beings be safe and free from anger, fear, greed, dilution and all ill being."

It appears that the Post diluted the Buddhist message and has now run a correction—

A Sept. 25 article incorrectly reflected the message on a Buddhist Peace Delegation banner in Saturday's antiwar march. The sign read, "May all beings be safe and free from anger, fear, greed, delusion and all ill being."

Quip of the Day

We must stop giving the appearance that our foreign policy is formulated by the Unabomber.
—Tom Delay, March 1999 during the bombing of Yugoslavia, as quoted by John Nichols

Pro-war rally in DC attracts idled sex-worker

Despite the bad image this one projects, most prostitutes are really peace-loving people. Make Love Not War, Jeff.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005


Giant squid caught on film

I was afraid a live one would not be seen in my lifetime. What a relief!

Kevin Roberts Quote III

Only emotion excites people to action. If you’re trying to be persuasive what are you going to do? Give your consumer a list? Or give them a dream?

Martin Luther King did not say: “I have a mission statement”.

—Kevin Roberts, CEO of Saatchi & Saatchi, in [pdf] "Loyal Beyond Reason," a presentation to various U.S. Defense Intelligence Agencies

Previous posts
A series of quotes (9/24/05)
Kevin Roberts Quote II (9/26/05)


Saturday's protest: a review

James Wolcott, formerly a TV, book and pop culture reviewer for the Village Voice and now a contributing editor of Vanity Fair, felt compelled Sunday to voice his feelings about the previous day's antiwar demonstration in Washington, based, I suppose, on his background as a TV and culture critic.

In order, however, to get in touch with those feelings Wolcott first leads us along a meandering path in which we ponder the current clash of the Shiites before taking a pause to consider the import of Fourth-Generation war. And before you can say "anarchy" he brings us abruptly to nothing less than "a crisis of legitimacy of the state" as described by William Lind, military analyst and director of the Center for Cultural Conservatism—

That is just what Fourth Generation opponents strive for, a systemic breakdown in their state adversary. The danger sign in America is not a hot national debate over the war in Iraq and its course, but precisely the absence of such a debate – which, as former Senator Gary Hart has pointed out, is largely due to a lack of courage on the part of the Democrats....

The primum mobile of Fourth Generation war is a crisis of legitimacy of the state. If the absence of a loyal opposition and alternative courses of action further delegitimizes the American state in the eye of the public, the forces of the Fourth Generation will have won a victory of far greater proportions than anything that could happen on the ground in Iraq. The Soviet Union's defeat in Afghanistan played a central role in the collapse of the Soviet state. Could the American defeat in Iraq have similar consequences here? The chance is far greater than Washington elites can imagine.

It is only at this auspicious moment that Wolcott is able to relate what was really on his mind—the previous day's antiwar demonstration.

The absence of debate is undeniably a sign of shame and cowardice, yet I can't blame high-profile Democrats from absenting themselves from yesterday's antiwar demo and march in DC. Steve Gilliard confessed that he watched about an hour of the rally and was so p.o.'d that he wanted to do an Elvis to his TV screen. I'm a less patient hothead than Steve. I only lasted about ten minutes watching the rally on C-SPAN....

Wolcott then writes a TV review as though C-SPAN were a commercial network and the antiwar march was a new offering in its fall lineup. I'll quote the bulk of it—

Here are the problems with mass rallies and marches on TV.

1) They all look alike. They're interchangeable pedestrian jams. If you didn't know what year it was, you wouldn't have known whether this demo was taking place in 2003 or 2004 or spring of 2005, because apart from Cindy Sheehan and a few others, it was the same cast of characters you always get at these protest smorgasbords, which remind me of WBAI at its most doctrinaire PC, where every faction and caucus has to be represented and heard no matter how boring or splintery or tangential to the event they are. What you get is an event that seems to have been exhumed from a time capsule buried in some aging ponytailed radical's back yard....

The right never makes that mistake. They enforce a message discipline.

2) The scale is all wrong for TV.

To be heard before thousands of gatherers, speakers feel they have to shout into the mike and every every phrase sound STENTORIAN. But for the larger audience at home, it's like being harangued, and who wants to be harangued, especially by speakers pounding you with played-out slogans? And no matter how large the crowd, on TV it looks like congested clutter, a sea of tiny, ugly billboards. It really doesn't help that so many of the signs are homemade and hackneyed. As the camera panned over the crowd yesterday, I saw placards featuring Mumia and Malcolm X, and I thought, What have they got to do with what's happening now in Iraq? The placards looked as dated as punk Mohawks in the East Village, and watching protesters wave them around as if they were in the studio audience trying to get Monty Hall's attention on Let's Make a Deal didn't help.

With her vigil near the Crawford ranch, Cindy Sheehan carved out an original protest space. The magnitude of yesterday's protest miniaturized her. It was as if she was swallowed up inside a whale aslosh with flotsam. I don't know what the answer is to the lack of adversarial energy against this accursed war, but what I do know is that yesterday's flea circus wasn't it.

It would seem, as the saying goes, that with friends like Wolcott the antiwar movement hardly needs enemies. It isn't that I don't agree, in the abstract, with much that he says; it is that much that he says is simply irrelevant.

So far as media coverage is concerned, the purpose of a march is not to get beginning-to-end coverage on C-SPAN, which is only provided so that your family and friends may have a chance to see you on national television. The American public is not watching demonstrations on C-SPAN; the public will get wind of the march through a brief segment on the nightly news or perhaps an article in the local paper.

The first objective must be to field as many bodies as possible as visibly as possible, in part to counter the media bias for the pro-war forces. Visibility is achieved through (1) advance promotion, (2) turnout, (3) fame of the speakers and performers and (4) locale. In that regard Saturday's march did an excellent job of meeting 3 of the 4 requirements. Big-name Democratic politicians of course would have guaranteed more coverage—and a great deal of grief for themselves. If any had attended, the purpose of the march would have been lost in the howls that would have followed on the talk shows.

At least since the time of the Vietnam antiwar demonstrations, coverage of pro-war demonstrations is always greatly disproportionate to the turnout. The media go for "balance." The Washington Post, for instance, allowed that there were as many as 150,000 attending the antiwar event, but they estimated only 400 at Sunday's pro-war rally. That is a ratio of 375 to 1. The ratio of the lengths of the WaPo coverage of the two events was less than 1.5 to 1, and since a part of the antiwar story was concerned with the counter-demonstrators, it really was pretty much 50-50.

Wolcott is quite ready to criticize those who attended—for their diversity, appearance, slogans and the less-than-professional appearance of their placards. But since he's a media critic he should be the first to recognize that if 100,000 people had shown up in business attire but one person had shown up wearing face paint, it would be the person with the face paint who would be shown on the news that night.

But if we are to take Wolcott's criticism seriously (which we shouldn't), we must ask if the purpose of a demonstration is for the TV coverage. To some extent of course it is. It reinforces the message to the folks back home that there is a large and growing contingent of the public opposed to the war. But the politicians in Washington are the true audience, and you may be sure that to some degree the march mattered—not the signs, slogans, speakers but the fact of the event itself.

Along with the attempt to frighten the politicians, the other purpose of a protest is to "rally the troops"—to reassure like-minded people that they are not alone. Toward that goal the march seemed a success.

Of course the nominal purpose of the protest is to stop the war. But that is a goal that I doubt will be achieved by protest. In fact, it's an outcome likely to be achieved only by the Iraqi resistance.

Wolcott quotes from Robert Dreyfuss' "Badr vs. Sadr" in which Dreyfuss sees the internal conflict between Shiite forces as a possible catastrophic end to the U.S. position—

The battle, which might flare into a Shiite-Shiite civil war in advance of the October 15 referendum on Iraq’s divisive, rigged constitution, could put the final nail in the coffin of the Bush administration’s Iraq policy.

Whether that turns out to be the case or not, I feel that Dreyfuss has correctly put his finger on what is likely to be the U.S.'s final exit strategy—

... not the one in which U.S. forces declare victory and withdraw in orderly fashion, but the one in which we get our butts kicked out of Iraq forthwith.

Wolcott has military historian Martin van Creveld articulate a somewhat similar idea—

.... To kill an opponent who is much weaker than yourself is unnecessary and therefore cruel; to let that opponent kill you is unnecessary and therefore foolish. As Vietnam and countless other cases prove, no armed force however rich, however powerful, however, advanced, and however well motivated is immune to this dilemma. The end result is always disintegration and defeat; if U.S troops in Iraq have not yet started fragging their officers, the suicide rate among them is already exceptionally high. That is why the present adventure will almost certainly end as the previous one did. Namely, with the last US troops fleeing the country while hanging on to their helicopters’ skids."

Related post
Where's the antiwar movement? (7/6/05)
No. Not some troops; all troops (9/25/05)


Question of the Day

What if instead [of] locating the CPA in Saddam’s old palace in Baghdad and putting Iraqi prisoners in his notorious Abu Ghraib prison, we had located the CPA in Abu Ghraib and put the prisoners in Saddam’s palace? —William S. Lind in "Psyops In Fourth Generation War"

Monday, September 26, 2005


When life hands you corpses ...

What do you do if you have an abundance of corpses but a shortage of cheesecake? Why, you trade them if you can. That's not a barter arrangement that many people would be willing to make, but Chris Wilson of is the exception. In return for photos of bodies from Iraq and Afghanistan, Wilson offers the serviceman or -woman free access to the pornography section of his website.

Now we're not talking here about bodies in coffins with lilies strewn about; we're talking about some of the most sickening sights you hope you'll never see. The soldiers sending the photos contribute their own captions, many of which make the genocidal nature of the war quite clear. As for the porn, it is freely contributed and consists of pictures of wives and girlfriends, some of whom apparently do not know they're gladdening the lives of the soldiers.

While an article in The Nation was picked up by Yahoo! News, don't expect to read about this in the NY Times. The Pentagon attempted to block the site in February, but the American soldier is proving to be more resourceful, which should surprise no one.

According to Chris Thompson of East Bay Express (via What Really Happened) , the website was first noticed in the media by the NY Post in October of last year because of the nudie pictures of women soldiers. Thompson writes,

Even after [the site owner] began posting photographs of corpses late last year, media inquiries focused exclusively on his nudie pics. It wasn't until reporters from the European press contacted him last week that anyone took notice of Wilson's snuff-for-porn arrangement with American troops.

"The soldiers thing, I think the Italians picked it up first," Wilson says. "I've done interviews with the Italians, the French, Amsterdam. ... They were very critical, saying the US wouldn't pick it up, because it's such a sore spot. ... It raises too many ethical questions. ... I started to laugh, because it's true."

.... in the days since the European press uncovered the gore-for-porn story, not a single US print newspaper other than the Express has touched it.

Representatives from Amnesty International and Human Rights First even refused to comment, although both organizations ostensibly exist to condemn just this kind of practice. Perhaps no one wants to give Chris Wilson more publicity, or daily editors are too sensitive about being viewed as unpatriotic. Or perhaps the story is just too ugly to contemplate.

Thompson's writing is excellent, but it is so graphic that if you would rather avoid the bodies, avoid his article. I share his conclusion—

Americans have thousands of media outlets to choose from. But they still have to visit a porn site to see what this war has done to the bodies of the dead and the souls of the living.

Related post
No. Not some troops; all troops (9/25/05)


Kevin Roberts Quote II

In a world that is supposedly ruled by cool rationality, metrics, and game theories, humans are actually powered by emotion, not by reason. —Kevin Roberts, CEO of Saatchi & Saatchi, in [pdf] "Loyal Beyond Reason," a presentation to various U.S. Defense Intelligence Agencies

Previous posts
A series of quotes (9/24/05)
Kevin Roberts Quote I (9/24/05)

Subsequent post
Kevin Roberts Quote III (9/27/05)

Sunday, September 25, 2005


No. Not some troops; all troops

Today Buzzflash has linked Juan Cole's "Why we Have to get the Troops Out of Iraq," which makes clear that Cole now favors the removal of all U.S. ground troops.

I was very surprised and disappointed last week when I read that Cole was favoring our continued presence in Iraq. Perhaps I missed this declaration somewhere in his latest post on troop withdrawal, which by the title seems so forceful, but I did not see it. What I saw was the belabored use of the phrase "ground troops." Only if you were a very careful reader or already knew his position would you realize that he is not in fact advocating complete withdrawal. I find this, well ... annoying, to say the least.

This is Cole's actual position—

... what I propose is giving the new Iraqi army close air support of a sort that would allow it to face down conventional military attacks by armed guerrillas marching on the Green Zone. There are now about 3000 Iraqi army troops that could and would fight in such a battle, and US air support would ensure decisive victories. The point of the US air forces and special ops is simply to support the Iraqi army; the special ops would have to be there to rescue any US crews that were shot down. The air bases could be in Kuwait in the south and in Kurdistan in the north. They would not be permanent.

Jeez! Have I fallen into a time warp? "We'll just give air support. Leave the fighting on the ground to the Vietnamese. After all, it's their war."

The problem with Cole and much of the Democratic Party is that they tacitly accept Colin Powell's supposed admonition to Bush, the so-called "Pottery Barn rule"—"you break it, you pay for it." Let's not get into whether Pottery Barn actually has such a rule. The point is that we here envision some store manager in the sky who will either see cash on the counter or take our case to the authorities. Oh please, sir! Anything but that!

What then follows is a bunch of cockamamie politicians going on the news to discuss "what the U.S. should do now." What the public hears is "what the U.S. should do now that we've broken it." This concern is subtly advanced as the "moral" position, and it is especially advanced by those who hadn't the slightest concern for "breaking" Iraq in the first place.1

The next step, of course, is to attempt to answer the question by proposing how the war can be fought cheaper, better or smarter. Ultimately then Cole and the Democrats become critics of the war, not because the U.S. attacked a sovereign nation, not because its government lied to its people, not because the U.S. has murdered up to 100,000 Iraqi citizens, but because it wasn't done well.

The presidential-hopefuls among the Democrats in Congress want more troops sent over. They are lying to the American people by suggesting that they have a plan to win the war. Richard Nixon had one too.

Juan Cole wants the ground troops out and the Air Force in. Ground troops will just be around for your "Blackhawk Down" type of situation. Of course the only thing more indiscriminately lethal than American ground troops is American air power. Good plan, Juan.

The U.S. has a moral obligation all right. It has an obligation to cease to kill and to cease to be the cause of killing of Iraqi citizens. Notice that there is no way to somehow "retract" the grief we have already caused. That is now an act of history.

What kind of loonies continue to kill to atone for the killings that they've already caused or committed?


1The justification for continuing the American presence because civil war may break out if we don't is only a guise of the "Pottery Barn rule."

Here's Cole's version—

The bottom line is that Iraq is fractured politically and militarily [because of us] and a precipitate and complete withdrawal of Coalition forces would allow the outbreak of full-blown civil war among armed factions, which in turn would certainly pull in neighbors like Iran and Saudia Arabia. This scenario is not certain, but it is highly likely and the Iraqis I have brought it up with say the same thing. It is a potentiality that must be guarded against, since its consequences would be horrific. Simple withdrawal is not prudent because it does not so guard.

Remember all the destructive potential Iraq had with the WMDs? Notice how the argument takes on the very outline of our excuse for invasion. Plus ça change; plus c'est la même chose. [back]


No Free Lunch gets a table

No Free Lunch describes itself as an organization of "health care providers ... who believe that pharmaceutical promotion should not guide clinical practice, and that over-zealous promotional practices can lead to bad patient care. It is our goal to encourage health care practitioners to provide high quality care based on unbiased evidence rather than on biased pharmaceutical promotion."
We aim to achieve our goal by informing health care providers ... about pharmaceutical industry efforts to promote their products and influence prescribing....

We believe that there is ample evidence ...—contrary to the beliefs of most heath care providers—that drug companies, by means of samples, gifts, and food, exert significant influence on provider behavior. There is also ample evidence ... that promotional materials and presentations are often biased and non-informative. We believe that health care professionals ... should not allow themselves to be bought by the pharmaceutical industry: It is time to Just say no to drug reps and their pens, pads, calendars, coffee mugs, and of course, lunch (not to mention dinners, basketball games, and ski vacations).

What a quaint idea! The last time I visited the doctor's office I had to wait for the pharma rep to finish setting up his lunch appointment before I could get a word in with the receptionist. On another occasion and a different doctor, the doctor flew into a rage when I suggested that he prescribe for me a generic alternative to the drug he was promoting. No. I'm not making this up, and needless to say I never saw that doctor again.

In 2002 Vermont passed a law forcing the drug companies to disclose gifts and payments to physicians. But the report goes to the attorney general and names no names. According to Stephen Cha in the Washington Post, the industry gave $3.1 million for 2200 Vermont doctors in 2004, which works out to be a little more than $1400 per year per doctor. If the industry's own estimate is right, the Vermonters are getting the short end of the stick. Based on the industry estimate of $5.7 billion a year on marketing directly to physicians, Cha calculates a figure of $6,000 to $7,000 per doctor.

Anyway, the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP) will be holding its annual Scientific Assembly this week and expects a crowd of doctors. Big pharma will be out in force.

Jim Edwards writes in Brand Week,

The AAFP's advertising prospectus promises a truly massive marketing event: 5,000 of the top-prescribing physicians in the country are expected to attend the San Francisco shindig.

A full page in the conference magazine costs $23,300; more if you want it in color. Doctor's gift bags will be given out each day—any company that wants to place a freebie in them must pay $7,500 “per piece per day.”

If a marketer wants to buy doctors breakfast every day and give them gifts as they eat, that opportunity is on sale for $81,500, according to the prospectus.

“And, of course, there's free lunch: $60,500 pays for the food vouchers that physician-attendees will use for lunch each day at the conference,” noted Dr. Bob Goodman, the director of No Free Lunch, in a statement.

No Free Lunch thought this would be an excellent venue for their educational mission and applied to be an exhibitor. But the AAFP thought it would be a bad idea. They described the information that No Free Lunch had to share as "their desire to eliminate information-sharing by exhibitors with our members" and said that it would negate "the purpose of the Exposition Hall," which was to rake in as much moolah and as many freebies as the market would bear.

No Free Lunch got the word out to its members and on Wednesday the organization was able to issue an announcement that the AAFP had reversed its position—

Many members were upset and even outraged that a society which they had supported for many years, and which gives industry almost unlimited access to physicians at its meetings, would not allow a small organization of health professionals to voice an opposing view. Allen Pelletier, for example, a family physician from Memphis, Tennessee, a long time AAFP member and newly elected fellow of the Academy, in an e-mail to AAFP CEO Dr. Douglas Henley, wrote “To my embarrassment, the organization that represents me as a practitioner and teacher of family medicine has shut down the possibility of open (and yes, critical) dialogue about how our practices are influenced by the pharmaceutical industry.”

Now the attending physicians may be able to pick up a pamphlet as they head off to their pharma-sponsored lunch. Are you still wondering why we pay more and get less when it comes to health care than any other industrialized nation?

Related posts
A ceiling as well as a floor (7/25/04)
Eliot Spitzer targets pharmaceutical industry, criticizes FDA (11/24/04)

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