Tuesday, January 30, 2007

What bothers me about the Washington Post . . .

. . . is how it often prints opinion columns from lobbyists or other self-interested parties without revealing that information.

One example I saw today is a piece discounting harm from second-hand smoke, written by one Gio Batta Gori. Here is how the Post described him:

Gio Batta Gori, an epidemiologist and toxicologists,(sic) (UPDATE -- this typo is now corrected -- BJF) is a fellow of the Health Policy Center in Bethesda. He is a former deputy director of the National Cancer Institute's Division of Cancer Cause and Prevention, and he received the U.S. Public Health Service Superior Service Award in 1976 for his efforts to define less hazardous cigarettes. Gori's article "The Surgeon General's Doctored Opinion" will appear in the spring issue of the Cato Institute's Regulation Magazine.

That sounds pretty good. Suspiciously good, to my eyes, because the article presented very little evidence. It read like a lobbyist's talking points. Well, that's what Gori became after he left the U.S. government. But the Washington Post didn't tell me that. I had to find it out myself.

My first stop was SourceWatch. Admittedly, this group has a liberal, anticorporate bias. But if Gori had any tobacco ties, this place would reveal them. Here is part of what SourceWatch said about him:

. . .In 1980 Gori became Vice President of the Franklin Institute Policy Analysis Center (FIPAC), a consulting firm funded initially by a $400,000 grant from the Brown & Williamson Tobacco Corporation (B&W). Following its initial formation, FIPAC continued to receive hundreds of thousands of dollars in funding annually from B&W. Gori worked on R&D projects for B&W, such as analysis of the sensory perception of smoke and how to reduce the amount of tobacco in cigarettes. By 1989, Gori was a full time consultant on environmental tobacco smoke issue for the Tobacco Institute in the Institute's ETS/IAQ (Indoor Air Quality) Consultants Project. In May 1993, Gori entered an exclusive consulting arrangement with B&W, reaping pay at the rate of $200/hour an day to $1,000/day for attending conferences.

Activities in which Gori engaged on behalf of the tobacco industry included attending conferences, writing and publishing books and papers, and lobbying.

But there's more. Even when he was with the government, Gori was known for being pro-tobacco. This excerpt is from a 1978 Time magazine article about the flap raised by Jimmy Carter's praise of tobacco:

The Tobacco Institute, lobby for the industry, declared, "We could not have written it [Carter's statement] better than that." And almost as if on cue, Gio Batta Gori, a high official of the Government-financed National Cancer Institute, announced a short-term study showing that some of the new cigarettes were so low in toxins that they could be smoked in "tolerable" numbers without appreciable bad effects on average smokers.

At the Department of Health, Education and Welfare, which runs the antismoking campaign, people muttered a few words of sympathy for a President caught up in politics and went about their job of urging the nation to give up cigarettes. But when the new report on "tolerable" cigarette smoking hit the front pages, both an alarmed Surgeon General and Gori's boss at NCI went public to repudiate Gori and make sure everyone understood that cigarette smoking was still not considered safe. The federal antismoking campaign thus rolled on, expecting an extra $10 million from Carter's new budget.

Gori also admitted being paid to write pro-tobacco letters, according to this article in the St. Paul Pioneer Press.

The agency began studying the issue in 1988. In the months leading up to the agency's final report, Tobacco Institute officials began planning ways to blunt what they anticipated would be the study's negative findings. They began an international search for scientists willing to criticize the report.

In one unsigned institute memo dated July 9, 1993, under the heading "Project: Recruitment of additional scientific consultants," the author expressed what the cigarette companies were looking for:

"Top priorities are a cardiologist and a numbers person (epidemiologist, biostatistician)," it read. "Ideal are people at or near retirement with no dependence on grant-dispensing bureaucracies."

Among the people they came up with was Dr. Gio Batta Gori, a former top official at the National Cancer Institute who now works as a consultant to the tobacco industry.

Between December 1992 and July 1993, Gori was paid $20,137 for two letters to the Wall Street Journal, one letter to the British medical publication The Lancet, one letter to the NCI Journal and one opinion piece to the Wall Street Journal, the records show.

The opinion piece was rejected by the editors of the Wall Street Journal, but that didn't stop Gori from billing the law firm of Covington and Burling $4,137.50 for it.

Gori, now a private consultant for tobacco in Bethesda, Md., said he didn't particularly remember the letters. "This is six years ago. Who the hell remembers those things?" he said.

He said there was nothing wrong with getting paid to write the letters. That's his job, he said.

"Are you getting paid for what you're writing?" he asked. "We're all out there working."

Of course, anybody with ethics would know what's wrong here: Gori is being paid for his propaganda, while pretending to be a neutral expert. He was hired to give a false facade of scientific integrity to a PR campaign. Being a tobacco industry rent-a-scientist is nothing to be proud of.

I found all this in a few minutes of Googling. Apparently, the editors of the Post don't know how to Google, or don't care that they're publishing an article by a tobacco lobbyist without identifying him as such.


Sunday, January 28, 2007

Thank-yous -- Blake Ross and Google

First, to Firefox Project co-founder Blake Ross. I won a copy of his "Firefox for Dummies" book. I asked it to be sent to my friend Andrew Kleske, the Webmaster at the North County Times. It arrived about two weeks ago, with a nice dedication from Blake himself. One small step toward making the Web more Firefox-friendly. At some point, I'm going to write about how much better Firefox has made my Web experience.

Second, thanks to Google, which has removed the objectionable self-promoting link I mentioned a while ago. We all make mistakes, but correcting them is much rarer.

I might add that so far, my conversion (forced actually), to the new Blogger has gone smoothly. I could not log onto the old Blogger, Google apparently having decided it was my turn. I resisted for as long as I could, knowing that there are often bugs in anything new. And the old Blogger was doing pretty much what I needed it to.

So far, so good.


Cat-happiness for Kevin Drum!

Just a couple weeks after his beloved cat Jasmine suddenly died, Kevin Drum at Washington Monthly has brought back Friday Cat Blogging. The new feline in the drum household, Domino, is asserting her authority over Inkspot, who has gradually grown used to being Kitty No.2.

Best wishes from a fellow ailurophile!


Thursday, January 25, 2007

Webifying the LA Times

Blogger Patterico has some wise advice for the Los Angeles Times about how to improve its Web presence. The Times announced yesterday it will make the Web the primary means of delivering news.

Better late than never, I suppose.

A full 10 years ago, I asked the editors of the mazagine I then worked for, Computer Retail Week, whether we should be writing for the Web first. I never got a definitive answer, as they were struggling with that question themselves. But that was understandable a decade ago. It's a wonder the LAT held out this long before making a Web-first commitment.

Patterico urges the Times to go far beyond just getting stories on the Web quickly. He wants to see the Times make much broader use of Web technology, by posting relevant documents mentioned in a story and ---- painful as this may be ---- open up all the stories to comments and trackbacks.

He writes:

I know, I know. You’re worried about opening the floodgates. What about spam? What about idiots, nincompoops, trolls, racist commenters, and the like?

Welcome to the Internet.

You’ll have to devote some people to controlling that stuff. The L.A. Times web site is a big operation, with something like 40 times the number of unique visitors per month as my site, and something like 300 times the number of page views I get. If you open all of that up to comments and trackbacks, you’re looking at a lotta spam. I understand.

But if you want interactivity, that’s the price you pay.

Precisely. If the Times is serious about interactivity, it requires people to manage it. Idiot savant Michael Kinsley botched the experiment when he was running the editorial pages. He didn't put enough resources into monitoring Web comments, which were posted without moderation. And then he got in a snit because antisocial types began posting goatses. That's something any experienced Web hand could have told him would happen. Sadly, that debacle confirmed the misgivings of anti-Internet fossils at the Times.

If the Times is really clueful, it will also heed Patterico's plea to make the site fully compatible with his and other mobile devices:

Oh yeah . . . by the way, guys: can you finally fix the site so I can read all the articles on my Treo? I mean, there’s no reason for you to care about me– but I guarantee you that I’m not the only person with this issue.

Given all the corporate turmoil the Times is going through -- including the menacing prospect of being acquired by Rupert Murdoch -- I wonder if the Times' executives can keep their focus on this project.

I wish the LAT all successs in its Internet project.


Tuesday, January 23, 2007

New Improved Cathy Seipp roast videos!

Well, I finally figured out how to rip the DVD made of the Cathy Seipp roast/tribute on Sept. 10 at the Figueroa Hotel in downtown Los Angeles. These are all on YouTube, and require Flash to see and hear.

UPDATE: Here is the entire DVD:

Part 1:

Part 2:

Part 3:

Part 4:

Part 5:

Part 6:

Part 7:

Part 8:

Part 9:

Part 10:

Part 11: Sandra Tsing Loh pays tribute to a true "sister".

Part 12: Cathy, speaking last, thanks all of those who cared enough to show up on a Sunday afternoon to eat, drink and pay tribute to her.

The End. Just after Cathy's response, the formal program ended. Various friends and admirers of Cathy are interviewed.

And here are other snippets from the roast/tribute, cut a bit differently to show some highlights.

Cathy's sane, moderate blog commenters. Video is of Cathy reacting:


http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m...h? v=mlrxG_4boVk
Intro video to Cathy's roast/tribute

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G...h? v=GrfHPXmJtPw
Cathy's lovers and hatas

Nikki Finke sock puppets bash Cathy

A certain carrot-topped, rudeness-punishing godless harlot of an advice columnist cooks Cathy to perfection.

Cathy roasted to a crisp by the Notorious L.Y.T.


Sunday, January 21, 2007

Animal rights deceivers and hidden agendas

The militant animal rights group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, or PETA, has done a great job of getting its agenda into the press through its front group, Physicians Committee For Responsible Medicine. Under the guise of improving medical care, PCRM has been pushing the PETA party line -- don't eat foods derived from animals, don't conduct medical research on animals. I take a look at this in my latest science and technology column.

I am all in favor of minimizing pain to animals, and restricting animal testing to what is needed to advance medicine. Cruelty to animals is sick. But it's not cruel to use animals to test drugs or medical procedures for safety and efficacy before trying them in humans.

Holocaust Abusers
PETA president Ingrid Newkirk and PCRM president Neal D. Barnard give favorable quotes on a Web site promoting a book by Charles Patterson, "Eternal Treblinka", comparing our use of animals to the Nazi Holocaust.

Here is the Web site's description of Chapter One:

"The focus of the chapter is the enslavement ("domestication") of animals and how it became the model and inspiration for all the oppressions that followed.
"The first part of the chapter describes the relatively recent emergence of homo sapiens as the dominant species on the planet and how the "Great Leap Forward" led to the "domestication" of sheep, goats, pigs, cattle, and horses and their exploitation for milk, flesh, hides, and labor. The section looks at the methods used by present-day herders to manage and exploit their flocks.
"The chapter then looks at how the enslavement of animals inspired and led to human slavery in the ancient Near East and later in the Americas."

And here is the Web site's description of Chapter 5, where the killing of animals and the Nazi Holocaust are explicitly likened:

"The chapter describes features which American and German killing centers have in common, whether they be a slaughterhouse or death camp. Similar features include: making the operation as speedy and efficient as possible; streamlining the final part of the operation (chute/funnel/tube) which takes the victims to their deaths; processing the old, sick, and injured; and coping with the problem of killing young victims. The chapter also discusses the role of animals in the German camps (Auschwitz had its own slaughterhouse and butcher shop; Treblinka had a "zoo") and Hitler's relationship to animals.

"The final part of the chapter looks at Nazi letters and diary entries which reveal that eating meat and hunting animals were the chief rewards granted to German death camp personnel. The letters of SS-Obersturmfuhrer Karl Kretschmer, leader of a Sonderkommando killing squad, to his wife show that eating well was the most satisfactory part of his job. Entries from the diary of Dr. Johannes Paul Kremer, an SS doctor at Auschwitz, praise the meals at the SS officers' mess and the wealth of human body parts available for his medical experiments. The chapter closes with a discussion of "humane slaughter"--the need of the killers to find ever more efficient and less stressful ways to conduct their operations."

Here are Barnard and Newkirk's reactions:

"I look forward to the publication of Charles Patterson's book. Putting the issue of animal abuse in historical perspective should clarify the issue for many people and help raise their consciousness. Please send me an advance copy so I can inform our 100,000 members about its publication."
--Dr. Neal D. Barnard, PCRM

"I am so glad you are writing the book. It is so powerful. I write books calculated to allow people to see how easy and enjoyable it is to help animals, but they are little books. Your book is big. I hope to god it stirs everything up. Your book takes me to the edge. I think it is important and wonderful. You can tell publishers we will carry it. "
--Ingrid Newkirk, President, PETA

If you ever run into Barnard, ask him if he thinks it's valid to compare our use of animals to the Holocaust. His answer should be interesting.

* * *
Mind the bias
Those supporting animal research and opposing the PETA agenda do need to be careful about who they cite as sources. Some of these sources also have their own agendas. One of these sources is Activist Cash, a Web site created by the Center for Consumer Freedom, a lobbying group for the food, restaurant and tobacco industries. In the time-hallowed nature of cynically named lobbying groups, consumer freedom has nothing to do with their agenda. Learn more about this agenda on SourceWatch, a project of the Center for Media and Democracy.

That's not to say the Center for Consumer Freedom's information is always wrong, but you have to read it with their agenda in mind. Don't take what they say at face value -- check it out from other sources that don't have such a big ax to grind. And along those lines, SourceWatch has its own agenda, which can be loosely identified as "liberal." It is, however, fairly careful to document its findings.

In the interest of fairness, here's how Activist Cash describes the Center for Media and Democracy:

"The Center for Media & Democracy (CMD) is a counterculture public relations effort disguised as an independent media organization. CMD isn’t really a center it would be more accurate to call it a partnership, since it is essentially a two-person operation.

"Sheldon Rampton and John Stauber operate, as do most self-anointed progressive watchdogs, from the presumption that any communication issued from a corporate headquarters must be viewed with a jaundiced eye. In their own quarterly PR Watch newsletter, they recently referred to corporate PR as a propaganda industry, misleading citizens and manipulating minds in the service of special interests. Ironically, Rampton and Stauber have elected to dip into the deep pockets of multi-million-dollar foundations with special interest agendas of their own. . ."

Where do I stand? I agree with the CMD that corporate public relations can be quite insidious, quite often using lies and deceptions to gain their goals. And I agree with the Center for Consumer Freedom that political extremists opposed to the free-market system are quite capable of using lies and deceptions to gain their goals. No one has a monopoly on truth. Except, of course, the humble scribes in the working press, who are never biased and always accurate.

(For the humor-challenged, that last statement was a rather cynical joke. PETA and PCRM depend on bamboozling ignorant reporters to perpetrate their deceptions.)


Thursday, January 18, 2007

Border Patrol agents -- tempest in a teapot, says Patterico

We denizens of Cathy's World have been discussing the famous/infamous prosecution of two Border Patrol agents in Texas sentence to prison for unlawfully shooting at, and wounding, an alleged drug smuggler. This case became a cause celebre in some conservative circles, where the agents were portrayed as victims of political correctness.

Now blogger Patterico, who is also a prosecutor, has weighed in. Patterico has just posted his look at the case, and concludes it was properly handled, if a fact sheet from the U.S. attorney for the district is accurate. He finds a Debra J. Saunders column about the case that I sent him to be rather one-sided in favor of the agents.

Saunders does mention another fact that goes against the agents — their curious decision to pick up the casings from the shooting, and pretend like it had never happened: “The agents picked up their shells and failed to report the shooting.” But she treats that as a mere administrative issue, deserving of a reprimand: “For that violation of agency policy, Ramos and Compean deserved an administrative review and some sort of job-related punishment.” She never seems to ask why they did it — and to consider the possibility that their actions show that they knew they had done something wrong, and perhaps criminal.

Patterico also quotes from the U.S. Attorney's fact sheet:

In America, law enforcement officers do not get to shoot unarmed suspects who are running away, lie about it to their supervisors and file official reports that are false. That is a crime and prosecutors cannot look the other way.

Unless someone proves the statements made by the U.S. attorney are in error, I'd say that sums it up.


Sunday, January 14, 2007

Amy Alkon -- Snubbed by the WSJ!

Amy, aka Advice Goddess, recently wrote about an obnoxious cell-phone blabber. The blabber, Eva Burgess, was so inconsiderate to those around her that she freely dispensed all sorts of personal information no one cared to hear, instead of taking her call outdoors.

Alkon wrote:

Hey, Eva, I know it’s kinda cold in NYC, where you’re apparently from (according to the area code you helpfully dispensed), but here in sunny southern California, at the moment you were talking, it was 58 degrees. Next time, you might take your business outside –- as exciting as I found it, on a morning I would normally have relaxed to the classical music while eating my breakfast and thinking my own thoughts, to instead be a part of your eyecare needs.

The Wall Street Journal picked up on this story in a warped fashion. While Amy decried the bad manners of the blabber, the WSJ article "The Snoop Next Door", made it seem as if the rude, intrusive persons were somehow being spied upon. Worse, Amy talked at length with the reporter, but didn't even get her blog mentioned.

Although the reporter, Jennifer Saranow, spent hours talking to me by phone and e-mail about my various "blogslappings" of the undercivilized, I ended up as mere background (grrr!). I told her she might warn people of that when she interviews them in the future. She thought that was good advice. Yeah, I'm all about good advice.

Bloggers and others who'd like a mention in an article should keep this in mind if Saranow calls and asks you to do the heavy lifting.


Monday, January 08, 2007

MSM scores a point . . .

. . . against Pajamas Media. The blog conglomerate ran a huge story claiming that Iran's chief ruler, Ayatollah Ali Khameini, was dead. Alas for Pajamas, Khameini was seen in public on Monday. The mainstream media didn't report this scoop because . . . it wasn't.

Pajamas Media, here's a handkerchief to clean up the egg on your face.


Sunday, January 07, 2007

LA Times corrects polonium story

Nearly a week after the LA Times ran a story on polonium that contained a couple of big errors, the Southland's paper of record has issued a correction. This update courtesy of Patterico.


Thursday, January 04, 2007

R.I. P., Jasmine

Jasmine was the beloved feline of political blogger Kevin Drum. She died earlier today. Kevin wrote an eloquent farewell.

"If there's a cat heaven, I hope Jasmine is there, eternally chasing fat, lazy mice and snacking on spicy tuna. Rest in Peace, sweetie."

As a cat lover myself, I know the feeling. My sympathies, Kevin.


Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Fact-checking in the New Year

A belated Happy New Year!

One of my blog-mates over at Cathy Seipp pointed out an erroneous article on polonium-210 in the Jan. 1 LA Times. Polonium-210 is the isotope of polonium used to assassinate Alexander Litvinenko.

The most glaring error I've found so far:

Of polonium's 25 isotopes, polonium-210 is the most stable. After 138 days, half of it decays into a nonradioactive isotope of lead.

Polonium-209 has a half-life of about 102 years. Last time I checked, 102 years was longer than 138 days.

How did this pass through the LA Times' legendary four levels of editors?

UPDATE: doug over at Cathy Seipp's blog has submitted his critique of the errors.


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