Thursday, January 29, 2009

Vatican Stands by Bishop in Holocaust Denial

As a blogger trying to write something new every day or two, I just need to say how thankful I am for the Vatican. If I’m at a loss for words, I simply Google “Vatican” and a door miraculously opens to show me the way. Sometimes it’s a Papal utterance of some kind that condemns birth control and unplanned teen pregnancy at one and the same time. Or maybe it’s a scathing denouncement of homosexuality, timed to coincide with a secular report documenting a level of homosexual orientation in the Catholic priesthood much higher than in any other observable male population. Even when the Church talks about money, it’s usually in the context of sex, as when American Archdioceses are forced to close parishes because they’ve been bankrupted by payouts to victims of priestly pedophilia. Catholicism has just never been able to get its arms around the issue of human sex, and the Church looks dysfunctional whenever the subject comes up.

Sex isn’t the only topic perplexing to the Vatican, however. There’s also the Holocaust and the broader issue of German Nazism. Pius XII, a gaunt Germanophile of dubious piousness, has been dubbed by several WWII historians as, “Hitler’s Pope.” There’s disagreement about whether his relationship with Der Fuhrer was one of appeasement or collaboration, but there’s no denying that Pius XII knew about trains to the death camps and said nothing to diminish or impede the slaughter of European Jews. The modern Vatican now seeks to reward this by making Pius XII into a saint. Go figure.

Then there’s Joseph Ratzinger. This man is the reason for my blog, today, since he’s currently making news around the world. He started WWII as a Hitler Youth, and by war’s end he was shooting anti-aircraft at Allied bombers. In 2005, he changed his name to Pope Benedict XVI, but I just call him, “PappaRatzi.” This former Nazi is now standing by one of his underlings, Bishop Richard Williamson, as Williamson makes headline news asserting that no Jews ever died in Nazi gas chambers. The Vatican is standing firm on a decision that Williamson can be rehabilitated, evidently viewing Holocaust denial as something in the same class with other inadvertent misdemeanors (actually the Church calls them venial sins) like pedophilia. The Church puts a lot of stock in rehabilitation, and much less in responsibility. What probably is beyond rehabilitation is a trusting relationship between the Vatican and Israel,

I love the Vatican. I could never be creative enough to make this stuff up.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

More Truth About Autism and Childhood Vaccines

Realizing that thousands of babies in Italy had been given whooping cough vaccine containing thimerasol in the early 1990s, Italian scientists saw the chance to look within this group for autism, and a possible correlation with infant vaccination. The results, reported earlier this week in the journal, Pediatrics, found only small differences in 2 of 24 brain function measurements taken in 1,403 of these children ten years after their vaccinations. Unlike past autism studies, this recent Italian study randomized the assignment of the test subjects to rule out chance factors such as education or poverty, and thus focused exclusively on a link between thimerasol and autism. No such link was found. Moreover, only one of the 1,403 children actually had autism— a mere fraction of the 1 per 150 autism rate claimed to exist in the childhood population of the U.S.A.

Like the Columbia University study published last summer, this new Italian study will be dismissed by advocacy groups like Autism Speaks, because in their ideology-based belief system, “everyone knows the truth, in spite of those special interests who twist the facts to suit their own agenda,” and the definition of a “special interest” is any scientific group who disproves a vaccine-autism link. It’s like trying to convince a hard-core JFK conspiracy buff that the Warren Report was accurate. Meanwhile, autistic youngsters wait for someone to find the REAL reason for their affliction.

Also see: Vaccine and Autism (7/2/08), The Truth About Autism? (9/6/08)

Monday, January 26, 2009

Limbaugh says, “Compromise is Just for Gutless Liberals.”

Here’s the deal. America can cast its lot with Barack Obama or Rush Limbaugh. It’s one or the other. Everyone reading this blog knows Obama, but for anyone who is unfamiliar with Limbaugh, they need to tune in by radio for three hours each day where this onetime Missouri hillbilly pontificates on everything from politics to health issues to societal trends— armed, intellectually, with nothing but his own uneducated opinion and bias. A few years ago, during the Terri Schiavo episode, Limbaugh even became a self-proclaimed expert on neuro-biology. Here’s why knowing about Limbaugh is important— Republicans buy into what he says. When you understand Limbaugh, you understand the poverty of Republican conservative ideology. And here’s why that’s important—Republicans are standing in the way of the government’s feeble attempt to fix the broken economy.

The economy is declining into uncharted territory, something akin to entering a black hole. Lessons learned during the 1930s don’t apply today because America, back then, was a manufacturing economy, and today it’s a service economy. The fact is that nobody— not even Nobel Prize-winning economists like Paul Krugman and Joseph Stiglitz—knows what will work to turn things around. The Democrats think the stimulus infusion should be massive government spending, but they don’t really know if that will work. The Republicans think there should be plenty of tax cuts, but they, also, don’t know if that will work. History is of no help, here. Under Bush we had both tax cuts and massive spending, and the result was our current mess, and there’s no way of knowing if things would have been different had Bush left out one or the other. As of right now, the stimulus infusion is stalled because Republicans are insisting on tax cuts, and Limbaugh is telling them that, “compromise is just for gutless Liberals.” Meanwhile, Obama still wants compromise. Obama or Limbaugh, It’s one or the other.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Coming This Thursday, Ted Haggard’s Pity Party

Onetime Evangelical superstar, Ted Haggard, has a big day coming up this Thursday. That’s when he appears on Larry King Live to promote an HBO documentary about himself that will debut that same night. The documentary project is meant to examine Haggard’s two year time in exile from his pulpit at the New Life Church in Colorado Springs— an exile resulting from revelations about Haggard’s homosexuality— and early reviews of the cable film have cynically labeled it, “Haggard’s pity party.”

New Life sent him on his way with a quarter-million-dollar severance package (see my blog of 1/20), but we didn’t know until this weekend that Haggard’s old congregation (actually it was the congregation's insurance company) also had to pony up additional tens of thousands of dollars to settle with a young man who had been homosexually involved with Haggard for years while he (Haggard) was preaching from New Life’s pulpit about the evils of gay sex. This all has a very Catholic feel about it.

Anyway, Haggard has evidently burned through his $250K severance money and he feels that now is the time to try for a comeback. Since he makes no claim about being rehabilitated from his own self-destructive sexual tendencies, I can only assume that his attempt at reinvention will be based partly on a feel-sorry-for-me approach, and also partly on the claim that he is “born again” and “right with his Savior,” or however it is that Evalgelicals phrase this stuff. For me, personally, I can’t wait to see if he still projects that smirking, arrogant confidence that always reminded me of Eddie Haskell.

Also see: Jesus = $$$$, Even In a Bad Economy

Friday, January 23, 2009

Lessons from the Chinese Dairy Industry

Embarrassed by the recent infant deaths from melamine-tainted milk, and anxious to put the scandal to rest, the Chinese courts have mandated the execution of the two men judged to be the most egregiously responsible for the problem, and long prison sentences have been issued for 19 others connected to the tragic safety failure. For me, this story has two profound implications, quite unrelated to each other, but both logically flowing from this harsh verdict issued by the Chinese court.

The first lesson, here, is that China takes its public health image very seriously. The last thing China wants is to be seen as a third-world nation when it comes to the health of its citizens. For this reason, the world can expect official China to hide, or minimize, the full extent of the H5N1 (bird flu) outbreak that is taking place there right now. The high mortality numbers that came to light in Germany this week (see yesterday’s blog, 1/22) are probably correct, and may even be lower than what is actually occurring.

Lesson number two from the death penalty verdict in China is that Communist capitalism may have a large competitive advantage over our unfettered free-market capitalism where it’s every man for himself when it comes to responsibility. Starting with Enron's Ken Lay and Jeff Skilling nine years ago, and continuing right up through John Thain in today’s news, American corporate business has seen an unbroken sequence of CEOs exploiting their companies and their employees for their own enrichment, and nothing in the American system alters or impedes this activity. Worse yet, in some circles, CEO excess is actually admired as a sign of success. What we now have is, essentially, a 21st Century feudalism where the working serfs exist to serve the lords. There is no doubt that if Bernie Madoff had pulled his little scheme in China instead of New York, he would be in his grave instead of his $7 million dollar penthouse. The accountability demanded from managers and executives in China is one reason why China will probably leave America in the dust.

Maybe I’m reading too much into this.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Shovels in the Ground, Digging Graves

Can Obama start to fix all the problems? Maybe all but one. Unemployment, loss of consumer confidence, foreclosure-induced homelessness, lousy healthcare, lousy public education, rising sea levels, polar ice melting, CO2 pollution, anti-terrorist foreign wars— maybe #44 can make some headway with all of these troubles. Maybe not. But God help him, and God help all of us if H5N1continues its present course of genetic drift.

Since mid January, reports out of China have told of a new case of human H5N1 (bird flu) infection every few days. The Chinese official death count is still less than ten. That’s the “official” report. But then, this week, at a virology conference in Germany, Japanese virologist, Masato Tashiro, revealed to an astonished audience that Chinese colleagues had passed along information about the true magnitude of the H5N1 problem in China. The real death count is over 300, with an additional 3000 Chinese citizens quarantined with suspected infection. But here’s the worst part, the anonymous Chinese whistle blowers have confirmed seven cases of human to human transmission.

Over the past few years, there have been infrequent and sporadic reports of humans contracting bird flu from infected chickens, but until now there had not been a verified case of human to human transmission. This ghastly new development signals that the H5N1 virus has successfully accomplished the genetic drift that would allow it to become the worldwide pandemic we have been taught to fear, and while the virus was mutating to a new lethal variant, we human beings shrank the world by enabling an easy intra-national exchange of citizenry in the interest of promoting globalization. What we now have is the equivalent of the “hot zone” scenario where a killer virus escapes from the biological research laboratory in Fort Dietrich, Maryland.

If, as informed scientists are predicting, H5N1 becomes pandemic, then all of our other problems will diminish to insignificance. Those shovels in the ground that the government keeps promising will become a widespread reality, digging graves.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Jesus = $$$$, Even In a Bad Economy

Business news coverage of the economic decay fails to tell me about the effect on one of America’s biggest enterprises, Evangelical televangelism, so I went looking for myself to see if the folks at Trinity Broadcasting might need a government bailout. All I can say is, “Hallelujah.” The Scriptures still provide a successful business opportunity.

Kenneth Copeland’s giant BVOV operation in Texas has adopted the time-tested sales strategy of selling the features and benefits of the product. The product in this case is eternal Salvation, and it’s pitched to TV viewers much like an extended service warranty on a new kitchen appliance, only in this case the appliance is our personal invisible soul. The point of Copeland’s message is that money sent to BVOV is not a donation. It’s an “investment” in the future. None of this is required to pass SEC scrutiny.

Paula White, as she does every January, is pitching her message of “First Fruits.” The idea, here, is that TV viewers are asked to send Paula their salary for the first week of January, or even their first month’s salary if they feel especially generous. This, they are told, will work like a seed planted in the ground, and will generate a bountiful harvest of fruits multiplied many times over. Contributors must take Paula’s word on this. No seed, no harvest. Also, no scrutiny from the SEC for Pastor Paula.

As with Wall Street CEOs, Evangelical religious leaders can bail out with a substantial golden parachute if their career goes in the tank. Take the case of Ted Haggard. Two years ago, he was found having a homosexual tryst, which for Christians is the equivalent of robbing a bank with an AK-47. His New Life Church sent him on his way with $152K in salary, $62K in salary for his wife, $11K for legal fees, $26K for assistance with their special-needs son, and $26K for counseling to convert him back to heterosexuality. The counseling fund turned out to be a waste of money. Haggard says now that his sexual identity is “complex,” which must be of marginal comfort to his wife and children.

If Bernie Madoff goes to jail, he can contemplate the idea that he made his money in the wrong business.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Understanding Pfizer’s Latest Job Cuts

If you’re afflicted with Alzheimer’s, cancer, schizophrenia, pain, inflammation, or diabetes, help may still be on the way to you from Pfizer. But if your health problem is anemia, bone loss, obesity, a gastrointestinal disorder, osteoarthritis, or cardiovascular and peripheral artery disease, you’d better not count on the world’s largest drug maker. CEO, Jeff Kindler, has been forced to make hard choices ever since he took over from Hank McKinnell at the helm of Pfizer, but none of those choices were as far reaching as this week’s decision to cut 800 research jobs, and to close down the search for therapies to treat some of mankind’s most common diseases.

I don’t have access to Pfizer’s boardroom, but this certainly seems like a departure from Pfizer’s basic business model which has proven extremely successful over the last quarter century. The drug giant’s strategy has always been to invest more than its competitors in research to develop blockbuster therapies, and then to market them more aggressively than the competition. To become a blockbuster, however, a drug needs to treat a disease which is common to a great many patients, and arguably the most common health problem in America is obesity. With new data showing that an alarming one-third of all Americans are obese, and with nearly all post menopausal women justifiably concerned about bone loss, these two maladies unquestionably afflict far more people than schizophrenia. The only explanation for Pfizer’s strange choice of what stays and what goes away seems to be that they are keeping the research intact where the near term results are most likely to bear fruit.

All of this is designed to cut costs in anticipation of the disaster that awaits the company in late 2011. That’s when Lipitor goes off patent, and if the past is any indicator of the future, then 90% of the Lipitor business will fall to the generic replacements. Lipitor accounts for more than a quarter of Pfizer’s total sales volume, so the stakes could not be higher. There might be a strategy in the works, however, to meet this challenge. The rumor on the street, there, in New York at 42nd and Lexington is that Pfizer is preparing to move aggressively into a generic business of its own.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Ten Pickup Truck Commercials a Hundred Times Over

Greetings from the Detroit Auto Show, which is always my favorite media project of the year. This year, I prepped myself by watching three weeks of non-stop football, during which I sat through a thousand pickup truck commercials from the big three automakers. Actually, to be more precise, I watched ten pickup truck commercials a hundred times over. All of them were calculated to clear out unwanted inventory by selling manliness. There wasn’t a single woman— not even one— driving any of those pickup trucks, nor were any women depicted watching the truck drivers being manly, and since women make more than half of all new vehicle buying decisions, I was pretty sure I wouldn’t see any pickup trucks at Detroit this year. I was right.

The show has changed over the years, but never more so than this year. From the 1920s (no, I wasn’t attending back then) up through the 1970s, Detroit and the other gala auto shows in New York and Los Angeles fired our imaginations and took us on fantasy journeys where we glimpsed the future of car travel, and the shows did this in such a way that we couldn’t wait to arrive at that future. The irony is that all of this happened long before the advertising industry started using psychologists and focus groups to scientifically measure ways to reach the buyers. As marketing has become more sophisticated (at least when it comes to cars), the final offering to buyers has become less enticing. The Detroit Auto Show this week may be the pinnacle of that decline.

In the heyday of auto shows (the 1950s) the sizzle on the steak came from the concept cars— full size next-generation prototypes provided by the carmakers to showcase future offerings, as well as to gauge the reaction of prospective car buyers. In effect, the customer was brought into the process of finalizing the automotive designs. Then, somewhere in the 1970s, all those design decisions were passed to the suits in the marketing departments. Today, only the limited-production car builders like McLaren and Bugatti are doing those eye-popping, jaw-dropping concept projects. The result can be seen in the 2008 business performance of the mainstream, mass production car industry, which hit an all time low. There was a time when people at the Detroit Auto Show would say to the auto industry representatives, “Where do I sign up to buy one of those beauties?” This year, people seemed to be saying, “Is that the best thing you’ve got?”

Monday, January 12, 2009

Good Riddance

The nightmare is almost over. Harry Reid (above) expresses the sentiment felt by most of us as the 43rd President prepares to leave office next week. His farewell news conference this morning was vintage George W. Bush as he expressed no regrets, and offered no apology for any aspect of his job performance. He characterized the absence of WMDs in Iraq as a “disappointment,” which is like having a gun pressed against your forehead and being “disappointed” to find out that it’s not loaded. Nevertheless, a quarter of all Americans will miss him. His absolute certitude made him the poster boy for Conservative Christianity—an ideology where it doesn’t matter if you’re right or wrong just as long as you’re unwavering in your certainty.
The United States of America will never— ever—again be as morally good, and as successful as it was when Bush took office eight years ago, and some aspects of the American dream have been lost forever. Bush is confident that future historians will judge him kindly, in effect saying that only the passing of time will clear his good name. Actually, I believe that only the passing of time will finally show us how badly he damaged our country.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

“Sweet Caroline”— an Early Review of the Upcoming Sarah Palin Interview

She’s back. Sarah Palin has done a video interview with media Conservative, John Ziegler, to be televised next month. The thrust, here, is to make the case that Liberal media bias does exist, and that this bias, focused against Palin in the election, gave the victory to Obama. The accusation is nothing new, but there’s a new wrinkle in it that didn’t exist before election time— namely, the candidacy of Caroline Kennedy for the open New York Senate seat. Palin compares herself— rural, middle class, relatively unknown, and Conservative, with Kennedy— urban (Manhattan), very wealthy, famous, and Liberal. Like Palin before the election, Kennedy has recently had some major gaffes in her response to media questions, but according to Palin, the media is giving Kennedy a pass because of her urban, wealthy, Liberal status.

Sarah Palin actually has some of it right. The mainstream media really is treating Caroline Kennedy with more gentleness than it showed to Sarah Palin, and that’s not counting the lampoons from SNL that helped torpedo the “Tundra Tootsie.” Where Palin has it wrong is in blaming the attributes cited above for the differences in media attention. None of this has anything to do with rural vs. urban, or Conservative vs. Liberal. What accounts for the difference in media treatment is the personality differences in the two women. It all comes down to personal style.

Presidents are selected by the American voters in the very same way that Junior High School students select their class officers. The contest is decided on the popularity of the candidates, and the popularity is based on their personality. It’s all about personality, and nothing more. Sarah Palin presented an image to the voters of a wise-cracking hipster, with flirtatious winks and elements of stand-up comedy in her speeches. I don’t know if all of this came from her, or if much of it was orchestrated by her handlers and advisers. By itself, it wasn’t a glaring negative, but even in Junior High School, a hipster can’t get elected if he or she is a phony. And a person pretending to be hip needs to be able to tell someone where they get their news. If they can’t name a newspaper, then they should say they use the Internet. But if they’re totally clueless about news, then they’re phony. Even worse, if they adopt a “how-dare-you-ask-that-question” demeanor, and bitch about the person asking the question, then they’re just plain lame.

Caroline Kennedy presents an image of shyness, and sincere humility about not being able to answer some essential media questions. She seems like a genuinely nice lady, and that’s not a public image that motivates SNL to do a nasty parody. Her shied isn’t Liberalism, it’s that she’s slightly boring to watch. By contrast, Sarah Palin is a lightening rod who is always fascinating to watch, in the same way that we were fascinated to watch Roseanne Barr singing the National Anthem at the baseball game in 1990. Palin needs to let this go. She lost the election fair and square.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Ann Coulter’s Hidden Agenda

Conservative columnist, Ann Coulter, is making the rounds of the morning talk shows promoting her new book— yet another in her long series of tomes devoted to bashing Liberalism. I don’t recall the title of this newest offering, but it doesn’t matter since the writing of it was clearly nothing more than a therapy exercise to help her deal with her emotional devastation in the wake of the last national election. These Conservative people are having a really hard time with our newest incoming President.

Coulter’s latest tact is to blame Liberalism for the high percentage of mothers who are raising their offspring as single parents. Her outrageously-incendiary claim is that every problem in America stems from single motherhood. Here’s the idiocy of that position, given Coulter’s Conservatism. She represents an ideology that is against sex education in the schools, and against abortion even in the case of rape, and against the easy availability of birth control methods for single girls. Her answer to the problem is abstinence, even though study after study shows that the abstinence pledges are a waste of time when it comes to reducing illegitimate birth rates.

Given that the topic of fatherless families has been around for at least two decades (and for a dozen of those years the government was Republican and Conservative), my question for Ms. Coulter is, “Why Now?” What’s her agenda in raising this issue at this time? I believe that there’s more, here, than meets the eye. With more than half of all African American babies being born out of wedlock, this issue of absentee fathers is an issue that doesn’t showcase black American culture in the best light. Nobody disputes that, not even black Liberals if they’re being objective. And in case anyone hasn’t noticed, our incoming President is part of the black American culture. Ann Coulter’s agenda isn’t about Liberalism and single moms, it’s about Obama and his dark complexion. As I’ve said many times before, just because radical Conservatives don’t dress in white getups anymore, that doesn’t mean that they’re not sympathetic with Klan ideology.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

And Now A Word From Our Sponsor

It’s the annual football orgy time with NFL playoffs and a seemingly endless stream of bowl games, and this year it represented a chance for the dying auto makers to advertise their way out of bankruptcy with a Fed fueled cash injection paying for the TV spots. Since I was going to be watching most of the games anyway, I decided to use this opportunity to monitor the advertisements more closely than I’d done in the past. Here’s what I found.

GM and Chrysler were, by far, the most prolific sponsors of televised football this year. Every single game that I watched had the play on the field interrupted by AT LEAST a dozen car commercials. Twelve was a minimum. Some games had two or three times that number. Chrysler’s advertising agency, BBDO Detroit, seems to believe that college football audiences are overwhelmingly made up of testosterone-loaded young macho types who dream of piloting Dodge Ram pickup trucks through fiery explosions as they drive like a bat out of hell without pavement under the tires. Maybe BBDO Detroit has the Chrysler customer demographic dialed in to perfection, but I have to believe that these commercials (which look like they’re being filmed in a war zone) have a lot more to do with the fact that Dodge Ram pickup sales are still languishing in the aftermath of $4.00 gas.

GM’s new advertising agency for Cadillac, Modernista!, is trying something rather daring. They are conspicuously tying the GM brand to the various makes and models from Pontiac and Cadillac in addition to Chevrolet. I wouldn’t have believed that there was anyone left in America who didn’t know that Cadillac was a subsidiary of GM, but since Modernista! believes this, here’s my question— is now the time to set the record straight just as GM CEO, Rick Wagoner is fresh from his Congressional fiasco? Wouldn’t it be better to let a prospective buyer for an Escalade think that, since the vehicle has a European sounding name, it must be made by a foreign car maker? This is especially true since GM is touting a 5 year warranty in the new commercials. Good luck with that GM warranty three years from now.

The tragedy is that none— zilch—zero percent of the commercials from GM and Chrysler were for green vehicles that would give fuel efficiency and lower emissions.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Media Bias— Is It Real?

As January 20th approaches, the Right Wing radio ayatollahs are even more fanatic and livid than they were on election night. It’s not so much Limbaugh and Hannity who are seething as it is the local Conservative Rush wannabes that bombard their listeners in every large urban market outside of Oregon and New England. Having failed to gain traction with the Antichrist and the born-in-Kenya accusations against Obama, these modern-day Father Coughlins are now obsessed with the notion that Obama was elected only because of Liberal media bias. It’s inconceivable to them that the majority of the American people rejected the Conservative position based on fact rather than misinformation. Here’s my question. What— exactly— is their notion of media bias?

The Katy Couric interviews with Sarah Palin got a lot of television time, and the fact is that Palin’s performance was not digitally altered. What TV viewers saw was reality. Palin suffered greatly for her pathetic attempt to look well-informed, but the same can be said for Caroline Kennedy now that it’s her turn on the target end of the turkey shoot. Palin is Conservative and Kennedy is Liberal, so where’s the bias? Was Jon Stewart considered a media guy or a comedian? Was SNL parody considered media coverage? I would suggest that these comedy outlets lack any kind of political bias, and before the election they went after the candidates based on how ridiculous the candidates looked. I’ve always said that Conservatives just don’t do well with humor.

As for George W. Bush, the worst (and in my opinion, the truest) thing ever said about him didn’t come from the media. “Bush,” it was said, “Is like a combination of the Tin Man, and the Scarecrow, and the Lion in the Wizard of OZ. He has no heart, and no brain, and no courage.” The man who said this was John McCain in the 2000 primary election. McCain isn’t exactly a media mouthpiece.

Democracy depends on having the losing side in an election accept defeat. The Conservatives need to get over themselves.