A Little Something to Fight the Poison

Saturday, December 21, 2002
WE COULD BUY OURSELVES REAL WEB DESIGN PEOPLE AND STUFF: Hey Manu, if you can show that your hunch in your post below about Frist is true, promises to give you $10,000 reward for nailing the "Eli Lilly Bandit." That's what I call issue entrepreneurship.

Get a-chasin', and we can have a rockin' Antidotal New Year's Party in a couple of weeks...

P.S.: So does Pops Rangachari think that thimerosal causes autism, or what?
Friday, December 20, 2002
One of the front-runners to replace Trent Lott is Bill Frist, the Republican from Tennessee. His "public image is straight-arrow and religious, a conservative Southern surgeon-senator" (in the words of this Boston Globe article). The good doctor's straight-arrow image might now be in question, at least with regards to his commitment to patients' rights and medical ethics -- he has been tied to the below-the-radar "Lillygate" imbroglio.

As far as I'm aware, The Rittenhouse Review was the first to bring Lillygate to light. The facts seem to be this: The pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly (makers of Prozac) used to use a mercury-based compound, known as thimerosal, as a stabilizing agent in childhood vaccines. It later emerged that thimerosal usage may be linked to the development of autism. Now, the evidence either way is rather tenuous, but Lilly apparently went looking for political protection before the facts were established. Conveniently, 80% of Lilly's political contributions go to Republicans; conveniently, the GOP had an existing bill that was just ripe for the addition of a rider protecting Lilly from thimerosal liability. The bill was (you guessed it): the Homeland Security Bill. Yes, the same Republicans who accused Democrats of "unpatriotically holding up the HSB due to "petty politicking", were preoccupied with protecting the security of their Big Pharma donations. Even better....the addition was slipped in (anonymously) at the last minute.

How exactly was Lilly protected? For a number of years, vaccine makers have been protected from large class-action lawsuits by federal legislation (called the Vaccine Injury Compensation Program). Since all vaccines will inevitably have side-effects, and since most people must be vaccinated, lawmakers felt that there had to be some mechanism in place to protect vaccine makers from crippling lawsuits. It was argued that without such a mechanism, there would be a disincentive against vaccine production, and public health would suffer. As thimerosal is a vaccine additive and not a vaccine itself, it was not initially covered under the VICP. The HSB addition changed that, meaning that patients' right to sue was severely curtailed. Supporters contend that the addition merely closes a loophole that could be exploited by ambulance-chasing claims lawyers; the opposing argument (which I am inclined to believe), is that thimerosal should rightly not be covered under the VICP. It is not a medicinal compound, and neither is it a non-medicinal compound that is essential to effective vaccine delivery (plenty of vaccines don't contain it).

As for the scientific merit of the proposed thimerosal-autism connection...hey, it's my dad who's the pharmacologist, not me! My knowledge base on bioactive compounds is pretty minimal. However, Derek Lowe at Lagniappe gives a well-thought-out summation of why he doesn't believe that thimerosal causes autism.

The point of Lillygate, however, is not whether thimerosal-autism link is real, or whether Eli Lilly is liable. The point is that a large corporation, which bears a certain moral responsibility to ensure that its products "do no harm", is able to use its political ties to circumvent the judicial process. However, the cynicism of the congressional Republicans appalls me even more -- they slip Lilly's "get out jail free card" into an unrelated piece of legislation, where it will go largely unnoticed. If the rider's sponsors wanted to make the claim that the scientific evidence supporting thimerosal's link to autism is slim, fine. If their point was that juries are ill-suited to hear tort cases involving possible medical malfeasance (as is argued here), fine. These are all supportable positions. But they should have been argued out in the open, not signed into law in the most underhanded manner possible.

And the estimable Dr. Frist. He was the sponsor this year of SB 2053 (the Improved Vaccine Affordability and Availability Act), which proposed including all vaccine components under the provisions set out by the VICP. In my reading of the bill, the relevant section seems to be Sec. 215. The two-paragraph thimerosal rider was then added to the HSB, and the speculation began as to who was behind it (in fairness, while this WaPo article mentions Frist's sponsorship of the previous bill, it notes that SB 2053 never mentioned either Lilly or thimerosal specifically). Another leading culprit is Dick Armey.

Hesiod, however, connects the dots and thinks that Frist was indeed the point man for this. Which would a) represent shameful behaviour on the part of a physician, and b) demonstrate that the GOP congressional leadership is only too happy to jump when asked to by big business (the health of the American people be damned).

(from a different perspective, Charles Murtaugh agrees with me...sort of)

Ray Hnatyshyn, Governor-General of Canada from 1990-1995, died Wednesday. His funeral will be held Monday.

I've always been torn with respect to the monarchy's role in the Canadian constitution. One the one hand, I'm uncomfortable with the thought of a foreigner being our head of state. However, I'm even more uncomfortable of us opening up the hornet's nest that is Canadian constitutional change. Besides, if we're going to have to undergo that kind of national trauma, there are better causes to tackle than that of ditching the monarchy -- such as reforming our unelected Senate, or losing the first-past-the-post parliamentary system that we inherited from the Brits (you know, the system that ensures a Liberal dicatorsh...ummm, majority, every election).

At any rate, the fact that the grandson of Ukrainian immigrants can rise to become the Queen's highest representative in the Great White North is just sooooo deliciously subversive -- you can almost picture those stiff British upper lips quivering at the cheekiness of it all. In the words of a TV ad from my childhood...

"Only in Canada, you say? Pity."
I've really wanted to do a fair bit of posting the last few days, but those poor mice have been taking up much of my time. Then last night, there was the pressing matter of drinking copious pints of beer. Tonight, the only things on tap are cleaning my apartment and doing my I will post stuff periodically as I feel the need.

On a (somewhat) frivolous note...advocates of regime change in Iraq may not want to use the Atlanta Braves' pitching overhaul as a template. Essentially jettisoning Tom Glavine for Mike Hampton was a highly questionable move to begin with (though Glavine's advancing age will no doubt start to become a question itself). If you think that Hampton's terrible stats the last few years were due to Coors inflation, ponder the fact that his road ERA was 6.44!

Paul Byrd was admittedly a good little pickup, but the Russ Ortiz-for-Damian Moss deal was a curious one indeed. While Ortiz is admittedly much more experienced than Moss, the Braves' decade-long dominance can in large part be attributed to their willingness to let young pitchers grow under the master tutelage of Leo Mazzone. Plus, Moss had an amazing season last year (better ERA, and only 2 fewer wins than Ortiz), and is an all-too-valuable lefty.

Things seemed back on track when Greg Maddux accepted salry arbitration yesterday, leaving the Braves with a rotation of Maddux, Ortiz, Hampton, Byrd and...oh wait. 18-game winner Kevin Millwood was traded today for a backup catcher. And to the division rival Phillies to boot. Factor in the loss of Hammonds, Remlinger and Spooneybarger...and the Braves' formerly superb bullpen looks awfully thin as well.

So...division rivals have brought in David Bell, Jim Thome, and today, Cliff Floyd -- and have subtracted Millwood and Glavine from the Braves. At this rate, the Braves might even lose the "NL East Division B" race to the Marlins, or even -- gasp! -- the 'Spos.

MEANWHILE, BACK AT THE RANCH: While we're on the topic of racism, discrimination, nativism, and other such fun, I thought I'd mention the mass INS detentions of Middle Eastern males that took place in California this week. The arrests occurred when the immigrants complied with written orders to visit the INS offices to enroll in a "special" registration program.

I'm no anti-terrorism expert, but I suspect that folks who obey a letter from the INS telling them to come in and have their fingerprints taken don't fit the standard terrorist profile [ed: maybe the game theorists in the INS are trying to account for Sicilian-style reverse psychology? Inconceivable!].

And then there's those Iranian Jews who fled to America to escape the Ayatollah's religious prosecution, now detained and potentially facing deportation because of their provenance--as Alanis might say, isn't it ironic, don'tcha think?

For more, Demosthenes has great coverage and commentary.
TU QUOQUE: InstaPundit tries to present the following Euroantisemitism alert as indicative of the current European climate:
Revelations of the brutal torture and murder of a teenager in eastern Germany blamed on neo-Nazis has sent shock-waves through the country.

Marius Schoeberl, who was 16, was killed apparently because he looked like a Jew.

The story paints this as a problem of the "extreme right," but given the rise of antisemitism in polite European society, I think that's a bit misleading.
If I were in a more churlish mood, I'd note that Strom Thurmond, Trent Lott, and John Ashcroft weren't considered at all extreme two weeks ago in your circle of blogistan, Professor.

(Yes, I know tu quoque is generally a fallacy, but I needed to take that shot)
HAVE A CIGARETTE, ATRIOS: And maybe you too, Josh Marshall, who along with the redoubtable proprietor of Eschaton, initially helped keep the Lott-Thurmond story alive in the face of media indifference.

Just so you know, we're now officially in the denouement phase of this story, as Sen. Lott has announced his resignation from his post as Senate Majority Leader.

Wow, I would have set the Over/Under at at least another week. I guess that's why I'm not a bookie.

Nice work, guys--now that this fun is over, get back to work unearthing the everyday racism and political discrimination that takes place in the U.S....
WHOA (IN THAT VERY RELAXED WAY): About the last thing I'd thought I'd see when I dropped by economist Brad Delong's always interesting site is 35 dudes with varying amounts of scientific/neurological/philosophical aptitude musing about the nature of colour and what's the deal with yellow and why isn't it reddish-green if magenta is reddish-blue and cyan is bluish-green anyway?

That's kinda what's so neat and weird about this whole blogging deal...
Thursday, December 19, 2002
RANDOM IVY LEAGUE PRIVILEGE FUN FACTS: And some Trent Lott, too. Prof. Reynolds approvingly quotes a reader who corrects Senator Trent "Did-I-Miss-the-Affirmative-Action-Bus?" Lott for overestimating the amount of entrenched inherited privilege at Ivy League schools:
The Lott quote: "Again, you can get into arguments about timetables and quotas. Here's what I think, though: I think you've got to have an aggressive effort in America to make everybody have a chance. Harvard has a program where one in three of their students are alumni children. That, you know, we need to balance this out more, and I think that we should encourage minorities to have an opportunity across the board."

One in three? 33% of Harvard students are "legacies"?! How we still groan under the yoke of unjust inherited privilege!

Problem: not true. Not even close. According to the Boston Globe, children of alumni actually make up "about 10%" of each Harvard entering class.
I can't quite believe that I'm stepping up to Lott's defense here, but the soon-to-be outgoing Majority Leader wasn't completely out to lunch when he spoke about Harvard's student body as 33% legacies. That specific stat is wrong, but he's probably got it confused with a different stat with around the same number--legacy applicants currently get accepted into Ivy League undergrad programs at a steady rate of around 30-40% every year. When you consider that the most selective of the Ivy schools have undergrad admission rates that are in the single digits, that's quite an institutional edge.

(Oh, you probably want sources with that. Well the best I can do is the following pair of undergrad op-eds from Ivy student papers--one from Cornell and one from Yale. I'm also pretty sure that I remember the Harvard tour guide quoting that 33% number...)
A FASCINATING SITE for anyone whose views regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict aren't completely fixed: bitterlemons is a website that's jointly run by Ghassan Khatib, currently the Palestinian Authority's Minister of Labor, and Yossi Apher, former Mossad official and senior advisor to Barak.

The site's tagline is "Palestinian-Israeli Crossfire" (I wonder what's considered "crossing the line" when it comes to macabre double entendre in those parts?) and it seems quite legit. Each edition features four articles on one issue: one each by Khatib and Alpher and two more by another Palestinian and another Israeli, all written without consulting one another.

Of course, given that both of these guys have been peace negotiators, the dialogue is probably a good deal more dovish and high flown than usual, but still a pretty honest look at where the two sides' differences lie.
Tuesday, December 17, 2002
CHECK IT OUT: all of the skits in which Al Gore participated during last weekend's Saturday Night Live. Most of it's pretty damned funny, and even though Gore's obviously no actor, he does a solid job. The universal media reaction was basically: "wow, if he had been this hilarious and human in 2000, maybe we wouldn't have condoned those thugs who who subverted democracy by laying seige to his house and those recount offices in Florida" (or something like that).

This version's also great because there's no commercials; it is missing the Phish performances and the surefire Weekend Update segment, but, then again, it doesn't include any non-Gore skits, which probably sucked, given SNL current track record. I won't give any further details, since if you're reading this, you've probably already heard enough about it that I don't need to ruin more of it for you.

ASIDE: The SNL with John McCain earlier this year was damned funny too--I think that's because the show is just generally better when they're doing political stuff...they should stick to it...

Courtesy of, the (ex?) grassroots website dedicated to re-electing Al Gore.
CRAWLING BACK OUT FROM MY CAVE of grading papers, dishing out last minute advice to the nervous undergrads in section, and scurrying around doing this weird law review "sourcecite" thingy.

No, I'm not in law school, I just want to hang out with law students. In general, they're much more stylish than PhD students--interviews with non-academics will do that, I suppose. Anyway, I passed out a bit after I got back from it last night, very tired from the first sourcecite I've ever directed--the wee journal I somehow fell into lets non-law students do that, which is a sign of exactly how wee it is. This job involved 7 hours of slogging through "see"s and "294 F.Supp. 2d. 1072"s, most of which made very little sense to my SNAILish self, and attempting to answer questions which made even less sense. By the end, I felt like I was experiencing much of what Kate and Lily at The Kitchen Cabinet suffered from last week (hope you kids are feeling a lot better now), but without being invaded by any actual viruses. Unless the Blue Book counts as a phage.

Anyway, it's great to see that Manu's been doing a good job holding down the fort--keep it up kid! I'll be in town by Saturday--we should go out for a drink to celebrate the end of a reasonably interesting term of blogging.

My contribution for now will be another, shorter swipe at the generally execrable David Frum: David, my boy, did you just describe Michael Walzer as an "abject picture of moral collapse" due to this candid interview he gave to the New York Times in which he describes the difficulties involved in choosing sides on the whether to support U.S. military action against Iraq? So you bashed Walzer for describing the moral situation that exists today as complicated? As opposed to giving a cookie-cutter ideological answer that extremists on both the hard left and right are so good at providing? Because, clearly, any intelligent person of pure heart and good intentions will find making moral decisions the easiest thing in the world, right David?

For Frum to smear Walzer as "almost a cartoon of liberal handwringing and ineffectuality" is almost a masterfully surreal farce. Walzer has spent decades reflecting on morality and the human condition with a sense of texture and wisdom that Frum doesn't even come within light years of approaching with his drivel. That Frum says scornfully of the five liberals interviewed for the NYT piece that "All five supported military action in Bosnia, a war in which America’s interests were not easily explained" shows exactly how little he knows about morality. National self-interest has very little prima facie weight on the scales of right conduct, especially when compared to the principle of upholding universal human dignity. Then again, I wouldn't expect Frum to know that.

I'm off to proctor an undergrad exam now. I hope they do really well--not only would it save time; it would also show that I actually taught them something!

I have to be at work in, like, 20 minutes, but this has to be addressed. In all of my blogging yesterday, I missed the G&M, and so therefore didn't see this.

In the same spirit as those conservatives who quickly denounced Lott and called for his ouster, I call for Canadian liberals to tell this idiot to go (thankfully, the G&M has already done so). Granted, this is the first time most of us have heard of this man, but his words were many times more monstrous than Lott's.

(Further, I have no fully formed reason to believe that liberals would have an affinity with this man's politics -- but he is a Native leader, and Canadian liberals often support the concept of native get the picture).

Anyway, must run, more on this later when I have time...
Someone's a "beer liberal"...

Monday, December 16, 2002
I visited Sully, fully expecting him to display a lack of class in response to the Gore announcement, and was not disappointed. Granted, Gore was not the most gifted politician -- with his much-mocked stiffness, and his catastrophic ability to play fast and loose with the most trivial of facts. These shortcomings might be explained any number of ways; a charitable explanation would be that Gore was never fully comfortable with the press-the-flesh necessity of modern political life (unlike, say, a Bubba or a GWB). Nevertheless, I believe that his resume -- Army service, Congressman, Senator, Vice-President, presidential candidate -- deserves better that this spiteful polit-obit from the very definition of a pompous blowhard.

On a related note...a quibble with the daily-read Oxblog:

"ANYONE WHO READS this page probably also reads Andrew Sullivan..."

Au contraire, I only check out Sully when I know for sure that he'll say something stupid.

P.S. I know, I know, Gore's career could very well mirror that of Richard Nixon, who successfully won the presidency eight years after his agonizingly close defeat to JFK. But Gore seems to put the kibosh on that notion quite unequivocally.

This is funny stuff. Check it out.

[via Emily Jones].
HOW NOT TO SPREAD DEMOCRACY: So I've got all sorts of faith in America's ability to be the torchbearer and midwife of democratic values when its ascendant defense arm begins considering proposals like running propaganda ops in allied (presumably democratic) nations. A nice graf in the NYT article:
Some [Pentagon officials] are troubled by suggestions that the military might pay journalists to write stories favorable to American policies or hire outside contractors without obvious ties to the Pentagon to organize rallies in support of American policies.
Well, I have to say I'm reassured that a few of those defense guys came up with the thought that undermining freedom of the press and honest public debate in allied countries might be harmful to the promotion of democracy.