7 November 2011 >>
Recently, I brought a camera and a few multiple-choice questions to Zuccotti Park, where I conducted a quiz game with some of the Occupy Wall Street protesters. As a reward for getting the answers right, contestants were able to choose among several options for prizes. Unfortunately, one gentleman in the audience apparently did not appreciate the prize selections made by his fellow protesters, so he disrupted the game, bear-hugged me, grabbed the question cards out of my hand and attempted to run off with them before I stopped him.
One day shortly after the Second World War ended, Winston Churchill and Labour Party Prime Minister Clement Attlee encountered one another at the urinal trough in the House of Common’s men’s washroom. Attlee arrived first. When Churchill arrived, he stood as far away from him as possible. Attlee said, “Feeling standoffish today, are we, Winston?” Churchill said: “That’s right. Every time you see something big, you want to nationalize it.”
18 June 2009 @ 9:07AM >>
The Washington Timesreports on an appearance made by former President George W. Bush:
He lamented the politics of personal destruction that he said is rampant in Washington, noting, though, that it has always been thus. Recalling how a treasury secretary and a vice president once fought a duel, he joked: “At least when my vice president shot somebody, it was an accident.”
13 June 2009 @ 4:34PM >>
Received in an e-mail forward recently:
Sam, a U.S. Naval Officer, visits New York City for Fleet Week.
With the afternoon off, he decides to see the Bronx Zoo. Dressing in civilian clothes so as not to attract attention, he blends in well with the other tourists.
As Sam strolls by the lion’s cage, he notices a little girl leaning into the bars, grabbing towards the lion to try to pet it.
Suddenly, the lion snatches the girl by the cuff of her jacket and yanks her against the bars, trying to pull her inside. As the girl cries out in fear, her parents stand by helpless, screaming.
Sam runs to the cage and stuns the lion with a powerful punch square on the nose. The lion jumps back, whimpering, and lets go of the girl. Sam brings her to her terrified parents, who gush an endless stream of thanks.
“Sir, this was the most gallant and brave thing I saw a man do in my whole life,” the girls’ father says.
“Why, it was nothing, really,” Sam replies. “The lion was behind bars. I just saw a little girl in danger and I acted.”
The girl’s father thanks Sam again and says, “I’m a journalist with the New York Times. I’ll make sure your heroics will be on the front page in tomorrow’s paper. So, give me a little background about yourself. What does a hero like you do for a living?”
“Well,” Sam says, “I’m in the Navy, and I’m visiting the city as part of Fleet Week.” He spends the next hour answering the reporter’s questions before they finally part ways.
The next morning, Sam wakes up and rushes out to buy a copy of the Times. The headline on the front page says:
“MILITARY THUG TORTURES AFRICAN IMMIGRANT — AND STEALS HIS LUNCH”
29 May 2009 @ 6:47PM >>
The recent post on the FDA’s regulation of Cheerios as a drug generated a lot of e-mail from readers. Last week, I posted a well-reasoned disagreement with my view on the matter.
Here are a couple more responses:
Maybe the cholesterol lowering qualities are not the result of the Cheerios themselves, but the fact that the person eating Cheerios for breakfast is not eating a food that might increase one’s cholesterol level, i.e. bacon. Would the FDA be justified in stepping in then? I have to imagine if you had a side of bacon (a few slices) with your Cheerios everyday, your cholesterol would not be lower by 4% in 6 weeks. To me this is common sense. Unfortunately, there are too many people out there who have given up thinking for themselves and are reliant upon others telling them what is good and what is bad. Enter the Nanny-state.
I just want to encourage you concerning your take on the FDA regulating Cheerios like a drug. It seems as though we as a nation have completely lost all common sense, and I can hardly take it anymore.
Is it really a revelation that food affects health? Before we became a nation of pill popping hypochondriacs, how do you think we consumed beneficial nutrients?
Since Cheerios might be able to make health claims, and therefore should be treated like a drug, it makes sense that the FDA should also treat milk like a drug, and investigate those potentially spurrious claims that it “does a body good”. Several years ago, there was an opinion that eggs increased cholesterol. Should the FDA have classified eggs as a harmful drug? Where does it end?
Food products are already regulated to require the disclosure of ingredient lists and nutritional information. Any nutritional scientist can consume the information already required of a food manufacturer and conclude potential health benefits and risks. If a product contains 3000mg of sodium per serving, for example, does it really take a clinical study to determine that it is not heart-healthy? You could not use the same method to evaluate Ambien or Prosac.
Of course, I am making my argument based on common sense. Since common sense is rapidly going out of style, perhaps I should just concede. Let’s treat anything healthy like a drug, just to make sure everyone is “safe”. Calling my doctor now to stock up on prescriptions for citrus - need that vitamin C.
I am very libertarian when it comes to limiting the control of the federal government. I do not believe the government should regulate individual and ordinary decisions of regular citizens. In the game of life, the government’s role should not be deciding where to move the pieces.
However, the government must act as Milton Bradley and set the rules that make it possible to play the game fairly. Rules such as antitrust laws, banking regulations, and criminal penalties are necessary to ensure the People don’t get screwed in one form or another by other people or businesses who take too much control, engage in fraudulent behavior, or try to otherwise gouge or mislead a consumer.
With regard to your article specifically, it appears that your argument for why the FDA’s decision is a bad one, is that the government is just trying to enforce a rule for the sake of enforcing a rule and engaging in “nanny” behavior.
While I agree that the government, especially as of late, has been engaging more and more in parental decision-making, I think the actions taken by the FDA are correct. The problem isn’t that “idiots might get confused and mistake a bowl of Cheerios for a pile of Lipitor.” The real problem is that the FDA cannot set a precedent of letting products be advertised as giving specific health benefits without meeting the rigorous FDA standards established for that type of advertising.
I’m assuming here that the FDA did not approve the so-called “clinical study” that was done by General Mills, a company who does not do “clinical studies” on a regular basis. If such a precedent were to be set, herbal supplement companies could make specific claims about their products (more specific and more often than they already do) that were not correctly tested.
This decision by the FDA is a difficult one, I must say. I don’t believe there would even be an argument if this scenario were more like an herbal supplement company stating that the ingredients in the supplement will guarantee on average a 10% weight loss and 14% muscle gain, but those studies were based only on clinical trials conducted on lab rats, and the results only counted the rats who were left living after the study was over.
But the sad truth is, even though this is a children’s cereal that is practically an institution among breakfast foods (and late night desserts, as you have pointed out), the rules are in place to prevent harm to the consumer in the face of bad studies. If Cheerios conducted an FDA approved study and it was found that the decrease in cholesterol was negligible and it actually increased the likelihood of testicular cancer in young men, you would likely be changing your tone about this “nanny” decision.
Thank you for your time, and please keep writing your wonderful blog entries. While I had to say something against this entry, I am often pleased by what you have to say.
Thanks for the e-mail, Blake. I think you have a good point with respect to herbal supplements. However, I think the Cheerios case is different in one key respect.
Herbal supplements are intended to improve someone’s health or state of mind. That’s the only reason people buy herbal supplements: to consume them like medication. So regulating them like a drug makes sense to me.
But the original and primary function of Cheerios to fill the stomach and provide the body with energy. Cheerios is tasty, and that’s a nice side-benefit, as is the apparent cholesterol-lowering power. But such benefits are secondary.
Now, if General Mills is making claims about Cheerios that are false, that’s a much more defensible case for government regulation. But in the reporting I’ve seen, nobody disputes the health claims made by General Mills. I haven’t seen anyone question the legitimacy of the studies about Cheerios cholesterol-lowering properties.
So why, then, shouldn’t the burden of proof be on the government?
Before regulating Cheerios like a drug, why doesn’t the government first commission its own independent study and see if the claims about Cheerios are false?
That seems reasonable to me, and it would certainly constitute far less government interference in private enterprise.
That’s my take on it, although I could be wrong. The media reports on this story haven’t exactly been paragons of clarity.
Update: In another report, it seems the FDA is questioning the claims of General Mills: “We certainly don’t have any issues with the safety of Cheerios,” Stephen Sundlof, director of the FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, said in an interview today. “We just believe that the labeling on this particular product has gone beyond what the science supports.”
The FDA has sent a warning letter to General Mills, telling the company that its claims about the health benefits of eating Cheerios “would cause it to be a drug because the product is intended for use in the prevention, mitigation and treatment of disease.”
The problem: Cheerios are a food not a drug, the FDA notes in the letter, which was sent May 5 but was posted on the agency’s website today. Thus, claims that the 68-year-old whole-grain oat cereal lowers cholesterol and reduces the risk of heart disease and cancer violates federal law, the agency said.
The FDA was particularly unhappy about assertions on Cheerios boxes and its website that eating the cereal can “lower your cholesterol 4% in 6 weeks.” The FDA counters that the cereal must be approved as a drug before making such specific health claims.
General Mills spokesman Tom Forsythe said the cholesterol-lowering claim has been featured on the Cheerios box for more than two years and that the heart health claim was approved by the FDA 12 years ago. On April 20, General Mills announced results of a clinical study that showed eating two daily servings of Cheerios (1 1/2 cups each) can reduce cholesterol 10% in just a month.
“The science is not in question,” he said. “The scientific body of evidence supporting the heart health claim was the basis for FDA’s approval of the heart health claim, and the clinical study supporting Cheerios’ cholesterol-lowering benefits is very strong.”
Forsythe said the company looks forward “to discussing this with the FDA and to reaching a resolution.” General Mills faces seizure of products or an injunction against making and distributing Cheerios.
As the Los Angeles Times reports the story, it seems that the government’s complaint about the cholesterol claim isn’t that it is false. The problem, according to the FDA, is that because Cheerios is effective at lowering cholesterol, idiots might get confused and mistake a bowl of Cheerios for a pile of Lipitor.
According to government regulations, if Cheerios provides the health benefits claimed, that fact itself is all that’s needed for the government to treat it as a drug. Nevermind that it isn’t a drug. Nevermind that, for decades, schoolchildren have understood that Cheerios is food. Nevermind that. This is the government and the rules must be enforced, common sense be damned.
Anyone who looks at a box of Cheerios and sees a product “intended for use in the prevention, mitigation and treatment of disease” is the type of person whose mortgage I’ll end up paying someday. So screw him. If he can’t distinguish between cereal and medication, then let him get ripped off for that $5 a week habit, I say. Consider it stimulus by stupidity.
After all, what’s good for General Mills is good for America.
20 April 2009 @ 9:10AM >>
When it comes to the media’s obsequious fawning over President Barack Obama, The Onion gets it, imagining how the media would cover this hypothetical scenario:
More than a week after President Barack Obama’s cold-blooded killing of a local couple, members of the American news media admitted Tuesday that they were still trying to find the best angle for covering the gruesome crime.
“I know there’s a story in there somewhere,” said Newsweek editor Jon Meacham, referring to Obama’s home invasion and execution-style slaying of Jeff and Sue Finowicz on Apr. 8. “Right now though, it’s probably best to just sit back and wait for more information to come in. After all, the only thing we know for sure is that our president senselessly murdered two unsuspecting Americans without emotion or hesitation.”
Added Meacham, “It’s not so cut and dried.”
Since the killings took place, reporters across the country have struggled to come up with an appropriate take on the ruthless crime, with some wondering whether it warrants front-page coverage, and others questioning its relevance in a fast-changing media landscape.
“What exactly is the news hook here?” asked Rick Kaplan, executive producer of the CBS Evening News. “Is this an upbeat human-interest story about a ‘day in the life’ of a bloodthirsty president who likes to kill people? Or is it more of an examination of how Obama’s unusual upbringing in Hawaii helped to shape the way he would one day viciously butcher two helpless citizens in their own home?”
“Or maybe the story is just that murder is cool now,” Kaplan continued. “I don’t know. There are a million different angles on this one.”
So far, the president’s double-homicide has not been covered by any major news outlets. The only two mentions of the heinous tragedy have been a 100-word blurb on the Associated Press wire and an obituary on page E7 of this week’s edition of the Lake County Examiner.
“There’s been some debate around the office about whether we should report on this at all,” Washington Post senior reporter Bill Tracy said while on assignment at a local dog show.
30 January 2009 @ 8:21AM >>
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals has started a campaign to get people to start calling fish “sea kittens.” The idea seems to be, if people think fish are as cute as kittens, they would be less likely to eat them. (Although there are some countries in which such a strategy would obviously backfire.)
On the About page of PETA’s Save the Sea Kittens site, there’s a “Sea Kitten Facts” box with a rotating list of fish factoids.
One of those items contains a gratuitous insult against President Obama:
The Wall Street Journal’s James Taranto asks, “How dare PETA stereotype the first African-American president as lacking in intelligence?”
On behalf of our president, I demand that PETA retract this bigoted insult.
17 December 2008 @ 8:57AM >>
If you ever get any odd or cryptic e-mails from me, now you know why:
Doctors have reported the first ever case of someone using the internet while asleep, after a sleeping woman sent emails to people asking them over for drinks and caviar.
It was only when a would-be guest phoned the next day to accept, that she found out what she had done.
The 44-year-old woman, whose case is reported by researchers from the University of Toledo in the latest edition of medical journal Sleep Medicine, had gone to bed at around 10pm, but got up two hours later and walked to the next room.
She then turned on the computer, connected to the internet, and logged on by typing her username and password to her email account. She then composed and sent three emails.
Each was in a random mix of upper and lower cases, not well formatted and written in strange language.
One read: “Come tomorrow and sort this hell hole out. Dinner and drinks, 4.pm,. Bring wine and caviar only.”
[New York Governor David] Paterson’s chief of staff now says he owed nearly $300,000 in back taxes, $100,000 more than was previously known - and his lawyer blamed the problem on “non-filer syndrome.”
Charles O’Byrne’s attorney, Richard Kestenbaum, mentioned the virtually unheard-of ailment at a briefing for reporters intended to quell the firestorm surrounding O’Byrne’s failure to file income-tax returns from 2001 to 2005.
O’Byrne, 49, a former Jesuit priest with close ties to the Kennedy family, has already blamed his neglect to file - first reported by The Post - on clinical depression.
Kestenbaum said yesterday O’Byrne also had “non-filer syndrome.”
“Many times, that syndrome causes them not to be able to file their tax returns,” he explained.
“Yes, it’s quite common,” one Manhattan accountant joked. “A hundred percent of my clients suffer from this syndrome, and it gets especially bad every year as April 15th approaches.”
His top contenders are said to include Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney. Less traditional choices mentioned include former Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge, an abortion-rights supporter, and Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman, the Democratic vice presidential prick in 2000 who now is an independent.
There were certain words that would pop up from time to time in the Associated Press stories that moved onto the site that were a bit salacious, or unacceptable to post.
“We don’t have the staff to monitor all the Hollywood stories,” news director Fred Jackson said yesterday, “so we wanted an automated function.” He said they put up the filter about a month or so ago.
One word they wanted to filter was “gay.” The site felt that the term put the matter of homosexuality “in a positive light,” Jackson said, when the evangelical Christian organization was much opposed. So when a wire story referred to gay marriage, for example, the phrase would automatically appear as “homosexual marriage.”
Worked fine until Sunday, when the AP reported that “Tyson Homosexual easily won his semifinal for the 100 meters at the U.S. Olympic track and field trials.” The story was headlined “Homosexual eases into 100 final at Olympic trials.”
“On Saturday,” the story said, “Homosexual misjudged the finish in his opening heat...”
That’s world champion sprinter Tyson Gay, of course.
10 May 2008 @ 11:44AM >>
Politicians sometimes misspeak. George W. Bush is well-known for it. And if it had been the current president who claimed to have visited 57 states—with one more to go—you’d probably have heard a few dozen jokes about it by now.
Perhaps Obama is planning an imperialist presidency, and he accidentally let it slip that we’ll soon have a few more states. If so, then maybe he wouldn’t be the pushover president I worry he’d be.
I’m sure Barack Obama knows how many states there actually are. The coverage of this quote (or the lack thereof) is more telling about the media than anything else.
Update: Dale S. of Lewisville, Texas writes in to contest my math. Because Senator Obama cited Alaska and Hawaii separately in addition to the “one [state] left to go,” Dale contends his statement could be interpreted to mean we have 60 states. Fair enough. On the other hand, he could be saying that Alaska and Hawaii are not states at all. So confusing! Can’t we just go back to having 50 states?
23 April 2008 @ 8:44AM >>
Barack Obama’s hometown of Chicago is famous for its political history in which the dead rise from the grave to show up on election day and cast votes for Democrats.
But, perhaps thanks to the messianic effect Senator Obama seems to have on some voters, his dead supporters go a step further. They actually open their checkbooks:
The [Los Angeles] Times’ campaign finance expert Dan Morain has found Obama campaign records reporting a $50 donation by Roy Scheider, who lists his occupation as actor and his home as Sag Harbor, N.Y. Remember him from many great movies including “The French Connection” and “Jaws” and the immortal line: “You’re gonna need a bigger boat”?
According to the campaign records, Scheider made the donation on March 10 last month.
Trouble is, Scheider died exactly one month before that, on Feb. 10 at the age of 75.
As the reporter notes, “Scheider was unavailable for comment.”
11 March 2008 @ 7:35AM >>
Not content with fighting “excessive” and “obscene” pay for corporate officials, the Governor of New York has a new target. In a piece entitled “Eliot Spitzer Vows To Crack Down On Excess Prostitute Pay,” financial website DealBreaker.com reports:
Discovering that the exclusive international ring of prostitutes known as the “Emperor’s Club” charged up to $5,500 an hour for their services, New York governor Eliot Spitzer vowed to put an end to this price gouging practice.
Four people alleged to have run the “Emperor’s Club” were charged with conspiracy to violate federal prostitution statutes, while two of them were also charged with laundering more than $1 million in illegal proceeds.
“That kind of excessive compensation is simply outrageous. Prostitution is allegedly a victimless crime,” Spitzer said in a press conference that took place only in our imaginations. “But now we see that its customers can become its victims.”
Spitzer added it was especially shameful that one of the most trusted names in prostitution had engaged in this shocking betrayal and rank greed.