Ugly Teeth and consumer protection

Another sign the monkeys are running the zoo is the news that the head of consumer protection doesn’t want consumer protection.

The top official for consumer product safety has asked Congress in recent days to reject legislation that would strengthen the agency that polices thousands of consumer goods, from toys to tools.

On the eve of an important Senate committee meeting to consider the legislation, Nancy A. Nord, the acting chairman of the Consumer Product Safety Commission, has asked lawmakers in two letters not to approve the bulk of legislation that would increase the agency’s authority, double its budget and sharply increase its dwindling staff.

Ms. Nord opposes provisions that would increase the maximum penalties for safety violations and make it easier for the government to make public reports of faulty products, protect industry whistleblowers and prosecute executives of companies that willfully violate laws.

The measure is an effort to buttress an agency that has been under siege because of a raft of tainted and dangerous products manufactured both domestically and abroad. In the last two months alone, more than 13 million toys have been recalled after tests indicated lead levels of almost 200 times the safety ceiling.

Ms. Nord, who before joining the agency had been a lawyer at Eastman Kodak and an official at the United States Chamber of Commerce, criticized the measure in letters sent late last week and this afternoon to the Democratic leaders of the committee. She was critical, for instance, of a provision to ban lead from all toys. She said that the proposal to raise the potential penalty to $100 million “may have the undesired consequence of firms, as a precautionary measure, flooding the agency with virtually every consumer complaint and incident.”

Now, match this news with the latest news on Halloween plastic teeth.

Based on the inquiries by CBS News and the complaint filed with the Consumer Product Safety Commission, there is now an official investigation into why some “Ugly Teeth” have levels of lead 100 times beyond the legal limit.

There are thousands of these fake teeth, which have been purchased in the past few days as part of the ghoulish outfits of tiny trick-or-treaters around the country. Lead is dangerous if ingested, and extremely dangerous to small children.

The proportion of products that Professor Jeff Weidenhamer found to have high lead levels is what troubled him. Out of 56 Halloween-related products he tested, he found six to have levels between four and 130 times what is allowable. All 6 of the products with these problems were made in China.

I love the irony.

The teeth are supposed to make you look stupid. The irony is, with all the lead in them, they may actually make you stupid.

How fortunate we are that we have yet another incompetent or downright crooked Bush appointee in place to ensure that our critical regulatory agencies don’t do their jobs.

Now I can’t wait to see the Golden Compass (what kind of daemon do you have?)

It’s already got the fundamentalists up in arms. Apparently, one of them managed to read something outside the accepted cannon of Christ-like books and now they’re all bothered about the December 7th release (see trailer) of the first installment of Phillip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy – the Golden Compass (IMDB).

According to, leading atheist writers and intellectuals are engaged in a “scientific” quest to ultimately destroy organized religion, particularly Christianity. Oxford professor Richard Dawkins, author Sam Harris and journalist Christopher Hitchens are some of the big names leading this “new atheism” initiative. Evidence of their agenda is seen in efforts such as the Out Campaign and the Blasphemy Challenge.

Pullman’s book trilogy is the story of “a battle against the church and a fight to overthrow God,” BBC News reported. The Guardian, a British newspaper, goes even further to describe the books as “metaphysical fantasies encompassing parallel worlds, the death of God and the fall of man ….”

Therefore, without yet seeing the film, at least one pro-family group — the American Family Association — is alerting Christians to the potential dangers of The Golden Compass. Because of Pullman’s clearly articulated anti-Christian motives, AFA is warning all viewers to run from the film.

The Golden Compass is set in an alternative world with a sinister Magisterium. It is about a girl named Lyra who sets out to rescue her friend Roger who has been kidnapped by an organization known as the Gobblers. Roger’s rescue turns into an epic quest to save two different worlds — one in which people’s souls manifest themselves as animals. These manifestations are known as “daemons,” and Pullman says they help a person grow toward wisdom.

In addition, the movie website allows visitors to answer a set of questions and create their own daemons that journey alongside them in life.

“One of the [book] series’ main themes — the rejection of organized religion and in particular the abuse of power within the Catholic Church — is to be watered down,” according to the Telegraph, a newspaper in the U.K. “But when the film is released in December the Magisterium will be shown as a critique of all dogmatic organizations, thereby avoiding a religious backlash.”

I’ve got to say I’m excited after seeing the trailer, because it looks beautiful, and it’s got damn good casting. Nicole Kidman is a perfect choice for Coulter (no not that one – don’t worry) Daniel Craig is an excellent choice, if a bit young, for Asriel, and Sam Elliot couldn’t be more fitting a choice for the Texan Lee Scorsby. Ian McKellen is even voicing Iorek.

It’s a funny double-standard the AFA and others objecting, after all, if the Chronicles of Narnia is acceptable as a children’s movie despite the Christian dogmatism inherent in the plot (and purposefully placed their by C.S. Lewis), surely atheists are allowed to have a film that discourages dogmatism (purposefully placed their by Pullman). Isn’t it only fair? We’ll have a poll after this comes out, which is better. I found Narnia to be insipid and bland. Hopefully they won’t be to scared of offending the religious to give these films an edge.

Either way, I can think of no better advertisement for a movie for kids than the AFA saying it’s bad for them.

Here’s the site to design your daemon by the way. My daemon’s name isClymonistra, and she’s a tiger.

Doctors are conspiring to convince you you’re sick!

How do doctors decide what is healthy and unhealthy? Do they arbitrarily decide on risk factors to line their pockets – creating false epidemics as Sandy Szwarc at Junkfood Science suggests? Or, is there actually a science, called epidemiology, that is the basis for health recommendations?

As I’ve said repeatedly, one of the sure signs you’re about to hear total BS is if someone suggests there is some conspiracy by scientists or doctors to hide the truth. In an article challenging the use of serum troponin levels to determine whether myocardial infarction (MI) has occurred (a more sensitive method) Sandy suggests this is yet another example of doctors lowering metrics of illness and risk to generate the impression of false epidemics.

There must be a health crisis to bring the greatest funding for research, treatments and education… even if an epidemic has to be created. One of the most common tactics is to change the definition. When diagnostic criteria is broadened, suddenly, with the stroke of a pen, new cases can appear to explode in number.

With heart disease deaths dropping dramatically for the past half century, the world’s top four organizations representing heart disease interests have all gotten together to change the definition … of a heart attack.

The World Heart Federation, American College of Cardiology, American Heart Association and the European Society of Cardiology have been championing the new criteria over recent years, and will officially release it next month in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology and in the AHA journal, Circulation. The new definition will use elevations of troponin levels, rather than the traditional cardiac biomarkers, such as the MB-CK enzyme.

This is a truly bizarre argument. Because measuring troponin will allow us to detect more MIs that have occurred, it must of course be part of a plot to make Americans think they’re less healthy. Never mind that more sensitive tests for MI are what is known as a good thing, and that current tests clearly are missing minor heart damage thus underestimating the number of true MIs. Any revision of current standards must be part of a plot! The fact that those scientists got together is a sure sign. We should never let them do that.

While troponins may go up for other reasons, the idea that the test will misdiagnose as heart attacks other disorders is pretty silly. This isn’t a test that is going to be used to diagnose MI in the absence of chest pain or abnormal ECG findings – which enhances the specificity of the test – and doctors are aware of confounding diagnoses – it’s their job to find them. Further, the idea that the new criteria were designed to somehow justify funding for heart disease (an area of medicine that will never lack for funding) is downright hilarious.

But this isn’t the only example of “false epidemics” being created by those greedy doctors trying to convince people that they’re ill. Sandy mentions other excellent examples.

First, because this is Sandy, is of course obesity:

“Overweight:”Definition changed from BMI ≥ 27 to BMI ≥ 25 by the U.S. National Heart Lung and Blood Institute in 1998, instantly increasing by 43% the numbers of Americans, an additional 30.5 million, deemed ‘overweight.’

So, did doctors just pull that figure out of nowhere to line their pockets? Or does data exist that justify the decision? This study in NEJM(1) is a prospective study of over a million people evaluating all-cause mortality (as well as a number of independent risk factors) showing the relationship between BMI and mortality. Here is the relevant figure – the dark line is most relevant – showing the relative risk of death versus BMI.

Continued below the fold:
Continue reading “Doctors are conspiring to convince you you’re sick!”

Bloggers for Peer Reviewed Research

BPR3, or Bloggers for Peer-Reviewed Research Reporting has announced the release of their new icons. For those of you who don’t know what this is all about, it’s pretty simple. When we’re not making up lolcats, and being all super-serious, we want to have a simple way to communicate to the audience that we’re discussing the scientific literature itself. That is, we’re not just reacting to idiotic press releases, poorly-written articles in major newspapers, or the latest misunderstanding of science by some crank. We’re actually reading the science before we pontificate about it.

This should be encouraged. So here are my 6 posts I’ve attached the logo to so far. You may remember some of them.
Promising Embryonic Cell News
Reprogramming Adult Cells into ES cells
Does Smoking Cannabis Cause Schizophrenia?
Again with the Marijuana
Global Warming is a threat to Global Health
A Critical Appraisal of Chronic Lyme

Enjoy! And good work Dave, Mike, John and others for getting this idea up and running.

Why Do-Not-Call Will Lead to Do-Not-Mail

In today’s Wall Street Journal, Jennifer Levitz and Kelly Greene report on lead generation firms (also known as list brokers), companies that sell databases of consumer information to businesses for marketing purposes:

Older Americans around the country are getting duped by a seemingly innocuous tactic that can expose them to hard-sell pitches from the insurance industry.

The technique is centered on a marketing tool called the lead card, and it became popular after the federal government created its Do Not Call Registry in 2003 to shield consumers from unwanted solicitors. Sent through the mail, the lead card invites the recipient to mail off an enclosed reply for free information about, say, estate planning.

But the cards fail to warn that by sending off replies, recipients are giving up their right to avoid telephone solicitations from the sender — even if their phone numbers are on the Do Not Call list.

And guess who calls? Scammers:

State regulators say insurers are using the cards to peddle investments unsuitable for seniors, including so-called living trusts that may provide no benefit and annuities that come with steep surrender charges and lengthy payout deferrals.

A case in point is Jeanne Blom, an 81-year-old widow in Minneapolis. A retired office-building cleaner, Mrs. Blom years ago transferred the deed of her house, worth $135,000, to her son, placed his name on her checking account and made him the owner of her 1990 Buick LeSabre. The rest of her assets were valued at far less than $20,000, which under Minnesota law would allow her son to collect them without probate, according to Charles Roach, her attorney. In any case, the probate fee in her county is only $250.

Yes, the narrowing of the phone as a vector for marketing has increased mail marketing. A few years ago, the volume of junk mail sent through USPS exceeded that of ordinary, first class mail. This year, at least a dozen states introduced do-not-mail legislation. The aggravation caused by more and more junk, combined with the frauds against a growing elderly population, will result in serious consideration of do-not-mail. All it’s going to take is a few more incidents like these:

‘Fear Factor’

ChoicePoint internal emails used as evidence in the case showed it was mailing more than a million lead cards a year and charged insurers as much as $35,000 per order for the mass mailings, including one in 2003 alerting older adults to a “new” AARP study on probate taxes. The study was then actually 14 years old, was done before a change in federal probate laws and, according to AARP, no longer represented its views. In internal emails, ChoicePoint employees attributed the cards’ success in generating responses to their “fear factor” and described response rates that “tumbled” when AARP’s name was temporarily removed from mailings.

ChoicePoint’s spokesman says the “business practice” described in the settlement began before ChoicePoint bought its lead-generator unit in 2003, and that ChoicePoint stopped using AARP references after last year’s settlement.

AARP has a similar complaint pending against America’s Recommended Mailers and American Family Prepaid in U.S. District Court in Durham, N.C. AARP alleges that America’s Recommended Mailers uses cards that appear to come from AARP to generate leads sold to American Family and others. America’s Recommended Mailers has denied the claim. American Family said in a court filing that it bought lead cards on “good faith” belief that the cards didn’t violate laws.

North Carolina court filings against American Family say “deceptive” mailers enabled the company’s agents to visit 2,000 North Carolina residents over age 65 in their homes in 2004 and 2005. The state says they bought $4.2 million in living trusts and millions of dollars in equity-indexed annuities that were unnecessary and unsuitable.

A new low for FEMA – installing claques in press conferences

It’s the big news, at a FEMA press briefing FEMA employees threw softball questions to give the appearance of answering questions from the press.

. No one asked about trailers with formaldehyde for those made homeless by the fires. And the media seemed to be giving Johnson all day to wax on and on about FEMA’s greatness.

Of course, that could be because the questions were asked by FEMA staffers playing reporters. We’re told the questions were asked by Cindy Taylor, FEMA’s deputy director of external affairs, and by “Mike” Widomski, the deputy director of public affairs. Director of External Affairs John “Pat” Philbin asked a question, and another came, we understand, from someone who sounds like press aide Ali Kirin.

Ok. This is how incompetent FEMA is. If you’re going to have fake reporters at a press conference do not use the deputy directors! You wouldn’t think you’d have to explain this to them but sheesh. What a bunch of morons. This is what interns are for.

P.S., I started with the title “a new low for this administration”, but then I realized I forgot about Jeff Gannon!

Friday Magic Trick

In honor of Phenomenon and the fun of talking about magic tricks check out Ramana, aka Wouter Bijdendijk who has been doing the levitation trick shown below, only he’s doing it in front of the Whitehouse.

Here he is doing a similar piece standing on the side of a building – more performance art really.

I think the only one who can’t figure this one out is the current White House resident. It’s clearly a terrorist attempt to bring the executive to a standstill as he tries to puzzle it out.

Spoiler below.
Continue reading “Friday Magic Trick”

How not to be taken seriously

I think I’m going to have to add a new behavior to the crank HOWTO based on the latest campaign by troofers to get attention by disruption.

First it was Bill Maher:

Who I think handled it right.

Now Bill Clin-ton.Bill also does a pretty good job with the kooks. But it has me thinking that part of the crank HOWTO is going to have to be go to talks and shows that have nothing to do with your topic and start screaming. If you get tased, congratulations, you’ve been persecuted. Act like it was a victory too, and complain about being manhandled after you’ve disrupted a live television show.

Do we need better proof of their irrelevance? Their idea of getting their message out is yelling at TV hosts? Now that is some crankery.