Saturday, June 30, 2007

read it and find out

Lessons from Katrina - How to Destroy an African American City in 33 Steps by Bill Quigley

Here's a step-by-step playbook for destroying communities of the urban poor - all the better for the real estate market, hence our GDP, thereby pleasing God greatly. Unfortunately for those who would seek to follow it, seems like it requires a major hurricane and neglected levies: Bloomberg, you're out of luck.

Friday, June 29, 2007

Yet he's the author people who don't pay attention to the world turn to for an update

FLATHEAD - The peculiar genius of Thomas L. Friedman by Matt Taibbi

The first time I read this a while back, I was crying I was laughing so hard. Even now, on the third or fourth time through, I still can't hide a smile. Out of everyone in the entire world, Tom Friedman is my very favorite clown.

You must read this, and that goes double for anyone who actually reads Friedman's books or columns for other than their unintentional-humor value.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Hot girls distrust the U.S.?

Global poll shows wide distrust of United States

Wow, this article begins with a picture of two pretty girls from LA at some left wing conference. The rest of it is about something like the rest of the world distrusting the U.S. or something, and I think the girls may be sisters...

read it and find out

Targeting Dissent - FBI Spying on the National Lawyers Guild by Marjorie Cohn

This is a short history of US Government repression of the Guild. That's my organization - NLG represent!

read it and find out

Imminent Crises: Threats and Opportunities by Noam Chomsky

This is as good as Chomsky's political writing gets; powerful yet understated, with a bit of sarcasm here and there that, given the subject matter, would normally come across as bitter and withering - but doesn't. This short article sums up a wealth of knowledge about politics and economics in a very readable fashion, and so would make a great starting point for people interested in these vital subjects but daunted by their enormity.

Friday, June 22, 2007

That's one dull Bright

On, an editorial writer named Bright Simons wrote a piece entitled "Drug Patents Don't Kill Poor Patients." You can read it at I replied:

I have been waiting to see some truly bad reporting or editorializing on OhMyNews, and the inaptly-named 'Bright' B. Simons has finally come through with the goods (so to speak).

Bright takes a dim view of the 'access to medicine' movement, using versions of arguments devised by Big Pharma's small army of public relations hacks. (The only difference is, unlike PR workers, Bright is not getting paid for his hackery.) Since Bright has not used any new insights or statistical research to back up his pro-patent arguments, what passes for the latter can be refuted on a quick trip to the archives of (you can find them in the 'discredited, older than ten years' section).

As for the anecdotal 'evidence' Bright marshals to support his cause (and that of Big Pharma as well), I am left with little to say. I agree that it is bad when plant extracts of wildly varying quality are sold, and consumers cannot tell the difference. What that has to do with first-world pharmaceutical companies selling life-saving drugs at prices only the rich in the third-world can afford, and using government intervention (intellectual property protection) to prevent competition from entering the market and undercutting them, I suppose I am just not Bright enough to know. Perhaps Bright could have spent more time shedding light on such a connection?

I was surprised to hear that Cipla, a trusted name among the 'access to medicine' crowd, would sell its version of heat-resistant Aluvia "at a price three times what Abbott the original patent holder sells it for." Surprised not only due to Cipla's reputation, but also because Cipla is run by human beings who have the faculty of rational thought. Why sell a generic version of a drug at three times the name-brand price? Who the hell would buy it? So I looked up some info on Aluvia, and found that the heat-resistant form of the drug - lopinavir/ritonavir - is manufactured by Abbot, Cipla and Emcure. Contrary to Bright's audacious argument against the proposition that "generic production always lowers the price of drugs," Cipla and Emcure's version of lopinavir/ritonavir is substantially lower than Abbot's. Even more importantly, the low price point the generic manufacturers set puts pressure on Abbot to lower its price - a move it offered to make to Thailand in April if Thailand would only stop its terrifying overtures towards providing impoverished sectors of its population with affordable generic drugs.

As for the rest of his editorial, I do not know where next to turn. Every paragraph reveals a new poorly-reasoned point, such as the one that only 5 per cent of Indian pharmaceutical industry R&D is done on diseases of the poor (as opposed to the zero percent Big Pharma spends). Or the one that low profit margins for first-world Big Pharma augur cripplingly low profit margins for third-world generic manufacturers (do I really need to refute this, or unlike Bright, are we all endowed with at least an elementary sense of economic logic and the concept of cost differentials between first and third-world producers?).

But my favorite bit of idiocy in this piece has to be the neologism, "paleo-communists". (As opposed to those neo-communists thriving the world over.) While it is one of my most ardent wishes that India were in fact controlled by communists old or new, unfortunately, as in the rest of this piece, to the extent that Bright's words have any connection to reality, it consists only in a polar opposition.

Bright responded:
your passion about this subject is evident. But I do not believe you addressed the issues I raised, which are:

1. Increasing skilled-sector wages in the BRICS (the main supply of generics) mean that 1) generics will get expensive 2) generic firms will target affluent western consumers more.

2. Apart from the incidents in Ethiopia, evidence is mounting about substandard generics being dumped in the least developed countries. Without brand jealousy, the incentive to rigorously enforce standards can disappear, and

3. IP protection is good for innovation in the herbal/natural remedy therapeutic industries, which exert a greater impact on public health in poor countries than modern-style pharmaceuticals.

My reply:

Hi Bright,
First, commendations for your restraint! I didn't display much, so you are the better man for that. Can't say the same as regards your position on this issue ;)

3) IP protection in the form of copyright, perhaps, is good here. Then you can have, say, Salma Hayek (c) brand ginseng, and the company making it will try to protect the value of the brand by keeping its quality up (or, unfortunately, plow their money into commercial propaganda to fool people into thinking that their ginseng is high quality, when it is really all the sexy pictures of Salma the company plasters all over town that are getting people aroused). Then, this form of IP protection - assuming there are enough public funds to go towards paying the courts, police, etc. to enforce it - serves to keep even-more-unscrupulous-capitalist X from putting toxic waste into pills and selling them as Salma Hayek (c) brand ginseng. (However, it is ludicrous to say that Ethiopia or an even more impoverished country like Niger should be wasting whatever money it has - including money it has been given - on something like the infrastructure required for copyright protection).

The broad suggestion that IP protection in the form of patent protection is good for innovation is highly uncertain - do you know of any natural experiments in which two similarly situated countries have had opposite policies on patent protection for natural remedies, and what the results were? (Not a rhetorical question.) In fact, the idea that IP protection categorically stimulates innovation is a piece of conventional wisdom in the original, Galbraithian sense - which is to say, widely-believed bullshit. There is no shortage of industries that feature no or next to no IP protection, yet thrive and churn out innovation daily, from one of my least favorite industries, fashion, to one of my favorite, pornography. I would argue that patent protection for natural remedies is counterproductive in that, once Company X has a patent on ginseng, and can exclude everyone else from the ginseng market through the workings of the state apparatus (go to courts, file a suit, sue the patent-infringers, win award, have sheriff enforce award, etc.), what incentive has Company X for improving the product? In fact, if the market for ginseng can be as easily duped as the market for "fruit juice", why not dilute the ginseng with 99% corn syrup - after all, no one else can compete with you. ... Now that is patent protection; copyright protection I have no qualms with, if we are talking about a rich country that can afford such luxuries, or if we are talking about a poor country whose copyright protection costs are paid by a rich country, only after that rich country ensures first that no one is starving to death or dying of diarrhea, for starters.

2) Brand jealousy is a matter of copyright, not patent. So if Cipla produces efavirenz without paying off Bristol-Meyers Squibb, and sells it at a profit reflecting its vastly lower costs of production, that's a patent issue. Now both Cipla and Squibb have a major interest in keeping the quality standards of their products high; but the black market scam artist doesn't. He can produce sugar pills and slap a Squibb or a Cipla logo on the package, and he doesn't care which - that's a copyright issue. There are two separate markets here, the branded manufacturer and the black marketeer. Neither a Cipla or a Squibb has any interest - rather the opposite - to allow its quality to lapse, and destroy its reputation and future in any given (geographical) market. Only a black marketeer has no interest in its reputation, because it isn't putting its own image/face out there as a manufacturer or brand.

1) 1) is pure speculation, but possible. It is vanishingly unlikely however that Indian generics will ever even approach the level of expense of Big Pharma brand-name drugs, due to relatively lower production costs, not only in fabrication but also in terms of R&D. 1) 2) is irrelevant to the question of whether strong, internationally uniform patent protection kills the sick and poor. So what if generics started targeting rich westerners? Well, if Cipla tried to sell its generics in the U.S. market, for example, Big Pharma would have a field day suing it out of U.S. existence. The barriers to legal entry are too high (but some middlemen already sell their products over the internet to United Statesians... the big profits however accrue to the middlemen).

Thursday, June 21, 2007

More sex & violence

Bog Venus v. Nazi Cock Ring - Some Thoughts Concerning Pornography by Alan Moore

(Start off on page 32, then go to Part2of3.pdf to continue)

Best quote - "Just to recap, then, sexually progressive cultures gave us literature, philosophy, civilization and the rest, while sexually restrictive cultures gave us the Dark Ages and the Holocaust. Not that I'm trying to load my argument, of course."

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

On racism in South Korea

That Koreans discriminate against foreigners shouldn't be any surprise. 1) what people can you think of that didn't take a hell of a long time, in constant contact with different looking/speaking/believing/etc foreigners, to cozy up to them? The only people that come to mind are some of the Native American tribes that welcomed the European settlers with open arms - and look what happened to them, eh?

2) And look at Korea's relatively short history of contact with foreigners - first, the French send some Jesuits to teach some idiotic religion called Christianity; they get executed, just as (the Koreans thought) a bunch of Koreans trying to spread Korean ideas uninvited in France would; then the French send a shitload of soldiers to exact revenge - you know, rape, pillage, murder, etc. (Anyway, the French soldiers got killed, so France decided to go rape, pillage and colonize an easier target, Vietnam as it turned out.) The Koreans decide, Jesus, got to stay away from these pale-faced pointy-nosed barbarians, and shut themselves off from the outside world. Until Japan shows up to save the rest of Asia from European colonialism - by colonizing it first.

After the Yankees kick the Japs out, then the Koreans get 50+ years of multi-racial United Statesian troops living in their backyards, regularly committing rapes and murders against Koreans and then getting whisked out of the country to an United Statesian court for a heavy... slap on the wrist. Fuck, in the U.S., if a Mexican accidentally kills a white girl half the country will be calling for all tanned-skinned people to be shipped off to Abu Dhabi. 3) Besides, it is not as if the U.S. is home to any kind of ideal state of non-racism. It may seem like it from within light skin, but talk to someone whose ancestors are not from Europe - try a Mexican or Arab, for starters - and ask them what the U.S. is like to live in. 4) Guess where the Koreans got the idea that black-skinned foreigners are the worst of the lot, given that Korea and Africa never seemed to have much historical interaction... I'd wager it's the light-skinned foreigners.

Which brings me to: 5) an United Statesian lambasting another society for its racism is like a serial rapist criticizing a pornographer for disrespecting women.

Yeah, South Korea sucks for being hellish for women and racist to foreigners (esp. if you are a South Asian migrant worker), but you know what? At least it doesn't go around the world bombing women and kids, supporting brutal tyrants against their own populations, and forcing economic policies that amount to mass murder down the collective throats of poor countries.

[/End Devil's advocacy]

As long as we are keeping tabs

Statue unveiling in Washington: Bush, Democrats resurrect anticommunism in service of US “war on terror” by Bill Van Auken

To put the victims of communism in perspective - why not consider the victims of capitalism? After all, if it makes sense to add together the number of deaths caused by regimes considered to be communist, it makes sense to add together the number of deaths caused by regimes considered to be capitalist. So read this article, or... the very same point encapsulated in a cartoon.

read it and find out

If It Feels Good to Be Good, It Might Be Only Natural by Shankar Vedantam

"Altruism, the experiment suggested, was not a superior moral faculty that suppresses basic selfish urges but rather was basic to the brain, hard-wired and pleasurable."

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

read it and find out

Crying Over Spilled Semen - Why women who don't use condoms feel happier by Tiffany Kary

Forget all that crap I've posted about justice and using society's unparalleled productive capacity to ensure that no human being goes without food, clothing or shelter, blah blah. This is the most important article ever!

A rising tide drowns those without boats

Restoring balance to a globalized world by William Pfaff

This article might be a good place for those weened on the assurances of neoclassical economists - basically, anyone who's learned economics from respectable publications or in good universities - to happen upon the realization that the most trumpeted economic policies of the past 20-30 years have also been the most counterproductive. That is, of course, if their goal was to raise the living standards of the world's poorest, and not simply to ensure that the richest members of all the world's countries could reach stratospheric levels of wealth.