Health Archives

March 13, 2013

Soda: sugar, water, and a ton of money

Beyonce's Pepsi campaign

There's a great article in the Times today, one of many they've done about the failed soda size limit law in NYC, about the relationship between the soda industry and civil rights groups that spoke out against the policy. It isn't exactly news that companies like Coke and Pepsi are big supporters of the NAACP, the Hispanic Federation, National Council of La Raza, and the US Hispanic Leadership Institute, and in some cases have been for decades.

What's so great about today's article are the quotes from leaders at these organizations, and spokespeople from soda companies, expressing their shock and outrage that anyone could think that there's any connection between a company giving money to an organization, and that organization's public support of the company's political agenda.

Check this out:

  • "We never ask our foundation or community relations partners to engage in public policy issues on our behalf," said Jeff Dahncke, a spokesman for PepsiCo. "The nature of these relationships is focused on diversity and inclusion."
  • Katelyn Jackson, a spokeswoman for Coca-Cola, said in an e-mail, "The suggestion that our community philanthropic efforts are motivated by something other than good will is grossly inaccurate and ignores our history of true partnership for well over a century."
  • "We don't support soda taxes and things like that, any kind of grocery taxes, because we think they hurt our community more than helping," said Christina M. Martinez, spokeswoman for the US Hispanic Leadership Institute. "We have a great partnership with PepsiCo."
  • Coke and Pepsi have given over $10 million to La Raza, and executives from each company serve on La Raza's board. And guess who La Raza's anti-obesity program's sponsor is? Pepsi! "They are a company that produces some very healthy products," says their Senior VP for Programs.

I don't blame these organizations for taking corporate money--they have programs to run and are doing important work. But to suggest that there's no connection between the source of an organization's revenue and the policies they support or oppose is incredibly naive and delusional. My point is that soda companies have essentially bought themselves credibility by funding civil rights organizations that represent diverse communities, who then speak publicly in support of soda companies's political goals. These companies have been doing this forever, starting when Coke wanted to shed its image as a racist company back in the mid-20th century.

Of course, soda companies also spend a fortune on marketing, a financial bludgeon that overwhelms relatively tiny investments in research on the effects of soda on public health, and the budgets of nonprofits trying to educate people in their communities about what happens to you if you drink loads of soda.

Then there's Beyoncé. She's gotten a lot of flak for her $50 million deal with Pepsi, especially since she also served as a spokesperson/danceperson for Michelle Obama's Let's Move anti-obesity campaign. But let's be honest: Beyoncé has endorsed Pepsi for many years. And McDonald's. She obviously has no problem shilling for unhealthy crap. Maybe she wasn't a very wise choice for a White House campaign promoting healthy food.

But the point is, soda companies don't do this stuff by accident. Their product is basically sugar, water, and food coloring, so they have extensive profits to spend on making people want to drink their stuff, and co-opting the respectability of popular celebrities and admired civil rights groups.

I pretty much agree with Justice Tingling who ruled against the soda size limit. And I love his wonderful name. Bloomberg's proposal was capricious, legally nonsensical, and doomed to fail--there's no legal category of "sugary drinks" that includes things like soda, but not things like chocolate milk. Our government doesn't regulate sugar like it regulates tobacco and alcohol, and until it does, it's going to be hard for cities or states to make laws limiting public consumption of sugar. Until the ATF becomes the ATFS (maybe change it to FATS?) they might not get anywhere. It also might help if organizations that speak for disenfranchised people stopped pretending that money doesn't affect what they say and do.

October 10, 2011

Just because you're paranoid doesn't mean they're not after you

Take Shelter

Remember two years ago when Up In the Air came out, and people said it was the perfect movie for our times because it was about layoffs? How simple life was back in 2009. Here in 2011, Take Shelter is the perfect movie for our times, because it takes every paranoid thought you've ever had about our unhealthy, unfair, and dangerous world and how it's going to ruin your life and/or kill you, then shows that those thoughts are 100% correct.

Michael Shannon plays a regular Midwestern family man who slowly becomes consumed by paranoid delusions about violent storms, attack dogs, shadowy evil figures and other nightmarish stuff. His delusions create all kinds of problems for his confused family and co-workers who pretty much think he's nuts. He figures he must be nuts, too: his mother is schizophrenic, and he assumes he must be going down the same path.

Except here's what makes this movie so great, and so important to watch if you've ever felt overwhelmed by the terrifying realities of our world and tried to convince yourself that you're just over-reacting. YOU'RE NOT. Look around! If you watch the news, you know the terror is real. Masses of birds really do fall dead from the sky. Tornadoes destroy towns and kill hundreds of innocent people. Tsunamis and earthquakes level cities. Unethical banks have ruined our economy. It's enough to make a sane person become unglued. If this world doesn't sometimes make you feel like you're going crazy, you're probably not paying attention.

Take Shelter might be the greatest vindication for rational paranoia I've ever seen. It's like if Signs and Don DeLillo's "White Noise" both represented logical responses to everyday life. Michael Shannon has made a career out of playing unhinged people, from a wild-eyed, contamination-obsessed maniac in Bug to the truth-speaking institutionalized neighbor in Revolution Road. No one's better at making insanity look both agonizing and like a perfectly reasonable response to being alive. Ebert describes him as "an actor of uncommon force." This guy's gonna to win himself an Oscar some day soon.

September 12, 2011

Contagion, social distancing, and lots of dead bodies

Jude Law's biohazard suit in Contagion

Watching the Contagion trailer, I thought this was the movie Steven Soderbergh was born to make. Is there a single genre or sub-genre he can't do? He's done a political crime thriller (Traffic) and a sexy crime thriller (Out of Sight) better than just about anyone, so it's time he got around to a virus thriller. Chilly scientists, dogged scaremongers, aversion to human contact, and total, panicky desperation--this is the stuff Soderbergh eats up. Plus, Elliott Gould! I was all over this one.

The rest of the country was ready for a big deadly disease movie, too--Contagion was easily the #1 movie this week. I'm not sure exactly what our country has learned over the last decade, but the 10th anniversary of 9/11 seems like a good time to indulge in some old-fashioned social paranoia.

The movie is a terrifically good time, tense and fast-paced and almost relentlessly pessimistic. It reminded me of that incredible moment in Traffic when a well-dressed, very pregnant Catherine Zeta-Jones says "Get out of the car and shoot him in the head!" into a cellphone. One reason it's so good is that it never stops long enough for you to think about why the disease is happening or what it means, or if it represents some ethical or political message. It doesn't. It's just a great big disaster movie with some of the planet's most famous and beautiful people getting sick and dying horribly right in front of our eyes, and it's a blast. As Soderbergh once said about his style, "It's harder to be pretentious when you're moving really fast."

My favorite part of disaster movies like this is the moment when things go from bad to total catastrophe, social order breaks down, and all the rules we normally live by go out the window. Soderbergh has a scene outside an ill-fated FEMA truck that could be a case study in a seminar on Breakdown of Social Order in Disaster Movies. He's got a few scenes of every-man-for-himself mayhem that, along with sequences of people unwittingly handling contaminated touchscreens, water glasses, and cellphones, make you realize how screwed we would be if an epidemic like this ever happened. We're so sloppy about germs and cleanliness we might as well be rubbing each other's snot all over our faces.

The cast is great. Soderbergh gets excellent, understated performances out of Matt Damon, and he's great in this as a bereaved man who's going through emotional hell, but keeps his head down and holds it together to keep his daughter healthy. You know who else is really good? Gwyneth Paltrow! She's surprisingly believable as an average married Midwestern corporate manager who maybe likes to have a little too much fun on business trips. I haven't seen a lot of Jude Law lately, but I loved his morally ambiguous, possibly deranged, self-promoting blogger/prophet with his homemade biohazard suit (above).

As in every Soderbergh movie, the music is fantastic, with his usual collaborator and former Red Hot Chili Peppers drummer Cliff Martinez keeping things moving with a cool, bass-heavy electronic soundtrack.

Thanks to Matt Damon (who Soderbergh said is "as discreet as a 14 year-old girl") we know that Soderbergh isn't retiring right away. He's still got Haywire (the one with the mixed martial arts champ and former American Gladiator Gina Carano), Magic Mike (the one about male strippers with Channing Tatum and (yes!) Matthew McConaughey), The Man From U.N.C.L.E. remake, and Liberace (with Michael Douglas as Liberace and Matt Damon as his boyfriend.) But I guess the planned 3D rock-opera about Cleopatra with music by Guided By Voices, Cleo, was too crazy be true.

August 31, 2010

FDA knows all about the cough syrup, kids

cough syrup

The FDA has noticed that kids everywhere are chugging cough syrup because they're making themselves sick: 8,000 kids ended up in the emergency room due to cough syrup abuse in 2008, which is up 70% from 2004. There's some talk of regulating the world's easiest drug for a high school kid to get, though making cough syrup prescription-only would be incredibly irritating during cold season. It might end up behind the counter, which would mean that you'd have to be 18 to buy it and would significantly compromise the offerings at many a drama club cast party.

In reading about kids drinking cough syrup, I found a wonderful Wikipedia entry, "Recreational use of dextromethorphan", the dissociative drug in many cough syrups, which is the last thing you should let any 16 year-old read if you're trying to prevent them from ladling this stuff onto their Cheerios.

A few excerpts from the various stages of intoxication one experiences on too much cough syrup:

* First plateau: effects include a sensation of alertness, stimulant effects such as restlessness, intensification of emotions, general euphoria, and euphoria linked to music.

* Second plateau: effects include entering a dreamlike state of consciousness, a heavier "stoned" feeling than with first plateau, and/or closed-eye hallucinations.

* Third plateau: effects include dreamlike vision, inability to comprehend language, abstract hallucinations, feelings of peace and quiet, and/or feelings of rebirth.

* Fourth plateau: an individual may experience a perceived loss of contact and control with their own body, out-of-body experiences, perceptions of contact with "superior," supernatural, or other archetypal beings (e.g. gods, aliens, vampires, etc.)

* Plateau Sigma: users have reported encounters with aliens and gods.

Maybe those last ones are only when you're on Ayahuasca-flavored Robitussen.

One clarification: the regular robo-tripping cough syrup that the FDA is concerned about is not the same as the stuff that southern rappers drink. That's drank. Sizzurp. Promethazine-codeine. Wikipedia has an extensive entry for that, too, with examples of about 35 different guys (and Nicki Minaj) who have referenced it in their songs. To be honest, prescription cough syrup doesn't sound nearly as crazy as the regular stuff, even if it can kill you: Wikipedia describes the high as "extreme somnolence" rather than vampire hallucinations.

No one seems to write songs about over-the-counter cough syrup, probably because its fans are mostly suburban 9th graders.

August 18, 2010

Bed bugs and the end of the world

Bed bugs and movie theaters

Today's news that the AMC 25 movie theater on 42nd St is closed due to bed bug infestation is just one of many increasingly alarming reports of bed bugs that have been plaguing the city for the last few years.

It's bad enough that the Brooklyn DA's office, the city's counsel, and the Park Slope Pavilion movie theater all reported bugs lately, as well as 10% of apartments in New York City and "Broadway theaters, judges chambers, health clubs, stores, and movie theaters," according to exterminators.

But there are some months that I spend a major portion of my waking hours at the AMC 25. I'm a card-carrying MovieWatcher Club member. I saw Scott Pilgrim at a $6 matinee (best deal in town!) a mere 4 days ago. My world has been invaded.

No one is safe. You may have thought the world as we know it would end with nuclear warfare, or we'd run out of clean water, or a giant tsunami would flood the earth. But you would be wrong. Because the end of world is coming, and it's bed bugs.

When I first read the reports of the AMC 25 infestation, I thought, you know, in five years, the entire city is going to be totally overrun with bed bugs. They'll be everywhere. We're all going to be hypervigilant maniacs wrapping our bodies in garbage bags to go to restaurants and ride the subway.

Then I was like, hey, wait.

Now that the apocalypse is here, the best way to cope is by embracing reality, being proactive, and planning your 2010 Halloween costume.

Sexy Bed Bug! Bed Bug Zombie!

sexy bed bug

zombie bed bug

Gonna be a truly terrifying Halloween.

August 9, 2010

3rd grade = puberty

3rd grade class, 1984

[photo: Mrs. Ford's 3rd grade class, 1984]

A new study was just released in Pediatrics magazine that measures when American girls are hitting puberty to see if it's happening at an a younger age than it used to. It's definitely happening earlier, but what I found alarming is that for the purpose of this study, "earlier" means "at an age when I was still wearing jammies with feet."

The study included girls ages 6 to 8 in New York, San Francisco, and Cincinnati, and checked them to see if they had breasts yet. We're talking 1st to 3rd grade, here. The target demographic for My Little Pony and Strawberry Shortcake.

And Giant Gazongas Barbie, apparently. Because it turns out lots of these 7 and 8 year olds have breasts--like 18% of white girls, 31% of Latina girls, and 43% of black girls!

For a late bloomer like me, this is completely insane. I associate that first bra purchase more closely with learning to drive than with learning to add. It's entirely possible that, if I were a teenager today, I would be babysitting a 7 year-old whose boobs were bigger than mine. I can't even imagine how girls who are still figuring out how to avoid wetting the bed are dealing with suddenly having pubic hair.

The causes aren't completely clear, but everyone suspects it's mostly due to obesity and chemicals in food and the environment like xenoestrogens and bovine growth hormone that mess with your endocrine system and do crazy things like make 7 year-old girls develop breasts. It was mostly the overweight girls in the study who were reaching puberty at such early ages, and the scientists say they're going to measure all the girls' hormone levels and see what chemicals they'd been exposed to.

Even though this new research suggests lucrative new product lines for busty elementary schoolers, I'd rather not see displays of Dora the Explorer training bras at Target.

April 29, 2010

Tanning is a bigger deal than I thought

Kardashian with tanlines

When the healthcare reform bill finally passed, one of the odd things to get thrown in at the last minute was a 10% tax on tanning salon sessions. In an earlier version of the bill, it was only a 5% tax on tanning, with another 5% tax on cosmetic surgery. But in the end, they kept facelifts tax-free and doubled the tanning tax for an estimated 30 million people per year.

This decision made more sense today after I read about a recent, crazy study that Sloan-Kettering did on tanning, which suggests that something like 20% of college students surveyed are actually addicted to tanning. Over half of the kids surveyed have done indoor tanning. Even if you look only at the ones who have tanned, 40% of them are out-of-control tanners.

Somehow I'd never noticed this, but tanning is hugely popular. So clearly, this 10% tax was a wise legislative move. If you tax the hell out of cigarettes and alcohol, and we all keep paying higher and higher prices for them, why not tax something else people are powerless to resist?

Salon owners in the $6 billion industry aren't happy about the tax, of course. Sessions only cost about $7 on average, and I can't see a hardcore tanning addict fussing over 70 cents.

Rick Kueber, founder of Indiana salon Sun Tan City, explains why he thinks the tax is unfair because of its disproportionate effect on one segment of the population: white ladies. "Let's call this what it is. It's a tax on working, white women," he says. He points out that wealthy people enjoy their plastic surgery tax-free, and I think is also strangely implying that those lucky Americans with naturally non-pasty skin are getting a free ride through some sort of melanin tax shelter.

I don't understand tanning at all, but apparently there are other studies out there that suggest the UV rays give tanners an endorphin boost, so maybe the appeal is more psychological than aesthetic. I used to work with a woman who displayed a weird tanning obsession, calling furtively to book sessions whenever she was having a bad day, and she really loved tanning even though her 26 year-old skin had all the suppleness of a Slim Jim.

March 22, 2010

"All this euphoria going on"

Obama and Biden and lots of happy staffers

There are lots of photos out there of various Democrats celebrating last night's passage of the health care reform bill in the House. Everything that could possibly be said about health care in this country has already been said over and over for the past year. (I mean, 90 years.) I'm not wild about this particular bill because I don't think it goes nearly far enough in ensuring that everyone gets the health care they need, but what can you do. It's a start.

But after all the anger and fighting and accusations, these photos of happy Democrats are sort of cute. John McCain went on Good Morning America today to grouse about the positive feeling in Washington as a result of the bill's passage, and harumphed that he was repulsed by "all this euphoria going on."

Yeah, you tell 'em, McCain. Support the American people's hatred of euphoria.

Here's Nancy Pelosi with Reps. Steny Hoyer, George Miller, James Clyburn and John Larson:

Happy Democrat representatives

Happy supporters of the bill outside the Capitol last night:

Happy partying Democrat supporters

And Pelosi and Clyburn with lots of happy staffers who have all been working for about three months straight:

Pelosi, Clyburn, and happy staffers

Rep. Jesse Jackson, Jr. photographing happy supporters with smiley face balloons:

Jesse Jackson and happy supporters

Do you think Dennis Hastert and Trent Lott were raising their hands in the air and beaming so radiantly when the Iraq War Resolution and Bush's tax cuts were passed?

February 11, 2010

Aspies are expressing their emotions, and they're pissed

Darius McCollum, train lover

With the announcement of the fifth version of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, the industry standard for diagnosing mental problems, there's been talk that Asperger Syndrome will no longer be included as a separate diagnosis. The disorder was first introduced in the current version of the DSM, which was released in 1994, but now a lot of psychiatrists think it's part of the larger spectrum of autism disorders, and should just be grouped in as a mild form of autism.

So a lot of people with Asperger Syndrome, or "aspies" as they sometimes refer to themselves, don't like this at all. Aspies don't have the same language problems as people with more severe autism, but tend to get into obsessive behaviors and have similar problems with social interaction. And they want to maintain their distinct identity.

One of the psychiatrists who supports the change in the new DSM, Dr. Mina Dulcan, says their reaction to the change is just a symptom of being an aspie: "One of the characteristics of people with Asperger's is that they're very resistant to change."

But wait: the reason people with Asperger's want there to be a separate disorder called "Asperger's" is that they have Asperger's? Dr. Dulcan is arguing that there's no rational reason why someone might want their disorder to have its own name and diagnosis; if they think that way, it's just because they're mentally disabled.

She goes on to say that the change in the manual "makes scientific sense. I'm sorry if it hurts people's feelings."

Hm. It doesn't sound like she's really sorry. Sounds like she's being pretty insensitive, actually. Could it be that Dr. Dulcan is displaying lack of empathy for other people's feelings and incomprehension of emotional cues? Is Dr. Mina Dulcan herself a secret, self-hating aspie?!

Whatever she is, she's not very good at making her case.

Here are two of my favorite stories about people with Asperger Syndrome, both involving the subway: there's Darius McCollum (in the photo above) who has been arrested dozens of times for MTA-related crimes, usually impersonating an MTA employee or, a few times, stealing trains or buses. There was a great piece in Harper's about him in 2002, and a play called Boy Steals Train based on his life came out in 2003.

Then there's Francisco Hernandez, Jr., an 13 year-old boy with Asperger's who rode the subway for 11 days straight last year. He got on the D train in Brooklyn to avoid getting yelled at by his mom for not doing his homework, and just kept riding. From the Times article:

He says he subsisted on the little he could afford at subway newsstands: potato chips, croissants, jelly rolls, neatly folding the wrappers and saving them in the backpack. He drank bottled water. He used the bathroom in the Stillwell Avenue station in Coney Island. Otherwise, he says, he slipped into a kind of stupor, sleeping much of the time, his head on his book bag. "At some point I just stopped feeling anything," he recalled.

February 9, 2010

Hands off the eggplant!

Bt Brinjal eggplant protesters

In an impressive display of grassroots politics, legions of passionate Indian food activists successfully prevented genetically-modified eggplant from contaminating countless delicious servings of baingan bhartha. I'm a big eggplant fan, too (a friend once observed that if any given menu has a dish that involves an eggplant, that's the one I'll order) so I'm psyched.

An Indian seed company, Mahyco, had developed the world's first pesticide-resistant eggplant seed called Bt Brinjal, though as you might guess, our old plant-patenting ghouls over at Monsanto are also involved--they own 26% of the Indian seed company and the patented Frankeggplant gene came from them. Earlier today, the Indian Environment Minister decided to keep his nation's eggplants engineering-free.

Anyway, the protests involved the usual rallies and street marches, with many opportunities to dress up like giant eggplants.

Bt Brinjal protesters

To remind everyone what they were fighting for, Greenpeace organized a World's Biggest Baingan Bhartha campaign, making the tasty roasted dish with one eggplant for every signature they collected--so far they're at 20,000 eggplants. That's my kind of politics.

January 11, 2010

Farmers use the wrong agricultural metaphor

40 Acres and a Mule t-shirt

Industrial farmers have been getting more scrutiny lately, now that anyone concerned about animal welfare, pollution, climate change, antibiotic-resistant bacteria, or their own health has started looking at factory farms as the cause of a lot of big problems. Some states are considering new laws regulating things like the size of cages animals are kept in and other agricultural operations in order to protect animals and the people who eat them.

Which, of course, farmers don't like one bit. At this year's meeting of the American Farm Bureau Federation, the president, Bob Stallman, said in a speech yesterday denouncing their perceived opponents, "A line must be drawn between our polite and respectful engagement with consumers and how we must aggressively respond to extremists who want to drag agriculture back to the day of 40 acres and a mule."

Um, oops. I think what Bob Stallman was trying to say is that we're no longer living in an age of small farms, and large-scale corporate factories that produce massive volumes of food must resist efforts to treat their industry as if it's made up of independent, pastoral family farmers with their livestock eating clover out in the pasture (even though that's exactly the image food producers use in their marketing.)

But "40 acres and a mule" is a reference with a very specific meaning that isn't really about agriculture. For a brief period after the Civil War, under Special Field Order No. 15 from General Sherman, former slave families were to be given 40 acres and a mule, in order to start their own farms. According to the Wikipedia entry, about 10,000 former slaves were settled on 400,000 acres of land in GA and SC, but after Lincoln's assassination, the policy was revoked, and the land was given back to the former white landowners.

"40 acres and a mule" has become shorthand for the need for reparations for slavery in an effort to reconcile the incalculable advantages that the beneficiaries of a few centuries of slavery had and continue to have. During his anti-agricultural legislation speech, the American Farm Bureau president accidentally (I hope) equated proposed farming regulations with making reparations for slavery, which he later referred to as an "elitist power grab." Need to get your metaphors straight, there. Unless he's trying to make some ill-founded connection between beleaguered factory farmers and slaves, which I really hope is not the case.

Wikipedia has a list of pop culture references to 40 acres and a mule, the best known being Spike Lee's film production company. My favorite on the list is some lines from Nelly's "Nellyville": "40 acres and a mule, fuck that, Nellyville, 40 acres and a pool."

The Yippies' website outlines their own 40 acres and a mule demand as follows: "Since it is illegal to grow pot in the United States the YOUTH INTERNATIONAL PARTY demands 40 acres of prime pot growing land in Northern Mexico for every former Prisoner of Weed (POW) and a mule to bring it back into the States."

I really hope Spike Lee never sees that.

August 21, 2009

"Let's get one of Bambi holding the gun"

waitress with a rifle

  • Some cops in Midland, TX got in trouble for taking this week's best picture, above. Someone called the cops after seeing this young waitress holding a big rifle and hanging out in the parking lot outside a restaurant. When they arrived, it turned out the guys she was hanging out with were other cops, who had been in the restaurant when they invited the waitress out for a little photo shoot. Her name tag, The Smoking Gun points out, reads "Bambi". I love that she still has on her apron with straws and pens in it.
  • New study: "the typical adult video game player is overweight, introverted and may be a little bit depressed."
  • Tuesday night's wild storm knocked down 500 trees in Manhattan.
  • A lot of the big movie star vehicles this year haven't done so well, and studios are trying to compensate, in part by paying stars less. Land of the Lost, Pelham 1 2 3, Duplicity, Funny People all had big stars and did worse than expected. The movies that did well are Harry Potter, Transformers, and Up, none of which were really popular because of their stars.

    And don't forget about that relatively small budget South African movie with zero stars where half the dialogue is subtitled. District 9 was mostly pretty good (except for some terrible dialogue toward the end,) but what I especially like about it is that studios will notice, again, that when a movie is well made (and well marketed) it doesn't need a huge budget, a famous director, big actors, or a dumb plot that's spoon-fed to the audience to make money. I love when people turn out for good, atypical movies and make them hits.

August 11, 2009

Crime, movies, Pee Wee

Pee Wee Herman

  • Paul Reubens is bringing back his live show that began in 1980, The Pee-Wee Herman Show, to an LA theater this fall. Most of the original cast and crew will be back, which I hope specifically means Laurence Fishburne.
  • A completed documentary about some guys trying to find the reclusive John Hughes is going to be released. It seems that late last week, they were suddenly able to find a distributor. It's called Don't You Forget About Me, but could also be titled You Forgot All About Me Until My Untimely Death Hit the News.
  • A Brazilian crime show host is being investigated for generating stories for his TV show by ordering killings. I wonder if that's how "Cheaters" works too.
  • A man was found guilty of groping Minnie Mouse at Disney World. The costumed victim said she "had to do everything possible to keep his hands off her breasts."
  • It's real: Bob Dylan Christmas album
  • Upcoming Hank Williams biopic. He died when he was only 29. Who could play Hank? I like Channing Tatum, who's from Alabama like Hank, if he can lose some of the beefiness. Or James Franco (too crinkly?) or Paul Dano (too baby-faced?).
  • A map of drug use across the US, by state. Vermont and Rhode Island like their drugs, North Dakota prefers binge drinking.
  • A report about the Waterfront Commission of New York, which was created to fight waterfront corruption, finds that (surprise!) it's corrupt.

July 23, 2009

Wheaties Fuel™: what a man eats

Wheaties Fuel

Wheaties may be the breakfast of champions, but sales are down this year, so General Mills is rebranding. Soon they'll be launching a new product extension that is even tougher and more manly than regular Wheaties -- Wheaties Fuel™.

The Times has a great article on the company's plan to make a cereal that has always been focused on fitness to specifically target men. Men who want their breakfast to make them feel like athletes. Here's the process:

  • First they got a panel of male pro athletes to test different prototypes of Wheaties Fuel™, which the website calls "performance nutrition", and rate them.
  • Next, they reduced girly ingredients like folic acid, which is a nutrient that everyone needs, but it's associated with being pregnant.
  • Then, they added a more masculine ingredient: sugar! Wheaties Fuel™ will have 50% more calories than the original, and is made of 25% sugar, compared to 15% for the original. Two of the three prototypes that the athlete panel is testing also have sugary additions, like "clusters that have a cinnamon-roll-like flavor."

The company is advertising with Men's Health, and readers of the magazine will get to pick the final formula. A nice bit of product-placement there, though the Men's Health publisher says that a new Wheaties product is news-worthy enough that they would have covered it anyway.

But what I find especially interesting is that marketing a breakfast cereal to men is apparently a new concept in the cereal market. Wheaties has always promoted a masculine image--although, wait, has it?

Remember those goofy Wheaties ads from the 80's in which professional athletes sang a verse of a song that went like, "Before I swing for the bleacher seat-ies, I get the eaties for my Wheaties"? Not an especially tough image! Now that I look back on those ads, they were definitely targeted at women, who traditionally did the cereal-buying in their households and wanted to buy something appropriate for their menfolk's breakfast.

A rep from the ad firm that's doing the new Wheaties branding says that times are changing: "A lot of data out there shows that men are taking over a lot more of the shopping occasions. And as that happens, men are not just following a list but are much more focused on making decisions themselves."

Hm. Rebranding a gender-neutral product to encourage a recently empowered gender to buy a special version of that product for themselves. Sound familiar? It's the same approach marketers have used for decades, but targeting women. Need a razor? Buy a pink one with flowers on it! Need a phone? Buy a pink one with sparkles on it! Deodorant? Buy one that says it's pH-balanced for a woman! An energy bar? Buy one with dancing ladies on it!

The only other product I can think of that was historically aimed at women but is repackaged for male shoppers is hair dye--"just for men".

That quote about men making their own decisions in the store reminds me of a great scene from The Hurt Locker, in which the man's-man bomb defuser main character, home from Iraq, is out shopping with his wife. She asks him to go get some cereal. When faced with an entire aisle of hundreds of cereals, he's overwhelmed, so scans the rows, then grabs a box at random and stomps off.

Now there's a Wheaties Fuel™ man.

June 29, 2009

Extreme cellulite cures

Babies and cellulite

Last week, the Times had an article explaining the physical differences between men and women in how they get cellulite, and why even fit and slender women can end up with oatmeal-like thighs, while men can have expansive acres of fat rolling out in all directions and still have smooth, non-dimpled skin. It's due to differences in connective tissue that holds fat in place under your skin, and the explanation is pretty simple and interesting.

And, of course, there's nothing you can do about it. If you have cellulite, it's probably not going anywhere, despite many creams and treatments that basically just irritate your skin a little bit so that your lumpy butt is temporarily masked by uniform swelling. Ow.

But that didn't stop readers from writing in with their tales of diet and exercise curing them of their cellulite. Or, in one woman's case, breastfeeding for a long, long, long time:

Breast feeding for a very long time permanently cured me of cellulite. When the body is forced to supply the calories that a growing child demands, it uses up all of the fat stores and --- at least in my experience --- the fat cells never come back and they'll also never nag you for food again. OK, so it took 5 straight years of breast-feeding (2 kids), but it was good for them and it was excellent for me. No cellulite, no hunger pains, and most important ... VERY HEALTHY KIDS.

It's an unexpected benefit of kids: they suck all the fat out of your body like hungry little ticks! In five years, your legs will be taut and your children will be fat and happy, nourished by your cellulite.

This advice sort of makes biological sense, but I bet most ladies out there are going to be fine with buying their useless cream at the Rite Aid and spending their lives doing some occasional squats and other non-lactation activities.

[tx esskay!]

April 23, 2009

Dieting for dudes

Skinny Bastards

The ladies who brought us Skinny Bitch are coming out with a version for the fellas, which is titled Skinny Bastard.

The original book for women was marketed as a dieting book, but turned out to be a well-reasoned argument for becoming vegan. Some angry would-be skinny bitches did not want to hear about animal cruelty in their dieting books, but it still sold 1.1 million copies.

The publishing company admits that they expect mostly women to buy Skinny Bastard on behalf of their menfolk. An article in the Times quotes the new, guy-oriented introduction: "Chances are, you haven't done so badly, despite the few extra lbs you're carting around ... But don't kid yourself, pal: A hot-bodied man is a head-turner."

But come on, what kind of man is going to buy a book called Skinny Bastard? The subtitle is pretty good: "A Kick-In-The-Ass For Real Men Who Want to Stop Being Fat and Start Getting Buff", but the title is terrible. There are loads of women out there who would love it if people called them "skinny bitch" behind their backs. And there's definitely a segment of men who would be into the "bitch" part, but how many men aspire to be called "skinny"?

So let's think of some better titles that might interest that special population of men who buy dieting books. A few thoughts:

Fit Jerk
Stud Asshole
Tight-Ab Prick
Sculpted Moron
Pumped Dick
Ripped Fuckface
Beefy Jackass

Wouldn't you rather buy those titles? Browse the Men's Health site for a few minutes, I swear this is totally what guys want.

March 9, 2009

Hell's Kitchen guy wants your kidney

Kidney ad

Amidst all the street flyers around Hell's Kitchen offering to paint your apartment, clip your dog's nails, teach you Russian, or fix your computer, one enterprising guy has printed up a series of small yellow flyers and posted them all over 9th Avenue. He wants a kidney. [see a larger image]

These optimistic flyers are absolutely everywhere in the neighborhood--outside every bodega, the bike shop, the liquor store, and the Mexican bakery. Only 3 or 4 days in the hospital, and you might even be compensated for your organ. Sweet! And completely illegal!

I sent the photo to the Post--I hope they follow up with this "very sick guy" to see if he gets any takers.

February 4, 2009

Recession hits the Times Dining section

Biggest Loser kitchen

Hard times seem to have arrived all at once at today's Dining section. The main articles include a piece on the desperate measures expensive restaurants are taking to get people to come in; peanut butter as a recession-proof source of protein that everybody loves, salmonella be damned (though I was stunned to learn that smooth far outsells crunchy in American homes. I'm a superchunk girl.)

The other main feature is about NBC's "The Biggest Loser", which appears in the Dining section although the main involvement that the show's contestants have with food is that they don't eat any of it. Also odd that they chose to cover the show now, when it's been on for 7 seasons, but I guess now is a good time to report on a show that encourages viewers to alternately fast and eat nothing but asparagus (which makes you pee your weight off, apparently.)

I've never watched a whole episode of "The Biggest Loser", and the only bits I've seen consisted of overweight people suffering through byzantine and painful-looking physical challenges. The Times focuses on the diet part of the competition, and uncovers all kinds of really freaky relationships with food that contestants have, which are probably intensified by having to lose hundreds of pounds with piles of money at stake, while on national TV.

Some especially crazy highlights from the article:

  • "The first two weeks, you're throwing up so much from working out, you're so tired, the last thing you want to do is eat," said Ed Brantley, a chef in Raleigh, who in the last season lost 139 pounds (more than 40 percent of his body weight). [This is because they work out SIX TO TEN HOURS A DAY.]
  • Soon, food becomes the devil they love to control. Every contestant is required to eat a minimum number of calories each day and is supposed to keep a daily food journal to prove it. But many of them actually eat less. "It gets so you crave that feeling of going to bed with hunger pains in your stomach," said Erik Chopin, a Long Island deli owner who won the show in 2006, going to 193 pounds from 407.
  • During scheduled "temptations," contestants are bribed to eat junk food with prizes like cash and calls home, sometimes while locked in a dark room with mountains of candy. "We want to simulate the real world in there," said Dave Broome, a co-creator of the show. [Mountains of candy? That's a real world I want to live in.]

The upshot of the article is that once they're back in the actual real world, the one with food other than broccoli and kale in it, most contestants put the weight back on.

Though this is definitely the most belt-tightening Dining section I've ever read in the Times, it also features a Frank Bruni review of the Oak Room, "A Waltz of Gilt and Truffles", that contains this: "My fork sank into tender venison in a classically dark, rich, winy sauce as my eyes traveled up, up, up the sculptured oak walls toward a ceiling more than two stories high. That ceiling was framed by yard upon yard of gold molding and trim. If heaven is wood-paneled, it probably looks something like this."

The rest of us will just stick with our peanut butter and carrot sticks.

January 16, 2009

United States of Tara

United States of Tara

This Sunday is the premiere of the new dark comedy The United States of Tara on Showtime. You can watch the entire episode for free, courtesy of BUST magazine, right here:

[Also available on IMDb and the Showtime site.]

The show was produced and written by Diablo Cody, and as you might expect, the dialogue sometimes veers dangerously into the same self-conscious, hyper-stylized teen-speak dialect that was such a turn-off for the first 15 minutes of Juno. It's used with less intensity, but it still sounds like some bewildering white suburban tween version of Airplane's jive [video].

Anyway, I like the show so far. Toni Collette is incredible to watch as a middle-aged mom who suffers from dissociative identity disorder (aka multiple personality disorder.) Her alter-egos can be caricaturish sometimes, but her shifts from one to another are believable and complete. Alessandra Stanley in the Times calls her alters "one-dimensional", but for the first episode of a show with a complicated premise, I think it makes sense to clearly distinguish the identities and let the audience understand each one immediately, even if that means they get overplayed a little. I think she's great, especially as alter Buck, a redneck man. The rest of the family is good too (especially the two kids) as they incorporate Tara's multiple identities into their daily lives with sweetness and understanding.

My knowledge of the actual mental illness that Tara has is limited, but I do know that an alternate personality is often the result of a serious childhood trauma, and that multiple alters are often the result of systematic childhood abuse. An awful and debilitating sickness, not really a topic to be used as a sitcom joke. We don't learn from the first episode if Tara did suffer some kind of abuse, (though something along those lines is referenced in the Slate review) but hopefully, when the origin of her illness comes up, it won't be glossed over as a wacky quirk. The show seems good enough that they'll handle it OK.

Rosemarie DeWitt, who was so good in Rachel Getting Married, plays Toni Collette's subtly bitchy sister.

October 23, 2008

Post leads the fight to save America's breasts

Cowgirls Espresso barristas

Today's NY Post reveals an alarming new study that finds drinking coffee can make your breasts smaller. In "Women Face Shrink and Drink Dilemma: Coffee Poses A Booby Trap", women are urged to consider the very real risk of caffeine shrinkage, the future of their breasts, and the happiness of our nation when reaching for their morning coffee.

"Drinking coffee can have a major effect on breast size," says one of the Swedish (of course) researchers who conducted the study. Especially, because there is no justice in this world, women with large breasts. "They will get smaller, but the breasts aren't just going to disappear," she added. Well that's a relief.

The Post goes on to conduct their own photographic study of "small-chested celebrities", including Catherine Keener, the Olsen twins, Natalie Portman, and Cameron Diaz, which I suppose is meant to lend some sort of credence to the scientists' findings. Or maybe console readers who love coffee-- sure, you'll lose your tits, but guess who's sort of flat too? The cute cheerleader on Heroes!

As an aside, at the very end of the article, the Post notes that the purpose of the study was actually to determine any link between caffeine and breast cancer. Caffeine makes you more resistant to tumors. If you don't mind being flat as a pancake, that is.

Added bonus for coffee-drinking men: caffeine actually makes your man-boobs bigger!

August 5, 2008

I bet the Red Cross is loving this photo

Bruce Ivins, Red Cross volunteer

The weirdest story in the news is the unfolding drama of Dr. Bruce Ivins, the government scientist suspected of being behind the anthrax letters of 2001. The FBI's investigation for the last 7 years has mostly been a mess, and they still haven't released real evidence that links Dr. Ivins with the anthrax letters.

Ivins killed himself last week with an overdose of Tylenol with codeine, which is a really bizarre way for a scientist who deal with deadly chemicals all the time to opt to poison himself. It's a really slow, painful death, taking days to destroy your liver.

The case has already generated lots of negative publicity for every organization that Ivins had a connection to. Without any real evidence to point to, the media is reporting random bits of information about him that have nothing to do with the anthrax case. Among them:

  • The Red Cross. Ivins was a volunteer with his local chapter, and the AP photo of him above has been all over the news for a couple of days now. Is there ever good press about the Red Cross? I don't think there is.
  • Kappa Kappa Gamma. Ivins was allegedly obsessed with the sorority after dating a Kappa in college, and visited houses around the country in the 70's and 80's. The anthrax letters may have been posted from a mailbox near the Kappa office at Princeton. Of course, this has nothing to do with anything, and reports about Ivins' interest in Kappa seem to have been leaked by the FBI to make him look suspicious and creepy in a way that is not at all connected to anthrax.
  • Tame-sounding porn. Ivins also rented a post office box, where he got pictures of blindfolded women mailed to him. Again, who cares.

And how about the details of the FBI's investigation? They interrogated his two kids using highly suspect methods. In the Times: "They had even coercively questioned his adopted children, Andrew and Amanda, now both 24, with the authorities telling his son that he might be able to collect the $2.5 million reward for solving the case and buy a sports car, and showing his daughter gruesome photographs of victims of the anthrax letters and telling her, 'Your father did this,' according to the account Dr. Ivins gave a close friend."

The FBI also searched his house last fall, and "bureau surveillance vehicles openly followed the scientist for about a year." He was escorted out of his lab last year, which a colleague said was "so humiliating. It's hard to believe."

Dr. Ivins was reportedly suicidal for the last month and was hospitalized for 2 weeks in July, claiming that the FBI was going to arrest him for 5 murders. Which, of course, they would have done, if they had gotten credible evidence against him. The FBI had already admitted botching their misguided 2002 investigation against another scientist in Ivins' facility, Dr. Steven Hatfill, who just got a $4 million settlement.

So he ended up killing himself. Ivins' suicide is probably going to become a part of the FBI's case against him, but look: I've seen The Long Goodbye. Just because a suspect kills himself doesn't mean he did it. In a way, his suicide is going to let the FBI off the hook for a sloppy investigation that never found convincing evidence of Ivins' guilt.

But if he actually did do it (and there's some evidence, mostly circumstantial), the best motivation for mailing those anthrax letters that I've seen is that he wanted to focus attention on the threat of biological warfare. In the Times' article from the weekend: "To some anthrax experts, while reserving judgment on Dr. Ivins’s case, his identification as a suspect fit a pattern they had suspected might explain the crime: an insider wanting to draw attention to biodefense." He also held patents for anthrax vaccines.

Pretty ironic that the US's only deadly biological attack ever might have come from one of our own government employees, who had been honored for exceptional civilian service in 2003 for his work in anthrax.

July 22, 2008

American food trends: desserts vs. vegetables

Bite-size desserts vs. vegetable garden

dessert photo by pam3la

Local food, it's all the rage. It tastes better and it's better for the environment, so the thinking goes. The Times has an article today on growing demand for locally grown food, which has become so important to overworked rich people that they are having vegetable gardens installed in their urban backyards so that someone else can come over to grow and harvest food for them. Sort of like being a gentleman farmer in San Francisco. Those of more modest means are ordering locally-grown food online to have it delivered to their cubicles.

But even as grocery stores are putting big LOCAL stickers on the milk that has always been locally sourced, the local trend might not have that radical an impact on what regular people buy and eat. Organic food has been widely available for years, but still represents only 3% of total food sales.

Also, the Times reports that a recent survey of chain restaurant and big food company chefs found that locally grown produce is now the second biggest food trend in America.

Number one is bite-size desserts.

Hm. As food trends go, it looks like the Treats Truck is going to crush community supported agriculture every time.

July 21, 2008

Viva Viagra?


I don't usually watch ads on TV, but I happened to be watching baseball tonight (TV for older men?) and caught this Viagra ad, which apparently has been playing for some time:


It features a bunch of dudes sitting around singing Viva Viagra to the tune of Viva Las Vegas. These are the manly lyrics:

Got me a honey gonna set my soul, gonna set my soul on fire!
At the end of the day, I'm not a guy to stray
because she's my heart desire.

Now this lonesome toad is sick of the road
I can't wait

CHORUS; Can't wait!

I can't wait to go home.

CHORUS: Viva Viagra! Viva, Viva, VIVA VIAGRA!

Apparently some people are worried that the Viva Viagra terminology encourages the use of Viagra as a party drug. I'm more concerned that the ad might make people think that Viagra will turn them into Elvis (the Pelvis).

Also, you may want to check out this before and after chart from Pfizer, celebrating ten years of Viagra.

May 26, 2008

As if bedbugs on the subway weren't bad enough


Today, in its quest to make OCD into a contagious disease, the Times tells us about all the nasty diseases you can get by walking barefoot in city parks. And you don't even have to have cuts or scratches on your feet to catch hookworm or pseudomonas. "In the worst case, pseudomonas bacteria — which Dr. Militello says has a “very pungent, vinegary smell”— can be fatal if it gets into the lungs or bloodstream."

Photo by Smallestbones

May 21, 2008

Anti Smoking Campaigns work, maybe

Nasty artery

So the smoking rate in NYC is actually going down, to 16.9%, the lowest rate in 50 years. Even smoky old Staten Island had a massive drop in smoking. Maybe the drop is caused by the seriously scary ads featuring amputees.

There's this lady, Marie, who seems to be on TV constantly with her missing fingers. There's also Skip, who had his right leg amputated but still smokes. Skip says:

"I don't tell anyone to quit smoking. I tell people the effect smoking does to me and people I've been in contact with."

I still think the nastiest anti-smoking ad is the British TV ad linked above, featuring gross fatty clogged arteries.

May 13, 2008

Third World? Third Helpings!

McDonalds in India

That title was coined by a friend, T-Rock, when reports of growing obesity rates in developing countries emerged a few years ago.

But now it relates to Bush's recent explanation for why we are in the middle of a global food shortage--people in poor countries are eating too much.

This is incredible: in talking about the food crisis, Bush referenced India and its growing middle class. "When you start getting wealth, you start demanding better nutrition and better food, and so demand is high, and that causes the price to go up."

High demand for food is because of India? So if all those people in India would just stay poor and malnourished, there would be plenty of food to go around! Wow.

A representative from a poverty research institute in India hit back, and is quoted by the Times as saying:

"If Americans slimmed down to the weight of middle-class Indians, many hungry people in sub-Saharan Africa would find food on their plates." He added, archly, that the money spent in the United States on liposuction to get rid of fat from excess consumption could be funneled to feed famine victims.

Americans eats an average of 3,770 calories a day, which is more than anyone else in the world according to the UN, and 50% more than what the average Indian eats per day.

Maybe Bush is coming down on India for being such greedy snack-hogs because they've ignored his recent request to stop their plans to pipe gas into their country from Iran. Of course, they'll probably just use the pipeline to blast in more delicious Iranian cakes and halva and kebabs, those piggies!

November 7, 2007

Grossest abuse ever of those tempting egg donor stipends

OK people, this one really is going make you puke.

South Dakotan Ted Klaudt was a foster parent for two teenage girls. One of them was interested in becoming an egg donor as a means of income. He convinced both of the girls to let him repeatedly examine them in a motel room to determine their fertility.

And by "examine", of course, he meant "rape". He performed 10 examinations on one of the girls to make sure she was really good and fertile.

And: he coerced these girls into submitting to repeated examinations by creating a fake email account and writing to the girls pretending to be a woman who worked for an egg-donation program, encouraging them to keep letting their foster father molest them.

And: he was an elected official at the time. Klaudt used to be in the South Dakota state legislature, as a Republican. He ran for state Senate last year and lost. One of the girls also worked as page in the legislature.

And: he looks like this.

former South Dakota legislator and rapist, Ted Klaudt


Thankfully, the good people of South Dakota found this sick bastard guilty of second-degree rape, disregarding the defense argument that because the girls were over 16, the age of consent, there was no crime.

August 29, 2007

A whole new way to destroy the world

Humane Society environmental ad

Last year, the UN came out with a report on climate change that said that the livestock industry generates more greenhouse gases than all forms of transportation all over the world. It sounds pretty unbelievable, but it's true: methane is 21 times worse, climate-wise, than carbon dioxide, so all those cow farts are screwing up the environment a lot worse than SUVs are.

Thing is, a lot of environmental groups and figures like Al Gore aren't saying anything about the livestock industry, at least not the same way they're talking about cars and coal-burning power plants and fluorescent lightbulbs. But today, the NY Times speaks up about it: an article about meat as a cause of global warming is right there in the Business section. The big environmental groups aren't targeting meat in their campaigns, but, not surprisingly, animal rights groups are.

PETA has this ad directed at Al Gore, who didn't include anything about the meat industry in An Inconvenient Truth:

Al Gore PETA ad

It's funny in that blunt, mean PETA way, and it's good to let people know that not eating a lot of meat will help the environment. But when groups like PETA or The Humane Society (who made the car key/fork ad above) talk about the environment only in terms of saving animals, it probably won't convince people to change their behavior. PETA is good at stopping KFC from chopping the beaks off chickens and sometimes getting attractive people to pose naked, but we need more mainstream environmental groups to start talking about the meat thing.

And why shouldn't they? The head of the Sierra Club says "we do not find lecturing people about personal consumption choices to be effective." But they have no problem telling people to take public transportation more often and to buy different air conditioners and those damn ugly fluorescent bulbs.

Is reducing meat consumption just too radical for environmentalists to mention? Even ELECTRIC COMPANIES are telling consumers to buy appliances that use less electricity to help reduce global warming.

It reminds me of the dust-up over top selling diet book Skinny Bitch that women are buying like crazy, then becoming outraged by one of the central messages of the book: a good way to lose weight is to be a vegan. In another Times article, we learn about readers such as Laura McGlinchey, 41-year-old computer network manager:

She bought the book on Amazon because she was attracted by the packaging and "irreverent tone."

So she was surprised to encounter chapters on meat and poultry farming practices. "It seemed to be pushing more of a PETA agenda," she said, referring to People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, an animal-rights advocacy group. Ms. McGlinchey said she was so fed up that she didn’t even finish the book.

Aww, poor little offended baby. As Skinny Bitch author Rory Freedman said, "They’re mad that they spent $14 on a book that was not what they thought, but they’re not mad that chickens are having beaks chopped off their faces? How is that possible? I can’t even wrap my mind around that."

It seems like the best way to get people to actually change their behavior is to create a product that they can buy to feel like they're helping to save the environment. Toyota and Honda have done a great job letting drivers know how their hybrid cars are good things to buy if you want to reduce emissions, and Panasonic will happily tell you all about their energy-saving flat screen TVs.

The corporations that would benefit from more consumers adopting vegetarian diets need to get on the ball with marketing some celebrity-endorsed tofu. Forget those Sierra Club wimps--Vitasoy and Morningstar, you guys get on the phone with Pamela Anderson and Forest Whitaker and make some good ads, OK?

August 23, 2007

NY Daily News: Plan B a big success among tramps, jerks

Plan B ad

Barr Pharmaceuticals announced that one year after making their morning-after contraception pill Plan B available over the counter, sales have doubled, reaching $80 million! Judging from their predictions last year, this is better than they expected, but still isn't exactly a blockbuster drug (Viagra's at about $800 million.)

Doubling sales of emergency contraception is sort of a murky cause for celebration, though. It's great than more women have access to Plan B (unless, of course, they're under 18 or don't have any ID) and can prevent unwanted pregnancies, which is what NARAL and Planned Parenthood are stressing. But Plan B still has a lot of enemies among anti-contraception people and some pro-lifers, and they're looking for data that suggests that making Plan B easier to get encourages irresponsible sex.

"Over-the-counter access has not increased or encouraged sexual activity," says Traci Perry of Planned Parenthood of New York City. She stresses that emergency contraception is a method of backup protection such as when a condom breaks.

OK sure, but how do women use Plan B in real life? The Daily News has an article on Plan B's one year anniversary, which seems intentionally written to destroy the argument that access to contraception doesn't encourage risky behavior. It begins with this personal anecdote:

"When I started dating this dude, it was a hassle to get an appointment with the gynecologist, so I used it weekly for about a month," confesses Kendra, a 24-year-old New Yorker. "I'd have unprotected sex, then go and blow $60 on EC [emergency contraception]."

Whoa, Kendra, a whole month of emergencies! You or your dude ever hear about condoms? I can just see the Family Research Council's press office carefully clipping this article to add to their "Promiscuous Liberals" binder.

Later on in their article, the Daily News reminds us that even if Plan B is available to most women without a prescription, you still have to ask a surly pharmacist to hand it to you from behind the counter:

Phoebe, 25, recently asked for Plan B at her local suburban pharmacy. "A male pharmacist gave me the look down, then asked me how old I was. He was overtly unfriendly," she says. "Usually, they put it in a bag to respect the purchaser's privacy. He just handed it to me in front of a long line. It felt intrusive and embarrassing."

Yuck. What is going on, Daily News? Last year they published an editorial complaining that Plan B was "being held hostage to politics" while the FDA took forever to approve OTC sales, and now they make it sound like a humiliating drug for sluts. Can we get some Plan B pride, or at least one "I am so stoked not to be pregnant!" story?

July 25, 2007

Whiny teenage girls are driving even themselves nuts

teenage girls talking

A couple of surprising pieces of news today about the risks of friendship.

First, researchers found that when teenage girls sit around and moan nonstop about how hard their lives are and how they're so depressed, it turns out that they really are making themselves depressed. A little sharing of your problems is OK, but when girls "co-ruminate" excessively (about how much they totally hate their moms and no boys will ever like them and omg their hair is so flat and hideous) it often leads to "persistent feelings of sadness, hopelessness or worry." Yeah, shocker.

So this means long-suffering, sullen, complaining, self-obsessed girls really do need to shut the hell up--for their own and everybody else's mental health. Hopefully this study will lead to a public health campaign that also forces them to stop writing poetry.

Interestingly, this phenomenon doesn't appear to happen to boys, who get positive emotional results from sharing their problems with friends. The scientists say they believe the same trends may apply to adults.

And in the popular story that is sure to undermine relationships all over the nation, if you have a close friend of the same sex who gains weight, your chances of becoming obese go up by 71%! By comparison, the same study found that stopping smoking seemed to have no influence on risk of obesity. I know! Incredible.

So I guess the lesson is, yeah, your friends might make you fat, but as long as you don't bitch about it too much, you should be fine.

July 23, 2007

McDonald's introduces the Hugo

Hurley, aka Hugo, aka McDonald's drink size

After some well-publicized flirtation with healthy food options, McDonald's has returned to doing what it does best, which the New York Times describes as "making people fat." After phasing out its Supersize menu in 2004, they have now started offering basically the exact same insulin-busting drink size of 42 oz., and they're calling it "Hugo".

A brilliant marketing strategy. Hugo, aka Hurley, is one of Lost's most lovable characters, maybe the most appealing morbidly obese person on television. OK, drinking a lot of Hugo-sized sodas (410 calories each! Before you even eat a single fry!) will definitely make you fat, but you'll be an adorable, funny, cuddly, Hugo kind of fat.

Now McDonald's can rebrand their ranch dressing--no more of that lame 170 calorie Newman's Own crap! And since we're all just giving up on salads and apple dippers, they might as well start selling candy bars, too.

June 18, 2007

This ad is too sexy

Trojan pig ad

Trojan, which already has a whopping 75% of the condom market, has developed a new ad campaign featuring a bunch of pigs trying unsuccessfully to hit on women in a bar, and one handsome man with a condom in his pocket who looks like he might get lucky. This is a picture of the print ad (the version that will run in women's magazines), and you can watch the TV ad at the Trojan site.

It's a cute ad, maybe a little hard on unprepared guys while not expecting that women should carry condoms of their own, but it's hardly salacious. CBS and Fox, however, both thought it was unsuitable for their viewing audiences. CBS said it was inappropriate even for late-night audiences, and Fox's prim little policy for condom ads is this: "Contraceptive advertising must stress health-related uses rather than the prevention of pregnancy."

This is so funny, and so insane. If only there were some way to prevent the spread of HIV and other diseases without violating the precious culture of life so sacred to Fox viewers! The VP of Marketing for LifeStyles says, in a NY Times article about the ad, "We always find it funny that you can use sex to sell jewelry and cars, but you can’t use sex to sell condoms." Fox had no problem with Paris Hilton selling burgers by washing/fucking a car in heels in the goofy-sexy ad that they aired during "The O.C." [video].

For the benefit of CBS and Fox's delicate audiences, let's keep promotion of condom usage on the same public health PSA level as having your cholesterol checked or getting a flu shot. Sex is for making babies, right? Just look at shows such as CBS' "Two and a Half Men" (Parents Television Council's Worst Show of the Week for a genuinely offensive episode last year.)

June 8, 2007

Good news! The G8 summit has solved all the world's problems. Again.

Bob Geldof at G8

Well, Bob Geldof's pissed.

Another G8 summit meeting of the leaders of the world has come and gone with the usual ambitious goals, legions of protesters, and meetings with Bono. Here's what they accomplished this year:

The countries promised to spend $60 billion to fight AIDS, malaria, and TB in Africa. Spread out over "the coming years" with no actual timeframe. And also, that money was already pledged two years ago at the 2005 G8 summit.

Also, they pledged $25 billion in aid to Africa over the next 10 years. But they'd already made that same pledge, also in 2005, and apparently have already fallen behind on promised payments.

Some other accomplishments:

  • The countries issued a "message of firmness" to Iran that it had better stop enriching uranium, or else!
  • They agreed to "seriously consider" trying to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 50%. By 2050. Which is over FORTY YEARS from now.

Wow! Global leader in bottomless frustration Bob Geldof called the summit "a pantomime": "Do me a favor, get serious guys, get serious," he said. "This wasn't serious. This was a farce. A total farce."

Sure, he's right. It's a disgrace. But after I saw some sort-of cute photos of Bush, Blair, Merkel, and other frequently loathsome world leaders sitting around in the sun having a few drinks, it was hard to stay too mad at those crazy kids.

Bush and Merkel at G8

world leaders at G8

Come on, Bob, sit down, have a beer! Relax, man. They can always pledge another $100 billion next year.

May 9, 2007

NYC's free condom campaign: public health threat

NYC condom campaign will get you knocked up

New York's Health Commissioner Thomas Friedman said yesterday that the city's NYC Condom campaign, launched on Valentine's Day, might be pulled if it doesn't get results. "If we find launching this brand didn't increase at all safe sex among the groups at highest risk, we may stop it entirely," he says.

Well, Dr. Friedman, let me tell you something about risk: an unscientific hands-on study has come to my attention that indicates a blood-chilling, knee-clenching 100% failure rate in those free NYC condoms, when used as directed. Those LifeStyles™ branded freebies are, unscientifically, unreliable. Condoms are products that consumers need to work, all the time. Like seatbelts.

Perhaps my study subjects aren't the only ones who have had trouble: the Post reports that "between March 15 and April 15, the city gave away 3.7 million of its transit-themed prophylactics. That's a sharp drop from the 5 million given away in the 30 days after the condoms' Valentine's Day debut."

Maybe the novelty wore off, maybe the bowl at McSwiggans was empty every time you checked (here's a full list of distributors), or maybe 1.3 million people who used a free NYC condom in that first month don't need to use birth control anymore, since they're now pregnant.

March 14, 2007

FDA backs Patrick Kennedy: sleeping pills can make you sleep-drive

Patrick Kennedy after car crash

The FDA announced today that all prescription sleeping pills can, in rare instances, cause those who take them to engage in "complex sleep-related behaviors" including driving. This supports Patrick Kennedy, who crashed his car in Washington, DC last spring after taking Ambien, Phenergan (not a sleeping pill), and, according to the staff at Capital Hill bar the Hawk & Dove, maybe a few drinks.

Only about a dozen reports of sleep-driving while on insomnia medication have made it to the FDA, but they think it's happening a lot more, which is probably true. Other sleep activity that these pills can cause include less dangerous but significantly more bizarre activities, like making phone calls, fixing and eating food, and having sex while still asleep (I'd bet these kinds of things happen a lot more often than sleep-driving, but there is no way people are going to tell their doctor about it.) Drug manufacturers will now have to put warnings of potential dangerous side effects on these "sedative-hypnotics".

So even though you're not supposed to drink while taking Ambien, it sounds like Kennedy was telling the truth when he said that he had no memory of driving or crashing his car that night. His claim to the police at the scene of the accident that he was "headed to the Capital to make a vote" at 3:00 AM is weird enough to make me believe that he was having some episode of sleepwalking, and wasn't just really drunk and incoherent as many people assumed.

He was also prescribed both of those drugs, though maybe now doctors will be more careful about recommending mixing two drugs that both act as sedatives.

Given this new FDA statement, it may not have been appropriate for Kennedy to plead guilty to driving under the influence of drugs that he was prescribed, or to have gotten a year's probation. This incident did also prompt him to go to rehab for a month for a supposed addiction to pain medication (who knows how/if that figures into the car crash), and he has an admittedly long history of addiction problems, but the car crash itself doesn't look like a crime.

Related: NYT article featuring many totally crazy stories of Ambien-related somnulent behavior (from before the Kennedy incident);
Ambien makes you compusively sleep-eat

March 13, 2007

Most irritating restaurant in NYC closed for health code violations

Coffee Shop closed

In what is surely the best unintended consequence of the KFC/Taco Bell rats video, Union Square restaurant Coffee Shop, that even the New York Times is savvy enough to call "once-hip", has been closed for scoring 120 points in Health Department violations.

The restaurant, where you've probably seen the outside seating area infested with vermin incredibly snotty looking scenester-types every time the temperature rises above 45 degrees, got closed last Wednesday, failed a follow-up inspection on Friday, and as of yesterday, was still closed. Heh.

And check out these quotes from the Times article. The writer obviously hates this restaurant as much as I do:

"People are pretty shocked," said Nicole Watts, who stood outside the restaurant yesterday afternoon wearing large sunglasses, a wool shawl and cowboy boots. She had made plans to meet a makeup artist there at 3 p.m. "It’s a meeting about the video we’re shooting for my jewelry line," she said.

"I’ve seen a lot of people walk up and read the signs in the window," Ms. Watts added. "People are pretty shocked."

Sean Thomas, tall, blond and ruddy, and wearing a colorful scarf tied jauntily around his neck, said he had gone to the Coffee Shop each time he visited from London, where he owns a clothing company called White Stuff (slogan: "Lovely Clothes for Lovely People"). "To be honest, I’ve had some good food here and I’ve had some bad food," he said. "I’ve had great margaritas here. It’s just a fun, stylish, sort of buzzy place."

[This next part is just genius] Mr. Thomas turned on his heel and left with his two female companions in search of another place to have lunch. Mike Bael, a squat man with frizzy hair in a ponytail, was standing nearby and said: "I’ve always found it to be an incredibly snobbish place. If you look like that guy, you get served fine. My wife and I always get stuck in the back near a bunch of loud families and have to wait forever to get our order taken. The food’s O.K. One time we looked around and all the people with scarves and British accents were in the front."

The health violations were all for improper refrigeration of food; no sign of rodent infestation. Just far too many tall, blond people with scarves and British accents.

March 6, 2007

Ladies: set your vagina phasers on stunning!

Dr. Warner and his smiling wife/office assistant

[tx to T-Rock for the title]

Vaginal rejuvenation has already been available to women seeking a "youthful aesthetic look" for a number of years, but today's Washington Post dives headfirst into the industry because the city just got its first practitioner: Dr. Christopher Warner.

Dr. Warner (with his wife/office assistant, above, who says that she wants to get the surgery) says that the goal of his practice is to "empower women" by shooting a beautifying laser at their vaginas, which I'll just admit right now is a medical/aesthetic/health/sexual need that I don't think I am totally understanding. What I do understand is some naysayers, such as Dr. Thomas G. Stovall, a past president of the Society of Gynecologic Surgeons, who says "There is absolutely zero scientific literature that supports . . . the notion that firing a laser of any kind will tighten [vaginal] muscles," and calls the surgery "a ripoff."

But enough about that. The really fascinating character here is Dr. David Matlock, regular on E!'s "Dr. 90210", and world-class vagina rejuvenator and feminist crusader. Matlock has consulted with Dr. Warner and other fledgling rejuvenators across the country. In a related article devoted to Dr. Matlock, the Post details his devotion to women and their ugly, old, malfunctioning vaginas, his branding acumen, and his many legal troubles:

"In 1998 the Medical Board of California sought to revoke his license, charging him with insurance fraud, dishonesty, creation of false medical records and gross negligence in connection with his treatment of two patients." Matlock says that the resulting disciplinary action was racially motivated: "It was completely unfair, and I honestly think race had something to do with it," said Matlock, who is black.

He's also been sued for malpractice 10 times in the last 10 years. In response to the lack of studies proving any kind of effectiveness of vaginal rejuvenation surgery, he says, "Life isn't all about studies." What a maverick!

From Matlock's E! bio: "It's 100 percent about the woman. I'm here for the woman. One hundred percent for the woman. I want what she wants. I listen. All of these procedures have been developed as a result of listening to women."

Listening to women, huh? Hm. I wonder what that conversation was like.

Women: "Dr. Matlock! Could you please shoot some lasers at my crotch to make me feel young and attractive, or at least like I haven't given birth to 4 children?"

Dr. Matlock: "Sure, women! I'm here for you. Now please just sign this consent form detailing more than 40 potential complications, including incontinence and intractable pain. Let's get you empowered!"

January 19, 2007

Study: Kiev lake more effective than Proactiv for smooth, blemish-free skin

Yushchenko, with surprisingly clear skin

We've been following the political career, and the dioxin-related skin problems, of Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko since the near-deadly post-election poisoning/bad sushi scandal. And I'm glad to say he's looking very handsome and un-Creature-like these days while swimming in a pore-evaporatingly cold Kiev lake as part of an Epiphany ceremony.

Here's a before and after shot from right after the poisoning:

Yushchenko, before and after

Related: Dioxin: The Modern Prometheus; Look out, Condi!; Robert Redford Syndrome; greatest Low Culture caption of all time.

December 20, 2006

Drink Pom, live forever. On the toilet.

Pom Wonderful kills animals?

Activists Animal Rights Militia have alerted east coast supermarkets that they've contaminated bottles of Pom Wonderful will some nasty bug that will make those who drink it suffer "diarrhea, vomiting and headaches." Pom allegedly kills mice and rabbits in trials that test some of its health benefits claims.

Friends of Animals claims that Pom Wonderful has supported tests of its juice on brain injuries in mice, and, even better, on erectile dysfunction in rabbits. Those poor rabbits, being force-fed that refreshingly not-too-sweet pomegranate juice and then hippity-hopping it up with some sexy bunny slut-clinicians? Doesn't quite pull the heartstrings like the toilet bowl cleaner in the eye animal testing stories, does it?

Health officials think the contimination threat is a hoax, of the kind Animal Rights Militia has done many times before, but Food Emporium says they're checking their bottles of Pom. If you're concerned about animal testing, the erotic lives of rabbits, or getting butt-sick, you might want to avoid drinking it.

December 5, 2006

NYC's rat patrol and Edgar R. Butts

Rat extermination in New York

Sometimes I think the NY Times should stop doing analysis of the important events and developments happening all over the world, and just stick to investigation and detailed reporting of all the weird stuff that goes on right here in the city.

Today's article on the city's ongoing fight against rat infestation is the best example of this kind of local reporting. Pest complaints reached an all-time high last year, at 32,000. The city is trying to adopt more aggressive, preventive measures to fight rats, like keeping garbage inaccessible and clearing the debris where rats live, instead of just dumping loads of rat poison everywhere. A deputy for environmental health, who is named Edgar R. Butts and therefore might be my favorite of all the city's employees, said: “You can bring a trainload or boatload of rodenticide into the city. But as long as you have food and harborage, you’ll have rats.” I've seen a whole lot of "WARNING: Area Baited With Rodenticide" signs in the subway which never seem to be more recent than 2003, and the rats are starting to grow resistant to it anyway.

The article gives you an incredible amount of detail about the history of pest control in the city, the 19th century rat catchers (paid by the rat!), old federal CDC programs, the city council's "rat summits" in the Giuliani days. There are lots of anecdotes about the Bureau of Pest Control Services, which spends $8 million each year on rats, going to buildings where tenants have been complaining for months.

But my favorite part is when the intrepid Times reporter walks around the Bronx himself, and paints a vivid picture of the garbage that he sees, and apparently also rummages through: "Why the rats remain is no mystery, given the abundance of waste New Yorkers leave behind. In an alley next to an apartment building were two exposed trash cans. Inside one was an empty can of Chef Boyardee spaghetti and meatballs, with a residue of sauce."

We've all seen rats scurrying around in the subway or in vacant lots, but take a guess as to the percentage of rental units with rodent infestations. Guess. Ready to get grossed out? 28.7 percent!!! Ew! If you don't have rats drinking your beer and gnawing your toothbrush, you're lucky.

October 18, 2006

KFC Knows What You Really Want

Deliver Us From Evil priests

Have you seen the ads for KFC's new Cheese and Chicken Mashed Potato Bowls?

Here's one of them.

In case you're wondering, the Cheese and Chicken Mashed Potato Bowl is like some unholy 7-layer dip - mashed potatoes, corn, fried chicken, gravy and cheese. In a bowl.

Oh, KFC. At last you've realized that Americans are nothing but sad little piglets waiting to be slopped. My only regret is that the Cheese and Chicken Mashed Potato Bowl is not yet available in a styrofoam trough.

August 28, 2006

Plan B ad campaign

Last week the FDA announced that Plan B emergency contraceptive will now be available over the counter to women 18 and over. Great news!

However, I was surprised to learn that Barr, the company that produces the drug, doesn't expect to turn much of a profit on Plan B sales, which it expects will be around $60 million per year after it goes OTC.

In an effort to make Plan B as lucative as possible for Barr, I've designed an ad to promote the benefits of Plan B. If Barr is really going to rake in the cash with this product, they've got to target those people who engage in less than 100% responsible sex. So for everyone who likes to just jump right in and keep their fingers crossed: Plan B is for you!

Plan B ad campaign

[Thanks Cushie]

May 22, 2006

Healthy food: a new low in consumer self-delusion

From an article on the struggles many Americans face when trying to lose weight:

On a mission to whip herself into shape, Kate Kowalczyk tossed out the junk food and stocked up on her idea of good-for-you staples like yogurt and low-fat cookies. Despite her persistence, the 35 pounds she was trying to shake wouldn't budge.

It turns out those "healthy" foods were just as fattening as the chips and soda they replaced: The yogurt was filled with Reese's Pieces and the low-fat cookies were brimming with sugar that kept her hunger on razor's edge.

Her healthy yogurt had Reese's Pieces in it?! Why, that's candy! How ever did that candy get into her healthy yogurt?

Some consumer product research suggests that the yogurt that Ms. Kowalczyk selected as one of her "good-for-you" purchases was this:

Yogurt with Reese's

which as you can see has a big REESE'S logo right smack on the front of the packaging. "It's all in the advertising — you see this bright packaging that says it's good for you," said Kowalczyk, 34.

That's where I have to disagree with you, Kate. That bright packaging doesn't say it's good for you, it says CANDY. Plus you can totally see the Reese's Pieces right there in the lid of the yogurt.

Dieticians say that people will pretend that all kinds of ridiculous things are a good to eat while trying to lose weight: "Some weight watchers manage to convince themselves blueberry pie has its place in a diet — simply because it features a fruit, said Marlene Clark, a registered dietitian at Cedars Sinai in Los Angeles. 'Just because the basic thing is healthy doesn't mean it's a healthy dish,' Clark said."

The article then goes on to point out that just because a snack food item may be organic or all-natural, it may still have the same number of calories as the regular variety (example: an ounce of Pringles potato chips: 160 calories, an ounce of Barbara's Bakery chips: 150 calories.) It's no secret that food companies work hard to maintain an illusion of healthiness in many of their products, but people, please. That defense only goes so far. Deciphering deceptive packaging and obsessively comparing fat content can be tedious, so let me make it really simple.

If you want to lose weight, don't eat chips. Or candy. Or cookies. I hate to be the one to break it to you, but Kraft and Snackwell are a bunch of liars. Tough love!

May 8, 2006

Smoking Ban? Not in Astoria

Egyptian Cafe hookahs

New York City's Department of Health claims that three years into the smoking ban in all workplaces, there is 99% compliance citywide. Sure, you probably know a couple of bars that wait until after the time of night when inspectors usually check them out, then put out a few ashtrays. Unless you live in Astoria, Queens, where the "smoking ban" is taken about as seriously as Guilani's campaign against ferrets.

The Post reports today that "nine of the city's 12 worst violators were watering holes and eateries in Astoria that cater to smoke-happy Greek, Slavic and other European ethnics and Middle Easterners." Reporters from the Post went into Croatian bar Cafe Scorpio at Broadway and 36th Street, which with 11 violations of the smoking ban last year is the city's worst offender. They found pretty much everybody in the whole place smoking. The manager said, "My clientele are all smokers. It's a European crowd," during an interview in which a patron handed him a pack of cigarettes. At Cafe Valentino, also on Broadway, just about everybody was smoking, including the bartender, who offered the Post reporter an ashtray.

OK, so Europeans like their cigarettes. But what about the part of Astoria around Steinway Street, where the businesses are more Middle Eastern than Central European? In the multicultural wonderland of New York, people from all over the world can come together around their shared love of illicit smoking. The hookah cafes along Steinway, like the popular Al Sukaria Egyptian Cafe, are full of men smoking water pipes and drinking coffee, and there are so many of them that I had always assumed it was legal to smoke in those places. The smoking ban doesn't apply to establishments that derive a certain portion of their revenue from tobacco sales, though this exemption originally only applied to businesses that also serve alcohol. This mostly meant pretentious, expensive "cigar bars" in Manhattan, like Circa Tabac.

Since the clientele of Astoria's hookah cafes is mostly Muslim and therefore doesn't drink, the city later agreed to a cultural exemption from the alcohol rule. Even though Al Sukaria is supposed to fall under this exemption, the cafe still got hit with 10 smoking violations from the city last year. Like the Croatians and Greeks in other parts of Astoria, patrons at this cafe also claim a cultural right to smoke: "This is our culture. In America people meet in the home. In our culture we meet in a cafe."

It remains to be seen if the city will actually shut a business down for repeated smoking violations. Fines range from $200 to $2,000, and clearly some bars would rather pay up than enforce the law. Back when the ban started, some people suggested that a better solution might be to have a designated class of bar that could buy a smoking license, so that customers (and presumably employees) could choose which kind of bar to go to. Bloomberg would never admit it, but maybe that's what we've ended up with. The city's goal of protecting the health of all workers is admirable, but they probably really don't want to get into a battle of cultural sensitivity with largely immigrant populations in Queens. As long as business owners keep supporting their smoking patrons by paying the city fines, looks like the Euro kids can keep lighting up their Dunhills.

April 22, 2006

Thank Heaven

Since I consider myself something of a snack specialist, I thought that the best place to learn about cutting-edge snack innovations would be at the recent snack food manufacturers' trade show, SNAXPO™.

I was wrong. Screw conferences. You want to study snacks? Wait until a 7-Eleven opens on your street.

Now, I grew up with a choice between Store 24 and Cumberland Farms, in an area where convenience stores could only be successful by a) selling gasoline or b) supplying a parking lot for teenagers to hang out in and pay homeless men to buy wine coolers for them. So when the 7-Eleven opened on 42nd Street, I thought, how could a store that gives away free coffee with every breakfast sandwich possibly succeed in an enormous retail space in one of the highest-rent areas in Manhattan?

After I returned from SNAXPO™, still unable to bend my fingers due to salt consumption, I decided to investigate for myself. And that is when I realized that 7-Eleven is SNACK NIRVANA. For one thing, not only does the store stock the most creative brand extensions around, it also employs some of New York's most knowledgeable and aggressive salespeople.

Emily: What is this....some new kind of Tic-Tac? Tic-Tac BOLD™?
Clerk: Yes! They're very good!
Emily: Hm...they look neat - but I don't really like Tic-Tacs.
Clerk: Oh, these are much better than regular Tic-Tac.
Emily: Really?
Clerk: Oh yes! Much better! But we still have the old kind, too.
Emily: Ok, I'll take one of each. And those Chile Picante Corn Nuts.

Besides Tic-Tac BOLD™, which comes in a pleasing squeezable container updated for the 21st century, my 7-Eleven is currently featuring:

Seven flavors and shapes of Cheez-its™, including Fiesta Cheddar Nacho™ and Twisterz Cheddar and More Cheddar™ (don't bother; they're really just regular Cheez-its™ with a coating of Kraft Mac and Cheese powder)

so many cheezits

A wide assortment of my favorite candy ever, Laffy Taffy™, in bold flavors such as "Sparkle Jerry Cherry", which is not only approximately two feet long, but ALSO has a sparkly sugar coating

so much laffy taffy

and Heineken Mini-Kegs for $19.99.

the bounty of 7-Eleven

But 7-Eleven's boldest, most daring product - I dare say, even more creative than Burger King's Chicken Fries, which are designed to fit in your car's cupholder - is almost too much to comprehend.

"Why waste all this space on our hot dog roller grill," 7-Eleven marketing executives must have said to themselves, "When we could appeal to people who want hot, cylindrical foods other than hot dogs? And what do Americans love more than hot dogs? Pizza!"

And so, the 7-Eleven Twista™ was born. (Not, of course, to be confused with the Cheez-it Twisterz™ mentioned above)

the greatest snack food in the universe

While the Twista™ and its roller-grill companion snack the Taquito still appear to be in the pilot phase, I applaud 7-Eleven's ingenuity. I can only hope that these are but the first of many snack foods, like the Chicken Fry, that are tailored with our unique American cultural tastes* and habits** in mind.

*By which I mean, salt and fat
**By which I mean, laziness and gluttony

November 3, 2005

Kraft Foods Defines Nutrition For You

lunchable chicken dunk

Now that "organic" and "healthy" are equalling cold hard cash for the food industry, food manufacturers are falling over themselves to get a piece of that healthy action. The New York Times reports that major companies like Kraft and General Mills, and retailers like McDonald's and Wal-Mart are are all maneuvering to take advantage of rising interest in organic products.

But one company jumped on that bandwagon early, as this excellent Wall Street Journal article details. Taking a cue from parent company Philip Morris, who realized early on that promoting teen smoking equaled corporate villiany in the eyes of the public, Kraft Foods recently announced they would stop marketing "unhealthy" foods to children under 12. But this admirable concession is slightly underscored by the fact that Kraft also developed their own nutritional guidelines to judge which of their products were healthy and "less" healthy.

Kraft calls this their "Sensible Solution." Health experts outside the company call it "nutritional gerrymandering." So far, five Kraft products qualify under the company's Sensible Solution standards: Sugar-Free Kool-Aid™, two kinds of Capri-Sun™ drinks, Lunchables Fun Pack Chicken Dunks™ and 1/2 the Sugar Fruity Pebbles™ cereal.

Here's an example of how Kraft determines nutritional value:

Kraft's Capri-Sun Sport drink has more sugar and calories than the standard that the company set for "refreshment drinks." But Kraft still advertises the product to children. That's because Kraft says the drink has a "clinically proven superior hydration benefit compared to water."

Kraft bases that benefit on a study it funded of 29 children between the ages of nine and 12. The children exercised and on breaks were allowed to take a drink. On average, the kids drank more Capri-Sun Sport than water, according to the study, done by the Medical College of Georgia in Augusta. Kraft determined its drink had a nutritional benefit because kids drank more Capri-Sun than water.

Tomato, tomahto - but regardless, this solution has been sensible for both consumers, and Kraft Foods. Since announcing the initiative, Lunchables Fun Pack Chicken Dunks™ have become the Kraft's fastest growing product line.

So the obvious question is: what's the nutrition value of these healthy Lunchables Fun Pack Chicken Dunks™?

I turned to my friend the internet, starting with the Lunchables™ site - a loud flash site inexplicably set in some sort of space treehouse, where you can go on a "Poppin Droppin Adventure with the Lunchables Brigade," but not learn anything about the actual contents of a Lunchable. So what about Kraft's own Sensible Solutions page? There's a link for nutrition information - but alas, when you click it, you find that "Information for all qualifying products will be available soon." How about the Oscar Mayer Lunchables site? They don't even list Chicken Dunks as a product. Online grocers FreshDirect and Peapod don't carry them.

I finally found the information at ediets.

Lunchables Chicken Dunks™
Contents: 5 chicken nuggets, sweetened ketchup, Tropical Punch-flavored Kool-Aid Jammers drink and Starburst Fruit Chews

Calories: 290
Fat Grams: 5
Sodium: 520 mg (the sodium content of 3 servings of Doritos™)
Sugar: 34 g (6 grams more than a Snickers™ bar)

Clearly, what the Chicken Dunk loses in fat it more than makes up for in salt and sugar. So, while your children under 12 may not have to worry about clogged arteries anymore, they'll probably still be overweight and hypertensive. Thanks, Kraft Foods!

November 1, 2005

A Scary Halloween Announcement

In honor of last night's Halloween festivities, I bring you spooky news of....



tooth ache candy

They are one and the same. Knowing that I am a slave to both candy and marketing, some friends recently brought back this candy from a trip to New England. The concept and execution of this candy put it miles above other children's novelty candies. Kid's Brands Tooth Ache Candy Pressed And Liquid Candy ™ may not be scary to someone on their first set of teeth, but let me tell you - a little periodontal surgery is all it requires to make this one of the scariest candies you've ever encountered.

Marketed charmingly as "red raspberry flavor candy cream jell with pressed dextrose teeth," Kid's Brands Tooth Ache Candy Pressed And Liquid Candy™ comes packaged in a segmented plastic tooth. On one side of the molar, little sugared teeth. On the other - a quivering mass of red blood.

toothache candy open

Using the little tongs provided, you dip the tooth into the gum until it's nice and bloody.

dipping toothache candy

Then, you pop that little sucker into your mouth, gel and all.

yummy teeth

And the best part? It is so much more delicious than you thought! The goopy gel and crunchy teeth come together for a perfect taste sensation.

And even better: The brand has recently expanded to include green "Rotten Little Teeth." Thank you, Hungarian candy manufacturers, for creating this fine product! In coming months, I hope to see Kid's Brands Tooth Ache Candy Pressed And Liquid Candy ™ in stores across our great country.

May 31, 2005

Slim Goodbody, still scaring children everywhere

Slim Goodbody

When I was little, no children's television character was as terrifying to me as Slim Goodbody, who made regular appearances on Captain Kangaroo. I hid under my bed when he came on, and cried. I don't know what it was--maybe that skin-tight suit with organs all over it, or his maniacal demand to his viewers, "Give yourself a hug. Say, 'I love my body. I'm the best me in the world!'"

Anyway, he's back! He's still doing books and videos on children's health and is now creating more series on exercise for kids, but his style has evolved with the times: "He swapped his afro for a mullet, which he in turn abandoned in favor of a more conventional hair style. And he has added rap to his repertoire."

Slim's real name is John Burstein, he's from Long Island, and he once aspired to be a Shakespearean actor. Guess he had to settle for filling my early childhood with total abject horror.

April 15, 2005

The Pharmaceutical Revolution - no, sorry, not that one.

typical prescription bottles

29-year old Deborah Adler is about to be a gajillionaire.

According to this NY Magazine piece, Adler decided to update the standard prescription pill bottle after her grandmother accidentally took the wrong medication. Realizing that current drug packaging "is not just unattractive - it's actually dangerous," Adler created a revolutionary new pill bottle for her thesis project at the School of Visual Arts. A creative director for Target saw it, loved it, and now ClearRx is available in Target pharmacies across the land. Here are her updates: ClearRx solution

  • New "D" shaped container offers a flat surface to read the full label
  • Name of the drug is printed on the top of the bottle, so you can identify it if it's stored in a drawer
  • Separate color-coded rings identify which family member the medication is for
  • Usage info can be tucked behind the label, instead of stapled onto the paper bag you throw away when you get home
  • The word "daily" is used instead of "Once", which may be confused for the Spanish word for "eleven"

This is exactly the kind of industrial design story I love. Like Sam Farber, who created Good Grips™ kitchen tools for his arthritic wife, Adler saw a simple need that hadn't occured to anyone else and addressed it.

This is another example of Target's move towards cornering the market on speedy and efficient health care. The company is also opening "MinuteClinics" in many stores, which are staffed with physician's assistants and nurses who can dispense basic medications, kind of like a drive-through doctor's office.

Anyway, read the whole article. It's neat. Now, if she can just find some way for us to afford prescription medications.

April 6, 2005

Bill Cosby continues march toward inexplicability

Bill Cosby keeps it real

If you're Bill Cosby, successful comedian, writer, actor, and speaker beloved by many generations and races of Americans, you would think it would be reasonably easy to maintain a lovable grandfatherly image as you recede from the public eye into your dottage. Instead, he's decided to go the route of constantly blaming poor young black people for the problems they face, and slipping roofies to women so he can grope them.

Yesterday at a ceremony at University of Pittsburgh's Graduate School of Public Health, at which Bill Cosby was awarded a Porter Prize, "in recognition of exemplary performance in health promotion," he took one more little step down the ladder of respectability.

During his speech, he criticized parents who are careless with their children's diets, saying: "children can't make it off Coca-Cola and a bag of chips" for breakfast. "This food is not funny that we're eating."

Perhaps not the best choice of examples for a man with a famous routine entitled Chocolate Cake for Breakfast.

Fat Actresses

skinny delta and kirstie

In today's NYT "At Lunch With" column, Frank Bruni shares a tasteful meal in Midtown with Delta Burke. Naturally, Delta is featured because she's currently starring in the Broadway revival of Steel Magnolias. Haha! No, I'm kidding. If you read the article twice, as I did, you might pick up on that. Actually Delta is featured because she's fat.

In case you didn't know that Delta was fat, Bruni sets the scene by opening the article thusly: "She grabbed hold of a French fry. She dragged it through ketchup. And then, without apology or visible regret, she ate it."

Just how fat is she? Well, Bruni helpfully mentions that Delta weighed 110 pounds as a beauty queen; 145 when she started on Designing Women, 200 when she left the show and 215 at her highest weight. Today she weighs 165 and is 5 foot 6 and appears "chubby". Surprisingly, her BMI and graphs of weight gain and loss were not included as sidebars.

I find this particularly interesting because previous "At Lunch With" columns tend to focus on career achievements and interesting celebrity factoids - John Grisham's legal background for instance, or how circus members live on the off-seasons. In Delta's feature, we learn that she was thin and then fat; she was nominated for 2 Emmys for being fat*; she designed fat lady clothing; she's not quite so fat now; and she loves "Snickers bars, as well as coffee ice cream and macaroni and cheese." Why? Because Delta's career is Professional Fat Person.

But what's this? Even though she's fat, Bruni notes with astonishment that Delta only eats a quarter of her cheeseburger and orders a low-calorie sorbet for dessert. Well, no fucking shit. Bruni clearly doesn't know the first rule about being overweight, which is that people who are self-conscious about their weight never eat around other people - particularly reporters for national newspapers. After being professionally fat for twenty years, Delta knows better than to eat a whole hamburger in front of someone. She clearly went into this interview knowing what it was about; she wasn't going to be asked about returning to theater, or what it's like being on Broadway. She wasn't going to talk about working with Frances Sternhagen or even asked to dish about Annie Potts. She was going to have her eating habits and appearance scrutinized and published in the New York Times.

Frankly, I'm surprised she didn't order a garden salad.

* And if you've ever seen the episode of Designing Women that she was nominated for (in which she goes back to her high-school reunion and wins the "Most Changed" award), you already know that she can act the harem pants off Kirstie Alley. And yes, I love Designing Women, and I will not apologize for it.

March 28, 2005

I'll decide what drugs you can take, missy +

The latest group of control-freaks advocating for legislature that would allow them to tell lots of other people what to do appears to be pharmacists. The Washington Post today has a terrifying article on a topic I have been trying to avoid in the hope that it would all get sorted out before articles like this started getting written.

The topic is this: some pharmacists decide that the drugs doctors prescribe for their patients are unethical, and therefore refuse to dispense them. So which drugs are these pharmacists so morally opposed to? Viagra? Xanax? OxyContin, or other addictive drugs that are often abused? Nope! The drugs they most commonly refuse to dispense are birth control pills and morning-after emergency contraception pills. Women's rights and reproductive rights organizations are freaking out, anti-birth-control Christian fundamentalist groups are desperate to protect pro-life pharmacists, many of whom get reprimanded or fired from their jobs, and the American Pharmacists Association and lawmakers aren't sure what to do.

And women are terrified.

Kathleen Pulz and her husband got a prescription for the morning-after pill when the condom they were using broke. Their local Walgreens pharmacy in Milwaukee refused to fill it. "I couldn't believe it," said Pulz, 44, who with her husband had long ago decided they could not afford a fifth child. "How can they make that decision for us? I was outraged. At the same time, I was sad that we had to do this. But I was scared. I didn't know what we were going to do."

Suzanne Richards, 21, had a prescription for the morning-after pill that was rejected by a drive-through Brooks Pharmacy in Laconia, N.H., and by the time she found another pharmacy that would fill it, the 72 hours in which the pill had to be used had long passed. "When he told me he wouldn't fill it, I just pulled over in the parking lot and started crying," said Richards, a single mother of a 3-year-old who runs her own cleaning service. "I just couldn't believe it. I was just trying to be responsible."

Responsibility is certainly not something these renegade pharmacists are thinking about, especially those that not only refuse to fill a perfectly legal prescription, but also refuse to pass it along to another pharmacy. The American Pharmacists Association's policy for their members is that pharmacists can conscientiously refuse to fill prescriptions as long as they support their customers' legal right to get their medications some other way.

But that's not how pro-life advocates see it. The seriously misguided and delusional Karen L. Brauer, president of Pharmacists for Life, thinks it's fine for pharmacists to hold legal prescriptions hostage, refusing to transfer them to another pharmacy. She says, "That's like saying, 'I don't kill people myself but let me tell you about the guy down the street who does.' What's that saying? 'I will not off your husband, but I know a buddy who will?' It's the same thing." Yes, she is equating using birth control with assassination. Brauer was fired from a Kmart pharmacy in Delhi, Ohio, for refusing to fill birth control prescriptions.

Now this one will really drive you crazy. Brauer goes on to say, "Our group was founded with the idea of returning pharmacy to a healing-only profession. What's been going on is the use of medication to stop human life. That violates the ideal of the Hippocratic oath that medical practitioners should do no harm." Who is she suggesting is being harmed when a pharmacist fills a prescription for some birth control pills? Some unfertilized eggs? People who are being responsible and avoiding a future of child-support payments for unwanted children? Durex stockholders? The Pope?

The issue hasn't hit the courts hard yet, but here's what the article says about what's coming down the pipeline: "Pharmacists are regulated by state laws and can face disciplinary action from licensing boards. But the only case that has gotten that far involves Neil T. Noesen, who in 2002 refused to fill a University of Wisconsin student's birth control pill prescription at a Kmart in Menomonie, Wis., or transfer the prescription elsewhere. An administrative judge last month recommended Noesen be required to take ethics classes, alert future employers to his beliefs and pay what could be as much as $20,000 to cover the costs of the legal proceedings. The state pharmacy board will decide whether to impose that penalty next month.

Wisconsin is one of at least 11 states considering 'conscience clause' laws that would protect pharmacists such as Noesen. Four states already have laws that specifically allow pharmacists to refuse to fill prescriptions that violate their beliefs. At the same time, at least four states are considering laws that would explicitly require pharmacists to fill all prescriptions."

This could turn into a huge mess on the state level, and might precipitate yet another federal case on an issue that really has nothing to do with anybody besides patients and their doctors. - Amy

Attempting to regulate healthcare issues like they are ethical issues is total bullshit. Due to the sad, broken state of our healthcare system these women are most likely paying for these medications out of their own pockets, not through any kind of federal program or even private insurance (which is a whole other issue). It's ludicrous for the government to attempt to limit access to FDA-approved medications for which they are not paying, and it's a pharmacist's job to safely and accurately dispense those medications, not to pass lifestyle judgements.

To paraphrase Will Ferrell, these kinds of arguments make me feel like I'm taking crazy pills. How do people object to family planning, but allow children to live in poverty with no health coverage? How do people decide it's unethical to let a vegetative woman die, but also propose $15 billion in cuts to Medicaid with no regard for the family that will be bankrupted paying for her care? - Emily

March 24, 2005

Sympathizing with Terri

Maybe you're having trouble, like I am, understanding how the protesters outside the hospice center where Terri Schiavo currently is can continue such embarrassing displays of self-righteous idiocy, crying and wailing and praying and holding big FEED TERRI! signs and shaking giant spoons at the cameras, and insisting that it's God's will to keep a vegetative woman alive via a robot feeding machine. Though she didn't ask to be at the center of such invasive political manipulation, I do find myself feeling sympathetic toward Terri. Especially since I saw this photo from her wedding in 1990.

Terry Schiavo's wedding

If that mother of hers had any hand in selecting that dress, and that hat, she clearly has some problems in exercising good judgement.

January 26, 2005

Some of Bush's best friends are black

bush loves black people

"'African-American males have a — have had a shorter life span than other sectors of America,' said White House press secretary Scott McClellan. 'And this will enable them to build a nest egg of their own and be able to pass that nest egg on to their survivors.'" [AP]

See? It's actually good that black men have short life expectancies! Once we privatize social security, you'll be happy that you die young!

"Exit polls showed that Bush received just 11 percent of the black vote in November's election, a slight increase over the 9 percent he received four years earlier."

January 25, 2005

SSRI's and sexual side effects

If you have a doctor's appointment coming up, and you're considering which prescription psychotropic drug to abuse, I suggest you consider Wellbutrin. The NY Times has a charming anecdote about a woman who was prescribed Zoloft for her depression, which worked on the depression, but also destroyed her sex drive. In an attempt to counteract the sexual side effect, her doctor prescribed Wellbutrin, a wacky drug that has done all kinds of unpredictable and sometimes unpleasant things to those who take it. (You might have heard of people taking Wellbutrin as a part of an effort to quit smoking. Someone I know who did this had to go off it when she started experiencing psychotic breaks and minor hallucinations at work, so, you know, watch out.)

Anyway, the woman in the story starts taking her Wellbutrin as well as her Zoloft, and the next thing she knows, she's doing some shopping, and "spontaneously had an orgasm that had lasted on and off for nearly two hours."

The article goes on to point out that other drugs also mimic Wellbutrin's effects by increasing dopamine levels: "In fact, drugs of abuse, like cocaine, alcohol and opiates, release dopamine in this circuit - and so does sex." Considering that your insurance plan is more likely to cover Wellbutrin than cocaine, I'd probably stick with that.

January 24, 2005

Snow injustice

It snows in Brooklyn, kids go sledding

sledding brooklyn

It snows in Afghanistan, kids get whooping cough

snow in afghanistan

December 28, 2004

Supermodel tsunami

sri lanka

Faced with the horror of 44,000 people dead, millions more displaced and homeless, villages destroyed, survivors at risk of epidemics of disease, the shaky economies of poor nations blasted, and the fresh water supplies of many islands potentially ruined by salt water contamination, is there any way that our media can still work in a story featuring some pictures of a foxy girl in a hot little outfit?

Why yes! Yes there is.

ABOVE: Non-supermodel Sri Lankan women walk the catwalk of despair.

December 6, 2004

Yushchenko's Mystery Ailment Solved!

Viktor Yushchenko

There has been much excited speculation lately on Ukraine opposition leader Viktor Yushchenko's "mystery ailment". In addition to causing the politician crippling pain, this disease has also delighted the international press by destroying what journalists insist on calling Yushchenko's "movie-star looks".

Many theories are being thrown around, including poison, bad sushi, and an unidentified immune disease. Yuschchenko's own specialists can do little more than list his symptoms: "He was severely ill, but this does not all add up to a single disease or even a known syndrome," said one doctor.

While this case may have stumped Europe's most illustrious physicians, the Amy's Robot Bureau of Rare Diseases has been able to identify Yushchenko's ailment as something very serious indeed: Robert Redford Syndrome.

Robert Redford

Sadly, there is no known cure.

December 3, 2004

Viral* Marketing

Phil the Sore

Sometimes, the hard-hitting investigative journalists at Amy's Robot are called on to make tough decisions in bringing you the highest quality news in a timely fashion. For instance, when we hear that television stations in L.A. are refusing to air commercials featuring a 6-foot syphilis sore, we're faced with two competing instincts - thinking it's an elaborate media hoax, and wanting to slap it up on the 'bot immediately.

However, after some preliminary research, the story appears to be true. The Los Angeles County Department of Health Services and progressive ad agency Social Marketing created "Phil the Sore" in 2002 to raise awareness of the alarming resurgence of syphilis. Phil's many public appearances are documented on the "Stop the Sores" website, and he's also been featured on billboards and in print ads.

But seeing a big lumpy sore (even one who looks more like a California Raisin) at gay pride parades is quite different from seeing him on your television. The ad, in which Phil follows two men home from a club and then invites his buddies "brain damage", "rash" and "blindness" along, didn't go over so well with Los Angeles network affiliates living under the constant threat of FCC fines.

"We found it to be inappropriate for a broadcast audience," says a KCBS-TV Channel 2 spokesman, ominously adding: "We consider the prevention of sexually transmitted diseases to be a serious matter. It's an issue we have addressed and will continue to recognize through fair, accurate and balanced news reporting."

Los Angeles county public health director Dr. Jonathan Fielding counters: "My question would be, 'Is this content more "adult" than others that are being shown … in the evening hours?' "

Yes and no, Dr. Fielding. The difference is clearly that the DHS ad addresses and raises consciousness about a serious health issue. And all good Americans know adult situations are meant for entertainment purposes only! We sure like to see sex on the tv - just not the consequences of it.

But in the time-honored tradition of "any publicity is good publicity", Phil's spot may end up being seen by more people than the DHS ever intended. The story has already been picked up by national news agencies and like syphilis itself, is likely to keep spreading.

You can watch Phil's ad on the Stop the Sores website, which also features community resources and a page of symptoms with really, really gross pictures that are not appropriate for work viewing.

*Note from the Amy's Robot Genomics Bureau: Syphilis is not a virus. It's a type of bacteria called a spirochete.

November 23, 2004

Welcome to Marlboro Country


Ever since the class action suits against big tobacco companies in 1998, companies like Philip Morris have had to change the way they promote their cigarettes in this country. This, along with an enormous potential population of smokers overseas, has prompted many companies to target most of their biggest campaigns at foreigners. The LA Times has a great piece (login req'd) on the creepy and secretive 2004 Adventure Team, a 12-day outdoor tour of Utah's Moab Desert for a group of 42 people, ages 22-24, all from countries in Europe, Asia, and Latin America. If they are selected from the application process (which requires all kinds of revelation of personal consumer habits) they get a free trip to the US, ride around in jeeps, hike, wear western hats, and pretend to be cowboys. All the while associating all that freedom and natural beauty with Marlboro cigarettes.

Americans are less likely to respond to all that "Come to where the flavor is" marketing stuff, ever since some of the original Marlboro cowboys came forward with lung cancer in the 1990's. Many people from other countries still love fake cowboys and images of the old west of America (as evidenced by the social clubs of Germans who dress up as Native Americans.) They seem to have a great time on their vacation celebrating American values, like smoking.

An American value that Philip Morris and the Adventurers seem to value less is freedom of the press. The LA Times article is structured around the efforts of the reporter and photographer to gain access to members of the group and the guides, which are mostly rebuffed. They are told to go away by the field guides, the owner of some of the private land used during the Adventure, and by some of the foreign participants themselves. One woman shouts at them, "Why are you bothering us? This is not American." It appears that Philip Morris used to allow some American journalists on the annual tour, but recently decided against allowing any American participants at all. One executive says, "We want the winners to experience the freedom of America. And we find this is easiest when Americans are not part of the event."

So Philip Morris are shilling for a mostly non-existent vision of America to young people from other countries, in an effort to associate their brand of cigarettes with freedom, beauty, and unspoiled nature. But in their execution of this supposed celebration of American values, they actually reveal what have become some of the most pervasive values in corporate America: wilfull manipulation of imagery, corporate secrecy, intimidation and control of media, and marketing campaigns that intrude into consumers' personal lives.

Be sure to read to the end of the article, in which one of the participants offers to the reporter the she actually isn't a smoker. A German rep from Philip Morris overhears this, and freaks out all over the reporter, yelling that he is rude and ordering him to leave, saying, "We never ask these rude questions in Europe!" So much for American freedoms.

September 26, 2004

Robot-on-the-Spot: The World Cheesecake Eating Championship

cheesecake contest winner Eric Booker

Forget Takeru Kobayashi and his lame hot dog eating record. The real champions are the ones who spend a hot Sunday afternoon shoving cheesecake into their faces at Brooklyn's Atlantic Avenue Festival. As fans of both competitive and amateur eating, Amy's Robot congratulates 2004 World Cheesecake eating champion, Eric "Badlands" Booker, who ate over one and a half cheesecakes (that's seven pounds of sweet dairy goodness) in six minutes. Eric, who in his spare time is an amateur rapper and conductor on the 7 train line, also took the cannoli title last week at the San Gennaro feast, eating 16.5 cannoli in six minutes.

Competitive eating has enjoyed quite the renaissance lately, thanks to the tireless work of the International Federation of Competitive Eating. With a keen understanding of the gluttony that makes our country great, the IFOCE is making an effort to standardize rules and regulations in this fast-growing sport. The organization is also dedicated to making competitive eating as safe as possible, believing that "speed eating is only suitable for those 18 years of age or older and only in a controlled environment with appropriate rules and with an emergency medical technician present."

Of course, even that emergency medical technician can't always prevent the occasional accident. People, I'm here to tell you that you haven't lived until you've seen a a grown man eat cheesecake with his fingers

cheesecake contest goldstein

and then barf it down the front of his shirt.

cheesecake contest loser

If you're still interested in competitive eating, you should certainly subscribe to "Gurgitator", the IFOCE's newsletter, which will keep you up to date on all the latest competitions and rankings. And gentlemen looking for romance - the IFOCE's second highest ranking eater is the lovely and tiny Sonya Thomas. I'd suggest visiting your bank's loan officer before taking her to dinner, because this 105-pound cutie just might eat 11 pounds of cheesecake, 5 pounds of chicken wings, 65 hardboiled eggs, 23 pulled pork sandwiches, and 43 soft tacos. Sexy!

Update: Ordering information for our hero Badlands Booker's competitive-eating themed hip-hop album, "Hungry and Focused" is here. You can also listen to clips from the album.

September 17, 2004

China just needs someone to talk to

If you live in a hard-core Communist country, in which your job, house, family, and life are all owned and regulated by the government, you probably won't have much psychic space in which to question your existence and wonder if you're an actualized person. But if your Communist country starts to encourage some entrepreneurship, and more and more industries and elements of daily life are sometimes controlled by individual people, but with many inconsistencies, and if social expectations suddenly change to include more competition and self-determination, you might have a nervous breakdown.

There's an interesting LA Times piece about the rising industry of talk therapy and psychoanalysis in China [login req'd]. As you might guess, living in a country of a billion people with vast economic stratification, an economy changing from state-controlled to more free-market, western influences in tension with traditional eastern values, and horrific pollution and urban decay, all gets pretty stressful. Prozac sales have doubled over the last 4 years, and a new therapy industry has "sprung up virtually overnight", with many therapists operating in private practice as the government struggles to get in on it.

China has an average per capita income of $1,000, so only the relatively wealthy can afford a therapist. But isn't it the trappings of wealth and modernity that get people anxious and miserable enough to seek out therapy? Increased pressure and fast-paced cultural change are taking their toll on well-off urban Chinese people. As the article says, "For many Chinese, the most troubling sign of increasing instability has been a parade of news stories unheard of in years past. Overwrought college students pour acid on zoo animals, kill roommates with a hammer and step in front of trains."

One Beijing therapist is hosting group therapy sessions for road rage, as well as individual counseling for typical western complaints, like divorce and relationship problems. Her style is reminiscent of Denis Leary's therapeutic philosophy: She says of some of her clients, "They have to be strong in front of the people they know, but they are weak inside. Most of them need to be told: 'You have no problems! Cut it out! Get to work!' "

And just like that, they feel better about themselves.

September 15, 2004

And just like that, I decided to wear glasses forever.


Hooray for severely nearsighted people like myself, who aren't candidates for Lasik surgery because of our freakishly thin corneas! The FDA has approved the first implantable corrective lens. The lens, similar to those used in cataract surgery, has been manufactured by the Dutch firm Ophtec for 17 years, but rigorous FDA testing requirements prevented it from become available in the U.S. until now.

This is how it's implanted:

"A little cut is made in the cornea through which the lens is inserted in the anterior chamber. When the lens is right in front of the pupil it is attached to the Iris. A little fold of Iris is pushed into the clips of the lens. In this way the lens will stay in its place. The small incision is sutured and the surgery is over."

Thanks, but even without warnings of side effects like cataracts, swelling of the cornea, and detached retinas, I think I'll stick to my low-tech glasses. Although many of my friends have gone through successful corrective surgery, my personal philosophy is: don't take chances with your eyes. You only get the two.

As an early Halloween present, here are some gross pictures of other Ophtec products.

August 10, 2004

New Hot Disease Accessory

yellow bracelet

I guess it's time we made a statement about this growing cultural trend, and so, prompted by Cushie, I would like to declare:

Yellow Cancer Bracelets Are The New AIDS Ribbons™

There's tons of media coverage over the widespread popularity of the yellow cancer Live Strong bracelets: they have been adopted by both Bush and Kerry, tons of celebrities, and millions of non-famous people. It has once again become easy to display your solidarity with people suffering from a horrible disease through a relatively meaningless symbolic gesture.

The main difference between the AIDS ribbons and these new things is that you have to purchase them from Nike instead of just making one yourself out of a piece of red ribbon. So this way, you can support cancer patients AND child labor and sweatshops all in one purchase!

Take note, fashion-conscious cancer patient supporters: cyclists are already wondering when the bracelets will transition from In to Out, which pretty much means it has already happened.

August 5, 2004

Sneaky anti-abortion activism

Interesting federal lawsuit against a man named William Graham in Louisiana who has operated Causeway Center for Women, supposedly an abortion referral service, for the last 10 years. However, when women called the Center to make an appointment, their appointments were cancelled again and again until they were too far into their pregnancies for a legal abortion. Many of these women had called his organization thinking they were calling an actual provider of abortions in Louisiana, Causeway Medical Clinic.

It turns out that Mr. Graham is an anti-abortion activist who has picketed doctors' offices, and used to run a clinic with his wife called A Woman's Day Clinic, a pro-life center for pregnant women. The article also reports, "In 2002, Mr. Graham enrolled in the state's anti-AIDS condom distribution program, picked up 30,000 free condoms and discarded them. He pleaded guilty to theft and is on probation."

One of the women suing him is a 19 year-old high school dropout with a boyfriend in jail and a terminally ill mother. She says that when Mr. Graham cancelled her appointment, he would give legitimate-sounding excuses: "The doctors worked on their own time so no one would know they performed abortions. He could not reveal the name of the doctor or hospital in advance for security reasons. When he failed to call, he would explain later that the doctor had had an emergency, or had been too busy that day." Demonstrating his concern for the welfare of his clients, Mr. Graham also told her to drink milk and stop smoking. Now she's eight months pregnant.

Whatever your stance on abortion may be, this is the most underhanded anti-abortion action I've heard of. More details about the lawsuit, filed in June, on AlterNet. The judge for the case ordered Mr. Graham to disconnect the phone line of Causeway Center for Women, and said he had done "irreparable harm" to his clients. Even the founder of Louisana Right to Life said of him, "I think he's known for his very pronounced anti-abortion stand, and I can say this for sure: he's never worked with what you might describe as mainstream right-to-life groups."

June 8, 2004

Fake Fat

An obesity researcher at Rockefeller University has been horrifying medical alarmists by claiming that Americans are not actually becoming hugely fat. According to Dr. Jeffrey Friedman, statistics show that the average weight of the population has only increased around 7 pounds since 1991.

"Obesity, Dr. Friedman says, is a problem....But it does no one any good to exaggerate the extent of obesity or to blame the obese for being fat."

Lest you think that he is simply an apologist for fat, lazy slobs, this article also takes pains to point out that "Dr. Friedman, a Howard Hughes Medical Institute not fat. He is tall and gangly, with the rumpled look of an academic scientist." -Emily

It's good to see that the widely reported obesity "epidemic" is mostly the result of casual observation and changing definitions of obesity. I've heard about the work of Dr. Friedman from some of my scientist friends, who we might hear more from later. His basic arguments make sense, and he has research to back up his ideas, but I think he carries the theory a little too far. It is worth noting that Dr. Friedman has based his career on his discovery of "leptin", or the fat gene, which he says is wholely responsible for determining our weight. "Body weight," he says, "is genetically determined, as tightly regulated as height. Genes control not only how much you eat but also the metabolic rate at which you burn food. When it comes to eating, free will is an illusion."

He also says that on average obese people have gained a significant amount of weight over the last 10 years or so, 25 to 30 pounds. Non-obese people have gained an average of about 7 pounds. So where is this weight coming from? If leptin is responsible for setting our weight, and not the food we eat or the amount of exercise we do, why do people ever gain weight at all? Or lose weight? He compares leptin levels to other genetic traits, like height, but the analogy isn't clear: our height does not change in response to our behavior, like weight does. Leptin levels are genetically determined, and there are more obese people now than there were in earlier generations, so are obese people of earlier decades suddenly having more children than thin people? It all doesn't quite make sense.

Dr. Friedman himself says "People can exert a level of control over their weight within a 10-, perhaps a 15-pound range." Presumably, people can gain as well as lose 10-15 pounds by changing their behavior. For most people who want to lose weight, isn't 10 or 15 pounds generally what they're interested in losing? If you want to lose 10 pounds and are willing to change your eating and exercise habits to do so, you most likely are in control of your weight. Saying "free will is an illusion" is an overstatement, otherwise no matter what we eat or what exercise we do, our weight would never change. Unless, of course, we take leptin while dieting to chemically alter our physiological response to food. And what do you know, Dr. Friedman himself is developing drugs that do exactly that. Ka-ching! -Amy

June 2, 2004

Surprise! Drug companies knew anti-depressants are bad for kids+

To continue the thread on the growing international awareness of the dangers of prescribing anti-depressants to young people: our local hero Eliot Spitzer has filed suit against GlaxoSmithKline, claiming the drug company withheld information about the negative effects of Paxil on children. As British drug regulatory bodies stated months ago, anti-depressants do not show conclusive positive effects on young people, and they can increase suicidal thoughts and behaviors in some. The lawsuit says that Glaxo suppressed four studies that demonstrate these results, and also includes an internal memo circulated within the company that says they intended to "manage the dissemination of data in order to minimize any potential negative commercial impact." That negative impact might have reduced the $55 million in revenues that Glaxo made in 2002 from prescriptions of Paxil to children and teens.

Glaxo claims that they made all of their studies available to the FDA. Which leads to the question: if U.S. companies got results like this in their drug tests, why didn't the FDA take action similar to the UK's regulatory agencies and ban the prescription of anti-depressants (besides Prozac) for young people? The article contains this seemingly contradictory sentence: "Paxil is not approved for use in children, but doctors can prescribe drugs as they see fit and routinely recommend antidepressants for children suffering from depression and other psychological disorders." The FDA's website answers some questions about Paxil and children; they say that the FDA has "not approved" the use of Paxil for depressed children, but that physicians can prescribe whatever they want for whomever they want. Way to throw your weight around, FDA. - Amy

Interestingly, this news comes out on the same day the NYT reports on a government-funded study that shows Prozac is more effective than talk therapy for suicidal teenagers. The study appears legitimate, since it is not overtly funded by a drug company (although some people, by which I mean me, would argue that our government is the biggest and most profitable drug company of all).

One doctor not involved in the study echoes the concerns of many bad parents, noting that the findings are a relief "because it's hard to get people into cognitive therapy anymore. They just don't want to take the time.'' - Emily

Say Cheese!

June is finally here, and we all know what that means – it’s Dairy Month! We can’t all be lucky enough to live in Barron County, Wisconsin, where residents celebrate by starting the day with cheese and ice cream sundaes at 6 am, but that doesn’t mean we should neglect this most magical of holidays.

In case you need extra encouragement, the American Dairy Association has provided this helpful Snackulator™ to assist you in finding just the right cheese for any event.

May 26, 2004

The Low-Carb Apocalypse, Part II

In response to plummeting sales, Krispy Kreme will introduce a line of low-carb doughnuts. The company will also expand further into less carb-conscious overseas markets, mainly Asia.

The Krispy Kreme brass are naturally most concerned for the ramifications of a low-carb diet on their customers' health. CEO Scott Livengood notes hopefully, "I think there is always a real possibility that people are going to decide a balanced lifestyle is appropriate for them and the dynamics will change."

A balanced lifestyle that includes massive doughnuts, of course.

(via ChrisF)

May 24, 2004

The American Dream

The low-carb lifestyle can get so tiring. Sometimes, after eating my fill of eggs and steak, I don’t even want to sit down in front of the tv with that crustless cheesecake flavored with Splenda™.

Luckily, the altruistic food producers of our great country want us all to succeed on our weight loss journeys. Coca-Cola has announced the launch of a lightly-carbohydrated beverage, and it looks like soon you'll have to go to Canada to buy a danish made with white flour. Here are just a few other low-carb products available at your local store:

Fiber supplements (an essential tool for the low-carb dieter, if you know what I mean)
Subway sandwiches
Margarita mix
Entenmann’s cakes and cookies
Hamburger Helper

Eat up, America! You may end up in the hospital or the poorhouse, but with all these low-carb, calorie-dense, fat- and sodium- laden processed foods you can finally live the dream of losing weight without ever eating a vegetable again.

May 3, 2004

Deceptive Foods ++

(This post has been greatly expanded from the original.)

Remember when South Central LA decided that it would fix all its problems of urban blight, poverty, crime, and hopelessness by just changing the name? Well, now Kentucky Fried Chicken is following suit. They first changed their name and branding to "KFC." Last year they tried to market fried chicken as health food. Now they've suggested that KFC actually stands for something else: "kitchen fresh chicken." Admittedly, that name sounds a whole lot less artery-clogging without the word "fried," but what does this mean for other food companies? Can they all start just changing their names to imply that the food they produce has somehow improved, without any actual changes being made?

The most glaring related example of this is, of course, the recent downgrading of yogurt from a "meal" to a "snack" that both Dannon and Stonyfield have bought into. They reduced their yogurt cup size from 8 oz. to 6 oz., leaving many customers outraged. Emily may have more to add on this, given that she has launched a personal crusade against the participating yogurt companies. Note that Colombo is now advertising its yogurt as "8 oz. since 1929" (see bottom of page.) -Amy

Well, the real question is, what does the "KFC = Kitchen Fresh Chicken" formula mean for all of NYC's second-tier fried chicken mini-chains whose name-wars are built into the landscape of the city, particularly in the Bronx.

Most New Yorkers have driven past the tasty-by-association (and legally sound) "Kennedy Fried Chicken," but may have missed its progeny: the brilliantly dubbed (and also legally unassailable) "JFK Chicken," a name which at once recalls Kennedy Fried Chicken, Kentucky Fried Chicken's rebirth as KFC, and -- let's face it -- JFK himself. After the advent of JFK, and proving once again that nothing succeeds like success, "Canada Fried Chicken" also surfaced, which someone must have figured sounded close enough, and which of course spawned "US Fried Chicken" and "American Fried Chicken." Only Crown Fried Chicken, perhaps the largest of the outer-borough chains, has steered clear of this mental-association game and is reputed to have the tastiest chicken of them all.

So does this mean that "Kennedy Fresh Chicken" is available? By asserting that KFC now stands for "Kitchen Fresh Chicken," will KFC ironically lose its claim to its original moniker, "Kentucky Fried Chicken"? Wow: This could lead to the kind of onomastic battle not seen since the days of Ray's Pizza vs. Famous Original Ray's Pizza vs. Ray Bari Pizza -ADM

It's no coincidence that both Dannon and Stonyfield Farm reduced their cup size around the same time; both are owned by the French company Groupe Danone. Although Stonyfield�s party line is that they are just some humble cow-owning folk from the backwoods of New Hampshire, the company has taken an alarming turn since Groupe Danone�s acquisition in 2003.

In my ongoing quest to expose Big Yogurt, I've uncovered some serious examples of corporate deception:

1) You Asked for Less, You Got Less �In an independent research survey on Trends in Yogurt Consumption, 73% of all yogurt eaters viewed yogurt as a snack rather than a meal,� Stonyfield PR cheerily announces. �So in addition to the colorful graphics change, we reduced the size of our fat free cups to a 6oz. size that's more appropriate for snacking.

People, please. It seems disingenuous, at best, to suggest that these �snacking� consumers are pushing back from their desks, groaning �I�m so full! And now I have to throw away these two leftover ounces��*

Dannon resorts to the more Orwellian �room in every cup for your favorite mix-ins� on the back of the already 6-ounce container, encouraging the consumer to �create your own yogurt experience!�

2) More Money, Less Yogurt Worried about paying the same amount for less yogurt? Don�t worry, because �all of the ingredient savings from the size reduction have been passed on in our new pricing. Though the actual product size was reduced by 25%, most stores will price the new size at a 15%-20% decrease.�

Well, unless you buy your yogurt in the Greater New York metro area, where you will actually pay exactly as much as before.

I contacted Stonyfield Farm via email about these issues, mentioning that, as a former New Hampshire resident, I wanted to support a local company producing a quality product. 6 ounces, I said, is not a sufficient snack size and leaves me hungry and unsatisfied. Furthermore, I noted, none of my local retailers seemed to be passing along this price savings to me.

I received an email along the lines of the website explanation, and a week later, some coupons came in the mail. How far will those two free yogurts get me? Assuming I buy 6 yogurts a week at $1 each, those two coupons will exactly cover the 12 phantom ounces I�m paying for on my next trip to the Key Food. But what happens after that?

Despite all of this, I still buy Stonyfield Farm yogurt. Why? It tastes good, and I honestly do want to support a company that began as a local, environmentally sound business.

What these corporate changes are really saying to me is that healthy food just isn�t that profitable. For the most part, Americans don�t give a crap about their health � they just want to lose weight. Subway jumped right on that � first with Jared�s astonishing weight loss, and now with their line of low carb sandwiches.

You don�t need to look further than Stonyfield�s introduction of eXtreme!!!!!! flavors such as Screamin' Strawberry & BaNilla Blast to realize that Big Yogurt is in trouble. But is the solution to nickel and dime the consumers that choose to support them?

*They probably will have to throw it away, because in an effort to save the environment from the dire threat of plastic yogurt lids, Stonyfield Farm also now only covers their 6 oz containers with foil. You can request extra lids from their headquarters, but they won�t send you more than 2 or 3 at a time. Trust me, I�ve tried. -Emily

April 28, 2004

Crippling Addictions

New York 1 featured a shocking – shocking! - report this morning on a debilitating mental illness: Internet addiction. This terrible condition, which Dr. Eric Hollander of Mt. Sinai Medical Center likens to cocaine addiction, can cost victims their family, friends, and even jobs. It’s interesting to note that Internet addiction, compulsive shopping, and other Impulse Control Disorders are defined as “the failure to resist an impulsive act”, which I do at least once an hour.

Don’t worry, there may be help. Thanks to "a regimen of antidepressants, mood stabilizers and anti-seizure medication", addicts like Quame Prescod (who lost his job due to the “disorder”) can reduce their internet surfing from a high of 48 straight hours to a mere 11 hours per day.

Dr. Hollander, maybe the real disorder is that we just have too damn much time on our hands. The whole thing sort of makes me long for the days when humans lived in caves, and suffered from honest disorders like “eaten by bears” or “freezing to death”.

If you think you suffer from compulsive Internet use, check out the symptoms here. For the record, I exhibit at least four of them. Doctor, quick! Get me some Zoloft!

April 21, 2004

America's unhealthy relationship with food: Night Eating

The authors of a new book, Overcoming Night Eating Syndrome, say that getting up in the middle of the night and eating uncontrollably is not a new problem, but an old problem that is getting new attention. Night eaters seem to mostly be women, and they are characterized by lack of hunger during the day, insomnia, and inability to fall asleep unless they get up and eat. A lot. Which makes them feel horribly depressed, and sometimes suicidal. It's not related to dieting or anorexia, but rather to stress and insomnia. The authors say, "Eating becomes a conditioned response to waking, working better than any sleeping pill."

If night eating is really a result of insomnia and life stressors, why does it just so happen than these women are turning to food as their source of relief? The many different ways that people can have weirdly secretive and dependent relationships with food ("I sometimes fall asleep with food in my mouth") that have been problems for decades points to a larger problem that our culture still has with food. Therapy for night eating mostly consists of eating three regular meals a day, instead of addressing the underlying stress and depression that is causing the behavior in the first place. Even the experts on this issue are identifying food and overeating as the problem. Eating three meals a day might make night eaters lose weight, but will their lives and self-images improve? This kind of treatment sounds to me like prescribing Pepto-Bismol for bulimics, or suggesting that alcoholics stop going to happy hour so much.

March 29, 2004

Healthy Nose Picking = Early April Fools Joke? Let's Find Out.

friedrich bischingerSomething about the widely reported and heavily blogged story that there are health benefits of nose-picking struck me as an early April Fools joke, so I set about trying to establish the existence of the story's source, Dr. Friedrich Bischinger, who is supposedly one of "Austria's top docs."

At first, I guess because of overly-specific queries, Bischinger was nowhere to be found in Google outside of the context of this story. He didn't exist before last week.

But then...A broader search yielded a treasure trove of Bischinger and his expertise, including his picture:

In case you can't get in touch, here's some of his meditations (translated by robots) on nicotine addiction, and how it's more powerful than sex:
Skurril is also the craze power of the cigarette or better the admittedly fascinating drug nicotine, which lets the difficulty of curing understand also. In one Pleasure Score sucked - thus an evaluation "which - how much desire and pleasure make", stand nicotine in highest place. Followed reduced from - in descending attractiveness - gambling, alcohol, power, sport, meal and far "Sex"!!! Possibly the cigarette is also a reason for the sinking geburtenzahlen, in any case is it a concurring cause for the increasing Unfruchtbarkeit of our civilization. We thus rather cough.
You can even email him via another page. So, of course, I did:
Hello. Is it true that picking the nose is good for you? Is it true that eating it is good for you? I saw the news story. May I believe it?

Ist es zutreffend, daß, die Nase auszuwählen für Sie gut ist? Ist es zutreffend, daß, es zu essen für Sie gut ist? Ich sah die Nachrichten Geschichte. Mag ich ihr glauben?

Thank you!

I will update this post as soon as I hear back from the Herr Doktor Bischinger.

Of course, it's still possible that either the doctor made it up for Austrian April Fools day (which was, actually, last week) or Ananova, the original source for the story, is pulling our legs, using a doctor from another country as a shill.

Aside from all this -- though I'm no doctor -- the argument that actually EATING your mucus is good for you just doesn't make much sense. Dried mucus is a waste product. Does it ever seem like eating your body's waste is a good idea? Sure, urine is better for you than salt water, but that's not saying much.

But just to be safe, you should probably keep picking. Especially at traffic lights.

Update: Well, he hasn't written back yet, I guess because the email address isn't valid. (One bounced, the other prompted no reply.) So here's the page where you can see all his contact info.

March 19, 2004

Page Six Enters HIV Debate. Finally!

For some reason, Page Six is leading with a story about the vindication of Helen Gurley Brown and her 1993 decision to run an article in Cosmo about "The Myth of Heterosexual AIDS."

Never mind the merits of their case: I just find this unusual because Page Six usually confines itself to discussion of heterosexual aides and heterosexual aids, not heterosexual AIDS. Maybe they should focus their efforts on figuring out how Gurley Brown apparently managed to embalm herself while still alive.

March 10, 2004

New eggs?

Natalie Angier has a small piece in the Times about a new study out today that says that we might be wrong about the way females produce eggs. Science has always held that even before female mammals are born, they already have all their egg cells sitting in their tiny little ovaries, waiting to ripen, and that no new eggs are made during the life of the animal. Now it looks like adult female mice have stem cells in their ovaries, which suggests that the ovaries might be "busy creating new little egglets" during the life of the mouse. If this is right, it would eventually change the way we think about fertility, menopause, and control over when to have children. Here's the article in Nature.

So pretty much, if you're thinking of donating your eggs and getting compensated $7,000, get it while the gettin's good.

February 23, 2004

Presidential health

Following up on Bush's dental records which we posted recently, the Guardian features a reflective piece on the health records of Bush and Kerry. We know that the taller candidate usually wins in presidential elections, but how would the public react to learn that Bush had a hemorrhoid removed at age 22? And what about Kerry's operation for prostate cancer a year ago? Some funny anecdotes in the article about JFK's pill popping and Winston Churchill's defiant indulgences ("I drink a bottle of brandy a day, smoke 10 cigars, and I'm 200% fit!") demonstrate that we don't mind if our leaders like to drink--but we're suckers for that "I stopped drinking through the grace of God" stuff.

If we really do value health and athleticism in our politicians, Kerry should make more use of those windsurfing photos, and remind everyone about Cheney's heart problems.

February 12, 2004

Negative side effects of antidepressants

To continue an earlier thread, it looks like antidepressants do in fact have an unpredictable and potentially dangerous effect on people, especially young, healthy people. Last weekend, a student in Indianapolis who was participating in testing of a new drug hanged herself in the lab's bathroom. As part of the drug trial, she was given a "larger than therapeutic dose" of duloxetine, which Eli Lilly is testing for use as an antidepressant. She was determined to be physically and mentally healthy, which makes me wonder why non-depressed people are being used to test the effects of an antidepressant drug. She had stopped taking the drug four days before killing herself, and the company says she wasn't showing any signs of suicidal thoughts or behavior.

Of course, the other 9,000 people who participated in studies of this drug are OK, so one suicide doesn't prove anything. But in light of the FDA's recent warnings that antidepressants can cause unpredictable and suidical behavior in young people, maybe we should consider a policy like the one adopted in the UK, that these drugs can't be given to depressed children, since they haven't been proven to help, and can cause dangerous effects in some of them.

January 6, 2004

I'm burning at least 40 calories just by typing this

Interesting piece in the Washington Post in which a writer stops all intentional exercise for 9 days, and instead meticulously counts his calories taken in from food and calories burned through everyday activity (these details make for a good character study--12 beers at two parties!) If you're just careful about what you eat, and lead a moderately active day-to-day life, can you get by without gaining weight if you don't do any exercise? The answer is yes, but only in the short term. If you don't exercise, your metabolism will slow down, meaning calories won't get burned as efficiently just by going about your day, and soon you'll start to gain weight. And let's not forget about the endorphins that get released while you're slogging away on the treadmill, which seem to make watching closed-captioned Jay-Z videos and Seinfeld reruns strangely thrilling for me while I'm ellipticizing.

And let's not forget the greatest benefit of exercise: feeling smug. -amy

Smugness, eh? I guess that explains the "ADM, the only time you elevate your heart rate is when you have palpitations" crack you made the other day. -adm

December 16, 2003

The Holidays and Happy Pills

A couple of articles in the NY Times today about depression in America and our responses to it. First, the US medical industry (and pharmaceutical industry, I would imagine) is upset over a recent British national medical regulation decision to ban prescribing all anti-depressant drugs, except for Prozac, to children under 18. The British regulatory agency says that they have found no consistent evidence of anti-depressants working effectively on children, and that they tend to produce more bad side effects (ironically, these side effects are suicidal thoughts and behavior, and hostility) than positive benefits. Since they don't work, and since nobody knows what effect anti-depressants have on developing brains, British doctors aren't prescribing them. A summary of their findings is here.

Well don't worry, you can still get Zoloft for your 12 year old here in the good old USA. Doctors here also say they are uncertain about the effects of these drugs on kids, but they will keep prescribing them, with caution. The FDA is currently doing an in-depth study on this same issue, and will report in February.

American doctors and drug regulators say one of the main problems with the British study is that it ignores "the high frequency of suicidal thoughts and attempts among depressed adolescents in general." If "normal" teens are depressed and suicidal anyway, with or without anti-depressants, why not give them a prescription that might or might not make a difference, is that it?

It seems that it's not just teenagers in America who are generally depressed: another article discusses the "holiday blues," and concludes that there's no such thing: we're just all miserable and anxious all the time, and the holiday season adds to our stress and depression because it's cold and dark outside, and we have to spend time with our families. Apparently, visits to psychiatric emergency rooms and actual suicide rates stay flat over the month of December. The doctor writing the article says that he asked an Australian friend of his what he had heard about depression peaking around the holidays, which fall in the middle of summer in Australia, and the friend had no idea what he was talking about. Seems that Americans are just sad and miserable a lot of the time, and identify the Christmas season as the cause. The article concludes, "Let's just call it by its real name — everyday unhappiness — and do our best to weather the relentless holiday cheer." Now pass the Prozac, little Bobby didn't get the toys he wanted and he's starting to listen to Nick Drake. Happy Holidays!

November 12, 2003

Babies + Cockroaches = Angry Brits

Barnardo's, a prominent UK children's charity, has drawn criticism for a recent gross-out ad campaign that features babies with things other than silver spoons in their mouths. See the ads here. In their defense, the organization makes the case for using shocking images to convey shocking living conditions for nearly half of London's children, who live in poverty.

November 4, 2003

Pregnancy, Drinking, and Amy's Robot's Intellectual Capacity

The New York Times tells us today about recent studies that suggest that any consumption of alcohol during pregnancy affects fetuses more significantly than we used to think. Certainly more than my mother used to think, who drank (moderately) while pregnant without thinking anything of it. Everyone did, she says. I hardly blame her: I often find myself wanting a cocktail at the end of the day, and I don't even have to contend with being gigantically pregnant during a long, hot summer, and with a hyper-curious three-year-old running around my tiny apartment. But now it looks like I might have 5 additional IQ points and better motor control (which anyone who has tried to play volleyball with me can tell you, is a spectacle of pathetic flailing) if she didn't drink at all. The first boy who ever displayed a crush on me suffered from Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, and engaged me in a surprisingly intelligent discussion of the meaning of Michael Jackson's 'Black or White'. Maybe he recognized my damaged synapses, or other symptoms like "attention problems, hyperactivity, learning problems -- particularly in arithmetic -- language problems, memory problems, fine and gross motor problems, poor impulse control, poor judgment, intellectual deficits and difficulty integrating past experience to plan and organize future behavior." The really surprising thing is that snorting cocaine and smoking during pregnancy is probably less harmful to the fetus. Just be sure to get your intoxicants straight while gestating, girls.

October 9, 2003

Westchester Using Archie and Jughead to Curb Teen Drinking

So Westchester County is going to use Archie, Jughead, and Veronica in a new public awareness campaign aimed at reducing teen drinking. [nyt] The idea is incomprehensible in its stupidity. After all these years, this is the best they can come up with? Are squeaky-clean stereotypes of white kids from the 1950s the best possible way to connect with kids nowadays? If you're going to spend $210,000 on ads, literature, and curriculum materials, couldn't you be a little more creative? I thought that the way to curb behavior in kids was to appeal to their vanity and have their peers show that the behavior isn't cool. In what possible way can Archie and Jughead have a psychological impact on these kids? Let me ask you something: would having Batman or Spider-Man comics with an anti-drinking message have an impact on the kids? Probably not. So how is it possible that Archie and company would? And what's worse, instead of having the characters convey messages that matter, the campaign seems to revolve around telling the kids they'll "get in trouble", as in this ad:

Drinking can get you in trouble. If you use false ID to get a drink you are committing a misdemeanor and can be arrested. Do you want that on your record when you apply to college or for a job?
Ooh, committing a misdemeanor! Wow, that'll really resonate with the kids. Besides, do job applications actually ask if you've been arrested for a misdeamor? Instead of concentrating on the legal consequences of drinking, the campaign should focus on the social and emotional damage that underage drinking causes.

People who come up with programs like this need to get out of whatever dreamworld they inhabit and actually start talking to the kids about why they drink, and crafting their messages around that. Wouldn't a message from a kid whose life was ruined by alcohol be a thousand times more effective than some legalistic crap thrown at them by stale comic book characters they've never heard of?

October 1, 2003

Update on Collagen-Infused Beverages

Chrissy, a friend who just moved to LA, helped us track down some collagen-infused drinks, a phenomenon which we reported on the other day. Turns out you can buy this stuff called Collagen Nite Loss Ultra and Ello Corporation's "Liquid Body Solvent" that supposedly help you lose weight and "have a healthier appearance by improving the growth of skin, hair, and nails." You add a half-ounce of the stuff to a glass of water, and then you can be just as good looking as your favorite C-list celebrity. Concerned that you might be getting some nasty Third World collagen? Have no fears: Collagen Nite Loss Ultra uses only "hydrolyzed collagen, from the United States." You must always buy AMERICAN hydrolized collagen to mix into your bottled water. Otherwise, the terrorists win.

Reading the rationale behind why collagen drinks are supposed to work is sort of like reading the manifesto of a crazy person. The individual points makes perfect sense, so it doesn't matter if the conclusions are absurd. To paraphrase Amy, you sort of get the sense they're telling you to change your hair color by drinking Clairol.

Chrissy suggests Googling "+collagen +weight +drink" and "collagen infused fruit juice." References to infused fruit juice show up in Google, but when you go to the actual pages, there's nothing there but long lists of random products and surgeries that people might be searching for. Not losing weight fast enough? Maybe you should try another one of Ello's flagship products: "Amphetra". Yeah...Amphetra. I think I had some of that at Twilo that time I raved for 128 straight hours and allegedly killed that club kid.

But you know what? I never looked so trim!

September 29, 2003

Collagen-Infused Water?

In the October issue of Vanity Fair, the "My Stuff" feature asks Entertainment Tonight/Today show fashionista Steven Cojocaru about his stuff. Turns out he has an IBM ThinkPad, a Sony Plasma TV, Jimmy Choo sneakers, some Heineken, and a Cartier watch. Yeah, well, so doesn't everybody.

But under the "Drinks" section, Steven has one item that is truly shocking. Are you ready?

"Collagen-infused water from Beverly Hill Ravine"

WHAT? You can get collagen in your water? Does Beverly Hills add collagen to their water supply like the rest of the country adds fluoride? Does it prevent lip decay? Is Bevery Hills Ravine a company or a geographic location? Do you buy this water at the store or at your surgeon's office? Does it inflate your urethra? Whose collagen was it before you drank it?

I Googled basically every combination of "Beverly Hills" "collagen" and "water" you could think of, but without any success. If anyone has some info on this product, please send it to us.

Here's a scan of the page from Vanity Fair.

About Health

This page contains an archive of all entries posted to Amy's Robot in the Health category. They are listed from oldest to newest.

Gender is the previous category.

International is the next category.

Many more can be found on the main index page or by looking through the archives.

Powered by
Movable Type 3.35