Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Drug Stabbing Time

Over the counter morning after pills to be made available in the US?! In a statement that I thought would receive more press, the FDA have announced that they are considering a request to allow Plan B contraception (aka the morning after pill) to be sold over the counter as opposed to the current arrangement where a prescription is required. The FDA are claiming that "the questions we were asked to answer were unprecedented for this agency."

They say that they've been asked to put an age restriction of 16 in place, i.e. a girl under 16 would still need a prescription for the drug, therefore packaging becomes an issue as does age-enforcement. Also a precedent would be set to allow many other, currently prescription-only, drugs available to sub populations over the counter.

The FDA Commissioner states that "[the proposal] could be a positive public health step, and one that I would support as the agency’s Commissioner, if it means we could safely make many more effective medicines more easily available. We believe these novel regulatory issues should be considered in an open, public process." He goes on to state that "We need to resolve these policy and regulatory questions before we can reach a final decision on the underlying science that was presented to us. FDA is both a scientific and a regulatory agency. And what we are saying today is that there are unique regulatory issues that need to be addressed before we can take a final action on the application."

There is something odd going on here. The proposal is indeed a fundamental change of policy. To allow a particular drug to be available over the counter, yet restricted to prescription-only for a sub-population, is a departure from current practice (where, if a drug needs to be restricted to prescription-only for a sub-population, it's restricted for the whole population). Yet why such a discussion needs to be "public" in the manner described is not clear. The FDA are a professional, scientific, regulatory body. They are supposed to have the knowledge and expertise (despite issues that crop up unexpectedly like Vioxx). If the morning after pill is safe, which it is, then there are no potential healthcare issues. The decision is one of policy - should medicines be over the counter for one sub-population but not another. That's a decision for government and healthcare professionals, surely, not the general public.

However the FDA are, in my opinion, passing the buck. The test case drug is the morning after pill and, given the current conservative climate in the US, the FDA have decided to drop this one like a hot snot. There's no way they want to be seen to be the ones green lighting a proposal that many religious and social conservatives would view as promoting promiscuity. Personally, as someone who feels that the point should never be reached where a woman feels compelled to seek an abortion, I believe the morning after pill should be freely available (and free).

The Commissioner does say, in fairness, that "as an agency, and as its Commissioner personally, I want to say that FDA remains committed to making safe and effective contraceptive products available to women and men who choose to use them." He just doesn't want to say how, when or to who.

Monday, August 29, 2005

Overpowered By Funk

All the suggestions I've gotten below for Electric Picnic have me feeling very mainstream...

Nick Cohen (op-ed type journo who I'd have the most time for) in yesterday's Observer takes a cut off the homeopathy nonsense in light of the Lancet report I mentioned below. He also takes the EU to task over Uzbekistan. No one should be surprised at the limp response of the EU to issues like this. There's always one member state whose agenda conflicts with the ability to find consensus on this sort of thing.

One only has to look at the despicable way the French have undermined EU efforts to impose sanctions on Burma to protect the oil interests of state-owned TotalFinaElf. Similarly the UN couldn't find consensus on Sudan over Darfur because of China's oil interests there. Of course no one knows or cares, because only those evil yanks form foreign policy around oil supply.

If my good friend Dermo comes across this he might threaten to glass me again. Well I'd like to see him try from Philly..

Saturday, August 27, 2005

Electric Picnic

I'm having a 'mare. I was all setup to go when people started pulling out left, right and centre. This bloody country. People moan about having nothing to do and then, when something really class comes along, they don't bother. What the hell else are they going to do next Saturday? Sit on their holes in their anonymous 3-bed semi-ds in the sticks, talking about whether they're going to buy those cheap Spanish tiles that are being advertised every 6 seconds on the radio? Gits.

I'll definitely only manage the Saturday now. Hopefully my gay mate and her partner will be on to go. I'm pointing out that she's gay because she's pretty much the only person I know in Cork who's good for gigging and every straight girl I know in Cork is too busy reading Celebrity Quick TV Chat Now magazine to even know what an Electric Picnic is and you often have to rely on gay people to be clued in to this kind of thing. As for the blokes, they're just too busy drinking the heads of themselves, praying Dublin get no further in the GAA Championship and wondering when the Wolfe Tones are next in town. No wonder nothing major is ever on in Cork - they wouldn't bother turning up. Rednecks.

Anyway 3hive has links to free, legal downloads of The Arcade Fire, who (whom?, not sure) I'm looking forward to seeing the most, along with Doves.

The other week in Rome I was in an Irish bar and I met a hammered drunk Italian lad (the only time I saw a drunk Italian in 18 days - it's good to see the positive influence we have on the world...) who told me that he loved the Irish band he'd seen in Helsinki. "U2?" I ventured, obviously. "No they were traditional Irish punks!" "The Pogues?" "No... Flogging Molly!!!!" I've seen them in Cork. A slightly mad gig. Download from here and you'll see what I mean.

I'm shaking like a leaf, too much bloody coffee...

C'mon The Town

Well the town were deservedly beaten by Shelbyville last night (they're allowed marry their cousins in Drogheda, did you know that? It's true). The artificial surface played great though Maybe a recovery in fortunes for my hometown team?...

It was one expensive football match - 60 quid on the train, tenner in, a 4 euro programme and a round of drinks after, which was 13 quid this being Dundalk and all. Have to get the early train tomorrow to avoid being swamped by every muck savage in the South.

Friday, August 26, 2005

Deny

The BBC today reports that The Lancet has made "a damning attack on homeopathy". The report is written as if the findings should come as a surprise to people. There's some fantastic comments under the story - basically a bunch of people sticking their fingers in their ears, shouting "LA LA LA LA LA" and... finding some other way, I suppose... of covering their eyes. Fools. Homeopaths aren't just charlatans, they're cnuts.

However, on second thoughts, maybe they're onto something... I know a place where there are sea shells with magic powers. These sea shells, if placed on strategic points of the body, can revitalise flagging energy centres deep within the body. This information was known to the Vikings but was lost in the tyrannical years of the development of modern so-called science (known as the Dark Ages to those of us in the know).

Revitilising these energy centres is known to expel nasty toxins from the body, prevent hair loss, improve libido and cure any number of vague stress-related ailments (assuming the person administering the treatment spends plenty of time soothing the patient's ego in the process, of course). I believe the sea shells work. It's not up to me to prove they do, it's up to you to prove they don't. That's a logical impossibility you say?... LA LA LA LA LA LA LA LA LA!...

Anyone wanna buy some? 12 shells for the great introductory price of €159 (normal retail price €799).

Thursday, August 25, 2005

You'll Never Walk Alone

Ah tits! The 'pool get a bitch of a draw while, once again, Man Yoo manage an handy one. Glasgow Rangers must think all their Christmasses have come at once while surely even Arsenal can't screw their group up AGAIN...

Hate And War


This is just one of the murals you can see as you cross the border from Dundalk into the North (this one is on the main road just south of Newry). It's not very liberal of me, but the mere fact murals like this sprung up in South Armagh of all places back when they were arrested (or "caught" as I see it) is enough evidence for me that they are guilty.

However I doubt the Colombia 3 (are we the only country to label groups of people like this?...) will ever be extradited - no treaty exists as yet and I would be surprised if any Irish court extradited them given the way the initial trials were handled in Colombia, given all the media attention and now given that the Minister for Justice, Michael McDowell has effectively prejudiced a trial with his comments yesterday, which included... He rejected the proposition that the three men - James Monaghan, Martin McCauley and Niall Connolly - had gone to Colombia to advance peace in any way. Anybody "who is in any way intelligent" would agree with him. "The great likelihood is that they were there for a different purpose, which was to impart technology in terror to the Farc guerrillas in Colombia."

All of which is a pity. The Shinners are going to get away with this one as well, though hopefully the Gardai will manage to make something stick. This photo in last Friday's Irish Times was an excelllent spot by the photographer.


(It says "Passport applications must be signed at your local Garda Station" - Connolly was being questioned with passport offences and had been arrested in Colombia travelling on a false passport).

Stories For Boys

I'm very immature. Oh Yes.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

C'mon The Town!

This morning FIFA approved the new pitch in Oriel Park, Dundalk - home, unsurprisingly, to Dundalk Football Club, my hometown club and the football heart-breaker of my life. I'm a Liverpool fan too, as I've pointed out before, but the two experiences are so different that there's no conflict of interest. League of Ireland football is of a much lower standard, is mostly amateur and receives nothing like the exposure of English football and the big European leagues, Irish Gaelic games and even European club egg-chasing. Worse for me Dundalk have fallen from spending virtually 75 years at the upper reaches of Irish football, and competing regularly against some of the biggest club sides in Europe, to second division football today and obscurity even within Irish football - despite winning the 2002 FAI Cup Final (oh what a day!...) and playing Varteks of Croatia in that year's UEFA Cup.

Anyway, League of Ireland football is not known for leading the way in many things (nothing actually) but Dundalk are now unique in European football - they are the first League club in Europe to install the new generation Fieldturf artificial grass playing surface for the purpose of playing competitive matches. Fieldturf is now very common in the States as a replacement for Astroturf American Football pitches. But Astroturf was much maligned in Europe in the '80s as a playing surface for football. However Fifa have been satisfied that this pitch more than matches the "experience" of playing on natural grass.

So the first match to be played is in the third round of the aforementioned FAI Cup against our near and dear neighbours, Drogheda Utd, this Friday night (songs on the night might include Cromwell is our hero). Drogheda have spent heavily in the last copule of years but are not competing in the Premier Division leading to pressure within the club on management and players. They should beat us but you never know in cup football. However they're cribbing about the surface already. Cnuts.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

In The Ghetto

The best cover of the Elvis classic can be found here and then here. Rewatching old South Park episodes last night I nearly broke my arse laughing as Cartman sang it on the way to Kenny's house.

I wondered if I still had the original and, yes, it's there on my Elvis No. 1s CD (don't get me wrong now, I'm not much of an Elvis fan at all). Anyhoo I then looked the song up on iTunes and it has actually been covered a number of times - Nick Cave, for example, and then a whole bunch of nobodies. They're all a bit shit, to be honest, but vying for the Most Shit Cover award are The Cranberries and Ronan Keating, each with cringe-inducingly awful covers.

Cartman might only sing two lines but he still kick's the other steaming-turd versions' asses.

Drug Stabbing Time

This article in the FT appeared about a week ago. Healthcare spending should be viewed as an investment in people rather than an expensive burden on the state, according to a Pfizer executive...

Europe ’s health investment fails its people
By Ian Read

As European leaders consider the proposal by Tony Blair, UK prime minister, to re-examine Europe’s social model, they might do well to consider a related challenge: rethinking the best path to quality healthcare. Without urgent attention, troubling policy trends will cause further declines in the quality of healthcare—and health.

Europeans first need to challenge an entrenched point of view on healthcare—as a cost to government instead of an investment in people. For more than a decade, political debate has framed healthcare as an expense. A more far-sighted view would consider health spending as an investment in an economic engine.

The reality of an ageing population requires Europe to think anew. In the next quarter-century, the number of Europeans older than 80 will nearly double, from more than 18m to nearly 35m. Will economies crumble under the weight? Or will investments in health allow seniors to contribute economically by remaining healthy and productive? Diet, exercise and appropriate medical intervention can help maintain health, forestall disease and manage chronic conditions. Why, then, do policymakers view spending on health, including medicines—which can prevent serious (and expensive) conditions, and manage chronic conditions—not as tools for keeping people productively healthy, but as costs to be contained?

Of course, I’m hardly neutral. But our stake in believing that medicines can add years to life and life to years does not change the fact that healthcare systems across Europe are reluctant to pay for health, including innovative medicines that could not only extend life, but also improve a person’s health throughout their life.

Perhaps the best example of this benefit/cost tension is found in the treatment for cardiovascular disease—the largest killer in Europe. A rational healthcare system would promote cardiovascular health through a comprehensive programme of diet, exercise and proper use of the best medicines to prevent illness from progressing.

Today, these best medicines include cholesterol-lowering “statins”. Solid clinical evidence shows that using the best of these statins appropriately can help people live longer, healthier lives.

Yet many governments across Europe search for ways to limit spending on statins, enticed by immediate savings and without full regard for the far-reaching economic and health consequences. In refusing to pay for newer and more effective statins, governments are in effect rationing these medicines by putting them beyond the reach of most people who need them.


This scenario is not exclusive to statins. New medicines to treat such conditions as Alzheimer’s disease are kept from Europeans. Why? Because the blunt cost-algorithms of budgeters cannot quantify the intangible human and social values associated with taking care of one’s grandmother.


Not only is this bad for Europeans. It is bad for Europe. Cost-cutting hurts competitiveness as much as it hurts human health. Dr Fabio Pammoli’s EU Commission report on biomedical innovation found that 70 per cent of world biomedical research now originates in the US, with only 25 per cent coming from Europe. Yet, it was not too long ago that Germany was known as “The Medicine Chest of the World”. Obsession with price has driven out profit and innovation.

Some leaders are awakening to the economic consequences. “We will not succeed in tackling [healthcare] if we constantly view this as a burden,” G√ľnter Verheugen, European Commission vice-president, said recently. He rightly argues that Europe must once again view healthcare as a sector deserving robust research and development investment. The pharmaceutical profession would submit that these investments should come not just in the form of academic or public grants, but also in making today’s best medicines available to patients—which would bolster productivity and boost revenue to finance tomorrow’s medicines.


Treating healthcare as an engine of growth is not only good economics; it is also good politics. Half of Europeans are dissatisfied with their healthcare; a full third believe their care has deteriorated in the last decade; and 68 per cent want more involvement in decisions about their own care.

Let us hope that leaders are willing to improve public and economic health by reinvigorating commitment to their greatest resource—productive Europeans—thus grasping the fact that spending on health is an investment that fuels growth and innovation.

It is worth noting that Pfizer's Statin drug Lipitor is the biggest selling pharmaceutical drug (in dollar terms) in the world today. I suppose another point that could be raised is with regard to the value of life. Just how many people die as a result of limits of healthcare spending? An uncomfortably large number no doubt...

Monday, August 22, 2005

Deny

Who Built The Moon? Humans did, apparently. Humans from the future. Life as we know it could not exist without the moon being the size it is and located as it is in relation to the Earth and the Sun. Quite how the humans of the future, who decide to time travel and build a moon, exist in the first place if the evolution of life is dependant on the presence of said moon might be explained in the book, but seeing as it's all bollox I don't think I'll bother.

The Skepdic website details many of the myths attributed to the moon and Lunar Cycles, the stuff about women's menstrual cycles (and therefore fertility) being "in tune" with the lunar cycle is the funniest.

Also, while I'm at it, you might get an email detailing how Aspartame in diet soft drinks can poison individuals and cause MS-like symptoms. I had three versions of the email when I returned to work today and I got a rash of them a couple of years back too. It, too, is bollox.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Back In Ireland

18 days and now I'm home. Not back to work 'til next Monday. Drinking my 7th cup of tea today as I type this. Italian coffee is great but how, exactly, are you meant to sit and chill for a while with about 20 mL of liquid in a cup that goes cold in two minutes?

Anyway suffice to say that Italy is class despite the lack of an easily found nightlife that an Irish person would be used to. I say forget the guidebooks - they have you turning around in circles and qualify everything by saying something like "it's too touristy", as if some foreigner speaking a foreign language, and setting foot in a town for the first time in his or her life, can meld seamlessly with the locals with the aid of these backpackers' bibles.

Bought a Guardian yesterday in the airport. So John Charles de Menezes was not wearing a padded jacket, had no wires hanging out of him, did not vault any gate and seemingly did not run from plain clothes police. They've published a picture of him lying dead on the floor of the train. The picture is cropped below his head, understandably so seeing as the police pumped seven bullets into it. His name should never be forgotten - the modern day proof that we are completely failing the challenge of terrorism. The logical end of this mess will be the realisation that intelligence gathering, effective police work and sober, planned surgical military action against visible (and not madey-uppy) threats, rather than blunderbuss invasions that seem to be trying to put out a fire with a flame-thrower, is still the most effective response to terrorism despite occasional atrocities.

Listening to the chilling words of British radical Muslims being interviewed on BBC World (there are no innocent victims of the London bombings as Britain has ceased to be a country that protects Muslims); and watching the Jewish settlers being forcibly removed from Gaza has also confirmed something else for me. Right-thinking people should insist that no one can invoke the name of God to justify their actions, be it Muslim jihadees, Jews in Hebron or the American Christian right, would also help. If your only argument is "...because it is the word of God" then you have no argument.

Friday, August 05, 2005

Beautiful Days

I'm in San Remo near the French border on the Italian Riviera - trying to get used to this dodgy European keyboard. We leave here tomorrow but have nothing booked yet in Tuscany, hence this trip to the net cafe.

I'll tell you now; I thought Irish drivers were bad but we have nothing on these wop bastards - they are lunatics behind the wheel, absolute lunatics. However, when they're not trying to run us off the road, they're a nice, friendly bunch. Furthermore they understand our attempts at Italian despite our accents and pronunciation being off - unlike crazy frogs that stare at you with scorn.

I've managed to burn my back though...
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