AP: Aish Rabbi Shiff Makes Outcalls - Again?

Don't you just hate it when you read an article and have too strong a sense of déjà vu?

Now I don't mean to imply that there is any copying going on here. But article # 1 from the AP (1/31/2008) certainly sounds a lot like article # 2 from the New Yorker (12/17/2007) - even down to the post-partum doctor.

I don't think that Lizzie will appreciate Verena's effort as an homage.

USA Today: Dini's Kosher Restaurant 蒂妮犹太餐厅 Opens in Beijing China

Revolutionary news from China. When I was in Beijing back in 1991, we schlepped around our own boxes of matza and jars of gefilte fish.

Now you can eat out at Dini's. Try it out at:
32 Tianze Lu, Jiangtai Xiang
20m east of Grape restaurant
6461-3735 (fax)
Open 11am-2pm; 6pm-10pm
Price Y300-Y399 per couple
Beijing Olympics going Kosher with food safety issues driving a mini-boom
By Stephen Wade, AP Sports Writer

BEIJING — Beijing and the Olympics are going Kosher.

The capital's only Kosher restaurant opened 10 months ago, drawing the small Jewish expatriate community, tourists, curious Chinese and even a few Muslims. Business has been so good at Dini's Kosher Restaurant, that part-owner Lewis Sperber is talking about setting up a second branch closer to the Olympic venues in northern Beijing.

Like many restaurateurs and bar owners, Sperber is hoping to benefit with as many as 550,000 foreigners expected to descend on Beijing for the Aug. 8-24 Games.

"What we've thought about is preparing sandwiches and other items at a venue closer than we are now to the Olympic sites," Sperber said. "If people leave the Olympics and want a Kosher meal, we could have a place for them."

Eating Kosher - food that meets Jewish dietary laws - is hardly a raging fad. However, there is a real boom is the number of Chinese factories being certified to export Kosher products. This is driven partially by recent food safety scares in China involving contaminated seafood, pet food and toothpaste....

JTA: Ilana Endorses Barack

It looks like the election has been decided...
Ilana Wexler chooses Obama

The Jewish 11-year-old who four years ago called for a "timeout" for Dick Cheney endorsed Barack Obama.

Ilana Wexler, of Oakland, Calif., started Kids for Kerry in 2004 to raise support for U.S. Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), then the party's presidential candidate. She brought the Democratic convention to its feet with her reprimand of the vice president, who had used an obscenity in an exchange with a Senate Democrat.

"When our vice president had a disagreement with a Democratic senator, he used a really bad word," Wexler said then. "If I said that word, I would be put in a timeout. I think he should be put in a timeout."

Since then, she has been courted by the campaign of U.S. Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) to head its youth outreach. This week, however, the now 15-year-old Wexler declared her support for Obama, telling CNN that the Illinois senator embodied hope and was the favorite among her friends.

JTA: Why Jews Should Support Barack Obama

Good essay. We agree! Buy an Obama-kah...
Wexler: Why I back Obama
Robert Wexler

Barack Obama is a staunch supporter of Israel and knows how to work across the aisle to produce results, U.S. Rep. Robert Wexler says in making the case for the Illinois senator.

DELRAY BEACH, Fla. (JTA) -- Rarely do Americans have the chance to vote for a truly transformational leader as our next president, but this year we do: Sen. Barack Obama.

There are many reasons why I support Barack Obama for president. He offers an opportunity to end the divisive politics of the past and reconnect Americans to the political process by bringing all voices to the table on contentious issues and working out common sense solutions. He is committed to making sure every American has access to quality health care and to ending our dependence on foreign oil, and he has a proven ability to develop bipartisan coalitions to achieve his goals. He had the judgment to oppose the Iraq war from the beginning -- and he has a sound plan to end it.

But as a Jewish member of Congress who is passionate about strengthening and protecting America's historic relationship with our ally Israel, I could not support Barack Obama if I were not completely convinced of his own commitment to supporting Israel. In fact, my long conversations with Senator Obama about his travels in Israel and his views on the importance of the American-Israeli alliance factored greatly in my decision to support him.

As a legislator in Illinois and now as a United States senator, Barack Obama has been an ironclad supporter of the U.S.-Israel relationship and repeatedly has been at the forefront ensuring Israel's security in the face of Palestinian terrorism, Hezbollah rocket attacks, threats from Syria and a burgeoning Iranian nuclear threat. Barack Obama emphatically stated while giving a March 2007 speech to AIPAC members in Chicago that he has a "clear and strong commitment to the security of Israel, our strongest ally in the region and its only established democracy."

Senator Obama has been vocal in condemning Hamas and Islamic Jihad rocket attacks into the southern Israeli city of Sderot, and stood shoulder to shoulder with Israelis in 2006 during Israel's war with Hezbollah.

"When Israel is attacked," he said, "we must stand up for Israel's right to defend itself."

But like the vast majority of the American Jewish community, Barack Obama believes that a comprehensive settlement -- including Israel and a peaceful Palestinian state living side by side -- is the best way to ensure Israel's security and guarantee that Israel will always be a Jewish state. He commended Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas for coming to Annapolis to launch a renewed effort to negotiate peace. As president, Barack Obama will make a personal commitment and a sustained effort to help the parties succeed in their negotiations.

He has no illusions about the difficulty of resolving the core issues of the conflict. For example, he has stated clearly that the Palestinians must "reinterpret the notion of right of return in a way that would preserve Israel as a Jewish state." Nor does he underestimate the determination of rejectionists like Hamas, who he believes must remain isolated until it renounces violence, recognizes Israel and abides by all agreements signed by the Palestinian Authority. But he will not be deterred, and he will make resolving this conflict an important priority of his foreign policy.

No one has been more resolute than Barack Obama in addressing the most serious security threat facing the United States and Israel -- a nuclear Iran. He has stated that 'the world must work to stop Iran's uranium enrichment program and prevent Iran from acquiring weapons. It is far too dangerous to have nuclear weapons in the hands" of a "radical theocracy."

Obama has led efforts in the Senate to ratchet up economic pressure on Iran by introducing the Iran Sanctions Enabling Act of 2007. It aims to change Iran's destructive behavior by denying President Ahmadinejad and his regime billions of dollars in oil and gas revenues that are used to fuel Tehran's nuclear program and global terror network.

The American Jewish community could not have a better friend and supporter in Washington than Barack Obama. That is why it was deeply disturbing to read the proliferation of e-mails personally attacking Senator Obama, questioning his religious beliefs as well as his support for Israel.

I stand with the leadership of nine major American Jewish organizations, including the Anti-Defamation League and the American Jewish Committee, who issued a statement on Jan. 15 rejecting "hateful e-mails that use falsehood and innuendo to mischaracterize Senator Barack Obama's religious beliefs and who he is as a person."

Barack Obama's message of optimism and vision for change represent an unparalleled opportunity to unify our nation. His candidacy is especially compelling because it represents a historic opportunity to elect an inspirational figure who is capable of repairing America's image globally and addressing the challenges facing the United States.

Robert Wexler, a member of the U.S. House of Representatives from Florida, is the chairman of Barack Obama's Florida campaign.


Snow in Jerusalem

Always a great story - the Holy Land covered in white!
Sent from Express News
JERUSALEM - A rare snowstorm swept the Middle East on Wednesday, blanketing parts of the Holy Land in white, shutting schools and sending excited children into the streets for snowball fights.

The weather in Jerusalem topped local newscasts, eclipsing a government report on Israel's 2006 war in Lebanon.

Men in long Arab robes pelted each other with snowballs in the Jordanian capital, Amman, and the West Bank city of Ramallah, seat of the Palestinian government, came to a standstill.

"I'm originally from Gaza where snow never falls," said Bothaina Smairi, 28, who was out in Ramallah taking photographs. "The white snow is covering the old world and I feel like I am in a new world where everything is white, clean, and beautiful."

Jerusalem's Old City was coated in white. A few ultra-Orthodox Jews, wearing plastic bags over their hats to keep them dry, prayed at the Western Wall, Judaism's holiest site.

Snow falls in Jerusalem once or twice each winter, but temperatures rarely drop low enough for it to stick. The Israeli weather service said up to 8 inches of snow fell in the city.

By late morning, the snow changed to rain, turning the city into a slushy mess. But forecasters said temperatures were expected to drop, and the snow would continue through Thursday morning.

Heavy snow also was reported in the Golan Heights and the northern Israeli town of Safed, and throughout the West Bank.

In Ramallah, residents were surprised to see snow when they awoke. For some, it was their first time.

"I am just astonished with the snow. When I saw the snow this morning, I felt happy, my heart was laughing," said Mary Zabaro, 17.

In Amman, where a foot of snow fell, children used inflatable tubes as sleds. Some roads were temporarily closed.

Snow covered most mountain villages and blocked roads in Lebanon. The storm disrupted power supplies in most Lebanese towns and villages, exacerbating existing power cuts. Parts of the Beirut-Damascus highway were closed.

Temperatures in Syria dipped below freezing and snow blanketed the hills overlooking the capital, Damascus.

By IAN DEITCH Associated Press Writer

Stand Up for Barack Obama in Hackensack Tonight

Stand Up and Be Counted: Meet Congressman Steve Rothman, Mayor Cory Booker, Senator Loretta Weinberg and Assemblyman Johnson (Meeting)

Wednesday, January 30 at 7:30 PM
Hackensack Civic Center (Hackensack, NJ) - 1.89 miles away
Come join Congressman Steve Rothman, Mayor Cory Booker, Senator Loretta Weinberg and Assemblyman Gordon Johnson at a Get Out The Vote meeting in Hackensack, NJ. These...
Brief report from the rally tonight:

The room was packed. It took me back 40 years to the days that I was president of the Young Democrats at Yeshiva University. There was a palpable feeling that we were there to help create something positive for America. After decades of politicians tearing down each other and ripping away our hopes and our rights -- Barack has generated a campaign of trust and hope again.

If you are registered to vote in NJ, even if you are not registered as a democrat, you can go to the polls on Tuesday and register as a democrat and vote for Barack.

Get yourself fired up and ready to go. Get out and vote for Barack.


Israel Apologizes to the Beatles

Oh how I wish I was sitting at the meeting in Israel where they decided that it would be right to apologize to the Beatles (well at least to the two remaining live ones) and invite them to come perform in honor of the 60th anniversary of the State.

"Let's tell the world that we insulted the Beatles in 1965 and now we want to make up with them, 43 years later."

"What could be more a appropriate way to celebrate the 60th year of the State of Israel!"

I cannot even imagine what logic propelled this thinking.

Israel invite for 'banned' Beatles

Surviving members of the Beatles are being invited to perform at Israel's 60th birthday bash in May - 43 years after they were banned by the Jewish state.

The Beatles were booked to appear in Israel in 1965 but government officials refused to grant the necessary permits, claiming the band and their amplified music could corrupt the morals of Israeli youth.

Israel's ambassador to London, Ron Prosor, is expected to give a letter of apology to John Lennon's sister Julia Baird at the Beatles Story museum in Liverpool.

Copies of the letter will also be sent to relatives of late guitarist George Harrison and to survivors Sir Paul McCartney, 65, and Ringo Starr, 67.

The letter says: "We should like to take this opportunity to correct the historic omission which, to our great regret, occurred in 1965, when you were invited to Israel.

"We should like to see you sing in Israel."

In Jerusalem, Foreign Ministry spokesman Arye Mekel confirmed that Mr Prosor would meet Ms Baird and invite her to Israel for the gala marking Israel's founding in May 1948.

Times: Statin Drugs are No Better than Snake Oil

That's how I interpret this article. Even now, after the Vytorin house of cards has fallen, there is hedging -- "some indications" my eye! They don't work! They make people sick, not well!

Great Drug, but Does It Prolong Life?

There are some indications that statins aren’t all they’re cracked up to be.

Times: Germans Atoning for Nazi Crimes With Exhibits and Monuments

Amazing. This article spins in a dizzying fashion. The Germans are special because they have the ability to memorialize their own evil.

Spin away. I will continue to believe that the "defective" nation in WWII was the one that perpetrated the Holocaust. There never was anything wrong with the Jewish people. But there was a deep and abiding sickness of evil in the German people.

A few exhibits and monuments don't assuage the guilt of that fact of history, that dark and abiding blot on humanity.

Rabbi William Wolff attends a commemoration of Holocaust victims in the German parliament in Berlin on Friday, Jan. 25, 2008. Miguel Villagran/Associated Press.
Memo From Berlin
Germany Confronts Holocaust Legacy Anew

BERLIN — Most countries celebrate the best in their pasts. Germany unrelentingly promotes its worst.

The enormous Holocaust memorial that dominates a chunk of central Berlin was completed only after years of debate. But the building of monuments to the Nazi disgrace continues unabated.

On Monday, Germany’s minister of culture, Bernd Neumann, announced that construction could begin in Berlin on two monuments: one near the Reichstag, to the murdered Gypsies, known here as the Sinti and the Roma; and another not far from the Brandenburg Gate, to gays and lesbians killed in the Holocaust.

In November Germany broke ground on the long-delayed Topography of Terror center at the site of the former Gestapo and SS headquarters. And in October, a huge new exhibition opened at the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. At the Dachau camp, outside Munich, a new visitor center is set to open this summer. The city of Erfurt is planning a museum dedicated to the crematoriums. There are currently two exhibitions about the role of the German railways in delivering millions to their deaths.

Wednesday is the 75th anniversary of the day Hitler and the Nazi Party took power in Germany, and the occasion has prompted a new round of soul-searching.

“Where in the world has one ever seen a nation that erects memorials to immortalize its own shame?” asked Avi Primor, the former Israeli ambassador to Germany, at an event in Erfurt on Friday commemorating the Holocaust and the liberation of Auschwitz. “Only the Germans had the bravery and the humility.”...

WSJ: No You Are the Nazi

Actually, you dignify this rhetoric by calling it "inversion" when it should be labeled "perversion." It is infantile name calling and not even worthy of the label "propaganda." Manfred ought to spend just a little more time clarifying the difference between the Nazis and the Israelis. But hey, once you have a good title, just lie back and relax, right?
Holocaust Inversion

Solemn ceremonies around Europe marked yesterday's Holocaust Memorial Day. But 63 years after the liberation of Auschwitz on Jan. 27, 1945, one of the most perfidious forms of contemporary anti-Semitism is Holocaust inversion -- the portrayal of Israelis and Jews as modern-day Nazis. The charge is that Israel supposedly behaves toward the Palestinians as Germany did to the Jews in World War II.

This distortion of history is particularly widespread in the Muslim world. But it is also gaining currency in the West, where it is no longer just the domain of the extreme Left. Last year, a German bishop visiting Israel compared Ramallah to the Warsaw Ghetto. Portuguese Nobel laureate for literature José Saramago in 2002 compared Ramallah even to Auschwitz.

Cartoons are a particularly popular medium to express such distortions. Portraying Jews as Nazis, Israeli prime ministers as Hitler and the Star of David as equal to the swastika is almost routine in the Arab world. This trend has also reached Europe, where during the anti-Iraq war protests, for instance, many demonstrators held placards depicting similar images. In the Netherlands you can now buy T-shirts and greeting cards showing Anne Frank wearing a kaffiyeh, the traditional Palestinian headdress, wrapped around her neck like a scarf. In other words, the Palestinians are the new Jews, which makes the Israelis the new Nazis....more...


The Dark Side of Ebay

As long as I am on the subject today of Ebay, yes there is that other side of the coin. The dark side. The Ebay site allows for the quick and easy disposal of stolen merchandise. Here is a story that shocks us, but does not surprise us.
New York halts sale of historic documents on eBay

NEW YORK (Reuters) - A New York state employee who had access to government-owned archives has been arrested on suspicion of stealing hundreds of historic documents, many of which he sold on eBay, authorities said on Monday.

Among the missing documents were a 1823 letter by Vice President John C. Calhoun and copies of the Davy Crockett Almanacs, pamphlets written by the frontiersman who died at the Alamo in Texas.

Daniel Lorello, 54, of Rensselaer, New York, was charged with grand larceny, possession of stolen property and fraud after an alert history buff saw the items posted on the online auction site. The history buff believed the documents were state property and informed authorities, the state attorney general's office said.

The four-page letter from Calhoun drew bids of more than $1,700 while being monitored by investigators.

The attorney general's office has recovered hundreds of other documents that it said were traced to Lorello, an archivist with the Department of Education who has been placed on administrative leave. Officials are trying to determine what may have been sold.

"This individual had access to a wide array of the state library's collection," which includes an original first draft of Abraham Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation and complete set of autographs from the signers of the Declaration of Independence, Attorney General Andrew Cuomo said in a statement.

EBay auctions posted by Lorello included a Currier & Ives lithograph that he described as "in excellent condition." The Calhoun letter auction said "100 percent satisfaction is guaranteed."

EBay was cooperating with state officials.

Professors: Ebay saves buyers money and gives sellers liquidity

We know this. Everyone knows this. Ebay saves buyers money and gives sellers liquidity.

Now statisticians have the data to prove it. One of the researchers has an Israeli name, not that there is anything wrong with that.
Study shows eBay buyers save billions of dollars
By Eric Auchard

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - Buyers save billions of dollars each year bidding on eBay auctions, according to a new study that quantifies the benefits online consumers enjoy over and above what is derived by sellers, or eBay itself.

The independent research by two statisticians from the University of Maryland's Robert H. Smith School of Business found buyers saved $7 billion that they might have otherwise been ready to pay in a study of eBay auction behavior in 2003.

Applying the same analysis to 2004 buyer data, consumers saved $8.4 billion, said Wolfgang Jank, one author of the study. A linear projection of the research findings would mean consumers saved around $19 billion during 2007, Jank said.

The study seeks to calculate what economists call "consumer surplus" -- the difference between the top price buyers were ready to pay and what they actually ended up paying. E-commerce sites provide a treasure trove of data that allows researchers to test out theories of consumer behavior.

"Consumer surplus is usually very hard to measure," said study co-author Galit Shmueli. "The problem is that it is hard to ascertain how much a winner or a bidder or a user would have been willing to pay for a certain item."

Jank and Shmueli are associate professors of decision and information technologies at the University of Maryland. They collaborated with Ravi Bapna, an associate professor at the Indian School of Business, who generated data for the study.

The study highlights the delicate balance eBay must strike between the interests of buyers and sellers on its site....

Book the Hitler Suite at a Belgrade Hotel?

Anything for a buck -- in this case for a Serbian Dinar.
Belgrade 'President' Hotel Causes Stir
The Hitler Room Is Most Popular, and That Has Riled Some Locals

BELGRADE, Jan. 18, 2008 —
With fierce competition, the hotel industry is constantly inventing new marketing tricks to attract guests. Now some people are accusing Belgrade hotelier Dusan Zabunovic of going too far with his latest gimmick.

Zabunovic renovated a property opposite Belgrade's central train station, with the help of some of the best designers in the country. He named the hotel Mr. President and designed each room around a current or past world leader.

As a member of the Design Hotel chain, Mr. President boasts many luxurious suites. The most luxurious, on the seventh floor, comes complete with a portrait of former communist leader Josip Broz Tito, who ruled Yugoslavia for more than 35 years. You can enjoy his picture while soaking in your Jacuzzi.

In addition to the Bushes, Margaret Thatcher, Fidel Castro and Joseph Stalin, there is also a junior suite named after the infamous Adolf Hitler.

The Hitler or room 501, occupied mainly by German, Croat and Slovenian guests, sees the highest demand, according to Zabunovic.

But the former Nazi dictator's popularity hasn't gone down well with everyone. The leader of the Jewish community in Belgrade has condemned Zabunovic's marketing ploy as a dangerous "banalization" of the German dictator.

Despite public outrage in Serbia, not much can be done under Serbian law to persuade the hotelier to change his controversial choices.

Like all Serbs  who were persecuted alongside Jews and gypsies during the Nazi occupation  Zabunovic does not have any kind of admiration for Hitler. But sitting in the lobby of his new hotel surrounded by statues of former U.S. Presidents Lincoln, Washington, Jefferson and Madison, he says he refuses to exclude him.

"It is wrong not to have Hitler in Madame Tussaud and other museums," he told ABC News. "All his victims would turn in their graves if nowhere it is reminded what a monstrous criminal he was."

Hitler's portrait overlooks a king-size bed; he wears a military uniform, with a swastika on the left arm. But a night with what many still consider one of history's greatest madmen comes cheaper than most. The rate for the Hitler room is $200, less than half the price of the Tito suite at $500 a night.


It's High Time for Selecting a New Lubavitcher Rebbe

The Rebbe is dead. Long live the new Rebbe.

Actually the old rebbe has been dead for quite some time now.

As Hasidim, it is the responsibility of the Lubavitchers to choose a new rebbe.

Let's get this process moving.

If you need some help, we can recommend some executive search firms who will help you narrow down your field of candidates. Or you may want to talk to the Dalai Lama, who has his own concerns about succession in a charismatic religious position.

The deceased rebbe is not coming back. So let's get the show on the road and select a new rebbe. OK?

Times: We endorse Hillary (but really want Barack)

In the Times today, Frank Rich and Caroline Kennedy want Barack.
A President Like My Father By CAROLINE KENNEDY. We need a change in the leadership of this country — just as we did in 1960. We have that kind of opportunity with Senator Barack Obama.

FRANK RICH The Billary Road to Republican Victory. Any Democrat who seriously thinks that Bill Clinton will fade away if Hillary wins the party nomination is a Democrat who, as the man said, believes in fairy tales.
The editorial board endorses Hillary (wink, wink, nudge, nudge) in the primary: "The editorial board endorses Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton for the Democratic presidential nomination."

I think they all really want Barack.

Wrongly Accused, Cholesterol Demands a New Trial

Like the drug ads say, the Vytorin scandal has two causes: (1) who your ancestors are, i.e., all the people at Merck and Schering-Plough who hid the study on its ineffectiveness for two years, and (2) what you eat, i.e., the fact that cholesterol levels may have little or nothing to do with heart disease.

Don't take my word for it. But do pay attention to the opinions of the experts.

In the Times today, the focus was on the broader scope of the scandal, i.e., whether cholesterol has been wrongly accused of evil. Gary Taubes raises some great questions in his opinion, "What’s Cholesterol Got to Do With It?" Midway through it he throws a devastating punch,
The truth is, we’ve always had reason to question the idea that cholesterol is an agent of disease. Indeed, what the Framingham researchers meant in 1977 when they described LDL cholesterol as a “marginal risk factor” is that a large proportion of people who suffer heart attacks have relatively low LDL cholesterol.
Although I am pleased that the broad issue is getting attention, I am disappointed that the nasty cover up by Merck and Schering-Plough has receded into the background.

I want to be able to entrust the pharma industry with protecting the health of my body and mind. Instead I now trust only that they will protect their own asses at any cost, legal or not legal, ethical or not ethical.

Times Religion Column: Rav Soloveitchik Filmmaker Did It His Way

The Times lauded the efforts of Eitan Eisenberg in yesterday's religion column.

His perseverance and commitment should inspire others to help tell the stories of our heroic religious leaders using a professional approach in writing and production methods.

It also should remind the young and old alike not to wait for the support of institutional Orthodoxy. As the article reports, Eisenberg supported his own efforts until he could find a non-institutional sponsor. The Times reports that Eisenberg was told that the Soloveitchik Foundation, "did not have money for the documentary." Obviously neither did Yeshiva University. The filmmaker found his own funding. He now is working hard to get a theatrical release for the film and a network TV airing for it.

Let's hope this wonderful article in the Times will help him open the doors he has been knocking on.

On Religion
A Novice Filmmaker Profiles a ‘Lonely Man of Faith’

When the mail arrived one day in the late summer of 2004, Rabbi Jacob J. Schacter found a large envelope bearing the return address of one Ethan Isenberg. Rabbi Schacter vaguely remembered a young man by that name from his former synagogue on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, a young man who was working as a computer programmer.

At this point, Rabbi Schacter was serving as dean of the Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik Foundation in suburban Boston, dedicated to the legacy of its namesake, who died at age 90 in 1993 as arguably the most important Orthodox rabbi in 20th-century America. Anyone interested in doing serious scholarship about Rabbi Soloveitchik tended to make contact with the foundation eventually, asking for assistance, money, formal approval or all of the above.

The foundation had probably never received a petitioner as ambitious and unlikely as Mr. Isenberg. He proposed to write and direct a documentary film about Rabbi Soloveitchik’s life and work. His filmmaking résumé consisted of some basketball highlight films and Purim satires he had shot as a student in a yeshiva high school in Los Angeles. Whatever he had learned about cinema since then had come through a few internships and college courses.

Mr. Isenberg’s goal was, to put it mildly, daunting. In death as in life, Rabbi Soloveitchik was a figure at once monumental, controversial and obscure. Within the Orthodox sector, he had been so revered as a philosopher, Talmud scholar and teacher of young rabbis that he was known, in worshipful tones, as The Rav, The Rabbi, a proper noun implying there were no equal. Mr. Isenberg had been hearing of Rabbi Soloveitchik from his childhood rabbi through high school and into a postcollege year of religious study in Israel, growing ever more fascinated.

Yet to the 90 percent of American Jews who are not Orthodox, to say nothing of the 98 percent of Americans who are not Jewish, Rabbi Soloveitchik remained largely unknown. His opposite number in Conservative Judaism, Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, had a far higher profile.

Indeed, as Mr. Isenberg pitched his audacious project, no thorough biography of Rabbi Soloveitchik existed for the general public. The rabbi’s own books, and those about him, had been published almost entirely by small religious presses, sometimes only in Hebrew.

“It was definitely a crazy idea,” Mr. Isenberg, a 31-year-old who has lived in New York for the last decade, said, recalling his approach to Rabbi Schacter about the documentary. “I thought, ‘Who am I to make a film about Rabbi Soloveitchik?’ I felt I didn’t have the seasoning, the skills, the authority to take on this subject. But I was also impatient. I didn’t want to go to film school. I didn’t want to do more internships, just answering phones or hanging around sets.”

The combination of fear and fearlessness must have served Mr. Isenberg well. The provisional script he sent to the Soloveitchik Foundation, the product of a year of unpaid labor, impressed Rabbi Schacter. The foundation did not have money for the documentary, as Mr. Isenberg had hoped it had, but Rabbi Schacter became the first prominent rabbi and scholar to ratify a neophyte filmmaker’s promise.

“You have to start somewhere,” said Rabbi Schacter, currently a professor of Jewish history and thought at Yeshiva University in New York. “He put a lot of time and energy into it. And what impressed me most was the depth and sophistication.”

Complimented but still broke, Mr. Isenberg encountered an elderly, self-made business magnate in Southern California. Beginning with about $20,000 in the spring of 2005, enough for Mr. Isenberg to film an 18-minute trailer, this philanthropist (who has refused to be publicly identified) supplied the project with financing in “the high six figures,” Mr. Isenberg said. As important, the donor trusted Mr. Isenberg enough to give him editorial control, vital to the film’s sense of journalistic and academic integrity.

By late 2007, Mr. Isenberg had compiled nearly 90 hours of footage and winnowed it to the 99 minutes that comprise “Lonely Man of Faith,” a title he borrowed from one of Rabbi Soloveitchik’s most famous essays. Since then, the documentary has been shown at film festivals in the United States, Israel and Canada. But as if to demonstrate the marginal status for Rabbi Soloveitchik in mainstream circles, “Lonely Man of Faith” has yet to be picked up for cable, public television or art-house release, or even a major Jewish film festival.

Whether or not the film ultimately escapes its ghetto, its quality has struck knowledgeable observers. “I thought the film was very fine,” said Jonathan D. Sarna of Brandeis University, a leading historian of American Jewry.

While Rabbi Soloveitchik’s roles as Talmudist and philosopher “are impossible to translate to the screen,” Dr. Sarna continued, “the film does give viewers a sense of why The Rav was revered in his lifetime and continues to inspire modern Orthodox Jews to this day.”

The documentary covers all the necessary factual ground, tracing its protagonist from his upbringing in a renowned rabbinic family in Eastern Europe to his studies of secular philosophy at the University of Berlin through immigration to the United States in the 1930s and a career at Yeshiva University. Mr. Isenberg’s film also makes the case that Rabbi Soloveitchik embodied many of the signal trends within the modern Orthodox movement. He founded a religious day school, the Maimonides School in Brookline, Mass., at a time when virtually all American Jews were attending public school. He embraced Zionism in midcentury while many Orthodox authorities opposed the concept of any Jewish state until the messianic era. He supported religious dialogue with Conservative and Reform Jewish figures, again in defiance of Orthodox norms.

The theme of loneliness runs through both Rabbi Soloveitchik’s public and private lives. His lifelong effort to reconcile Orthodox observance with modern secular life invited a backlash from many Orthodox Jews on his religious right. Even some of his own students, Rabbi Soloveitchik says in the film, rejected his example.

The other form of loneliness turns on the personal portrait of Rabbi Soloveitchik.

Educated by a brilliant but emotionally remote father, introduced to secular literature by a more worldly mother, transplanted first to Germany and then to America, Rabbi Soloveitchik in his later life repeatedly expressed a sense of isolation, even when surrounded by protégés and admirers. The documentary quotes a rabbi and professor as calling him “the loneliest man I have ever met in my life.”


Slate: Women Orthodox Rabbis Can't Win (Yet)

Great article in Slate reviewing the latest on the tough sledding that women Orthodox rabbis have ahead of them.

Damned if She Does, Damned if She Doesn't
Why an Orthodox institute's decision to ordain female rabbis isn't as revolutionary as it sounds.
Illustration by Mark Alan Stamaty. Click image to expand.

Last week, the Jerusalem Post ran an article announcing that for the first time, an Orthodox institution, the Hartman Institute in Jerusalem, would begin ordaining women rabbis. Predictably, the decision was both lauded as a historical moment and instantly denounced as evidence that the institute's founder, Rabbi David Hartman, isn't really Orthodox, anyway—though he was ordained at the modern Orthodox flagship, Yeshiva University, and his institute runs two Orthodox schools in Jerusalem...more


Bill Gates' Messianic Fantasy

Gates' manifesto. A Messianic fantasy. I don't know how else to characterize this speech by Bill Gates described by the WSJ below.

All religions and social systems ever practiced have preached this message. Duh! is the only thing I can say. Maybe if Gates had not dropped out of college he would know something about humankind. The book list he read to prepare his manifesto is a riot.
Bill Gates Issues Call For Kinder Capitalism
Famously Competitive, Billionaire Now Urges Business to Aid the Poor
January 24, 2008; Page A1

Free enterprise has been good to Bill Gates. But today, the Microsoft Corp. chairman will call for a revision of capitalism.

In a speech at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, the software tycoon plans to call for a "creative capitalism" that uses market forces to address poor-country needs that he feels are being ignored.
Outgoing Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates talks to The Journal's Rob Guth about his concept of creative capitalism. (Jan. 23, 2008)

"We have to find a way to make the aspects of capitalism that serve wealthier people serve poorer people as well," Mr. Gates will tell world leaders at the forum, according to a copy of the speech seen by The Wall Street Journal....more

Are you taking Zetia or Vytorin? The manufacturers would like to confuse you further.

Are you taking Zetia or Vytorin? If so, the manufacturers would like to confuse you further.

Here is how they intend to confuse you through full page ads in the Times, Bergen Record and I am sure in many other newspapers.
Are you taking Zetia or Vytorin?

If so, you may be worried about recent news stories questioning the benefit of these medicines... on the basis of a single study that has generated a lot of confusion.

In fact, ZETIA and VYTORIN (capitals supplied by advertiser) have been proven to lower LDL (bad) cholesterol along with diet in multiple clinical studies involving thousands of patients...

All of us at Merck and Schering-Plough proudly stand behind the established efficacy and safety profiles of ZETIA and VYTORIN (capitals supplied by advertiser).
Well that clears up the "confusion" -- NOT!

Calling this mess the "confusion" reminds me that the Chinese call the massacre at Tiananmen Square in 1989 the "unpleasantness."

The "confusion" stems from the suppression by all of those guys at Merck and Schering-Plough of the single drug study which called into question efficacy and safety profiles of ZETIA and VYTORIN.

The need to please explain why they hid the results of this study? We the public and Congress are all "confused" about that!

As long as we are looking at their "clarification" advertisement, perhaps they can please explain how
ZETIA and VYTORIN lower your diet! That is what a sentence claims as published in this ad with the contorted drug industry syntax:
In fact, ZETIA and VYTORIN (capitals supplied by advertiser) have been proven to lower LDL (bad) cholesterol along with diet...
The correct syntax of this sentence would reveal to us that diet is at least as important as drugs in lowering cholesterol:
In fact, along with diet, ZETIA and VYTORIN (capitals supplied by advertiser) have been proven to lower LDL (bad) cholesterol ...
One last thing. The ad uses terms like "multiple," "thousands," and of course, "all of us..." - "All of us at Merck and Schering-Plough proudly stand behind..."

If this ad is their idea of coming clean to do damage control, these drug companies are truly and hopelessly lost in the maze of their own dissembling.

Accordingly Advertising age wrote the following, January 21, 2008:
Vytorin Ad Shame Taints Entire Marketing Industry
Cholesterol Drug's Ad Campaign Turns Into PR Nightmare, Fanning Flames of Public Mistrust of DTC
Rich Thomaselli

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AdAge.com) -- The video shows the oh-so-familiar commercial for cholesterol drug Vytorin, in which benign-looking "aunts" and "uncles" are dressed up to look like platefuls of fatty foods. What's different, however, is the voice-over: "Nobody knows if Vytorin is safe or effective, but with enough scientific fraud, we can sure make it looks like it is," says the narrator in the YouTube parody.....

The ad parody starts about 75 (1:15) seconds into the video.

Teaneck Tax Book Viewing February 4

Public Notice
Township of Teaneck

Pursuant to NJSA 54:4-38 The Township of Teaneck Tax Book showing the 2008 assessment rolls will be open for public inspection on Monday, February 4, 2008 8:30 AM to 4:30 PM at the Township Offices, corner of Cedar Lane and Teaneck Road, for the purpose of enabling taxpayers to ascertain assessments against all properties in the Township of Teaneck.
James R. Tighe

It would be nice James if you could extend the hours into the evening to allow working people the opportunity to inspect the book.

Steven Jobs the Mohel? Did Apple Circumcise Too Much From the New MacBook Air?

Did Apple Circumcise Too Much From the New MacBook Air? That's not my analogy, not my question. I admit to thinking of some wild comparisons and even blogging a few.

But Newsweek editor Stephen Levy goes a bit too far even for me in his review of the new MacBook Air in today's Washington Post.

One Jewish analogy too many. I get the impression that Levy thinks Jobs circumcised a bit too much off the new notebook.
The Slimming of the MacBook
By Steven Levy

Early in my writing career, I had an assignment to follow around a mohel -- the guy who does ritual circumcisions in the Jewish tradition. My subject learned the trade by watching his dad, a renowned figure in the field. One day, father told son he was ready to handle the tools himself. Why now? the son wanted to know. "Most students ask me how much to take off," the senior explained. "You asked me how much to leave on."

Apple faced a similar question when designing the MacBook Air, the sub-notebook computer that goes on sale next week. The category -- ultra-portable laptops weighing less than four pounds -- has been known for sharp compromises in price, performance and features, all in the service of the high-tech equivalent of a crash diet. What to leave on and what to take off?

Certainly, Apple has fulfilled its goals in terms of thinness. The Air is a sleek sheath of aluminum so slim that it can slide under my office door. Packed inside the shell, which is 3/4 inch at its thickest point, trailing off to a wispy 0.16 inches, are 2 gigabytes of memory, a bright 13.3-inch screen (lit by cutting-edge LED technology) and a full-size keyboard.

Did I mention that it's really skinny? When I slip it in the sleeve of my backpack where my 6-pound MacBook Pro usually travels, the pocket still looks empty. Surely this is salve for the shoulders of anyone who springs for the $1,799 to buy it.

The Air shines most, of course, when it's out in the open. The gentle curves and the absence of protrusions make this an instant object of techno-lust. Most importantly, its diminutive dimensions pretty much evaporate the eternal quandary of whether to take your computer with you.

The compromise story is more complicated. Apple was unstinting in including an excellent keyboard with its great automatic backlighting feature that radiates illumination in dim conditions. Its brain is the powerful Intel Core II Duo processor (though running at a lower speed that Apple offers in other laptops). And the battery life is acceptable -- I didn't have time for a definitive study but was getting only slightly less than the five hours per charge that Apple promises. Also, the Air breaks ground as the first Apple computer to integrate some of the multi-touch technology introduced on the iPhone.

But in service of slimness, something had to go, and depending on how you use computers, these compromises might be negligible, or they might be deal-killers.

To maintain its Zen-like profile, the Air has a minimal selection of ports -- one USB, one for video output to a bigger screen and a single jack for earphones. That's it. Many people will choose to pay $29 for a "dongle" that plugs into the USB port to allow the Air to be plugged into Ethernet. There's no slot to plug an EVDO card for cellular broadband, so if you want that, you must use a different USB dongle connecting to a card. No Firewire port either. Because so many things may vie for the single USB port, it might be wise to buy a hub that multiplies a single USB socket to many, even at the risk of spoiling the Air's sleek figure.

There's also no built-in optical drive. (That's the component that reads and writes CDs and DVDs.) Apple's main compensation is a new feature called Remote Disc. This allows you to borrow the optical drive of a different computer so you can burn CDs, play DVDs and (most importantly) install software to restore a damaged operating system. Clever idea, but trickier than it sounds. Macbook Air owners would be nuts if they didn't buy Apple's new $99 SuperDrive external disk drive. (Of course, that's one more suitor for that lone USB port.) More disturbingly to power users, the maximum built-in storage option -- the only one -- is an 80-gigabyte hard drive. Apple insists that if it used the 160-gig hard drive it offers in its high-end iPod Classic, it would blow the profile of the MacBook Air. Eighty gigs isn't much these days; you can get a bigger drive on even the low-end MacBook.

In one sense, this is a prescient look forward to the day when people will store their digital assets remotely, "in the cloud," as this concept is described. But since it's still a couple of years before my voluminous iTunes collection of movies and songs will be stashed in the ether, I need a computer with a standard-size drive, and the Macbook Air will work for me only as a second machine, a luxury item for on-the-go use.

While these omissions may be troubling -- especially to someone in a down-turning economy deciding whether to spend a premium sum for a computer with sub-premium storage -- the fact is that simply using the Macbook Air, as I'm doing right now in writing this review, is rather copacetic. Though I can quibble with a few of Apple's choices of what to take off, the product's dimensions and design definitely show that that the losses were not in vain. The things that Apple left on were the ingredients for a quality computer. And did I mention how thin it is?


Bye Bye to Vytorin Ads

Forbes has an excellent article reviewing the situation called, "The Vytorin Consensus."

Meanwhile the drug companies have decided to pull their cartoon-like television ads. They were a travesty comprised of misleading double talk from the beginning.

Companies Pull TV Ads for Vytorin

NEWARK, N.J. (AP) — Merck & Co. and Schering-Plough Corp. said Tuesday they have suspended TV ads for Vytorin, a week after a study revealed the cholesterol drug is no more effective than a high dose of one of its components available generically at a third of the cost.

Vytorin, developed by Merck and Schering-Plough, is a combination of Zetia and Merck's Zocor, which lost patent protection in 2006.

The companies market Zetia and Vytorin jointly and split the profits. Shares of both companies fell Tuesday.

The ads tell viewers that about the genetic and dietary causes of high cholesterol — "food and family" — and show "family members" interspersed with food.

Ads have also been pulled for Zetia, said Skip Irvine, a spokesman for Merck/Schering-Plough Pharmaceuticals.

"We've made the decision to voluntarily and temporarily suspend direct-to-consumer broadcast advertising in light of mischaracterization and misinterpretation of the enhanced trial results," he said, declining to elaborate or comment on the data.

However, he said print ads will continue.

The study of 720 patients was meant to show how well Vytorin reduced plaque buildup in neck arteries in people whose genes gave them stratospheric cholesterol.

Instead, it showed $100-a-month Vytorin was no more effective and perhaps a bit worse than Zocor alone, which is sold as a generic for a third as much.


Tiger Woods: We will let you know when the lynching scandal is over

The Washington Post reports that Tiger says the lynching scandal is over. Tiger cannot be serious. This was not a remark by some woman made to Tiger at a cocktail party. This was a "witticism" uttered on national TV.

In the wake of this scandal, Golfweek has had to fire an editor for running a noose on its cover.

The issue is between the broadcaster, the media and the viewing public. Accordingly, we will let you know when the matter is closed, Mr. Woods. But not yet sir, not yet.
Woods: 'Lynch' Issue Over

Tiger Woods says Golf Channel anchor Kelly Tilghman meant no harm when she used the term "lynch" during television commentary about him, and he regards the issue closed as he returns to work this week.

"It was unfortunate," Woods said yesterday in his first public comments since Tilghman was suspended for two weeks. "Kelly and I did speak. There was no ill intent. She regrets saying it. In my eyes, it's all said and done."

The world's No. 1 player will make his 2008 debut at the Buick Invitational in La Jolla, Calif., which starts Thursday.

Bloomberg.com: Bush Begs Saudis to Bail Him Out

Yikes. Stock market diving and Bush is begging.
Bush Becomes Supplicant for Saudi's Aid to Help Avoid Recession
By Janine Zacharia Jan. 22 (Bloomberg) -- The Saudi monarchy once depended on the U.S. to protect its reign and its oil from foes like Saddam Hussein. These days, President George W. Bush needs the world's biggest exporter of crude more than it needs him....


The End of Education as We Know It

The administrator who runs this cockamamie plan to rate teachers by how students perform is quoted, "If you know as a parent what’s the deal, I think that whole aspect will change behavior."

Yes sir. Change behavior is what it will do. But do you know how? It will instill resentment into the profession of teaching. It will sow fear and loathing. It will encourage cheating, not by the students, by the teachers! It will poison a generation of teachers.

This is a very very very bad idea.
New York Measuring Teachers by Test Scores

New York City has embarked on an ambitious experiment, yet to be announced, in which some 2,500 teachers are being measured on how much their students improve on annual standardized tests.

The move is so contentious that principals in some of the 140 schools participating have not told their teachers that they are being scrutinized based on student performance and improvement.

While officials say it is too early to determine how they will use the data, which is already being collected, they say it could eventually be used to help make decisions on teacher tenure or as a significant element in performance evaluations and bonuses. And they hold out the possibility that the ratings for individual teachers could be made public.

“If the only thing we do is make this data available to every person in the city — every teacher, every parent, every principal, and say do with it what you will — that will have been a powerful step forward,” said Chris Cerf, the deputy schools chancellor who is overseeing the project. “If you know as a parent what’s the deal, I think that whole aspect will change behavior....”

Times Review: Mathematician proves God=0

According to a Times book reviewer, a mathematician has proven that God=0, more or less.

The new book is IRRELIGION A Mathematician Explains Why the Arguments for God Just Don’t Add Up By John Allen Paulos 158 pages. Hill & Wang. $20. Read the First Chapter: ‘Irreligion’ reviewed by MICHIKO KAKUTANI in tomorrow's Times under the catchy title, "Prime Roller, Prepare to Meet a Wiseacre."

Kakutani is not sure why a mathematician is needed for some of the arguments. Example, "As for Mr. Paulos’s discussion of the contradictions involved in a deity being both omnipotent and benevolent, it consists of little more than regurgitation of the Epicurus aphorism to the effect that if God is willing to prevent evil but unable to, then he is not omnipotent; that if he is able to but unwilling, then he is malevolent; and that if he is both able and willing to prevent evil, then there is no explanation for evil’s continued existence."

Kakutani may not be completely enamored by the professor but the Times seems quite smitten with Paulos. They just wrote him up on 1/13/2008.

Now you ask, What does the publication of this book tell us in the wake of other recent best sellers by atheists?

It tells us that publishers believe that the public will buy these anti-religious books. And why would the public do this? As I have said before in this blog, it is evidence of the strong backlash against religious fundamentalism. You can't even talk to the fundamentalists about their religion, let alone argue with them.

Hence, cagey publishers are sufficiently convinced that lots of people out there will take some solace in buying a book called Irreligion to display prominently on their coffee tables. No, I do not think people will read this book. They will buy it but not read it. And religion in all its forms will not be hurt.


Video Response to Hezbollah Coward Nasrallah's Claim that he has Israeli body parts

In a dramatic barbaric claim to "celebrate" an Islamic holiday, Hezbollah Coward Nasrallah has bragged that he has the body parts of Israeli soldiers. Nasrallah has dragged the religion of Islam and its people into the gutter once again.

Quote from the Haaretz story first then the Yalla Ya Nasrallah video below. It's from the 2006 war - but serves again as a response to the emergence of the latest inhumanity from this barbarian.
Sources: Hezbollah has body parts of IDF soldiers
By Barak Ravid and Amos Harel, Haaretz Correspondents
...Israeli officials have long been aware that Hezbollah possesses the remains of Israeli soldiers. No complete bodies are involved; the bodies of all soldiers who were killed in the war were retrieved and buried in Israel and every family who asked received a full report about the state of the body at the time of burial.

A statement by the IDF Spokesman's Office said the statements "constitute a cruel and cynical move by an organization that fragrantly tramples the most fundamental, ethical codes, shows no respect for human rights or the international conventions that govern these matters ... we call upon all those with the most basic common sense to view him as cowardly and to condemn him."

Military officials said they believe the remains of about 10 soldiers are involved.

Nasrallah made the statements Saturday in a rally marking the Shi'ite holiday of Ashura: "Oh Zionists, your army is lying to you ... your army has left the body parts of your soldiers in our villages and fields," Nasrallah said. "Our mujahideen used to fight these Zionists, killing them and collecting their body parts. I am not talking about regular body parts. I tell the Israelis, we have the heads of your soldiers, we have hands, we have legs ... there is even a near-complete body, a half or three-quarters of a body, from head, to chest to the torso," he added.

Times Book Review: Jews, Jews, Jews

It is remarkable that so many of the items in the Times Sunday's BR section are by or about Jews.

'People of the Book' By GERALDINE BROOKS Reviewed by LISA FUGARD

'The Poem of a Life: A Biography of Louis Zukofsky'
'Revolution in Mind: The Creation of Psychoanalysis '

'The Seventh Well'

'Into the Tunnel: The Brief Life of Marion Samuel, 1931-1943'
'The Jew of Home Depot: And Other Stories'

Essay: The Story of ‘Night’


Don't blame me - Business Week asks, Do Cholesterol Drugs Do Any Good?

I sure as heck don't know the answer. But as predicted by me yesterday (and by who knows how many others) because of the Vytorin-Zetia scandal, the whole cholesterol-to-coronary-artery-disease connection is now fair game for skeptics. A BW Cover Story ---
Cover Story January 17, 2008
Do Cholesterol Drugs Do Any Good?
Research suggests that, except among high-risk heart patients, the benefits of statins such as Lipitor are overstated

Martin Winn's cholesterol level was inching up. Cycling up hills, he felt chest pain that might have been angina. So he and his doctor decided he should be on a cholesterol-lowering medication called a statin. He was in good company. Such drugs are the best-selling medicines in history, used by more than 13 million Americans and an additional 12 million patients around the world, producing $27.8 billion in sales in 2006. Half of that went to Pfizer (PFE) for its leading statin, Lipitor. Statins certainly performed as they should for Winn, dropping his cholesterol level by 20%. "I assumed I'd get a longer life," says the retired machinist in Vancouver, B.C., now 71. But here the story takes a twist. Winn's doctor, James M. Wright, is no ordinary family physician. A professor at the University of British Columbia, he is also director of the government-funded Therapeutics Initiative, whose purpose is to pore over the data on particular drugs and figure out how well they work. Just as Winn started on his treatment, Wright's team was analyzing evidence from years of trials with statins and not liking what it found.

Yes, Wright saw, the drugs can be life-saving in patients who already have suffered heart attacks, somewhat reducing the chances of a recurrence that could lead to an early death. But Wright had a surprise when he looked at the data for the majority of patients, like Winn, who don't have heart disease. He found no benefit in people over the age of 65, no matter how much their cholesterol declines, and no benefit in women of any age. He did see a small reduction in the number of heart attacks for middle-aged men taking statins in clinical trials. But even for these men, there was no overall reduction in total deaths or illnesses requiring hospitalization—despite big reductions in "bad" cholesterol. "Most people are taking something with no chance of benefit and a risk of harm," says Wright. Based on the evidence, and the fact that Winn didn't actually have angina, Wright changed his mind about treating him with statins—and Winn, too, was persuaded. "Because there's no apparent benefit," he says, "I don't take them anymore."

Wait a minute. Americans are bombarded with the message from doctors, companies, and the media that high levels of bad cholesterol are the ticket to an early grave and must be brought down. Statins, the message continues, are the most potent weapons in that struggle. The drugs are thought to be so essential that, according to the official government guidelines from the National Cholesterol Education Program (NCEP), 40 million Americans should be taking them. Some researchers have even suggested—half-jokingly—that the medications should be put in the water supply, like fluoride for teeth. Statins are sold by Merck (MRK) (Mevacor and Zocor), AstraZeneca (AZN) (Crestor), and Bristol-Myers Squibb (BMY) (Pravachol) in addition to Pfizer. And it's almost impossible to avoid reminders from the industry that the drugs are vital. A current TV and newspaper campaign by Pfizer, for instance, stars artificial heart inventor and Lipitor user Dr. Robert Jarvik. The printed ad proclaims that "Lipitor reduces the risk of heart attack by 36%...in patients with multiple risk factors for heart disease."

So how can anyone question the benefits of such a drug?

For one thing, many researchers harbor doubts about the need to drive down cholesterol levels in the first place. Those doubts were strengthened on Jan. 14, when Merck and Schering-Plough (SGP) revealed results of a trial in which one popular cholesterol-lowering drug, a statin, was fortified by another, Zetia, which operates by a different mechanism. The combination did succeed in forcing down patients' cholesterol further than with just the statin alone. But even with two years of treatment, the further reductions brought no health benefit.


The second crucial point is hiding in plain sight in Pfizer's own Lipitor newspaper ad. The dramatic 36% figure has an asterisk. Read the smaller type. It says: "That means in a large clinical study, 3% of patients taking a sugar pill or placebo had a heart attack compared to 2% of patients taking Lipitor."

Now do some simple math. The numbers in that sentence mean that for every 100 people in the trial, which lasted 3 1/3 years, three people on placebos and two people on Lipitor had heart attacks. The difference credited to the drug? One fewer heart attack per 100 people. So to spare one person a heart attack, 100 people had to take Lipitor for more than three years. The other 99 got no measurable benefit. Or to put it in terms of a little-known but useful statistic, the number needed to treat (or NNT) for one person to benefit is 100.

Compare that with, say, today's standard antibiotic therapy to eradicate ulcer-causing H. pylori stomach bacteria. The NNT is 1.1. Give the drugs to 11 people, and 10 will be cured.

A low NNT is the sort of effective response many patients expect from the drugs they take. When Wright and others explain to patients without prior heart disease that only 1 in 100 is likely to benefit from taking statins for years, most are astonished. Many, like Winn, choose to opt out.

Plus, there are reasons to believe the overall benefit for many patients is even less than what the NNT score of 100 suggests. That NNT was determined in an industry-sponsored trial using carefully selected patients with multiple risk factors, which include high blood pressure or smoking. In contrast, the only large clinical trial funded by the government, rather than companies, found no statistically significant benefit at all. And because clinical trials themselves suffer from potential biases, results claiming small benefits are always uncertain, says Dr. Nortin M. Hadler, professor of medicine at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and a longtime drug industry critic. "Anything over an NNT of 50 is worse than a lottery ticket; there may be no winners," he argues. Several recent scientific papers peg the NNT for statins at 250 and up for lower-risk patients, even if they take it for five years or more. "What if you put 250 people in a room and told them they would each pay $1,000 a year for a drug they would have to take every day, that many would get diarrhea and muscle pain, and that 249 would have no benefit? And that they could do just as well by exercising? How many would take that?" asks drug industry critic Dr. Jerome R. Hoffman, professor of clinical medicine at the University of California at Los Angeles.

Drug companies and other statin proponents readily concede that the number needed to treat is high. "As you calculated, the NNT does come out to about 100 for this study," said Pfizer representatives in a written response to questions. But statin promoters have several counterarguments. First, they insist that a high NNT doesn't always mean a drug shouldn't be widely used. After all, if millions of people are taking statins, even the small benefit represented by an NNT over 100 would mean thousands of heart attacks are prevented.

That's a legitimate point, and it raises a tough question about health policy. How much should we spend on preventative steps, such as the use of statins or screening for prostate cancer, that end up benefiting only a small percentage of people? "It's all about whether we think the population is what matters, in which case we should all be on statins, or the individual, in which case we should not be," says Dr. Peter Trewby, consultant physician at Darlington Memorial Hospital in Britain. "What is of great value to the population can be of little benefit to the individual." Think about buying a raffle ticket for a community charity. It's for a good cause, but you are unlikely to win the prize.

Statin proponents also argue that when NNTs are calculated after the drugs have been taken for just three or five years, they're misleadingly high. Pfizer says that even though only one heart attack was prevented per 100 people in its trial, "it may be a possibility that several or even all [100] benefit" by reducing their risk of a future heart attack. And the benefit grows when the drugs are taken for more years, backers believe. "It does not make sense to take a statin for five years," says Dr. Scott M. Grundy, chair of the NCEP committee that called for more aggressive statin treatment and director of the Center for Human Nutrition at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas. "When you take a cholesterol-lowering drug, it is a huge commitment," he says. "You take it for life." Grundy figures the chances of having a heart attack over the course of a lifetime are about 30% to 50% (higher for men than women). Statins, he argues, reduce that risk by about 30%. As a result, taking the drugs for 30 years or more would bring 9 to 15 fewer heart attacks for every 100 people. So only 7 to 11 people would have to take the drugs for life for one to benefit.

Critics reply that this rosier picture requires several leaps of faith. A 30% reduction in heart attacks "is the best-case scenario and not found in many of the studies," says Wright. What's more, statins have been in use now for 20 years, and there's little evidence yet that the NNT decreases the longer people take the drug. Most important, the statin trials of people without existing heart disease showed no reduction in deaths or serious health events, despite the small drop in heart attacks. "We should tell patients that the reduced cardiovascular risk will be replaced by other serious illnesses," says Dr. John Abramson, clinical instructor at Harvard Medical School and author of Overdosed America.


In its written response, Pfizer did not challenge this key assertion: that the drugs do not reduce deaths or serious illness in those without heart disease. Instead, the company repeated that statins reduce the "risk of death from coronary events" and added that Wright's analysis was not published in a peer-reviewed scientific journal.

If we knew for sure that a medicine was completely safe and inexpensive, then its widespread use would be a no-brainer, even with a high NNT of 100. But an estimated 10% to 15% of statin users suffer side effects, including muscle pain, cognitive impairments, and sexual dysfunction. And the widespread use of statins comes at the cost of billions of dollars a year, not just for the drugs but also for doctors' visits, cholesterol screening, and other tests. Since health-care dollars are finite, "resources are not going to interventions that might be of benefit," says Dr. Beatrice A. Golomb, associate professor of medicine at the University of California at San Diego School of Medicine.

What would work better? Perhaps urging people to switch to a Mediterranean diet or simply to eat more fish. In several studies, both lifestyle changes brought greater declines in heart attacks than statins, though the trials were too small to be completely persuasive. Being physically fit is also important. "The things that really work are lifestyle, exercise, diet, and weight reduction," says UCLA's Hoffman. "They still have a big NNT, but the cost is much less than drugs and they have benefits for quality of life."

Difficult risk-benefit questions surround most drugs, not just statins. One dirty little secret of modern medicine is that many drugs work only in a minority of people. "There's a tendency to assume drugs work really well, but people would be surprised by the actual magnitude of the benefits," says Dr. Steven Woloshin, associate professor of medicine at Dartmouth Medical School.

A good example: Beta-blockers are seen as essential in treating congestive heart failure. Yet studies show that an average of 24 people must take the drugs for seven months to prevent one hospitalization from heart failure (thus, an NNT of 24). And 40 people must take it to prevent one death (NNT of 40). "Even for medications we consider effective, we see NNTs in the 20s or higher," says Dr. Henry C. Barry, associate professor of family medicine at Michigan State University College of Human Medicine.

For many other drugs, the NNTs are large. Take Avandia, GlaxoSmithKline's (GSK) drug for preventing the deadly progression of diabetes. The blockbuster, with $2.6 billion in U.S. sales in 2006, made headlines in 2007 when an analysis of clinical trial data showed it increased the risk of heart attacks. The largely untold story: There's little evidence the drug actually helps patients. Yes, Avandia is very good at lowering blood sugar, just as statins lower cholesterol levels. But that doesn't translate into preventing the dire consequences of diabetes, including heart disease, strokes, and kidney failure. Clinical trials "failed to find a significant reduction in cardiovascular events even with excellent glucose control," wrote Dr. Clifford J. Rosen, chair of the Food & Drug Administration committee that evaluated Avandia, in a recent commentary in The New England Journal of Medicine. "Avandia is almost the poster child for everything wrong with our system," says UCLA's Hoffman. "Its NNT is close to infinite."

Regarding Avandia, Dr. Murray Stewart, Glaxo's vice-president for clinical development, says that the evidence of its benefits against heart disease and other major complications of diabetes "is still inconclusive." But the drug has other benefits, he argues, such as delaying the need to take insulin.

When other medications widely believed to be effective were put to the test of a clinical trial, they flunked. Hormone replacement therapy didn't protect against heart disease. Anti-psychotic drugs were actually less effective than a placebo in reducing aggression in patients with intellectual disability.

The truth about drugs' effectiveness wouldn't be as worrisome if consumers and doctors had an accurate picture of the state of knowledge and could make rational decisions about treatments. Studies by Darlington Hospital's Trewby, UBC's Wright, and others, however, show that patients expect far more than what the drugs actually deliver.

Why the mismatch? Some of the blame goes to the way results are presented. A 36% decline in heart attacks sounds more dramatic and important than an NNT of 100. "It comes as a shock to see the NNT," says Dr. Barnett S. Kramer, director of the office of medical applications of research at the National Institutes of Health. Drug companies take full advantage of this; they advertise the big percentage drops in, say, heart attacks, while obscuring the NNT. But when it comes to side effects, they flip-flop the message, dismissing concerns by saying only 1 in 100 people suffers a side effect, even if that represents a 50% increase. "Many physicians don't know the NNT," says Dr. Darshak Sanghavi, a pediatric cardiologist and assistant professor of pediatrics at the University of Massachusetts Medical School and a fan of using NNTs.

The whole statin story is a classic case of good drugs pushed too far, argues Dr. Howard Brody, professor of family medicine at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston. The drug business is, after all, a business. Companies are supposed to boost sales and returns to shareholders. The problem they face, though, is that many drugs are most effective in relatively small subgroups of sufferers. With statins, these are the patients who already have heart disease. But that's not a blockbuster market. So companies have every incentive to market their drugs as being essential for wider groups of people, for whom the benefits are, by definition, smaller. "What the shrewd marketing people at Pfizer and the other companies did was spin it to make everyone with high cholesterol think they really need to reduce it," says Dr. Bryan A. Liang, director of the Institute of Health Law Studies at the California Western School of Law and co-director of the San Diego Center for Patient Safety. "It was pseudo-science, never telling you the bottom-line truth, [which is] that the drugs don't help unless you have pre-existing cardiovascular disease." The marketing worked, Liang says, "even in the face of studies and people screaming and yelling, myself included, that it is not based on evidence."

Pfizer replies that the industry is "highly regulated" and that every message in ads and marketing "accurately reflects Lipitor's labeling and the data from the clinical trials."

Drugmakers, however, do make sure that the researchers and doctors who extol the benefits of medications are well compensated. "It's almost impossible to find someone who believes strongly in statins who does not get a lot of money from industry," says Dr. Rodney A. Hayward, professor of internal medicine at the University of Michigan Medical School. The NCEP's 2004 guideline update garnered headlines by recommending lower targets for bad cholesterol, which would put more Americans on the drugs. But there was also a heated controversy in the medical community over the fact that 8 of the 9 experts on the panel had financial ties to industry. "The guideline process went awry," says Michigan State's Barry. He and 34 other experts sent a petition of protest to the National Institutes of Health, saying the evidence was weak and the panel members were biased by their ties to companies.


The appearance of conflict of interest is "very important to organizations like ours, and we are all taking it seriously," responds NIH official and NCEP coordinator Dr. James I. Cleeman. "But the facts of the science were entirely correct."

Yet Cleeman's confidence is not universally shared. To statin critics, Americans have come to rely too much on easy-to-grasp health markers. People like to have a metric, such as cholesterol levels, that can be monitored and altered. "Once you tell people a number, they will be fixated on the number and try to get it better," says University of Texas' Brody. Moreover, "the American cultural norm is that doing something makes us feel better than just watching and waiting," says Barry. That applies to doctors as well. They are being pushed by the national guidelines, by patients' own requests, and by pay-for- performance rules that reward physicians for checking and reducing cholesterol. "I bought into it," Brody says. Not to do so is almost impossible, he adds. "If a physician suggested not checking a cholesterol level, many patients would stomp out of the office claiming the guy was a quack."

Yet Brody changed his mind. "I now see it as myth that everyone should have their cholesterol checked," he says. "In hindsight it was obvious. Duh! Why didn't I see it before?"

Cholesterol is just one of the risk factors for coronary disease. Dr. Ronald M. Krauss, director of atherosclerosis research at the Oakland Research Institute, explains that higher LDL levels do help set the stage for heart disease by contributing to the buildup of plaque in arteries. But something else has to happen before people get heart disease. "When you look at patients with heart disease, their cholesterol levels are not that [much] higher than those without heart disease," he says. Compare countries, for example. Spaniards have LDL levels similar to Americans', but less than half the rate of heart disease. The Swiss have even higher cholesterol levels, but their rates of heart disease are also lower. Australian aborigines have low cholesterol but high rates of heart disease.

Moreover, says MSU's Barry, cholesterol-lowering medications other than statins "do not prevent heart attacks or strokes." Take Zetia, which blocks absorption of cholesterol from the intestines. Marketed by Merck and Schering-Plough, the drug brought in $1.5 billion in 2006, with sales climbing 25% in the first half of 2007, says IMS Health (RX). The companies combined it with a statin to create a drug called Vytorin, with over $2 billion in sales in 2007.

In an eagerly awaited trial completed in 2006, the companies compared Zetia plus a statin with a statin alone in patients with genetically high cholesterol. But the drugmakers delayed announcing the results, prompting scientific outrage and the threat of a congressional investigation. The results, finally revealed on Jan. 14, showed the combination of Zetia and a statin reduced LDL levels more than the statin alone. But that didn't bring added benefits. In fact, the patients' arteries thickened more when taking the combination than with the statin alone. Skip Irvine, a spokesman for the joint venture, says the study was small and insists there's a "strong relationship between lowering LDL cholesterol and reducing cardiovascular death."


If cholesterol lowering itself isn't a panacea, why is it that statins do work for people with existing heart disease? In his laboratory at the Vascular Medicine unit of Brigham & Women's Hospital in Cambridge, Mass., Dr. James K. Liao began pondering this question more than a decade ago. The answer, he suspected, was that statins have other biological effects.

Since then, Liao and his team have proved this theory. First, a bit of biochemistry. Statin drugs work by bollixing up the production of a substance that gets turned into cholesterol in the liver, thus reducing levels in the blood. But the same substance turns out to be a building block for other key chemicals as well. Think of a toy factory in which the same plastic is fashioned into toy cars, trucks, and trains. Reducing production of the plastic cuts not only the output of toy cars (cholesterol) but also trucks and trains. In the body, these additional products are signaling molecules that tell genes to turn on or off, causing both side effects and benefits.

Liao has charted some of these biochemical pathways. His recent work shows that one of the trucks, as it were—a molecule called Rho-kinase—is key. By reducing the amount of this enzyme, statins dial back damaging inflammation in arteries. When Liao knocks down the level of Rho-kinase in rats, they don't get heart disease. "Cholesterol lowering is not the reason for the benefit of statins," he concludes.

The work also offers a possible explanation of why that benefit is mainly seen in people with existing heart disease and not in those who only have elevated cholesterol. Being relatively healthy, their Rho-kinase levels are normal, so there is little inflammation. But when people smoke or get high blood pressure, their Rho-kinase levels rise. Statins would return those levels closer to normal, counteracting the bad stuff.

Add it all together, and "current evidence supports ignoring LDL cholesterol altogether," says the University of Michigan's Hayward. In a country where cholesterol lowering is usually seen as a matter of life and death, these are fighting words. A prominent heart disease physician and statin booster fumed at a recent meeting that "Hayward should be held accountable in a court of law for doing things to kill people," Hayward recounts. NECP's Cleeman adds that, in his view, the evidence against Hayward is overwhelming.

But while the new analyses may rile those who have built careers around the need to reduce LDL, they also point the way to using statins more effectively. Surprisingly, both sides in the debate agree on the general approach. For anyone worried about heart disease, the first step should always be a better diet and increased physical activity. Do that, and "we would cut the number of people at risk so dramatically" that far fewer drugs would be needed, says Krauss. For those people who still might benefit from treatment, a recent analysis by Hayward shows that statins might better be prescribed based on patients' risk of heart disease, not on their LDL cholesterol levels. The higher the risk, the better the drugs seem to work. "If two patients have the same risk, the evidence says they get the same benefit from statins, whatever their LDL levels," Hayward says.

Ways to fine-tune this approach may be coming soon. The company that first sequenced the human genome, Celera Group (CRA), has found a genetic variation that predicts who benefits from the drugs. Perhaps 60% of the population has it, says Dr. John Sninsky, vice-president of discovery research, and for everyone else, the NNT is sky-high. "It does not relate at all to your cholesterol level," Sninsky adds.

If the drugs were used more rationally, drugmakers would take a hit. But the nation's health and pocketbook might be better off. Could it happen? Will data on NNTs, the weak link to cholesterol, and knowledge of genetic variations change what doctors do and what patients believe? Not until the country changes the incentives in health care, says UCLA's Hoffman. "The way our health-care system runs, it is not based on data, it is based on what makes money."

Drug Company Implosion: Bush Laissez Faire Government - Regulates Nothing

Now the Wall Street Journal is not an activist leftist rag. Yet even they have awoken to the pitiful state of affairs left in the wake of two terms of Bush-do-nothingism.

Drug companies don't like the results of a study - so what! Suppress it! Sell more drugs - whether they work or not!

America - ain't it a great country?
Negative Studies of Depression Meds Remain Unpublished
Posted by Jacob Goldstein

Industry-sponsored studies of antidepressants that come up with positive results are more likely to be published than those that come up with negative results, says a paper in this week’s New England Journal of Medicine.

The authors looked at 74 antidepressant studies that had been filed with the FDA, and found that those deemed positive by the agency went unpublished only 3% of the time, while those deemed negative by the agency went unpublished 67% of the time. When unfavorable studies were published, it was in a way that conflicted with the FDA’s opinion of the study, according to the article.

Eric Turner, one of the authors of the study, once worked at the FDA reviewing data on psychotropic drugs. He told the WSJ that the idea for the study was triggered in part by colleagues who questioned the need for further clinical drug trials looking at the effectiveness of anti-depressants.

“There is a view that these drugs are effective all the time,” said Turner, a psychiatrist at Oregon Health and Science University. “I would say they only work 40% to 50% of the time, and they would say, ‘What are you talking about? I have never seen a negative study.’ ”

Pfizer and Wyeth, which sell two of the drugs included in the study, declined to comment on the article. Both companies told the WSJ they had committed to disclose all of their study results, but not necessarily in medical journals.

Time: Scholars Reopen Jesus Tomb Debate

It is not often that you find a real howler typo in a Time article.

Check out the last paragraph where "illicit (disapproved of or not permitted for moral or ethical reasons)" is used instead of "elicit (to draw or bring out or forth; educe; evoke: to elicit the truth; to elicit a response with a question)."

A truly Freudian blooper.
Jesus 'Tomb' Controversy Reopened
By Tim McGirk/Jerusalem

When the Discovery Channel aired a TV documentary last year raising the possibility that archeologists had found the family tomb of Jesus Christ in the hills behind Jerusalem, it caused a huge backlash among Christians. The claim, after all, challenged one of the cornerstones of Christian faith — that Jesus, after his crucifixion, rose bodily to heaven in his physical form.

The Lost Tomb of Jesus, made by Hollywood director James Cameron and Canadian investigative journalist Simcha Jacobovici, was shown only once on Discovery. Britain's Channel 4 canceled its own plans to air the documentary, which reexamines an archeological find from 1980 in which a crypt was found containing what were said to be the ossuaries of Joseph, Mary, Jesus, the son of Joseph, Mariamne (possibly Mary Magdalene, say the filmmakers) and Judah, son of Jesus. Given the highly explosive nature of its conclusion and its slapdash sleuthing, it was no surprise that the film was panned by some academics and many Christian clerics.

Still, even after the furor over the film faded, the questions it raised about the tomb unearthed in 1980 continued to make waves among archeologists and Biblical scholars. A leading New Testament expert from Princeton Theological Seminary, Prof. James Charlesworth, was intrigued enough to organize a conference in Jerusalem this week, bringing together over 50 archeologists, statisticians and experts in DNA, ceramics and ancient languages, to give evidence as to whether or not the crypt of Christ had been found. Their task was complicated by the fact that since the tomb was opened in 1980, the bones of the various ossuaries had gone missing through a mishap of Israeli bureaucracy. Also gone were diagrams made by excavators that showed where each stone sarcophagus lay inside the tomb, and what the family relationships might have been, say, between Jesus and Mary Magdelene, who some speculate may have been his wife.

After three days of fierce debate, the experts remained deeply divided. Opinion among a panel of five experts ranged from "no way" to "very possible". Charlesworth told TIME: "I have reservations, but I can't dismiss the possibility that this tomb was related to the Jesus clan." Weighing the evidence, says Charlesworth, "we can tell that this was the tomb of a Jewish family from the time of Jesus. And we know that the names on the ossuaries are expressed the correct way as 'Jesus, son of Joseph.'" But the professor has a few doubts. "The name on Jesus's ossuary was scrawled on, like graffiti. There was no ornamentation. And there should have been. After all, his followers believed he was the Son of God."

There was a revelation of sorts. The widow of Joseph Gat, the chief archeologist of the 1980 excavation electrified the conference by saying: "My husband believed that this was Jesus's tomb, but because of his experiences as a Holocaust survivor, he was worried about a backlash of anti-Semitism and he didn't think he could say this."

The tomb was found by construction workers digging the foundations for an apartment building in the Talpiot hills, a modern suburb of Jerusalem. Gat and two other archeologists excavated the tomb, which had been vandalized centuries earlier. The ossuaries, including one with the scrawl "Jesus, son of Joseph" were moved into an antiquities warehouse where they languished, forgotten, until a BBC film crew in 1996 dusted them off. Jacobovici took the story further, using statistics — later disputed by experts — which seemed to indicate that, although Jesus and the others were all common Jewish names during the days of the Second Temple, the chances of them all being found in the same crypt, belonging to the same family, were rare indeed.

The debate over Jesus' supposed tomb will probably rage for years to come. But the conference attendees voted unanimously that the tomb, now sealed over with concrete in the garden of a suburban apartment building, should be reopened and examined more carefully. "I feel vindicated," Jacobovici told TIME. "It's moved from 'it can't be the Jesus' family tomb' to 'it could be.' "

Charlesworth, who is also a Methodist minister, says that the possible discovery of Christ's tomb will illicit mixed reactions among Christians. Most, he believes, will view it positively. The faith of some believers, he says, will be buoyed by historical proof that Christ, the son of Joseph and Mary, did exist. "I don't think it will undermine belief in the resurrection, only that Jesus rose as a spiritual body, not in the flesh." He adds: "Christianity is a strong religion, based on faith and experience, and I don't think that any discovery by archeologists will change that."