Bad Pharma, a new book by Ben Goldacre, looks into the research practices of big pharmacy. Apparently any negative information about new drugs is systematically suppressed even in the academic environment:
In 2010, researchers from Harvard and Toronto found all the trials looking at five major classes of drug…: were they positive, and were they funded by industry? They found more than 500 trials in total: 85% of the industry-funded studies were positive, but only 50% of the government-funded trials were. In 2007, researchers looked at every published trial that set out to explore the benefits of a statin….This study found 192 trials in total, either comparing one statin against another, or comparing a statin against a different kind of treatment. They found that industry-funded trials were 20 times more likely to give results favouring the test drug.
…In 2003, two [systematic reviews] were published. They took all the studies ever published that looked at whether industry funding is associated with pro-industry results, and both found that industry-funded trials were, overall, about four times more likely to report positive results….
In general, the results section of an academic paper is extensive: the raw numbers are given for each outcome, and for each possible causal factor, but not just as raw figures….In Fries and Krishnan (2004), this level of detail was unnecessary. The results section is a single, simple and – I like to imagine – fairly passive-aggressive sentence:
“The results from every randomised controlled trial (45 out of 45) favoured the drug of the sponsor.”
How does this happen? How do industry-sponsored trials almost always manage to get a positive result? Sometimes trials are flawed by design. You can compare your new drug with something you know to be rubbish – an existing drug at an inadequate dose, perhaps, or a placebo sugar pill that does almost nothing. You can choose your patients very carefully, so they are more likely to get better on your treatment. You can peek at the results halfway through, and stop your trial early if they look good. But after all these methodological quirks comes one very simple insult to the integrity of the data. Sometimes, drug companies conduct lots of trials, and when they see that the results are unflattering, they simply fail to publish them.
Still feeling confident about your industry sponsored cell phone radiation tests?
Just digging into Ioan Holender’s Closeup: 118 Premieren Wiener Staatsoper, the men’s gift (Herrenspend) from the 2010 Opernball, this year. I wanted to have a look at the premiers of Gyoala Harangozo as Ballet Director.
Ioan Holender Opernball with Desirée Treichl-Stürgkh
To my astonishment, there was not a single image of ballet in the book. Ballet premiers are relegated to a two page list in the back.
I had heard of Holender’s contempt for ballet but to just cut ballet out entirely from his commemorative goodbye album is a step too far.
While opera can be a magnificent art, most often it is tedious, filled with bombastic emotions of oversized egos.
Ballet on the other hand is the springtime, it is mortality in flight, it is delicate flutters of the soul made flesh.
The weak point in ballet is the music, which too often was primitively written for dance. Later that changed with Profkofiev and Stravinsky’s ballet scores like Romeo and Juliet, Firebird and Rites of Spring.
Holender’s Close Up was not even written by the author. He assented to five interviews about his time at Staatsoper where he answered the interviewer’s questions about his work. The lazy man’s way to writing a book.
In this case it works. Holender manages to come across as his irascible, irritable and bombastic self. The interviewer has edited the answers down to the essential so if you want to learn more about Holdender’s methods, it’s all there. He covers talent scouting, relationships with conductors when developing new talent.
I remember telling Muti about Angelika Kirschlager the first time. Muti didn’t know her and therefore didn’t want here. They all want the singers they already know. So you also have to fight with conductors and stage directors to convince them. And that is not an easy thing to do, believe me. (p. 455)
Axel Zeninger’s photos as whole are excellent. As a stage photographer it’s interesting to observe the changes in technology. In 1999, the early digital pictures have noisy shadows and are a little bit blurry due to long exposure times for instance in Don Giovanni, pp. 202-203). In 2009, the pictures are all sharp, as Nikon’s high ISO actually works and one can shoot at 1/400 second and not at 1/30 second. But you can see what a blessing high ISO digital photography is by wandering through the photos from 1993 and 1994, such as Umberto Giordano’s Fedora on pp. 84-85 or Richard Wagner’s Ring on pp. 48-49.
In addition to the photographs and Holdender’s insights, the program for each opera premier is included and reproduced at life size. Much nicer than a stack of programs in the corner of a shelf (as I have).
Closeup: 118 Premieren Wiener Staatsoper is recommended for Staatsoper, Holender and opera fans. It’s an excellent idea to have a bound and visual summary of the Holender years, especially as it’s well printed by Edition Lammerhuber. Alas there’s nothing to recommend it to amateurs of ballet. Given Mr. Holender’s contempt for ballet, I can’t say I’m sad to see him go.
As I know more and more people from the opera again (in Moscow I spent a lot of time with opera singers and a fair amount of time at the Russian operas, but not the Italians) and I live in Vienna, I might very well read it myself to see what it is I’m missing out on.
I saw a bit of Legends of the Seeker, adapted from Terry Goodkind’s books. The whole series while rather entertaining if for nothing else for the constant stream of look-alike blond action babes who trot across the screen. Can anybody actually tell the difference between Denna, Cara, Corlinda, Nicci incarnation two to name just a few? Whoever is casting the series has tunnel vision.
Much of the story seemed to be adaptations of Stephen R. Donaldson’s Thomas Covenenant novels. In just one example, the Mord’Sith seem a near clone of the Bloodguard but with breasts.
Which set me to asking myself whatever happened to a film version of Stephen R. Donaldson’s Thomas Covenenant Trilogies (there’s three of them)? The Thomas Convenant novels are fantasy for grown-ups dealing with issues such as acceptance and exclusion via physical metaphors like lepresy. The sex lives are also very complex, exploring the breakdown of the physical elements of love over time.
Despite some heavy hitters signing up to develop such a film, no studio signed off on it. Here are Stephen R. Donaldson’s own notes on the subject.
"Covenant" film news: it’s over. The producers who optioned "Lord Foul’s Bane" have tried everything they could think of, without success. Now their option has expired, and they have declined to renew it. Bury it now, folks, ’cause it’s dead. 1/29/07
Possible "Lord Foul’s Bane" film: bad news. It doesn’t look good. So far, the project has been rejected by Fox, Sony, and Dreamworks. "Too dark." "Too much like LOTR." The prospective producers have decided to change their tactics. They are now hoping to get a reputable director "on board." If they succeed, this may increase the project’s credibility.
I’ll post more news when I have some. 2005
This past week, "The Hollywood Reporter" announced that "Covenant" is coming to the big screen. This is both premature and misleading. Here are the facts to date.
The production team of Mark Gordon ("Saving Private Ryan") and Peter Winther ("Independence Day") is quite serious about wanting to make a "Covenant" film. "Revelstone Development" has a design in place and a screenwriter on board (John Orloff, "Band of Brothers"). What Gordon and Winther do *not* have is a studio (i.e. money); and without a studio little or nothing is likely to happen. Since Hollywood basically shuts down in December, Gordon and Winther plan to start approaching studios in January.
I would like to emphasize that I have no control over any aspect of this process. After all, the film rights are held by Ballantine Books, not by me. I’ve met Winther and Orloff, and I’m convinced that their respect for and excitement about "Covenant" is genuine: for that reason, I’m starting to get excited myself. And I have no doubt that Revelstone Development will consult with me from time to time, and will take whatever I have to say seriously. But I have no actual power here. Nor do I want any. In fact, I’ve refused every offer to give me any power. I love movies; I hope a "Covenant" movie (or several) will be made; I hope it will be good; and I hope it will be successful. But I’m simply not qualified, either by experience or by personality, to make the kinds of decisions–and compromises–which are essential to film-making. And I have my own work to do, work which pretty much consumes all of my creative energy. So I’m rooting hard for Revelstone Development; and if Gordon, Winther, and Orloff ever want my opinion, I’ll give it to them. But really this is all out of my hands.
More news as it develops….
P.S. I’m just guessing here; but I suspect that peculiar references to "Saturn" in "The Hollywood Reporter" are a confused conflation of "Satan" and "Sauron." I can’t think of any other explanation.
As it happens, Russell Crowe has decided NOT to take on the role of Thomas Covenant, no doubt (drum-roll, please) because he considered it too taxing. Imagine my surprise. As you may know, money people typically commit to a movie, not because they like the project, but because a "bankable" star has agreed to participate. Therefore the "Covenant" film remains purely hypothetical.
I’m amazed that the Thomas Convenant series has never been made into a motion picture considering how far near the bottom of the barrel Hollywood scraped for its Lord of the Rings lookalikes in the boom years. Or that it hasn’t been picked up for a television series.
Ann McAffrey’s Dragon series made it to the big screen on a large scale. Even latecomer to the screen Ursula K. LeGuin’s Earthsea trilogy made it Sci Fi channel in 2004. Surely somebody has to get around to the Thomas Covenant Chronicles eventually even if they end up simplifying and whitewashing some of the darker elements.
There’s something marvelous about well written descriptive prose.
I’ve just finished Luke Jenning’s Breach Candy in a single sitting by noon. I woke up early and had the urge to furnish my mind with travel instead of poisoning it with the usual news and internet marketing gunk which clogs my inbox.
As the Israelis give it to the Palestinians again for no particularly good reason apart from intrinsic viciousness and selfishness – and we the Western world stand by and watch (kudos to Sarkozy for actually standing up and seeking to do the right thing just once, tomatoes to Blair for blame and bullying the victim yet again for his American masters), it’s difficult to read the news.
Anyway back to Breach Candy, it’s the story of a film producer in search of a story and love and a ballet dancer in search of herself and love, both lost in Bombay. But the book is far more than the sum of the two stories, between which Jennings jumps back and forth. It is a slightly gritty look at the world of Bombay.
Mumbai Nepean Sea Road
Of course, the view is from the top down, but that seems to be the only vantage point in Bombay from which anything is visible apart from filth and scrabbling. When our protagonists intersect with the real world in short sordid episodes it highlights the hypocrisy of the social caste system in far brighter bursts.
While credibility is stretched when the hero ends up in the arms of a fifteen year old prostitute while the heroine ends up in the arms of the Indian actress it doesn’t crack. The Lesbian affair doesn’t have a particularly genuine edge or truth to it. But it is not unusual with romantic comedies that the ending cannot match the pace.
Legendary actress Smita Patil, inspiration for the character of Jennings’s Indian actress
Another shortfall might be in differentiation of narrative voice. At first it is very difficult to tell the difference between June Webster’s voice and that of Stanley Collinson between the chapters all written in the first person in the voice of one or the other. It surprises me that both June and Stanley write and describe scenes so similarly.
Some of the most powerful stories happen in flashback, often cunningly narrated to new acquaintances in present time. How Stanley left his live-in girlfriend after seeing her in the arms of a film director. Why did he leave without a fight or without clarification?
June asks Stanley the same question. But is there any point to fighting or struggling after that point of betrayal. Still the reader wonders, was there any betrayal before Stanley just disappears. Perhaps had he put his foot down about the issue faster, what he perceived as betrayal was a harmless flirtation.
When I eventually got around there, about two o’clock, I found a note from Emilia. They’d finished shooting very late, she hadn’t got in until the early morning, where had I been, another night edit? The good news, the note went on, was that her contract had been extended, she now had a featured part, there was some location shooting, she’d had to leave early, it would probably be another late night, she would ring me, she missed me.
‘Another late night, I thought, sure. She missed me. Again, sure. The worst part was the whole thing corresponded to the edge-of-consciousness nightmares I had had ever since I met her. The only course of action open to me was to cut myself away. Cauterise. Leave no trace.’
If you won’t stand and fight there, when will you stand and fight?
Never is the answer. Stanley ends up starting a film about the wrong actress, as he is put off the trail by others manipulating circumstances around him.
Stanley persists on hopelessly romanticising and idealising the rest of the women, all busy leading their lives around him.
In good fiction, one is forced to examine others lives in close up for at least a few hours. Seeing others’ lives should be enough to remind us how much remains to be done within our own.
John Leake’s book is one of those page turner pulp fiction works about the evil doings of a perverse and sadistic serial killer where the killer is always one step away from the police and doesn’t pay for his crimes.
Except it’s all true. The hero of the Vienna Woods Killer is one of the most loathsome souls to ever tread this planet. Hitler and Stalin and Beria’s soul tied up in the flesh of one nasty small chap from Styria by the name of Jack Unterweger.
Jack Unterweger using his favorite cover: crime writer
One of the difficulties of the story is where to begin… Should one start at the beginning with childhood and growing up? A bit drab. Or should one start near the end to raise interest and then flashback to the end.
Leake does neither. He starts somewhere in the middle and wanders forwards and back as suits the narrative. I started reading the book in the trial chapters (about two thirds) so my way through should have been even more confusing. Strangely starting in the late part of the book and then reading the middle and then the beginning wasn’t at all disturbing. A lot of the early ground was covered quite late. I was more interested in Unterweger’s celebrity games on his release – how he played Vienna’s literary and bohemian society for fools. Those escapades were well covered.
What concerns me about a book like this is that the lead character has no redeeming characteristics. Yes, he has charm and he has moderate literary gifts (seven plays and two fictional autobiographies, most produced, some best sellers). But those gifts were only ever used for deceit or manipulation. Unterweger’s primary and primal goal in life was to have the possibility to kill young women, usually after copulating with them.
He liked the feeling of power of watching life ebb out of a woman as she begged him for a mercy never to come. There were a few survivors so we know exactly how this monster went about his business. He usually targeted prostitutes but that was more a matter of circumstance. It’s nigh impossible to get away with killing people you know (more than once at least). A serial killer who wants to kill repeatedly and not get locked away should always target strangers and there are none more vulnerable than sidewalk hookers. As Leake writes: "Street prostitutes are the only women in today’s society who will get into the car of a stranger willingly."
So after spending more than three hundred pages with a monster like Jack Unterweger, how is one better enlightened or prepared for life? As a cautionary note, Perrault’s Little Red Riding Hood for the 21st century. The abstinence societies in the US should buy The Vienna Woods Killer in quantity and give it to all the girls between twelve and seventeen. They’d really think thrice about getting into a car or slipping into a restroom with a hot and bothered boy or man.
The Vienna Woods Killer could be useful to law enforcement agents as a detailed case study of how a serial killer or even serial criminal can slip between agencies and end up free to strike again. The Vienna Woods Killer could be useful as propaganda for the three strikes and you’re out crowd who believes once a criminal, always a criminal, lock ’em up and throw away the key.
Worse and less ironcially, The Vienna Woods Killer could be used as a serial killer’s handbook. This Jack Unterweger guy was pretty good at it. He managed to successfully ply his trade in five cities, three countries and two continents.
For someone who is trying to make a better world or would like to believe in the good of mankind The Vienna Woods Killer has nothing to offer except darkness and pain.
The quality of the prose cannot redeem the subject matter. If you love life and/or humankind, I would recommend you stay far away from Jack Unterweger and The Vienna Woods Killer. I hope John Leake finds a more inspiring tale on which to use his considerable talents of forensic journalism. There are any numbers of cases of liberation movements suppressed by international intervention or multinationals pillaging a community. Something like the research behind Silkwood or Julia Roberts’ lawyer character.
In my particular circumstances as a foreigner strongly tied to Vienna and its bohemian life, I found the historical prism into life in the early eighties and nineties of significant professional interest. If The Vienna Woods Killer is accurate, curiously Vienna hasn’t changed much. I don’t yet share John Leake’s contempt for the Vienna pseudointellectual glam bohemia (schikerei he calls them) but perhaps I just haven’t been in Vienna long enough.
I know enough true stories from the last couple of years which might gradually persuade me as well. There’s a guy who didn’t sign the rent contract ("my name isn’t spelled right") and then changed the locks on his landlord. Abusing the pro-tenant laws of Vienna, he paid half the official rent for three years before he was finally evicted. A good Viennese family – for what that’s worth. But that is a tale for another day…
No Jane Austen heroines for me
all prose and no poetry,
reason and norm insistent
in every dawn and
a faultless sense of society,
I’ll dally to ventilate
the tight sphincter which cramps
her every breath
in hope to release the emotions
stifled so long below.
Hopeless though, these women –
function of their most intimate organs
governed so strongly from the head
and not the heart. One pure breath
of unfiltered emotion, more, sadly
than six months of stifling devotion.