As If RU-486 Needed Any Additional Controversy…

When the U.S. Food and Drug Administration finally approved RU-486, it would not release the name or location of the company that would manufacture the drug for the U.S. market citing safety and security reasons. In fact it looks like it wanted to avoid a public relations problem that it’s going to have to deal with anyway — Hua Lian Pharmaceutical Company in Shanghai, China, will produce the drug.

Clearly the FDA was less concerned about safety concerns than getting attacked by anti-abortion activists for awarding the contract to China with its repressive dictatorial regime and history of extreme population control measures.

National Right to Life’s Douglas Johnson quickly attacked the FDA after the Washington Post revealed where the drug would be manufactured, telling the Associated Press,

They said they wanted to protect the company from violence or protests, but it’s ludicrous to say that it is an issue in China, where demonstrations aren’t permitted. It’s a public relations problem they want to avoid — they don’t want the association with Chinese coercive abortion practices.

This is just going to increase the level of controversy surrounding the drug and create a public relations nightmare for anti-abortion groups to latch on to. This FDA decision is likely to prove a disaster, and the FDA should seriously try to find a manufacturer in a more democratic nation to produce RU-486.


China plant to make U.S. abortion pill. The Associated Press, October 12, 2000.

Massive Polio Vaccination Campaign Next Week

Last week I wrote about plans to eradicate polio by 2005. Next week the United Nations will initiate an enormous attempt to get closer to that goal — from Monday through Friday the UN hopes to immunize 70 million children in 14 West African countries against polio.

The countries taking part are Benin, Burkina Faso, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Liberia, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone and Togo. Three other countries will have children mass immunized in November: Cameroon, Chad and the Ivory Coast. Assuming medical workers are able to pull this feat off, that would take care of 17 of the 30 countries where polio still occurs.

The only downside is that the UN will not be able to reach some areas of Sierra Leone that are held by rebels as part of the ongoing civil war there.


U.N. plans massive polio immunization campaign in 14 African countries. The Associated Press, October 10, 2000.

What Are Gemstar’s Plans for E-books?

Jeff Kirvin has a longish piece about Gemstar’s plans for e-books. Gemstar acquired two other e-book device manufacturers, Nuvomedia and Softbook.

Gemstar recently announced the release of two new models, but Kirvin is less than thrilled at Gemstar’s plans noting,

Gemstar will be releasing two new devices, the REB 1100 (replacing the Rocket eBook at $300) and the REB 1200 (replacing the Softbook at $700). Content for these devices will be exclusively through Gemstar’s own proprietary ebookstore, via the built-in 56k modem in both devices. Gemstar seems intent on cutting the web out of the ebook buying process altogether. Gemstar spokesman Tom Morrow said, “The important thing is that we are tethered to everyone who has a device.”

Now I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to be “tethered” to anything. To my way of thinking, the freedom of buying books on the web and reading them on my PocketPC is one of the great things about ebooks. Gemstar wants to lock me down to a just their bookstore, and if they don’t have the ebook I want, I’m just out of luck? No thanks. Gemstar has also decided to end the support of the RocketLibrarian program and the practice of allowing users to create their own content from HTML or text. The only content of any kind for the REB devices will come from Gemstar’s library. Rupert Murdoch recently doubled his investment in Gemstar, bringing him up to 43 percent ownership. Murdoch talked about publishers being able to “completely bypass the printer, the paper manufacturer and the post office in the delivery of regular magazines and even of newspapers. That’s looking many years out, but it’s not looking too many years down the line for magazines.”

Certainly a stupid direction to take the company in if this is accurate, but is it indeed true? According to a FAQ while Kirvin is right about Gemstar ditching the ability to easily transfer text and HTML to the e-book readers, they will support the open eBook format and allow anyone to offer books in that formatt for the devices:

Will the Gemstar eBook support the open eBook format?

Yes. The current OeB specification is based on our technical implementation. We are also working closely with Microsoft in establishing the Open eBook standards and the OeB process.

It would be better if they also supported plain old text or HTML, but if the information at the Gemstar site is correct, you’re really not tied to a single vendor or source for e-books with these devices.

Update: I e-mailed Kirvin about the discrepancy and he said that he received an e-mail from Gemstar to the effect that they would be honoring pre-existing agreements with Barnes and Noble and Powells, but that all new content would come solely from Gemstar. If this is in fact true, it would be pretty much suicide for the devices in my opinion.

Leave to Work Out, and Everything Changes

All I did was spend a hour in the gym and when I come back I learn the Israelis decided to escalate the Middle Eastern conflict into full-scale war, and then Greg Pierce, inspired by Mark Morgan’s flat discussion hack, went ahead and demoed a version that he’s working on that uses some new Conversant code — and it looks great.

Are Vouchers Racist?

USA Today had a story the other day about an Applied Research Center study of school vouchers. The Applied Research Center is a liberal think tank that claims California’s voucher proposal would essentially benefit affluent white kids while harming poor black kids. The claim is that since the vouchers are only worth $4,000 and some private school tuition is more than $4,000, the only people who will take advantage of the vouchers are affluent whites who probably send their kids to private schools anyway.

Clint Bolick of the Institute for Justice did an excellent job refuting this claim telling USA Today that,

Public schools are the greatest engine of racial inequality in our society today. They are segregated both by race and economic status. School choice, by contrast, gives low-income and minority kids a real opportunity to access high-quality educational opportunities. This study substitutes ideology for scholarship.

As Bolick pointed out, the $4,000 voucher actually represents a larger opportunity to poorer families than to wealthier ones. That $4,000 would help send a lot of kids whose families otherwise would have a very difficult time affording a private education to a better school (I know we’ve got families in my neighborhood who would be able to send their kids to much better alternatives if they had this sort of program available).

Regardless, though, Bolick is right that there is nothing more racist than public schools which repeatedly fail minority students and leave many black Americans unprepared to excel in college and professionally.


Vouchers’ ‘racist impact’ predicted. USA Today, October 11, 2000.