By Anne Kingston - Thursday, December 6, 2012 - 0 Comments
Yahoo!’s new CEO is one to watch in 2013
When Yahoo! Inc. named Marissa Mayer as president and CEO in July 2012, it was a very big deal, corporately speaking. Yahoo! poaching the 37-year-old Google executive from its archrival was a major coup; in a press release, the company crowed that Mayer had helped launch “more than 100 features and products including image, book, and product search; toolbar; iGoogle; Google News; and Gmail—creating much of the look and feel of the Google user experience.” Possessed of a smart and sunny demeanour, Mayer was once a visible public face of the search-engine behemoth, famously interviewing Lady Gaga for a “Google goes Gaga” YouTube video in 2011. Much was riding on her ability to turn around the foundering $5-billion tech giant. News of her appointment, which makes her the youngest Fortune 500 company CEO, boded well: Yahoo! stock price rose 2.7 per cent.
Yet what occupied headlines was not Mayer’s stellar professional accomplishments, but her gynecological ones. When she was appointed, the CEO was six months pregnant with her first child (with husband Zack Bogue, a lawyer). When she returned to the executive suite weeks after delivering son Macallister, an inevitable firestorm of debate ensued—one that highlighted the double standard that still applies to mothers, but not fathers, in the top echelons of business. Continue…
Canada’s first class-action lawsuit involving birth defects allegedly caused by anti-depressents gets green light
By Anne Kingston - Monday, December 3, 2012 at 4:38 PM - 0 Comments
Maclean’s exclusive: Anne Kingston on today’s ruling from the B.C. Supreme Court
A Supreme Court of British Columbia decision has paved way for Canada’s first national class action lawsuit against the manufacturer of an antidepressant drug alleged to have caused birth defects in children born to women who took it during pregnancy.
In the ruling dated Dec. 3, 2012, Faith Gibson of Surrey, B.C. was appointed “representative plaintiff” on behalf of a class defined as “any person in Canada, born with cardiovascular defects, to women who ingested Paxil while pregnant, and the mothers of those persons.”
In December 2002, Gibson was prescribed Paxil, a selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitor (SSRI) manufactured by GlaxoSmithKline Inc. that was approved for use in Canada in 1993. She took it throughout her pregnancy; on Sept. 13, 2004, her daughter, Meah Bartram was born with a ventricular septal defect, more commonly known as a “hole in the heart.”
Lawyer David Rosenberg, of Vancouver’s Rosenberg & Rosenberg will argue that GlaxoSmithKline knew or ought to have known of the risks and failed to provide adequate and timely warning to doctors and the public. (In 2005, Health Canada sent out a warning in agreement with GlaxoSmithKline that advised infants exposed to Paxil in the first trimester had a higher risk of congenital malformations, specifically cardiovascular defects.)
Next up, says Rosenberg, is a “common issues trial” in which a judge decides for the entire class certain common issues, such as “Did Paxil increase likelihood of birth defects?” and “Did GlaxoSmithKline fail to adequately warn Health Canada of the risks.”
GlaxoSmithKline Inc. has 30 days to appeal the decision.
Read the decision here:
By Anne Kingston - Friday, November 23, 2012 at 4:51 PM - 0 Comments
Did you miss The Senate’s CCSVI sideshow? Read this
On Thursday the Senate Social Affairs, Science and Technology Committee was scheduled to go clause-by-clause through Bill S-204, a National Strategy for Chronic Cerebral Venous Insufficiency (CCSVI), before voting on it. The bill, sponsored by Liberal Senator Jane Cordy, called for accelerated pan-Canadian CCSVI clinical trials, a registry to track patients who went out of country for treatment, and assured medical aftercare in Canada. But there was no cause-by-clause reading. Instead, in a surprise move, the Conservative majority silenced debate and six-to-five voted down the bill. No surprise there. Amid much politicking, Bill S-204′s twin, Bill C-280, a private member’s bill proposed by Liberal MP Kirsty Duncan was quashed by six votes last February.
Of course, the chamber of “sober second thought” is supposed to exist above petty partisan concerns–and Santa really does exist. But the details of this particular Senate committee, which heard from vascular specialist Paolo Zamboni, who pioneered the CCSVI hypothesis, makes clear just how skewed the process can be. Earlier this month, Conservative senators unanimously refused to hear testimony from Canadians with MS, which shocked Cordy. “This is a patient-based system,” she says. “Why would the government silence the voices of the Canadians the committee was supposed to be helping?” (Patient testimony was invited when Saskatchewan was deciding whether to fund CCSVI clinical trials now taking place in Albany, NY.) Instead, the committee received written submissions from MS patients, many who’d had CCSVI treatment, some of whom had been denied medical aftercare in Canada.There was concern voiced by some committee members that the summary report released Friday misrepresents the evidence presented. On the subject of aftercare being denied people who travel for CCSVI treatment, for instance, the report had this to say:“Your committee also shares the concern expressed by proponents of the bill that, in the early stages, some patients were refused medical treatment after having experienced complications resulting from venoplasty performed in other countries. However, it should be noted that provincial health authorities and the colleges of medicine took quick action to ensure that no Canadians would be denied medical treatment.”
According to transcripts of the proceedings, Liberal Senator Art Eggleton was quick to object, noting committee witnesses told “numerous stories” of people who badly needed medical treatment and were not getting it: “Because they had gone overseas to get the procedure, they were not finding it very easy, if at all possible, to get follow‑up medical treatment here. Some of them ended up with some complications or just needed some follow‑up advice, but were being turned away. In fact, we heard that one person died as a result of this. Another person we heard was told to go back to Poland rather than being treated by a medical specialist here.” He added: “I am not aware of any evidence that came before this committee that indicated any action was taken. We certainly heard from medical professionals and professors that they thought that it was abhorrent that these MS patients who had gone through the procedure were not getting proper medical treatment.”
The concluding statement that “the best path forward should be determined by science and medicine, not by Parliament,” (which dovetails nicely with the Harper government’s increasing decentralization of health care), also met with opposition from the Liberals. Senator Larry Campbell called it ”completely hypocritical”–and incorrect: “Parliament deals with health matters all of the time,” he said. “We deal with drugs and we deal with issues involving health, even though it is a provincial responsibility. As far as this last paragraph is concerned, it would be nice if the government actually did rely on science for decision making, which we know is not true.” His coup de grâce: ”If this in fact is true, we should not have a Ministry of Health.”
The committee’s summary also suggest a willful blindness to the state of CCSVI research and monitoring in this country. That’s reflected in its statement that the interests of Canadians with MS are best served by “continued efforts on the part of the Government through the Canadian Institutes of Health Research Scientific Working Group and the Public Health Agency of Canada’s Canadian Multiple Sclerosis Monitoring System.” Anyone following CCSVI will know those efforts are all show, no action. The government proposed a monitoring system to track MS patients in early 2011 to be run by the Canadian Network of MS Clinics, the MS Society of Canada and the Canadian Institute for Health Information. This summer, a government spokesperson told Maclean’s it would be up and running in 2012. That’s a pipe dream. The ”Canadian Multiple Sclerosis Monitoring System” on the Public Health Agency of Canada website hasn’t been updated since Mar. 23, 2011. “It’s a work in progress,” says neurologist Anthony Traboulsee, the contact person for the Canadian Network of MS Clinics in an interview today with Maclean’s. And CIHR’s Scientific Expert Working Group, criticized for not having any actual CCSVI experts on it, isn’t even going to be around: it’s about to be shut down, according to Traboulsee who sat on the panel.
In a trifecta revealing of the tight network now adjudicating Canadian CCSVI research, Traboulsee, who’s also affiliated with the University of British Columbia Hospital MS Clinic, is the principal investigator overseeing Canadian phase I/phase II clinical trials scheduled to take place in four centres in three provinces. They were slated to commence Nov. 1 but that has been pushed back, Traboulsee says, due to procedural hurdles to overcome and additional ethic board approvals to be be passed. (That’s not counting the Quebec City and Winnipeg centres which have yet to pass ethical review boards, which could take months.) Traboulsee is “hopeful” patient enrollment will begin in Jan. 2013.
Kirsty Duncan, who blasted the government for refusing to hear from MS patients, is skeptical any progress is being made. “It’s all smoke and mirrors,” she told Maclean’s yesterday. It’s now more than three years since Zamboni’s theory made headlines, Duncan notes. And three years of resistance to a procedure covered by provincial health plans for people with venous malformation who have not been diagnosed with MS. ”We are no further along,” Duncan says. “We have announcements, that is it. Meanwhile, people’s lives are at stake.” She questions why the bill even made it to the Senate, given the deep-rooted opposition to it. ”Was that just for show too?” she asks. Whatever the intention, a show was definitely had. Just don’t believe the Senate committee’s own review of its performance.
By Anne Kingston - Tuesday, November 20, 2012 at 5:10 AM - 0 Comments
Why does Canada trail U.S. and EU in protecting citizens from dangerous meds?
On Oct. 17, 2012, Terence Young’s tireless 12-year crusade took him before a Senate committee looking into the safety and regulation of prescription drugs in Canada. The Conservative MP for Oakville, Ont., gave the panel an earful. “Doctors and patients have no way to know when a drug is safe and when it is not,” he argued, noting that his own government’s drug monitoring system is “primarily in the hands of the big pharma companies themselves, even as a growing number of injuries and deaths are reported related to their use.”
Young was there not as a politician but as a father seeking to redress colossal systemic failure—a mission dating back to March 19, 2000, the day he watched his 15-year-old daughter Vanessa collapse on the floor at home. She was rushed to hospital, where she died a day later. The cause: cardiac arrest.
None of it made sense. Vanessa was a healthy girl. She didn’t drink or smoke or take drugs— with one exception: over the past year, she had periodically taken cisapride, an acid-reflux drug marketed as Prepulsid. Her doctor, who’d diagnosed her with a minor form of bulimia, prescribed it after she complained of reflux and feeling bloated after meals. Neither their doctor or pharmacist mentioned risks; her parents considered it “super Rolaids.”
But when Young dug deeper, he found cisapride was far more toxic than the heartburn it treated: it was linked to 80 deaths in Canada and the U.S. and had generated a total of 341 “adverse reaction” reports in the two countries. More shocking to the former Ontario MPP, Health Canada knew of these risks: since approving Prepulsid in 1990, the agency, which approves and monitors prescription drugs through its Therapeutic Products Directorate, had sent four letters to doctors, the last in 1998, warning about serious adverse effects, including heart risks in children, women and infants.
Had the family lived in the U.S., Young learned, Vanessa might not have been prescribed cisapride. In 1998, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) had given it its ominous “black box” warning, an alarm bell that makes doctors far less likely to prescribe a drug. In January 2000, two months before Vanessa died, the FDA issued an advisory alerting doctors of heart attack risks and rewrote label warnings; in April, it announced cisapride would be pulled from the market in July 2000. Health Canada followed suit that May, taking Prepulsid off the market in August.
In 2001, Young marshalled his political connections and demanded an inquest into Vanessa’s death; the 16-day hearing resulted in 59 recommendations, including mandatory reporting of adverse drug reactions by health care professionals and clearer label warnings. A Canadian Medical Association Journal (CMAJ) editorial on the inquest’s findings noted Vanessa’s death was “undoubtedly caused by cisapride” and criticized Health Canada’s response as another example of its “advisory and regulatory actions lagging behind the FDA’s.”
Young also launched a $100-million class-action suit, naming Janssen-Ortho Inc., Prepulsid’s marketer, Johnson & Johnson, its parent company, and Health Canada. And he filed an individual suit against all three parties. The six-year battle, settled out of court, is chronicled in his book Death by Prescription: A Father Takes on his Daughter’s Killer—The Multi-Billion Dollar Pharmaceutical Industry, published in 2009.
His journey into the netherworld of Canadian drug surveillance revealed a system structured to serve the interests of the industry it regulates before the public it’s entrusted to protect. Under the “user-fee” model adopted in 1995, drug companies pay to submit a drug for approval and provide the supporting research. The result is an industry-regulator alliance primed to bring drugs to market. Health Canada has an online database listing adverse reactions to drugs. But navigating it is next to impossible, and reporting adverse effects is voluntary for doctors and pharmacists. Even if a drug is found unsafe, the agency lacks the authority to unilaterally revise the label or remove it from market—or order a company to do so.
Young’s quest to improve drug safety spurred his entry to federal politics. In 2009, a year after he was elected, he tabled a private member’s bill calling for an independent drug-monitoring agency with the power to order unsafe drugs off the market and issue plainly worded risk warnings. It won’t be debated until late next year, at the earliest.
Sitting in his constituency office in October, Young expresses incredulity that prescription drugs aren’t regulated as stringently as other public safety threats: “The minister of transportation doesn’t ‘negotiate’ with truckers to keep unsafe vehicles off roads,” he says. By law, doctors must report unfit drivers, and are paid to do so. Fast-tracking drugs to market is like “air-traffic controllers being told to land planes more quickly,” he says. Eleven years after his daughter’s inquest, none of its major recommendations have been implemented, he says: “Nothing has changed since Vanessa died. It has only gotten worse.”
Vanessa Young’s tragic death thrust her into a big, undiscussed demographic: the 10,000-plus Canadians estimated to die each year from a prescription drug taken exactly as prescribed. And that figure is likely a gross understatement: it is extrapolated from a 14-year-old study, led by University of Toronto researchers and published in the April 1998 Journal of the American Medical Association, that found deaths linked to prescription drugs accounted for some 106,000 fatalities annually in the U.S., making it the fourth-leading cause of death, behind cancer, heart disease and stroke. A 2011 Health Council of Canada study additionally estimated that 150,000 people annually experience serious reactions from prescription drugs.
Those numbers are destined to rise given a market growing by $1 billion a year, according to the Canadian Institute of Health Information (CIHI), which estimates that Canadians spend nearly as much on prescription drugs ($26.9 billion) as on doctors. These medications can improve and save lives. But they’re increasingly prescribed from cradle to grave for an expanding list of syndromes, dysfunctions and disorders—infant reflux, ADHD, adult ADD, social anxiety disorder, female sexual arousal disorder—as well as new health “risks” to manage, such as high cholesterol.
When concerns are raised about prescription drugs, they invariably focus on misuse or abuse: sports doping, OxyContin addiction, teenagers taking parents’ pain meds to get high. That more Canadians are harmed or killed by drugs taken as prescribed than by tainted meat, tainted water and handguns combined is not a blip on the public radar.
But this is changing: a growing number of voices are putting the spotlight on the risks of “proper” drug use. At the Senate committee hearing, Janet Currie, a social worker with the Victoria-based Psychiatric Medication Awareness Group, called prescription-drug side effects “one of the most serious public health problems we have.” Physician David Juurlink, a drug-safety expert and scientist with Toronto-based Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences, agrees: “It’s an enormous problem,” he says.
Two new books—Pharmageddon, by Irish psychiatrist David Healy, and Bad Pharma: How Drug Companies Mislead Doctors and Harm Patients, by British doctor Ben Goldacre—present scathing critiques of the $800-billion pharmaceutical industry, including evidence of its routine suppression of negative clinical trial results, something Goldacre calls “a global scandal that puts patients at risk.” The issue was raised in British parliament last month as Conservative MP and family doctor Sarah Wollaston accused drug companies of burying bad news about medicines’ effectiveness and side effects.
Meanwhile, the problem continues to grow. The need for change is reflected in a Canadian study that reveals that serious drug dangers are frequently identified after they come to market. Almost one-fifth (19.8 per cent) of 434 new active substances approved by Health Canada between 1995 and 2010 were later given serious safety warnings—some only months after approval—Joel Lexchin, a physician and professor in the school of health policy and management at Toronto’s York University, found. The study, published last month in the Archives of Internal Medicine, shows risks are higher for drugs fast-tracked in 180-day “priority reviews” (versus the 300-day norm): 34.2 per cent had serious warnings.
Clinical trial results offer a rosy, unrealistic picture of how a drug works, says Juurlink: “In the real world, we don’t monitor people as closely and we don’t select people as carefully. And we don’t apply the same restrictions to a drug’s use.” No one should think a new drug is safe, he says. “Most are overhyped and brought out to maximize appearance of benefit and minimize harm.” Recognizing this, Britain puts an inverted black triangle on new drugs and advises all adverse reactions be reported, says Lexchin: “It’s an extra indication not a lot is known about safety, so be on the lookout.” Pulling drugs from market is rare. One notorious exception was the arthritis drug Vioxx, fast-tracked in 1999 despite known risks; it was removed in 2004 amid a flood of lawsuits after at least 55,000 deaths worldwide. According to Lexchin, only 55 prescription drugs have been withdrawn in Canada for safety reasons since 1963 (Health Canada doesn’t keep track of this data). In comparison, there were 4,852 prescription drugs on the market as of September 2012; 410 new prescription drugs came to market in 2011.
Far more common is a wallpapering of additional warnings that doctors often can’t keep on top of, or find readily on Health Canada’s website. Champix, a popular smoking-cessation drug, for example, was linked to risk of suicide, heart attacks and angioedema, a life-threatening condition characterized by swelling of the skin—all within a year of its 2007 approval. In May 2010, Health Canada and manufacturer Pfizer released a new safety warning telling users with “neuropsychiatric symptoms or behaviours that are not typical for the patient” to stop taking the drug and talk to their doctor. By then, France had stopped insuring it, and doctors in the U.S. were demanding it be pulled from market. In June 2011, Health Canada announced “an ongoing review” that concluded this year with new “precautions for patients with respect to cardiovascular safety.” Even while under review, Champix ads ran with an upbeat “I did it!” tag line, marketing not allowed in the U.S., where stricter rules surround “black box” drug advertising. As of this month, MedEffect Canada’s database lists 1,940 adverse reaction reports for Champix, including 33 “completed suicides.” Yet it’s covered on the formularies of seven provinces, five of which took it on after June 2011.
Drug side effects can end up triggering a “cascade of risks,” says Alan Cassels, a drug policy researcher and professor at the University of Victoria. He points to cholesterol-lowering drugs, or statins, such as Lipitor, Zocor and Crestor, the most widely prescribed drugs in the world. They’re prescribed to manage heart-attack risk, rather than an actual condition, but come with common side effects—muscle pain, anxiety and Parkinson’s-like symptoms—that lead doctors to prescribe additional drugs, with side effects of their own. Cassels wrote of the accumulated risks in July: “Some day, I suspect, we will regard statins as an unmitigated scandal in medicine.”
Eking out patterns of risk is difficult and can take decades, says Juurlink. A study he led, published in the CMAJ in August, tracked 144 patients aged 66 and older who were admitted to Ontario hospitals with acute liver damage; none had a history of liver disease but all had started taking one of five broad-spectrum antibiotics within the previous 30 days. Eighty-eight—61 per cent—died in hospital. The study, which required nine years of data to confirm a pattern, concluded that two specific antibiotics—moxifloxacin (brand name Avelox) and levofloxacin (Levaquin)—“were associated with an increased risk of acute liver injury” in older people, compared with clarithromycin. Hospital records didn’t provide a cause of death, and nobody would think to associate it with antibiotics, Juurlink says. “But I think it’s fair to speculate that the majority of them died of the consequences of their liver injury.” Risks of undetected prescription drug death is highest in older people, he says.
Because deaths linked to prescription drugs are considered to be from “natural causes” in hospital records and coroners’ reports, they’re impossible to trace. That’s something Terence Young wants to change. In 2009, he appeared before an Ontario committee to ask for a new category of death: “related to a medical treatment including a drug prescribed or otherwise recommended by a medical professional.” He was shot down. Coroners can keep drug-related deaths under the radar, Young says: “It’s a conspiracy of silence. They’ve been content to cover up medical errors and harmful drugs for years.”
Yet to hear Health Canada tell it, Canada’s drug regulatory system is not only competent but world-class. Last month, Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq (who declined an interview request from Maclean’s) told the Toronto Star that our drug regulatory system is “one of the safest and most rigorous in the world.”
Many disagree, vehemently. “France and even the United States have regulatory regimes that are much more rigorous and safe,” says Cassels. Juurlink calls Health Canada “a lot of bureaucracy with very little independent action compared to the U.S. and Europe.” The 2011 auditor general’s report criticized the agency for lack of transparency regarding drug approvals, clinical trial data and the status of drugs “approved with conditions,” and for taking years to report safety issues.
The FDA and the European Medicines Agency have made far bigger strides in transparency. In 2010, the FDA adopted “plain language” labelling, something Health Canada has talked about for a decade. The value of clarity is evident in the U.S. monograph for antidepressant Paxil: it refers to “suicidality” at the top in bold type in a black box, plus “risk of increased suicidality” in people under 24 and “the need for close observation.” The Canadian version only starts mentioning anything relating to suicide on page six of its 55 pages.
Extracting information from Health Canada is an exercise in frustration. Drug company information is protected as commercial “trade secrets,” which means it’s withheld from the public. Health Canada spokesperson Sean Upton said many of Maclean’s questions (such as, “How many drugs were approved under ‘priority review’ in 2011?”) would require access to information requests, which can take years, and yield nothing—although he responded a month later saying there were eight. The FDA has the corresponding information on its website, for all to see. Asked what Health Canada did with “adverse effect” reports, Upton responded with boilerplate: they are “systematically monitored to identify rare, new or unexpected adverse reactions,” he said.
Juurlink says that’s a joke. Post-market monitoring of drugs is “a national embarrassment,” he says, calling MedEffect an “electronic dumpster.” As a trained pharmacist, he has trouble navigating it, unlike the FDA’s site. And if reporting of adverse effects by health care professionals was mandatory, as it is in France, Sweden, Spain and Norway, he says, we’d have better data. Cassels estimates 90 to 99 per cent of adverse reactions are never reported.
The lack of transparency runs through the entire drug-approval chain. The FDA, for instance, reveals what clinical trial data was used to support a drug’s approval; Health Canada doesn’t. “It might get a dozen studies and three are favourable and that will be the basis of the approval, but they won’t tell you,” Cassels says. Instead, the agency releases a “summary document” that omits key elements, Lexchin says. “They don’t tell you what trials were submitted, what information confirmed safety and efficacy, the number of people in the trials, the number of subjects who dropped out due to bad side effects.” Data on dropouts is crucial, he says; they’re the first indication that safety problems exist.
Such opacity keeps doctors in the dark, says Matthew Herder, a lawyer and professor at Dalhousie University’s faculty of medicine. In an article published in the CMAJ last year, Herder cites Health Canada’s failure to publicly disclose in 1999 that selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) antidepressants were not authorized to be given to people under 19. By 2004, he notes, SSRIs were widely prescribed “off-label” for teens by physicians who hadn’t been apprised of the risks. Health Canada later claimed the information constituted “confidential” trade secrets, and so couldn’t be divulged by the agency. (“There are no legal boundaries preventing disclosure,” Herder told Maclean’s.)
Health Canada trails regulators in the U.S., Europe, Australia, Brazil and India, who have made registering clinical trials mandatory, a bid to prevent companies from burying negative data. Last month, it announced it was setting up a “web-based list” of Canadian clinical trials—which drew criticism that registration still isn’t mandatory.
“It’s a dysfunctional system,” says physician and pharmacologist Michele Brill-Edwards, who headed Health Canada drug approvals between 1987 and 1992 and quit in 1996 after blowing the whistle on the agency’s suppression of prescription drug risks; she won a 1992 federal court case against her employer. Industry influence only grew as Health Canada switched to the user-fee model in 1995, Brill-Edwards says. Even the language is telling. Internal emails from the period refer to the industry as “the client,” and the job once done by the Health Protection Branch now fell to the mercantile-sounding Marketed Health Products Directorate. A regulator biased to industry interests puts patients at risk, Brill-Edwards says: “The industry’s quest is to get that drug out there and get it used as much as possible. But the more widely we use a drug, the greater the risk that we’re going to end up giving it to people for wrong reasons in ways that will harm them.”
Canada’s small market is a disadvantage when negotiating with industry, she says: “The FDA has a far bigger stick.” But a strong health minister could do it, she says: “You could demand plain-language labelling. They’re already doing it for the U.S. market.”
Drugs produced primarily in offshore factories add another layer of risk, says Cassels, who wrote on the topic in the October 2012 CMAJ. He asked Health Canada about how it monitors this, only to be told it conducted 35 inspections from 2006 to 2011; the agency wouldn’t say which countries were involved or reveal its findings, citing proprietary trade secrets. “That’s a bulls–t excuse,” Cassels says. “Whose team are they on?” He’s doubtful the agency is up to the task, especially after recent budget cuts: “If they can’t or won’t regulate drug advertising, what’s the chance they’ll go to the backwaters of China?”
For now, the task of advocating for better drug regulation continues to fall to those, like Young, whose advocacy is born of tragedy. In November 2010, Nancy and Shaun McCartney’s 18-year-old son, Brennan, went to their family doctor in Bolton, Ont., with a chest cold. The extroverted high school student mentioned feeling sad over breaking up with a girl he’d been seeing for three months. He left with a script for an antibiotic, a puffer— and a sample pack of Cipralex, an SSRI antidepressant. Nancy, a high school vice-principal, expressed concern; Brennan had no history of depression. He assured her the doctor said it would help. On the fourth day taking it, Brennan seemed agitated when he left the house, his mother says. He failed to come home. The next day his body was found. He had hung himself in a local park.
Sitting at their kitchen table, Nancy flips through a binder documenting systemic failure. Brennan wasn’t given the full drug monograph that mentions suicide risk; the sample pack (she has the brochure) notes only “self-harm.” There’s also correspondence with the coroner’s office denying the McCartneys’ request for a toxicology scan. They’ve sent a forensic sample to Australia. “We’ve lost trust in the Canadian health care system,” Nancy says. “Until people have been in our shoes,” says Shaun, “they can’t understand how bad the system is.”
Even their attempts to warn other Canadians about the drug they believe caused their son’s death have been thwarted. After Nancy submitted an adverse-reaction report in April 2012, she noticed a typo on her entry so she called the Vigilance Branch requesting a correction. She also asked for an updated copy. She was told she’d have to file an access to information request. Seven months later, anyone searching Cipralex on MedEffect would find 317 reports, including five “completed suicides,” 12 “suicide attempts” and many references to “suicidal ideation,” but not McCartney’s submission. When Maclean’s asked Health Canada why, Upton responded by email weeks later, saying the entry is in the database, providing a screen grab. Yet subsequent searches using the same terms failed to find it.
“It’s a lot easier to access the system from the inside,” Upton explained. He’s right. And until it isn’t, Canadians shouldn’t believe that our drug-regulatory system is one of the “safest and most rigorous” in the world.
By Anne Kingston - Monday, November 19, 2012 at 8:12 PM - 0 Comments
In what seems like day 45 of the still-unidentified Petraeus “scandal,” a pall of…
In what seems like day 45 of the still-unidentified Petraeus “scandal,” a pall of regret descends: Paula Broadwell’s here, David Petreaus’s here. Meanwhile, Petraeus has retained a DC lawyer known for negotiating big-buck political book deals to help navigate his exit from government–and whatever else.
Meanwhile, predictable partisan bickering continues over the differing versions of the Benghazi attack.
And we’re well into tedious “lessons learned”: Slate.com believes the takeaway is that human beings are morons when using technology, specifically email which apparently we use “constantly–and, all too often, unthinkingly.” In the New Yorker, Adam Gopnik weighs in , coining ”50 Shades of Khaki” as he cleverly links the Petraeus affair with Philip Roth’s under-the-radar retirement from writing last week.
But, wait! Didn’t Paula Broadwell’s indiscrete dad tell New York Daily News that whatever it is we’re watching is a “a smokescreen” veiling a bigger story? “This is about something else entirely, and the truth will come out,” he said. “There is a lot more that is going to come out…You wait and see. There’s a lot more here than meets the eye.” Maybe he was just angling for a book deal too.
By Anne Kingston - Friday, November 16, 2012 at 6:37 PM - 0 Comments
Closed-door hearings, Orwellian surveillance and lessons learned
David Petreaus hit the Hill Friday, testifying before House and Senate closed-door hearings. The former CIA director called the Sept. 11 attack on Benghazi an act of terrorism by al-Quaeda militants, in contrast to what he told the committee on Sept. 14 and testimony given by Susan Rice, the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations. His extramarital affair was off the table.
U.S. Attorney General Eric H. Holder defended the Justice Department’s handling of the FBI investigation, including keeping the White House in the dark until after the election. Meanwhile, the CIA opened an internal investigation into Petraeus’s conduct during his 14-month tenure.
And, surprise, surprise: more dirt is emerging on financially beleaguered “socialite and honorary counsel to South Korea,” Jill Kelley, and her twin sister. The Los Angeles Times reports that after helping a New York City “energy entrepreneur” make introductions for a multibillion-dollar coal project South Korea, Kelley unsuccessfully angled for an $80-million commission. In another report, her twin sister, Natalie Khawam, is said to be unable to pay back a $300,000 loan from a former boyfriend who is a defense department lobbyist.
Meanwhile, we’re learning more about how Paula Broadwell benefitted from her high-profile proximity to the former four-star general–including a speaking slot at the Aspen Ideas Festival, an invitation to Washington’s annual OSS Society dinner, and a role as an “expert commentator” in an infomercial for machine-gun manufacturer KRISS, which shows her to be a crack shot. The company was angling for a military contract at the time.
In the “what-lessons-can-be-learned-here” category, attention is turning to Orwellian government surveillance. In a post laden with advice for would-be adulterers, Salon.com analyses how the head of the world’s largest spying organization and his lover screwed up trying to cover the tracks of their affair. And in a thoughtful post on Reuters.com , Julian Sanchez writes: “The Petraeus affair has, for a moment, exposed that invisible scaffolding – and provided a rare opportunity to revisit outdated laws and reconsider the expanded surveillance powers doled out over the past panicked decade.”
In fluffier fallout, there’s this Petraeus-scandal-inspired parody ”Real Housewives of the Pentagon” which proves again that “reality TV” pales next to “reality reality.”
By Anne Kingston - Thursday, November 15, 2012 at 7:53 PM - 0 Comments
A backless dress, a shirtless FBI and all the latest on the scandal
The Benghazi hearing began, and a day before David Petraeus is set to testify he started to get his side of the story out through sympathetic media channels. It offered a telling glimpse of the former top four-star general’s talent annexing the press corps.
- Day 6: Things are getting stranger
- It’s like Mean Girls for people with jobs
- Petraeus and the Shlock Doctrine
First, National Journal reported Petraeus told his former spokesman, retired Army Col. Steven Boylan, that Broadwell is the only mistress he ever had and that began in November 2011 — two months after he became CIA chief.
By Anne Kingston - Wednesday, November 14, 2012 at 6:44 PM - 0 Comments
Petraeus will testify and Jill Kelley is ‘an honorary consul of the Republic of Korea’
Petraeus will testify before Congress about Sept. 11 attacks on U.S. installments in Benghazi that killed a U.S. ambassador and three other Americans. Timing has not been decided.
At today’s White House press conference, President Obama said he has “no evidence” that national security was compromised by the scandal. The president said he accepted Petraeus’s resignation Friday because “he did not meet the standards that he felt were necessary” to be CIA director. When Obama was asked if he should have been informed before last Thursday that the FBI knew of Petraeus’s extramarital affair, he said the FBI and Justice Department have protocols about disclosing ongoing investigations: “We’re not supposed to meddle in criminal investigations.” Obama said he was “withholding judgment” on how the FBI handled the case, as he delivered a oblique jab with the word “generally,” saying:”I have a lot of confidence, generally, in the FBI.”
The Shirtless FBI Agent has been revealed: pics were “a joke,” says Frederick W. Humphries II.
By Anne Kingston - Tuesday, November 13, 2012 at 10:28 PM - 0 Comments
Is this a sex scandal, a security scandal, a new hybrid or none of the above? Anne Kingston explains.
We’re now into day five of the constantly unraveling, can’t-look-away-from, still-too-early-to-properly-identify-what-it-is mess triggered by CIA director David Petraeus’s surprise resignation on Friday, which arrived just in time to more than fill the post-election news vacuum. Yesterday brought a “shirtless FBI agent” and a ”psychologically unstable” twin, And new reports accuse Petraeus’s replacement in Afghanistan, Gen. John Allen, of sending between 20,000 and 30,000 pages of “potentially inappropriate” emails to another women enmeshed in the case.
And the questions are piling up: Why exactly did Petraeus resign? Did the U.S.’s top spy really think sex-mailing in the draft folder of an unprotected Gmail account wouldn’t be untraceable? What does an “unpaid social liaison” do? Did Petraeus break martial law? What does this all have to do, if anything, with Benghazi? And. most perplexingly: Why is Chuck Klosterman writing the New York Times‘ Ethicist column?
By Anne Kingston - Monday, November 12, 2012 at 10:52 AM - 0 Comments
The new health-wealth paradox
The richer you are, the healthier you are. That maxim is hammered home in studies conducted by everyone from the World Health Organization to StatsCan, which reveal that income is the greatest determinant of health. Affluence and education are routinely linked to longevity and better fitness, nutrition and quality of medical care. As a medical truism, it’s right up there with “women are healthier than men,” based on the understanding that women visit the doctor more, are more concerned with nutrition and fitness, and are less likely to engage in risk-taking behaviour.
It would follow, then, that women who earn the most should be, and feel, healthiest of all. But that arithmetic may not add up. Women who shatter the glass ceiling are encountering a new gender gap, one that can affect their health in a one-two punch. First, they get equal access to the stress-related illnesses and habits that make male CEOs prime coronary candidates. Then, throw in a second, exacerbating factor: that pernicious “work-life” balancing act that has women, far more than men, contorting themselves like Cirque du Soleil performers to meet the demands of work and home. The upshot is a new female wealth-health paradox: earning enough to afford a trainer, an acupuncturist and a nutritionist, but not having the time to go to them.
A new Australian study, in fact, reveals that female executives don’t even have time to go to the doctor. The survey of close to 400 chief financial officers released last month by research firm East & Partners found most male respondents—77 per cent—had visited their doctor in the past year; only 34.8 per cent of women had. More astounding: 43.2 per cent of female CFOs couldn’t recall the last time they had. Continue…
By Anne Kingston - Thursday, October 18, 2012 at 6:20 AM - 0 Comments
Brain caps that let us speak via our thoughts, cochlear implants that bestow super hearing. And it’s not far away.
A century ago, the design of 21st-century man was unimaginable to anyone but sci-fi writers, and even they didn’t go far enough. No one foresaw a species able to prevent pregnancy with a pill. Or able to snake a wire up an artery to restore bloodflow. No one anticipated the sub-species of “Real Housewives”—women bronzed in tanning beds, filled with silicone and injected with a poisonous toxin to smooth wrinkles.
Such interventions are but a prelude to the human-design innovation to come, predicts Juan Enríquez, founding director of Harvard Business School’s Life Sciences Project. We’ve been given glimpses of that future: the thriving field of regenerative medicine is using stem cells to regrow old organs—and build brand new ones. Cancer patients have received new windpipes built from their own cells; spinal columns are being augmented with polymers. At the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Edward Boyden’s lab has successfully downloaded a mouse’s memory to a computer, raising all sorts of possibilities for externalizing human memory. Scientists are isolating “high-performance” genes such as ACE, linked to the ability to adapt to high altitudes, and 577R, which is found in most Olympic power athletes. Meanwhile, neuroprosthetics are redefining “bionic man” with artificial limbs powered via little more than a bit of electric current and the person’s thoughts.
Man’s instinct to re-engineer is hard-wired, Enríquez says in an interview with Maclean’s. “We’ve transformed poisonous berries into beautiful heirloom tomatoes,” he says. “We’ve taken wolves and made them into various species of dogs; we’ve taken corn and made it a completely unnatural plant—grains the same size and colour.” And now, in making the human body itself the platform for innovation, we’re propelling the evolution of the species itself. In Homo Evolutis: A Short Tour of Our New Species, an ebook he co-authored with Steve Gullans, Enríquez writes that Homo sapiens have already evolved into “Homo evolutis,” defined as “a hominid that takes direct and deliberate control over the evolution of his species, her species and other species.”
The result, Enríquez says, will be an explosion of various species of varying genetic composition. And soon. Our children or grandchildren, he says, could take different enough biological forms from us to be considered another species entirely.
In conversation, Enríquez dials back his timeline slightly. “Though it takes centuries for entire species populations to separate, you are going to start to see clusters, looking like very different types of things.” The history of genetically modified food offers a model, he says: “Over 20 years, plant life in one place is completely different from another. Grain harvested in Canada is very different than grain harvested in parts of Europe.” New natural selection will hinge on money and government policy: “Some countries will veto procedures like stem cell and gene therapies; others will push for them,” he says. “And you’ll get every type of variety in between.”
By Anne Kingston - Wednesday, October 17, 2012 at 4:38 PM - 0 Comments
Not even a parody of Brad Pitt’s Chanel commercial could be as ridiculous as the original
Dos Equis gave us The World’s Most Interesting Man. Now Chanel presents The World’s Most Cringe-inducing Man in its new 30-second spots for its No. 5 women’s perfume starring Brad Pitt. In the self-consciously arty black-and-white clips directed by Joe Wright of Atonement fame, the actor appears to be taking a page from the James Franco Existential School of Gravitas. Unshaven, looking less “The World’s Sexist Man Alive” than grubby Mayan apocalypse survivor, Pitt gazes into the camera and phones in a rambling pseudo-poetic monologue: “It’s not a journey. Every journey ends, but we go on. The world turns, and we turn with it. Plans disappear, dreams take over. But wherever I go, there you are, my luck, my fate, my fortune. Chanel No. 5, inevitable.”
Chanel paid Pitt $7 million to become its first male spokesman, which no doubt explains his motivation, but it also makes his lacklustre performance all the more appalling. The French design house has already made his fee back in free press, though almost all test the “all publicity is good publicity” adage. “The Smell of Disaster,” proclaimed the Guardian. “Dumbest fragrance commercial ever?” Fox News asked. LaineyGossip, the Mount Sinai of celebrity-gossip blogs, declared the ad a “f-cking embarrassing” and an epic miscalculation of Pitt’s carefully calibrated rebranding as a smart, socially–and politically–conscious dude. The ad was even slammed on CBC’s As It Happens last night. The parodies have begun, though none could ever be as ridiculous as the original.
By Jaime Weinman, Anne Kingston, Aaron Wherry, and Martin Patriquin - Friday, October 12, 2012 at 10:49 AM - 0 Comments
Oct. 5-11, 2012: The war on Big Bird, Silvio Berlusconi discovers a woman can lie, and a female perspective on the oilsands
Feast your eyes
The Prime Minister didn’t sexually harass you just because he was naked in the library. That’s what the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario seems to be saying with its dismissal of a complaint lodged earlier this year after a very cheeky painting of Stephen Harper appeared in a Kingston public library. Entitled Emperor Haute Couture, the painting by Kingston artist Margaret Sutherland portrays Harper in nude repose on a white chaise longue, a pooch at his feet and one of many anonymous minders behind handing him a large Tim Hortons coffee. The sight was too much for Albertan Curtis Stewart. “This is a complete disrespect to our country, our government and to our Prime Minister,” Stewart wrote in his HRTO complaint last spring, adding that the image was “a complete form of sexual harassment to me, my family and to all Canadians.” The HRTO dismissed the complaint, saying it fell beyond its jurisdiction.
The Bird speaks for all of us
Big Bird is the 99 per cent. After Mitt Romney said he would cut funding to PBS, then added “I love Big Bird,” the yellow Sesame Street star has become an instant meme in the U.S. presidential campaign. A Romney rally was protested by a man in a Big Bird costume carrying a sign that said “crack down on Wall Street, not Sesame Street.” Twitter was flooded with slogans like “I stand with Big Bird” and fake accounts from an out-of-work feathered muppet. Barack Obama’s campaign even released an ad portraying Romney as anti-Big Bird, but it didn’t sit well with the Sesame Street’s producers, who called for Obama to take down the ad because “Sesame Workshop is a nonpartisan, non-profit organization.”
Another reason to love Toronto
Vito Rizzuto, a former Montreal crime boss known as the “Teflon Don,” flew home to Canada last week. Rizzuto was released last Friday from a U.S. prison, where he was serving a sentence in connection with a 1981 killing, and seasoned Mob-watchers have been buzzing about what his next move will be upon returning to Canada. With his power base decimated in Montreal and his home up for sale, speculation is afoot that he may stay in Ontario: “Toronto is where he can find strength and calm,” a Quebec police officer told the Toronto Star. Toronto: where gangsters can make a fresh start.
Who’s the sexist-est of them all?
The Speaker in Australia’s House of Representatives eventually resigned after the emergence of sexist and profane text messages—the c-word was involved. But first, the House was witness to a remarkable display from PM Julia Gillard. After Tony Abbott, the opposition leader, declared that Gillard had failed by selecting Peter Slipper as Speaker, the ﬁrst female prime minister in Australian history stood in the House and launched a blistering 15-minute attack on Abbott, accusing him and his side of sexism and misogyny. She recounted how he had, among other things, suggested she make “an honest woman of herself” (Gillard is unmarried). If Abbott “wants to know what misogyny looks like in modern Australia,” she said, “he doesn’t need a motion in the House of Representatives—he needs a mirror.” Too bad for Abbott: just last week, his wife, Margie, tried to burnish her husband’s image in a series of media interviews. “Tony Abbott gets women,” she ventured, “and … the women in Tony Abbott’s life certainly get him.”
Tell us more
Who wouldn’t want life advice from a 26-year-old able to net $3.7 million for her first book? That’s what Random House execs were betting as they won a bidding war for Lena Dunham’s Not That Kind of Girl: A Young Woman Tells You What She’s Learned. It’s the latest triumph for the indie “It Girl,” known for strip-mining her life in her film Tiny Furniture, her HBO series Girls and her New Yorker essays. The publisher expressed high hopes for the self-help tome inspired by Helen Gurley Brown’s 1962 classic Sex and the Single Girl: in a statement, it placed Dunham in the tradition of Gurley Brown, David Sedaris and Nora Ephron and promised “frank and funny advice on everything from sex to eating to travelling to work.”
She also said he was the wisest, most handsome man she’d met
More cringe-worthy news regarding Silvio Berlusconi, currently on trial on charges that he hired an underage prostitute for one of his allegedly sex-drenched “bunga bunga” parties. The prosecution introduced evidence suggesting that Berlusconi thought Karima El Mahroug—known as Ruby the Heart Stealer—was the granddaughter of former Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak. That Mahroug, who was 17 when she met Berlusconi, was a prostitute apparently didn’t deter Berlusconi’s conviction in her story. The former PM even asked Mubarak about the young woman during the latter’s visit to Rome; predictably, Mubarak didn’t have a clue what Berlusconi was talking about. “She told me a load of balls,” a miffed Burlusconi told an adviser, after figuring out Ruby’s subterfuge. The 76-year-old lothario faces a maximum of three years in jail.
Women’s week in Fort McMurray
The woman who won the 1997 Nobel Peace Prize for banning land mines trod onto more explosive territory this week: she kicked off her one-week tour of the proposed Northern Gateway route in Fort McMurray, Alta., U.S. activist Jody Williams is leading an all-female delegation that includes singer Sarah Harmer and climate scientist Marianne Douglas to solicit women’s opinions about pipeline development. In a video released by the tour’s sponsor, Ottawa-based Nobel Women’s Initiative, Williams explains: “In too many situations of crisis around the world, the women and their children are the ones who suffer the most when their environment is destroyed.” But she’ll get some other points of view along the way: one of her meetings was with Melissa Blake, the pro-development mayor of Wood Buffalo, of which Fort McMurray is part.
He’s here, he’s queer—and careful, he can throw a punch
The world of professional sports is not thought of as very gay-friendly, but Puerto Rican boxer Orlando Cruz may change that. The 31-year-old featherweight, ranked fourth in his weight class, announced that he is “a proud gay man,” adding that he went public “knowing that it would have pros and cons, highs and lows in this sport that is so macho.” Cruz is the first pro boxer to come out as during his career, and it puts the sport ahead of a number of other pro sports, such as baseball and football, that have no openly gay athletes.
Good thing he’s not Canadian
Mark Morris started as a dancer in Seattle and is now one of America’s most famous ballet choreographers. But back in his hometown for a show with frequent collaborator Mikhail Baryshnikov, Morris didn’t seem too nostalgic about the place where he grew up, or too sorry to be leaving for New York City. He told the local paper The Stranger that Seattle is a “small pond” where “people resent excellence,” and he scoffed at the city’s overblown pride in its provincial achievements. “Everyone knows that people in Seattle are very proud of Seattle—and that’s not a compliment.”
Some students are more equal
A lawsuit launched by a white high school student against the University of Texas at Austin claiming racial discrimination could upend affirmative-action policies at U.S. universities when it’s heard by the U.S. Supreme Court this week. Abigail Fisher sued in 2008 after she was denied admission, claiming that her academic credentials exceeded those of the admitted minority candidates. Fisher, who since graduated from Louisiana State University, told the New York Times: “I’m hoping that they’ll completely take race out of the issue in terms of admissions and that everyone will be able to get into any school that they want . . . solely based on their merit.” And their ability to afford the sky-high tuition.
Vile—it’s right there in the name
While continuing to maintain his innocence, former Penn State football coach Jerry Sandusky was sentenced to at least 30 years in prison this week after being convicted of 45 counts of child sex abuse. In an audio statement released to a Penn State radio station, Sandusky said, “In my heart, I know I did not do these alleged disgusting acts,” and blamed a “well-orchestrated effort of the media, investigators, the system, Penn State, psychologists, civil attorneys and other accusers” for his conviction. Meanwhile, in England, Scotland Yard is investigating the possibility that Sir Jimmy Savile, a BBC presenter and DJ (Top of the Pops), may have abused as many as 25 young girls over 50 years. Eight criminal allegations have been filed in regards to girls aged 13 to 16. Savile died last year, so he cannot serve time, but British PM David Cameron raised the possibility this week of stripping him of his knighthood.
Olympic rowers salute their lakeside leader
It was part tribute, part protest as an Olympic armada massed at Elk Lake near Victoria for a last row with their coach Mike Spracklen, 75. His uncompromising methods produced results, but Rowing Canada ended his contract, angering those who thrived under his leadership. After the outing, Silken Laumann said if rowers had brought their medals, the dock would have sunk.
By Anne Kingston - Friday, October 12, 2012 at 10:40 AM - 0 Comments
The word “controversial” in the title is redundant, as anyone familiar with breast-cancer screening knows. Studies differ on whether it’s of benefit to women under 50—and whether early detection improves mortality rates. Concerns surround the fact that one-quarter of cancers found are DCIS, ductal carcinoma in situ, a grade 0 tumour which may or may not spread yet is often treated as aggressive cancer, with the attendant risks.
Now an instructive 94-page study of the “culture” of mammography by an Atlanta-based breast radiologist traces the political and medical forces that lead to women viewing their breasts as “ticking time bombs.” It took root in the 1970s when the U.S. government, eager for diversion from Vietnam, endorsed the American Cancer Society and American Society of Radiologists’ call for widespread screening, contrary to science. AIDS activism spawned breast-cancer activism, and an “epidemic” mindset, despite a 1992 Canadian study that found screening more harmful for women 40 to 49. The issue resurfaced during the “Obamacare” debate, which enshrined coverage for women over 40.
Handel expresses frustration with the political hijacking of mammography and the concern women view it as “preventative.” He blasts the “meaningless” stat that one in nine women will get breast cancer and addresses DCIS “overtreatment,” including high-dose radiation and double mastectomies. And he expresses regret that “the little pink engine that could” has created a “secondary economy,” while admitting he enjoys “Pink Ribbon” bagels without asking how his purchase supports cancer research.
Yet, oddly, the book ends up as less exposé than status-quo endorsement, with the highly profitable screening industry unmentioned. Mammography is lauded as an “indispensable tool,” and contentious current guidelines are endorsed. Unanalyzed are perplexing U.S. breast-cancer death-rate stats: in 1970, it was 27 per 100,000, unchanged since 1930. In 1990, it was 33.0; by 2007, it had fallen to 22.91. So after four decades of divisive debate and science, deaths are down four points? Now that’s a topic begging for controversy.
By Anne Kingston - Sunday, September 30, 2012 at 10:50 AM - 0 Comments
Anne Kingston takes a closer look at the federal government’s approval of $6-million, four-centre, three-province trials
On Friday, the Canadian government announced approval of clinical trials into the safety and efficacy of treatment for cerebrospinal venous insufficiency, better known as CCSVI. Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq broke the news at a health ministers’ meeting more than five months after her April non-announcement announcement that a research proposal had been selected. Back then she said she couldn’t say more until the proposal passed through ethical review boards’ approvals. Now she’s sharing details of the $6-million, four-centre, three-province trials—even though some ethical review board approvals still have to be cleared.
Anyone following the tortuous saga of CCSVI research in Canada will be forgiven if they hear the Peggy Lee chestnut Is That All There Is? thrumming in the background. The announcement comes almost three years after Italian vascular specialist Paolo Zamboni made sensational headlines with his research linking multiple sclerosis to CCSVI, a vascular condition he identified that’s characterized by blockage in the blood flow of neck and chest veins. Zamboni’s claim that balloon angioplasty (or venoplasty) could improve or even arrest MS symptoms had Canadian MS patients clamouring for scanning and treatment, only to find themselves in a bizarro medical apartheid.
And it has been more than two and a half years since the Canadian Institute of Health Research (CIHR) teamed with the MS Society of Canada with the stated intent of expediting CCSVI research; together they’ve kept the issue in stasis with more flip-flopping than a bass on a boat deck. In the interim, studies into the safety of CCSVI treatment have been published along with research linking it to other neurological conditions such as Alzheimer’s. And somehow neurologists, long-time MS caregivers, have become the go-to experts for a vascular condition—while actual vascular experts who’ve treated CCSVI have been shut out of the loop. Meanwhile, an estimated 30,000 MS patients, many of them Canadians, have travelled offshore to various clinics of varying quality for a procedure covered by provincial health plans, though not for MS. CCSVI treatment has proven effective relieving MS symptoms for some, though not all. Three people, two of them Canadians, have died following the procedure. Seeking answers, and fed up with federal inaction, Saskatchewan and the Yukon have gone rogue with a $2.2-million trial in which 86 MS patients were shipped to a phase II trial in Albany, NY.
Now we officially have “pan-Canadian” trials—provided your Canada only includes Quebec, BC and Manitoba. (Or maybe we should see this model as the test-case of Health Minister Aglukkaq’s signal August announcement about the future of Canadian health care.) Manitoba’s presence on the list suggests last-minute scrambling. On Thursday night, the Manitoba Health Research Council (MHRC) announced it wouldn’t sponsor in-province CCSVI trials, for which it had earmarked $5-million, because the one proposal submitted didn’t meet its criteria for a safe, ethical trial. MHRC chairman Dr. Brian Postl also noted “other research into potential MS treatments is being identified and should be explored as well.” The next day, the province was part of the national trial, pending ethical review board approval. MHRC executive director Christina Weise told Maclean’s that approval is expected within 10 weeks, but that they don’t yet know how much they’ll be contributing to the trial. (The “potential MS treatments” Postl was referring to was stem-cell research, she said.)
The MS Society is boasting of being “partners” in the trial but the CIHR will provide $4-million of the $6 million cost, CIHR spokesman David Coloumbe told Maclean’s. How the remaining $2 million will be divvied is unclear (the MS Society of Canada didn’t respond to emails). The randomized-controlled trial is small: a total of 100 MS patients will be recruited for the Vancouver and Montreal centres beginning Nov. 1 (later in Quebec City and Winnipeg when those centres clear ethical review boards). At the outset, MS patients with CCSVI will be randomly selected to have either venoplasty or a “sham” procedure. After a year, the groups will switch so everyone will receive treatment and be assessed.
At the helm is an CCSVI naysayer: neurologist Anthony Traboulsee, director of the UBC Hospital MS Clinic, who has voiced skepticism about CCSVI in the past. On the 2012 CBC’s MS Wars: Hope, Science and the Internet, Traboulsee expressed disappointment that CCSVI research has pushed funding for stem cell research, which he called “one of the greatest futures of treating all neurological diseases,” back by five years. Traboulsee was also a member of the CIHR’s Scientific Expert Working Group formed to oversee research into CCSVI clinical trials. CIHR spokesman Coloumbe says there’s no conflict of interest in Traboulsee now overseeing the shebang, and promised a full explanation as to why on Monday. (This post will be updated when it arrives.)
In an email, Traboulsee confirmed each site will have a “vascular specialist and MS specialist” though it’s unclear who the vascular specialist are. He’ll be working with interventional radiologist Lindsay Machan. The Montreal tranche will be run by doctors Marc Girard, president of the Québec Association of Neurologists, and Jean Raymond, an interventional neuro-radiologist who sat on the the August 2010 CIHR panel that decided against funding clinical trials into CCSVI treatment. The fact Quebec’s on board is surprising given the province’s resistance to CCSVI. As Maclean’s reported in in 2010, the Collège des médecins du Québec, which polices the province’s doctors, demanded Montreal’s Westmount Square Medical Imaging, one of two private clinics then agreeing to scan MS patients for CCSVI, stop doing so.
Dr. Michael Shannon, head of the scientific advisory board for advocacy group CCSVI Coalition, applauds the CIHR and MS Society for taking this first step. “I think it has the potential of providing very useful information that can be integrated into the bigger CCSVI research picture,” he says. Shannon, a former deputy surgeon general of Canada with expertise setting up clinical trials, says the study’s design must be bulletproof to be credible. “If the phase II trial is properly designed so the data is unassailable and compelling in terms of benefits over risks, CCSVI treatment should be be adopted as a standard of care,” he says, pointing out Health Canada has already approved balloon angioplasty to treat other venous blockages. But he also raises a big concern: that doctors performing CCSVI treatment in the Canadian clinical trial won’t have prior hands-on experience. Interventional radiologists say it takes upwards of 60 procedures to achieve proficiency; Salvatore Scalfani, a veteran interventional radiologist in Brooklyn NY, has reported it took him 200 procedures to feel comfortable. Traloubsee told Maclean’s the technologist and radiologist involved in the trial spent a week with Zamboni and his team in Italy. The vascular team has had “extensive conversations with many international colleagues who’ve performed the procedure,” he says, including Dr. Gary Siskin who’s running the Albany trials.
Linda Hume-Sastre, president of patient advocacy group CCSVI Ontario, criticizes Friday’s announcement for what was left out: no mention of where the interventional radiologists performing the procedure have been trained or who trained them; no mention of how clinical improvement will be measured or by whom; no mention of the participation of vascular specialists, especially those with experience treating CCSVI. Hume-Sastre wants CCSVI to be unbundled from MS. Though diagnosed with MS, when she was treated for CCSVI 14 months ago it was for a a venous abnormality, she says: ”I had a vascular conditon that, when treated, meant that certain symptoms that MS neurologists define as MS symptoms were eliminated and remain at bay.”
Hume-Sastre questions of the timing of the clinical trials announcement only days before an Oct. 4 Senate committee begins consideration of (Lib.) Senator Jane Cordy’s Bill S-204 calling for a national CCSVI strategy: clinical trials, providing aftercare Canadians who travel out of country for treatment and a system to track patients. It won’t be the first time politics reared its head in this issue.
For her part, Cordy is pleased clinical trials are finally happening, but maintains her bill remains relevant. She too has concerns about the annoucement, including the failure to mention vascular specialists and Traboulsee’s opposition to CCSVI treatment: “One has to question whether or not Health Canada and CIHR are truly interested in fair and objective trials,” Cordy says. It’s a damning indictment, one that rests with the feds to prove wrong.
By Anne Kingston - Friday, September 28, 2012 at 2:44 PM - 0 Comments
You can’t fool us, Linda Svendsen! It’s pretty darn clear that the characters in your frisky new novel bear more than passing resemblance to real-life residents of a certain famous Ottawa street. Let’s start with Greg and Becky Leggatt, who live at No. 24 with their three children. Greg’s a conniving minority-government prime minister with anger issues who writes gospel rock operas in his spare time; Becky’s his spunky, manipulative, fed-up wife who uses emoticons in emails and plots away like Madame Defarge. Becky is BFFs (or wants to be) with Governor General Lise Lavoie, who lives at No. 1 with her actor husband René, a “Québécois superstar,” and son Niko from her first marriage to an environmental activist. Lise, an African-born former charity fundraiser, also has a lot on her plate—a son on antidepressants, a politically radical sister and a problematic PM.
The satiric alternative history, set in 2008 and 2009, is as thinly veiled as a double-entendre. A busy plot juggles a one-legged RCMP detail who has a plot-defining sexual dalliance with one of his charges, an African political coup, and sundry political and domestic dramas, including a pissed-off PM hurling a soapstone bear at his missus. There’s also a heck of a lot of proroguing, which unfortunately isn’t a euphemism. Only in Canada could a political roman à clef be animated by a non-confidence motion and bickering about the Constitution.
Svendsen coaxes well-researched material into a light, breezy read that hints at more formidable literary chops. There’s no Rosebud moment, but enough insider-ish details and Canuck branding touchstones—Roots, Joe Fresh, HBC—to give readers outside the Ottawa fishbowl a sense of being plugged in. The Hill’s practised gossips, on the other hand, will find Sussex Drive’s plot pallid next to actual rumour-mill churnings. But they’ll definitely give it a skim, if only to see if they rate a covert mention.
By Anne Kingston - Wednesday, September 26, 2012 at 11:00 AM - 0 Comments
Will female customers suddenly start flocking to Hooters if it freshens up its musty man-cave decor and offers non-iceberg-lettuce salads?
Will female customers suddenly start flocking to Hooters if it freshens up its musty man-cave decor and offers non-iceberg-lettuce salads?
Terry Marks, the new chief executive of the 29-year-old “breastaurant” pioneer, is banking on it as he revamps the chain, which has 430 locations internationally.
Four years of declining sales and an influx of competition from the likes of Tilted Kilt and Twin Peaks have Hooters running scared. Marks, formerly of Coca-Cola, plans to woo an untapped base: women, who now comprise one-third of customers. The lure: more contemporary decor, a fresher menu, bigger windows and patios.
But Marks isn’t tampering with the look of the servers who give the chain its cringe-inducing name: their tank tops, tight orange shorts and shiny pantyhose will stay. Some things remain sacred. “There’s an opportunity to broaden the net without putting wool sweaters on the Hooters girls,” Marks told Bloomberg News.
By Anne Kingston - Saturday, September 15, 2012 at 6:44 AM - 0 Comments
Anne Kingston calls for a truce in a divisive debate
Good grief, here we go again. The dust hasn’t settled from blow-back to Michelle Obama’s “Mom-in-Chief” claim at the Democratic National Convention and now Forbes is stoking the zero-sum-game “Mommy Wars” with its ”Is ‘Opting Out’ The New American Dream For Working Women?,” an article that claims “a growing number of women see staying home to raise children (while a partner provides financial support) to be the ideal circumstances of motherhood.” And the basis of this bold assertion? A survey of 1,000 mothers by ForbesWoman, the femme ghetto on the Forbes site, where they air gal issues like “work-family balance,” (there’s no “ForbesMan”—that would be the magazine) and thebump.com, which is about parenting but totally targeted to moms. Of the women polled, 67 per cent had outside jobs and 33 per cent stayed at home with their children, a mix that deviates slightly from 2011 U.S. Bureau of Labour statistics that show 70.8 per cent of women with children under age 18 work outside the home: 63.9 per cent of working women had a child under six; more than three-quarters (76.1 per cent) of women in the workforce have a child older than six but under 18—a percentage that jumps to 85 per cent for single mothers.
Exactly what questions women were asked in the survey is unclear—as are their educational levels, wealth and satisfaction with their workplaces. It found 84 per cent of working women said “staying home to raise children is a financial luxury they aspire to” and that one in three of them “resent their partner for not earning enough to make that dream a reality.” Based on this, author Meghan Casserly makes sweeping conclusions: “Forget the corporate climb; these young mothers have another definition of success: setting work aside to stay home with the kids.” She then identifies a “remarkable” new societal divide: a “chasm between what we’d like to see (more women in the corporate ranks) and what we’d like for ourselves (getting out of Dodge).”
But wait! The stay-at-home moms didn’t all feel they were living “the American dream” either. Only 66 pervcent say the ability to stop working to raise children is a financial luxury for their families. Forty-four per cent said their partners make them feel as if they are not pulling their financial weight; roughly 20 per cent said they’d be happier if they worked outside the home. And 38 per cent of stay-at-home moms feel guilty about not going back to work; 13 per cent regret giving up their career for their baby.
Welcome to the “Mommy Wars” standoff. The subject has been a hot-button since Hillary Clinton’s politically catastrophic 1992 remark about her life if she hadn’t used her education to work as a lawyer: ”I suppose I could have stayed home and baked cookies and had teas” (her atonement was a cookie bake-off with Barbara Bush (recipe here!)). In 2003, the New York Times magazine ran “The Opt-Out Revolution,” a headline-grabbing story that claimed women with advanced degrees were dropping out of professions for the much greater satisfactions of domesticity. But it turned out anecdotes from a select group of Ivy League-educated women chatting over Chardonnay do not a social movement make: the “Opt-Out Revolution” claim has been repeatedly debunked (here, here and here). Yet it refuses to die. The grotesque “Real Housewives of….” franchise hasn’t helped. Nor have “mom” blogs which post which articles like this one. In Forbes, Casserly quotes Leslie Morgan-Steiner, author of Mommy Wars: Stay-at-Home and Career Moms Face Off on Their Choices, Their Lives,Their Families, trying to recycle the “Opt-Out Revolution conceit: “Over the past three to five years we’ve seen highly educated women—who we’d imagine would be the most ambitious—who are going through med school, getting PhDs with the end-goal in mind of being at home with their kids by age 30,” she said. No data supporting the claim were provided.
None of this is new. Tales of the exhausted “Superwoman” wanting to hang up her cape have circulated since the 1990s. And who can blame her? Living up to a myth is impossible. The woman who “has it all” is an advertising construct, a character from the 1980 Enjoli perfume commercial prancing around singing: “I can bring home the bacon, I can fry it up in the pan…” We now can see that the flood of women into the workplace in the ’60s and ’70s wasn’t met with corresponding systemic and domestic change: wives and mothers entered a corporate landscape constructed for the male breadwinner; there was no back-and-fill of the domestic gap they left behind, leaving women again to clean up the mess. (It’s a point hidden in another Forbes’ ”Mommy Wars”-stoking piece: “Are Housewives to Blame for the Plight of Working Women?“) And 50 years later this still remains a female problem, reflected recently in the much-buzzed-over Why Women Can’t Have it All in The Atlantic.
Pitting women who work against women who stay at home isn’t the solution—unless the goal is to avoid talking about complex issues and to force women to identify themselves exclusively through a domestic and maternal lens. It’s also a surefire way to keep the conversation on a plane that includes only the privileged few who can choose whether or not to have a job. (No doubt if you asked a bunch of fathers if they’d they’d “opt-out” of work if they could live in comfort, many of them would say “yes!” as well.) Focusing on mom-on-mom action that lays blame and focuses fatuously on who’s “happier” is a distraction tactic, one that diverts energy from more important discussions around rethinking the economic value of domestic labour and making the workplace more elastic to meet familial needs, to name just a few. The Mommy Wars may ostensibly be a war waged by women but in truth it’s a war against them. Time to call a truce before even more is lost.
By Anne Kingston - Thursday, September 13, 2012 at 5:00 AM - 0 Comments
Anne Kingston on Michelle Obama, the ‘mom-off’ and the role of women outside of motherhood
Michelle Obama strode onto the Democratic convention stage last week, every detail locked down with the precision of a space shuttle launch. Overhead, Stevie Wonder’s Signed, Sealed, Delivered, I’m Yours underlined her commitment to her husband’s re-election—in contrast to the soul music icon’s more tentatively titled Isn’t She Lovely?, played before her convention keynote in 2008. Anyone familiar with fashion semiotics could see her glamorous, sleeveless pink silk jacquard dress was a sartorial counterpunch to the conservative “Nancy Reagan red” shirtwaist Ann Romney wore to address the Republican national convention: Obama custom ordered hers from rising African-American designer Tracy Reese; Romney’s came from old-guard society designer Oscar de la Renta. The outfit exuded a fiscal subtext as well: Reese’s creation, rushed into production, will sell for under $500; the de la Renta retails for $1,990. And Ph.D. theses could be written on the Obama’s choice of pink, down to her shoes, quickly identified as $245 “Everly” pumps in “rhubarb” from J. Crew: it’s feminine, fun, unthreatening—but a colour also associated with gay rights. Her signature bare arms showcased her physical strength, as well as her disciplined pre-dawn workouts.
So it came as a surprise that Michelle Obama’s impassioned “I love my husband even more than I did four years ago” endorsement would trigger critical blowback from many of the very women who championed her. The reason? The first lady had muted her elite credentials to enter—some say win—a “mom-off” with Ann Romney, whose encomium to “moms who always have to work a little harder, to make everything right,” was blasted by Democrats for being out of touch with the fact that American men now do approximately 40 per cent of the housework and child-rearing duties.
Similar vestiges of a Mad Men time warp were evident in Obama’s presentation. The warm-up video focused exclusively on her accomplishments as a mother. No reference was made to her impressive CV: degrees from Princeton and Harvard Law School and big jobs that made her the primary breadwinner and saw her with challenges like most working mothers. She was then introduced by Elaine Byre, a mother of five, four in the armed forces, who highlighted her own maternal bona fides: “I’m not a political person, but I’m a mom,” Byre told the crowd.
REVIEW: The Good Girls Revolt: How the Women of Newsweek Sued Their Bosses and Changed the Workplace
By Anne Kingston - Friday, September 7, 2012 at 3:00 PM - 0 Comments
Nora Ephron once wrote about applying for a job in the Newsweekmailroom after she graduated from university in 1962. When asked about her career aspirations, Ephron said she hoped to write for the newsmagazine one day. She got the job, and a cold slap of the era’s double standard: “Women don’t write for Newsweek,” she was told.
That misogynistic mindset was precisely what Povich and more than 60 of her female colleagues bravely went up against when they launched a sexual discrimination lawsuit against the magazine’s management in 1970. Povich’s memoir of the tortuous, landmark battle that paved the way for a generation of female writers and editors is illuminating in its details—and a reminder that a Mad Men mindset extended into the ’70s and liberal media outlets like Newsweek, which had a female publisher in Katharine Graham.
Povich, who began as a secretary and rose to be Newsweek’s first female senior editor in the 1980s, details how the lawsuit transformed her from a “good girl” to politicized feminist. So it’s surprising how blithely she skips over the sexism that exists in media today. In her prologue, Povich writes of female Newsweek staff contacting her in 2010 to complain about on-the-job discrimination. Yet she offers little more incisive analysis than that feminism remains an “incomplete revolution.” It’s as though her subtitle’s upbeat claim that the Newsweeklawsuit “changed the workplace” makes her reluctant to admit more change is needed, or that affirmative action can have insidious consequences. Still, Povich’s account casts valuable perspective on a trail-blazing case that shouldn’t be forgotten. It never did help Nora Ephron, though. She was promoted to news “clipper” before becoming fed up with the place and going to work for a newspaper where they did let her write. Her way worked too.
By Anne Kingston - Tuesday, August 21, 2012 at 11:42 AM - 0 Comments
Dentists are making a mint on fashionably crowded or child-like teeth
Japanese women are paying dentists to make their smiles more crowded, even canine, in a quest to appear more childlike, more fashionable and to appeal to men. The trend, known as yaeba (Japanese for double-toothed), is gushed about on blogs and television—and has become a revenue stream for dentists who, for $400, affix temporary plastic veneers on incisors to achieve the snaggle-toothed look.
Michelle Phan, a Vietnamese-American blogger, told the New York Times that in Japan, “crooked teeth are actually endearing,” and that imperfection makes a woman more approachable to men. Others denounce yaeba, which can also impart a fanged look in perfect sync with Twilight mania, as a ghoulish expression of a culture preoccupied with the sexualization of young girls.
Emilie Zaslow, an assistant professor at Pace University in New York City who studies beauty in consumer culture, notes that yaeba mimics the look of delayed baby teeth, or a mouth that’s too small: “It’s this kind of emphasis on youth and the sexualization of young girls.” Meanwhile, in Japan, the first snaggle-toothed pop group, TYB48, featuring three “yaeba girls,” has just released its first single: It’s Fine If I Bite You?
By Anne Kingston - Friday, August 17, 2012 at 10:30 AM - 0 Comments
In the nine years since Julia Child’s death, interest in her life has become ever more insatiable, evident in the hit 2009 movie Julie & Julia, a parade of biographies and collected correspondence. And now, timed to the centenary of her birth on Aug. 15, comes Spitz’s exhaustively researched biography that even at 529 pages doesn’t fully contain its irrepressible subject.
Still, it’s a page-turner that places the culinary pioneer in cultural context and delivers some delicious nuggets. For one, Spitz reveals that Child, who dismissed pesticide critics, disliked Meryl Streep ever since the actress spoke out against spraying Alar on apples in the ’80s. Streep, of course, famously played Child in Julie & Julia.
But Dearie, taken from a term Child used with everyone, is more admiring than dishy as it tracks the lifelong nonconformist through her adventurous childhood, her partying days at Smith College, her deployment to Ceylon with the OSS, and her marriage to diplomat Paul Child, who introduced her to France and sole meunière. Spitz transports readers to the Childs’ Paris kitchen as Julia puzzles through mayonnaise and caramelizing onions while researching her 1961 game-changer Mastering the Art of French Cooking. Later, we’re backstage at her public-access TV show, The French Chef, which paved the way for celebrity cookery. Audiences loved Child, a natural teacher and entertainer who merrily broke taboos—drinking wine on TV, making ribald cracks that would be censored today, and even trashing sponsors on air.
Her happy marriage to Paul, whose unflagging support allowed her to shine, is well chronicled but is touchingly told here. Spitz writes that after Paul’s dementia forced Julia to put him in a care facility, she found a gentleman caller for a time, which he attributes to her pragmatism. Certainly Child’s indomitable spirit kept her a workhorse into her 80s. It’s a testament to that, and Spitz’s storytelling skill, that even though we know how Dearie will end, it’s so, so sad when it does.
By Anne Kingston - Wednesday, August 15, 2012 at 1:59 PM - 0 Comments
They own neither land nor vines, but these vintners prove pedigree is not tied to property
Charles Baker is amused to be referred to as a “virtual” winemaker. “I do exist,” he says. “My wine is real.” No argument there. Baker’s eponymous award-winning Vintner Quality Alliance (VQA) Riesling crafted from Niagara grapes is served at top restaurants across the country, including Vancouver’s Vij’s, as well as Terroir wine bars in New York City. It blows off liquor stores shelves: amassing a complete “vertical” of Charles Baker Picone Riesling from the first 2005 vintage to the latest 2010, at $35 a bottle, is a bragging point among wine geeks. But Baker is “virtual” in wine-speak because his is a brand without land or buildings: he works in the shadow of another winery’s licence, making and selling his two Rieslings through Stratus Vineyard in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ont., where he’s the director of marketing and sales. The supportive relationship allows him to sidestep the Ontario law that requires winemakers to own a minimum of five acres of vineyards to sell wine—a threshold that rises to 20 acres in Niagara (in B.C., the minimum is two).
Baker, who has worked in the industry since 1994, is at the forefront of one of the most intriguing developments in Canadian wine since Inniskillin received its boutique licence in 1975. He’s among a growing tribe proving pedigree doesn’t hinge on property ownership. It’s a lesson learned in France in the 1980s when garagistes in Bordeaux upended the wine world with iconoclastic vins de garage produced in basements and outbuildings. More recently, cult wines like Brewer-Clifton, a California label produced by ex-surfer Steve Clifton and former French professor Greg Brewer in a prefab metal shed in an industrial park, are redefining “winery.” Paradoxically, Canada’s “virtual” movement pokes holes in the very land laws that created it: they were intended to protect quality by ensuring winemaking is tied to viticulture. Alas, owning vineyards doesn’t preclude winemakers from importing bulk grapes—or producing plonk. More, the trend brings a fresh blast of meritocracy; it opens the market to those with training and talent, if not the million or more needed to buy in Niagara. “You shouldn’t have to be rich to make great wine,” says Kevin Panagapka, who’s making a name producing 20-27 Cellars riesling, pinot noir and chardonnay at the Featherstone Winery in Lincoln, Ont. “You just need great grapes, great barrels, great technique.”
Another “virtual” up-and-comer, Steve Byfield, was studying jazz music at York University when a summer job at a DIY wine outlet changed his course: “I was bit by the wine bug,” he says. In 2009, after working at a string of wineries, he launched Nyarai, a label produced at Di Profio Wines in Jordan Station, Ont. Unlike Baker, who gives marquee status to individual vineyards and growers, or Panagapka, who buys rows of grapes and does the hand work himself, Byfield’s blends showcase grapes from the Niagara region. His Nyarai 2007 Veritas red was a big hit. Samples of his 2010 Cadence red, still in cask, are garnering big buzz.
By Anne Kingston - Wednesday, August 15, 2012 at 5:35 AM - 0 Comments
Anne Kingston finds new reasons to celebrate the revolutionary life of a feminist trailblazer
One of the wonders of Julia Child, who would have turned 100 today, is how her life has become the subject of increasing fascination and scrutiny since her death in 2004. We’re awash in things “Julia:” a PBS documentary (and new remix video), Julie Powell’s blog and her book, which inspired Nora Ephron’s hit 2009 movie Julie & Julia. Add to that a thriving micro-industry churning out books—biographies, remembrances, collected letters, and now a sub-industry cashing in on Childs’ love of cats.
Reading one of the latest offerings, Bob Spitz’s entertaining 529-page biography, Dearie: The Remarkable Life of Julia Child, it’s apparent that Child’s place—and meaning—amid the social upheaval of the 1960s has yet to be fully understood. And that’s because the woman who taught America how to make boeuf bourguignon seemed a relic from an earlier age. Yet she was every bit, if not more, revolutionary than Betty Friedan, whose book The Feminine Mystique extolled women to leave the “prison” of their suburban homes, or Helen Gurley Brown, whose Sex and the Single Woman became a Sexual Revolution primer.
Spitz flicks at the synchronicities in his prologue: “It is no accident that Betty Friedan’s game-changer The Feminine Mystique was published only eight days after Mastering the Art of French Cooking,” he writes, before quoting the culinary historian Laura Shapiro’s biography The Life of Julia Child: “Homemakers read The Feminine Mystique for the same reason they watched The French Chef [Child's first public-access TV show]. They had been waiting a long time and were hungry.” Spitz got his dates mixed up (Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking was published in 1961, The Feminine Mystique in 1963). But his examination of Child’s life is instructive as it reveals that the issue is far, far more complicated.
Though The Feminine Mystique is credited with mobilizing women’s exodus from the home, Child’s example illustrates how women had rejected traditional roles decades earlier. As a girl growing up in an affluent, conservative Pasadena family in the 1920s, Julia McWilliams bristled at the idea of a conventional life—marriage, children, country-club afternoons. She charted her own course, in defiance of her father’s wishes. She attended Smith College (later the alma mater of Friedan and Gloria Steinem) where she proved far more adept at partying than studying. She drifted, working as an advertising copywriter before joining the Office of Secret Services, seeking adventure, before the Second World War. She was 31 when she met Paul Child, a worldly career diplomat, in Ceylon; they married three years later. Paul’s posting to Paris in the late 1940s changed Julia’s life—and the trajectory of American cuisine. Like many educated women of her generation, Julia wanted more than being the “wife of”: she craved a life project. She found it when she enrolled in the Cordon Bleu culinary school, partly to please her gastronome husband. After she was put in a light-weight course designed for housewives, she complained, and was placed in a more rigorous class. Later, with her friends Louise Bertholle and Simone Beck, she saw an opportunity to teach French cooking to American women restricted to grim supermarket fare.
On the subject of processed food, Child and Friedan were on the same page, for different reasons. Friedan honed in on advertisers hood-winking women by telling them their ambitions and creativity would be satisfied by adding an egg to cake mix or canned fruit to Jell-O. Julia knew the stuff was nasty, and tasteless. Yet where Friedan viewed the dissatisfied housewife as a vital cog in consumer culture, Child disliked the word “housewife” and never used it, though in the forward of Mastering the Art of French Cooking she references “the parent-chauffeur-den mother syndrome.” Cooking was a big point of conflict for second-wave feminists; in the home, it was women’s work, and as such undervalued. Yet in The Second Sex, published in 1948, Simone de Beauvoir wrote that though cooking could be oppressive, it could also be a form of “revelation and creation; and a woman can find special satisfaction in a successful cake or a flaky pastry, for not everyone can do it: one must have the gift.” Child, of course, diffused any sort of “pastry mystique” like a one-woman SWAT team. Anyone could do it, she taught, with the proper equipment, knowledge and discipline.
Child’s tack may have seemed conventional but was radical: she reclaimed the culinary arts, a field dominated by men, for women, and in so doing delivered the joy—and mastery—of making a wonderful meal. As Michael Pollan put it in his 2009 essay “Out of the Kitchen, Onto the Couch: “[Child] tried to show the sort of women who read The Feminine Mystique that, far from oppressing them, the work of cooking approached in the proper spirit offered a kind of fulfillment and deserved an intelligent woman’s attention. (A man’s too.)” With her droll, pick-it-up-off-and-dust-it-off attitude, Child rejected the tyranny of perfection that would define the “mystique chic” backlash of the 1990s. That was apparent when she appeared on Martha Stewart’s TV show to make croquembouche, the French dessert: Martha’s was a geometrical marvel while Julia’s looked like rubble. As Spitz recounts, Child’s dinner parties weren’t a fancy stage set; they were fun, everybody pitched in. She even served goldfish crackers with cocktails.
The cultural critic Camille Paglia has called Child “a great feminist” and “a pivotal female role model who combined independence and self-reliance with the pleasures of the home.” But that fails to appreciate her trailblazing role outside of the kitchen. In 1968, Child spoke of having a mastectomy long before breast cancer was publicly discussed. She also supported Planned Parenthood, arguing that if more people were educated about sex “we wouldn’t have a need for abortions.” In 1982, Child held a fundraiser for its Memphis chapter by hosting three days of cooking classes. Every day, she walked through hostile protesters. Later that year, she responded to them in a letter published in Dear Abby: “What are your plans for those children once they are born?” she wrote. “Are you going to help provide, for instance, for the child of a retarded 13-year-old daughter of a syphilitic prostitute? Or what of a tubercular and advanced welfare mother who already has six children.” The ensuing firestorm could have derailed Child’s career, but didn’t, Spitz writes: “it was a measure of her popularity that people let it slide.” Child was also a tireless proponent for greater representation of women in professional kitchens: she lambasted the Culinary Institute of America, which she helped found, for not enrolling more women. It’s a situation that has improved at a glacial pace—and still reflects rampant salary discrimination.
Julia Child defied the “feminine mystique” in more personal ways. She was never hemmed in by her age (she became famous in her 50s). Nor, at 6-foot 3-inches with a sing-song falsetto voice ripe for lampooning, did she submit to notions of cookie-cutter “femininity.” Yet she remained a sexual creature into old age, contrary to cultural conventions. Her lusty relationship with her husband is well-chronicled. After she was forced to place her husband in a nursing home when she was in her 70s, she took on a gentleman companion for a time, Spitz writes. He also recounts Child’s fondness for racy ripostes. Once, on Good Morning America, where she flirted shamelessly with host Charlie Gibson, she held up a limp baguette: “You really want a stiff one,” she said with a wink.
Looking back now, we can see that Julia Child represented a figure absent from the ’60s feminist narratives: happily married, middle-aged woman whose late-blooming career ambitions were buttressed by a supportive husband. Paul Child was a tireless champion of his wife’s work, and devoted his life to her success after his retirement: he was her manager, took photographs for her cookbooks, helped build her TV sets—even cleaned pots and pans in department store washrooms while she gave cooking demos. The couple offered a front-line example of the reality that if a married women is to thrive outside of the home, she needs an egalitarian union—and systemic backup. Wives may have left the home in record numbers in the 1960s and ’70s, but the need to prepare meals and make beds remained. In this, Julia Child provides a missing piece in a puzzle we’re still struggling with today, amid a parade of essays that explain why “women can’t have it all”. One can only imagine how Child would have hooted at the notion that anybody would think they could.
By Anne Kingston - Monday, August 13, 2012 at 5:35 PM - 0 Comments
The first ‘Cosmo girl’ told women they could have it all
Helen Gurley Brown, author of the revolutionary 1962 bestseller Sex and the Single Girl and the founding editor-in-chief of Cosmopolitan magazine, has died at age 90. As the first single-woman cheerleader in the post-Pill world, Gurley Brown got in on the ground floor of the lucrative market offering advice and self-improvement tips to the a new, growing audience of unmarried women. Her pioneering how-to identified the single woman as the “the newest glamour girl of our time” and counseled her “to reconsider the idea that sex without marriage is dirty.”
Gurley Brown, a self-described “former mouse-burger” advised women to maximize their assets—physical and financial. A small stock portfolio is “quite sexy,” she wrote. Though marriage remained a female goal (she herself was married to David Brown, a Hollywood producer, when she wrote the book), Gurley Brown reassured women that not marrying wouldn’t be the end of the world.
In 1965, she and her husband took the faded Hearst title Cosmopolitan in and turned it into a goldmine—and landmark publication—targeted at “fun, fearless females” and told them they could “have it all,” even without a wedding ring.