Viagra: Performing On Demand

Plus: Lizard Women, choking Mormons, and an update on capital punishment

| Tue Feb. 23, 1999 3:00 AM EST

Remember that big study that was in all the papers, saying that forty percent of men have trouble in the bedroom? Like maybe we could all do with a little Viagra now and again?

Well, guess who wrote it?

Two weeks ago, the Journal of the American Medical Association released a highly publicized report providing conclusive, scientific proof that Americans are, in precise medical terms, a bunch of linguini weenies.

Practically every media outlet in the country ran with the story, since everybody loves this kind of news: If you do have trouble getting, er, perpendicular, it makes you feel like we're all in the same tiny little boat, while if you stand at attention with ease, shall we say, it makes you feel like captain of the ship.

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There was just one minor detail about the study that the Journal neglected to mention: The labcoats who wrote it were also paid consultants to Pfizer, the people who make Viagra.

Oh, gee, there's a shock.

One thing that keeps a lot of people from buying Viagra is feeling ashamed to admit there's a problem... and all of a sudden out comes a study saying lots of people have the problem, so there's no reason to feel ashamed.

Coincidence?

Yeah, maybe. That doesn't mean the study isn't accurate. The authors were paid by Pfizer to review clinical-trial data on Viagra before the drug was submitted for government approval. There's no direct connection to the study published in JAMA, and it's entirely possible that the scientists' financial interests in no way affected their methodology and conclusions. Let's hope and assume so.

But even so, the Journal, which was informed of the connection, should have disclosed the information about the researchers' previous work for the sex-drug manufacturer.

If they had, the only medicine a lot of people would be taking as a result might be a big grain of salt.



Thanks to a new designer label, the Lizard Women of Beverly Hills might no longer adorn their scaly hides in fur.

If your neighborhood isn't afflicted with rampaging Lizard Women, stay with me. I had never seen one myself until just a few weeks ago. As of last month, I now record my radio commentaries in a fancy studio just one block away from Rodeo Drive, known around world as Opulence Ground Zero. It still feels a little weird to spew forth my progressive babble from a studio fit for the Sultan of Brunei. I'd worry that I might sell out, except full-body immersion in the excesses displayed on the streets surrounding my lovely new workplace is very possibly making me even more radical.

It's one thing to read statistics about the concentration of wealth. It's quite another to drive an ex-girlfriend to a job interview at an L.A. public school which doubles as an enormous ad hoc graffiti mural, and then later go to work just fifty yards from an art gallery where similar, less-inspired abstracts sell for more than the price of the school itself.

What a bizarre world I have entered.

Where I'm from, aging is simple: Your body gradually becomes triangular, "Diagnosis Murder" reruns suddenly become interesting, and then one fine morning you wake up in a silk jogging suit. Shortly thereafter they close the lid. Aging is considered inevitable, and it's accepted with dignity, grace, and black socks with shorts.

In Beverly Hills, however, aging is merely the process of surgically removing ever-larger pieces of your own face. This is the only place in the world where "paper or plastic" refers to the texture of your current skin. Half of these women have their faces pulled so tight they can't even blink because their eyelids are holding their ears on.

(Cue "Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom" theme music.)

These, my friends, are the Lizard Women of Beverly Hills. And this time of year, they are most commonly decked out in the latest animal furs to keep their cold-blooded bodies warm through the arctic L.A. winter.

But maybe not for long. Animal-rights people here have pushed a special election to decide whether or not new fur coats should carry the following tag:

"Warning -- this product is made from animals that may have been killed by electrocution, gassing, neck breaking, poisoning, clubbing, stomping, or drowning."

Eek.

Subtlety isn't exactly a high art with the animal-rights people.

Or is it? Notice there's nothing in there about being skinned alive.

For a lot of Lizard Women, that might just be a little too close to home.



Two weeks ago, this space looked at a week's worth of headlines regarding capital punishment, noting how the arguments against the death penalty advanced by Death Penalty Focus of California are confirmed on almost a daily basis.

That column generated a lot of wrath from people who think that the U.S.A. truly belongs alongside Iran, Iraq, China, and Nigeria as the leading per capita executioners of their people. Some of the venom even recited Scripture. You'd think that anybody familiar with the life of Christ would be aware that governments sometimes execute people for political reasons.

So, bracing for another onslaught from people who really need to lie down on a couch somewhere and reflect on their relationships with their fathers, this update:

One basic argument against executing people: You can always free wrongly convicted people from prison, but you can't bring them back from the dead. As Death Penalty Focus puts it, "at least 400 innocent people have been convicted of capital crimes they did not commit."

This week, the California Court of Appeals has ruled that Geronimo Pratt, a prominent member of the Black Panthers and as such a target of the FBI's infamous COINTELPRO political-sabotage operations, was imprisoned for 27 years -- without ever receiving a fair trial.

Over a quarter-century ago, Pratt was convicted of taking part in the 1968 murder of Caroline Olson, who died from her wounds after she and her husband were shot after a robbery on a Santa Monica tennis court.

The crime was and is horrifying, and it would sure be nice to know who was responsible. Unfortunately, we don't.

The case against Pratt, a Vietnam War vet and Purple Heart winner who has always insisted he was at a Panthers meeting in Oakland at the time, was questionable at best. Olson's husband initially identified another man as the killer, and there is even some reason to believe that two other Panthers with extensive criminal records actually committed the killing.

FBI surveillance records would almost certainly resolve the question of Pratt's whereabouts, and surely would have been released to the prosecutor's office if they tended to convict. Instead, they remain hidden from public view.

Eventually the case turned on testimony from a prosecution witness, Julio Butler, who swore that Pratt had admitted to the crime. However, Butler also denied under oath any relationship with the prosecution or law enforcement.

Butler was lying.

It turns out that Julio Butler was a paid informant of the FBI, LAPD, and, most importantly, the L.A. District Attorney's Office -- the very office prosecuting Pratt. After his false testimony, the prosecutor's office gave Butler mere probation on an assault charge and declined to prosecute a firearms violation.

This is no mere technicality, but the fulcrum upon which the verdict swings.

Several jurors in the case have stated publicly that if the truth of Butler's relationship with the prosecution had been revealed, they would have voted to acquit. Indeed, Orange County Superior Court Judge Everett W. Dickey, a well-known conservative, has ruled that Pratt was denied a fair trial, and last Tuesday, this ruling was finally upheld unanimously by the California Court of Appeals.

Thanks to the use of rigged testimony, the world may never know with any certainty who killed Caroline Olson. The current L.A. District Attorney will not retry the case, and the LAPD will not re-open the investigation.

Innocent or not, Geronimo Pratt is now a free man. But if the death penalty had been in use during the relevant period, California might well have executed Geronimo Pratt without ever giving him a fair trial.

It really does happen.

Just ask Mumia Abu-Jamal. While you still can.



Finally, a personal annoyance I just want to vent about:

One notch above fast-food joints are those nicer, franchised, sit-down restaurants, invariably bedubbed with skin-crawlingly cutesy names that would make an Osmond choke:

  • T.J. McCookieCutter's
  • Cap'n Happy's Chuckle Bucket
  • Ol' Mama Stifleluvin's Biskitz'n'Ribz
  • B.M. Misspeller's Crapulous Disgorge-O-Mat

and so on.

You know the drill: wood and brass fixtures, baseball pennants and license plates on the walls, and a menu with little hearts next to the four entrees out of 110 that won't cause you to leave a ventricle as a tip.

A while back, the folks at a college I performed at took me to one of these places. The food was actually pretty good, but even the washroom was fixed to the gills with cloying, saccharine photos of kids with catcher's mitts, dogs licking kittens, and absurdly fat people scratching themselves.

This is all a little more visual input than I need right that minute.

So two nights later and two states over, another college took me to another unit of the same chain. Sure enough: wood and brass, baseball pennants, little hearts...

If you've seen the old TV series "The Prisoner," somewhere in the distance you could almost hear a bald guy with goggles murmuring, "begin program."

And then I used the washroom. To my horror, it was completely identical to the one 200 miles away. Dogs. Kids. Fat-scratch fever. Right down to the molecule.

Which means some highly paid consultant has actually focus-grouped, market-researched, and maximized the profit margin on my relieving experience.

It's more than just a bathroom -- it's a highly tested waste facility of FUN!

AIEEE!!!

Please, corporate America. For the love of God.

Stop trying to please me twenty-four seven. Stop trying to optimize me. Not everyone is comfortable on the other side of your one-way glass.

Allow us just the tiniest respite, just one brief moment of contemplation, just a single room in the world where we can escape your never-ending influence.

In short: Let my people go.


Bob Harris is a radio commentator, political writer, and humorist who has spoken at almost 300 colleges nationwide.

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