Uncommon Sense

March 19, 2023

Caveat Emptor Amazon.com Style

Filed under: Business,Reason — Steve Ruis @ 9:08 am
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I but a lot of eBooks via Amazon.com. According to their website in the last six months I have bought 92 items, only a few of which were not books (they lump books and music downloads together). And much to my surprise I found a bit of a quirk.

When I buy a book, it is almost never for immediate consumption. I am currently reading a dozen or so books and the ones I buy get queued for later. For example, I recently bought Richard Rorty’s “Consequences of Pragmatism.” But when I opened the book, all of the pages were sideways and not aligned with my iPad screen. When I opened the book in the Kindle app on my computer, the pages were indeed sideways and duplex, that is two pages at a time. I could get two pages on screen, but the lines of type were vertical, not horizontal.

So, I went back to Amazon to see if I could get my $9.99 refunded, but no, I couldn’t because my “Return Privileges” ended after 7 days. That’s right, you have seven days to return a digital order to Amazon if it is defective and then you are SOL.

Now Amazon keeps records I can view on their website going back to the last century. Is there any reason for this “policy”? Do their records disappear? Are they stored on a remote cloud so remote that takes mountaineers and Sherpas to recover? No reason that I can see makes any sense other than their lawyers trying to limit their risk and bean counters trying to close the books on you purchases. And it conflicts with my policy of being able to return defective merchandise when it is received.

So, now when I buy a book from Amazon, I will have to download it. Check it from cover to cover to make sure it is not damaged, so that I can invoke my “Return Privilege” if necessary. This is definitely not one of the advantages of a paperless society.

March 16, 2023

Drug Names

Filed under: Business,Culture,language,Science,Technology — Steve Ruis @ 12:34 pm
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Humans are fond of naming things, even when they already have a name. Take for example marijuana, also known as: pot, grass, weed, mary jane, ganja, herb, reefer, Aunt Mary, skunk, broom, and many, many more names. Now some of this can be laid at the feet of that drug being made illegal and so references to it were often made in code, but this is not an isolated case.

I assume you have heard of vitamin C. This chemical also has the chemical name of L-ascorbic acid. But that is just one of its names. It’s name according to the official naming rules for chemicals is (5R)-[(1S)-1,2-dihydroxyethyl]-3,4-dihydroxyfuran-2(5H)-one. With a name like that, you can easily see why nicknames are often employed. (Chemists often refer to substances obliquely, such as “How’s the research going on your compound?” to avoid such problems.)

But if you look up vitamin C you will find it has over 200 names given to it! Most of those names are “patent names” which are names which are patented, not the substance itself, just the name for it. Super Ingredient X-7 is a name which can be patented (and many like it have been), so that businesses can advertise that their products now contain “Super Ingredient X-7! (and no one can use that name).”

The naming practices that I cannot defend are patent drug names. Now that the chains have been taken off, TV and the Internet are awash with ads for drugs, drugs with names like: dupixent, rybelsus, and humira, rinvoq, ozempic, trulicity, jardiance, skyrizi, rexulti, and tremfya. Recognize any of them? Those are the ten most heavily advertised on national TV in 2021 (ranging from 105.7 to 287.6 million dollars annually).

Now, here is the thing. Do you know what any of them do (not those you happen to be taking, but the others)? My point is that those names do not help “customers.”

My suggestion is that all drugs should be named according to the disease they treat. So, all high blood pressure medicines would be named “High Blood Pressure #(insert number here).” Their numbers would be determined by when they were certified by the Food and Drug Administration. For example, recently the drug cialis was certified as helping with benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH), otherwise known as an enlarged prostate gland, so it would have the names “erectile dysfunction #3” and “benign prostatic hyperplasia #12.” (I made up the 12 as I don’t know where in line it would be.) Same drug, but different names for different uses. (Oh, and the #3? I assumed oysters were #1 and viagra was #2.)

Cialis shows the problem. It also goes by the generic name tadalafil, which sounds like a dish served in a gyro shop. Neither name gives you any idea what they are for, no? (When I hear “cialis” I think of open air bathtubs, hmmm.)

Aspirin, which also has a plethora of names might become “headache #1,” and so on. At least the name of the drug would contain some information and dissuade people from taking drugs for purposes other than they have been certified. (Ivermectin, otherwise “roundworm infection #z,” anyone?)

Currently it seems that drug names are created to serve hypochondriacs and marketing agents, not the people they are supposed to help. (It seems to me that hypochondriacs thrill in being able to pronounce the names of the diseases and drugs they are attracted to.)

Postscript All of the drug names were assumed to have been misspelled by my spell checker (except viagra) which tells you something.

March 9, 2023

Shame, What’s That?

Fox (sic) News, caught red-handed lying about Donald Trump’s Big Lie (The election was stolen, the election was stolen!), apparently has been skillfully editing the footage from the Capitol’s security cameras provided it by Speaker McCarthy (indicating a New McCarthyism?) showing the January 6th insurrection at the U.S. capitol to be just a few tourists getting rambunctious.

When asked if they had no shame about continuing their program of lies, Fox (sic) News leaders said, “Shame, what’s that?”

February 14, 2023

Why Are Trump’s Billionaire Donors Looking Elsewhere?

All of the signs indicate that Donald Trump is struggling to attract the kinds of donations he was used to from the mega-rich. Assuming this is true, why might it be so?

Billionaires aren’t stupid. Greedy, yes, stupid, no. I would suggest that they recognize that they have gotten all they can get out of Mr. Trump: the massive Trump tax cuts for the rich and corporations, the defanging of the IRS, etc. They started the class war fifty years ago and have now won it. Another round of Trump’s antics hazards overplaying their hand, prompting blowback of major proportions. What they need now is a reasonable sounding Republican who can keep the lid on and who can discredit the progressives who want to roll back their recent gains. They have garnered most of the state houses and with them the ability to gerrymander districts for coming elections. All they need is to sit tight and clip their coupons.

Think about it. We are currently living in a billionaire’s paradise. Labor unions are powerless. Government regulation is hobbled, the New Deal is a distant memory. Their taxes are low, their profits are high. They could not be better off. Well, they could, but if they push for even more, the pitchforks and torches may come out and they could end up hiding in their bunkers. They are in the same position as antebellum slave holders. In antebellum South Carolina, slaves outnumbered others by several to one. The white slave owners lived in constant fear of a slave revolt that would overwhelm them with sheer numbers. The same is true of the current filthy rich. If they poke the bear of the voting public, they may end up losing all of the goodies they have garnered over the past 50 years.

What they really have to fear is the crazy arm of their own class, the billionaires who have religious axes to grind, the Christian Nationalists, the White Supremacists. Billionaires have so much money that they can underwrite political campaigns costing tens if not hundreds of millions of dollars. A rogue billionaire could stir the pot the majority of billionaires do not want stirred. Billionaires may be few in number but they are hardly well organized (sorry, Koch backers). A handful could overplay the hand of all of them and cause a revolt.

Stay tuned, film at eleven!

January 24, 2023

Modern Day Villains

We, as a society, consume a great many entertainments, many of which are visual: videos, shows, concerts, etc. In the “movies” many plots require some dramatic tension and a good guy-bad guy axis. Someone to root for, someone to root against. And the villains fall into somewhat nice categories: we have sociopaths and psychopaths, whose thinking is bizarre to us, but fascination, currently we have quite a few zombies who have no personality but pose an existential threat nonetheless. (Nobody tries to figure out why the zombies are doing what they do, they just run.) And the usual coterie of “bad guys” includes drug dealers, people who cheat on the spouses, etc. It is rare that a new bad guy, like Hannibal Lecter comes along.

By far the most common bad guy in today’s videos is . . . drum roll, please . . . corporations, evil corporations, not just corporations that run over you because they didn’t see you in their driveway. Corporations that are driven only to make profits and to Hell with any opposition to those efforts.

Here is Bernie Sanders chiming in on one such corporation (Cal-Maine Foods):

Bernie Sanders (Twitter)
Corporate greed is the producer of Egg-Land’s Best, Farmhouse Eggs & Land O’Lake Eggs, increasing its profits by 65% last quarter to a record-breaking $198 million while doubling the price of eggs & reporting no positive cases of avian flu. Yes. We need a windfall profits tax.
11:37 AM · Jan 15, 2023·

And these corporations haven’t exactly been subtle about their machinations: the CEOs of America’s largest companies got on their quarterly investor calls and chortled about the willingness of “consumers” to blame inflation for the prices they were jacking up . . . because they could.

Republicans stickered gas-pumps up and down the country with Joe Biden “I Did That” stickers, even as gas companies declared record profits and boasted to investors about how they were able to tap directly into drivers’ wallets under cover of inflation.

It doesn’t look like any other villain will knock corporations out of their #1 spot at all soon. They just can’t help themselves, reinforcing their “bad guy” image over and over and over.

As I had said often enough, the Achilles’ Heel of capitalism is that it places no restriction on greed.

January 5, 2023

Ron Santos and the Question of Lying to Get Elected

After Ron Santos got elected to Congress in his New York district, he was declared a bald-faced liar and he admitted it. He is still expecting to be sworn in as a member of Congress if the Republicans can get their act together and elect a Speaker of the House.

Now Republicans are often proponents of using “sound business practices,” so it occurred to me that this may be one of those cases in which “sound business practices” are invoked..

If a new hire at a corporation, say a law office, were exposed as having lied his ass off in order to get hired, including, say, that he graduated from a college and passed the bar exam in that state, what kind of response would you expect? I would expect the miscreant to get frog marched to the exit, his employment contract voided, and a potential law suit awaiting him if he uttered a peep about the whole affair.

So, maybe the new Congressman should have an encounter with his new employer of the same kind. Now, who is his new employer? Oh, yeah, the American people. Maybe a simple Internet poll should be taken (voters only!) to determine whether he should keep his new job. That would be fair, right?

Oh, and how about a law making lying about one’s qualifications, family history, etc. as part of an election campaign being a felony? No one wants lies to be part of our political fabric, now do they? (Shut up, Donald!)

December 1, 2022

Democrats are Pro-Labor . . . Aren’t They?

Not for the last 40 years or so, no. I remember when Mr. Obama was elected. A piece of legislation dearly sought by unions had been stalled and when he was elected, well, it would be pushed through by the Dems, right? The legislation was to go back to the labor law when a union could essentially gather membership cards from a majority of a workplace’s workers and that would give the union standing to represent those workers in negotiations. Card campaigns were cards that stated that a worker wanted a union to represent them, just as a lawyer has a client sign a contract that states that they are representing them as a client. That was the law for many, many years. Mr. Obama ignored that legislation and it died on the vine.

Many other instances of labor being ignored have occurred, I am sure, but most recently President Biden showed the Dems true colors by forcing a labor settlement to avoid a railroad strike. The railroad workers were negotiating to get paid sick leave. Do you have paid sick leave? Can you imagine what your life would be without it? Railroad workers were told they could use paid vacation time if they needed to see a doctor or had to go to hospital. How would you feel if that were the case in your job?

President Biden, along with all of the other Dems, has stated clearly that the Dems, like the Repubs, are behind their rich donors and not you and not me.

As one wag put it, the Dems look union people straight in the eye and say “You’ll never get anything you want if I don’t win; but once I win, I can’t do the things you need, because then I wouldn’t be able to win again.” (Hamilton Nolan in The Guardian) Gosh, they couldn’t possibly offend the rich, now, could they?

* * *

Last year, adjusted operating margins for the five largest US railroads were 41 percent. Ten years ago, they were 29 percent. Two decades ago, they were 15 percent. Even compared with other transportation companies (which are doing extremely well)— trucking, parcel, air freight, maritime shipping, airlines – today’s railroad profits are humongous. (Robert Reich)

Railroad workers have one of the most dangerous jobs in the United States. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in fact, railroad employees are approximately twice as likely to die on the job as the average American worker. The risk is shared by conductors, signalmen, track laborers and others, and even non-fatal injuries can be serious, leading to chronic pain and other debilitating issues. (Arvin J. Perlman)

November 29, 2022

The Education Voucher Program Scam

Filed under: Business,Education — Steve Ruis @ 9:04 am
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There is a rule of thumb I apply when researching over-the-counter drugs and medical devices. I do an Internet search basically asking “does XYZ really work?” or the equivalent. If the top ten hits are mostly websites clearly sponsored by the creators, I know it is a scam. Those sites are part of their marketing plan. If the reviews by the general public are largely negative, these “positive” reviews dilute them down. They basically are guaranteeing that positive “reviews” are the first thing that comes up in such a search.

If you do a similar search for information on educational voucher programs, you will get a similar response, all heavily positive data and reviews. Unfortunately, the vast bulk of the “data” and reviews are bogus, paid for by the rich assholes taking financial advantage through such programs. (It sure isn’t the students because independent research shows that students using vouchers perform more poorly that students who do not. “There is credible research on one side—that vouchers are largely a negative force for student outcomes—and politically oriented reports on the other. That’s it.”—Josh Cowen)

If this is a topic that interests you, here are the specifics:

Josh Cowen: A Citizen’s Guide to the Researchers and Funders Behind Vouchers

November 16, 2022

Won’t Voters Ever Ask Government to LEAVE PEOPLE ALONE?

The above question was used as a title for a online column by a Mr. John Stossel on Nov 9, 2022. I assume he is a right-wing commentator as he states that he is “the author of Give Me a Break: How I Exposed Hucksters, Cheats, and Scam Artists and Became the Scourge of the Liberal Media.”

His post doesn’t have much to say about answering that question, it was more about wanting Republicans to defeat Democrats and “take control.” And, as we all know, Republicans are renowned for getting government to leave people alone.

The passion shown in the question, indicated by all caps being used (which is shouting in print), indicates a heartfelt desire to be left alone by government. But that is rather stupid. Allow me to explain.

We are what biologists call a social species. We bunch together in groups to our advantage. So, over the years we created things like fire departments to assist us when fires attack our homes or places of business. We created police departments to handle sociopathic members of our societies. We established rules under which people can do business so that people aren’t cheated or businesses unfairly competed with. We established . .  . I think you get the idea.

The “government” has been turned into some sort of bogyman that came from Mars to attack us by these very same people, or they are trying to convince us that is so. Instead, government is “We the People” acting collectively. None of us would survive more than a few weeks entirely on our own. Without using banks, paper money, credit cards or any of the other systems created by “government,” how would you acquire food to eat? Would you try to barter with the clerk at your local supermarket? Would you go hunting in your nearby national park? Would you gather nuts and berries from your local parks? Fish in the local streams?

How would you get around? Surely you wouldn’t deign to use “government roads” to drive on, besides how would you pay for gas to operate your vehicles?

The “government,” aka We the People, is interwoven in our culture and society. The people bemoaning this fact are actually bad actors who want to take advantage of the absence of government. Business are hell-bent on creating monopolies, so that they will dominate the markets they are invested in, and thus make all the money they want screwing over their “customers.” They don’t want government anti-monopoly functions interfering. They want “free markets,” which is code for markets free of government manipulations, so that they are the only ones manipulating them. They want government to “leave them alone,” but are working assiduously to get government officials to grant them special privileges, subsidies, special tax statuses, etc.

We are a social species. We thrive when we take care of one another. The only discussion should be “how” and not whether to do that or not.

These people are telling us who they are. We need to listen to them and act accordingly.

November 12, 2022

Contrary to the Evidence

You thought this was going to be about religion, didn’t you?

Actually it is more about economics and other things. The theoretical structure of economics is built mostly out of self-serving bullshit. For example, they refer to the human beings interacting in our economy as a particular kind of human: Homo economicus. Homo economicus is an hypothetical person who behaves in exact accordance with their rational self-interest. Using rational assessments, Homo economicus attempts to maximize utility as a consumer and economic profit as a producer. Ta da. Recent studies show that such beings do not exist and never have. (Think of economic Vulcans.)

Economists also base their theoretical structures on “economic transactions” involving buyers and sellers who both have complete information. Have you ever heard of such a ridiculous thing? If this were ever the case economists would be advising clients that not only is advertising not needed, but that it was a distortion of the economic system and should not be done.

In the U.S. we are obsessed with having a pay-as-you-go culture. Everyone needs to pay for everything as you proceed through life. Anything that is just handed to you is “Socialism!” leading to the destruction of freedom, motherhood, Chevrolets, and apple pie. A consequence of this is that 40% of all jobs are “bullshit jobs.”

A bullshit job is “a form of paid employment that is so completely pointless, unnecessary, or pernicious that even the employee cannot justify its existence even though, as a part of the conditions of employment, the employee feels obliged to pretend this is not the case.” David Graeber

According to economic theory, at least, the last thing a profit-seeking firm is going to do is shell out money to workers they don’t really need to employ. Still, somehow, it happens.” David Graeber

What is doubly ironic about this is that the bullshit jobs rarely pay a living wage. Living wages and minimum wages, etc. are Socialism! In order for us to have a pay-as-you-go culture, people have to make enough money to pay for their needs (not necessarily their wants, but food, shelter, clothing, healthcare, etc.). That is what a living wage is. If you are making a living wage, you can “afford” to live; if not you are dying or at a bare minimum spiraling down to an early death. All to maintain the illusion of a “pay-as-you-go culture.”

The cost of everyone receiving a living wage for their labor is that there may be a few fewer billionaires and the billionaires still in existence may have a few less billions of dollars in their money bins. But this cannot be because . . . Capitalism, the only god Americans actually worship.

Even that social troglodyte Henry Ford understood this. He paid his workers almost a dollar more per day than other manufacturers. This caused workers to flock to the Ford plants and those already there worked hard to keep their jobs as they paid so much better than elsewhere. But was that Ford’s reasoning? No, he wanted his workers to make enough money to be able to buy a Ford car. And they did, with money Ford paid them as wages. So, he got “his” money back. If he had starved his workers, like his fellow plutocrats, he wouldn’t have sold near as many cars.

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