Quotulatiousness

January 13, 2018

The common factor of the Net Neutrality fight and the EpiPen price gouging scandal

Filed under: Bureaucracy, Economics, Government, Health, Technology, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

Lili Carneglia explains what these two examples of “capitalist excess” are actually the result of regulatory failures:

Without net neutrality, regulations that prevent internet service providers (ISPs) from charging more for priority speeds and higher bandwidth-use sites would disappear. Most Americans are pretty confused by the revised rules but highly skeptical that this action could have any benefits. Many people, especially those living in the rural south where choices are limited, feel like these companies have been taking advantage of their customers for years, and loosening regulatory constraints on these companies seems like a terrible idea.

Net neutrality was a regulatory policy set under the Obama administration in 2015 that mandated ISPs to treat the internet like other utilities, such as highways and railroads, under laws established before most people had TVs. Under these rules, companies must act as neutral gateways to the internet without controlling the content or the speed of the content that passes through that gateway. Supporters of the rule argue that these regulations ensure the free flow of information, while those against the policy see net neutrality as a misapplication that stifles an industry that is more dynamic than other public utilities.

[…]

Yes, a handful of industry giants can and have abused their market power. Most consumers have limited ISPs to choose from in a given area, and options are more limited outside of big cities, where “three-quarters of American homes have no competitive choice for the essential infrastructure for 21st-century economics and democracy,” according to the former FCC chairman Tom Wheeler. It is important to consider how these circumstances came about before deciding that federal regulation might help consumers.

Governments, by and large, prefer to have fewer players in a given market as it makes that market easier to regulate, and the easiest market to regulate is a monopoly. When cable networks were beginning to spread across North America, many local governments were persuaded that a single cable provider would be the best option for their jurisdiction and the broadband internet market that came later was heavily shaped by the already carved-up markets for cable TV. For many, there were no competitive options because the local government had precluded the chance of competition for their already entrenched cable monopoly (or, in a few cases, tight oligopoly).

Competition is the best answer to monopolistic abuse of customers … if you get shitty service from the Blue Cable Company, you’ll be more likely to switch to the Red Cable Company. If you only have Red and Blue to choose from, your leverage is small, but if you have a full rainbow of competing options, Red and Blue are forced to make their services at least comparable to what Orange and Pink and Magenta are offering, or they lose too many customers. If there’s no threat of a competitor scooping up unhappy customers, there’s no incentive for the existing company to do more than the absolute minimum to keep customer complaints down to a dull roar. The customer’s only recourse — other than giving up the service or moving to a different jurisdiction — is to complain to the regulator.

The base problem with Mylan’s EpiPen price gouging is the same: an effective monopoly supported by the government:

The arguments against net neutrality repeals center around fears about what producers will do without regulation since they have significant market power and the ability to raise prices to levels that would not be sustainable under more competitive conditions. The concern about increased internet prices is similar to what happened in 2016 when a pharmaceutical company with market power, Mylan, increased the price of life-saving EpiPens by about 400 percent.

The “greedy” pharmaceutical companies were hung out to dry as Congress berated Mylan representatives in hearing after hearing. There were similar cries of outrage and demands that the federal government do something to prevent such selfish price-gouging, similar to what many consumers fear ISPs will do absent regulations.

Even (supposed) free-market advocates started supporting further regulation during the EpiPen debate. Most notably, then fiscal hawk representative and now Trump budget director Mick Mulvaney, defended further market intervention on the condition that, “If you want to come to the state capitols and lobby us to make us buy your stuff, this is what you get. You get a level of scrutiny and a level of treatment that would ordinarily curl my hair.”

However, in all of those hearings, almost no one bothered to unearth the problem that Mulvaney hinted at: Why was Mylan able to increase that price in the first place? Government intervention. Burdensome FDA regulations and other laws pressuring public schools to buy the drug essentially granted Mylan a monopoly. It was as misguided then as it is now to think that these same institutions can be trusted to clean up the mess they created.

Mylan had no effective competition, so there was nothing to stop the price gouging until it got so bad that even the regulator had to pay attention. If there were other pharmaceutical companies allowed to compete, do you think Mylan would have risked jacking up the price only to watch their competitors gaining market share?

Scott Alexander explained the Mylan monopoly quite expansively in 2016.

January 8, 2018

Sex is a Basic Instinct – Sigmund Freud l HISTORY OF SEX

Filed under: Health, History — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

IT’S HISTORY
Published on 30 Sep 2015

The psychologist Sigmund Freud spent much of his life trying to understand how the human psyche functions. Famously sorting the human consciousness into the it, the ego and the superego. He was particularly interested in the instinct for sex and satisfaction of lust, a phenomenon he called the libido. Many of his theories were highly disputable, such as his theory on infantile sexuality and the societal influence on sexuality. Learn all about the father of psychoanalysis on ITS HISTORY!

January 7, 2018

Give your butt a wake-up call with the latest from “Gwyneth Paltrow’s life-threatening, wallet-flensing empire of woo”

Filed under: Business, Health, Media, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Cory Doctorow views with alarm yet another potentially dangerous product from Goop:

Goop is Gwyneth Paltrow’s life-threatening, wallet-flensing empire of woo, home to smoothie dust, vulva steaming, rocks you keep in your vagina, and a raft of rebadged products that are literally identical to the garbage Alex Jones sells to low-information preppers.

Both Goop and Alex Jones are big on “detoxing,” an imaginary remedy that poses a very real health-risk, especially when it involves filling your asshole with coffee.

Coffee enemas are, of course, bullshit, whose history and present are rife with hucksters whose smooth patter is only matched by their depraved indifference for human life.

But as stupid as coffee enemas are, they’re even stupider when accomplished by means of Goop’s, $135 “Implant O’Rama,” manufactured by Implant O’Rama LLC. It’s a $135 glass jar with a couple silicon hoses attached to it.

December 27, 2017

QotD: Psychology

Filed under: Health, Humour, Quotations — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 01:00

Psychology is nothing at all like a science and those who practice it are nothing at all like scientists. Mostly they’re liberals. No two shrinks ever agree on a diagnosis, and official definitions of various mental illnesses are a grammatical and logical laugh riot. The great truth of life is that understanding character is an art, best left to master novelists and story-tellers.

L. Neil Smith, “Why the Left-Wing Seems Insane (Mostly Because They Are)”, Libertarian Enterprise, 2016-05-08.

December 13, 2017

Why do we have Pubic Hair? – BRITLAB

Filed under: Health — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 02:00

BBC Earth Lab
Published on 18 Dec 2014

Contains adult themes. Greg Foot looks at why humans have pubic hair – investigating the hormones that cause growth, and the benefits of shaving vs letting it grow.

December 10, 2017

QotD: Failures of scientific consensus

Filed under: Health, History, Quotations, Science — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

In past centuries, the greatest killer of women was fever following childbirth. One woman in six died of this fever. In 1795, Alexander Gordon of Aberdeen suggested that the fevers were infectious processes, and he was able to cure them. The consensus said no. In 1843, Oliver Wendell Holmes claimed puerperal fever was contagious, and presented compelling evidence. The consensus said no. In 1849, Semmelweiss demonstrated that sanitary techniques virtually eliminated puerperal fever in hospitals under his management. The consensus said he was a Jew, ignored him, and dismissed him from his post. There was in fact no agreement on puerperal fever until the start of the twentieth century. Thus the consensus took one hundred and twenty five years to arrive at the right conclusion despite the efforts of the prominent “skeptics” around the world, skeptics who were demeaned and ignored. And despite the constant ongoing deaths of women.

There is no shortage of other examples. In the 1920s in America, tens of thousands of people, mostly poor, were dying of a disease called pellagra. The consensus of scientists said it was infectious, and what was necessary was to find the “pellagra germ.” The US government asked a brilliant young investigator, Dr. Joseph Goldberger, to find the cause. Goldberger concluded that diet was the crucial factor. The consensus remained wedded to the germ theory. Goldberger demonstrated that he could induce the disease through diet. He demonstrated that the disease was not infectious by injecting the blood of a pellagra patient into himself, and his assistant. They and other volunteers swabbed their noses with swabs from pellagra patients, and swallowed capsules containing scabs from pellagra rashes in what were called “Goldberger’s filth parties.” Nobody contracted pellagra. The consensus continued to disagree with him. There was, in addition, a social factor — southern States disliked the idea of poor diet as the cause, because it meant that social reform was required. They continued to deny it until the 1920s. Result — despite a twentieth century epidemic, the consensus took years to see the light.

Probably every schoolchild notices that South America and Africa seem to fit together rather snugly, and Alfred Wegener proposed, in 1912, that the continents had in fact drifted apart. The consensus sneered at continental drift for fifty years. The theory was most vigorously denied by the great names of geology — until 1961, when it began to seem as if the sea floors were spreading. The result: it took the consensus fifty years to acknowledge what any schoolchild sees.

And shall we go on? The examples can be multiplied endlessly. Jenner and smallpox, Pasteur and germ theory. Saccharine, margarine, repressed memory, fiber and colon cancer, hormone replacement therapy. The list of consensus errors goes on and on.

Finally, I would remind you to notice where the claim of consensus is invoked. Consensus is invoked only in situations where the science is not solid enough. Nobody says the consensus of scientists agrees that E=mc2. Nobody says the consensus is that the sun is 93 million miles away. It would never occur to anyone to speak that way.

Michael Crichton, “Aliens Cause Global Warming”: the Caltech Michelin Lecture, 2003-01-17.

December 9, 2017

QotD: Staying beautiful

Filed under: Health, Quotations — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

To understand what it takes to be beautiful, we need to be very clear about what being beautiful means — being sexually appealing to men. And then, instead of snarling that male sexuality is evil, we need to accept that it’s just different — far more visually-driven than female sexuality. To focus our efforts, we can turn to an increasing number of studies by evolutionary psychologists on what most men seem to want. For example, the University of Texas’ Devendra Singh discovered that men, across cultures, are drawn to a woman with an hourglass figure. Men like to see a woman’s waist — even on the larger ladies — so burn those muumuus, which only reveal your girlish figure in a Category 5 hurricane, and if you don’t have much of a waist, do your best to give yourself one with the cut of your clothes or a belt.

Too many women try to get away with a bait-and-switch approach to appearance upkeep. If you spend three hours a day in the gym while you’re dating a guy, don’t think that you can walk down the aisle and say “I do…and, guess what…now I don’t anymore!” A woman needs to come up with a workable routine for maintaining her looks throughout her lifetime and avoid rationalizing slacking off — while she’s seeking a man and after she has one. Yeah, you might have to put five or ten extra minutes into prettying up just to hang around the house. And, sure, you might be more “comfortable” in big sloppy sweats, but how “comfortable” will you be if he leaves you for a woman who cares enough to look hot for him?

Like French women, we, too, need to understand that a healthy approach to beauty is neither pretending it’s unnecessary or unimportant nor making it important beyond all else. By being honest about it, we help women make informed decisions about how much effort to put into their appearance — or accept the opportunity costs of going ungroomed. The truth is, like knowledge, beauty is power. So, ladies, read lots of books, develop your mind and your character, exercise the rights the heroes of the women’s movement fought for us to have, and strive to become somebody who makes a difference in the world. And, pssst…while you’re doing all of that, don’t forget to wear lipgloss.

Amy Alkon, “The Truth About Beauty”, Psychology Today, 2010-11-01.

December 8, 2017

QotD: Why mid-20th century Americans ate what they did – 7

Filed under: Economics, Health, History, Quotations, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

Entertaining was mandatory [in the 1950s]. Because people didn’t go to restaurants so much, they spent time having people over, or eating at someone else’s house. If someone had you over, you had to have them over. This meant people had to have “company dinners” they could make, or at least a stock of canapés they could throw together for a cocktail party, even if they weren’t very good at it. Cue the weird focus on prettying everything up, more than occasionally to the detriment of the food itself: if you can’t make it good, you can at least make it pretty, to show people you made an effort.

Megan McArdle, “Friday Food Post: The Economics Behind Grandma’s Tuna Casseroles”, Bloomberg View, 2015-10-30.

December 7, 2017

QotD: Why mid-20th century Americans ate what they did – 6

Filed under: Economics, Health, History, Quotations, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

Look at the sources of our immigrants. Immigration is still the major way that countries get new foods (if you don’t believe me, go out for Mexican food in any European country and report back). With the notable exception of the Italians, in the 19th century, most immigrants were from places with short growing seasons and bland cuisines, heavy on the cream and carbohydrates. After we restricted immigration in the 1920s, that’s what we were left with until immigrants started coming again in the 1960s. Of course, Louisiana had good French food, California and Texas had a Mexican influence, but by and large what we ate in 1960 was about what you’d expect from a German/English/Irish/Eastern European culinary heritage, adapted for modern convenience foods. And people liked it for the same reason I like jello salad: It’s what they were used to.

Megan McArdle, “Friday Food Post: The Economics Behind Grandma’s Tuna Casseroles”, Bloomberg View, 2015-10-30.

December 6, 2017

QotD: Why mid-20th century Americans ate what they did – 5

Filed under: Economics, Health, History, Quotations, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

There were a lot of bad cooks around. These days, people who don’t like to cook, or aren’t good at it, mostly don’t. They can serve a rich variety of prepared foods, and enjoy takeout and restaurants. Why would you labor over something you hate, when someone else will sell you something better for only slightly more than it would cost you to make something bad?

In 1950, the answer was “because we’re not made of money.” A restaurant meal was a special treat, not a nightly event, and prepared foods were not so widely available, in part because women tended not to work, but also because food processing technology was so advanced. So women had to cook whether they liked it or not. Many of them didn’t like it, so they looked for ways to reduce the labor involved. And it’s far from obvious that what they did with those shortcuts was worse than what they would have done without them. Think of the kind of casserole a bad cook might have made without canned soup and frozen vegetables. She’d probably have boiled the vegetables, because that’s the easiest way to prepare them, and boiled them to death, because she wasn’t too fussy about timing. (Out of season, those vegetables would have been limited to a few hearty root vegetables.) If there was a sauce, it probably would have been horrible. Let’s not even start on what she might have done with the meat. Canned soup and frozen vegetables start sounding pretty good.

That was the baseline most people were working off. They were not comparing what they ate to what they might have gotten at a good restaurant; they were comparing it to what they would have gotten without the shortcuts, because, to reiterate, most of them rarely ate at a good restaurant.

Modern food writing has an enormous selection bias. The median cookbook reader is a much better cook, and much more interested in food, than the median audience of recipes from decades past. The bad cooks, the indifferent cooks, the folks with the cast iron palates and Teflon stomachs, are all off doing something else. And since good cooks tend to raise good cooks, the median food writer waxing lyrical about Grandma’s homemade beef stew doesn’t realize just how many bad cooks were around. Or that recipes needed to be written for them, because however limited their talents or interest, they still had to put a meal on the table every night. A lot of terribly mediocre recipes are floating around from the era, and that’s exactly what most of the terribly mediocre cooks were looking for.

Megan McArdle, “Friday Food Post: The Economics Behind Grandma’s Tuna Casseroles”, Bloomberg View, 2015-10-30.

December 5, 2017

QotD: Why mid-20th century Americans ate what they did – 4

Filed under: Economics, Health, History, Quotations, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

The foods of today’s lower middle class are the foods of yesterday’s tycoons. Before the 1890s, gelatin was a food that only rich people could regularly have. It had to be laboriously made from irish moss, or calf’s foot jelly (a disgusting process), or primitive gelatin products that were hard to use. The invention of modern powdered gelatin made these things not merely easy, but also cheap. Around 1900, people were suddenly given the tools to make luxury foods. As with modern Americans sticking a flat panel television in every room, they went a bit wild. As they did again when refrigerators made frozen delights possible. As they did with jarred mayonnaise, canned pineapple, and every other luxury item that moved down-market.

Of course, they still didn’t have a trained hired cook at home, so the versions that made their way into average homes were not as good as the versions that had been served at J.P. Morgan’s table in 1890. But it was still exciting to be able to have a tomato aspic for lunch, in the same way modern foodies would be excited if they found a way to pull together Nobu’s menu in a few minutes, for a few cents a serving.

Over time, the ubiquity of these foods made them déclassé. Just as rich people stopped installing wall-to-wall carpeting when it became a standard option in tract homes, they stopped eating so many jello molds and mayonnaise salads when they became the mainstay of every church potluck and school cafeteria. That’s why eating those items now has a strong class connotation.

Megan McArdle, “Friday Food Post: The Economics Behind Grandma’s Tuna Casseroles”, Bloomberg View, 2015-10-30.

December 4, 2017

QotD: Why mid-20th century Americans ate what they did – 3

Filed under: Economics, Health, History, Quotations, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

People were poorer. Household incomes grew enormously, and as they did, food budgets shrank relative to the rest of our consumption. People in the 1960s also liked steak and chicken breasts better than frankfurters and canned meats. But most of them couldn’t afford to indulge their desires so often.

The same people who chuckle at the things done with cocktail franks and canned tuna will happily eat something like the tripe dishes common in many ethnic cuisines. Yet tripe has absolutely nothing to recommend it as a food product, except that it is practically free; almost anything you cooked with tripe would be just as good, if not better, without the tripe in it. If you understand why folks ate Trippa alla Romana, you should not be confused about the tuna casserole or the creamed chipped beef on toast.

Megan McArdle, “Friday Food Post: The Economics Behind Grandma’s Tuna Casseroles”, Bloomberg View, 2015-10-30.

December 3, 2017

QotD: Why mid-20th century Americans ate what they did – 2

Filed under: Economics, Health, History, Quotations, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

A lot of the ingredients we take for granted were expensive and hard to get. Off-season, fresh produce was elusive: The much-maligned iceberg lettuce was easy to ship, and kept for a long time, making it one of the few things you could reliably get year round. Spices were more expensive, especially relative to household incomes. You have a refrigerator full of good-looking fresh ingredients, and a cabinet overflowing with spices, not because you’re a better person with a more refined palate; you have those things because you live in 2015, when they are cheaply and ubiquitously available. Your average housewife in 1950 did not have the food budget to have 40 spices in her cabinets, or fresh green beans in the crisper drawer all winter.

Megan McArdle, “Friday Food Post: The Economics Behind Grandma’s Tuna Casseroles”, Bloomberg View, 2015-10-30.

December 2, 2017

QotD: Why mid-20th century Americans ate what they did – 1

Filed under: Economics, Health, History, Quotations, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

Most people are not that adventurous; they like what’s familiar. American adults ate what they did in the 1950s because of what their parents had served them in the 1920s: bland, and heavy on preserved foods like canned pineapple and mayonnaise.

Megan McArdle, “Friday Food Post: The Economics Behind Grandma’s Tuna Casseroles”, Bloomberg View, 2015-10-30.

December 1, 2017

QotD: The power of beauty

Filed under: Business, Health, Quotations — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

We consider it admirable when people strive to better themselves intellectually; we don’t say, “Hey, you weren’t born a genius, so why ever bother reading a book?” Why should we treat physical appearance any differently? For example, research shows that men prefer women with full lips, smaller chins, and large eyes — indicators of higher levels of estrogen. Some lucky women have big eyes; others just seem to, thanks to the clever application of eyeshadow. As the classic commercial says, “Maybe she’s born with it. Maybe it’s Maybelline.” (If it increases her options, who cares which it is?)

Unfortunately, because Americans are so conflicted and dishonest about the power of beauty, we approach it like novices. At one end of the spectrum are the “Love me as I am!” types, like the woman who asked me why she was having such a terrible time meeting men…while dressed in a way that advertised not “I want a boyfriend” but “I’m just the girl to clean out your sewer line!” At the other extreme are women who go around resembling porn-ready painted dolls. Note to the menopausal painted doll: Troweled on makeup doesn’t make you look younger; it makes you look like an aging drag queen.

Likewise, being 50 and trying to look 25 through plastic surgery usually succeeds in making a woman look 45 and fembot-scary — an object of pity instead of an object of desire. Plastic surgery you can easily spot is usually a sign — either of really bad work or of somebody who’s gone way over the top with it, probably because she’s trying to fill some void in her life with silicone, Juvederm, and implanted butt cutlets. There are women who just want to fix that one nagging imperfection. For others, plastic surgery is like potato chips, as in, “Betcha can’t eat just one.” A woman comes in for a lunchtime lip job — an injection of Restylane or another plumping filler — and ends up getting both sets of lips done. Yes, I’m talking about labioplasty. (Are your vagina lips pouty?)

Once women start seeing wrinkles and crow’s feet, the desperation to look like they were born yesterday often makes them act like it, too. Women want to believe there’s such a thing as “hope in a jar” — and there is: hope from the CEO selling the jars that you and millions of others will buy him a new yacht and a chateau in the south of France. There actually is hope to be found in a plastic bottle — of sunblock, the kind that protects against both UVA and UVB rays (the skin-aging ones). But the Beauty Brains, a group of blogging cosmetic scientists, write, “The sad truth is that creams that claim to be anti-aging are not much more effective than standard moisturizing lotions.”

Amy Alkon, “The Truth About Beauty”, Psychology Today, 2010-11-01.

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