Do You Suffer From Childhood Syndrome?

There are tens of millions of Americans suffering from Childhood Syndrome, a serious psychological and physiological condition whose symptoms include (but are not limited to):

  • Dwarfism

  • Emotional Instability

  • Irrational Fears

  • Knowledge Deficits

  • Chronic Unemployment

  • Inappropriate Social Behavior

  • Tooth Loss

  • Higher Rates of Accidents

Luckily, most individuals diagnosed with childhood disorder are able to overcome it after many years, with remission virtually unknown.

(Via MindHacks)



Been Sick...

Sorry for not writing anything these past few days.. Haven't been feeling well :-( Not that I don't have what to write about, but it does take some time and energy to get a post out that meets at least some level of quality. Anyway, bear with me, and I hope to have something for you soon.



Roses Are Red, You're Sick In The Head

Via Mind Hacks: Hallmark has just released a line of greeting cards for "special" situations like mental illness. There's also cards for chemotherapy, drug rehab, getting shot in the face by the Vice President, and surviving Acme product malfunctions. It's a niche:
"We're aware (Journeys) won't be as successful dollarwise as (humor-related line) Shoebox because they're more specific," Steffens said. "We're prepared for that. We believe it hits a completely different market."
(ABC News)



"We Take Our Bull---- Seriously"

From Center for Citizen Media's blog:
Try this: Plug “we take” and “very seriously” into a Google News or Yahoo News search. You’ll get hundreds of hits, albeit some repeats, where some big institution - corporate, educational, government, whatever - makes a giant blunder and then issues a “we take (insert the violated policy) very seriously” statement.
I've definitely heard a lot of that lately. It comes from the "Your Call Is Important To Us" family (as one of the commenters on CCM's Blog points out). It's just another line that companies say to make us peons feel better. It's sort of like a pat on the head. "There, there - you matter. You really do." Awwww...

As CCM points out:
Almost invariably, however, when I read or hear someone taking such things seriously, I think: They care mainly about getting caught, not screwing up. Otherwise, these things would happen far less often.

No doubt, this language is at least partly lawyer-driven. You can take something seriously - sort of, kind of acknowledging the mistake - while avoiding a hint of actual guilt.
I guess when enough people catch on to the whole "seriously" line, you can expect a new verbal pat on the head. Can't wait!


Prescribing For Profit

Mind Hacks writes:
A new psychiatric journal called Clinical Schizophrenia is launching in April that will have a novel distribution policy.
If you're in the top 70% of antipsychotic drug prescribers in America, you'll get your copy free.
Since I'm lazy, I'll just copy my comment from over there:
This is sleazy as hell - doctors should NEVER have financial incentives to prescribe something. Their only consideration should be what the patient needs for optimum health. Anything else would be a violation of the Hippocratic Oath.
The only real thing I care about in any sort of oath or commitment is that doctors always, always make their patients' best interests their primary concern when making any decision. Everything else will follow from that. Yes, there are other thorny ethics issues that need to be sorted out, but as far as a professional/ethical commitment, that's all I'm looking for.

  • Medical Ethics (Wikipedia)

  • U.S. Patients' Bill of Rights (Wikipedia)

  • PBS Nova Discussion of The Hippocratic Oath

  • --YY


    Astroturf Revisited

    I spent hours researching my article on how the supplements industry is trying, at the grassroots level, to create a panic ("billions will die!") about a pretty innocuous set of regulations proposed by the UN/WHO whatever. Ironically, I forgot to research my own damn self! Almost exactly a year before, I wrote about pill pusher Nature's Plus's campaign (under the auspices of industry trade group 'Nutritional Health Alliance') against Dick Durbin, who had the chutzpah to suggest that, in light of all the dangerous crap Americans were being sold over the counter, perhaps warning labels were in order. At the time, I (and The Consumerist) took Nature's Plus to task for their racist slogan "GET A TURBAN FOR DURBIN! KEEP CONGRESSIONAL TERRORISTS AT BAY".

    The reason I'm bringing all this up again is that the same Nutritional Health Alliance's current campaign on their hideous website is "A Health Freedom Call To Arms! ... Only swift and decisive action can now save our health freedom, and preserve our God-given legacy of safe, natural supplements for future generations." Riiiight... clearly time to cut down on your mentally debilitating products. Not surprisingly, DSHEA, which you'll recall is the industry-friendly bill (wherein supplements are virtually unregulated) they're fighting so hard to keep is prominently featured.

    So there you have it - if there was any doubt that the multi-billion dollar supplement industry was up to no good, it should be gone now. The same racists behind "GET A TURBAN FOR DURBIN" are trying to scare people into supporting legislation that has long proven to be dangerous.


    The Movie Review Biz

    Back when I was in college, I used to write movie reviews for the school paper. It was a lot of fun - I used to go watch a movie, gather my thoughts, write what I thought about it, then go to a frat party and drink several kegs of beer. Well maybe not that last... Anyway, I sort of assumed that that's more or less how most movie reviewers did their thing - watch and write. Apparently not. The Consumerist has an interesting article about how critic Pete Hammond of Maxim changed a quote in his review of Hannibal Rising at the producers' request.

    I learned something here about incentives: it's obvious why a movie studio would want to quote a good review in their ads, but it's less obvious (to me, anyway) why a reviewer would be keen on being quoted (The Consumerist makes heavy use of the term "quote whore" - Word Spy, are you listening?). But for the critic (and the magazine), being quoted is free advertising! Particularly for a lower budget publication, being able to piggy-back on a Super Bowl ad for a movie is a fantastic deal. So there's actually tremendous incentive for a magazine like Maxim to put out good (or at least quotable) reviews of high profile movies. "Watch and Write" - how naive I was...


    Vodafone Welcomes You To The Matrix

    According to Vodafone, Wil Wright is your daddy:
    A customer is defined as a SIM.
    Good to know...


    p.s. The line is towards the bottom - footnote 1.


    Welcome To The Plutonomy

    From Word Spy:
    plutonomy n. An economy that is driven by or that disproportionately benefits wealthy people, or one where the creation of wealth is the principal goal. [Blend of pluto- (wealth) and economy.]

    Viacom Wants Your Videos Destroyed

    You probably already heard that Viacom demanded that YouTube take down thousands of videos that they claim is their intellectual property (Daily Show and Colbert Report clips, for example). Apparently they have also been demanding that many videos that have nothing to do with them be taken down as well.

    Slashdot reports that the makers of the open source game engine Irrlicht have been told that one of their demonstration videos belongs to Viacom (it doesn't, by any stretch of the imagination). It is a homemade video of the capabilities of the software that they wrote. Slashdot commenter ack154 points out that Jim Moore of Harvard Law School had a home video of his taken down as well (Harvard blog story here). Yeah, messing with people at Harvard Law is just brilliant. "Extra credit, anyone?"

    Anyway, as /. commenter Karzz1 points out:
    So this means that the media companies can falsely claim copyright to *any* material and the publisher is provided an email by youtube. However, in order to counter, you (the publisher) have to send a snailmail to them and wait how long before something is done about it? Are you even guarenteed a response?

    This is complete and utter bullsh-t. As we have seen in other articles [slashdot.org] this only provides the media companies with the means to takedown *anything* posted on youtube or any other similar site for that matter for any reason whatsoever. Talk about Freedom of Speech and anti-trust* issues.

    * -- If I don't like something that is said about my product online... I can simply have it taken down with the DMCA.
    Seems like it.

    You can read an aggregation of Viacom vs. YouTube stories here.


    p.s. Yes, I'm citing Slashdot commenters now. What a pain in the...
    p.p.s. It looks like the Harvard case, at least, has been resolved.


    Circle Layout Madness

    A friend of mine asked me if a circular layout was possible. After some Googling, I found this old article. After an hour or so of dusting and tweaking (and cursing), I came up with a working, interactive circular layout page. I think it's standards-compliant and all that.... It relies on trigonometry, so precise placement of the elements is not possible using this system. Right after I post this I'll be playing with it again (offline) so check periodically (in the short term) for updates...



    Big Prison

    Free market advocates argue that privatization is always a good thing. I definitely agree that it is often a good thing, or even mostly a good thing. But there are some things that should not ever be for profit. Prison is one of them. Unfortunately, private prisons are very much a reality. The biggest prison company, Corrections Corp ("dozens of facilities in 20 states"), has a "myths" page:
    MYTH: Private prison companies are in the immoral business of profiting from prisons.
    REALITY: No one would argue that people providing these dangerous, difficult and meaningful services should be denied compensation for their efforts. The fact that they work for a company or for a government agency in no way diminishes the significance or importance of the services they provide. However, if a company can partner with government to provide the same or better level of service at a cost savings then those saved tax dollars can in theory be appropriated to other meaningful services like education, healthcare for the poor, or other social justice initiatives.
    Let's wade through this stream of BS. First of all, they're not answering the challenge (that it's immoral for them to even exist). They talk about how the prison staff should be well-compensated, which is completely irrelevant (since the people doing the dirty work aren't making any more than they would in a government-run prison*), and how a private prison could "in theory" (their words) be helpful for the government "partnering" with the company, which is also irrelevant. Whether or not the government saves some tax money doesn't have anything to do with the morality of profiting from incarceration.

    Moral arguments, of course, have little sway in a free market environment. When the primary incentive is to make money, all of the company's actions are going to be to that end. The general free market argument goes something like this: Companies that provide superior products and services will do more business. Therefore market competition ensures quality. Or, as the prison biz spinners say:
    MYTH: Private prison companies are beholden to their shareholders’ interests above the interests and well-being of their government customers and the inmates in their care.
    REALITY: All companies are contractually required to deliver a certain level of service. Failure to do so results in lost contracts and ultimately going out of business.
    The problem with this line of argument is that it is simply not true. Lower quality might result in lost sales/contracts/etc., but if the company is good enough at spinning, burying, and misdirecting (i.e. marketing), it can make massive amounts of money despite serious quality problems.

    But even this is missing the point - quality is not any sort of incentive here. The "customers" are government officials who don't have much at stake as far as quality goes. No politician is going to lose sleep because the private prison is not up to snuff. Not when lobby money is such a powerful sedative**. The customers want to lock people up and not think about it any more - it's easy, and for the most part voters are fine with that. A more sophisticated politician might be concerned about rehabilitation programs that will help reduce crime overall (less recidivism), but again, slick marketing can be much more cost-effective for both the politician and the prison company.

    But don't government-run prisons have many of the same quality issues? The answer is yes, but the key word to remember here is Incentive. The government-run prison's incentive, as a whole, is to maintain security and take steps that will help reduce future crime. The private prison's incentive is to make money. There will certainly be much overlap - the private prison needs to maintain security and take steps that will help reduce future crime in order to make money, but if it can get away with not doing those things, it will, because they are no longer ends - they are simply means.

    That's my main problem with the free market in general: almost everything we would consider important (health, quality, security, art) becomes a means to the one end of making money. And those means are out the window as soon as a cheaper replacement can be found (and sold/buried/glossed over). When it comes to prison, that is an unacceptable risk to take.


    * Regarding prison workers' salaries: "REALITY: CCA offers competitive salaries to attract and retain qualified employees." Competitive, but not more than they would get as employees of a government-run prison.

    ** CCA's website claims that they do not lobby for stricter sentencing, but you can bet that they lobby quite heavily for privatizing prisons.