I'd Rather Be Selling Supplements

Photo by Jeff Nelson from Canada (ft_edm_park__0080.jpg) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

You and I are in the wrong business, my friend.

Well, unless you are in the nutritional supplement business. In which case only I am in the wrong business.

Because only in the nutritional supplement business can you make billions selling products that not only don’t have to do what you say they do, they don’t even have to be what you say they are.

Unless you get caught. Which GNC, Walgreens, Target and Walmart just did, by the State of New York.

Conservative politicians like to talk about stamping out waste, fraud and abuse. I can’t think of three better words to describe the nutritional supplement racket, and the we-trust-you-until-people-get-hurt regulatory environment it operates in.

(Note: the term “nutritional supplement” as I’m using it is meant to describe products winking-ly sold as specific remedies, like echinacea for colds, or as specific preventatives, like ginkgo for Alzheimer’s disease. But considering there’s a whole section at my local Walgreen’s devoted to vitamins and minerals dispensed in gummy candy form—for both adults and children—there’s a lot of snake oil selling going on there, too.)

What the New York case brings into stark relief is that anyone in this country can sell anything as a nutritional supplement and market it as a specific remedy or preventative, with no testing or evidence to support the claims.

How is this legal? Because it’s legal. Not like this kind of thing wasn’t happening already, but a 1994 federal law specifically made it legal. To make all sorts of unverified claims for a product, all supplement sellers need to do is tack on this Food and Drug Administration disclaimer: “This statement has not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent disease.”

That’s it. No state or federal government agency needs to investigate the product, either for safety or efficacy. The FDA only investigates a nutritional supplement when problems are reported. By that time, consumers of the product may be very sick. Or even dead.

But a product that doesn’t kill you or make you sick is fine. Even when, as we have now learned from the New York case, the product does not contain the allegedly “active” ingredients it is supposed to. Again, there is no federal oversight or inspection ensuring these supplements contain the ingredients they claim to. Unless, of course, people start getting sick or dying.

The government tells supplement sellers, “We trust you, so don’t do anything bad.” Supplement sellers, in turn, rely on their “trusted” suppliers to accurately list the ingredients that should go on the label that carries the seller’s brand. If you take nutritional supplements, these nod-and-a-wink relationships between suppliers, sellers and the FDA are the only things protecting you.

Not only may the product you think you are buying be ineffective for the purpose for which you are buying it. And not only may it not contain any of the key ingredient(s) you are buying it for. It might also contain unlisted ingredients that you are deathly allergic to.

How did this happen? I think there is a direct line from the beginnings of the alternative health movement to now (and it encompasses the nutso anti-vaccine movement as well). After World War II, our culture embraced the primacy of science as never before. Anything old-fashioned and not scientifically validated was discredited. Like breast feeding and midwifery, for instance. When it came to folk wisdom and remedies, it’s true: we threw the baby out with the bathwater.

The counterculture of the 60s and the 70s changed that. As with the examples cited above, there was plenty of justification to argue that there were products and practices outside of establishment medicine that might have a benefit.

But, again, we threw the baby out with the bathwater. Instead of saying, “Well, yeah, some of these substances and practices may have merit after all, but we should test them to find out,” we said, “Screw testing! Screw validation! We’ve already seen that establishment medicine is biased. Anything might be possible! Anything might be true!”

As some of us UT grads learned in Professor Rory Coker’s wonderful course on pseudoscience, “Anything might be possible” and “Anything might be true” are key rhetorical weapons in the huckster’s arsenal. (See: Earmarks of Pseudoscience, by Prof. Coker.)

What savvy business man or woman wouldn’t be attracted to a market where “anything might be true,” and no one was bothering to check what was true and what wasn’t in any case? Is it any wonder that nutritional supplements eventually became a mainstream, billion dollar business?

So, in the early 90s, after huge numbers of consumers had already been defrauded and/or sickened, Congress finally decided to act. But by then, the horse was already out of the barn and too much money was at stake. The industry by then was big enough to throw a lot of money around for lobbying and campaign contributions. And once it got what it it was after, it would have even more money to spend.

Thus the industry got the law that it wanted. Now it can make virtually any claims for its products—so long as it also disclaims those claims. And it can stuff anything it wants in its capsules—so long as it doesn’t get caught. And if there are any penalties for being caught, I for one certainly don’t expect them to be severe enough to deter future abuse.

You think supplements made big money before? Whoa, daddy. Look at them now.

Like I said, I’m in the wrong business. Walmart, Target, GNC and Walgreens? They’re in the right business.

See also, NYT: What’s In Those Supplements?


Austin Skyline, as seen by mega-festival poster artists

click for more biggerOne of these images is from the ACL festival site, the other from the Circuit of the Americas Fan Fest site. Looks to me like C3 Presents and Transmission Events used the same poster artist, or their separate poster artists used the same twee icon set. Either way, IMO, this faux Chris Ware look is nearing it’s sell-by date. 


Uber über alles: Is the rideshare giant a big bully?

Uber and Lyft are the two biggest competitors in the “ridesharing” market, which is where car owners use their private vehicles to give strangers rides for money. Both services are enabled by smartphone apps that let potential riders book rides, while also allowing drivers to claim rides and bill for them. The companies take a cut of every ride, and the drivers pocket the rest. 

Uber is the biggest company in this market, with over $1 billion in venture capital and a very aggressive global expansion plan. Lyft is the next largest. Competition between the two companies—as well as some smaller rivals—is intense. 

When you think about their business model, it’s no wonder VC is flocking to some of these companies. You write a piece of code, you build an app, you do some marketing, and you’ve got a platform for ongoing revenue generation where costs make up an increasingly smaller and smaller part of overhead. You’ve got all these drivers—who are not employees, but private contractors—hustling and putting themselves at risk in traffic to make a few extra bucks, while you just kick back and take a cut. 

And, obviously, the more drivers you have within a given market, the more potential rides and the more potential money you make. 

Which is were the competition between the two seems to have gotten out of hand. This piece in the Verge exposed that Uber has a written formalized program for poaching Lyft drivers and recruiting them to Uber. A follow-on post on the NYT Bits blog summarizes Lyft’s contention that in markets where Uber is active in these efforts, it is reducing the average income for Lyft drivers. (In response to the Verge article and increasing press inquiries, Uber launched this page to put a shiny gloss on its practices.)

The way Uber’s poaching program works is that teams of Uber recruiters, working for hefty commissions and armed with burner phones that can’t be traced back to them, order Lyft rides and then try to recruit the drivers to Uber during the ride. 

Lyft says that these rides are shorter than typical rides and thus impede Lyft drivers from snagging more profitable customers. They also allege that Uber recruiters further disrupt the ability of Lyft drivers to earn by ordering and canceling thousands of Lyft rides. Some of these are apparently because an Uber recruiter will realize that the Lyft driver en route to pick him or her up has already been given the Uber sales pitch, and thus is a waste of effort. But between the time the Lyft driver accepts the ride and the time the Uber recruiter cancels it, the Lyft driver may be missing out on other fares. 

There has also been some speculation that Uber is having its recruiters order and cancel rides simply to make it harder for Lyft drivers to earn, thus putting Uber in a better light. And it also appears that many of these rides are canceled to avoid having Lyft’s management catch on that a particular phone number is associated with an Uber recruiter.

So Uber’s practices, which, again, are formalized and written in a playbook, definitely seem to have the potential to hurt Lyft’s drivers, as Lyft indeed alleges they have. But what are the potential long term consequences for Uber drivers? I’d assert they’re not good either.

The more drivers Uber has in a market, the more attractive the service seems to potential customers. After all, if you get picked up by an Uber driver faster than a Lyft driver routinely, you’re more likely to continue using Uber. Up to a point, that might help Uber’s drivers too. But it’s not hard to see a point beyond which Uber drivers start to compete with one another. Think how a Starbuck’s franchisee feels when he or she learns the company has awarded another franchise two blocks away.

This is ramp up and shake out time for the rideshare industry. It would make business sense for Uber to try to eliminate or marginalize other competitors in its markets, with the aim of being the lone credible rideshare platform once the industry matures and the market saturates. When your drivers are virtually the only drivers in a market, you get a cut from more rides. You also monopolize the labor market, so you can more effectively dictate terms to your drivers, deciding to take a bigger percentage of their fares, for instance. Because who else are they going to drive for?

Uber no doubt rationalizes its slimeball recruitment practices by asserting that they are trying to help Lyft drivers join a team that will give them better earning potential. And in the short term, that may be true. Uber can use some of its billion dollar VC nest egg to accept lower profit margins, pay higher commissions in the short term, and make themselves more attractive to Lyft drivers. 

But does anyone believe that these practices bode well for Uber’s drivers in the long term? And does anyone think that a company that would engage in such practices would feel a compunction about deceiving its customers and its investors, too, if it thought the “business case” justified it?

There are things I like about the so-called “sharing” economy. For instance, I like being able to get a ride when finding a cab is impossible. I also like the idea that someone who owns a car can use it to earn a little extra money. But when the market shakes out, I believe the dominant sharing platforms are going to have masses of struggling independent contractors at the bottom of the food chain, and a select few people accruing massive transfers of wealth at the top of the food chain. Ultimately, I think ridesharing will just be a new model for trickle down economics.

I deplore Uber’s in-car recruitment of Lyft drivers, and I won’t use the company until it admits the practice is wrong and ends it. If Uber wants to recruit Lyft’s drivers, fine. But I don’t think riders should reward them for being rapacious slimebags about it.

Thoughts about Orange is the New Black Season 2, with spoilers

… aaannd, scene!

Mrs. Oblogatory and I just finished season 2 of Orange is the New Black last night. No binge watchers we. Some random impressions:

I went into the last couple of episodes believing they might be the last for the show, having been heard from a friend that it was not renewed by Netflix (this turned out to be an Internet hoax).

I’m actually a bit disappointed to learn that it’s not canceled, because I think that with the season 2 finale it would have gone out on a relatively high note. And throughout season 2, it seemed to me that the stories were becoming more forced. That’s only natural, but I wish more shows would just end after one or two seasons and leave us wanting more, rather than playing out their string for as long as possible. It’s a money thing, I get it. But, still.

Additional random thoughts:

Whoa, Pennsatucky cleans up nice. And I actually liked the final scene between her and Healy in the last episode.

But I found overall that the show often leans on certain characters, like Pennsatucky, mostly for plot purposes and/or comic relief, and then tries to throw in occasional scenes that redeem and/or add depth to the characters. Figueroa is the most obvious example. The furtive attempts to elicit empathy for her character felt really ham-handed. SoSo, the insipid Asian inmate, is another mostly one-dimensional character.

I was also disappointed that Vee turned out to be little more than the season story arc bad guy. At first I thought her character might develop into more than a cardboard villain. Didn’t happen.

On the other hand, some of the character back-story episodes were really terrific. Taystee’s back story with Vee was actually pretty good, and I love Danielle Brooks, the actress who plays her. But the best of these character back story episodes—and maybe the best episode of the entire series so far—was the one in which it was revealed that Morello’s beloved fiancee was really her stalking victim. It was chilling and terrifying.

The worst episode of the season was the second one, the Christmas talent show. After episode 1, which featured lead character Piper in a different prison, episode 2 re-introduced all the secondary characters in a story mostly played for laughs. It fell flat for me.

The other breakout character for me this season was Big Cindy, the tough African American inmate played by Adrienne C. Moore, who has screen charisma to burn. And I liked that the character’s back story did not try to give her any redeeming qualities, which made her character more real. 

Jason Biggs/Larry is just a black hole of interest to me. Every time he came on screen, the show just lost me. And the more they paired him with Piper’s best friend, the less interesting that character became, too.

Same goes for Laura Prepon/Alex Vause. It seems pretty obvious she’ll play a biggeer part in season 3. Too bad. I was hoping her character got killed off while trying to avoid capture in the final episode. 

I thought the plot contrivance where the aging inmate attempting to kill Vee stabbed the wrong inmate instead in a case of mistaken identity was just awful. That was just way too big a leap for this show’s audience to believe.

As I said, overall, I enjoyed the show. I did feel like the plotting was a bit rote. I mean, who didn’t know Vee was going down by season’s end? I know, I know, it’s just a story. But the show tries to have it both ways; it wants to explore the issues of marginalized, incarcerated women, while offering light entertainment. It’s reminding me more and more of Hogan’s Heroes, but with better acting and fewer explosions.  


BitTorrent wants users to pay for content—bwahahaha!

Perhaps no other entity than BitTorrent is as responsible for creating the misbegotten attitude that all creative content should be free. The company makes peer-to-peer streaming software that it KNOWS its users employ largely to download pirated copyrighted content. But now it wants to create original content, and it wants its users to pay for it. Up front. Uh huh. And because outcomes on the interwebs are counterintuitive, paradox-ridden and frequently fly in the face of what is right and just, I am predicting they will succeed.

And because I am the worst prognosticator in the world, I hope I have just doomed them to fail.

NYT: BitTorrent to Try a Paywall and Crowdfunding (note: article may be paywalled—ha!)

Justice inequality: Matt Taibbi’s The Divide, Sarah Stillman’s Get Out of Jail, Inc.


I just read a one-two punch about the unequal dispensation of justice in the U.S. We’ve been hearing a lot about income inequality lately. Justice inequality is income inequality’s bullying little brother who does much of the dirty work that keeps income inequality thriving.

Matt Taibbi’s new book is called The Divide: American Injustice in the Age of the Wealth Gap. I’d never read Taibbi before, although I’d always heard great things. Still, I wasn’t looking forward to a bitter polemic about how our justice system gives carte blanche to the haves and while putting the screws to the have-nots. But Taibbi’s book doesn’t read like a screed. He tells his stories and for the most part lets them speak for themselves.

Each chapter pairs tales of brazen corporate criminals on one side and some poor down-on-his-luck schnook on the other side. Time after time, the corporate criminals are not charged for their crimes, which harm countless lives and livelihoods by, for instance, bankrupting cities and government pension funds. They get off with fines, which are paid by their parent corporations, with no individual crooks ever held accountable, even when the evidence has them dead to rights. Meanwhile, the schnooks bear the full brunt of the criminal justice system for their trivial offenses, like driving without a license, or even imaginary offenses, like being stopped and frisked for no reason and then being charged for blocking pedestrian traffic on an empty New York sidewalk at 1am.  

What Taibbi gets so right is how we all have come to accept and internalize the sliding scale of equal justice that is based on economic caste. Yeah, we might want to see wealthy crooks get what’s coming to them, but we understand that they have the money to hire lawyers and make any prosecution a costly roll of the dice that might come up snake eyes. Meanwhile, we accept what happens to the poor because, well, we Americans don’t like losers, especially when we know we could become losers ourselves in a heartbeat. So, yeah, we think, it sucks, but better them than us.

Then just as I finish the Taibbi book, the latest New Yorker arrives with Sarah Stillman’s article Get Out of Jail, Inc., (sub req) about the private probation industry. These for-profit companies strike deals with local and state courts who have seen their budgets slashed by state governments. The deal is, they manage the probation of minor offenders, thus keeping the government from having to spend the money to house them in jail. Even better, they shift the cost of administering probation from the courts to the penny-ante offenders themselves. Not only does it make money for the courts and these for-profit businesses, it keeps these minor offenders caught in a Kafka-esque nightmare where they are under the constant threat of incarceration if they don’t cough up cash to pay constantly compounding fees and penalties.

In both Taibbi’s book and Stillman’s article it’s clear that these effects may be driven less by ideology and more by systemic lethargy. It’s hard and often fail-prone to prosecute the rich; it’s easy to prosecute the poor. So justice inequality and income inequality join in a self-reinforcing cycle.

Fun times.


Instacart, the Sharing Economy and Modern Peonage

Farhad Manjoo’s column about Instacart in yesterday’s NYT just about made me barf.

Instacart is an app-driven grocery delivery service. You want groceries delivered, you place an order through the app. Then one of Instacart’s “independent contractors” goes to a grocery store, buys your items and delivers them to you.

This, like Uber and Airbnb, is an example of the sharing economy. With Uber, you share your car; with Airbnb your house or apartment. With Instacart, you share your free time.

And therein lies the nauseating rub. Manjoo gets excited about how sharing services like Instacart create new earning opportunities for those increasingly shut out of the economy by a lack of low-skill jobs. Here’s your nut graf:

“Still, Instacart’s success suggests that rather than simply automate workers out of their jobs, technology might create new labor opportunities for people who haven’t acquired formal credentials or skills in an economy where low- and medium-skilled workers face a bleak outlook. Like the ride-sharing service Uber, Instacart creates work by connecting affluent customers who have more money than time with part-time workers who have the opposite problem — lots of time, not enough money.”

I don’t know about you, but what I read there is, “If things get tight, don’t worry—you can always earn a little dough by wiping some rich guy’s ass.”

Manjoo trumpets Instacart’s line that their workers can earn $15-$30 an hour, which he points out is a lot better than flipping burgers. Oh, but you’ll have to buy your own health insurance, not to mention use your own car, which requires money for upkeep, insurance and gas.

But if something goes wrong, Instacart’s got your back, right? Well, no. You’re an independent contractor—it was nice knowin’ ya!

Manjoo gets a gem of a quote from economist-author Tyler Cowen: “‘I wouldn’t want to suggest people will become grocery-delivery millionaires,’ he said, ‘but if you don’t have a college education but you’re smart and responsible, could you make a living doing this and maybe piecing it together with some of these other kinds of jobs? Absolutely.’”

In other words, he wouldn’t want to suggest that someone would be able to afford to use Instacart by working for Instacart. And how about bowing and scraping? Would that be another one of those jobs you could piece this together with to keep the lights on?

Don’t get me wrong. It’s not that I think these “sharing economy” services are evil per se. I actually like the idea of people being able to earn a little extra money this way. I’ve used both Uber and Airbnb, and I don’t think using Instacart is wrong in and of itself. Hell, probably some of you reading this will want to sign up for it right now. 

It’s the notion that sharing services could be a corrective for increasing income inequality that gets me. I mean, great, if someone can’t find a job, clearly opportunities to “piece together” a living are better than nothing.

But is making trickle down economics more efficient really the best technology can do to create more opportunities for all?


Fake service dog trend must be stopped: one victim's story

The victim, who was not seriously injured, in a happier moment

That’s my precious pup Lupita. As I recounted in a breathless, adrenalized Facebook post last night, she was attacked with no provocation by a German Shepherd on Austin’s Ladybird Lake hike and bike trail yesterday evening. It took all my strength to get the shepherd, which had its jaws clamped on Lupita’s back, off of her. Once Lupita got free, she collapsed and couldn’t use her legs. For a few terrifying seconds I thought my dog could have been paralyzed from a serious injury, or even mortally wounded. Honestly, I’ve been through some pretty bad shit, but I can’t think of a time when I was more traumatized in the moment. 

Luckily, after a few more scary seconds, Lupita got to her feet, and though she was scared, she seemed (and still seems) none the worse for wear. Despite the fact that I saw the German Shepherd sink its jaws into her several times, Lupita had no puncture wounds. I believe this is because the shepherd was trying to take such a big bite out of her that the force was spread over a wide area. If this dog had gone for a leg, an ear or Lupita’s head and face, it would have been a bloody—and possibly truly life threatening—mess. But as it was, once I outwardly regained my composure and continued on our walk as if nothing had happened, Lupita got over it. But inwardly, I did not really regain my composure—I was pretty wigged out for several hours. 

The reason I bring this up is because I now understand my little scary incident is part of a growing problem: the misrepresentation of pet dogs as service animals by selfish people who want to skirt the rules and bring their dogs into places where other pets aren’t allowed. Because, you see, the German Shepherd that attacked my dog was wearing a phony “service dog” vest.

I knew this was no true service dog just before the attack happened. Or, at least, I was coming to that realization. I noticed the vest on the dog just as I registered that the dog’s owner, who was in a mobility chair, was clearly concerned about how her dog would react as I walked by with Lupita (and Louis, her Boston Terrier boyfriend, whom we are dog-sitting). The lady pulled her dog up short and started saying the stupid things clueless dog owners say in those situations, which all essentially translate to, “I want you to ignore that approaching dog that I have stopped us to stare at and am reacting to with great anxiety.” (The stupid owners think their dogs listen to their words; meanwhile their anxious body language is saying “Danger!”)

In the same brief moment, I saw the “service dog” vest and the gears in my brain started turning, forming the thought, “Something’s up. No one needs to worry about how their true service dog will react in the presence of other dogs.” As we were attempting to walk by the lady and her dog, I saw in a glimpse that the dog’s vest was in fact a cheap-looking thing emblazoned with hot pink “Service Dog” lettering. All of this went through my mind in a split second. And then the attack started. 

I’m not sure anything would have changed had the dog not been wearing the vest, but I do know for sure that the vest gave me pause for a split second (just until the lady went into her “don’t attack the dog I am fixating on” act). I can easily see how this misdirection could lull someone into a false sense of security that would have a material effect on whether an attack happened or not. 

As I recounted the story to my sister, who works for the Veterans Administration, she mentioned that her agency is having more and more problems stemming from victims of PTSD who want to be able to take their pet companions where only true service dogs are allowed. Then, this morning, I did a search; by the time I had typed in, “P-H-O-N-Y  S-E-R…” Google was returning thousands of hits for “phony service dogs.”

Turns out, it is against federal law to misrepresent a dog as a service dog. Problem is, the law is toothless and virtually unenforceable. And according to Service Dog Central, fake service dog credentials are widely available. In fact, if someone attempts to show you their service dog’s certification, it’s almost a sure bet that it’s phony, because owners of true service dogs aren’t required by law to carry any special certification or info that otherwise verifies their dog as a true service dog. And the issue is by and large moot with a true service dog, because a true service dog’s behavior never gives anyone reason to question its legitimacy. 

It’s a mess and it’s liable to get better before it gets worse. There are legitimate privacy concerns about buttonholing someone to ask for credentials just because they are with a service dog. So it’s not a problem with an easy answer. But my eyes are opened. 

A true service dog performs a service or task that helps a person with a disability adapt and function in daily living. And a true service dog is born with the right temperment and goes through months of very, very extensive—and expensive—training. People who slap those phony service dog vests on their companion animals are doing real harm to the owners of true service dogs—and everyone else.

As a non-funny ironic postscript, I’ll link to this LA Times article: Businesses say fake service dogs are a growing problem. Your results may vary, but for me the first ad embedded in the body of the article was for a company selling fake service dog vests.

PPS: I was going to use the phrase “one near-victim’s story” for the title of this post, but screw that: my dog may not have been seriously hurt, but she and I were both victims. No one should have to go through that on their afternoon walk. 

Culture Creepiness: Real-life news people on Netflix's House of Cards


Roll over, Paddy.Score one for Paddy Chayefsky. Make that yet another one. Television news continues to approach a reality that more and more resembles the self-interested corporate free-for-all pitched at the lowest common denominator that Chayefsky foresaw in his prophetic screenplay for the 1976 film Network.

Nowhere is this more evident, to me, than in the increasing number of cameos by real-life TV news personalities (notice my avoidance of the word “journalists”) in movie or TV fiction. Where once this was a novelty, it is becoming more and more common. It’s reached critical mass in season 2 of Netflix’s irresistible political thriller House of Cards, showing how topsy-turvy this trope has become.

I mean, it’s not like this is something new. But now the floodgates have opened, and TV news men and women seem to be more eager than ever to play themselves in works of pure fiction.

For instance, it was only when I was “doing research” (read: Googling) for this post that I realized that the woman playing the insipid interviewer of the vice president’s wife in episode 4 was an actual TV journalist, CNN’s Ashleigh Banfield (whom I’d honestly never heard of before). At the time I saw the episode, I thought no respectable TV news person would ever really conduct themselves the way Banfield’s “character” does in the interview with actress Robin Wright’s character. Now I’m not so sure.

Overall the effect of these appearances is to reinforce a feeling that many have already had for a long time: that these people are more interested in pursuing and purveying sensationalist drama than information. Once it was easy to think these cameos were mostly intended to boost the verisimilitude of the host productions. Now it’s obvious that these TV pundits see them as opportunities to promote their own shows and “personal brands.”

The fact that they aren’t worried that these appearances harm their credibility, that they are just as eager in these shows to discuss fictional events with the same “gravitas” they reserve for actual current events, reveals their stark cynicism about the discernment of their viewers. The attitude seems to be, “Everyone already knows we’re just phony gasbags trying to earn ratings, the truth be damned.” How else to explain the prideful glee with which Sean Hannity and Rachel Maddow—who devotes almost four minutes of screen time to it—trumpet their appearances in the clips below?

The last clip is a montage of House of Cards cameos from 12 real-life TV news people. Paddy would be too disgusted to gloat.


3 annoying things people say in movies and TV that we rarely say in real life

“Drink, Joe?” “No, thanks, Al.” “Well, how’d you like me to shove you out the window?” “I’d like that, Al. I’d like that very much.”

These are just my pet peeves. I’d love to hear yours.

1. “Drink?”
You’ll see this mostly in older movies and TV shows. A character enters another character’s home or office, and after a greeting, the host will immediately offer the guest a drink:

“Hello, Fred.”

“Hello, Bob. Drink?”

Sometimes it’s “Care for a drink?” or “Would you like a drink?” but most often it’s just “Drink?”

Has anyone ever offered you a drink like this? Normally people say, “Would you care for a (whiskey, glass of wine, beer, bloody mary, etc.)?” Or something like that. And you’ll never hear it from your lawyer in the middle of the day.


2. Addressing someone by name mid-conversation
I guess this convention developed so that people can keep the characters straight:

“Do you really think so, Jane?”

“I know so, Matilda.”

“But Jane, how can that be true?”

“Oh, Matilda. Sweet naive Matilda.”

I won’t say this never happens, but it’s pretty rare, especially when you start noticing how often characters in movies and TV say it.

3. “I’d like that.”
This one has bugged me since I was a little kid. A character extends an invitation to another character, and instead of saying, “OK” or “Sure” or “Yeah, sounds great” the character will say, “I’d like that.”

“Say, Myrtle, how’d you like to be my guest tonight at the big dance?”

“I’d like that, Jack.”

Actually, it’s nearly as common for the character to follow up this way:

“Say, Myrtle, what say you and me go for a little weekend in the Poconos?”

“I’d like that, Jack. I’d like that very much.”

No one ever says this, do they?

Putting them all together
“Hello, Sam.”

“Hello, Caroline.”

“Drink, Sam?”

“I’d like that, Caroline. I’d like that very much.”

What are some other movie/TV dialog clichés we rarely use in real life?


No, Mazda, Edison did not "invent" over 1,000 patents

That’s a still from the opening of a TV ad for Mazda’s CX-5, which, as you might guess, celebrates the car’s innovativeness. (See the ad here if you want, but it’s not really worth it.)

That little caption drives me crazy. One does not “invent patents.” One invents inventions, which then may be patented. But patenting something doesn’t mean one invented it. 

In fact, a lot of the patents held by Edison or his businesses were invented—or, some allege, stolen—by underlings at his Menlo Park research lab. And there are arguments back and forth to this day that some of Edison’s greatest “inventions” were simply refinements of inventions created by others. 

But, no. What would have been wrong with the caption, “Thomas A. Edison, world renowned inventor?” Or even, “Thomas A. Edison, inventor who changed the world?”

Holding a patent on an invention doesn’t prove who invented it. It just establishes a legal basis for protecting the commercial exploitation of the idea, which the litigious Edison well understood.

Ugh. If you are going to sell innovation, shouldn’t you understand what it really means?

Why does DirectTV think poor rural whites are an acceptable stereotype to ridicule?

Searching for “DirectTV hillbillies” turned up these Facebook postsIt’s the baseball playoffs, so I’m watching more broadcast TV than usual, which means I’m finding plenty of commercials to get annoyed at. A spot DirectTV is running now is particularly obnoxious. In it, failing to have Direct TV causes the hero of the spot to be menaced by hideous caricatures of rural whites, all of whom seem to have disgusting rotting teeth, leering looks and creepy high-pitched cackling laughs.

I can’t find the spot online, but my search did turn up several complaints on Facebook, as shown above. Hopefully the fact that I can’t find it means DirectTV has received enough bad feedback to pull it. Nevertheless, they already spent big bucks to produce it. Why does DirectTV feel that it needs to create an undesirable “other” in its ads to sell its product? And why do they feel that regional socio-economic stereotypes are any more acceptable than racial, ethnic or religious stereotypes? They aren’t.   

The spot below has been alternating with the “rabid hillbillies” spot. It, too, posits the same kind of “us against them” world, only this time using cultural stereotypes, namely people with neck tattoos. Uncool.

Another selective gee whiz moment from Malcolm Gladwell

Gladwell from The New Yorker, Sep. 9, 2013:
“It is hard to think about (Alex) Rodriguez, however, and not think about Tommy John, who, in 1974, was the first player to trade in his ulnar collateral ligament for an improved version. John used modern medicine to recover from injury and extend his career. He won a hundred and sixty-four games after his transformation, far more than he did before science intervened. He had one of the longest careers in baseball history, retiring at the age of forty-six. His bionic arm enabled him to win at least twenty games a season, the benchmark of pitching excellence. People loved Tommy John. Maybe Alex Rodriguez looks at Tommy John—and at the fact that at least a third of current major-league pitchers have had the same surgery—and is genuinely baffled about why baseball has drawn a bright moral line between the performance-enhancing products of modern endocrinology and those offered by orthopedics.”

Seriously? Is Gladwell really arguing that Tommy John surgery and PEDs are equivalent? He sure seems to be. But if so, he’s being pretty selective and sneaky with his facts and language. (I’ve bitched about this before.) Let’s parse, shall we?

Sentence 1: “trade in his ulnar collateral ligament for an improved version.”

Between the words “his” and “ulnar collateral ligament” Gladwell leaves out the words “utterly useless.” Without that surgery, John’s career would have been over, kaput, finito. His new ligament was “improved” mainly in the sense that it actually worked, whereas his old one left him unable to pitch. At all.

Sentence 2: “John used modern medicine to recover from injury and extend his career.”

Yes, one could say he extended his career, but a more accurate way of saying it was that he preserved or salvaged his career. Again, no surgery, no career. But that doesn’t help get Gladwell’s point across. Now, let’s skip to…

Sentence 5: “His bionic arm enabled him to win at least twenty games a season, the benchmark of pitching excellence.”

This sentence is so full of it, I have to address it in two parts:

A) My dictionary defines bionic thusly: “Having artificial body parts or the superhuman powers resulting from these.” John’s transplanted ligament was fashioned from a tendon in his non-pitching arm. True, sometimes ligaments are replaced with tissue from cadavers, but that still isn’t artificial, nor does the treatment render the recipient “superhuman.” I’ve never before heard anyone assert that Tommy John surgery renders a pitcher better than he was before. For most, recovery is a struggle to get back to where they were, if they make it back at all. If Tommy John surgery is such a huge advantage, can Gladwell name a single pitcher who has replaced a functioning, non-injured ulnar collateral ligament with a “new and improved” one? No, because it doesn’t happen.

B) “… enabled him to win at least twenty games a season…”: So, during the course of “one of the longest careers in baseball history,” John averaged above 20 wins a season, right? No. He had three 20-win seasons in his career, all within the first five years of his comeback from surgery. He pitched 13 seasons after his last 20-win campaign, never getting above 14 wins after that. Now, make no mistake, just having three 20-win seasons at all is outstanding. A single 20-win season is increasingly rare. But implying that 20 wins was John’s season average really reinforces the whole bionic idea. Gladwell is either trying to put one over on his readers, or being incredibly lazy. And where is his editor? 

Sentence 7: “…a bright moral line between the performance-enhancing products of modern endocrinology and those offered by orthopedics.”

Here Gladwell is playing fast and loose with the idea of performance enhancement. By his lights, I suppose someone in cardiac arrest whose heart is shocked back into life by a defibrilator undergoes a “performance-enhancing procedure.” 

No, Bed, Bath & Beyond, I will not "Keep calm and coupon."

I spotted this full-pager in Dwell. Let me count the ways this bugs me:

1. Unlike some of the creative directors I have worked for, I think puns have their place in advertising. Unless they are totally gratuitous and have nothing to do with the product. DING!

2. I’d bet that, like me, most people in the U.S. know the “Keep Calm And Carry On” slogan from a series of British Airways posters from some years ago that played off the meme. Even if the BA campaign wasn’t the inspiration, “Keep Calm and Carry On” originally was created as an ad campaign by the British Ministry of Information to boost public morale during WWII. Malley’s Unwritten Rule of Copywriting #2 states, “You may create ad headlines that play off pop culture tropes ONLY IF said pop culture tropes are not advertising themselves.” That means no “Got Cat Food?” No “Where’s the Bargains?” And no “Keep Calm and Coupon.” 

3. “Coupon” is not supposed to be a verb. “Verbing weirds language.”—Calvin, of Calvin and Hobbes

4. This, this, this, this and this should be ample evidence that “Keep Calm” has been done to death.

5. It’s just dum.

6. Other than that, I got no problem with it. 

Proof that getting a Money Mailer is NOT like getting money in your mailbox

Dear Money Mailer LLC:

I received your direct mail piece yesterday and noted with amusement the trademarked slogan printed on the front: “Like Getting Money In Your Mailbox.”

I wanted to inform you that for this recipient at least, your slogan rings hollow. Your garish mailing full of crapful coupons is, to me, decidely not like getting money in my mailbox. It’s more like getting processed dead trees that will go straight to the recycling bin in my mailbox.

Allow me to show you the difference. This is me getting money in my mailbox. Please note the expression of surprise and delight: 

This is me getting the Money Mailer® in my mailbox. See the difference?

Thank you for your time and attention.

Yours very truly, etc., etc.,

R. Malley
Blogger/junk mail critic 

Borro.com is an online pawnshop for people with more good stuff than good sense


I was served the banner ad above on NYT.com. Intrigued, I clicked. Could this really be an online pawnshop?

Yes, it could be, and it is. But the difference is, Borro wants your chinchilla, not your chainsaw.

Borro—Sound it out. Pretty clever, no?—caters to people who have more nice stuff than money. Or sense. Because what Borro accepts in hock are items in the following categories:

Luxury watches
Jewelry and diamonds
Gold & precious metals
Luxury cars
Fine art & antiques
Fine wine

You notice what’s missing? That’s right, tools, guns, stolen electronics and musical instruments, which in my experience are the bread and butter of traditional pawnshops.

Pawnshops are a major part of the so-called fringe banking industry, which exploits people who don’t have access to traditional banks, typically because they live paycheck to paycheck.

I will assert that pawnshops seem to represent the least exploitative of fringe banking entities. At least their business model isn’t built on creating a growing cycle of indebtedness, like payday lenders or “buy here, pay here” used car dealers. Hock transactions are largely cut and dried; you give me your gun, I loan you $75 dollars. If you don’t pay me back in full—plus a buttload of interest—I get to keep your gun and sell it.

Borro would seem to be different, because anyone who has $50,000 tied up in a luxury watch or fine wine obviously has enough cash to open a bank account. Or had enough cash at one time.

What Borro represents, I think, is the extent to which our economy is dependent on consumer borrowing and spending. Hey, Mr. or Ms. Upper Middle Class: you want to live like a true one-percenter? Go ahead, just sign on the dotted line and the trappings of luxury living can be yours.

Until the rent on your penthouse is due.

But the real one-percenters? They’re smarter than that. They’re the ones funding ventures like Borro, which would seem to be just another way they can use their vast wealth to wring more of it from the rest of us. 

D'oh! Dzhokhar Tsarnaev not looking like Osama bin Laden on the cover of Rolling Stone IS THE WHOLE POINT, YOU IDIOTS!

Gah! Wait! Hold up! Two big retailers, CVS and Walgreens, announced that they wouldn’t sell the issue of Rolling Stone with Dzhokhar Tsarnaev on the cover, because it “glamorizes” him.

No one has a problem with the actual reporting or write up of the story, they just don’t like seeing pictures of terrorists looking like normal people. 

Even though they DO sometimes look like normal people! Which would seem like an important point! 

Like I said, gah! And d’oh!

A Massachusetts State Police photographer was so incensed by the Tsarnaev cover that he released photos of Tsarnaev’s capture, possibly jeopardizing his job in the process

Tsarnaev’s wrestling coach is quoted at length in Janet Reitman’s piece, and among other points, has this to say: “I knew this kid, and he was a good kid. And, apparently, he’s also a monster.”

Oh, and PS, CVS and Walgreens, way to draw attention to something you didn’t want people to pay attention to! Nice job! I’m sure Jann Wenner could not be more pleased.

I've had it already, so don't start with me today.

What is it, only Monday? And look at me already. My nerves are shot, and if there’s just one more thing… Well, I don’t even want to think about it.

No, I don’t want to hear it. It’s the same old thing over and over, all the time. You see this? You see how my eyelid is twitching? Well, if you looked closer, you could see it. No! Stay away. I don’t need you getting that close to me right now. Just take my word for it, it’s twitching.

And why? Because I’m up to here with all… all of this.

It’s the same thing every week. Do you think I have time for this? What, I’m an idiot? I got nothing better to do than be a basket case all week? I’m a bad person so I should be so stressed out all the time?

You think I couldn’t pick up the phone and get transferred to the Utica office right now? Because I could. And it’d serve you right. Because then you’d get a little glimpse of my world. And let’s see how long you last before your first nervous breakdown. Because I’ve had dozens in my time here, my friend. And I’m up to here with it.

You hear me? Up to here. 

You think they put up with this kind of nonsense in Utica? Well, I’ve got news for you, my friend. They don’t. No one does. What sane person would put up with this week after week? Other than me, that is. And the freakin’ jury is still out about my sanity. 

I’m too nice, is what it is. And look where it gets me. Monday morning and I’m a total wreck.

Do you want to be the one responsible for my head exploding? Do you want to be the one cleaning my brains off the wainscoting?

No, I didn’t think so.

So, I’m telling you again.

Do not.


With me.


Disney bagging out on Bangladesh is exactly the wrong thing to do

So, Disney is bagging out on Bangladesh.

The decision was supposedly made before the much-publicized collapse of the garment factory building that killed hundreds of workers. Right, uh huh.

“After much thought and discussion, we felt this was the most responsible way to manage the challenges associated with our supply chain,” a Disney spokesman said.

This is exactly the wrong thing to do. The fact that so many Bangladeshi workers were crammed in that substandard building is testament to one thing: Bangladeshis want to work and desperately need jobs.

As Paul Krugman has noted many times, sweatshop labor is a key force for lifting workers in developing countries out of abject poverty. Even a crappy sweatshop job in the filthy big city is better than you and your children starving to death in the rural countryside. 

Twenty years ago, a lot more garment manufacturing was outsourced to China. Now less and less of it is, because median wages in China are higher now. And they’re higher because as its economy has matured, China’s workers have become more highly skilled and demand higher wages. Thanks in part to sweatshop jobs, many children of Chinese garment workers have better opportunities than their parents. So now garment manufacturers outsource more work to less-developed countries like Bangladesh where wages are lower. 

But here in the West, we don’t want to know that our insatiable appetite for an endless supply of new cheap clothing is enabled by people working under harsh conditions for wages that seem criminally low.

And when something bad like the Rana Plaza disaster happens, one of the first reactions is to pressure the big clothing brands to abandon countries where such worker abuses take place. So will they move the work to countries where worker protections are guaranteed? Who knows? Most of us won’t give any thought to that until the next disaster occurs.

It’s time for consumers in the West to demand change. Product boycotts and factory closures only hurt those who are already the most vulnerable.

We should demand that multinational clothing companies invest in the infrastructure of the countries they outsource to, so that these workers don’t have to sacrifice their safety and their dignity for a subsistence income. And we should be ready to pay for it.

After all, thanks to pressure from consumers and environmental groups, the tuna industry cleaned up its act. Now every can of tuna we buy has a label signifying that its contents were harvested without needlessly endangering dolphins.

No disrespect to dolphins, but what about people? Shouldn’t we be able to buy clothing with a label that lets us know that the humans who made it did so under conditions that protected their safety and respected their dignity?