Sunday, July 26, 2009

Something Else for the Health Care Debate

I don't see a lot of advertising, so I hope you will overlook that my astonishment is about seven months late. I was 15 seconds into a spot that I assumed was a new snake oil mascara when I heard "Latisse is the first and only FDA-approved treatment for inadequate or not enough lashes."

WTF? "Inadequate or not enough lashes?" Just because you name something "Eyelash hypotrichosis," that doesn't make it a medical condition (with all due respect for the--I'm guessing twelve--people in this country suffering from debilitating eyelash hypotrichosis). Turns out that Latisse was originally a glaucoma drug. Some enterprising person in R&D noticed that people taking the glaucoma eyedrops had lashes to die for. Thus, they figured out a way to deliver the drug directly to the lash folicles and went through the entire FDA approval system (which pharmaceutical companies happily remind us is fraking expensive when we ask why miracle eyelash-growing drugs cost $120 a month) so they could directly market the same drug, in lower concentrations with the promise of looking like Brooke Shields. I kid you not, Brooke Shields is the posterperson for a drug now.

There are a whole lot of things wrong with health care in America, and this may be an odd place for me to draw the outrage line. Seriously though, we rank 30th--dead last among developed nations--in the percentage of infants who make it to their first birthday. People are dying of actual diseases, and companies are putting their resources into curing "inadequate or not enough eyelashes." I really don't care that 90% of the drug's development was for glaucoma, which is, unlike inadequate eyelashes, something that harms people. The company still devoted resources to testing and getting approval of the drug as an eyelash growth serum.

Incidentally, the logo for the company that makes/markets Latisse, Allergan, looks an awful lot like the logo for Veridian Dynamics. That alone ought to tell you something (other than that, if you actually had to click the link for Veridian Dynamics, you really need to start watching Better off Ted).

Wednesday, July 22, 2009


When I die, please don't make my obituary as sappy as this one for the Taco Bell Chihuahua.

Monday, July 20, 2009

We Chose to Go to the Moon

Forty years ago today, the first human beings set foot on an extraterrestrial body. I, of course, don't remember it. We came, we saw, and we left 6 years before I was born. Think about that for a moment. People are constitutionally eligible to be President of the United States who have never lived in a time when humans have stood on another world.

We've had low-Earth orbit most of my life. NASA was testing Enterprise before I was born, and by the time I was 3, they had regular shuttle launches going. It wasn't watching humans walk on the moon, but I was excited nonetheless. When my grandparents got a VCR, they recorded all the shuttle launches for me to watch. There was something about watching the plume of fire and smoke push people into space that captivated my imagination. People went into space. Challenger put a stop to the televised launches.

People argue that the space program diverts funds that could be used here on Earth. I don't know the exact numbers, but I don't think there was less poverty, hunger and overall human misery to be ameliorated in 1962 than there is now. By 1969, there were wars on both nations (North Vietnam) and common nouns (poverty), domestic unrest and any number of other things that needed American attention and funds like they do now. Still, we chose to go to the Moon.

In an episode of Star Trek: Voyager, Seven of Nine makes a toast to an unborn baby, "May all her dreams come true except for one, so she might always have something to strive for." In 1962, putting a man on the moon must have seemed like a pipe dream. Forty years after the fact, our ambitious national goal might have been our undoing. Michael Griffin has an excellent op-ed explaining how that can be. We put a man on the moon and brought him safely home. Having met the ambitious goal, we had nothing left to strive for. Forty years hence, we've lost the will to reach for the stars.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

I Do Not Think that Book Means What You Think It Means

So, the internet is abuzz with outrage over Amazon rectifying a problem with some sales of unauthorized digital editions. To get the obvious out of the way, Amazon handled the situation poorly. First off, a distributor of digital books on the level of Amazon should have some kind of safeguard in place to prevent this sort of thing--and by that I mean someone posting a digital book for sale that they don't have distribution rights to sell in digital format. Second off, removing the book from people's Kindles without warning was probably not a good plan. Third, Amazon should have been way more proactive with the message that, yes, they disabled the content, but they refunded the purchase price and legitimate digital editions of the books in question are available.

Most of the buzz focuses on the (apparent) irony that one of the books in question was 1984 by George Orwell. I say apparent because, as I will get to in a moment, the outrage is an example of the Alanis Morissette definition of ironic. The news headlines are variations on the them of "Amazon puts Orwell down the Memory Hole." Blogosphere comments are typically running with the theme of "Amazon is doubleplusungood and broke into my house to steal my stuff and this is why I'll never buy a Kindle." I'm still trying to figure out how Amazon steals your "stuff" if you don't own the product with which you can read the stuff they "stole" with a complete refund, but this is the internet. Leave your logic at the router.

People--and I include both headline writers and the anonymous internet commenters in that category, although the quality of some of the comments leads me to think that the infinite number of monkeys at an infinite number of keyboards may have learned hit "submit"--seem to think they're clever sprinkling Orwell references in their writing. They're not. This whole situation has reinforced my conviction that roughly 95% of people who use the word "Orwellian" have never actually read any of the works of Orwell. They heard somewhere that 1984 is about the government trying to control what the population thinks, and that, in the book, the government rewrites English so that words mean the opposite. They've heard Doubleplusungood, thoughtcrime, Big Brother and War is Peace, and they run with that. When I become head of the Party, no one gets to reference Orwell without proving they have, in fact, read the book. If you don't get that, go read 1984 and come back when you've finished. It's only 250-odd pages long.

You see, 1984 doesn't mean what people make it out to mean. Yes, the government revises the past and is rewriting English to avoid the possibility of dissent once the words for it no longer exist (gotta love the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis). However, at the core of it, the government control of people's thought works only because people believe what Big Brother tells them, unquestioningly.

This, not the deletion of bootleg copies of 1984, is the real irony of Amazon's situation. The internet is up in arms because they read that Amazon broke into people's Kindles and took away the books they bought legally. They don't need to go look for the facts of what really happened, which, unlike in 1984 have not been systematically deleted. These people have read what they read, and they're ready for the Two-Minute Hate against Amazon for it. Like the denziens of Oceania, blogophiles don't need to think for themselves. Someone has told them what happened, so that must be true.

1984 is hardly alone bearing the burden of popular misunderstanding as to its content. Somewhere in middle school or high school, kids get assigned to read Fahrenheit 451, and teachers drill in an anti-censorship message. I have it on good authority, specifically, straight from the mouth of Ray Bradbury at a Comic Con panel I attended, that Fahrenheit 451 was motivated by his distaste for television. Bradbury pointed out that the one vital thing that people miss when reading that book, and teaching it, is that people didn't start burning books until after they stopped reading them. Voluntarily. Once you're finished with 1984, go back and reread Fahrenheit 451. You'll notice that the author has a point.

As Emp. Peng. is detailing over on Intercontinental Ballistic Discourse, he is in the process of renovating our library. We're segueing from a temple of pop culture to the library of an autodidact. He has systematically made a list of the books that embody the high points of human knowledge, and is in the process of acquiring them. The next part of the plan is to actually read them. He's far ahead of me, having started in on the great ancient and modern philosophers. I'm thinking I'll start with the works that get referenced in pop culture. All too often, the books do not mean what people think they mean.