YouTube is a garbage fire. Google is mean. We are victims.

New Scientist magazine has named YouTube a garbage fire that is best shut down for the public good. It claims that Google, which owns YouTube, is using special algorithms to get viewers hooked on YouTube, allowing Google to rake in more money for ads:

It is working hard to sculpt its users into the ideal audience for video adverts. And the ideal audience is one that can’t look away. Ever.

I don’t know why NS is upset about this situation. Regular TV has been doing this for decades. Big studios spend millions of dollars on huge departments whose job it is to keep you glued to that chair in front of your TV.

NS claims that the random selection/suggestion of YouTube videos expose viewers to ever more extreme content. That may be true but it is the user who must click on the thumbnail to view the video. Sure, some people can get lost in a rabbit hole by following the suggested videos but using common sense will prevent this from happening to you.

NS is portraying viewers as hapless victims, unable to withstand the lure of click bait videos or extreme content, thus repeating the lament du jour: we are all victims and the Big Bad Tech Companies are making us do things we don’t want to. Google is mean and robbing me of my safe space.

Your freedom is just a mouse click away. Close that window if you think Google is manipulating you. Shut down your Komputer and settle down in front of your TV and binge-watch the latest, highest rated (by Rotten Tomatoes) TV show instead. Or play with your smartphone, or your tablet, or your video game, or your digital camera, or your web-aware microwave oven, or your digital pet/spouse/sex doll/pizza/garden hose/fridge/watch/shower or whatever gadget is lit/dope/in/hot at that particular moment. Just make sure your alternate activity includes interacting with electronic gadgets and precludes interacting with real humans in real time and in real physical space. That’ll show Google who’s boss.

Or read a book. Oh, wait, I have a Kindle for that.

Americans spend over $300 billion annually on illicit drugs and alcohol

A new RAND study claims that Americans spend nearly $15o billion a year on illicit drugs. Another study finds that Americans spend $158 billion a year on alcohol. Imagine: over $300 billion a year just to get high, or low, if your’e into that. That is almost half of the amount the US spends on education per year ($706 billion).

Missing from the report is how US spending compares to the rest of the world, like Latin America or the EU. That would have been interesting to know. My preliminary research shows that Americans are world champions in both areas: illegal drugs and alcohol. Add to that the estimated 250 to 300 million guns owned by private individuals and the US is the undisputed drug, alcohol and gun capital in the world. Is that the eigendynamik that keeps the US going? Is the Chinese plan of undermining the US by pumping in fentanyl through Mexico failing? Are illegal drugs making us stronger in some twisted Darwinian way by weeding out the illegal drug users through premature deaths?   In 2016, approximately 174 people died every day from drug poisoning, outnumbering deaths by firearms, motor vehicle crashes, suicide and homicide. Let that sink in for a while.

On another front one can see the tax numbers dancing in the eyes of certain politicians: if only we could declare these drugs legal, like we did for marijuana, we could tax the hell out of them and realize our dream: free everything for all!

That day will come, maybe sooner than you think. Already, a judge in Mexico has legalized recreational use of cocaine. These drugs could be declared legal just like the federal regulations allow “emotional support animals” on airplanes, including pigs and rats. I look forward to somebody making the connection between needing illegal drugs for emotional support while citing the emotional support animals case as legal precedence and finding a federal judge crazy enough to support that motion.

Just connecting some dots here…

Medicare for All? India Might Have the Answers.

Two articles in Scientific American and New Scientist question the efficacy of medicine. A new book (Medical Nihilism) reviewed by SA claims that: “Most treatments do not work very well, and many do more harm than good. Therefore we should “have little confidence in medical interventions” and resort to them much more sparingly.” while NS cites a study: “An analysis of 216 medicines launched in Germany since 2011, most of which would have been made available throughout Europe, has found that only a quarter brought significant benefits over existing treatments, according to the available evidence. The rest had only minor or no benefits, or the impact of the medicine was unknown.”

SA likes “medical nihilism” because it stings. It delivers a much-needed slap across the face of health-care providers and consumers, a slap we need to rouse us from our acceptance of the abysmal status quo. If more of us accepted medicine’s limits and acted accordingly, our health would surely improve and our costs plummet.”

I agree but what can consumers do to turn this around? India may have found the answer. In India you can get cancer surgery for $700 and a heart bypass for $2,000. How do they do that?

Dr. Shetty is the founder and chairman of Narayana Health, a chain of 23 hospitals across India that may be the cheapest full-service health-care provider in the world but has outcomes for patients that meet or exceed international benchmarks. They control expenses by re-using medical tubing, for instance. The tubing gets washed and sterilized as opposed to being thrown away after one-time use in Western hospitals.

Under a new Indian health reform initiative Dr. Devi Shetty speculates that “In 10 years, India will become the first country in the world to dissociate health from affluence. India will prove that the wealth of the nation has nothing to do with the quality of health care its citizens can enjoy.”

India also introduced price controls for pharmaceuticals in 2013. The controls produced mixed results, as stated in a study of India’s price controls: “the legislation led to decreased sales of price-controlled and closely related products, preventing trade that would have otherwise occurred. The sales of small, local generics manufacturers were most impacted by the legislation, seeing a 14.5 percent decrease in market share and a 5.3 percent decrease in sales. These products tend to be inexpensive, but we use novel data to show that they are also of lower average quality. We provide evidence that the legislation impacted consumer types differentially. The benefits of the legislation were largest for quality-sensitive consumers, while the downsides largely affected poor and rural consumers, two groups already suffering from low access to medicines.”

Over the years India’s price controls proved to be too restrictive, causing profit loss and the ensuing decline in R&D funding and foreign direct investment. New legislation announced in January 2019 removed price restrictions on new and innovative drugs developed by foreign pharmaceutical companies for the first five years.

At the same time the Department of Pharmaceuticals introduced another policy measure: for formulations that are not manufactured in India, the minimum local content was capped at 10% in 2018-19. Preference for public procurement programs in the pharmaceutical sector was to be given to domestically-produced drugs with minimum of 75% local content in the ongoing fiscal, which will go up to 90% by 2023-25. The move is likely to benefit the micro, small and medium enterprises in the drug sector.

It looks like India may have most of the answers for affordable healthcare for all. Is it an experiment worth watching and maybe duplicating in the future.

Tatler report: The rise in class A drug usage at British schools

In an exceptional report, British Tatler magazine writes about the rise of class A drug use in British boarding schools. The report is exceptional for two reasons: first, the topic is the complete opposite of the usual Tatler menu of snippets about Britain’s high society, royalty, fashion, lifestyle, and where to summer, and, second, it openly and unabashedly describes the drug scene at British boarding schools. Again, very unusual for Tatler.

As a long time subscriber to the print issue (one of my small vices, being a secret royalist) I was at first slightly taken aback at the “affront” of having a real world issue rear its ugly head in my escapism window, but then applauded Tatler for its audacity. You might think that audacity it too strong a word for a report that in its style and topic appears almost weekly in magazines like Rolling Stone, Pacific Standard or Quartz, but you have to understand that Tatler, a more than 300 year old publication, is supposed to be all about gossip and having fun and parties. Writing about how the offspring of its upper-middle-class readership is wasting its youth on drugs (some drug users start at age 13) is startling and extraordinaire.

As interesting and informative as the report is, I have my misgivings about it appearing in Tatler. It soiled my happy vicarious dreamlettes of hobnobbing with Kate Middleton, the Duchess of Cambridge, or the the best rosés to drink this summer, and how the Royal Family are spending their summer holidays.

To each his own. I prefer my British Tatler bubbly and lighthearted, as served at the Royal Champagne hotel and spa. Leave the grunge to those who wallow in it.

Tatler, 1709

Cardiovascular disease accounts for 40% of deaths in China.

The Chinese people have used salt to prepare and preserve food for thousands of years. But consuming lots of salt raises blood pressure, increasing the risk of cardiovascular disease which is the cause for 40% of deaths in China. While salt intake in northern China has declined over the past four decades, which may be the result of the government’s efforts to increase salt awareness, salt intake in southern China has increased during that same period, which could be due to increased consumption of processed, restaurant and takeaway foods. These lifestyle differences coincide with the rapid growth of China’s mega cities and the increasing affluence of their populations which lets them eat out more.

The article recommends replacing regular salt with potassium salt. However, that has its own problems. Potassium consumed in excess may be harmful for some people. For example, many persons with kidney problems are unable to rid their bodies of excessive potassium, which could result in a deadly situation. The best solution is to go salt free.

Is there a difference between hikikomori and shut-ins?

Hikikomori is a Japanese term that describes people who stay holed up in their homes, or even just their bedrooms, isolated from everyone except their family, for many months or years. The condition was first described in Japan, but cases have since been reported in countries as far apart as Oman, Indian, the US and Brazil.

Now, where I come from these (unfortunate?) people are called shut-ins or a “recluse; a person who abnormally avoids any social contact by staying indoors most of the time” as in “an example of a shut in is an elderly lady who hasn’t left her house for a month because she is afraid to see people.”

In 1998, Carnegie Mellon researchers warned that the internet could make us into hermits. They released a study monitoring the social behavior of 169 people making their first forays online. The web-surfers started talking less with family and friends, and grew more isolated and depressed.

Is calling these people hikikomori instead of shut-ins just pop-culture-induced orientalism or is there really a difference between the two conditions?

I am reminded of an refreshing article by Amy Olberding, a presidential professor of philosophy at the University of Oklahoma, with the title: “Tidying up is not joyful but another misuse of Eastern ideas.” She describes the susceptibility of Americans to plain good sense if it can but be infused with a quasi-mystical ‘oriental’ aura. She cites Kondo mania, from the “Tidying Up with Marie Kondo” show on Netflix, as a typical example of this affliction. Folding clothes as an organisational strategy is boring. But folding clothes as a mystically infused plan of life is alluring.

The professor goes on to explain how the words of Confucius and Sun Tzu have been leveraged into self-help advice on all kinds of subjects, from coaching your kid’s football team to improving your marriage. Wisdom from the ‘East’ has long been marketed to Westerners hoping to escape their existential maladies by seeking what is exotic, what promises to be more meaningful than what they have or can find locally.

The same goes for the “tiny house movement”, which used to be called living in trailers, and self driving cars, which used to be called taxis.

Women dream about sex!

The Germans have found the real reason so many women are dreaming about sex. Women aged between 16 and 30 have erotic dreams most frequently — 22.1 per cent of all their dreams, similar to their male counterparts, and triple the amount of their grandmothers’ generation. Today’s young women feel entirely comfortable admitting having sexy dreams — whether to themselves or other people — which helps with remembering them in the first place.

The rather lengthy article explores other aspects of sexual dreams. For instance, unlike in their everyday lives, women’s erotic dreams haven’t been influenced by social media, where physical perfection is so prized. Finally, the article reveals the secrets of three women and their erotic dreams.

Women have always dreamed about sex, but apparently now more so than ever. More power to them!

France: Babies Born Without Arms

In rural areas of France several babies were born without arms. So far 9 babies have been found to be afflicted with this disability but the search for others continues. For now, the cause is being described as “congenital” but baby boomers remember the Thalidomide crisis nearly 60 years ago during which over 10,000 children were born with a range of severe and debilitating malformations. The cause of the present deformations is unknown and may never be discovered, which is very unsettling for the parents, to say the least. Let us hope that this is either a singular event or that the French authorities find out what caused this tragedy.