Monthly Archives: September 2016

Over There, Tod writes about Theranos with some stuff that didn’t make it into an article he wrote for Marie Claire.

I have some comments on a couple of them. First, about Holmes herself:

When speaking in public, Homes has an awkward, stilted way about her. She’s monotonous and unemotional. While others on Ted Talks vibrantly emote, Holmes just kind of dully drones on. When answering tough questions in interviews, she tightens up and looks nervous, her face a mask of forced smiles.

There’s nothing wrong with that, of course. Lot’s of people simply aren’t good on stage or interacting with people they don’t know, especially on camera. If you’re one of those people, you can sound boring, or look like you’re being disingenuous or hiding something, even if you’re not. The point simply being that when looking for a reason for how Holmes not only got away with doing what she did for as long as she did, but also for how she became a near-universal media darling, the answer “charisma” falls woefully short.

I was really taken aback when I saw my first Holmes interview. She wasn’t at all what I expected, which I guess was Melissa Mayer more or less. I’d seen pictures of her and except for the carefully staged ones, she looks… always. Pretty, in her own way, but very awkward in demeanor. Which maybe should have been an indication that she was not as polished as Mayer, but didn’t quite serve that way. Until her fall from grace, it actually made me like her more. There was a bit of phoniness about a Geek’s understanding of what a Cool Kid is, but emphasis on Geek. A kinship, of sorts.

The second is about narratives, which I think is important but have comparatively little to add:

No one who had Holmes answer their questions with that answer on national television was under any illusion that Holmes was in any way answering that question, let alone addressing a very real serious public health concern about her product. But no one cared. In every case, the person interviewing her smiles and nods, and moves on to ask her how awesome it is to be the world’s youngest female self-made-billionaire, or what it’s like to truly make the world a better place, or some other totally unserious question that fits the narrative they set out to push before they ever lined up their interview questions.

Theranos became a public health problem because it was in Theranos’s interests to push a narrative that simply and obviously was never true. But it became one too because it was in the media’s interest to do the same.

This worries me about media coverage generally. I was talking on Twitter with someone recently about globalism and how one of the criticisms may be off-base. He asked whether I actually believed what the article said, given that it’s a pro-capitalism outfit and our masters all want us to believe it. I said that I believed it, but acknowledged something important: While I believe it’s true, I believe the media would tell us its true regardless of whether it’s true. I think the media does this about a lot of things, including trade, immigration, and race and gender narratives. Even political race coverage, wherein I believe the experts who say that Trump likely won’t win, but in the event that Trump were going to win, I believe they’d be saying… pretty much what they’re saying now. Which doesn’t lead to a reflexive disbelief on my part, but a persistent skepticism I don’t always know what to do with. But narratives are exceptionally important, and deviating from high society’s favored narratives is costly, which makes it easier for everybody to go along.

The last is a bit more political:

It turns out — and I know this will come as a shock to you — that most states have laws against medically testing people without a doctor’s consent, especially by medical testing facilities using procedures not approved by the FDA. Go figure! Turns out that Arizona also once had laws like this on the books. HB2645 essentially lifted those regulations so that Theranos could begin selling its tests to Arizona citizens.

Unsurprisingly, this strikes me as a more complicated issue. Yes, the Arizona legislature dropped the ball here. And they did so in service of a bad actor. And yet… medically testing people without a doctor’s consent doesn’t strike me as an inherently bad idea. I would say something about unapproved-by-the-FDA facilities and that being a good place to hang my hat, but… well, it’s the FDA. While the FDA might keep a company like Theranos from selling faulty goods, I don’t have a whole lot of difficulty believing they’d approach a good actor the same way.

And in a statement against interest, I believe we require a doctor’s consent on too much. A commonly cited example is birth control. Eyeglasses requirements are a bug up my craw as well. Doctors are too busy, and their time both too valuable and too expensive, to be involved in everything. Which gets to the difficult, nitty-gritty aspect of regulation. My approach here isn’t “Deregulate Everything!” but that some things that sound like a transparently bad idea – such as allowing blood tests without a doctor’s consent – may not be.

So while I can easily see that this particular manifestation of such deregulation is a bad idea, it’s not super clear to me what a better model looks like.

Addendum: Make it four. He mentions former Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist as someone who lent Theranos credibility. I only bring this up because when there was talk of a Third Party thing with a split of the GOP, I brought up Frist on a few occasions. It was said mostly jokey, as someone underwhelming to a group of people who had their eyes on Mitt Romney or John Kasich. Someone kind of dusted off the shelf because “Hey, he’ll work.” Anyhow, one thought I did have that didn’t make me like the idea is how much he cashed in after he left office. The Theranos thing doesn’t surprise me. Notably, though, he sold out in ways that Democrats would approve by speaking positively about PPACA.

Category: Hospital, Statehouse

New York’s yellow-cab drivers no longer required to pass English test (The Guardian)

A new law that streamlines licensing requirements for different kinds of drivers has done away with the longstanding English proficiency test for taxi drivers, which supporters say will eliminate a barrier to the profession for immigrants, who make up 96% of the 144,000 cabbies in the city.

Drivers must still pass tests on such details as driving rules and where they can pick up passengers.

The end of the English test is also a recognition of how technology has transformed the business. Many drivers now rely on computer navigation programs rather than verbal directions to reach a destination. For-hire drivers for app-based services such as Uber have never had to take an English test.

Critics of the change, including some drivers, say a good command of English is a basic requirement for a job that involves communicating with passengers and reading street signs.

“If you’re going to work in this country serving the population which is majority made up of American citizens that speak English, you probably should learn how to speak English,” said Tanya Crespo, a tourist visiting Manhattan from Newport, North Carolina.

I don’t get irate about Pressing 1 for English. I am not worried that immigrants aren’t going to assimilate. I don’t get mad if I’m in line and the people in front of me are speaking a language I don’t understand. I only complain about Indian customer support when it actually makes customer support more difficult.

But on this? I agree with Crespo. I could favor getting rid of the requirement if it’s determined to be a waste of time and money. But to lower the barrier of entry? For New York Taxis? Because if they’re really interested in lowering barriers, I have some suggestions.

Back in reality, though, the taxi market is very constricted in New York. This may be right or this may be wrong, but it is what it is. We limit the number of taxis we allow on the streets for a variety of reasons, including preventing the oversaturation of the market. In other words, barriers for the sake of barriers. We only want a limited number of suppliers and, by extension, drivers. And if we’re going to limit the number of drivers, after things like bad criminal records and knows the rules of the road, language is a pretty decent requirement.

Most of the time you may not need to be able to communicate with the driver, but sometimes you do. And since the number of drivers on the road is limited anyway, it seems more than reasonable to require for that contingency. “What about markets” simply doesn’t apply here, and an argument about “Would you rather have a driver who can’t speak English or no driver at all?” doesn’t work, when we’re limiting the number of drivers anyway. (As an aside, this also raises questions about immigrants doing “jobs Americans don’t do”… but that’s pretty tangential.

Along these lines, I don’t care about Uber or Lyft. There we are talking about a tradeoff between the number of drivers and the ability to communicate with them easily. A language requirement might lead to less supply, which might be a tradeoff not worth considering. So I’d leave it to them to decide. If enough people get angry about non-English speaking Uber drivers picking them up, then they can revise. If nobody does and they will simply take the availability, then the people have spoken. (Provided, of course, that language requirements don’t transition into a legal zone of “unlawful discrimination.”)Photo by robnguyen01

Category: Road

Imagine a presidential debate between a Senator Mike Davis and Governor Betty Neilson. Throughout the entire debate, the Neilson refers to the senator as “Senator” or “Senator Davis.” In turn, Davis consistently refers to Neilson as “Betty.”

This would largely be considered a textbook example of sexism. Absent some greater context, I’d probably cringe at it myself. Even if I supported Davis.

I’ve commented before that in Deseret, my wife and other non-LDS female physicians were constantly referred to by their first name while male doctors of any religion (and female LDS ones) got the Doctor honorific. They did this in front of patients, which is a no-no. That LDS women got the “Doctor” treatment suggests it wasn’t entirely a matter of sexism but also of respect. But male gentiles got the respect regardless.

There’s nothing wrong with going by one’s first name, as a physician or anything. Clancy had intended to do so until she kept running into the problem of patients not taking her seriously, or slipping into calling her a nurse. So she goes by Dr Himmelreich largely to avoid that.

I had for the longest time avoided calling Hillary Clinton “Hillary.” This was an inconvenience in many respects because “Clinton” was typically a reference to Bill Clinton. It’s for the same reason that George W Bush was Dubya, W, or sometimes Shrub instead of just “Bush.” And Jeb is Jeb, of course. But even taking these things into account, I was very conscientious about it all. Then Hillary Clinton decided Hillary was okay and I stopped worrying about it. Even despite that, people have “called me out” for using her first name. As she gets closer to becoming president, I do refer to her as Clinton more and more, just as “Bush” gradually came to refer to the younger rather than the older.

To get back to Davis-Neilson, it’s noteworthy that while Hillary Clinton’s supporters are claiming sexism in the moderation of the last debate (because Clinton was interrupted more than once), less attention has been paid to the fact that he called her by her honorific while she referred to him as Donald. Trump really prefers to be called Mr Trump. She didn’t extend him that courtesy and likely declined to do so precisely for that reason. She wanted to get under his skin and make him do something stupid.

Nobody, of course, is going to call this sexism. Nor should they, even though it’s something Trump would have been called out for under different circumstances (that she accepts “Hillary” complicates things).

My point isn’t poor-old-Donald or anti-PC. But rather as an illustration that it’s complicated. Because the sexism being complained about absolutely exists. But it doesn’t exist in every manifestation. It’s not unlike how half of the lines of attacks against Bill Clinton (womanizer! Slick!) and George W Bush (dumb, unsophisticated, lazy) would suddenly take on a huge racial component when lodged against Obama in a very similar manner.

Which leaves the discussion in an awkward place. It’s easier to say “This wouldn’t happen if it was a white male” but that’s rarely accurate. It’s easier to say “This has nothing to do with race or gender” even though that’s probably wrong because race and gender can amplify or color particular arguments. The truth, that maybe this attack would be used anyway against a white guy but more likely under circumstances in which it is warranted and probably to lesser effect, doesn’t fit into a headline.

Category: Coffeehouse

In The New Atlantis, Jacob Hoerger writes of light pollution and what it’s doing to our views of the stars.

Growing up in the suburbs, I could always see the stars okay but not great. In the city, you can’t really see them at all. It wasn’t until I moved to Deseret that I was able to look up and see all the stars. It was an amazing, almost spiritual experience.

What strikes me reading the article, as well as people astronomer types talk about it, is how avoidable a lot of the light pollution is. My initial read on the controversy was… not favorable to the complainants. But the more I read, the more I understood where they were coming from. A lot of it is just sloppiness.

Category: Espresso

Japanese fisherman, 63, ‘fights off bear with karate’

The 63-year-old was fishing in a mountain creek when the 6ft 3in creature set upon him in what he said was an unprovoked attack.

In scenes seemingly reminiscent of Leonardo Di Caprio’s epic tussle with an angry bear in the Oscar-winning film The Revenant – Atsushi Aoki was bitten and scratched repeatedly, including on his head.

“The bear was so strong, and it knocked me down,” Mr Aoki told Tokyo Broadcasting System.

“It turned me over and bit me right here,” he added, pointing to his bandaged leg.

Category: Espresso

Category: Espresso
Life goes on, but hopefully not barreling through a crowd of people.


In response to a video of kinetic protesters ganging up on a car, Glenn “Instapundit” Reynolds tweeted the following to the right. Needless to say, it stirred up some controversy and backlash. Some went so far as to call his tweet an appeal for “mass murder”, though others stuck with terminology “vehicular assault.”

It didn’t take long for Twitter to act, and Reynolds’s account was suspended. What followed after that was reasonably predictable, with various critics and defenders, mostly along predictable lines. Reynolds defended himself thusly:

Sorry, blocking the interstate is dangerous, and trapping people in their cars and surrounding them is a threat. Driving on is self-preservation, especially when we’ve had mobs destroying property and injuring and killing people. But if Twitter doesn’t like me, I’m happy to stop providing them with free content.ANOTHER UPDATE: Was just on Hugh Hewitt talking about this. Since Twitter won’t let me respond to — or even see — my critics, let me expand here.I’ve always been a supporter of free speech and peaceful protest. I fully support people protesting police actions, and I’ve been writing in support of greater accountability for police for years.But riots aren’t peaceful protest. And blocking interstates and trapping people in their cars is not peaceful protest — it’s threatening and dangerous, especially against the background of people rioting, cops being injured, civilian-on-civilian shootings, and so on. I wouldn’t actually aim for people blocking the road, but I wouldn’t stop because I’d fear for my safety, as I think any reasonable person would.“Run them down” perhaps didn’t capture this fully, but it’s Twitter, where character limits stand in the way of nuance.

I think some of the frustration with Twitter on the part of many of Reynolds’s defenders is rather legitimate. In some cases, I disagree but think they are touching on something about the dynamics of politics, celebrity, and Twitter. Where they take action and where they don’t. Flagging Reynolds does seem (at best) random compared to a lot of trangessions that are let slid.

But seriously, this is not the hill to die on. If Reynolds had wanted to tweet about getting away, he could have done so. He didn’t. There are two reasons that a driver in such a terrible situation might run somebody over: To get away, or to inflict injury. If you’re advocating action that could result in both of those things, you need to be very clear about which of those things is your goal. Reynolds, intentionally or not, went for the unacceptable one.

Had the drivers hurt someone in the process of getting out, I honestly wouldn’t have been too bothered. If there was a recorded phone call prior to that saying he was going to “Run these assholes over!” with a note of enthusiasm, then that might be a different story. Maybe. Those kinetic protesters did put themselves in harms way, but that’s not a blank check to do whatever. Put those words in a recording, and an obvious attempt to plow through people rather than simply get out, then the driver has some explaining to do. I might be loathe to want to prosecute, but at the very least such actions should not be applauded or encouraged.

That doesn’t mean that he needed to be permanently banned, and he wasn’t. He just had to delete the tweet and everything was restored. There appear to be some glitches in the process, but by and large this all seems within parameters both for Twitter and Reynolds. Reynolds said something he shouldn’t have, which happens. Twitter took action, but nothing earth-shattering, and life goes on. At least it should.

Category: Newsroom

Ecigarette maker NJOY is calling it quits:

The company filed for bankruptcy protection on Sept. 16 in Delaware federal court, burning some high-powered Silicon Valley investors, including Sean Parker, co-founder of the now-defunct Napster, and PayPal founder Peter Thiel, who were part of a $70 million capital round that valued NJOY at $1 billion in 2013. Singer Bruno Mars is also an investor in NJOY and a fan of the e-cigarettes, which heat nicotine-laced liquid into vapor.

Parker, who ponied up $10 million to put into the company, said at the time that electronic cigarettes had the potential to make regular cigarettes “and all the harm they cause obsolete.”

The filing comes just five months after new federal regulations from Food and Drug Administration threaten the fast-growing multibillion-dollar industry that includes tobacco giants Altria and Reynolds, which own MarkTen and Vuse, respectively.

The funny thing about that third paragraph is that there is nobody less threatened than Altria and Reynolds. They have the money and resources to make it through the FDA’s hurdles. They will likely be the last to fall. And if they do fall, then there is no ecigarette industry to threaten their profits from ecigarettes. Though media outlets have persistently parrotted public health advocate lines that ecigarettes are the latest invention of Big Tobacco, the real pioneers were companies like NJOY that forced Big Tobacco’s hand. NJOY’s failure is literally Big Tobacco’s success.

That being said, as a first order of effect it’s hard to blame NJOY’s fall on the FDA’s Deeming regulations. Their sales fell to a tenth of their high mark in an industry that’s growing. They failed because they had a shoddy product. Where the FDA comes in is that it turned off the light at the end of the tunnel. Without the FDA regulations, they might have been able to pivot into different products, change their focus, or any number of other things. Instead, they are going to be required to spend millions of dollars just to keep their current lackluster product on the market. And unlike Big Tobacco, they just don’t have the resources to do so.

When I talk about their product, I should clarify. Though they sell different things, NJOY focused primarily on cigalikes and closed systems. They’re not bad products exactly. I quit smoking with Blu, which was a similar product. Others, though, have found their product not remotely satisfactory as a cigarette replacement and I myself would have had a much smoother transition if I’d gone straight to vape pens or some other more efficient device. Blu is still around, though they have gone from being front-and-center at the cigarette counter to something you see down at the bottom right tucked out of the way. There may be a market for items that give a poor vape but retain the look and feel of cigarettes, but it’s likely pretty limited, and NJOY’s model seemed built around it.

Some public health advocates seem to be celebrating this development, while some pro-vape people say it portends bad things. I believe it’s mostly irrelevant. I’m not worried about NJOY. I’m worried about vape shops, independent dealers, and the like. The main thing I will miss about NJOY is that they had a good media presence and were one of the better known brands that had never been associated with tobacco companies. They were an easy company to cite when someone said that the whole thing is a front for Big Tobacco.

Category: Newsroom

Tyler Cowen looks at possible reasons Trump won, if he wins. I remain confident that Trump is not going to win, but whether he does or not that he remains where he is means that some people are going to have to figure things out. Most particularly Republicans. Individual Republicans seeking to capitalize on his success, if not the party looking to prevent it. Maybe some of both. But how much of it is his grab-bag of policy? How much of it is his celebrity? How much of it is his abrasive posture? A lot hinges on the answers, which nobody presently knows.

Outside a Trump victory, one of the worst things that can happen in my view is a 3-5% victory for Hillary Clinton. Depending on what the exits say, close enough that the argument for a non-offensive candidate becomes harder to make, and far enough of a margin for the Democrats to believe that Demographics Uber Alles and they never need worry about losing again so there is no cause for alarm.

{Via Jaybird}

Category: Espresso
We don’t need to let everybody into the debates. However, debates should be more than just a selection mechanism but also a platform for introduction and discussion.


Category: Statehouse