Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Cleveland


The younger person was about two years old when a preschool friend of his, a little older, came over to play.

     "Let's go get bad guys!" the other boy shouted.

This, I learned, is what boys do.  Boys fantasize about performing acts of derring do.

-----

In the early autumn of the younger person's seventh year, I asked the mother of one of his friends what Halloween costume her son planned to wear that year.  I was looking for ideas.

      "No no no," she said.  "First you decide on the weapon.  THEN you get the costume."

-----

Several years later, the younger person and I joined other families as the children walked from house to house, trick-or-treating.  The younger person was dressed in a military costume and carrying a realistic looking plastic gun with an orange bulb on its tip.

The orange bulb FELL OFF the plastic gun as he walked.

I'm just grateful we weren't living in Cleveland at the time.

-----

The younger person since has grown into an honorable young man.  All the bad-guy-hunting, fake-gun playing and video-game shoot-em-ups of his early years have had no negative effect on his personality or character.  The same is true of his friends.

-----




I wish Tamir Rice had had the opportunity to grow up as well.




Police

I found this comment, posted yesterday, on a Cleveland newspaper's website.

     I am a white male and have tended to give law enforcement the benefit of the doubt
     in most cases throughout my life where police have been accused of excessive force
     and/or wrong doing.  My brother has been a career law enforcement officer in Colorado,
     as a police officer, SWAT team member, anti-gang unit officer, etc.   I don't have a
     distrust of police and believe 90% of them are good people doing the best they can in a
     sometimes harsh environment.

     Having said that, I would seriously question anyone trying to defend these two officers'
     handling of this incident.  We all know Tamir had a toy gun that looked real (just like
     most toy guns used to look when I was a child playing with them 30-40 years ago).  If
     Tamir had a chance to point the gun at the officers - and done so, I believe these officers
     would have been justified in believing their lives were in jeopardy and using deadly force.
     But that was not the case here.  According to the police statements, the officers drove up
     on the scene and told Tamir to drop the weapon.  If that is true, then Tamir would have
     been following police orders in reaching into his waste band to grab the "weapon" - as it's
     difficult to "drop" a weapon that you don't first have in your hand!   The video shows the
     boy being shot by the cops within a second or two of them pulling up on him.  I understand
     cops have to make split second (sometimes life/death) decisions, but in this case, they
     brought that upon themselves by driving up on the "suspect" when there was clearly no
     need.  The boy was alone and nobody's life was in danger when these cops showed up.
     They should have approached from a distance and assessed the situation before putting
     themselves in a situation of having to make a split second fire/don't fire decision.  The
     tactics of these two officers put both themselves and Tamir's life in unnecessary danger.
     The fact is, this kid was just being a kid.  Probably not a wise move in today's world to
     play with a gun that looks real out in public.  When I was 12 I did many things that my
     adult self look back upon as being less than wise.  No reasonable person looks at the actions
     of this boy (or at least what we know of his actions) and thinks he deserved to be shot.

     When assessing the actions of these 2 officers, ask yourself this one question.  Did their
     tactics put the public, the officers and the suspect in the least amount of danger?  I have
     a very difficult time answering "yes"  with what is known about this case and what has
     been shown on video...

-----

Police departments, like all the institutions of man, are flawed.

Police officers deal with people at their worst moments, and we can understand if not sympathize when they develop an "us against them" attitude toward their fellow citizens.

Still, we need police departments.

Saying that most police officers -- 90 percent or even 95 percent -- are measured and careful is not enough.  That majority has to assert itself against the weaker links.  It has to force them out of their jobs before they undermine public trust, before they needlessly escalate situations and kill people, and long before their actions are presented before grand juries.

Otherwise you end up with what happened in Cleveland.

Monday, December 28, 2015

The Downside of Hoverboards

Below is a hoverboard, a battery-powered self-propelling means of transit for people who find walking too slow or tedious.


I saw many, many, many hoverboards last January and February when I was in Southern California.  Here are a few shots of people hoverboarding (if that's the term) along the boardwalk in Venice and Santa Monica.





At the time, I assumed the whole country had adopted the hoverboard habit and I was just a late adopter, as usual.

But no.

Hoverboards only moved into the rest of the country later, when the warm weather arrived.

By this Christmas, hoverboards were the new, hot gift.

Perhaps too hot.  It appears there are better hoverboards and worse hoverboards.  All are powered by lithium ion batteries, the sort of batteries used in cellphones, cameras and, among the older set, pacemakers.  Clearly some of these bigger lithium ion batteries are better than others.

I read the other day that a hoverboard burst into flames near the Jersey Shore, burning part of a house.  Sadly, this had happened before.

Now the new trend in hoverboards is how dangerous they are.  Here's a recent news report.



I learned three things from this report that put me off the idea of getting a hoverboard myself.

1.  Justin Bieber and one of the Kardashians have hoverboards,

2.  It could burn my house down, and

3.  It could knock me on my tailbone, according to the pre-Christmas Texas newscast below.
     This report offers guidance on hoverboard use, but still . . . .



Why take the chance?

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Valeant


There's a lot of schadenfreude rippling through the healthcare industry these days.  Much of it has to do with the declining fortunes of a pharmaceutical corporation named Valeant.

Here's a quick rundown of what happened with Valeant in 2015, which is turning out to be a no good, awful, very bad year for the company.
 

Pearson

Valeant (VRX in stock lingo) was taken over in 2008 by J. Michael Pearson, a New Jersey man who had worked 23 years at the consultancy McKinsey & Company and who had run its pharmaceutical advisory practice.

Pearson's idea was to buy drug companies, strip out their research innards and concentrate on distribution of existing products.  Also -- and more important -- to mark prices as high as possible.  This worked pretty well, increasing revenue from  $757 million in 2008 to $3.55 in 2012.


By 2014, Pearson was a billionaire and Valeant was trying to buy Allergan, a huge pharmaceutical company famed for its research and determined to keep it up.
 

Allergan fought back.  According to a Business Insider article by Myles Udland, a bright young Jerseyan who hails from my town:
     
     Allergan argues that its R&D spending doesn't result in a bunch of wasted 
     money. The $7 billion it spent on R&D between 1992 and 2013 resulted in 
     about $50 billion in cumulative sales, the firm said.

     The company also said additional R&D spending will result in $120 billion in 

     additional sales over the next 10 years. 

Allergan managed to escape Valeant's blandishments and was bought by another actual pharma company, Actavis, in a deal that was completed in March. 

By then, though, Valeant's wheels had begun to come off.  The next month, the Wall Street Journal reported on its up-pricing of two drugs, Nitropress and Isuprel, by 525 percent and 212 percent, respectively, the same day it bought the right to market them.  The drugs are used to treat serious conditions -- dilated heart vessels and congestive heart failure. 


All of a sudden Valeant was attracting the attention of camera-hogging national politicians and the general press as well as business and healthcare publications and websites.  

Short sellers -- who bet money that a given company's stock price will go down -- smelled blood and also went after Valeant.  One, Citron Research, released a chart of 30 drugs acquired and then repriced by Valeant;  increases ranged from 135 to 2,288 percent.  

  
Then the press got onto the VRX business model, discussing how Valeant looked very different from other pharma companies that invested money in, you know, actual pharmaceutical research.  Business Insider published this chart.



Nobody likes high drug prices, but drug development is expensive and there is a certain sense that drug companies that provide helpful new medicines should recoup costs and make a profit for their work.  What outrages people about Valeant is that it develops nothing; its cynical business model is to identify opportunities to bid up prices very substantially and then to do so.

Then questions were raised about Valeant's relationship with pharmacy benefit manager Philidor.  PBMs stand between drug manufacturers and drugstores in the distribution chain.  Initially it was suggested that Philidor (which Valeant had an option to buy) was fraulently reporting sales revenues in concert with Valeant.  Later it was suggested that Philidor was manipulating only internal transfer payments.  In any event, Valeant looked bad again.

Recently Valeant announced some kind of distribution agreement with drug chain Walgreens, which may result in some lower prices for some Valeant products sold by Walgreens pharmacies but does not address the large issues.

Two days ago it was reported that Valeant Chairman-CEO Pearson had been hospitalized with a serious case of pneumonia.  It has been a hard year for him, and it is fair to guess that the company's struggles have taken a toll on his health as well as his pocketbook.  (Also to hope that his treatment requires the use of some of Valeant's premium-priced products at his own cost.)

Valeant's stock price has fluctuated wildly, reflecting the havoc.  It started 2015 at $144, rose to almost $264 in August, dropped below $70 in November and closed around $114 on Christmas Eve.  To the extent the price has increased in the final quarter, it may reflect hopes that the company will be sold soon.

Valeant is not the sort of stock I'd want in my IRA, but since it is mostly owned by institutional investors, you may be a part owner if you have a pension.

Tomorrow we will discuss a few points related to the prices of pharmaceuticals.



Thursday, December 24, 2015

Plane Crazy



The New York Post published a story recently about the increasing numbers of service animals flying in the passenger cabins of airliners.  One quote described an amusing situation -- or at least amusing to those not on the affected airplane.

      “A guy had a miniature horse, which didn’t fit comfortably in the back, so he was put in
     first class,” says Eric Lipp, executive director of Open Doors Organization, an advocacy
     group for people traveling with disabilities. “The airline made the horse wear these little
     shoes so it didn’t scuff the plane, but it pooped all over and the other first-class travelers
     weren’t happy.”

The Open Doors people, like others, are beginning to suspect that people are taking advantage of laws allowing people to bring their animals with them on commercial airliners.

This is old news, of course.  I'm on airplanes every few months or so, and I can attest that there are more animals on planes these days.  A few are seeing-eye dogs or animals to assist otherwise disabled persons, but most seem to be emotional support animals who provide comfort to people, particularly young women, who are too sensitive to endure the trauma of air travel without beloved pets.

And it's not just airplanes.  I saw a man pushing a dog in a stroller at a shopping center last week.  Apparently retail shopping is also stressful for some people.

(If you would like to register your pet as an emotional support animal, you can go online and find a helpful psychologist who will give you a letter affirming your need for about $100.  With this, you too can travel with Fido.)

Naturally, I was all over this story months ago.  You can find my description of the general phenomenon, "Pets on Planes," in a post from March 4.   Two days later I assembled a compendium of people's reactions to other articles, "Pets on Jets -- the Fur Flies."

My own interest had been provoked by a 2014 New Yorker story by Patricia Marx.  She wrote about "touring New York and Boston with five emotional-support animals."

 I have thoughtfully posted this very amusing piece on theidiosyncratist.tumblr.com for your enjoyment.  I do like the way this woman thinks.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

A Merry Little Christmas

Last year, the Idiosyncratist posted a popular story about the famous holiday song, "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas," which was edited several times on the way to becoming the holiday hit we know today.  The post seemed to resonate with readers, and so I want to share it.

I have added that story to my companion blog, theidiosyncratist.tumblr.com, for those who are interested and new to theidiosyncratist site.

A couple other posts are in the process of being assembled even as the Idiosyncratist prepares for a large holiday dinner.  Please bear with me as we all work through the busy season

Best wishes to all my readers.  I pledge myself to improve the blog in the coming year, and most particularly to make it easier for others to post their comments.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Holiday Shopping -- Be Careful Out There


This is a particularly competitive holiday season.  Merchants are finding themselves overloaded with inventory and marking down prices to compete with competitors in similar situations.

Meanwhile, consumers are trying to score holiday gifts at good prices.  By this point in December every year, the freeway exit into our local mall typically is backed up onto the travel lanes by midday every weekend.  This year, the backup is even worse.


An Unfortunate Event

Yesterday there was an unnecessary and regrettable incident at another mall in New Jersey.

The parking lots were full, and a teenage woman (with a driver's license) located a parking spot that another shopper was preparing to leave.  The young woman activated her turn signal and stopped to wait until the space was emptied so she could park.

Along came another woman, 48 years old, in her own car.   She stole the newly empty space before the younger waiting woman could park her car in it.

I know what you're thinking:  The waiting teenager got angry and made a scene.

But that is not what happened.

The woman who ignored the traditional parking etiquette of shopping malls got out of her car, carrying with her a 15-inch metal pipe.

When the younger woman remonstrated, the older woman swung her pipe and struck the teenager in the back of the head.

The older woman has been arrested, and the younger woman is nursing a head injury.

Here is the lesson:  Holiday shopping is important, but it is not that important.  It is not worth getting clocked with a heavy object.  It is not worth getting a criminal record.

Friends and relatives of both women would prefer not to receive gifts than to receive gifts obtained under such perilous circumstances.

Why do I  have to explain these things?

Monday, December 21, 2015

Famous Albanians




Many people were pleased to learn that Martin Shkreli was arrested last week and charged with running a Ponzi scheme.

You remember this guy.  His pharmacy company marked up the price on the drug Daraprim by more than 5,000 percent.  And then he bragged about it.

And then he bragged some more.  About his Picasso and his unique Wu Tang Clan album.  About how smart he was, and how rich he was.  About how he was the most famous Albanian of all time. For the last several months, Shkreli has been the man everybody loves to hate.

A sample quote:   "I don’t mean to be presumptuous, but I liken myself to the robber barons,” he told Vanity Fair.

Shkreli has founded two hedge funds and two drug companies.  If you believe federal prosecutors, he  used money "invested" in his second fund to pay off investors in the first and money from the first pharmacy company to pay off the second fund's investors and on and on.

Basically he is like the title character in "The Wolf of Wall Street" movie, but without the subtlety.

There are a lot of blue-suede shoe guys like this, and the wonder of it is that by the time he was 32 years old and launching his latest company there was anybody willing to invest with him.  Caveat emptor, and all.

In fact, if he'd kept his mouth shut, he probably wouldn't be in the pickle he is in now.  Securities regulators had had him on their radar earlier, but his recent notoriety seems to have led them to speed up their investigations.

People say Shkreli is very intelligent, but I have to question this.  If a really bright person wanted to get away with a drug price increase like Shkreli's, he would have put on a pair of glasses, flanked himself with some guys in white coats and talked soberly about the crisis of funding for drug research.

Instead, Shkreli painted a giant target on his back.

And, by the way, Shkreli isn't the most famous Albanian ever.


Mother Teresa



Mother Teresa, an ethnic Albanian, is probably even more famous than Martin Shkreli.   She was the Roman Catholic sister who founded  the Missionaries of Charity, who served the indigent sick and dying in Kolkata and many other countries.

Her admirers were legion.  She received the Nobel Prize for Peace in 1979, and the members of her religious order number in the thousands.  After her death in 1997, Pope John Paul II beatified her, and last week the current pope said a second miracle has been attributed to her intercession with God on behalf of a sick person.  She soon will be named a saint.

The example she set of serving the poorest of the poor has inspired millions to do good works themselves, but she was not without controversy.

The acerbic and gimlet-eyed British intellectual Christopher Hitchens took out after Mother Teresa in a 1994 documentary titled "Hells Angel."  Hitchens, who died in 2011, was not just an atheist but an anti-theist, and not all the points of his critique resonate for me.  But many do.  I have posted this 24-minute broadcast on my companion website, theidiosyncratist.tumblr.com; I recommend it.


Note:  A new volume of Hitchens' essays, "And Yet. . . .," was released at the end of November. USA Today's review says,  "the British-born, Oxford-educated, chain-smoking, booze-infused Hitchens leaves a trail of brilliant, brawling and provocative quotes and ideas to consider, admire or deplore, depending, of course, on one’s point of view."




Sunday, December 20, 2015

The Five-Finger Discount



The most read article (at least by me) in our town's weekly newspaper is the "Police Blotter."  I am always surprised at the reports of brazen shoplifters who regularly loot stores at our local mall.

Early last month, for instance, a woman was observed walking out of Neiman Marcus with three Chanel handbags, two Chanel sweaters and one Chanel necklace without bothering pay to pay the $24,000-plus cost of the items.
     Two days earlier, a man had attempted to open a Neiman charge account with a "fraudulent"  -- which I believe means "stolen" -- credit card.
      One month earlier, three men entered the Neiman
store, "selected 20 pairs of jeans," ran out into a waiting car and fled.
      The day before that, at the Footlocker store, two men absconded with $400 worth of sweat pants.

Most people associate the Salvatore Ferragamo brand with shoes, but if you walk by the store in our mall, you mostly see women's handbags, which are apparently irresistible.
      This fall, a man and woman walked into the store, where the woman asked to try on a pair of boots. While the store clerk went to find the right size, the two loaded four handbags (and a couple belts for good measure) into a Bloomingdales bag and ran; they were caught on the store's surveillance tape, but they got away with $7,150 worth of merchandise.
      The next month, someone walked off with two bags valued at $2,300 from the same store.

There are also inside jobs.  Several weeks ago, a Macy's cashier was stopped at the end of her shift when she walked out of the store with $60 taken from her cash register.  The next day, Nordstrom nabbed an employee who removed $540 from a cash register and put the money in her pocket.

-----

Over years of reading the shoplifting reports, I have learned a few things.

     1) For a long time, shoplifters carried large store bags lined with aluminum foil to prevent those awkward sensors from setting off alarms when non-purchased goods were carried out of stores.

    2) More recently, shoplifters have discovered or obtained the hardware necessary to remove sensor tags.  Last month, three Club Monaco shoppers "tried on" clothes; after they left the store, six sensor tags were found in the changing rooms, but not the $1,000 worth of goods to which the sensors had been attached.
     Another shoplifter -- caught with $2,000 of Bloomingdales merchandise in her bag -- was charged around the same time with "possession of an anti-shoplifting device."

Stores work hard at  LP -- loss prevention.  There are cameras, cash register monitoring programs and undercover LP snoopers dressed like regular shoppers who patrol stores with eyes wide open.  When people are caught stealing, they can expect to be prosecuted.

I don't shoplift myself, and I do not present these facts as news you can use. I just think it is interesting.


Shoplifting Nationally

If you read the retailers' association literature, about $44 billion of goods were removed from stores last year.  The total is greater than all other property loss in the country, albeit in a much greater number of small incidents.

About 40 percent of the "shrinkage" was ascribed to shoplifters; about one-third was theft by store employees, some of whom assisted friends with sham checkout procedures and others who just took money or goods directly; other losses are attributed to poor merchandise control,  vendor fraud and other miscellany.

(I'm not sure whether I believe these figures.  I don't see how any merchant -- let alone a national association of retailers -- could calculate such losses or ascribe definitive percentages to each group of bad actors.)


Meanwhile, Back at the Mall

A lot of the boosting at our local shopping center seems to be from expensive stores -- Saint Laurent, Armani, Saks, Gucci and so on.  One guess is that many of the thieves are looking for brand-name goods that can be fenced for cash.

-----

In addition to shoplifting, there is the matter of theft with the use of false payments.  On one day, a man tried and failed to "buy" goods at two different stores using counterfeit $100 bills. Another buyer was able to buy a $160 jacket at Hollister with cash later found to be fake; store employees also discovered later that two other similarly priced jackets were missing.

In another case, a couple tried to make a purchase with four separate credit cards; all of the charges were denied because the credit cards had been stolen.  The two were arrested for fraud.

A few weeks ago, a California couple attempted to use a fraudulent American Express card and a fraudulent identification to spend $3,120 at Gucci and $4,000 at Louis Vuitton.  They were arrested for fraud and identity theft and then released with a court date.  I'm betting they'll be back in California by then.

In fact, a nontrivial number of shoplifting arrests seem to involve people who already have outstanding warrants in other cities, also for shoplifting.


Why Shoplift?

I found a Reddit post seeking people's explanations for why they shoplifted.  The shoplifters generally seemed to believe that their stealing doesn't hurt actual people, just big corporations.  People can rationalize their way around just about anything, I guess.













Saturday, December 19, 2015

Notes on Nashville Food


The Significant Other and I spent a few days in Nashville last week and had a great time.  It's a lively city, growing fast and full of various entertainments.  We especially enjoyed the local cuisine.

-----

We arrived in the late morning, and ventured down to Broadway, the city's entertainment row, to find some barbecue.  We stopped at Rippy's, a two-story restaurant/bar/sports bar that sits in the shadow of the Memphis hockey arena.  (Yes, Nashvillians are hockey fans.)
     Inside were a medium-sized number of lunchers and three young musicians performing live for the small crowd.
     We ordered our barbecue, which arrived with sauce. I poured the sauce on my pulled pork, carelessly, and it took several glasses of water to wash it down.  (Tennessee barbecue can be "dry" or "wet," and it is always wise to consult your waiter about the relative hotness of what is served before ordering or, at least, taking a first bite.)
     Meanwhile, the singers were performing; they may not earn recording contracts, but their music was pleasant and not hard on the ears. One of them walked around with a tip bucket and inquired where we lived.  After we said we were from New Jersey, she rejoined her colleagues and they knocked out a Bon Jovi number.
     Then another fellow, from Austin, was encouraged by two friends to sing a song they all liked.  He grabbed a microphone and did so.
     The diners at the bar and tables were not many in number, but beer was being sold in copious quantities. Several times the bartender pulled five bottles out of a cooler and uncapped all in less than 10 seconds.  Nobody seemed drunk, but the atmosphere was convivial.

-----

The next two evenings we ate at nice restaurants.  Both had unusual menus that suggested nouvelle cuisine is alive and well in Tennesee.

Some examples from each:

Restaurant One:
      -- Appetizer:  Octopus and Shrimp Bruschetta:  manchego, arugula, fennel roasted tomato,
                             capers, garlic oil, sunflower seed hummus, bacon.
      -- Entree:  Grilled Lamb Loin: feta filo crust, pomegranate walut sauce, lemon black olive
                        tapenade, confit pearl onions, tunisian poached apricot, mint relish, grilled okra.

Restaurant Two: This farm-to-table restaurant's menu was a little less complicated, but included items not found often outside the south -- porkbelly poptarts, crispy pig ears and braised cow tongue, among others -- and possibly not found often in the south either.

I am am not criticizing these menus, only noting their novelty.  Everything we ordered was carefully prepared and tasted great.

The restaurants also had remarkable beverage lists.  In Restaurant One, the drinks menu included about 10 wines and 108 bourbons and other whiskeys. Yes, I counted.
      (True, Tennessee is at the center of the American whiskey industry.  But our family visited Scotland some years back, and I can't recall any restaurant there that stocked more than 15 single-malt scotches, including the 18-year-old ones.)
     At the recommendation of the bartender, the SO and I shared a shot of Belle Meade bourbon, which was excellent.  Later, a friend recommended another one, Knob Creek (distilled in neighboring Kentucky), which also was excellent.
     You can't drink this stuff every night, of course, but I understand now why bourbon is trending these days.
-----

We stayed in the not-swanky Hyatt Place in downtown Nashville, and a buffet breakfast was included in the tab.  I used to live in Texas and have spent time elsewhere in the in south, and so I figured I knew what to expect -- biscuits and gravy.  Also grits.
     But these were not on the menu.  Instead there was a nice selection of breakfast sandwiches.  I don't eat any of the above-mentioned foods, but I did appreciate the novelty.
     Also there were cut-up sections of fresh ruby grapefruit and plain yogurt, which are to my mind a fine way to start the day.  So I was happy.
     And I kept getting happier.  The hotel lobby jingled with holiday music -- not some bland Muzak loop tape but good stuff -- jazz and ballads and blues, some familiar to me but most of which I hadn't heard before. Great stuff.

Friday, December 18, 2015

Two Years in Prison

I have been reading recently about a couple of criminal prosecutions in the New York area.  The nature and severity of the offenses were very different -- a career of political corruption versus a stupid decision to carry a handgun that resulted in an injury to the man who carried it -- but the punishments were almost exactly the same.


Spicuzzo 

Joseph Spicuzzo

Spicuzzo was for many years the sheriff and Democratic political boss in Middlesex County, the second largest county in New Jersey.

According to people in the county, he took care of himself very well.  There were reports that he raffled off good-paying jobs -- $10,000 in 1994 would get you hired as a sheriff's investigator; the rate had risen to $20,000 by 2007.  Promotions cost extra, and there of course were requirements to support party favorites with campaign lawn signs and contributions, and to do yard word at leaders' homes.

In 1997, a Jersey paper published an extensive report concluding that Spicuzzo "manipulated his office into a self-serving domain."

Fourteen years later, a state grand jury indicted Spicuzzo on charges that he accepted $112,000 in bribes over 12 years.  (Remember, Spicuzzo had been at it for many years longer than that.)

Spicuzzo pleaded guilty to accepting $25,000 in bribes.  He gave up his pension and was sentenced to nine years in prison.  Many in Middlesex believe that there are still sheriff's officials in Middlesex who got their jobs by paying off Spicuzzo; they refused to acknowledge this in the state's investigation.

Now, after two years spent not in the general prison population but an Adult Diagnostic and Treatment Center, Spicuzzo is being let out -- not paroled but allowed to go home and submit to regular supervision.  (Earlier, he was denied parole because he still blamed his crimes on others.)

His lawyer said the man is in bad shape.  He is legally blind and has had a stroke.  Now 70 years old, all Spicuzzo wants is "to see his grandchildren," according to the lawyer.

A nine-year sentence for 20-plus years of government corruption by a public official seems light to me.  To cut it down to two years is hard to understand, whatever his health.  I am not aware of similar compassionate treatment offered to other people in the general prison population.

I have no sympathy for Spicuzzo


Burress
Plaxico Burress

Plaxico Burress is -- or at least was -- a talented NFL player credited with catching the winning touchdown pass in the New York Giants' Super Bowl defeat of the New England Patriots in 2008.

That fall, Burress and his wife spent an evening at a club in New York City.  Burress made two stupid mistakes that night.  He unwisely carried a loaded gun tucked into the waistband of his pants, and he accidentally shot himself in the thigh.

He was charged with second-degree criminal possession of a weapon; a recently enacted New York law had set the penalty for such an offense at 3.5 years in prison.

As the case dragged on, Burress was released by the Giants.

Like Spicuzzo in Jersey, Burress accepted a plea deal -- two years of prison in his case -- and started his sentence as the 2009-10 football season was getting started.

Unlike Spicuzzo, Burress served all but three months of his prison term, during which period his wife gave birth to their second child and he missed two more football seasons.   One assumes that, like Spicuzzo who wanted to see his grandchildren, Burress would have preferred to be home with his children.  But no such luck.

The New York prosecutor said Burress' sentence was in line with all prosecutions of people carrying illegal guns in the city, but there is reason to believe the claim was plain false.

Two years later, in 2011, fewer than half the defendants who had been arrested for illegal possession of a loaded gun in New York City received a state prison sentence, according to an analysis of criminal justice statistics by the mayor’s office.

I will concede that Burress made mistakes, but I think his prison term was excessive under the circumstances.

Disproportion

New York and New Jersey are different states, of course, and their justice systems are different.  But even so, it is difficult to compare an effective two-year sentence for decades of public corruption with a two-year sentence for stupidly carrying a gun and injuring only yourself.

One offender was a white crook, and the other was a black celebrity.  I don't know if race made the difference or if prosecutors have way more latitude than they should.

When you get right down to the facts, Plaxico Burress has done far less harm in his life than Joseph Spicuzzo has done in his.  You wouldn't know it, though, from the treatment they received.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Critics Talk about "Star Wars: The Force Awakens"








I've been reading the reviews of "Star Wars: The Force Awakens."  The movie's official opening is tomorrow, but there have been showings for the film press, showings for charitable contributors and a huge, lavish showing for Hollywood celebrities.

Virtually very critic notes that the prequel trilogy (released after the first one) was very unfortunate and that this third one is much better.  To the extent there are reservations, they seem to involve whether this new trilogy is new enough.

There have been many cautions against giving away plot elements, but plenty has been leaked.  I will say this much:  Older characters from the first SW trilogy have been paired with new young ones who presumably will carry the next two sequels.  All are united to solve a mystery and battle bad guys.  This Disney release has been carefully engineered to maximize the longevity and financial prospects of the SW franchise.


Here are bits from some reviews:


Todd McCarthy of the Hollywood Reporter

"The Force is back. Big time. As the best Star Wars anything — film, TV show, video game, spinoff, what-have-you — in at least 32 years, 'Star Wars: The Force Awakens' pumps new energy and life into a hallowed franchise in a way that both resurrects old pleasures and points in promising new directions. But whereas the fundamental touchstones of George Lucas' original creation remain, in director J.J. Abrams' hands there is a shift in tone that brings the material closer to the feel of a Steven Spielberg film."

Old Talent
-----

Kyle Smith of the New York Post:

"I suppose the last thing you want to hear at a Rolling Stones concert is, 'Ladies and gentlemen, here’s two hours of entirely new material!' Even so, the shamelessness with which “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” replays the franchise’s greatest hits is startling. To put it another way, it’s a satisfying meal — but it’s $200 million worth of leftovers.

"Writer-director J.J. Abrams has done an honorable job and steered things away from the those horrid prequels. The Force Awakens feels like a genuine Star Wars movie, with well-executed battle scenes, light comic touches and a warm feel for its characters.

"Yet right about the time I was thinking, “Surely they’d never trot out another Death Star,” they trotted out another Death Star. There’s also another  . . . .

 "Competently running through the classics counts as a victory after 'Attack of the Phantom Sith,' but now that Star Wars has steered away from the Dark Side, the next episode is bound to be more interesting than this one. Let’s just say I have a new hope."

-----

Peter Bradshaw, in a five-star review for the U.K.'s Independent:

"The Force Awakens re-awoke my love of the first movie and turned my inner fanboy into my outer fanboy. There are very few films which leave me facially exhausted after grinning for 135 minutes, but this is one. And when Han Solo and Chewie come on, I had a feeling in the cinema I haven’t had since I was 16: not knowing whether to burst into tears or into applause."

-----

Bryan Bishop of The Verge:

"The impact of writer Lawrence Kasdan in all of this can’t be overstated. If George Lucas is the originator of the Star Wars universe, Kasdan is the creative force that refined it into its purest form. Kasdan came on to rewrite The Empire Strikes Back after its original writer died, but went on to co-write Return of the Jedi while also tackling movies like Raiders of the Lost Ark before transitioning into his own directing career. Nobody has ever written Han Solo, Leia, or Chewbacca the way Kasdan has — he arguably captured the definitive takes on the characters in Empire — and the minute they appear on screen, it’s clear Kasdan has tapped into the same sense of raucous and rebellious fun he did so many years ago."

-----

Justin Chang ofVariety takes a somewhat dimmer view:

"Still, the reassuring familiarity of (director J. J.) Abrams’ approach has its limitations: Marvelous as it is to catch up with Han Solo, Leia and the rest of the gang, fan service takes priority here over a somewhat thin, derivative story that, despite the presence of two appealing new stars, doesn’t exactly fire the imagination anew."

New Talent

-----

Joe Morgenstern of the Wall Street Journal:

"So much for deadly prequels. Star Wars is once again in sequel mode—it’s been so long since the original cast has been on screen that this one could be called a postquel—and the franchise has roared back with full force."

Morgenstern then gives away a bunch of plot points that I will not share, and concludes with this:

"Just go see it.  You'll love it."

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

The Security Sieve

Prominent politicians get a lot of protection from the random threats of violence that have people worried these days. You will not see the governor of my state anywhere -- at the gym, in a car, dining with friends -- without two burly, armed bodyguards keeping watch over him.

The rest of us must depend on our national security architecture, which is not particularly reassuring.  Some recent reports:  


-----



Yesterday, the Los Angeles Unified School District was shut down in an apparent "swatting" incident.  Some jerk with a computer emailed serious sounding threats to school board members.  District officials, wary after the San Bernardino shootings, told more than 640,000 students to stay home.
     Meanwhile. school security guards, the LAPD, state highway officials, the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) scrambled, unsuccessfully, to identify the source of the threat.  The effort must have cost hundreds of thousands of dollars and so far has led nowhere.

-----


 
The day before yesterday, the New York Times reported that the female terrorist in the San Bernardino shootings had a long social media history declaring her support of jihad and wish to participate in jihadism.
     This information was not detected when she immigrated to the U.S. because neither the DHS nor Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) looked into her publicly available social media background.
     So while Edward Snowden revealed that the government had been collecting meta data on all the rest of us for many years, immigration officials dithered over whether it was "appropriate" to look at potential immigrants' Facebook posts.  These officials are dithering still.

-----



Last June, a leaked classified report revealed that the Transit Security Agency (TSA) may not be doing a particularly good job of identifying threats to travelers.
     In undercover government tests of TSA airport security, as much as 95 percent of planted contraband -- weapons and explosives, not bottles of water -- went undetected by screeners, scanners and radiation searches.
     Think about it:  TSA has 47,000 employees, a $7.5 billion budget and, in audits of its effectiveness, a 5 percent success rate at keeping implements of mass destruction off airplanes.

-----

Another fun TSA fact: In May, it was reported that over the course of two years, 270 TSA employee badges had gone missing at the San Diego International Airport; more than 1,400 such badges were lost at Atlanta's Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport.
     Apparently nobody has totted up the total number of lost badges at airports nationwide.

-----

After the terror shootings in San Bernardino, Congress considered a measure to ban gun sales to individuals on the government's No Fly List, which aims to prevent likely terrorists from getting on airplanes.  There were the usual political skirmishes, but the more interesting result was the revelation that followed about how squishy and unreliable the No Fly List actually is.
     The national Terrorist Screening Center manages the No Fly List, which grew from 16 names before the 9/11 attacks to 2,500 names in 2008 to 47,000 names in 2013.  (Another list, the FBI-administered Terrorist Watchlist has been variously reported to contain 700,000 names or more than 1 million names.)
       It appears that a citizen can be placed on the No Fly List based on the hunch of a single bureaucrat. Many people with common names have been denied the opportunity to get on airplanes because they are "false positives."
     This was funny many years ago when late Sen. Ted Kennedy had problems because of a "T. Kennedy" on a watch list, but he was a U.S. senator and able to fix things fast.
     More recently, a Stanford PhD candidate, married and a mother, was not allowed to fly because a professional group to which she belonged had a name that sorta sounded like the name of an actual terrorist group.  She is Muslim and so had a great deal more difficulty.
     Long story short, these watch lists cannot be regarded as accurate but they do restrict the rights of an unknown number of innocent American citizens.

-----

Last year it was revealed that the personnel files of 21 million federal workers had been compromised in two major hacks apparently orchestrated by the Chinese government.
     Stolen information included names, addresses, Social Security numbers and other sensitive information of current and former federal employees and contractors.
     Initial reports of the theft of 1.1 million workers' fingerprint records were later revised up to about 5.6 million fingerprint records.
      Six months later, less than 25 percent of those affected had been notified officially that their personal information had been compromised.  This was revealed in an email sent from the federal Office of Personnel Management (OPM) to the Reuters news agency.  
      The OPM effort to help affected employees -- offering credit monitoring and data theft protection -- seems to have been very slow and awkward at best and woefully bungled at worst.

-----

No system, like no human, is perfect.  But I wish sometimes that our government efforts were less riddled with failings than they seem to be.




Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Star Wars Hoopla

As everybody knows by now, the newest Star Wars movie is being released by Disney on Friday.  In case you have been living under a rock, here is the trailer.



Disney, a company known for excellent marketing, has been selling the hell out of the picture and its related products.  Some examples:

--Last Friday was "Star Wars Night" at a Memphis Grizzlies NBA game that I happened to attend.
      The Grizz Girls (cheerleaders) were attired in form-fitting white Princess Leia-inspired outfits,
   and other familiar costumed characters -- Chewbacca, Storm Troopers, etc. -- tramped across
   the court during breaks in play.
      Griz, the furry team mascot, donned a cape for a light-saber battle with a Darth Vaderish alter-        ego mascot in black.  Then Griz brought out a big gray plastic blaster (that surely would get him
   shot by a cop on the street) and fired white plastic thingies into the enthusiastic crowd.
     Quite the display.

--If you look up "Star Wars Products" on Google, you will come up with 132 million posts.  (I'm a bit    perverse, and so I also looked up "Star Wars Porn Products," which yielded 1.2 million posts.)

-- If you are buying a holiday present for any child this year, you will find everything from Star Wars
   lunchboxes to Star Wars LEGO sets -- all marked at premium prices.

-- Virtually every merchandiser is selling Star Wars stuff -- Walmart, Target, Nordstrom, Kohls --
    every one of them.

The Walt Disney Company knows how to do promotion.


Star Wars History

This new movie -- "Star Wars: The Force Awakens" -- is the first in a final trilogy.  Two other Star Wars trilogies preceded it.  All the trilogies were born in the mind of George Lucas, the founder of Lucasfilm, which produced the previous six films.

The first trilogy was a boffo-socko cultural phenom, a myth-based narrative from "a long time ago in a galaxy far far away." It was exhilarating and new with excellent production values, great pacing and interesting characters.  The movies were released in 1977, 1980 and 1983.  They are film legends.

The second trilogy of films, prequels to the first, were released in 1999, 2002 and 2005.  I attended the first of these with the younger person.  The CGI (computer-generated imagery) was much better than in the first trilogy, but the characters, the story line and the rest of the film were awful. Neither of us cared enough to see the next two.

Then along came Disney.  Disney bought Lucasfilms in 2012 for $4 billion, betting that the Star Wars name and cultural memory could be monetized in films of the final Star Wars trilogy.  George Lucas participated in the early planning of the film but apparently has not participated in the production of this release.  (Honestly, if I had $4 billion, I might have bowed out myself.)

On the other hand, the stars of the original trilogy are featured in this one and have been making many appearances on the celebrity circuit.

Approximately one jillion screens will open the new Star Wars movie, starting at 12:01 a.m. December 18.  Hopes are high that this could be the biggest movie opening weekend of all time and that its gross sales will be higher than that of "Avatar," the previous record holder.


Star Wars and Disney Stock

Ever since Michael Eisner took the CEO job at Disney in 1984, the company has focused on extorting the highest possible value from its legacy assets. In Eisner's day it started with pricing up the cost of visits to Disneyland and Disney World and other theme parks.

Since then, the company has acquired Pixar, another film studio with many opportunities for follow-on profitable products.

More than a few stock market analysts are saying that Disney's acquisition of Lucasfilms was its smartest move ever.

The magazine "Wired" noted the other day that  "Disney stock has more than doubled since the Star Wars acquisition, which means it’s outpacing a growing market by an additional 50 percent."

Super-hyped trends like these last until they don't but, given its history, Disney deserves the benefit of the doubt.  I wouldn't buy the stock at this point, but unless the new movie is a total stinker, I think it will be a hit in gross receipts and ancillary profit revenues.

The only question is how big a hit it will be.


Thursday, December 10, 2015

Christmas Music

Several years ago the Significant Other put together a Christmas music playlist on an ipod.  It rings around the house during this season.  Here are some of the best parts. 


Piano music.  Peter Kater renders traditional carols with easy grace.  



Frank Sinatra, of  course.


Ray Charles, also of course.


Lou Rawls died in 2006, and it was a big loss for all of us.  This album is just great.  (If you don't have a bunch of Lou Rawls recordings, you could do worse than to start with his first breakout album, "Stormy Monday," recorded in 1962.)  


Willie Nelson's second Christmas is composed almost entirely of songs from his first one, plus a few                                                new things.  If you like Willie, you'll like this.



Essentials by the singers who made them famous -- John Lennon "Happy Xmas (War is Over),"  Eartha Kitt "Santa Baby,  Beach Boys "Little Saint Nick," Elton John "Step into Christmas," Chuck Berry "Run Rudolph Run," Bing Crosby "White Christmas," Nat King Cole "The Christmas Song." 




Not everybody loves Michael Buble (pronounced Booblay), who was a hit with teenage girls a few years back.  He is somewhere between a crooner and a belter; he does a good job with this music.



Josh Groban, good voice, obvious choice.  



                                              Even better, Andrea Bocelli's joyful album.



            I'm not usually a fan of breathy voices, but I like Sarah McLachlan.  Very nice album.

Single Songs

Last year, the upbeat funk group Earth Wind and Fire released a Christmas collection, "Holiday." It has two good songs ("Joy to the World" and "December," a rework of the "September" from a jillion years ago) that were worth putting on the ipod. Great energy.

Also energetic and very dance-worthy is Mariah Carey's "All I Want for Christmas Is You."  


Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Politics

The  Idiosyncratist does not participate in political discussions as a rule, but I want to break with my general habit to share four observations about one candidate and our electoral process.


Donald Trump

Donald Trump is not a politician.  He is not a Republican or a Democrat;  he is a Trumpian, a  one-off who enjoys running his mouth and is very comfortable conducting a campaign with a reality-show vibe.

His worst excesses are appeals to people's fears (thousands and thousands of Muslims celebrating after 9/11, for example).  Fear is a strong emotion.  Many people, perhaps most, are driven more by emotion than reason.  This is why Trump's messages resonate even when they conflict with facts.


Trump’s Enablers

The Trump candidacy, if you can call it that, has been enabled and pumped up by the excessive attention of news organizations.

Think of CNN, which is all over big stories and not much else.  Plan A for CNN seems to be to broadcast 24/7 updates and analyses of mass shootings, disasters involving commercial airliners and terrorist attacks that kill many people.  News people used to say, “If it bleeds, it leads;” CNN relishes stories with lots and lots of blood.

 If there is no disaster involving multiple deaths, CNN’s current Plan B is this:   Deplore Donald Trump.   (Other news organizations follow this A-B formula to a slightly lesser degree.)

 This works well for CNN because it delivers many viewers, and many viewers  means healthy advertising revenue for the network.

It also works well for Trump, who likes attention and doesn’t care what people think of him.  It allows him to conduct his campaign without the burden of paying for advertising or formulating careful policies to explain what he plans to do if elected.  (Nobody, least of all Mr. Trump, knows what he would do if he were elected.)

And let's remember there are a number of other candidates, of both parties.  They may not scream for attention the way Trump does, but they have things to say and there's a very good chance that one of them will be the next president.

The Trump-CNN symbiosis may be good for the two of them.  For our democracy, not so much.


The Permanent Campaign

Our country has spent most of a year jawing about an election that will not be held until near the end of 2016.  I’m already sick of it, and there are 11 months to go.

The prolongation of political campaigns does nobody any good.  It means that candidates must raise absurd sums from interested parties to hire advisers, media strategists, promoters and sundry other hangers-on.  It means that voters are besieged in person, by telephone and through the news media for the better part of two years, sometimes longer.



The British Alternative

Every five years  (or sometimes in between), the U.K. has a general election.  Four weeks before the election date, Parliament closes up shop, reopening only after the election.

On April 6,  2010, for example, the British prime minister announced that the next election would be on May 6, 2010.  After a scant monthlong campaign period, the election was held.  The parties sized up the results, and a new government was installed shortly afterward.

This year, the Parliament was dissolved on March 30, and the general election was held on May 7.  This meant the campaign was about a week longer than in 2010 case, but it was almost two years shorter than the American process.

Maybe we could take a lesson from our British friends.



Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Herbert Hoover in Belgium


Herbert Hoover, at right


Do you know why so many schools, parks, and streets in Belgium are named after Herbert Hoover?

One hundred years ago, Belgium was in a perilous situation.  It had declared itself neutral in World War I but was invaded anyway by a German army on its way to France. The Germans killed civilians, smashed what had been a healthy economy and looted Belgium of everything of value, including food.

A future U.S. president, Herbert Hoover, was in England at the time.  He took up the Belgian cause, employing his engineering skills and boundless energy to raise relief funds and direct food supplies to the Belgian people.

Three decades later, after the end of World War II, Hoover went to Eastern Europe and took up the same cause.

Whatever you think of Hoover's political career, he deserves to be remembered, here as well as in Belgium, as an honorable humanitarian.

I have posted an article about his World War I efforts in my companion blog, theidiosyncratist.tumblr.com.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

The Allure of Victimhood




Kean University in New Jersey is the sort of state school that I admire.  For generations, it has been educating immigrants and students who are the first in their families to attend college.

Its 12,000 undergraduates are ethnically diverse: 45.2 percent Hispanic and African American, 38 percent white and the rest mostly from other minority groups. The faculty is about 10 percent African American,  a rate most colleges would be proud to report.

In evaluations, Kean students consistently remark that they appreciate the diversity of their campus. So it was not surprising that on the evening of November 17,  about 100 of them were participating in a peaceful rally in support of black student protests at other colleges.

Then, around 10:30 p.m., a recent graduate -- the school's 2014 Homecoming Queen and former president of its Pan African Student Union -- joined the group with distressing news.

She shared twitter posts that she had discovered by a tweeter called @keanuagainstblk.  There were 10 racist tweets.  Here are a few:

     "kean university twitter against blacks is for everyone who hates blacks people"

     "KU Police, I will kill all the blacks tonight, tomorrow and any other day if they go to Kean                  University"

     "Kean University there's a bomb on your campus"


Reaction

Students and school leaders naturally were horrified.

One student tweet:

     @keanuagainstblk @kupolice HOW MUCH MORE DIRECT EVIDENCE DO YOU
     NEED? RACISM IS REAL,THIS IS A THREAT! ACT NOW!

Campus, local, state and federal law enforcement agencies immediately began investigations and strengthened campus security.  The school president urged students to come to school the next day, but many did not, which was understandable in the circumstances.

Within a few days, a group of black New Jersey ministers demanded the resignation of the school president.  One said this:

     The deplorable death threat against black students on the campus of Kean University did
     not happen in a vacuum, but arose from a climate of racial intolerance that has been allowed
     to fester for years under this president's watch.

Another said this.

     While we should all be shocked about the threat that was made against black students, those
     of us who are familiar with the atmosphere at Kean and who have talked with faculty and
     students are not surprised this happened.  Just as the case at the University of Missouri,
     President ______  has been tone deaf on the issue of race.

Again, all very understandable.

(Some in New Jersey earlier had urged dismissal of the president, who is not black, for other reasons -- the near loss of Kean's accreditation, a $219,000 conference table, his relationship with a major political boss -- but his contract was extended for five years after those objections came to light.  It's Chinatown, Jake.)


The Culprit

By now you have guessed who posted the offensive tweets.  It was the activist alumna who "discovered" them.

It appears that she left the campus rally, went to a computer in the school library, set up the twitter account and posted vile, racist tweets. Then she used them to foment fear and anger toward imaginary racists.

I'm not posting her picture or using her name.   According to news reports, she has been receiving death threats.  This may be true, but like the boy who cried wolf, she has said this before.  She now is accused of a third-degree crime for creating a false alarm.

I feel sorry for her, actually.

In manufacturing a hatred that did not exist, she embarrassed herself and damaged the credibility of a sincere group she hoped to help.  It was a cheat.

We hear often now of people, mostly young, who project racism, homophobia or sexual predation on others, usually people unknown to them.  They make up cartoon pictures of imagined enemies and then claim the mantle of victimhood.

Why would anyone want to be a victim?  There is more satisfaction, not to mention self-respect, to be found in facing real enemies and exposing them for what they are.


Note

One thing I did find distressing was this reported quote from a campus meeting following the announcement that the racial threats were false:

      In response to other questions, (the) director of the African Studies Department called
      the threats a result of the fallout from the continuing racism in society.

      "It does not matter that it was a black person who did this. This was all in the context
      of racism," (he) said.

What is needed is a greater commitment to plain truth.  Nobody argues that our racial problems are behind us, but similarly, nobody should conflate fake, manufactured racism with white racial animus.
We need to be better people here, all of us.



Saturday, December 5, 2015

One Fun Review

The Idiosyncratist has a companion site, theidiosyncratist.tumblr.com, to share provocative or humorous articles encountered here and there.


The most recent post, a real humdinger, is New York Times drama critic Ben Brantley's take on the newest David Mamet play and its star, Al Pacino.

Brantley loves both those guys, but he is bracingly candid about his misgivings about this latest project.

Hilarious.  Don't miss it.


Friday, December 4, 2015

The Turing Toxoplasmosis Story

Below are images of a 62-year-old medicine known as Daraprim.  It treats toxoplasmosis, a rare parasitic infection that can kill people with compromised immune systems -- AIDs patients and cancer patients -- and that also can pass from affected pregnant women to the babies they carry.  




Daraprim's market is very small -- about 2,000 people annually in the United States -- and the patients who need it REALLY need it.  

A generic version of Daraprim sells for less than $1 a pill in the U.K., and its U.S. manufacturer sold it for as little as $1 a pill not many years ago.  More recently the price had been raised to $13.50 a pill, which was rather high.

But then in August, something remarkable happened.  

The drug was acquired by Turing Pharmaceuticals, which immediately raised the Daraprim price by 5,550 percent, to $750 a tablet. 


Not surprisingly, reactions to the price increase were swift and angry.  Turing got lots of bad press even after its founder, Martin Shkreli, explained that the new, higher price would generate money that Turing would invest in medical research to develop new products for the betterment of all mankind.   

Martin Shkreli
Shkreli, 32, started Turing early this year (possibly naming it after Alan Turing, the British polymath credited with breaking the Nazi Enigma code and popularized in last year's movie, "The Imitation Game.") Shkreli's background includes starting two hedge funds and another drug company.   

A September post on the Business Insider website said this of the guy:

   
     Shkreli has been named in numerous lawsuits in which he was accused of carrying 
     out "schemes" to take money from former employers; making "false and misleading
     statements"; deceiving "the investing public"; and using Facebook and other social-
     media channels to harass family members of a man with whom he had a business
     dispute. Along with these allegations about his professional conduct, Shkreli is also
     facing an accusation of "gross" behavior in his personal life.
      
Recently, Turing has announced that it will discount the Daraprim price by as much as 50 percent -- to a scant $375 a pill -- in sales to hospitals.  

On Thursday Shkreli was interviewed at a business summit sponsored by Forbes magazine, where he told a slightly different, less ennobling story.   

     "I could have raised (the price) higher and made more profits for our shareholders, 
     which is my primary duty.  No one wants to say it, no one's proud of it, but this is a
     capitalist society, capitalist system and capitalist rules, and my investors expect me
     to maximize profits, not to minimize them, or go half, or go 70 percent, but to go to 
    100 percent of the profit curve that we're all taught in MBA class."

My understanding of capitalist theory is that, ideally, it works for everyone -- businesses supplying wanted goods to consumers willing to pay fair prices.  Shkreli sounds more like a rape-and-pillage guy to me.  Like him, I have an MBA (at least he claims to have one), but what do I know?

In fact, a pharmacy benefit company is planning a workaround -- compounding, or filling individual orders one at a time -- to get the essential ingredient of Daraprim to patients at a reasonable price.  I hope it works.  

Still, we must keep in mind that Turing bought Daraprim based on an assumed price of $13.50 a dose.  It seems likely that Shkreli can cut his new price very substantially and still make a profit. 


Corporate Drug Abuse

We have a lot of problems with pharma companies in this country, including these:  overinvestment in products to treat wrinkles and hair loss, underinvestment in drugs to treat serious conditions that afflict small numbers of people, and massive public advertising to plump up demand for newly patented drugs.

What I have described above is a newer abuse.

Once you get past the grotesquery of Turing's extortion of money from very sick people and their insurers, you have to conclude that Shkreli's strategy was pretty smart. 

It is by no means unique.  Turing is only the most recent wannabe to follow a path that seems to have been plowed by a now-prominent "pharmaceutical company" called Valeant.  

More on that later.