67 looks different now

One of my all-time favorite books has always been The Human Comedy by William Saroyan. It’s a lovely novel about good-hearted, hard-working people living in a terrible time of death, destruction, and fear – the days of World War II. It is also written in a simple, delicious style, reflective of a certain simple goodness that much of our society no longer seems to prize.

In the course of the story, Homer Macaulay, a 14-year-old boy whose father has died and whose brother Marcus is away at the war, takes a job at the local telegraph office. There he meets Mr. Spangler, the manager, and Willie Grogan, the old-time telegrapher.

The following excerpt from the novel has always moved me because of Saroyan’s writing, but now more than ever since as of today I am no longer sixty-seven years old, the same age as Willie.

Homer sings “Happy Birthday” to Mr. Grogan

Spangler asked suddenly, “You know where Chatterton’s Bakery is on Broadway? Here’s a quarter. Go get me two day-old pies — apple and cocoanut cream. Two for a quarter.”  

“Yes, sir,” Homer said. He caught the quarter Spangler tossed to him and ran out of the office. Spangler looked after him, moving along into idle, pleasant, nostalgic dreaming. When he came out of the dream, he turned to the telegraph operator and said, “What do you think of him?”  

“He’s a good boy,” Mr. Grogan said.  

“I think he is,” Spangler said. “Comes from a good, poor family on Santa Clara Avenue. No father. Brother in the Army. Mother works in the packing-houses in the summer. Sister goes to State College. He’s a couple of years underage, that’s all.”  

“I’m a couple overage,” Mr. Grogan said. “Well get along.”  

Spangler got up from his desk. “If you want me,” he said, “I’ll be at Corbett’s. Share the pies between you—” He stopped and stared, dumbfounded, as Homer came running into the office with two wrapped-up pies.  

“What’s your name again?” Spangler almost shouted at the boy.  

“Homer Macauley,” Homer said.  

The manager of the telegraph office put his arm around the new messenger. “All right, Homer Macauley,” he said. “You’re the boy this office needs on the night-shift. You’re probably the fastest-moving thing in the San Joaquin valley. You’re going to be a great man some day, too— if you live. So see that you live.” He turned and left the office while Homer tried to understand the meaning of what the man had said.  

“All right, boy,” Mr. Grogan said, “the pies.”  

Homer put the pies on the desk beside Mr. Grogan, who continued to talk. “Homer Macauley,” he said, “my name is William Grogan. I am called Willie, however, although I am sixty-seven years old. I am an old-time telegrapher, one of the last in the world. I am also night wire-chief of this office. I am also a man who has memories of many wondrous worlds gone by. I am also hungry. Let us feast together on these pies— the apple and the cocoanut cream. From now on, you and I are friends.”  

“Yes, sir,” Homer said.  

The old telegraph operator broke one of the pies into four parts, and they began to eat cocoanut cream.  

“I shall, on occasion,” Mr. Grogan said, “ask you to run an errand for me, to join me in song, or to sit and talk to me. In the event of drunkenness, I shall expect of you a depth of understanding one may not expect from men past twelve. How old are you?’

“Fourteen,” Homer said, “but I guess I’ve got a pretty good understanding.”  

“Very well,” Mr. Grogan said. “I’ll take your word for it. Every night in this office I shall count on you to see that I shall be able to perform my duties. A splash of cold water in the face if I do not respond when shaken— this is to be followed by a cup of hot black coffee from Corbett’s.”  

“Yes, sir,” Homer said.  

“On the street, however,” Mr. Grogan continued, “the procedure is quite another thing. If you behold me wrapped in the embrace of alcohol, greet me as you pass, but make no reference to my happiness. I am a sensitive man and prefer not to be the object of public solicitude.”  

“Cold water and coffee in the office,” Homer said. “Greeting in the street. Yes, sir.”  

Mr. Grogan went on, his mouth full of cocoanut cream. “Do you feel this world is going to be a better place after the War?”  

Homer thought a moment and then said, “Yes, sir.”  

“Do you like cocoanut cream?” Mr. Grogan said.  

“Yes, sir,” Homer said.  

The telegraph box rattled. Mr. Grogan answered the call and took his place at the typewriter, but went on talking. “I, too, am fond of cocoanut cream,” he said. “Also music, especially singing. I believe I overheard you say that once upon a time you sang at Sunday School. Please be good enough to sing one of the Sunday School songs while I type this message from Washington, D. C.”  

Homer sang Rock of Ages while Mr. Grogan typed the telegram. It was addressed to Mrs. Rosa Sandoval, 1129 G Street, Ithaca, California, and in the telegram the War Department informed Mrs. Sandoval that her son, Juan Domingo Sandoval, had been killed in action.  

Mr. Grogan handed the message to Homer. He then took a long drink from the bottle he kept in the drawer beside his chair. Homer folded the tele- gram, put it in an envelope, sealed the envelope, put the envelope in his cap and left the office. When the messenger was gone, the old telegraph operator lifted his voice, singing Rock of Ages. For once upon a time he too had been as young as any man.

Saroyan, William, The Human Comedy, Harcourt, Brace and Company (1943)

Willie is 67, and has lived a hard life. Alcoholism takes its toll. I don’t feel as old as Willie, but I haven’t lived through two world wars or known the privations of the Depression. But the number stuck in my mind, and brought back these recollections.

Age is a funny thing. It’s relative. When I first read The Human Comedy as a young man (one of the few books that has ever made me weep like a grade-schooler), sixty-seven seemed far, far away and ancient. Now that I’ve passed that mark, aside from the wear and tear that comes with an aging body I don’t feel as old as Willie – somehow I’m still around 24 inside. Or sometimes 15. Or sometimes five.

I remember that even as a child, I was amused by Gelett Burgess’ poem “Consideration” found in Goops and How To Be them:

When you’re old, and get to be
Thirty-four or forty-three,
Don’t you hope that you will see
Children all respect you?

Will they, without being told,
Wait on you, when you are old,
Or be heedless, selfish, cold?
hope they’ll not neglect you!

But it’s important to remember that life expectancy has changed radically over the last century and a half.

  • Today, in 2019, the average human can expect to live to age 79.
  • in 1943 when The Human Comedy was published, the average US life expectancy for a male was 62.4, so Willie was well past the mark.
  • In 1900, when The Goops was written, the number was considerably lower: 46.3
  • And in 1853 when Herman Melville wrote “Bartleby the Scrivener,” lower still – around 38, so the narrator can be forgiven for calling himself “a rather elderly man,” ” somewhere not far from sixty.”

Much of the rising life expectancy can be attributed to advances in medical science, the eradication of many infectious diseases, and the judicious application of vaccines against diseases such as polio, smallpox, and the many childhood diseases that carried so many people away.

Public Service Announcement: Vaccines are generally safe and prevent far more suffering than they cause.

I’m to the point now where I can no longer count on the fingers of both hands the number of family members, friends and associates who have graduated from mortality at an age younger than I am today. We never know when our number will be called; like everyone else I will board the bus (“Heart and Souls” reference) when it comes for me, and while I hope for significantly more time here on earth I will be grateful for what I’ve been given. By the standards of days gone by, I’ve already beaten the odds by a mile.

The Old Wolf has spoken.

The Drug Pricing Maze

I’m grateful to have health insurance. Many, many people don’t, and that’s an ongoing debate in our society right now. That said, I absolutely don’t understand what’s going on with drug prices.

I get my long-term scripts filled by Magellan, a mail-order pharmacy. When my last batch of prescriptions was delivered, the printed circulars that came with them had some interesting information that got me thinking.

These are all very common drugs, not rare ones. Actual drug names have been replaced with ℞ A, ℞ B, and ℞ C.

℞ A: The lowest GoodRx price for the most common version of ℞ A is around $4.00, 90% off the average retail price of $43.29 (30-day supply)

OTC versions, for comparison:

Amazon: $27.96
Walmart: $8.00
Kroger: $17.06
Costco: $19.26

Magellan states that the ℞ price for a 90-day supply is $187.20
With Insurance: $10.00
Cash discount: $10.00
Net price: 0

So I ended up getting this one for free.

℞ B: (GoodRx) The cost for ℞ B is around $13 for a supply of 90 capsules, depending on the pharmacy you visit. Prices are for cash paying customers only and are not valid with insurance plans.

This drug is not available over the counter.

Magellan states that the ℞ price for a 90-day supply is $397.22
With Insurance: $10.00

℞ C: The lowest GoodRx price for the most common version of ℞ C is around $10.54, 92% off the average retail price of $134.99 (30-day supply)

Not available OTC.

Magellan states that the ℞ price for a 90-day supply is $450.00
With Insurance: $10.00

So I’ve paid $20.00 for scripts that should have cost me $1034.42

These numbers from Magellan just don’t add up. Are these “self-pay” prices, or just randomly inflated numbers to make me think I’m getting a killer deal? What is the “average retail price” anyway, if nobody pays that?

I found this article at Lifehacker, and it addresses the issue that I mention here – but even after reading the article, to me it is still a mass of confusion. And I realize that in terms of the complexity of the entire situation, what I’ve outlined is just the frost on the surface of the Antarctic ice sheet.

The situation is untenable, and I can clearly not choose the drugs in front of me.

The Old Wolf has spoken.

No, Turmeric lemonade is not better than Prozac

In current parlance, the word “woo” is defined at RationalWiki in this way:

Woo is a term for pseudoscientific explanations that share certain common characteristics, often being too good to be true (aside from being unscientific). The term is common among skeptical writers. Woo is understood specifically as dressing itself in the trappings of science (but not the substance) while involving unscientific concepts, such as anecdotal evidence and sciencey-sounding words.

No industry is more susceptible to the propagation of woo than the diet, health, and nutrition sector. Just say “trillion dollar industry” and you have the motivation to do and say anything to get a slice of that pie. Facebook, Pinterest, and Tumblr are all hotbeds for the dissemination of woo. Countless public figures have gotten rich by flogging woo, and in the process have led to believe that various and sundry herbs, spices, and so-called “superfoods” are a panacæa for all sorts of ills – cancer, diabetes, heart disease, and even lupus.


I’ve blogged many times about snake oil and supplements. The industry of deception is alive and well. Even a year after her death, my mother continued to receive slick-looking solicitations for absolutely worthless concoctions like “MentaFit Ultra“, which unsurprisingly is not even sold any more. These products arise in a flash of advertising, are sold to a whole raft of unsuspecting and gullible victims, and then vanish along with their creators, only to surface with another name and a new formulation.

Newser, a popular news aggregator, is still allowing multiple clickbait ads and popups for worthless and expensive supplements to appear on their website,  even though this last particular scam has been widely debunked by multiple sources – two of note are Malwarebytes and Snopes. A percentage of this may be the result of poorly-vetted or supervised automatic affiliate marketing ad placement, but someone has got to know the kind of stuff that’s being hawked here – and Newser is hardly the only offender. I just happen to use them as the teacher in the moment because I’m sad about what they’ve allowed themselves to become in the name of monetization.

Today this showed up on my Facebook page:



Go to the article and they refer to two studies at PubMed:

  1. Multitargeting by turmeric, the golden spice: From kitchen to clinic, by Gupta SC, Sung B, Kim JH, Prasad S, Li S, and Aggarwal BB.
  2. Efficacy and safety of curcumin in major depressive disorder: a randomized controlled trial, by Sanmukhani J, Satodia V, Trivedi J, Patel T, Tiwari D, Panchal B, Goel A, and Tripathi CB.

In the second article, the abstract includes the following sentences:

Traditionally, this spice has been used in Ayurveda and folk medicine for the treatment of such ailments as gynecological problems, gastric problems, hepatic disorders, infectious diseases, and blood disorders. […] Numerous animal studies have shown the potential of this spice against proinflammatory diseases, cancer, neurodegenerative diseases, depression, diabetes, obesity, and atherosclerosis. At the molecular level, this spice has been shown to modulate numerous cell-signaling pathways. In clinical trials, turmeric has shown efficacy against numerous human ailments including lupus nephritis, cancer, diabetes, irritable bowel syndrome, acne, and fibrosis.

Forgive me, but my BS meter just redlined.

BS Meter

Even without digging into these articles beyond the abstract, and analyzing methodologies and statistical significance of the results which I don’t have the time and energy to do, there are just too many red flags to even begin to take these kinds of claims seriously. References to Ayurveda, the fact that almost all the authors are from India, the wild claims of efficacy or references to “showing potential” – nothing here can be construed as “proof” that turmeric is “better than Prozac” for depression.

A caveat: I am not wholesale against nutrition, or nutritional supplements, or natural remedies. Aspirin was once a “natural remedy,” until science isolated salicylic acid and multiple peer-reviewed, double-blind, randomized tests proved its efficacy. There’s a lot we don’t know. Despite my skepticism about the studies above, there may be value in curcumin and turmeric that have not been fully explored. As with anything in science, the key is a large base of peer-reviewed studies and reproducible results.

Until then, woo-articles of this nature need to be taken with a hefty dose of salt – not just a pinch. Be very careful whom and what you trust. There are still people out there hawking “Miracle Mineral Supplement” for all sorts of things, and it’s nothing more than diluted bleach. This junk will kill you.

Depression is a serious illness and can be debilitating. While they are not a magic bullet, FDA-approved meds help many people to be able to carry on normal lives. And there is no one-size-fits-all solution.

This much I can tell you: ☞ It’s not turmeric lemonade. ☜  Be very careful out there.

The Old Wolf has spoken.



Doctors: Then and Now.

It’s tough to find a doctor you can trust.

I’ve written before about Dr. Max Jacobson, a New York City physician that my mother loved dearly, and I was delighted to have had some personal experience with such a famous (or infamous, or notorious, depending on whom you talk to) character.

Subsequent searching turned up a little bit about Max in a book called Schmucks with Underwoods, Conversations with Hollywood’s Classic Screenwriters by Max Wilk:

“Have you ever ead Erich Maria Remarque’s novel Arch of Triumph, the one about the Paris hotel where arll the refugees are living? Well, there’s a character in there, a doctor, a German refugee, living in Paris, and in order to keep himself alive, he’s performing abortions in dirty kitchens… you know who that doctor really was? Dr. Max Jacobson… the same guy who is now in New York!”

The notorious Dr. Feelgood?

“The one and the same Dr. Feelgood!” said [Billy] Wilder. I knew him extremely well – in Berlin, he was my doctor. Talk about writers in exile! Here’s this doctor, in exile, he cannot get a diploma, so he performs abortions… You know how old this guy is today? He has to be in the early 70s! But what a difference from his days in Paris, eh? Whenever he comes out here to L.A., I see him . Or I meet him on planes, he is accompanying Mr. Cecil B. DeMille to Egypt, because Mr. DeMille is going to do a new version of The Ten Commandments, during which Mr. DeMille has himself a heart attack, but Dr. Feelgood pumps him full of his amphetamine magic shots, so Mr. DeMille can still climb ladders and shoot the scenes – with maybe 6,000 extras all standing around!”

And there is also a list of other famous show business and political people who were the patients of the same Dr. Max Jacobson, ranging from our late president Kennedy, with his bad back, to Alan Jay Lerner, and Tennessee Williams, to a raft of other such celebrities, all of them devotees of Dr. Feelgood’s little satchel full of magic elixir shots.”

That last sentence reminded me powerfully of the lovely story by C.M. Kornbluth, “The Little Black Bag,” a follow-up tale in the world of “The Marching Morons.” If only we had such doctors…

As an add-on, in the linked article I mentioned “a New York publication some time before 1968;” thanks to the miracle of the Internet, it turns out that the relevant article from New York magazine was actually published on February 8, 1971 – so I was close. Nobody who ever met Dr. Max could possibly misunderstand to whom “Doctor C” referred, and I remember people in my home discussing the article with much amusement as almost all of our visitors were either patients of or familiar with him.

But back to reality, the first doctor I ever knew was Dr. Arthur F. Anderson, my pediatrician.


This photo is of Dr. Andy, as he was lovingly known to his patients and their families, was taken at his retirement celebration in 1967. He was an immensely kindly gentleman who always put me at ease, made me airplanes out of tongue depressors and rubber bands, and wrote with a fountain pen full of bright blue ink.

In an oral history of Dr. David Annunziato, an Amityville-based pediatrician who passed away in 1995, I found this little tidbit:

I had great teachers. Bill [William] Dock was the professor of medicine. Charlie [Charles A.] Weymuller was the professor of pediatrics. And Charlie Weymuller, though he was a quiet man, apparently knew everybody. You know he knew [Rustin] McIntosh at Columbia [University College of Physicians and Surgeons], [Luther Emmett] Holt [Jr.] at NYU [New York University], Sam [Samuel Z.] Levine at [Weill] Cornell [Medical College]. The man he told me was the smartest pediatrician in the world was a man I only met once, and he was at Lenox Hill [Hospital]. His name was Anderson.

That could be no one else but Dr. Andy; I had my tonsils out at Lenox Hill Hospital in 1954, and I’m pretty sure that he was watching over my case if he himself did not perform the surgery. Which makes it obligatory that I cross-post something from my Live Journal, because it’s relevant to Dr. Andy and Dr. Weymuller, and much better than what I could reconstruct here.

March 21, 2009

Memories come in the strangest ways.

Brooke McEldowney, in his webcomic Pibgorn, just finished up a story arc that lasted a few days short of two years. That’s not as tortuous as Freefall time, but still a good piece of slow-paced fiction.

The new arc which began last Tuesday is entitled (Note to Jef Mallett: Yes, that is an appropriate use of the word) “Pibgorn and the Volcano on 77th Street and Park Avenue.” Forum members immediately brought up satellite images of the intersection, and it turns out that Lenox Hill Hospital sits on that corner.

I grew up in New York, and that rang a bell. Ever since then, I’ve been trying to figure out why it was familiar, aside from the tragic recent death of Natasha Richardson). Was it where I was born? Nah, that was Lying-In Hospital, converted in 1981 to luxury condos (note the baby tondos still adorning the façade).

It just came to me. It’s where I had my tonsils out when I was around three. Unlike Bill Cosby and his ice cream, my memories are different. I remember being alone, shots, and starvation.

When you’re three, you hate shots anyway. Somehow, my beloved pediatrician, Dr. Arthur F. Anderson, managed to avoid being associated with needles, choosing instead to send his evil henchman, the sadistic Dr. Charles Weymuller (in actuality, probably a very nice man) to my home for the requisite torture sessions in which my delicate heinie was violated with ten-foot red hot pokers. But in the hospital, I have this memory of an endless line of nurses armed with jackhammers, marching into my room like clockwork every five minutes to give me shot, after shot, after shot. It was probably only one, but hey, I was three, and alone in a strange crib in a strange place. I still don’t especially care for needles.

Compounding the torment was the fact that they refused to feed me. I was so happy when they finally said I would get some chicken noodle soup. Well, if there was any chicken or any noodles in the soup they brought me, it must have been strained out by the underpaid kitchen staff to supplement their meager salaries, because “broth” would have been too generous an appellation. That hospital stay was not fun.

I was so hungry when I finally got home… they fixed me mashed potatoes with butter, and I was so famished that in my haste I accidentally bit the finger of whoever was feeding me.

And I hadn’t thought of these things for at least 30 years…

In the ensuing years I’ve had numerous other physicians, some better and some less so; bedside manner matters, but a doctor’s interest in you as a person – his or her willingness to address your issues above and beyond the 8 minutes per patient that seems to be standard these days – is critical. A couple of  bright stars stand out: I was privileged to have Dr. George Van Komen, a superb and caring physician, as my primary care provider for a time, and my current doctor is not only a physician but also a friend, which counts for a lot.

But I still miss Dr. Andy.

The Old Wolf has spoken.


An Insider’s View of Martin Shkreli

The media has gone nuts about Martin Shkreli, the CEO of Turing Pharma who “obtained the manufacturing licence for Daraprim, an out-of-patent medicine, and raised its price by 5,455 percent (from $13.50 to $750 per tablet).” (Wikipedia)


While the company has stated that there will be a price reversal (as of this writing, we don’t know how much yet), Shkreli has now “receded from the public” according to USA Today, and who can blame him with the furious media storm raging out there?

Most analyses focus on rampant greed within the pharma industry, and use Shkreli as the poster boy for the zenith thereof. One redditor (/u/BlueGold), however, offers a different viewpoint which sheds some additional light on the subject. I’ve bowdlerized it a bit for family consumption – the original thread is here if you don’t mind colorful language.

Legal securities transaction experience and a little SEC regulation fluency checking in:

I’ve actually been doing some more research on the guy at work today, and am pretty blown away at how this all went down, should this theory be on point.

I’d like to state first that he’s a total jerk, and that this is a theory, but it’s becoming more and more convincing that he intended for all of this to happen, and it’s been a fun idea to play with – help educate me in what else this would require and each other:

So he knew the 4,700% cost-floor revaluation was an embellishment with a purpose:

He has, from what I can find, $4 – $15 million in shares of borrowed stock in various pharma corp. entities.

So, the moment reddit started raging about the injustice to the AIDS victims, and someone on Hilary’s digital media team said “Mrs. Clinton – appeal to all these voters by coming down on this dude!” he cracked a beer and watched his whole plan unfold.

In realistic share terms, taking taxes, interest rates in the ST contract with his lenders, and estimated holding into account, is probably several million dollars in profit for a day of acting. Someone above said “he’ll make billions short-selling!” Not only could he not make that much on a 20% drop short sale with his highest estimated borrowed holding, but the profit from a short sale like this doesn’t come to light for the market player until days, weeks, even months later when the price is back up to optimal value for cashing out.

So, its safe to say that he made millions with his little PR stunt, and vocationally, in a vacuum, he’s totally brilliant. Again, universally – he’s a jerk, but has an undeniable vocational aptitude for what he does.

If this probable play theory is on point, he knew he’d announce this cost reduction and caving on the 5k% value inflation shortly after reddit, twitter, mainstream media, and Hilary all started airing out their grievances – and he knew that there would be a subsequent revitalization in the pharma. share market base.

Bada bing bada boom. Say what you want about this guy, but he just acted like a jerk in order to troll the outrage bandwagon into actually influencing share values, and it totally worked. He didn’t deprive any dying children, he didn’t put anyone on the street, he probably didn’t even leave his office.

Alas, the predictable freakout hit the exact water mark he wanted it to, maybe even higher, and he bought all he could at the low price the bandwagon created, flipped back his $4-$15 million in borrowed shares to his creditors with presumably a “lets do business againreal soon” interest rate, and will soon profit generously when the market settles back to its regular CFS.

It would be really impressive, entirely because of the ignorance that is the foundation of everyone’s outrage.

I see a lot of people griping and moaning about the “system,” and the “extortion,” and the “broken justice” of SEC regs, and no suggestions other than “Old_Wolf_Censored this psychopath.”

Ya know what the ironic thing about this situation is though? His play will encourage the SEC revision committee to act. Not PI groups, not activists, not media attention. But this guy, who took advantage of the volatility of the market in response to uninformed social justice outcry. The only thing that really gets the attention of the SEC revision committee is economic circumstances, and the potential to not have firm control over happenings in private trading.

From 1934 – 2012, the SEC Regulatory Revision Committee has instituted 7 major acts, all in response to participant profiting, no one went to prison, and ALL THE ACTS were in the interest of non-corporate market participants.

Like it or not, he’s the only one who’ll make a difference for the better, whether it’s his intention or not – and he’s getting rich while he’s doing it, and not actually acting any differently than 80% of the other AIDS med manufacturers in the industry. In fact, he’s lowered his price below many others.

EDIT: Hopefully this adds some umph to anything I’ve said or answers any questions:

This guy is a master at short selling tactics.

He would get in a run of the mill short sale position, but then encourage the FDA via filing of “citizen petitions” to stall the release of certain products from corporations whose stock he was short selling. In doing this, is where his real mastery lies:

Dr. Hayflick, of OHSU (an outstanding medical research facility), “got a call from him in 2012, suggesting she try a different molecular modification to remedy pantothenate kinase-associated neurodegeneration, or PKAN. ‘Damned if it doesn’t do what he thought it would do…It’s impressive. It’s humbling.'”

This isn’t a new thing, at all. I think this outrage is situational discontent with the pharma industry at large, and the for-profit nature of its governance. This, unfortunately, is a product of our privatized medical production realm that happens constantly. He just happened to make a noisy jerk out of himself, but really is one of many players, and still a small one at that.

Gylbera costs 1$ million buckaroos for annual treatment.

Acthar gel was marked 7000% for years.

Cinryze runs 3 times as much as his proposed value.

Short selling, multi-thousand percent mark ups from production-to-sale on drugs, constitutionally-protected systematic deflation of competition, reverse mergers… These are all well established market practices, just usually employed by undeniably smart, exploitive market players and CFOs who keep their mouths shut. This kind of noisy behavior has potential to create a PR nightmare that influences shareholder’s reactionary tendencies. Alas, it’s going back up!!! like our little jerk here has done.

This dude is a jerk. And if this hypothetical situation is on; a really smart jerk.

Once more, it serves to emphasize that this is one person’s theory. But it’s based on substantial experience in the industry, and makes for fascinating reading. There are some possibly good outcomes from this entire debacle:

  1. It has shined the light of reason on some of these scummy financial practices that seem commonplace, and
  2. It has energized the debate over the outrageous costs of drugs in the USA during a bitter election cycle.

Let us hope that some good comes out of this, whether or not Shkreli ever intended such an outcome.

The Old Wolf has spoken, with thanks to /u/BlueGold.

The Next “Miracle Weight Loss Herb” – Caralluma Fimbriata

According to Wikipedia, caralluma ascendens, another name for caralluma fimbriata, is an edible form of cactus used throughout the Indian subcontinent as an appetite suppressant, or so-called “famine food.”

Leave it to the snake-oil hawkers to turn this into the next big thing they can make a few bucks on.

Got an email today from a “friend,” one whose email account or information had been compromised:

From: Redacted

To: store-news@amazon.com, ChaseNotification@emailonline.chase.com,

…snip… pmlncc@kkwl.ac.th, mrs.phillipjones@live.com

Subject: [Redacted]

Hi! How are you?

It works! http://nationalbranding.com/probably/dead.php

[Name Redacted]

These spoofed emails are so transparent at this point that I can smell the fraud before I even open them. But, in the interest of public service, I follow these links to see what new scam is being perpetrated on the general public.

Today’s bowl of steaming camel ejecta led me to a website hawking caralluma, the new New NEW weight-loss miracle.


This is the same kind of affiliate marketing effluence that I have described elsewhere (just do a search at this blog for garcinia cambogia, for example).  Notice the tiny print below “ACT NOW!” that obligates you to a monthly $10.00 charge. But in the end, they’re less concerned with selling you their product as they are about getting your information which in the long run is much more valuable to them than a single sale.

Smell the foul rot of desperation as we proceed through the following screens:


The first come-on is BOGO. If we don’t fall for that, we get this:


Wait wait wait! OK, what now?


One of 50 customers, huh? Wow, I must really be special. But I guess I’m not really interested after all.


Wait wait wait! Wow, a free trial bottle, and the offer is good for only 10 minutes! Shall we look and see?


Now this is a wondrous thing. Instead of caralluma, I’ve been sent to a page to order garcinia cambogia. Looks like the affiliate marketer forgot to update his previous campaign.


More desperation.


Now the bottle is free, and I only have to pay 99¢ for shipping. But remember, I’m still providing my credit card information, and obligating myself to that $10.00 per month “subscription.” Once these drones have your financial information, they are in a position to bill you for anything they want, or sell your credit card and personal information to other scumsuckers.

It’s all garbage, poorly-crafted but sadly effective affiliate marketing for products that have little or no value, or worse, are actually detrimental to your health.

Be careful out there.

The Old Wolf has spoken.

“I’d rather get a root canal than do [X].”

I remember hearing this phrase many times when I was growing up, and always wondered why it was held up as an example of something to be feared.


This recently-found cartoon backs me up.

Then I had one.

The procedure was not really that horrid from the “sitting in the chair” standpoint, because I couldn’t see what was going on, but I remember that it just took a long time. I think if I had seen this animation (the Internet didn’t exist back then), I might have had even more reservations about going. Ow ow ow…


Now, I already had a crown on the affected tooth, so the last bit wasn’t necessary, but I had no idea this process was so involved.

The biggest challenge was the fact that I ached for three months after I had it done. It was insane. I wondered if I was going to have to have the thing done again, but eventually the pain subsided.

And thinking about this whole thing brought up a whole raft of memories about dental work… and I had a lot of it done as a kid.

See, the thing of it was, I was terrified of needles. I started getting cavities in my teeth before I was 8, and had a lot of my baby teeth filled, and I refused to let the dentist give me anæsthetic… so I endured countless sessions in a setup that looked a lot like this:


Image found at aacd.com

This may be a bit older than the 50s, but the basic setup looked the same as the one Dr. Glick used on me. No high-speed drills here, just that belt-powered grinder, and despite the agony I still refused the Novocaine.

I found out how foolish I had been when I broke a tooth or lost a filling or something when I was at summer camp in Maine, sometime around 1963. They ferried me to a dentist in town, and I told him that I didn’t want anæsthesia. “Mhm,” the dentist responded. “Open.” And then the son of a bitch stuck me.

The blessed son of a bitch.  Sheesh. If only I had known. Dental work still isn’t fun, but a little pain up front is certainly worth a lot less torment for a couple of hours.

A few weeks ago I went to a local dentist for the repair of a broken tooth. I thought for sure I’d have to get a crown on it, because the entire inside surface of the tooth snapped off – but I was pleasantly surprised. A tiny bit of drilling, two applications of bonding, and I was as good as new – at least for this time. The whole thing took about 10 minutes. I mentioned to the dentist that the advances in dental technology were astonishing, and he said that not much had really changed in the tools, but the materials were where the miracles were taking place. I can’t help but agree, with the exception of the digital x-rays that they do these days.

First they put me in this contraption that whirred all around my head and did a complete 360° scan, and then the technician put me in the chair and zapped me a couple of times with this baby:


Handheld, she didn’t even have to leave the room. No developing time to speak of – all digital. I couldn’t help but be reminded of this:

plasgun1 basic1-schlock_7798

Howard Tayler, author of Schlock Mercenary, holding a replica of Sergeant Schlock’s plasma gun manufactured by Doc Nickel, who in his own right not only manufactures some really awesome paintball stuff but also draws The Whiteboard, a webcomic vaguely about paintball.

It’s funny, but with all the advances, I still miss the old rinse-and-spit routine so common in the old days; you can see the cup and spit bowl in the office picture above. It may not have been as hygienic, but I could get a lot cleaner than the spray/suction routine they use today. And, I got sprayed with Lavoris™, a cinnamon-flavored mouthwash that seems to have vanished from store shelves, only to be replaced by foul-tasting chemical ersatz copies which taste like camel piss.

Imagine my delight when I found out that this wonderful stuff is still available online:


I scored some at Drugstore.com, it was a bit cheaper than Amazon’s offerings, and it was every bit as pleasant as I had remembered it. Now that’s cinnamon.

I’ve had a lot of dental work done in my life. Almost all my teeth are filled, and a number have been capped. I have all my wisdom teeth, and even they have been filled. I just have soft teeth, I guess. But I have all 32, and I’m grateful for the technology that has helped me preserve them. I still don’t like that accursed needle, but as I learned long, long ago, there are prices and benefits to that choice, and the benefits far outweigh the price.

And, I still hope I don’t ever have to have another root canal.

The Old Wolf has spoken.

Kevin Richardson’s “Miracle Cure,” an Infuriating Scam

Oxygen Diet Scam

So here’s the email that showed up in my inbox today:

From: Ultimate.Cure.17690762 <your.miracle.cure@highly-wondercure.com>
Subject: Doctor Jailed for CURING Cancer (see why),  Article No. 10754166
To: <redacted>

Today, you have a 95% chance of eventually dying from a disease or condition for which there is already a known cure right at your fingertips.

Well-respected doctors have been attacked, threatened with losing their licenses and even JAILED for sharing the information you are about to discover…
If you or a your loved one is suffering from ANY, and we mean ANY illness, chronic or acute, especially if you’ve been told it is incurable, then this is the most important message you will hear today.
View This SHOCKING Health Alert in your Browser: http://learnmore.highly-wondercure.com
(they don’t want you to know about this)

Article No. 10754166

We see this kind of thing all the time, but this particular scam infuriates me because it doesn’t just say you’re going to lose weight (açaí berries or garcinia cambogia) – it claims to cure any and all diseases, including cancer and HIV. This is cruel and dangerous – weak-minded or uneducated people will fall for this rubbish and spend their valuable money on a worthless system instead of seeking competent medical assistance. This fraud will kill people.

Have a look at some of the garbage this maddening presentation says:

  • Learn how to oxygenate your cells in a way that makes it IMPOSSIBLE for bacteria, cancer, or any virus to live, and create a miraculous recovery and immunity to any disease – much less the diseases that are killing us in record numbers today.
  • Disease and oxygen cannot be in the same space in your body.
  • Oxygen needs to get inside your cells in order to get rid of disease. (Solution: take a deep breath.)
  • Remember the oxygen therapies you will have access to have been PROVEN to CURE the most incurable illnesses to date like the HIV virus and practically all forms of cancer.
  • Documentation and proof of oxygen therapy curing virtually every disease we know of goes back to the late 1800s.
  • When you use these techniques properly, you’ll be shocked as you see physical reactions that prove the virus, bacteria or toxin is leaving the body – even if you’ve tried every therapy out there.
  • Use your “maintenance routine” once your illness has vaporized out of your body.
  • Many people the world over have been helped and yes even “cured” by these simple therapies. (Note the use of scare quotes.)

The lies and false claims continue unabated for around half an hour – cure eczema, psoriasis, regain youthful skin, whatever, you name it. As I mentioned in a previous post, with thanks to the creators of Lucky Luke:


Buzzwords, vague and oblique references to un-cited scientific studies, dropping names like Atkins, I have never seen a more evil conglomeration of mumbo-jumbo in my life.


Search Google for “Kevin Richardson Miracle Cure Scam,” and most of what you get is shill pages and affiliate recommendations. Yes, they pay people to become affiliates using another multi-level fraud:


… and I’m sure the email that started all of this is from one of their suckers. Notice that they promise up to $118.00 and change commission per sale, but they’re selling their product for less than $40.00. I’d like to see the math on that one.


Original price $97.00, but for YOU, because YOU”RE SPECIAL, and because you’re going to ACT NOW, only $37.00.

Order 2

One other thing to be aware of is that if you do order, you’re giving your credit card number to extremely unethical people, and you stand a good chance of having unauthorized and/or recurring charges applied to your card, with little or no hope of getting a refund if you complain.

Attorney General offices are constantly trying to bring down such fraudsters – click through for an Iowa report on one action against a company promoting the miracle benefits of “marine phytoplankton.” The problem with scams like this is that they are like a hydra – cut off one head, and two more spring up in its place.

I write this post largely to combat all of the fraudulent information out there, in the hopes that a few people might encounter it and save their money. Please, be smart. Stay away from all such snake oil.

The Old Wolf has spoken.


Comments are closed for this post.

Gluten Sensitivity? Only if you *really* have Celiac disease.


I have reblogged this article from Business Insider for the benefit of those who can’t see the article with NoScript. Apparently this page embeds 16 tons worth of trackers and scripts. Note: There are more links in the original article which are worth following; I have included only two.


Researchers Who Provided Key Evidence For Gluten Sensitivity Have Now Thoroughly Shown That It Doesn’t Exist

by Jennifer Welsh

In one of the best examples of science working, a researcher who provided key evidence of (non-celiac disease) gluten sensitivity recently published follow-up papers that show the opposite.

The first follow-up paper came out last year in the journal Gastroenterology. Here’s the backstory that makes us cheer:

The study was a follow up on a 2011 experiment in the lab of Peter Gibson at Monash University. The scientifically sound — but small — study found that gluten-containing diets can cause gastrointestinal distress in people without celiac disease, a well-known autoimmune disorder triggered by gluten.

They called this non-celiac gluten sensitivity.

Gluten is a protein composite found in wheat, barley, and other grains. It gives bread its chewiness and is often used as a meat substitute. If you’ve ever had “wheat meat,” seitan, or mock duck at a Thai restaurant, that’s gluten.

Gluten is a big industry: 30% of people want to eat less gluten. Sales of gluten-free products are estimated to hit $15 billion by 2016.

Although experts estimate that only 1% of Americans — about 3 million people — suffer from celiac disease, 18% of adults now buy gluten-free foods.

Since gluten is a protein found in any normal diet, Gibson was unsatisfied with his finding. He wanted to find out why the gluten seemed to be causing this reaction and if there could be something else going on. He therefore went to a scientifically rigorous extreme for his next experiment, a level not usually expected in nutrition studies.

For a follow-up paper, 37 self-identified gluten-sensitive patients were tested. According toReal Clear Science’s Newton Blog, here’s how the experiment went:

Subjects would be provided with every single meal for the duration of the trial. Any and all potential dietary triggers for gastrointestinal symptoms would be removed, including lactose (from milk products), certain preservatives like benzoates, propionate, sulfites, and nitrites, and fermentable, poorly absorbed short-chain carbohydrates, also known asFODMAPs. And last, but not least, nine days worth of urine and fecal matter would be collected. With this new study, Gibson wasn’t messing around.

The subjects cycled through high-gluten, low-gluten, and no-gluten (placebo) diets, without knowing which diet plan they were on at any given time. In the end, all of the treatment diets — even the placebo diet — caused pain, bloating, nausea, and gas to a similar degree. It didn’t matter if the diet contained gluten. (Read more about the study.)

“In contrast to our first study … we could find absolutely no specific response to gluten,” Gibson wrote in the paper. A third, larger study published this month has confirmed the findings.

It seems to be a “nocebo” effect — the self-diagnosed gluten sensitive patients expected to feel worse on the study diets, so they did. They were also likely more attentive to their intestinal distress, since they had to monitor it for the study.

On top of that, these other potential dietary triggers — specifically the FODMAPS – could be causing what people have wrongly interpreted as gluten sensitivity. FODMAPS are frequently found in the same foods as gluten. That still doesn’t explain why people in the study negatively reacted to diets that were free of all dietary triggers.

You can go ahead and smell your bread and eat it too. Science. It works.

Bitches. [1]
Note: While Celiac disease is a real and well-known condition, “gluten sensitivity” and eating gluten-free seems to be the latest fad, along with green coffee beans and garcinia cambogia

[1] With thanks to Richard Dawkins

Weight Loss Lies, Redux (for the jillionth time)

We’ve all seen the spam. Weight loss, sexual enhancers, body part enlargers… it’s a never-ending stream. Spam is so cheap to send out and requires such a small percentage of turnover relative to how much is blasted out that it will always be profitable for goons and drones and paid affiliates to engage in this shady enterprise.

But it always surprises me when hqiz like this goes mainstream.

If you’re not convinced yet, let me show you one that showed up in my email this morning.


Wow! Wouldn’t you like results that amazing? Wow! Based on the images, the happy lady in those pictures up there has lost at least 30 pounds, and likely more – all in the brief space of 30 days.

Never mind that healthy weight loss takes place at the rate of 1 to 2 pounds per week… whatever this weight loss secret is, I gotta get me some of that! And Dr. Oz is happy to hawk it, right alongside last year’s green coffee extract, or the confusum combobulosum he was hawking before that.

At least the ad above didn’t use the “one weird old trick” line, even though that’s still being used everywhere. But it’s still 100% pure, unadulterated camel ejecta. Snake Oil. Garbage.

What is it? Well, let’s dig a bit.

Doing the “show source” dance from my email client, we find that this ad will direct you to


Ain’t that a mouthful? These dynamically-generated URL’s are one of the first clues that a particular website is illicit, shady, or otherwise disreputable. What’s more, if you reverse-hack the URL to just “rincomplex.com”, you find a placeholder website full of dummy text and randomly-scraped news articles. They might as well have filled it with lorem ipsum.

But never mind that… I toddled over to the website and found this:


Ok, so this “miracle product” is garcinia cambogia. Along with the typical shameless infomercial/show by Oz, the Great and Powerful. But pay no attention to the little man behind that screen, folks – if you plunk down your money in the hopes of losing weight fast, fast, fast, you’re going to be disappointed.  But before we get into the substance itself, let’s look at how insistent and immoral the marketing practice is.

If you scroll down the page above and express interest, you’ll need to provide your contact information in full – information which will be immediately sold on to other scam companies by this disreputable marketing outfit. If you try to leave the page by using your “back” button or closing your browser, you’ll get this:


Wow, 60% discount. Maybe I’d better stick around. But both options (expressing interest or trying to leave) take you to the same “special discount” page anyway. Now, notice that you got promised a 60% discount plus free shipping, but the page below says it’s “Over 30%”. But on top of that, I’ve mentioned it before – any website that employs this tactic to try to get you to buy is immediately flagged as both spammy and scammy in my book, and the fact that they’re still doing it shows me that it’s effective. Please, don’t fall victim to these snake-oil vendors.


So, depending on how gullible you are, you’ll spend between $148.00 and $48.00 for some herbs of questionable effectiveness (more about that later) and spurious quality.

If you’re still not convinced, you get another popup:



Now it’s a BOGO offer – buy one, get one free. But you’re still spending that 48.00, which was the minimum purchase level on the previous screen.

Nah, I think I’ll pass… but WAIT! WAIT! WAIT! We don’t have your money yet, and by all that’s holy we want some of it.


So now you’re up to an 80% discount…


Just give us your information, send us a double sawbuck, and we’ll consider ourselves winners (and you a loser.) But really, who could turn down such an amazing offer, with free shipping no less?

Some people can, but there’s one final hook for them:


Only fi’dollars. Just a fin. That’s hardly nuttin’, mister. So if you click “Stay on this page,” you get their rock-bottom offer:


Click on this to claim your offer, and see what you’ve won!


So you greedily fill out the form, thinking you’ve sure pulled one over on these boobs… but you’ve failed to notice that tiny, tiny print up there that says “terms apply.” What in the world could those terms be?


So if you read the fine print down there at the bottom of the page, you discover that you need to call them within 14 days to get that $4.99 price. If you don’t, they’ll gleefully charge your credit card for $29.95, ten bucks more than their previous offer, and you find yourself enrolled in an “autoship” program whereby they’ll send you a new bottle every 30 days, for the low low price of only $29.95.

Great Mogg’s tufted ears, folks – why in the name of all that’s holy would you do business with a checkered-suit operation like this? They get you coming, they get you going, and if they get their hooks into you, they’ll never let go.

So before we sign off for today, let’s have a quick look at this garcinia cambogia and see what it’s really all about.

If you look up garcinia at WebMD, you find that it’s marketed under various names:

Acide Hydroxycitrique, AHC, Brindal Berry, Brindle Berry, Cambogia gummi-guta, Garcinia Cambogi, Garcinia cambogia, Garcinia gummi-guta, Garcinia quaesita, Gorikapuli, Hydroxycitrate, Hydroxycitric Acid, HCA, Kankusta, Malabar Tamarind, Mangostana cambogia, Tamarinier de Malabar, Vrikshamla.

As well as this insightful description:

Garcinia is a plant. The fruit rind is used to make medicine. Don’t confuse garcinia with Garcinia hanburyi (gamboge resin).
How does it work?
Developing research suggests that garcinia might prevent fat storage and control appetite;
however, whether these effects occur in humans is unclear.

But as I have mentioned before, a single scientific study or even some preliminary research is enough to get the media to latch on to those results and get some advertising clicks out of it – and if that starts to happen, the marketeers come from the voodvork out.

Click a little further into WebMD and you find the User Ratings page for the product – reviews which look a whole lot different from the shill-written reviews on the marketing pages:

  • Been taking it for 3 weeks. Have not lost one pound. Have been sleeping more soundly, though. Biggest problem is that my whole body has started to ache. And my joints hurt. I thought at first it was because of my workouts, which I had increased- but I stopped for a week and the pain is still there. I just read on another website that is you are taking stati. Drugs for high cholesterol – which I do – it can exacerbate the negative effects of those drugs and cause muscle degeneration and joint pain. Guess I will be stopping this supplement.
  • Didn’t lose any weight, often had GI upset
  • I have been using this product for one week. Yes it suppresses your appetite but I have had a migraine for the entire week. Stopped taking it…..no headache. Not worth it.

Check the reviews yourself. Oh, and side effects?

  • Garcinia is POSSIBLY SAFE for most people when used for 12 weeks or less. Long-term safety is unknown. Garcinia can cause nausea, digestive tract discomfort, and headache.
  • Special Precautions & Warnings:
  • Pregnancy and breast-feeding: Not enough is known about the use of garcinia during pregnancy and breast-feeding. Stay on the safe side and avoid use.

“Possibly safe?” Wow, that means it might not hurt me. The bottom line is that sufficient scientific research on this and most other herbal supplements is woefully inadequate – randomized, double-blind, placebo-based studies over decades are usually required to give a clear picture of how safe and effective any substance is to take into your body.

But the salespeople don’t want you to know that, and they pay people like Dr. Oz big bucks to hawk these products, which nets them millions of dollars from poor yutzes like you and me, if we’re foolish enough to pay attention to their pestilential marketing campaigns.

One last point: be careful not to assume that I’m saying all natural remedies are worthless or dangerous. That’s not the case. But the vast majority of the things you see hawked on the internet or on these infomercial-style media advertisements are there for only one reason – to get your money based on false promises and false hope. If you’re interested in releasing weight, my recommendations can be found here – scroll to the bottom of the page and find the section entitled “So if you’re interested in releasing weight, what can you do?

If you’re wanting to be lighter and thinner, the odds are you can be – but as I’ve said before and often and don’t care who hears it: there’s no magic bullet. Save your money.

The Old Wolf has spoken.

Oh, and who’s sending this garbage email out?

Pure Garcinia Cambogia
530 Lake Avenue #501 (Appears to be the Pasadena Rug Mart)
Pasadena, CA 91101

and their spam affiliate,

“Multispecialty Medical Groups”
1231 Northern Lights Blvd, #569 (A post office box at a UPS Store)
Anchorage, AK 99503