Monthly Archives: December 2018

Our Friends, the Pharmaceutical Industry

Kaiser Health News, a daily newsletter The Curmudgeon reads for work, recently told the story of a woman with multiple sclerosis who finally had to give up her job because of her illness and who is now covered by Medicare and Medicaid. She is now taking a new drug called Ocrevus, sold by the pharmaceutical company Genentech.  She recently had her first two infusions of the drug and then received her bill.

For $123,000.

Her insurer paid $29,000 and she received a bill for $3600.

So hey, drug company, why does the drug cost so much?

Actually, it doesn’t, said Genentech’s company mouthpiece:

“We set the price of Ocrevus to reduce price as a barrier to treatment.” 

And that price, in this case, is $123,000.

One can only imagine how much they’d charge if they didn’t care so much about their patients.

The Title Insurance Scam

If you’ve ever purchased a house, you know about title insurance.

And you know, deep in your heart, that it’s a scam.

Title insurance is something you must purchase – you have no choice – to ensure that the home you’re purchasing is actually owned by the person who’s selling it to you.  You’re buying insurance that the people who own the house actually do own the house and have the right to sell it to you.  The seller buys title insurance to assure the buyer that he/she actually owns the house but the buyer also purchases title insurance to assure his/her lender that the house for which the lender is putting up money is actually owned by the people who are buying it.

It all, it seems to The Curmudgeon, should be the seller’s expense, or even the realtor’s, but not the buyer’s.  “You want me to cough up my life savings to buy your house? Okay:  prove it’s yours.”

But that’s not our subject today.

The Curmudgeon has never understood why the cost of business entertainment is tax-deductible

A little while back – Curmudgeonese for “Oops, this one accidentally slipped to the bottom of the pile” – the New York Times published an article about title insurance.  The real subject of the article was about the buckets full of money title insurance companies spend to entertain realtors to ensure that those realtors steer their buyers to their title insurance companies.  There’s nothing wrong with title insurance companies spending as much as they want to drum up business but there’s everything wrong with those entertainment expenses being tax-deductible for the title insurance companies and the rest getting baked into what you pay for title insurance.

Which, it turns out, is a lot.

The article pointed out, for example, that if you buy a $500,000 home in or near New York City and make a down payment of 20 percent, title insurance will run you about $2700.

For a modest row home in The Curmudgeon’s old neighborhood in Philadelphia, which sells for about $150,000 today, title insurance would costs about $1300.

If The Curmudgeon and Mrs. Curmudgeon were to sell their house for what Mrs. Curmudgeon believes it to be worth – dream on, sweetie – title insurance would cost the buyer about $1800.

But it doesn’t have to be that way.


Because that same New York Times article offered the following revelation:

Not every state is like this. In Iowa, for instance, the state government took over the title business decades ago, and it charges a fraction of the price in New York: $110 for a residential purchase up to $500,000, according to the state.

So unless you live in Iowa, you have to ask yourself: why aren’t the people I send to my state capital to look out for my interests doing this for me?  Why do they allow me, my families, and my neighbors to suffer from this scam?


“One to Call Daddy and One to Pour the Tab”

That’s the punch line of the old riddle “How many Jewish-American princesses does it take to screw in a light bulb?” and it is looking increasingly as if future generations will just furrow their brows when they hear it and wonder what in the world that old fogey is talking about.

Those of us of a certain age know that once upon a time, before there was Diet Coke and Diet Pepsi, before there was Diet 7-Up and Diet Sprite, before there was Diet Dr Pepper and Fresca, there was only one diet soda:  it was called “Tab.”

Not even on a dare

As beverages go, Tab wasn’t much.  It was sold as a low-calorie cola and it certainly was brown, but any resemblance between the taste of Tab and that of an actual cola was purely coincidental.  It was good enough, though, for those who were counting their calories and wanted to drink something sweet and bubbly and non-alcoholic.

Like any product, including others that are truly horrendous, Tab has its fans, and those fans apparently have been paranoid for many years over their fear that Coca-Cola, which is responsible for this offense to taste buds everywhere, was planning to take its awful but cult favorite diet soft drink off the market for good.

There is at least a basis for some of this paranoia. Rumors of Tab’s demise began in the early 1980s, after Coca-Cola introduced its first diet Coke and its sales quickly surpassed those of Tab for the simple reason that its taste wasn’t, well, horrendous.  Ever since then, Tab drinkers, lacking, well, lives, have formed support networks to keep an eye out for signs that Coca-Cola might be discontinuing Tab.  They’ve been at it for more than 30 years and their fervor shows little sign of abating even though surely they’re starting to die off.

Their paranoia was fed recently, it turns out, when reports started circulating that Tab had disappeared from store shelves over an area that the New York Times described as “…from Cincinnati to Charlotte, N.C.”  Speculation was rife that it was Tab’s swan song, and this time, there was some justification for their nuttiness:  the bottling company responsible for supplying Coca-Cola products, including Tab, in a 14-state territory that includes Kentucky, Ohio, North Carolina, Virginia, and Washington, D.C., has decided to stop producing Tab and to focus instead on its many other diet sodas.

And the Tabbies are – predictably – furious:  they’re barraging Coca-Cola’s corporate headquarters in Atlanta with calls and petitions and have even formed a Facebook group.

The Curmudgeon would like to tell you there’s a happy ending here, but he can’t – and not only because he’s not sure what would be the happy ending:  a better supply of Tab or the disappearance of Tab and the possible rehabilitation of all those damaged taste buds.  All he can tell you is that Coca-Cola is insisting it’s not discontinuing Tab, the bottler in question is not producing more Tab, and the Tabbies keep inundating both with their entreaties to save Tab while arranging shipments of fresh product from friends who live in areas where the Tab supply has not – yet – been compromised.


Stay tuned.

The Vaccine Nuts Strike Again

Everyone with half a brain knows that vaccines are a good idea.

No, a great idea.

Alas, there are a lot more people out there than you might think who have less than half a brain.

And a bunch of them apparently live in Arizona.

Vaccines – good. No vaccines – bad. Any questions?

So when the state launched a campaign that never should have been needed to educate people about the importance of getting their kids vaccinated, the half-brains came crawling out of the woodwork to protest.

Arizona grants parents exemptions from having their children vaccinated, so the education program the state launched was an attempt to teach the skeptical about the value of vaccines.  The education program was strictly optional; no one was required to take it – not even those seeking the exemptions.

But information apparently scares a lot of people, so when 120 people (out of the seven million who live in the state) protested the program, what did public officials do?  They folded like a cheap tent.  The program was over – disbanded, kaput.  Bureaucrats, elected officials, and public health officials all abdicated their responsibility because of a few wackadoodles and made a bad decision that will do nothing more than perpetuate ignorance.  And maybe contribute to the spread of diseases that we mostly eradicated a long time ago.  They should be ashamed of themselves.





And There’s a Perfectly Good Reason for It

There’s a relatively new company around called “UNTUCKit” that makes the advertising pitch that men’s button-front shirts don’t look right when men try to wear them not tucked into their pants.  Sometimes they’re too long; sometimes they’re too short; and sometimes they’re just not shaped correctly.

But UNTUCKit shirts supposedly are designed to eliminate that problem:  they’re not too long, they’re not too short, and they’re shaped juuuuuuuuuuust right, the company claims.

Well, allow The Curmudgeon to offer another perspective.

Men’s button-front shirts don’t look right when they’re not tucked in – they’re too long, they’re too short, or they’re not shaped right – because…


A Colossally Dumb Idea

You may have caught wind of this in recent months:  the suggestion that Apple should make its iPhones less appealing – such as in this New York Times column.

It’s Time for Apple to Build a Less Addictive iPhone

The Curmudgeon thinks the column is ridiculous and the idea asinine.

Of course they dress up the idea:  “Do it for the kids.”

To which The Curmudgeon says “Balderdash.”

If the iPhone is a great device – The Curmudgeon has one that he likes and respects as a piece of technology but doesn’t love but his Android experience was so brief that he’s not in a position to compare – then Apple has done a great job, has nothing to apologize for, and certainly shouldn’t be asked to make its product a little less great the next time around.

Who asks a company to make its next model inferior?  Does anyone seek a laundry detergent that isn’t as good at getting out stains, a car that gets worse gas mileage, a toothpaste that’s not as effective at fighting cavities?

Instead of asking Apple to make a lousier phone, The Curmudgeon has a better idea:  parents, if your kids are getting addicted to their iPhones, exercise your parental authority to limit their use of their phones.

Or better yet, take the iPhones away from them.  Get them an Android, if Androids are really that inferior.  Better yet, get them a non-smartphone:  a dumb phone.  There’s no rule that says kids today absolutely must have a smartphone. The Curmudgeon knows:  he looked it up and there’s no such rule.

As for adults who are hooked on their iPhones to the detriment of their lives, The Curmudgeon has an equally compelling suggestion:

Get a grip, people!  Grow up!  Exercise some self-control, for heaven’s sake!

Not a Great Use of Talent or Resources

About 100 millions in the U.S. suffer either from diabetes or pre-diabetes.

Nearly 40 million have arthritis.

About a million suffer from Parkinson’s disease.

Another landmark in the annals of American science and medicine

So The Curmudgeon found himself shaking his head recently when he saw an ad on television for a product called Biotene.

Which is used to treat…

…Dry mouth.

Seriously. 100 million people with diabetes and some company decided to spend its time and talent to cure dry mouth.


It Serves Them Right

As you might expect of a big-city liberal, The Curmudgeon isn’t much of a fan of hunting – other than people hunting for food when they can’t afford to buy food. He doesn’t see the sport: if you win, you get the dead animal, and if the animal wins, it gets – to keep on living?  Doesn’t seem very sporting, does it?

So that’s why The Curmudgeon’s face blossomed into a big goofy grin a while back when he ran across a U.S. News & World Report headline that declared

Lions Eat Rhino Poachers on South African Game Reserve

 The article explained that

At least two rhino poachers were eaten by lions on a South African game reserve, the owner of the lodge said on Thursday.

 A ranger taking guests at the Sibuya Game Reserve in the Eastern Cape on a safari drive on Tuesday afternoon discovered human remains close to a pride of lions.

 “We suspect two were killed, possibly three,” Sibuya owner Nick Fox said.

And all The Curmudgeon can think is:

Good for the lions! 

The only thing that might’ve been better is if the lions had eaten the guy who owns the hunting lodge, too.





Ask a Silly Question, Get a Reasonable Answer

President Trump recently tweeted about the Mueller investigation, raising an issue in two parts.  First:

When Mueller does his final report, will he be covering all of his conflicts of interest in a preamble, will he be recommending action on all of the crimes of many kinds from those “on the other side”(whatever happened to Podesta?), and will he be putting in statements from…..

And then:

….hundreds of people closely involved with my campaign who never met, saw or spoke to a Russian during this period? So many campaign workers, people inside from the beginning, ask me why they have not been called (they want to be).

Well, Mr. President, you’re the one who’s always bragging about his great intelligence, so consider this:

Maybe Mueller isn’t talking to those folks because he’s well aware that they never met, saw, or spoke to any Russians during the campaign and therefore have absolutely nothing to offer his investigators.



The Wit and Wisdom of Senator John Kennedy

No, not THAT John Kennedy.  The John Kennedy – John N. Kennedy – who is a Republican senator from Louisiana.

Appearing recently with preppie Tucker Carlson to talk about the Kavanaugh confirmation hearings, Kennedy said that

These are people — I’m not gonna name names — but I’m not sure they have a soul.  I don’t think their mother breast-fed them.


I think they went right to raw meat.

Earlier in the week, also on Fox News, he described the confirmation hearings as “an intergalactic freak show.”

And then added

If you think this is about searching for the truth, you ought to put down the bong.

The Curmudgeon had noticed Kennedy in the past.  He is, on one hand, a pretty bright guy, but on the other, he’s highly partisan – which, to be fair, is to be expected for someone in his line of work.  He’s also not above appearing to try to say things in ways that will get him public attention – also, to be fair, something to be expected of someone in his line of work.  So The Curmudgeon did some sleuthing – okay, it was more like one of these new-fangled FBI investigations in which you don’t look too hard and too far for too long – and came up with some other Kennedy pearls.

From Huffington Post:

Our country was founded by geniuses, but it’s being run by idiots,” Kennedy said dismissively last week, as a government shutdown loomed. “I think most Americans are wondering how some folks up here made it through the birth canal.”


“That’s why the aliens won’t talk to us,” Kennedy told reporters, referring to the bipartisan blame game over the president’s comments. “They look at us and say, ‘These people… they’re 13-year-olds.’”


He later described a recent meeting at the White House with Trump as “very positive,” adding that “no one called anybody an ignorant slut or anything.”


“This is Washington, D.C.,” Kennedy said in December. “Politics is in everybody’s blood, kind of like herpes.”

 Kennedy has directed witticisms at his fellow Republicans, as well. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.), for example, is “tougher than a $3 steak,” according to Kennedy, while Sen. John McCain, who is still recovering from cancer surgery in Arizona, is “tough as a boiled owl.”

The Curmudgeon, for one, has no frame of reference for understanding the degree of toughness of a boiled owl.


In October, Kennedy drew plaudits from both parties when he said the IRS contracting the hacked company Equifax to combat fraud was like giving actress Lindsay Lohan ― who’s had her troubles ― “the keys to the minibar.” 


“Just because you’ve seen [the movie] ‘My Cousin Vinny’ doesn’t qualify you to be a federal judge,” Kennedy said to nominee Matthew Petersen, who admitted during the hearing that he had never tried a case or argued a motion in court. 

CNN offers this:

Skeptical of the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, which estimates the costs of various bills, Kennedy remarked last fall that it makes “those late-night psychic hotlines that you see advertised reputable.”

And this:

Kennedy, unlike some members too afraid of ruffling feathers, has commented freely on a range of issues and offered clear-eyed analysis of his own party’s reckonings. Amid the GOP’s infighting over tax reform, Kennedy offered a food analogy.

 “It’s like taking a big ol’ piece of cheesecake and putting a bunch of spinach on top and saying you can’t eat the cheesecake till you eat the spinach,” he said once, describing disputes that leaders had to resolve last fall before passing a final bill.

 He’s even called out his colleagues in a decidedly anatomical way. Senators need to “grow some oranges and … make some hard decisions,” he said in September, talking about fiscal issues. Too many of them “have been dictionary definition of weenies,” he added.

Even the usually humorless Fox News has found Kennedy entertaining.

That is, unless the newcomer tells a Supreme Court nominee during a confirmation hearing that his hope is the future justice can be a “cross between Socrates and Dirty Harry.”

Kennedy is an interesting guy, to be sure, and certainly a breath of fresh air in the stuffiest chamber of American government.