Category Archives: A blogger’s musings

Big Pharma and ISPs hook up to stalk you


Yahoo! and other Internet providers are hooking up with the goal of learning all about your medical history, they targeting you with ads peddling expensive drugs.

It’s a particularly noxious use of metadata and amounts to a form of cyberstalking to our way of thinking.

BloombergBusinessweek’s Jordan Robinson and Sharon Pettypiece dissect the practice:

The Big Business of Selling Prescription-Drug Records

Since the days of 19th century remedies such as castor oil laxatives and mercury syphilis tablets, pharmacists and patients have had a tacit understanding: Whatever you buy is confidential. No longer. Drugmakers and Internet companies are quietly joining forces to link pharmacy records with registrations at websites to target ads to people reflecting their health conditions and their prescription drugs.

In a process known as a matchback, third-party companies assign patients unique numerical codes based on their prescription-drug records. Websites use the same process to assign codes to registered users. Then databases can be linked—without names changing hands. That lets pharmaceutical companies identify groups who use a specific medicine and send them tailored Web ads.

Drug companies say the technique complies with federal medical privacy laws because patients’ names are concealed. Still, critics see it as a breach of confidentiality. “Marketers are treating our health data as if we were buying a pair of pants or a book,” says Jeff Chester, executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy, a privacy group in Washington. “That’s unconscionable.”

And here’s Pettypiece describing the practice in a Bloomberg Business interview:

How Marketers Know If You’re Buying Viagra

Program notes:

Drugmakers and Internet companies are quietly joining forces to link U.S. pharmacy records with online accounts to target ads to people based on their health conditions and the prescription drugs they buy.

You have to wonder at what point people are going to say “Enough.”

That our most sensitive of personal is parsed through the metadata game should be troubling to everyone. Are you taking an antidepressant? Taking an antiviral for a sexually transmitted disease? If so, you’re fair game for targeting, just as surely as a drone operator tracks a faceless subject then fires off a Hellfire missile.

To quote an old friend, “This shit has gotta stop.”

UPDATE: Reflections on medical times past. . .

Born at the very first stage of the Baby Boom, we grew up an America where the level of inequality was the lowest in the nation’s history in which young white people looked forward to prosperous futures. [Not so for people with more melanin in their skin, but for one young Midwesterner, a world of possibilities seemed to lie ahead].

Back in those days, prescription drug advertisements were barred from television, radio, and general audience newspapers and magazines. Only medical trade journals carried the ads, in which glowing claims and increasingly glizty graphics were with a large gray mass of data, including [supposedly] all the bad things that might happen to patients prescribed the nostrum in question.

Consumers could find that same information, but since there wasn’t an Internet in those days and long distance calls cost big money [up to $100 or more in 2014 dollars], finding out meant a trip to the library.

In other words, it took a real effort. But in those days, you got to know your doctor, and if you were too sick to make into his [almost always his] office, he’d come by the house to question, probe, probe, and stick as needed. And in making that house call, the doctor learned a lot more about his patient, ranging from home cleanliness and even eating habits should he ask to look around the kitchen.

But these days, much of our medical world experience is commercially mediated, and we are inundated with medical ads tailored for our personal circumstances, our prescription intake monitored not only by online efforts, but also by those discount cards needed to get the good prices at drug stores grown big as supermarkets, with drugs occupying only a small portion of floor space.

Those cards track your every purchase, compile the data, then sell it to, among other enterprises, insurance companies which can alter you rate should they see you’re buying notable quantities of sweets.

The medical relationship has transformed for a personal interaction to a mediated experienced tailored to sucker us into with buying vastly overpriced drugs that are often only slightly tweaked versions of medicines gone generic after patent expiration.

While the doctor of our youth, the man in the white coat, exercised considerable power, it was a relationship tempered by community mores and values and legislation limiting the ability of corporations to direct hustle the afflicted.

Which model is the better to build on?

Storm’s a blowin’, bringing down a tree on us


Fortunately, the tree that gale force winds brought down on the roof of Casa esnl a couple of minutes ago did no damage, other than shaking us [and the house] with a rather loud thump as it landed. one branch came within less than a foot of shattering the window just behind us. . .

The storm coming in is supposed to bring up to six to eight inches of much-needed but torrential rain along with all that wind. . .

Pardon the slow posting, a bit under the weather


Hopefully back up at a more normal pace soon. . .

Farewell Mike Nichols, a uniquely American artist


Mike Nichols is gone. Comedian, writer, actor, writer, playwright, director, and producer, he left an indelible mark on the American performing arts.

From his obituary in today’s New York Times:

Mike Nichols, one of America’s most celebrated directors, whose long, protean résumé of critic- and crowd-pleasing work earned him adulation both on Broadway and in Hollywood, died on Wednesday in Manhattan. He was 83.

His death was announced by James Goldston, the president of ABC News. Mr. Nichols was married to the ABC broadcaster Diane Sawyer. A network spokeswoman said the cause was cardiac arrest, giving no other details.

Dryly urbane, Mr. Nichols had a gift for communicating with actors and a keen comic timing, which he honed early in his career as half of the popular sketch-comedy team Nichols and May. An immigrant whose work was marked by trenchant perceptions of American culture, he achieved — in films like “The Graduate,” “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” and “Carnal Knowledge” and in comedies and dramas on stage — what Orson Welles and Elia Kazan but few if any other directors have: popular and artistic success in both film and theater.

An almost ritual prize-winner, he was one of only a dozen or so people to have won an Oscar, a Tony, an Emmy and a Grammy.

But it is for his earliest success as partner with Elaine May in one of America’s greatest ever comic duos that we will forever remember him fondly.

So with that, here’s a repost of an offering from 22 January 2013:

Mike Nichols & Elaine May: Comedy that stings

For a kid growing up in small town Kansas in the 1950s, television ushered in a new world, full of both terrors and delights.

As a member of the very first wave of what became the Baby Boom, we arrived before the boob tube’s presence became ubiquitous, and when Dad brought home a pair of boxes, one cubical and the other long and narrow, our world paradigm shifted dramatically.

The cube contained a black and white television set, and the oblong box an antenna kit.

Dad cobbled the antenna together inside attic of our two-story home, running the lead down through to wall to the living room two floors down.

Our neighbors, a reclusive elderly couple, had been forced to put up a tall steel tower reaching up about 50 feet before they could grab a decent signal, but somehow Dad’s inspiration worked, and we had television that night.

Our life was never the same.

The fears came through the endless news stories about nuclear bomb tests and the latest Cold-and-growing-hotter War confrontations.

The delights came in the form of brilliant and mostly Jewish comedians, offering a view of the world that zeroed in on the same insanely macabre contradictions we had just begun to discover at the ripe old age of six.

Sid Caesar and his troupe were the reigning stars [how could they not be, with a crew of writers that included the likes of Woody Allen, Mel Brooks, Neil Simon, Larry Gelbart, and Carl Reiner]. The show’s cast was legendary. And to top it all off, they did it every week live in prime time.

From Your Show of Shows, Caesar appears with Carl Reiner and Howard Morris [“Uncle Goopy”] in a parody of one of television’s earliest hits, This is Your Life, where an unsuspecting audience member was plucked from obscurity and bombarded with people from her past. In this parody, the show takes the unexpected turn every kid secretly hoped would happen.

“This is Your Story”:

While Caesar and his crew painted in a broad brush with roots in vaudeville and the Catskills, two other comics brought a rapier wit and an edgier, more cerebral nightclub tone. And their targets were typically institutions, and they targeted their most corrosive effects.

Mike Nichols and Elaine May were simply brilliant, both witty and masters of the secrets of timing. It’s not surprising both went on to direct. While Caesar brought the pure catharsis of the belly laugh, Nichols and May left you thinking after the laughter had subsided.

Here they tackle a subject brought to the national attention by East Bay writer Jessica Mitford in her searing 1963 expose of the American funeral industry, The American Way of Death. The venue is The Tonight Show, then hosted by Jack Paar.

“The $65 Funeral”:

And here’s a subject near and dear to our own heart of late.

“At the Hospital”:

Finally, Nichols and May bite the hands that feed them in this wonderful little sketch they presented at the 1959 Emmy awards:

Apologies for the slow posting. . .


We’re under the weather [where the heck did that phrase come from anyway?], and well try to do at least a minimum amount of posting later this evening if we’ve up to it.

Sorry. . .

Slow posting for the rest of today. . .


Urgent personal matters have arisen [not the sort involving peril to live and limb, fortunately].

We may be back much later in the day. . .

Chart of the day: esnl’s Political Compass results


If you haven’t taken the Political Compass test, you probably should because it’s always a good conversation-starter if nothing else. We’ve taken it three times and we always wind up with pretty much the same results:

BLOG Compass

We’ve seen the results of other folks we know, and they pretty much dovetail with both their own and our perception of their Weltanschauungen. . .