A Modern Headache

Need a break? Too much going on in your life, and you just need to veg out for a while? Kick back, turn on the TV. You pick the channel, it doesn’t matter.

Because your relaxation will be interrupted. Probably by a telemarketer–but that’s a subject for a different post. No, I’m talking about the commercials. Specifically, the drug commercials.

Annoying as all get-out, aren’t they? Most likely you don’t have the condition the drug they’re touting is intended to cure. Even if you do, the list of side effects would make any rational person flee in terror.

I’m especially confused by the ads that say “Don’t take this if you’re allergic to it.” How are you supposed to know you’re allergic to it unless you’re already taking it?.

But I digress.

What really puzzles me about the whole phenomenon is how many people think this is new.

It’s not. Consider Allan Sherman’s classic paen to one class of medical ads from 1963:

Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? Disturbing scenes of body parts you’d rather not see. Appeals to bypass authority. Untested claims of efficacy.

Replace “Bayer Aspirin” with “Otezla” and the only way the audience could tell the difference between the 1960 commercial and the 2019 commercial would be that the older one is in black and white*.

* Anyone else remember seeing “The following program is brought to you in glorious, living color” on a black and white TV set?

Bottom line, this kind of ad has built more than fifty years of inertia. That means they must work, or the advertisers would have tried something different. And that means they’re not going away, no matter how many people scream for legislation.

Let’s face it: Allan had it right. The only way to ensure you’ll never be bothered by a drug ad again is to eat your TV.

Hungarian Goulash and Minestrone Soup

Time for another round of minor updates and short items.

Last week I posted a piece on the proper use of the apostrophe, which included a deliberate error as a joke. When there was no reaction, I asked for feedback from you all. My thanks to those of you who responded (you know who you are…) Consensus opinion is that it was too subtle for the typical online reader, who can be expected to browse through a post, rather than reading it in detail. I shall take that advice to heart and henceforth I shall keep my jokes as broad as possible.


This breaking news just in: The Bay Bridge has yet to collapse!

The old span closed last night at 8 pm to allow construction staff to connect the new bridge to the road at both ends. For reasons that are hopefully obvious, the old and new bridges need to be closed while the work is being done. The ceremonial last car across the old bridge was a 1930 Model A. Reports are unclear, but it appears that the driver was required to pay the normal toll: toll collectors didn’t leave their booths until after he passed through the toll plaza onto the actual bridge.

The new bridge will be officially opened at 3 pm Monday with a chain-cutting ceremony attended by almost none of the politicians who were instrumental in extending the bridge replacement process to almost a quarter of a century. Depending on how smoothly the construction goes, traffic will start flowing at some time in the 12 hours after the ceremony.

Traffic was mixed this morning. Reports were that the other bridges were crowded, but not totally blocked. A quick local inspection showed that I-80 was wide open headed south towards the Bay Bridge through Richmond, El Cerrito, Albany, and Berkeley, but noticeably slower than usual headed north towards the Richmond-San Rafael bridge. An on-the-spot report (thanks, Maggie!) says that BART trains headed for SF were close to 50% fuller than usual, and parking garages were noticeably more full than usual (the Chron’s website notes that BART police issued a larger-than-usual number of tickets to cars parked in permit-only lots).

The Federal Highway Administration says the new bridge is safe. Caltrans says the new bridge is safe. The only important voice not yet heard from is Mother Nature. I’d suggest that she run a QA test on the bridge’s seismic stability, but any quake large enough to give the bridge a decent test would shut down BART for at least several hours while the Transbay Tube is checked for damage, and possibly much longer if any damage is done.

In a related story, Generalissimo Francisco Franco is still dead.


Scientists at the University of Washington report that they have successfully conducted an experiment in mind-control over the Internet. OK, I exaggerate. One scientist, connected to an EEG, visualized moving his index finger. The recorded signal was sent via network to the second scientist who wore a “transcranial magnetic stimulation coil” positioned to stimulate the portion of his brain responsible for controlling his right hand. When the signal was received, his index finger moved as pictured by the sender.

Sounds creepy, doesn’t it? The team points out that it’s not quite as disturbing as it seems. It was done under ideal conditions, requires highly specialized equipment carefully positioned, and can not override the receiver’s will. All true enough; on the other hand, this is a first step, not an end product.

And despite what Internet rumor may suggest, the research was not funded by the NSA. Funding actually came from the National Science Foundation, the National Institutes of Health, and, well, the U.S. Army Research Office. It’s definitely much to early to get alarmed about this research, and there are certainly many, many good uses for the technology once it matures, but it’s something I intend to keep an eye on.


Finally, if you’ve been wondering what the title of this post has to do with the contents, allow me to elucidate. Thanks to the influence of singer Allan Sherman, I’ve long suspected that Goulash and Ministrone were designed as ways to use up leftovers. I won’t try to convince you. Check the recipes below, listen to Sherman’s take on the subject and make up your own minds.

Hungarian Goulash

Minestrone Soup