Ruminations on lubricants, comments, shipping and books
I want to start out with a funny Q & A that I can across while catching up on my The Spectator reading on one of the countless flights I’ve been on lately. As most of you who are regular readers of this blog doubtless know, I am a huge The Spectator fan. I love the writing, the book reviews, the movie reviews, and even the advice column. Said column is written by a woman named Mary Killen who deals with the social conundrums of the British gentry class. Her columns are not of the ‘Me and my uncle got in a fight after I yelled at him for crushing my cigarettes during sex. He ran off but I still love him. What can I do to get him back?’ variety that are more typical over here. Those Mary routinely deals with are of a more genteel variety, and she typically dispenses invaluable advice as she does to the questioner below:
Q. Please can you advise on a matter that, although seemingly trivial, is causing some tension in our household. Like many families, rather than spreading butter on our toast at breakfast time, we have switched to one of the supposedly healthier alternative low-fat spreads. Our problem is by what name should we refer to this new product? My wife continues to ask if I’d please pass the butter, but as it isn’t butter, I find this irksome. If I refer to it as margarine, she is annoyed by the implication that we are using some inferior low-quality butter substitute. To request that someone passes the low-fat spread is hardly elegant. Please, Mary, can you advise on the correct terminology?
C.S., Woodbridge, Suffolk
Why not use the word ‘lubricant’? The products to which you refer are, technically, lubricants, and when you have guests they will enjoy laughing at your use of this term.
Hilarious, no?’ And a great idea. We never, ever use margarine or its low-fat equivalent, but now I wish we did just so I could call it ‘lubricant.’ Perhaps from now on I’ll start asking: Is this butter or is it lubricant?’ The possibilities are endless. I encourage everyone to start using the term.’ Makes this schlock sound like what it really is.
New shipping policy
As many of you may know, we have a products page on our website that can be accessed from the tab at the top of this blog labeled, appropriately enough, Products. We never intended to be in the ‘products’ business, but when our first book Protein Power came out, our clinic in Little Rock was inundated with phone calls from readers wanting to know how they could purchase the specific supplements we used with our patients. We began providing these supplements to readers who called from all over the place.
When we moved our clinic to Boulder, Colorado in 1998, we changed our practice from a local one to a more national one since, thanks to the success of Protein Power, people began coming to us from all over. We put up a website listing the supplements we used so that people could purchase them directly instead of having to go through our receptionist, who wasn’t always available. We have maintained some kind of online presence since. But we have never really sold enough product to make it worth our fooling with. We’ve always done it kind of as a service to those people who wanted to use the very supplements we used ourselves and used with our patients.
Since we never really paid much attention to the products or how many we sold, we simply set the price at whatever the different manufacturers recommended and added whatever the shipping and handling actually was to that price. The shipping and handling fees were pretty high, but that’s what they actually were. We backed up and looked at the whole operation a few weeks ago and discovered we were selling more product than we thought we had been, even with the high shipping. When we figured our costs, we decided that we could underwrite some of the shipping and still pay expenses, including paying the outfit actually doing the warehousing and shipping.
We instituted new pricing for our shipping. It is now $5.00 on any orders from $0.01-$100.00. $3.00 for orders between $100.01 to $200.00. And free shipping on orders over $$200.00. As those of you who have previously purchased from our website know, this is a huge decrease in the $10-$20 it used to cost.
For those who do purchase through this site and for those who enter through Amazon.com, a heartfelt thanks. Virtually everything we make goes back into the site in upgrades and tech work. These two sources of income are the only ones we have for this site since I decided that all the Google ads I used to have on the site were tacky and ditched them.
Just another reason I hate the government
Again, most readers of this blog know my libertarian leanings and sentiments, so I’m against vastly more government policies than I’m for. One that really ticks me off to the max, however, is that governments (local, state and federal) all pass laws that they themselves don’t have to obey. If congress had to abide by the laws congress passed, there would be a whole lot fewer passed.
On October 15 I had to mail in my tax return that I had to get extended because I had’t received all the documentation I needed to complete it. When I got my completed tax return from my accountant, I discovered that I owed an extra $48 above and beyond what I had already forked over. I was traveling and filed my return electronically but I had to somehow pay the $48. My accountant sent me information on how I could pay electronically, which I did. Of course I ran afoul of one of the many rules that the government plays by that it prevents others from playing by. I don’t know how many people know this, but when you purchase goods or services on a credit card, the merchant who accepts the credit card has to pay a fee on each transaction. This fee is typically about 2 percent. So, if you buy $200 of groceries on your credit card, the grocer has to pay $4.00 to the credit card company.
Some clever merchants figured out long ago that they could avoid paying this fee by simply adding it to the price for anyone who paid by credit card. So there would be two fees for any given product: one fee for payment by cash or check and another (about 2 percent higher) for those paying with credit cards.
Can’t have that, says the government. Laws are passed so that no one can charge more to those who purchase via credit card. (One wonders how much lobbying the big banks, MasterCard, Visa, Discover and American Express did to get these laws passed?) So now, if you pay by credit card, you get the same price as someone paying by cash or check. And the merchant eats the 2 percent.
But not the government, the same government that mandates that those in the private sector can’t charge more for credit card purchases.
As you can see below from the screen shot of my payment to the IRS, they charged me a ‘convenience fee’ of $3.89 on my $48.00 tax payment, which calculates to a little over 8 percent. Just let a merchant try to squeeze a paltry (in comparison) convenience fee of 2 percent out of a buyer, and the same government is all over them.
What’s probably worse, is that I’ll bet the government beats the credit card companies into a much lower rate than the 2 percent most merchants pay.
Once again, it’s time for me to whine about the comments. Only this time it’s not a whine, I’ve solved the problem. I think. I’ve started just posting the comments pretty much as they come in. I don’t know if I’ve developed a greater readership lately or what, but each post seems to generate about 200 comments, all of which I read. But if I had to comment on each one, it would take me vastly longer than it took to write the post. And I’m assuming that most people would rather read new posts than plow through the comments looking for my answers to specific questions. I’ll continue to answer a comment here or there, but don’t feel ill used if your comment isn’t one of the ones answered because I simply don’t have the time to answer them all.
I had coffee a week or so ago with Richard Nikoley of Free The Animal. He suggested I set up the comments to auto-post as they come in, which is how he does it on his blog. He says it makes for a better dialogue among readers because they get instant feedback. I’m tempted to do this, but I’m afraid if I do, I won’t read all the comments myself. They’ll just hit the blog, and I wont know what’s going on. Plus, nasty comments and spam (of which I get plenty despite a great spam filter) could make their way in. If my new method doesn’t work, I may give Richard’s suggestion a try. Any folks out there have a preference?
Finally, and once again, for the zillionth time for those who haven’t read it yet, I can’t make diagnoses and recommend treatment over the internet, so please don’t ask. Thanks.
My nightstand, real and electronic
I realized in looking through the last few posts that I’ve fallen down on listing the books I’ve been reading. I’ve been traveling a huge amount lately (in fact, I’m writing this post at 37,000 ft between Dallas and Phoenix), so I’ve cut back a bit on my reading. I usually stack up all my magazine reading and read it on a plane so I can jettison it along the way and lighten my load. Since I’ve been traveling as much as I have lately, I still bring the magazines, but my book reading has suffered.
I’ve been reading most of my books on the Kindle app on my iPad simply because I don’t have the room to bring books on my carry-on along with all the magazines. I’m somewhat limited in the books I get on Kindle because I absolutely refuse to pay more than $9.99 for an electronic book. MD thinks I’m unreasonable, but I don’t care. That’s my cutoff. So, if any of the books discussed below can be had on the Kindle for less than ten bucks, that’s probably how I read them. If they’re more than that, I got a real copy of the book. We’re talking fiction here. When I get non-fiction books, I almost always get the real thing so I can mark them up and go to the index and page back to what I’ve already read or check footnotes – all of which are difficult to do with a Kindle.
I’ve been working my way through The Paleo Solution by Robb Wolf, who graciously sent me a copy. Since I have the hard copy and since I’ve been on the road so much, I haven’t finished it because I haven’t had it with me. I very much like what I’ve read so far and plan to review it here when I’m finished.
I’m also reading Steven Johnson’s Where Good Ideas Come From in fits and starts because I have it in the hardcover version as well. Steven (who is an avid golfer) and I have been trying to figure out when we can get together and play on one another’s home course. He’s on a brutal (scheduling-wise) book tour and I’m all over the place myself. The book, like all his books, is excellent, and I highly recommend it. If you haven’t read his The Ghost Map, you should.
I just finished Christopher Hitchens’ Hitch-22, which I loved. It starts out with his ruminating on his own death, which is kind of creepy since he found out he has terminal esophageal cancer in the early days of his book tour. And I’m sure it was growing away as he wrote the very words contemplating his own demise. (If you haven’t read of his discovery of his disease, you can read about it in his own words here.) I especially enjoyed the last chapter of the book because it describes Hitchens’ changing his mind politically as he gained more experience and wisdom with aging. His description of the creeching that burst forth from his former political cronies and allies who felt he was a traitor to their liberal causes is something to behold. I didn’t enjoy it because of Hitchens turn from liberalism because his politics and mine certainly aren’t the same, but because his description of what he went through is pretty much the same thing long time vegans go through when they publicly renounce their religion and begin eating meat. Most of you know the tough road that Lierre Keith has been tredding.
Reading Hitchens’ book inspired me to pick up copies of Martin Amis’s Money and his father, Kingsley Amis’s book Girl, 20. I’ve just started both and they’re both hardcover so are sitting on my nightstand while I’m all over the place.
I’m slowing picking my way through a difficult but worthwhile and enlightening book called Bureaucracy in Representative Government. It’s an older book published in 1971 (and recently republished, I noticed when checking Amazon) when economists, in a fury of jealousy at physicists, all thought they could prove economic laws with equations. The book is equation and math heavy, but despite that is a thought-provoking read. The author’s thesis is that bureaucrats running big government departments (including those at the very top, i.e., secretary of agriculture, treasury and all the rest) have the same goals and aspirations as all of us. They want to increase their income, authority and prestige. In business, one does this by being a better business person, negotiating deals with suppliers (which I’m learning all about now that I’m in the appliance business), pricing product correctly and running a profitable operation with good growth. If you are the head of a bureaucratic agency, you achieve these goals – more income, authority and prestige – by increasing the number of people in your agency and increasing your agency’s budget. As a consequence, no one in a position of bureaucratic authority wants to see his/her agency diminish in size, scope or budget. Therefore, due to human nature as applied to bureaucracies, the size will always grow, making governments at all levels larger and larger. It’s the natural state of things. An interesting but sobering book that, due to its complexity, probably won’t be everyone’s cup of tea.
I read Peter Robinson’s latest book, Bad Boy, which I enjoyed much more than his last. If you enjoy Brit detective fiction, any of Peter Robinson’s books are worth a read. If you’ve been put off of Brit detective fiction because you have trouble understanding the British police hierarchy, try Robinson. He grew up in England, but has spent the last 30 years in North America, so his books are much more accommodating to American readers than those of many other UK mystery authors.
Speaking of Brit authors, I just finished Quintin Jardin’s Death’s Door, a convoluted novel with a plethora of police characters that are all either married or are ex-spouses of one another. It was okay, but it will be a while before I pick up another of his.
I recently read Long for this World, a semi-jaundiced view of the anti-aging movement and Aubrey de Grey, one of its leading proponents. Some halfway decent science and a lot of really great insight into de Grey, who apparently consumes almost nothing but beer and constantly floats around in an alcohol-induced, semi-conscious state. If you’re interested in the anti-aging movement, I recommend this book. If you really want to read the best book on anti-aging I’ve ever read (and I’ve read them all), pick up a copy of Stephen Austad’s Why We Age. It’s one of the best written and most interesting books I’ve ever read. Pick it up and you’ll find out how Paleo man lived as long as we do. You will then be prepared when you present the health benefits of the Paleo diet to someone and he/she responds inanely with, yes, but they all died in their 20s.
Last night I had one of those wonderful experiences that can be experienced only by book freaks such as I (plus it tells you a lot about the dullness of my everyday life that I can get worked up by something like this). I was laying in bed at about 1 AM, wide awake reading between three different electronic books on my iPad, none of which could really hold my attention. I was reading on The Dark Vineyard, an acclaimed mystery set in the French countryside, Billy Boyle, a mystery series that has promise, set in WWII (Billy Boyle is a Boston cop who ends up in the army and acting as a sleuth in various WWII settings), and All the Dead Voices, a mystery set in Dublin. (BTW, Billy Boyle is free on the Kindle.) None of these were really grabbing me, and I was wanting to read the latest Michael Connolly book The Reversal, but at $14.99 it violated my never-over-ten-bucks-for-an-electronic-book rule. I was sorely tempted, but I held off. I was searching for all manner of mysteries and everything violated the ten-dollar rule. As I was looking at one (can’t remember which one now), I noticed a John Lawton book down in the section in Amazon that shows what other people liked who had read the book in question. I about broke my finger navigating to the page and found that a new John Lawton Inspector Troy novel, The Lily of the Field, was available on Kindle, and that the price was only $9.99. My lucky night. I downloaded that sucker and read until 3 AM when I finally forced myself to put it down and try to sleep.
(Despite my wallowing in euphoria at having found the latest Lawton book, I couldn’t help but reflect on the technology advances that had made it possible. Here I was, propped up in bed in the middle of the night in pitch darkness (except for the glow of my iPad), my beloved wife sacked out next to me, and I was able to search the entirety of books available, select the one I wanted, and had it sent to me wirelessly, and in just a few seconds I was reading away. Couldn’t have happened just a few years ago. Ain’t technology grand?)
If you want a great mystery series set circa WWII, you can’t do any better than John Lawton’s books. Start with his first in the Inspector Troy series, Black Out. You won’t be disappointed.
I can’t end this book discussion without giving you a couple more recommendations of books I’ve finished that I’ve found to be excellent. Michael Lewis’s The Big Short provides a look at some of the people who were smart enough to make fortunes during the recent financial crash by betting against the supposed ‘smart’ guys. They were able to see through the government obfuscation and the PR of those who ran the big investment banks and come out the other end many millions of dollars richer. I love real life David verses Goliath stories where the small, smart people conquer the big, bluff idiots. As always, Michael Lewis knows how to tell a tale and keep it funny and engaging. His description at the end of the book of his lunch with John Gutfreud, Lewis’s former boss at Salomon Brothers, whom Lewis wrote about in his first giant bestseller Liar’s Poker, is alone worth the price of the book. A brief sample:
Hard as it was for him to enjoy my company, it was harder for me not to enjoy his: He was still tough, straight, and blunt as a butcher. He’d helped to create a monster but he still had in him a lot of the old Wall Street, where people said things like “a man’s word is his bond.” On that Wall Street people didn’t walk out of their firms and cause trouble for their former bosses by writing a book about them. “No,” he said, “I think we can agree about this: Your fucking book destroyed my career and made yours.” With that, the former king of a former Wall Street lifted the plate that held his appetizer and asked, sweetly, “Would you like a deviled egg?”
The most profound book I’ve read in a long while is Washington Rules by Andrew Bacevich. This book has answered a question I’ve been wrestling with for ages, which is why other countries that don’t have the same economic engine we do are doing so much better. If you wonder why the vastly more socialistic Brits, Germans and French have stronger currencies than do we Americans despite their having inferior economic systems and massive government intervention, taxation and regulation, the author of this book provides the answer. This is an unusual book in that all the people I’ve recommended it to love it. That includes liberals, Tea Party members, true libertarians and fiscal conservatives. I haven’t given it to any hardcore, social conservatives yet simply because I don’t really know any. (Or if I do know them, they’re keeping their views secret.) The message of the author – who is a West Point graduate and retired army colonel with 23 years service – appeals across ideological lines because it is so obviously on point. Here is the introduction to Washington Rules, a chapter titled “The Unmaking of a Company Man,” which has been online in a number of places, gives the real flavor of the book and tells why the author wrote it. Read it and become hooked as I was, then get the book. You won’t regret it.
So, there you have it: lubricants, shipping, comments, our government, and books all in one post. I’ll be back to more traditional nutritional posting next time out.