Profiteer

There is a difference between profit and profiteering. Where the line, that divides the two, is drawn can be hard to measure exactly. However in recent economic times the prevalence of grave inequity makes the extremes easy enough to see.

I define profit as the difference between the value of a product and the cost of making it. On the other hand profiteering is in the difference between what something is reasonably worth (the bit that may be tricky to define exactly) and the price of it.

For instance profiteering is evident when a worker is underpaid for their labour so their employer can keep a larger share. I know many people working for less now than they were at the turn of the century despite being more skilled and experienced than they were a decade an a half ago. Skills and experience have increased the value of their work for which they are now paid less. The companies paying them less and keeping the difference are profiteers.

The other way round, drug patent buyers who acquire the rights to existing prescription drugs then vastly inflate the price are profiteers. In such a case the actual value of the product is easy to determine. A pill with a stable price of $13.00 for many years, in the absence of any shortage of raw materials or the like is pretty certainly worth $13.00. Anyone who would double the price to pocket the difference is a profiteer.

“Yay! I wanna be a profiteer.” And why would you not? A profiteer increases their capital without producing anything of value to achieve it. What could be the downside?

The downside is that, all conditions being equal, an hour of work is worth an hour of work. A pill is worth a pill. If we allow profiteers to operate as they are, the real result is that the value of your work and capital just decreases. To take more and more value out of transactions without adding any material value, while that makes a small number of individuals or corporations rich, it stagnates economies and contributes to the impoverishment of the majority of people.

If I say, “carpetbagger” you shouldn’t have a positive image come to mind. But carpetbaggers were profiteers and like profiteers of all ages caused widespread hardship. It is about time we put an end to profiteering. Otherwise we are likely to see the end of democracy, civil society and the dignity of most people’s lives.

A brief descent into gimic-dependent short fiction.

Verm fiddled with his jacket, the one she had given him. He waited in the dim light outside the apartment they shared, for the bitch to show up. Surely she would just return her key and go.

A ‘w’ would have been more appropriate than a ‘b’. What right had she to be so upset about the other women? Hadn’t she as much as admitted once that she fancied some guy in IT? And, “it’s the thought that counts” isn’t it?

There she was, coming up the street. “Oh gods,” she’d been crying again. Verm didn’t need this, he just wanted her to give him her key. She paused, smeared some running mascara on a sleeve and composed herself.

“Hello Worm,” she said but he did not exactly understand what she said next. He felt dizzy and everything else felt big, bigger, confusion.

She sniffed and picked up the jacket. Gathering up the other clothes she shook out a small thing and placed it in under a shrub. She went inside to make a cup of tea.

Risk

Years ago a friend introduced me to the idea that people were in general very bad at judging relative risk. He had watched a documentary about this and the subjective response people have to relative dangers was shown, for the most part, to be unrelated to the actual risk.

An easy example of this is the common fear of flying. Fear of getting a drive to the airport is unheard of even though the car ride is vastly more likely to result in injury or death than the flight. But the statistic is powerless against the misapprehension.

This will appear to be a departure from topic, but I had my periodic colonoscopy today. The doctor before arranging the procedure was very diligent in advising me of the relative risk. About 1 in 1000 such procedures lead to complications. Compared to the risk of undiagnosed colon cancer this seemed like no thing to me so I arranged for the procedure.

Afterward I was confused by the suggestion I got from a couple of other people that a 1 in 1000 risk of complications was significant. So, I considered their concerns and came up with this.

Given that I will live forever and I need a colonoscopy every 5 years; and given the certainty that in all those many many procedures 1 in every thousand, on average, will result in complications; I am certain to have a complication about every 5000 years. Moreover in all my future eternity that complication will on average occur about half way through each period at around the 2500-year mark. So, of all the undying multitudes of patients having routine scopes the average one shall expect a complication in about 2500 years, another in 7500 years and so on…

Of course one out of the next thousand colonoscopies is almost certainly going to have a complication. But in whole numbers this chance is 0%.

As an afterthought; on February 7, 2013, the day of the two giant snowstorms here, I had my specialist appointment with my gastroenterologist to get the procedure scheduled. On the way home, eastbound on Bayly St. at Kitney Dr. I hit a patch of black ice approaching the red light. I slid several metres before fetching up against the curb with a thump and skewing sideways. I nearly hit the car in the lane to my left and would have totaled the car had there been anyone in front of me. So while day surgery is unpleasant it is not risky. Driving on the other hand is one of the most dangerous things anyone ever does over and over again.

One Hundred One Thousand Smokin Nurses

Why are people so careless of statistics? Understand that I think people should not smoke because it is clearly bad for you and it is disgusting. So is misusing statistics.

In this report by BBC News there are 101,000 nurses in a study. Some have sudden cardiac deaths. Of these 75 are smokers, 148 are past smokers and 128 are non-smokers. While the article says that 75 deaths + 148 deaths + 128 deaths is 315 total deaths, it is in fact 351. So BBC needs to employ more proofreaders and the overall incidence of sudden cardiac deaths is 0.003 or about 3 in 1000. Not really a lot.

The article reports that smoking doubles the chance of sudden cardiac deaths. However it is impossible to know what this means since we are not told how many smokers, past smokers and non-smokers there were altogether.

The article also says, “For every five years of continued smoking, the risk went up by 8%.” What could they possibly mean by this? The total incidence is only about 0.3%. Eight percent is almost 27 times that.

…and this vagary helps to undermine the valid message that smoking is a bad idea.

When someone tells you that x doubles the chance of y they have told you nothing. There is a huge difference between odds doubling from 1 in 100 to 2 in 100, and 1 in 2 to 2 in 2, or 3 in 1000 to we cannot know what.

Segregated Waste Bins

So you finished your lunch and are knocking back the last of whatever you drink from a can and you have the best of intentions. Planing your return to wherever, you eyeball the place where you will bus your tray. You see the segregated bins and you see the universal recycling symbol. You are about to save the planet single handedly. You swan up to the bins you tip your garbage into the garbage and then smugly drop that precious metal into the hole marked recycling. There! The world is a better place. Isn’t it?

I was at my local burrito place recently. The lunch rush was slowing. So, the staff were getting a chance to do chores instead of serving customers. I watched one of them as she changed out the full liner bags in the segregated bins for new, clean ones. The bags were identical. “So,” I said to her, “The bags are all the same and you can’t tell them apart. I guess the recycling just goes in with the rest of the trash.” She was a good minion at that point. She just gave me a guilty grin.

The reason that business pretends to recycle is simple. The appearance of recycling is good public relations. Therefore the segregated bins and green recycling logo. However actual recycling is costly. Therefore all the bags go indistinguishably into the same dumpster.

In truth I basically knew that this was an ubiquitous practice. I have almost never seen segregated bins where the contents were segregated. There is usually a slurry of waste and recycling in each compartment. If you are looking into such a bin you are probably looking into landfill.

There are considerable arguments about the cost benefit ratio of recycling. However I am not so much concerned about that debate here. What is concerning me is fraud. When a business implies that it recycles, it does so for profit. The pretense is there to encourage custom. “Look! We are a green business. Spend your money here not at those other earth-hating businesses.” The implied recycling is a business cost that customers are encouraged, by green M.C. Escher arrows, to pay for. If they do not get the recycling they buy into then I think that deceit is fraud.

The importance of environmental issues is right up there with the most basic human needs for air, water, food and shelter. And yet a very great deal of the response to this growing crisis is nothing but cynical opportunism and pantomime. In the case of businesses pretending to recycle when they do not, we need a piece of case law that sets a precedent that this is fraud. Otherwise all that segregated bin is doing is making a fool of you and your good intentions.

One Step Forward, More Than Two Thousand Steps Back

You are the proud owner of some potato peelings. Lucky you. Chuck them in your garden composter. You will get a better return on this investment than the ones at your bank.

Oh no! What the hell just happened? You put that garden compost in your green “organics” bin? Why? You have just turned a tiny but significant bit of beneficial compost into a public liability.

Consider this. No matter what you put in that compostable bag liner, it will never hold what would eventually amount to a penny’s worth of compost. Someday, bacteria willing, a whole bag of green-bin waste could amount to a few millilitres of compost of some unspecified quality. However you just wasted twenty cents’ worth of resources bagging it. That is a two thousand percent resource loss already, and more resources will be used to process waste you could have chucked in a box in your yard.

And this is not the only way you have just sucked. You have contaminated that good compostable material with other “organics” such as last week’s chicken carcass. Rule one in garden composting is, “no meat, no cooked food.” These waste products do not degrade using the same bacteria as vegetable matter. They cannot be mixed and result in good garden compost.

This practice gets worse however. Your green bin organics program isn’t just contaminating your good compost at a considerable loss. It is discouraging beneficial garden composting in your community by encouraging you and your neighbours to divert compostable material into the waste stream.

And why? Why is this happening? At a guess I would say that your municipality is spending large amounts of your tax money on this program for two reasons.

For one thing, compost collection can be dressed up as an environmental initiative. The bins are green in colour, if not in effect.

Secondly, the only private interest that benefits from you putting those peels in your own composter is you. The green bin program is there to divert public money into the bank accounts of a privatized waste industry.

So, given the importance of waste reduction in all the senses of the word, look at the composting policies in your community and ask questions about who they benefit. And if that benefit is not to you and your community then take action to get those policies changed.

CAPIC: Double Vision

Double Vision: the faces of CAPIC, the Toronto Chapter’s premier show and Yuletide celebration, will be celebrating its fifth year at Toronto Image Works on Friday, December 11th, 2009, with a festive spread and the room chock-full of attendees, who will choose the winning pairs of portraits by popular vote.

Dave needs a posse Dec 11 19:00:00. Anyone feelin artsy-fartsy? It is the CAPIC Double Vision show. It will be won by whoever has the biggest posse. The art is irrelavant.

Portrait: John Narvali by Dave McKay
Portrait: John Narvali by Dave McKay