Friday, March 31, 2017

Can EPO Kill?


Once in a while I read a magazine article that gets my dander up.  In such cases I may offer a rebuttal in these pages, not because my readership is vast, but because the offensive writer might see my post and decide to go toe-to-toe with me.  I’d love that.

In this post I take on Mark Johnson and his VeloNews article titled “Book Excerpt:  Dr. Ferrari Was Right,” published on July 8, 2016 and updated on March 15, 2017.  The title refers to the disgraced cycling team doctor Michele Ferrari and his infamous quote about recombinant human erythropoietin (EPO), the drug of choice among cheating cyclists, being no more dangerous than orange juice.  Johnson makes the interesting observation that while EPO use is widely associated with death by heart attack, no causality has ever been established.

If this observation had been made in a brisk 200-word essay, I’d be grateful for it—I appreciate having a myth debunked.  But Johnson’s annoying and tedious 6,500-word article goes way too far, slinging mud at anti-doping journalists and anybody else who still thinks cheating is lame.  Read on as I savage Johnson’s essay.

Repetition as a rhetorical technique

In  junior high we all learned the basic essay formula:  state your thesis; support it through a number of examples; then restate it in your conclusion.  Those of us lucky enough to get more advanced instruction learned to mix this up a bit.  For example, you might skip the up-front thesis statement, presenting information that gradually leads the reader to come to your thesis on his or her own; following this, you can state your thesis at the end or even leave it merely implied.  Most good nonfiction writing does some version of this.

Johnson, however, gets to the point early on and then beats us over the head with his assertion, no fewer than 16 times by my count.  He starts with this:  “While the Dutch riders Rouet referred to were never conclusively linked to death by EPO, the fabrication served a larger anti-doping moral agenda and the missionary effort to impose purity on sport.”  As he develops his essay he reminds us of his position again and again.  Here are some examples: 
  • “The story’s claim that the drug was responsible for 18 cyclist deaths was based on speculation”
  • “What was not provable in 1991, or today, is that the drug killed a rash of cyclists”
  • “EPO deaths made for good news stories, even if there was no autopsy evidence that EPO was actually killing cyclists”
  • “No evidence exists to support the claim that EPO caused any of the cyclists’ deaths in the early 1990s”
  • “Turning back to the EPO fiction”
  • “While there is no evidence directly linking EPO to any competitive cyclist deaths in Europe”
  • “The EPO-kills fabrication”
  •  “The fictional nature of drug-death stories”
Okay, we get it, dude!  It’s almost as though Johnson is hoping by sheer repetition to get our heckles up against this confusion of anecdote with science.  I might start to feel annoyed by all the journalists who conflated correlation with causality, except I’m far more annoyed by Johnson’s logorrhea.  Fine, state your thesis at the beginning and the end, maybe even at the 3,000-word point just in case we forgot.  But 16 times?  What, do you think your readers all have ADHD?

Bludgeoned by evidence

To Johnson’s credit, he does back up his assertion by citing many articles that promote the EPO-equals-death idea without providing solid evidence.  A couple of illustrative examples, and allusions to other articles, would have convinced me that this unproven assertion is widespread.

Unfortunately, Johnson feels the need to bolster his case again and again, delving at length into seven different articles, along with a painstaking analysis of the matter by Bernat López, a Spanish professor similarly fascinated by the tendency of journalists to perpetuate one another’s hasty conclusions.  López must have even more time on his hands than Johnson, as he did a “meta-analysis” of 56 “academic texts” on this issue:  36 citing the dangers of EPO, and 20 arguing against the claim that EPO has killed cyclists.  Johnson blathers further by restating López’s conclusion—that no hard evidence causally links EPO with cyclists’ deaths—four times.

How much evidence do we need?  This overabundance of refutations turn Johnson’s article into some kind of journalistic Whack-A-Mole.  Okay, fine, nobody has proven EPO is deadly!  We get it!  Why go on and on like this? 

The answer to this question, I assert, is that Johnson wants to lead us toward a more subtle thesis, which he doesn’t support nearly so well, and which ultimately pisses me off.  Let’s sneak up on this hidden agenda by exploring some more of Johnson’s journalistic missteps.

Sensationalist language

Throughout his story, Johnson does a most curious thing:  while paraphrasing other journalists, and insinuating that they’re resorting to sensationalism, he employs sensationalist language of his own, again and again.  When he occasionally quotes an article directly, I see a striking disparity between the other journalist’s language and Johnson’s.  For example, a New York Times writer states that “the consequences [of EPO abuse], in some cases, may be deadly.”  Johnson sums up the article with this zinger:  “The New York Times startled readers with news of a killer stalking the roadways and velodromes of Europe.”  A killer stalking the roadways?  Seriously?

A caption in the same Times article read, “Mr. Draaijer’s widow believes that the drug recombinant erythropoietin was involved with his death.”  The Times later ran a correction, acknowledging that this caption reflected mere speculation on the widow’s part.  Johnson’s conclusion:  “Despite the correction, the rumor was already set:  EPO was a new drug of athlete destruction.”  Johnson, calm down!  Stop being so dramatic!

Here are some other examples of Johnson’s bombastic language:
  • a killer set loose among the peloton
  • scary new athlete killer
  • a mass killer
  • Grim Reaper haunting bike races and marathons
  • press-supported notion that EPO was indiscriminately slaughtering cyclists in the early 1990s
  • EPO’s black reputation in sports as a drug of mass destruction
  • colorful, body-strewn doping history
By employing this kind of language when paraphrasing the articles he denounces, Johnson is committing an aggregate “straw man” fallacy:  he presents a weakened (in this case exaggerated) version of his opponents’ arguments in order to knock it down.

Johnson doesn’t include hyperlinks to the articles he cites, and I couldn’t find all of them, but I did check out the New York Times article.  Nowhere did I find anything like Johnson’s hyperbole.  I found responsible, carefully worded but qualified assertions:
  • Doctors and blood specialists say the drug may be implicated in the deaths of as many as 18 European professional bicycle racers in the last four years
  • Only anecdotal evidence links EPO to these deaths
  • An autopsy did not specify the cause of death
I also happen to have clippings from two other articles on this topic.  While they both do suggest a link between EPO use and death, their wording is also cautious and understated, exactly as you would expect from a responsible journalist.

For example, “Cycle of Tragedy” by Ron Kroichick in the San Francisco Chronicle, May 9, 2004, states, “The absence of definitive causes ... underscores long-standing suspicions about performance enhancing drug use in cycling.”  While his article suggests a link, Kroichik never uses sensational language like “scary new athlete killer” or “drug of athlete destruction.”

Similarly, in “The Hardest Test,” in The New Yorker, August 21, 2000, Julian Barnes writes, “The assumption was that [the athletes’] heart rate had dropped during sleep and became simply insufficient to pump the blood. To counter this, EPO takers were said to get up in the middle of the night to exercise.”  Note the careful language here:  “the assumption was” and “were said to.”  Barnes doesn’t even assert that these reports can be proven. They lend themselves reasonably well to hearsay, but not to being substantiated.  After all, what athlete would go on record saying, “Yeah, I get up to exercise during the night because of all the EPO I take”?

An inconvenient truth

While Johnson derides the idea that EPO killed athletes, he does concede that the notion isn’t far-fetched.  He quotes hematologist Dr. Allan Erslev as saying, “The combination of lower blood volume from dehydration and higher hematocrit from EPO would increase blood viscosity and be not only detrimental to muscular action but also the cause of possible life-threatening thrombosis.”

Beyond this—and flying in the face of his earlier naysaying—Johnson concedes, “My own search of medical literature finds plenty of warnings about the dangers of too much EPO…. A 1996 study of dialysis patients was halted because patients on high EPO dosages suffered more heart attacks than a control group on lower amounts of EPO.”

Now, wait a second here.  If we have substantiation of the various claims that EPO thickens the blood, and medical research does show a link between EPO and heart attacks, is the implied causality in the death of these cyclists really so absurd?  Is it really “fictional,” a “fabrication,” a “fable,” and a “myth”?  Johnson makes no effort to explain why nothing has been proven in the case of cyclists, as though EPO’s risks didn’t have solid medical evidence behind them.

Does it really not occur to Johnson why this evidence doesn’t exist?  Has he not considered that team doctors of deceased athletes would prefer to sweep their EPO use under the carpet?  Has he not contemplated that when a cyclist dies and his family is grieving, no authority wants to step up and say, “Hey, if it’s any consolation, this guy was a lying cheating scoundrel”?  The governing body of cycling, meanwhile, has been infamously good at looking the other way when it comes to doping.  So the real question is, who exactly was supposed to come forth and investigate these deaths?

Sure, journalists would love to cry foul, but how are they going to gain access to damning evidence?  Who is going to let them snoop around the cyclist’s deathbed?  Johnson complains when an autopsy isn’t carried out (“there was no autopsy evidence that EPO was actually killing cyclists”), but as the Times writer pointed out, this causality cannot necessarily be established by an autopsy.

Meanwhile, what other explanation has been offered? If EPO didn’t kill these athletes, what did?  Did they drink milk from rbGH-treated cows?  Did they microwave food in plastic containers?  Did their parents just not love them enough?

(Johnson does offer up one theory, suggested by López and his survey of EPO research:  “If the researchers behind the 20 papers came up with any one Grim Reaper haunting bike races and marathons around the world, it was the damaging effect of extreme and prolonged training.” Well, isn’t it easier to train yourself to death when you’ve used EPO to speed your day-to-day recovery?  Maybe the relatively slow replacement of red blood cells is nature’s way of giving athletes the rest they need.)

Is death the only reason to condemn EPO?

Okay, let’s set aside the possibility that EPO has actually killed anyone.  Let’s assume, for the sake of argument, that EPO is never fatal.  Does that mean it’s okay?  Is that what Johnson is trying to say?  He seems inclined to vindicate the illegal use of this drug.  His vitriol verges on mocking the antidoping effort—not its efficacy, which is an easy target, but its very aim.

The height of this strange attack is a statement Johnson cites from López:  that “because the general public is largely indifferent to the drug-regulating policies that are the bedrock of anti-doping organizations, anti-doping missionaries played up the deadly EPO myth as a way to gain sympathy from a public that has an otherwise insatiable appetite for legal and illegal performance- and lifestyle-enhancing drugs.”

Granted, this is López’s assertion, but because Johnson trots it out (without calling it out as the raving of an obvious dipshit), he seems to agree.  WTF?!  Since when does the public have this insatiable appetite for drugs?  I don’t!  I want to see clean athletes!  The anti-doping “missionaries” (you can just hear the contempt in López’s voice) have had my support (or “sympathy,” if you must) all along.  I don’t agree that the public is against doping controls, and moreover I don’t believe that the public would demand the risk of fatality as a prerequisite for getting on board with an end to doping.

To his credit, Johnson does a fine job of explaining how EPO overrides the body’s natural ability to regulate blood cell production.  But he doesn’t seem to grasp, or at least acknowledge, that this is a very scary proposition.  Perhaps he never read Matt Rendell’s chilling article about Marco Pantani, “The Long, Lonely Road to Oblivion,” in The Guardian (March 7, 2004).  Check out this bit about what doctors found when, after a terrible crash, Pantani was admitted to an Italian hospital for multiple compound bone fractures: 
On his arrival at Turin’s Centro Traumatologico Ortopedico at 3.20pm, doctors were startled to discover blood values that were abnormal, almost bizarre: his haematocrit, or red cell count, was 60 per cent (50 per cent is high); his haemoglobin was 20.8g per 100ml (18g is noteworthy). These values then plummeted: on 25 October, with 15.9 per cent haematocrit and 5.8g haemoglobin, it took a transfusion to save his life.
After which the anaemia miraculously cleared. Someone, it seemed, had injected Pantani with the genetically engineered blood-booster erythropoietin, known in sport as the doping agent EPO. At the age of just 25, Pantani’s body had grown so dependent on these injections that it could no longer produce red blood cells.
Oh. My. God.  To tamper with the body’s ability to regulate blood cell production doesn’t sound safe whatsoever, whether it actually kills you or not.  Why does Johnson hold out for proof of fatality?  Isn’t EPO scary enough as it is?

What really gets me about Johnson is his scornful attitude toward the anti-doping mentality, and his insistence that raising suspicion about unsolved deaths in the EPO era is somehow more irresponsible or unfair than the EPO use itself.  “The fiction served as propaganda,” Johnson whines, “that made it professionally and personally suicidal to challenge the morality and righteousness of the antidrug movement.”  Isn’t the antidrug movement intrinsically moral and righteous?  On what moral ground could a cyclist challenge drug controls?  Do we have a God-given right to cheat by using dangerous drugs?

I struggle to understand what Johnson is really after here.  What version of cycling would he prefer?  A sport where those willing to take the greatest risks to their health (and their livelihood) are allowed to dominate, with a crushing, tactically minimalist style of putting all their doped teammates at the front of the pack and grinding everybody down until nobody is left to challenge their doped-to-the-gills leader?

I love this sport because, as a former racer with a sadly meager hematocrit, I found ways to succeed through grit, perseverance, patience, teamwork, and tactical acumen.  As such, I want to see all kinds of racers have a chance, not just those who respond particularly well to drugs.

For Johnson to attack the anti-doping movement, on the basis of insufficient evidence of EPO’s role in the deaths of cyclists, is seriously off-base.  I’m offended by his snide attitude, his bombastic and sensationalist language, and his audacious attempt to claim the moral high ground.  I hope Johnson’s book tanks, and that nobody mistakes his dogged rhetoric and tedious repetition for actual logic, judgment, or insight.

For a complete index of albertnet posts, click here.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Expensive Wristwatches


This post was inspired by a recent New Yorker article, “Time Out,” by one of my favorite current writers, the Russian émigré Gary Shteyngart.  The article concerns Shteyngart’s growing obsession with expensive wristwatches, brought on by the 2016 presidential election and its outcome.

I was also inspired by a print ad for a wannabe elite wristwatch, the Stauer Magnificat II.

But most all, this post is the (perhaps inevitable) result of my long, troubled love affair with my own wristwatch.

Shteyngart’s article

As expected, I found Shteyngart’s article funny and touching.  (For a sample of his style of humor, click here.)  But I was also nonplussed.  I understand his angst, but not his reaction to it.  That is, I grasp that most people found the 2016 election exhausting and stressful, and millions of these people (roughly half the US population) are suffering even more given the outcome; based on Shteyngart’s background and his politics, it’s a no-brainer that he’d be one of these millions.  But his headlong plunge into retail therapy seems like a weird response.

Quick synopsis:  after a panic attack on the subway, during which staring at the soothing glide of the second hand on his $1000-dollar watch helped him cope, Shteyngart dropped over $4,000 on a fancier watch, a German-made Nomos Minimatik Champagner.  Just before Election Day, he says, “as my feelings of dread spiked, I decided to buy a Rolex.”  Then, to bolster himself for the inauguration, Shteyngart bought another expensive watch.  “I knew I had to stop,” he declares, “but I had an excuse.  I desperately needed a waterproof watch for swimming, my only form of exercise.”  WTF!?  His $4,000 Nomos isn’t even waterproof?

That’s not all.  He goes on to admit that his fancy watches don’t actually keep very good time.  The Nomos loses five seconds a day, and the Rolex gains fifteen.  This amazes me.  Apparently the lack of a quartz crystal, and thus the need for incredibly complicated workings, keeps these elite watches from doing their core job very well. 

Okay, that’s not fair.  The actual core job of these watches is simply to look great and be elite.  And that, for me, is the real irony.  The depth of Shteyngart’s existential angst about Trump presupposes that, like most hand-wringing Democrats, he is opposed to Trump’s unapologetic, ostentatious wealth and socioeconomic elitism.  So why would Shteyngart cope by laying out thousands of dollars on needlessly expensive and prestigious luxury products?  Shouldn’t his taste in watches be closer to Bernie Sanders’ than the Donald’s?  (Actually, Trump’s choice in watches is a bit more complicated than you’d think.)

I won’t dwell further on Shteyngart’s retail therapy because a) emotional trauma is a complicated and deeply personal affair, and b) this post is threatening to get political so I’d better nip that in the bud.

Stauer and the paradox of the luxury brand

I certainly don’t mean to imply that I’m above, beyond, or impervious to branding.  I don’t actively seek out prestigious brands, but I instinctively recoil at any product that’s trying to pass itself off as something fancier than it really is.  Which brings us to the Stauer Magnificat II.  I’ve been sneering at Stauer ads for years.  They seem targeted directly at people who suffer from acute brand envy and badly wish they could afford luxury and class.

The ad in question, which is very similar to the online version here, announces, “Upper Class Just Got Lower Priced,” and goes on to say, “Finally, luxury built for value—not for false status.” 

Okay guys, first of all, “luxury” and “value” are not compatible concepts.  They are opposite ends of a see-saw.  Second, there is no such thing as “false status.”  What would that even mean?  Status is a perception of somebody’s standing … errors in judgment are possible, of course, but that’s not the same as falsehood.  If “false status” means “trying to impersonate a higher status,” nobody could be guiltier than Stauer.  But they’re implying that wearing an actual Rolex is pretending to be high status.  How is that pretending?  You buy a Rolex, you put it on your wrist, and then—what?  You laugh maniacally like a criminal mastermind?  You think, “Hahahahaha, when I wear this Rolex, nobody will know that I’m actually lowbrow!”?  It’s as weird a concept as the evil giraffe

The ad goes on to ask, “Do you have enough confidence to pay less?”  It chides the wealthy person whom their target market presumably resents, declaring, “Status seekers are willing to overpay just to wear a designer name.”  This is absolutely true, but Stauer isn’t really an alternative.  If they were marketing their watch as “a really nice timepiece that looks great,” that would be fine, but they’re calling their product “upper class” and “luxury.” 

Look, Stauer people:  your watch is $87.50.  It might be a fine watch (okay, “timepiece”), but nobody will mistake the wearer for a 1-percenter.  If anybody even notices the watch and examines it, he’ll either ignore its lack of pedigree or snicker at it.  He won’t decide the wearer is horologically sophisticated, particularly confident, or in any way elite.

One thing I learned from Shteyngart’s article is that people who appreciate really expensive watches are not actually that ostentatious about it.  Their pleasure comes from their awareness of the delicate workings inside the watch that nobody can even see.  Shteyngart calls these workings “perversely opulent” and goes on to say, “Parts of the mechanism are finished by hand but are never meant to be seen  by the owner; only the watchmaker and subsequent watch repairers will see the work in full.”  In the case of Stauer, a watchmaker didn’t make the watch, and the watch wouldn’t be worth ever repairing.  Noone will see anything, if there’s even anything to see.

The painstaking human effort required to produce these watches, Shteyngart contends, is also central to their allure:  “The Nomos was not a quartz watch built by robots in a giant Asian factory.  A German man or woman with real German problems had constructed this piece, blue screw by blue screw.”  This completely flies in the face of the Stauer ad, which boasts, “By using advanced computer design and robotics, we have been able to drastically reduce the price on this precision movement.”  Yeah, you and everybody else producing run-of-the-mill, non-luxury, value-oriented cheap consumer goods.

Shall I bag on Stauer some more?

Let’s have a closer look at the Magnificat II itself.  (Perhaps you’re wondering:  was there an original Magnificat?  Not that I can find.  Somebody in marketing must have determined that “II” at the end would increase the perceived luxury and class of this timepiece.)  I enjoyed the amateur reviews for this.  One review is titled “A watch that is ok.”  I love this headline.  It’s so sad, and so much more profound than “OK watch.”  I’m somehow put in mind of Eeyore.  A donkey who is depressed.

The reviewer goes on to declare breathlessly, “I was so happy but after a few months I have one problem with the watch, in the morning when I get up to look at the time the time is off and have to reset the time and I have to look at my phone to see what the real time is and I was even late for work when I relied on the time my Stauer Magnificat II Watch had.”

Another reviewer seems happy enough—he gives the Stauer five stars—but, to my mind, inadvertently damns it with faint praise:  “I set this watch to my smart cell phone time and today I checked it again. Still accurate to the minute.”  Um … isn’t the gold standard “accurate to the second”?  Are we supposed to be impressed that this watch lost or gained less than a minute in a day?  (The Magnificat II, like the really expensive watches it’s trying to be, is mechanical instead of quartz, which seems like a really poor choice—like buying grocery store sushi or ordering puffer fish at a culinary academy.) 

The reviewer goes on to say, “Great valve, great looks and will buy again.”  I was trying to figure out what valve a watch could possibly have before realizing the reviewer meant “value.”  (Maybe he was trying to be fancy in the Classical Latinate manner, à la  E PLVRIBVS VNVM?)  Moving on to “will buy again,” this suggests loyalty, sure, but doesn’t it also imply that the reviewer expects this watch to have a short life?

My own beloved wristwatch

Honestly, between a) being a lifelong cheap bastard, b) despising the pathetic yearning that causes people to pretend to be wealthy, and yet c) loving well-designed, well-machined stuff like racing bikes, I don’t know what kind of watch I’d buy if I had to buy one.  Fortunately, I haven’t had to grapple with this decision.  I never had to shop for my beloved watch—instead, it kind of found me.

(It’s not like I never bought a watch, of course.  After the inevitable cheap digital Casios of my youth, I decided as a young adult to buy a fairly cool but also humble Benrus analog wristwatch.  I got it for a song because it was a display model and the box & instructions had been lost.  I liked this watch just fine until the original burly rubbery band broke and I had to replace it with this crappy two-tone metal thing that looked like it would smell like an old man.  Meanwhile, the glass face of the Benrus got pretty scratched up over time, to the point of being a bit cloudy.  Still, it never occurred to me to replace this watch.)

Out of nowhere, in 2002, I was a winner in the annual “President’s Club” contest at work, which normally would have resulted in a lavish vacation to an exotic locale where I would get to meet the president of the company.  The problem was, the president at this time was in hot water with the SEC, and the company was teetering on the brink of bankruptcy, so nobody was attending lavish corporate junkets.  So instead of the normal prize, I got 1,000 “e-motivation” points, which worked kind of like cereal box tops—you saved them up and exchanged them for valuable prizes.

What was I going to get?  This was an enormous number of points.  I could have had a whole slew of lawn furniture, a mountain bike, or a giant TV, or a bunch of random Hammacher-Schlemmer-ish stuff I didn’t want.  I felt I had to choose something fast, though, because any day the company could go under and the whole e-motivation program could be shut down, its points becoming as useless as my company stock options.  So I rashly threw 250 points at a 512 MB MP3 player, and the rest at a Swiss-made Tag Heuer wristwatch.

In retrospect, the watch was a stroke of genius:  almost 15 years later, this very watch can be purchased used for more than twice what the e-motivation catalog originally valued it at. The MP3 player, meanwhile, is basically useless and inarguably inferior in every respect to a modern one you can buy for about $30.  A watch like mine ends up being a good investment:  it’s impervious to obsolescence, and is as beautiful today as the day I got it, because the face is made of sapphire (meaning only a diamond could scratch it) and the rest is stainless steel.

Does my watch have a soothing sweep second hand, like Shteyngart’s watch (and the Stauer Magnificat II)?  No, its second hand ticks one second at a time, like that of a cheap Timex or a fake Rolex.  Is the movement mechanical?  No, it’s quartz, which I guess the true watch aficionado would find embarrassing.  Do I care?  No, because this watch keeps almost perfect time!  It loses a second about every two months!  (I end up setting it only when I change time zones, or to accommodate Daylight Saving Time.)

It’s kind of hard to imagine why anybody would prefer a mechanical (vs. quartz) movement.  If you stop wearing your mechanical watch for a few days, it runs down and has to be re-synched and wound up.  Plus, as I mentioned, mechanical movements keep crappy time.  Okay, fine, there’s no battery to replace, but check this out:  not only does my Tag Heuer’s battery last about five years, but the watch came with lifetime free battery replacement, by a super fancy outfit in San Francisco that actually pressure tests the seals to make sure, after they put the back back on, that the watch is still water resistant to 200 meters (which is far deeper than I would ever swim, by the way).

Okay, I get that you’re starting to be bored and annoyed by how pleased I am with my watch and myself.  Don’t worry, as always, there’s…

Trouble in paradise

Not everything about this watch is perfect.  For one thing, the bezel stopped clicking at some point and now just spins, which is kind of a bummer.  Also, this watch has a bracelet design feature that backfired.  The bracelet has two modes:  regular and extended, the latter giving you a bit of slack to fit over the thick neoprene sleeve of your wetsuit.  As if!  People buy diving watches because diving watches are cool, not because anybody actually scuba dives.  (Same deal as the basketball shoes I wore in college.)  A tiny metal tab on the little extended bracelet doodad broke, so the bracelet would pop open, and this couldn’t be fixed.  The price of a new bracelet—$250—surely reflects a built-in luxury tax which I am congenitally incapable of paying.  So I decided to epoxy the bracelet extender shut, which is a bit kludgy and makes the watch harder to put on.

Meanwhile, five or six years after I got the watch (which was two or three years after the warranty expired), the date counter stopped working.  This is bad enough by itself, but it carries an extra sting because the date also stopped working on my Benrus, decades ago.  That watch was still under warranty so I sent it in for repair with a clearly written note explaining the problem; waited for weeks and weeks; and then got it back unrepaired with a work order that read “CHECK ALL HANDS DOES NOT ADVANCE.”  The technician must have watched the hour, minute, and second hands for a minute or two, shrugged (or some other equivalent of “Okay, I checked”) and mailed it back without ever considering that the date hand might be frozen.  So now, whenever I reflexively check the date on my Tag Heuer before remembering it doesn’t work, the stupid little voice in my head says, “CHECK ALL HANDS DOES NOT ADVANCE.”

The last time I had my watch’s battery replaced I asked how much it would cost to fix the date.  This put a real gleam in the jeweler’s eye, and though I don’t remember the precise figure he quoted, it was somewhere in the realm of “your firstborn child.”  Bottom line, this is too fancy a watch for the likes of me to properly service.  (Sure, one could argue that since I paid nothing for this watch—other than the income tax on it—that I am already ahead of the game and can afford to splurge on a repair.  But that’s just not how my cheapskate brain works.)

But wait, there’s more!  The big problem is, I suffer from constant dread:  what happens if I lose this watch?  What then?  Normally, the fact of owning something expensive means that at some point you convinced yourself that you deserved it and could afford it.  This means you can replace it as necessary.  For example, if my $1,000 bicycle wheels were to wear out or be destroyed in a fiery wreck, I’d have no problem going out and buying a new pair.  Sure, the outlay would sting, but the decision is a no-brainer.  I’m a bike geek, and that’s the cost of doing business.

But with this watch, I never made that decision.  I never took that bold step of saying, “Yes, I’m worth it.”  It would be difficult to decide this.  I mean, what am I, some kind of dandy?  Am I the slave to status that Stauer so routinely mocks?  Is it fair to my children to make them wipe with regular old toilet paper instead of raw silk, just so I can be all fancy with a decadent Swiss watch?

Given this mindset, which despite my existentialist leanings seems as unalterable as the size of my wrist, the only way to continue having a nice watch is to own this one forever and take good care of it—because there are no do-overs with this thing, no chance of another 1,000 e-motivation points falling in my lap.  The watch feels like a miraculous a gift from Fate, like my wife and kids are. It’s like a one-time chance to live way above my station, so I better hold onto it.

Am I exaggerating this anxiety?  No, and here’s an anecdote to show you I’m serious.  Last summer I was in Colorado on vacation, and played some full-contact water basketball with my brother and my kids at a swimming pool.  Then we went to the diving pool and slid down this giant slide a bunch of times, then went next door to the grown-up pool, swam a few laps there, relaxed in the hot tub, then went back to the kiddie pool.  Suddenly I realized—OMG!  Where’s my watch?!

In a panic, my brother and I swam all over that pool, combing it for my lost watch.  (Yes, my brother was actually in a panic too, because he also wears a Tag Heuer and could fully relate to my situation.)  Amazingly, I found my watch (minus a broken pin).  My relief was twofold:  1) that I was able to find it, and 2) that I had even noticed in time that it was missing. 

Upon reflection, though, I realized that it was inevitable I’d realize my watch wasn’t on my wrist.  There is a watch vigilance process that runs continuously in my brain from the moment I put that watch on until the moment I take it off.  (When I check my watch, am I checking the time, or checking to make sure the watch is still on my wrist?  Probably both.)

I’m reminded of this mental process whenever I go through airport security:  after taking off my watch and storing it safely in my bag, I go to check the time a minute later, see my bare wrist, and panic briefly before remembering I’d stashed the watch away.

It’s kind of like how a PC has a job that runs around every five seconds or so checking all the USB ports to see if something has been plugged in.  How much RAM does that USB-checking process eat up?  And what is the equivalent in terms of brain power devoted to checking for my watch?  And given how much I always have on my mind already, as a working stiff and husband and parent, doesn’t this kickass watch start to look like an unnecessary burden?

Yep, it sure does.  But what can I do?  The way that I’m wired, owning this watch is in fact a burden, but not one I wish to give up.  Perhaps I am as neurotic about watches as Shteyngart, but in my own way.  To him, watches must look like a path to salvation, whereas to me, a watch is like having another kid to both enjoy and fret about.  If Shteyngart worries about losing any of his watches, he doesn’t let on ... he always seems focused on his next acquisition.  To extend my analogy, he’s kind of like the womanizer who leaves in his wake a series of neglected bastard children.

Is that fair?  No, of course not ...  that analogy only highlights how silly my devotion is to my watch and how exaggerated my sense of responsibility to it.  This isn’t a kid, and it isn’t a pet.  It’s just a watch.  I’ll try to remember that.

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Thursday, March 16, 2017

From the Archives – The Crystal Ball


One of the unfortunate habits of the middle-aged is our tendency to bemoan the decay of our minds and bodies.  It’s like picking a scab that, rather than healing over, grows all the time.  We can’t remember things, we’re always tired, we’re putting on weight, and blah, blah, blah.

How refreshing, then, to look back at my prime, almost thirty years ago, and see that I was bitching and moaning about my decline even then.  Since I was obviously possessed of a fine mind and body in those days, but didn’t’ want to admit it, I now have hope that my current complaints are similarly exaggerated.

Better yet, looking back at the story below, I can’t help but admit that my writing has improved over time.  Join with me as I mock my younger self.

Letter from UCSB – “The Crystal Ball” – ca. November, 1988         

Well, I took a good, hard look at myself today and I’m not too pleased.  I got my French midterm back:  84%.  Had it been a hard test, I would have still been miffed, but might have cut myself some slack.  But this was a really easy test; I’d made every dumb mistake in the book.  I wasn’t worried about the grade, but only about what it might mean:  I’m obviously losing my ability to think clearly.

And now that I think about it, my mind isn’t the only part of me in decline.  My gut has been getting awfully big this year.  No matter what I do, I can’t seem to get the weight off.  When I went back home last summer, I got a lot of crap for my spare tire.  I tried to deny it, but it is obviously becoming a problem.  Even my cycling has suffered lately.  I didn’t ride much at all last week.  The only thing I’m getting better at is making excuses.  What could be the root cause of my descent toward mental and physical decrepitude?  Probably a bad attitude and low motivation.

I figured maybe a shrink could help me with this.  But psychiatrists charge too much, and besides, so many people who go into therapy never make it back out.  But I heard about this medium named Wanda who is supposedly very insightful.  For something like 20 bucks, she has helped lots of college kids, according to this tall goony guy I ran into in the University Center.  I was looking at the bulletin board and caught the guy looking at me looking at the bulletin board, which was kind of creepy, but he did hone right in on my mental/emotional distress, which showed more insight than my friends had.  So I decided to check out this medium for myself.

The goony guy drew me a map, or I’d never have found her tent.  It was a greasy, frail, ratty old thing in the middle of a field west of campus.  Every so often, it was said, the cops go and bust her for vagrancy, so she has had to move quite a bit.  This hadn’t done wonders for her tent, but I wasn’t there to pick up tips on interior decorating.  The medium herself was more like a large.  She seemed like a pretty wretched old woman, with long, grey, stringy hair that fell in front of her eyes.  “Wanda?” I asked.  She gave a little nod, as if to say, “Who else?”

I mumbled a question about personal coaching and insight into my soul, etc.  She just stared at me, as if she were truly sad that I’d shown up in her tent.  Finally she spoke:  “I don’t do anything but show you the future.  You wanna see it, great—you’re a client.”  She chewed on her hair as she spoke.  Her voice was low and gravelly, as if she had smoked a pack a day for the last ten years.  I knew, however, that she wasn’t a smoker, since cigarettes would have covered up her hideous breath, which smelled a bit like mold and a bit like the thick, mustard-colored ointment my dad uses.

Wanda gestured to a card table flanked on one side by a little wooden stool and the other by a lawn chair.  I sat on the stool.  On the table was a lump covered by a black, oily cloth.  With a practiced, but half-assed, flourish, Wanda snapped back the cloth, exposing a crystal ball the size of a grapefruit.  Wanda intoned, “My crystal ball can tell you all, how high you climb, how low you fall.”  I couldn’t suppress a little snort.  Dropping into the lawn chair, she continued, “Fine, I’ll spare you the incantations.  Five bucks for the first minute.  A buck a minute after that.  Just look at the ball and if you like what you see, keep the green energy flowing in my direction.”

I handed her my five spot.  I’d been clutching it, all wadded up, in my hand and it was damp with sweat.  Wanda stuffed it down the front of her gown, but she wasn’t wearing a bra, so it continued southward.  Reflexively, I watched its descent.  It stopped around her belly, which I didn’t want to linger on, so I kept dropping my gaze until it reached the edge of her dress, which was almost black from dragging on the dirt floor of her tent.

I raised my gaze to Wanda’s face.  “Don’t look at me—you’re on the clock!” she said.  “The ball!  Look at the ball!”  For half a minute, I stared at the ball and saw nothing.  I decided I’d been had.  There was nothing happening on the surface of the “crystal,” which looked like nothing more than frosted glass.  Closer observation revealed a crude seam and a tiny “Made in Taiwan” label.  I glared at Wanda.  “Fifteen seconds,” she growled.  I was about to protest, but then a faint glimmer appeared on the ball.  It resolved into a clear image of myself, sitting in my French classroom.  I slipped Wanda another five-spot and stared intently, in disbelief.  The vision in the ball was like magic.

The ball showed me sitting in my French classroom, drumming my fingers nervously on the table.  The teacher was passing back exams.  “I know I failed this final,” said Molly, the blond girl next to me.  “I didn’t study at all.”  She snapped her gum.  I was in love with her.  This was not important, though, in the moment.  The teacher handed her her test.  Molly had scored a 92%.  The teacher handed me my test.  It was a 68%.

I jumped in my seat.  It’s true!  My life is unraveling!  I returned my attention to the ball, staring until my eyes watered.

I was riding in a bike race.  I seemed to be keeping up, but I was with obviously riding with a group of beginners.  As we rode into the mountains, my breathing became faster and heavier.  The entire group rode away from me.  I stared remorsefully at my stomach.  It sagged lower than I had ever seen before.  The elastic waistband on my shorts was so tight it was digging in.  I took both hands off the handlebars, seized the waistband, and ripped it in two.  Now my belly was liberated, but my shorts began falling down in back.  I reached back to pull them up, and realized to my horror that the crack between my buttocks had climbed at least an inch up my back since the night before.

My heart skipped a beat and I looked up from the ball.  Wanda removed her index finger from her ear and stared at the fingernail, which was long, chipped, and dirty.  “I want to see farther ahead!” I cried.  She pointed indifferently towards a button on the base of the ball, labeled “>>.”  Fast Forward.  I pressed it for a few seconds and released. 

I was in a bike shop, trying to remove a crank from a wretched old Peugeot.  My physique was somewhere between E.T. and Moomintroll.  My jaw hung slack, as I’d become a mouth-breather.  My legs were somehow thin and flabby at the same time.  I grunted slightly as I shoved on a crank extractor.  The threads in the crank I was trying to pull were stripping rapidly.  Realizing my catastrophic failure to have removed the fixing bolt, I flung my wrench across the shop, cursed, and spat on the floor.  A young man in a clean shop apron, who was working on a beautiful pro racing bike, said nothing and left the room.  A moment later, an older man walked into the shop, shaking his head, clapped me on the shoulder, and said, “Dana … I’m lettin’ ya go.”

The crystal ball winked out.  Wanda was staring at me, her hand out.  I gave her my checkbook and pressed Fast Forward again.

A man was lying slumped in a dumpster, clutching an almost empty bottle of Yukon Jack.  His hair was past his shoulders.  There was no way to know what color his ragged overcoat had originally been.  His shoes didn’t match.  A bag of garbage flew into the dumpster and landed near his head.  His face was haggard, filthy, and—mine.  “NOOOOOOOOOO!”  I yelled.  I seized the crystal ball and threw it at Wanda.  It missed, and shattered on the dirt floor of the tent.  Wanda flew into a rage.  “You little bastard!” she shrieked, and came at me across the table, her arms outstretched, her long fingernails bared.  The table collapsed, and we grappled atop the wreckage. 

Wanda had her hands around my neck.  She was immensely, supernaturally strong.  I couldn’t get any air.  She herself began to wheeze.  Her hands were getting sweaty.  A tiny ridge of my skin found its way between her thumbnails, and then something amazing happened:  a perfectly ripe whitehead burst, discharging its seed-like head on her nail.  She instinctively recoiled and frantically wiped her hands on her filthy gown.  I took this opportunity to make a break for it, charging the light leaking through the flap of her tent.  I ran and ran and never looked back. 

Was the crystal ball’s forecast binding?  Or was there still time to turn my life around?  The next day was Saturday and I spent eight hours in the library, studying with a fervor I’d never before had.  Then, exhausted, I snatched up a copy of the school newspaper, seeking a poorly-written story as diversion.  The front page headline read, “VAGRANT DIES OF VELVEETA POISONING.”  I wiped sweat off of my forehead and went back to hitting the books.

Later—how much later, half an hour? an hour?—I found myself waking up, slumped in the study carrel with a stiff neck, a puddle of drool forming on my French textbook.  I checked my watch: 7:28 P.M.  I looked around for the newspaper article on the gypsy.  Had it really said Velveeta poisoning?  But that headline was nowhere to be seen.  The lead story was “UCSB TO OFFER ‘COED STUDIES’ MAJOR IN ‘89.”  The gypsy, the tent, the crystal ball, the visions of hopeless decline … they had all just been a dream! 

And my poor score on the French midterm … could that have been a dream, too?  I flipped open my binder.  The exam peered out at me, with “84%” written at the top in red ink.  Damn!  Still … things could always be worse.

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Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Cough Drops & Mimetic Theory

NOTE:  This post is rated PG-13 for mild strong language and an instance of shocking grossness.


Does advertising work?  Clearly.  Does it work on me?  I’d like to think it doesn’t (like most people, I imagine).  But advertising is complicated.  In this post I examine the matter by looking at a product brand—Halls cough drops—that I am loyal to, both because of and in spite of its manufacturer’s methods of hawking it.

A bit of history

Back when I was a teenager, when we all watched TV because it was all we had, Halls ran TV commercials. Most, such as this ad from 1979, were variations on a single script, which ran something like this:

MAN #1:  “Wow, smell that bacon!”
MAN #2:  “Nothing can penetrate this stuffy nose.” (Because he has a cold, this comes out as “Nothig can penedrate dis stubby dose.”)
WOMAN:  “This can!”  (She holds out a package of Halls.)
MAN #1:  “Halls Mentho-Lyptus?”
WOMAN:  “Mm-hmm.  With vapor action!”  (MAN #2 is shown undergoing vapor action treatment, with cheesy special effects and the helpful caption “PENETRATING VAPOR ACTION.”)
WOMAN:  “Halls vapor action penetrates deep into clogged nasal passages to help your stuffy nose feel clearer, while Halls soothes your throat to help your cough!”
MAN #2 (after using Halls, and while inhaling deeply, with evident satisfaction, through his nose):  “Hey, this is somethin’!”
MAN #1:  “The bacon?”
MAN #2:  “No, the Halls!”

The commercial I remember best involved the regained ability to smell roasting chestnuts.  I actually envied that guy with the cold, because I’d never had the opportunity to smell roasting chestnuts in the first place.

So did this ad work?  Not exactly—at least, not right away.  For one thing, I was so healthy back then I never needed cough drops.  But the commercial did get my attention, obviously.  And why did it?  Because, even for its day, it was pretty corny.  I guess that’s what drew me to it—the unabashed earnestness of it, which I respected even as I mocked it.  (Of course I mocked it—I was a teenager.  I mocked everything, as do all teens everywhere.)

In college I started having frequent sore throats and congestion (which afflict me to this day).  So, remembering the Halls ad, did I run right out and buy that product?  Nope.  Being highly skeptical of ads, and probably even then having a natural desire to punish companies for advertising at all, I bought some other brand of cough drop I’d never seen advertised.  They were cherry.  They didn’t work worth a damn.  I don’t think they had any active ingredient.  Only after they failed me did I think back to that commercial.

I wondered:  could Mentho-Lyptus be an actual drug?  And could vapor action really be a thing?  My back to the wall, I was just crazy enough to try it.  And guess what?  This Halls shit is for real.  The cough drops do work.  Halls actually has a bona-fide active ingredient, menthol.  (Is it fair to say I totally respect the company?  No, I won’t go that far … they make other non-medicated products, Halls Super Defense and Halls Breezers, that are essentially candy masquerading as medicine, which is pointless and confusing.)

My brand loyalty to Halls has held up.  My wife sometimes gets seduced by Euro or boutique-y products, such as Ricola or these weird Thayers Slippery Elm lozenges.  Ricola are basically candy and the Slippery Elm taste and smell like the ‘70s.  (You know, like the floor of somebody’s filthy old Ford Pinto after the AC has flooded the food-littered carpet.)  These other products don’t work.  I always go back to Halls.

(By the way, I did not get any free product or compensation of any kind for promoting this brand.  I think I’d be legally required to disclose this if I did.)

Past vs. present

Okay, fine, a stupid ad in the late ‘70s worked on one guy—big deal, right?  But wait:  if you’re old like me, you’ll recall that many, perhaps most ads used to be sincere and informative like that.  They were a basic appeal to reason, and showcased attractive features of the advertised product.  This camera is easy to use!  This car gets great gas mileage!  This lite beer won’t slow you down!  Peanuts in peanut butter nougat!  Four out of five dentists surveyed recommend sugarless gum for their patients who chew gum!

I, for one, feel nostalgia for those days.  Needless to say, other than Shane Company radio spots (which I adore), ads are much slicker now and often make no outward promises of any kind.  They just show really sexy, happening people juxtaposed with (and not necessarily even using) the advertised product.  Instead of gas mileage figures we get “the heartbeat of America.”  Instead of “flame broiled!” we get “I’m lovin’ it!” 

Okay, I’ll admit these examples could be a bit dated already (I don’t watch TV … sue me).  So I googled “most popular TV ad” and got this one, for the web domain company Squarespace.  It’s a perfect illustration of what I’m talking about: it shows the actor John Malkovich getting really frustrated because some other John Malkovich has already taken the domain  Naturally, the viewer is expected to share the actor’s frustration. But think about it:  aren’t we much more like the average joe—in this case the mere mortal who snapped up—than we are like the famous actor?  And since all domains are first-come-first-served, isn’t this scenario utterly irrelevant to the value of Squarespace?  Yes, of course—but only by old-fashioned ad standards.  In our modern advertising era, these things are beside the point.

Why this shift in advertising approach?  Hard to say, but it seems like modern consumers are just too cool to be pandered to in the traditional check-out-these-great-features! way.  Maybe today’s ironic, knowing, sneering ads have shaped us this way.  Maybe this modern mindset, that cares more about what this product will make us into, is just a natural extension of our growing insecurity in this youth-and-beauty obsessed culture.

Rather than continue this indulgent bout of mere speculation, I’ll share with you now the literary theory of mimetic desire, as described in a great book, The Possessed, by Elif Batuman.  The theory comes from René Girard, a Stanford professor in the ‘60s, and was (as Batuman puts it) “formulated in opposition to the Nietzschean notion of autonomy as the key to human self-fulfillment.”  Now, I hope you know more about this Nietzschean notion than I do, because I’m not going to explain it for you.  I’m afraid to read Nietzsche, because in my experience the people who admire and cite him are usually tools.  I’m not alone in this; consider this cartoon by the wonderful Gahan Wilson:

Just think of autonomy in general and Nietzsche’s popular uber-mensch concept, and that should be enough for purposes of contrast.

Batuman goes on to say
According to Girard, there is in fact no such thing as human autonomy or authenticity. All of the desires that direct our actions in life are learned or imitated from some Other, to whom we mistakenly ascribe the autonomy lacking in ourselves… The perceived desire of the Other confers prestige on the object, rendering it desirable. For this reason, desire is usually less about its purported object than about the Other; it is always “metaphysical,” in that it is less about having, than being.  The point isn’t to possess the object, but to be the Other.  (That’s why so many advertisements place less emphasis on the product’s virtues than on its use by some beautiful and autonomous-looking person; the consumer craves not the particular brand of vodka, but the being of the person who chose it.)
At the risk of warping this explanation a bit, I’ll try to say it more succinctly:  ads have gone from “Enjoy this product” to “Be someone else—someone good.”  In terms of modern insecurity-based advertising, L’Oréal was an early adopter with its slogan “Because I’m worth it.” This message may seem affirming, but it’s also a challenge:  “If you don’t spring for this product, you’re accepting that you’re not worth it; i.e., you’re beneath it.”  Moreover, you’re beneath the beautiful woman presenting the product.  You’re beneath the Other.

It probably goes without saying, but I despise the cynical whatever-works ethos behind this approach.  I love this indictment, from the TV writer George Meyer:  “I hate [advertising] because it irresponsibly induces discontent in people for one myopic goal, and then it leaves the debris of that process out there in the culture.”

Where does this leave Halls?

Let’s face it:  products like cough drops will never be sexy.  It will never be possible to advertise them in the modern way, and the corny old-school style of product-feature-based advertising would be laughed at today (unless somebody were to tweak the ad to be ironic and meta and knowing, which would only work like once).  So how do humble products like Halls hold their ground in this Brave New World?

For one thing, manufacturers can put messages on the product packaging itself to reinforce the consumer’s choice to purchase it.  These messages need not be limited to product information.  For example, a message might take something humdrum and unpleasant like a cold and make it seem empowering.  I’ve actually seen this more than once.  As I’ve noted before, a Kleenex box included this consumer-oriented text:  “Say goodbye to the stiff upper lip.  Tell calm, cool and collected to take a hike.  When tons of stuff stuffs up your nose, blow it loud and blow it proud!” 

Halls has also gotten into this game, via inspirational messages (A pep talk in every drop™) printed on their wrappers:

So you won’t have to squint, here are some example messages: 
  • The show must go on. Or work.
  • Seize the day.
  • Nothing you can’t handle.
  • Get back in the game.
  • Impress yourself.
  • Tough is your middle name.
  • Be resilient.
  • Hi-five yourself.
  • Be unstoppable.
  • Elicit a few “wows” today.
These aren’t ads per se, but they serve approximately the same purpose:  using consumer-oriented messaging to build brand loyalty via positive associations.  Do these miniature pep talks fit the modern advertising model?  Sort of … after all, they’re pithy instead of earnest, and slightly snide (e.g., “The show must go on. Or work.”).

On the flip side, this way of reaching consumers doesn’t offer any version of the Other.  Where illness is concerned, you can only present the consumer with a better version of himself (e.g., one who is productive even when fighting a cold).  After all, it’s not like you can just show sexy people frolicking on a beach saying, “Look at me not having a sore throat anymore!” or “Look at me being able to smell the sunscreen!”  The hundreds of people surrounding us who don’t have a cold aren’t obviously superior; after all, everybody gets colds.

As I see it, the Halls pep-talk messages are more in the Nietzschean model:  eliciting wows, being unstoppable, and impressing yourself invoke the idea of the authentic, autonomous uber-mensch.  (At least, as far as I can tell given my glancing acquaintance with Nietzche’s ideology.)

So if memetic theory is in opposition to the Nietzchean notion of autonomy, and I hate the way memetic theory is applied to advertising, and the Halls pep talk campaign embraces Nietzschean autonomy and thus opposes memetic theory, does that mean I admire or respect the Halls pep talk campaign?

Well, no.  I can and do dislike either—perhaps any—approach to advertising that leverages behavioral theory in order to subconsciously manipulate consumers.  Moreover, the pep talk snippets on the Halls wrappers are disappointingly trite, predictable, and tame.  Halls could do a much better job with these, not just by getting back to product information but by being funnier, more varied, and more surprising.  I could really get into this pep talk stuff if the wrappers had stuff like this: 
But you know what?  I’m glad I don’t like the Halls pep talks.  I’d rather be confident that I’m using this (or any) product only because it works, as opposed to admitting that I’m swayed to any degree by a company’s consumer-oriented messaging.  I won’t be Madison Avenue’s bitch!

Postscript: a few Halls suggestions

As I said before, I rely on Halls a lot of the time.  All matters of complicated theory aside, here are some practical tips to maximize your cold relief: 
  • Buy the oval-shaped cough drops in the bag, not the square ones in the stick.  The ovals are easier to suck.
  • Buy the sugar-free Halls.  No sense letting sugar foul your teeth (especially if you use these at bedtime).  Also, over time the sugar ones start to dissolve and get sticky, so they’re harder to unwrap.  The sugar-free ones don’t do this.
  • Get the honey-flavored Halls because they have the most Mentho-Lyptus. 
  • Don’t mess around with Ricola, no matter how compelling their ads are.  Seriously, Ricola cough drops don’t work, and sucking them won’t make you Euro or “authentic.”
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