Caution, Uber (fur alles Uber users, eh?)

There is a controversy in Canada about the ‘taxi service’ Uber. I use quotes because part of Uber’s policy is to avoid being regulated as a taxi service, claiming it is only a technology company.

For those who’ve never heard of Uber, here’s a quick list:

  • Clients needing a ride use a smartphone app to request an Uber ‘taxi’.
  • Uber co-ordinates which Uber provider vehicle is alerted to the request.
  • Vehicle finds client and delivers ride.
  • Client has already agreed to pay by credit card. (I will get to this ‘agreement’ later.)

So far, so good. What’s the problem, then? another quick list:

  • Uber ‘surcharges’ during busy times. One report in the Toronto Star claimed an overcharge of one hundred dollars on a six-minute ride on Hallowe’en.
  • Uber tracks every vehicle provider.
  • Uber tracks every Uber client.
  • Uber can put this all together in ‘interesting’ ways.

Now for some observations.

Here is a web page allowing a new Uber provider to sign up to make money as a taxi-like service. I direct those who click through to look at the left hand side: these Uber drivers are using ordinary vehicles and ordinary drivers’ licenses. I suspect their auto insurance is also ordinary and will not cover any injury or damage incurred while using the vehicle for commercial purposes. (I am certain that my own automobile insurance is quite clear on this point. I would not be covered. Period.)

Here is a web page for Uber’s client agreement. I will copy a few lines here just in case you don’t have the time to read all this – as I suspect many cab-calling smartphone customers might not, eh? So, here is one part I would like to dwell on:

Uber reserves the right to establish, remove and/or revise Charges for any or all aspects of the Services at any time in Uber’s sole discretion. Further, you acknowledge and agree that Charges applicable in certain geographical areas may increase substantially during times of high demand of the Services. Uber will use reasonable efforts to inform you of Charges that may apply, provided that you will be responsible for Charges incurred under your Account regardless of your awareness of such Charges or the amounts thereof. Uber may from time to time provide certain users with promotional offers and discounts that may result in different Charges for the same or similar Services, and you agree that such promotional offers and discounts, unless also made available to you, shall have no bearing on your use of the Services or the Charges applied to you. You may elect to cancel your request for Services from a Third Party Provider at any time prior to such Third Party Provider’s arrival, in which case you may be charged a cancellation fee.

That covers surcharges, now for tracking and privacy.

Here is a web page showing that a Uber executive is being investigated for tracking a reporter. The executive was Josh Mohrer, and the journalist was Johana Bhuiyan. You will find these words there:

When she arrived, Mohrer was waiting for her. Holding his iPhone, he said: “There you are. I was tracking you.”

Even better, you will find these words:

Sims says three years ago he was taking an Uber SUV through Manhattan when an acquaintance texted and asked whether he was in an Uber vehicle at 33th and 5th. He confirmed that he was, and the acquaintance later revealed she was at an Uber Chicago launch, and at the party Uber had a screen showing where certain people in New York were riding around in Uber vehicles.

If you don’t think that’s intrusive enough, consider the data analysis to provide a list of “Rides of Glory” as Uber called them. Roughly, if the same person took a Uber ride between ten p.m. and four a.m. and then some four to eight hours later took another Uber ride from within one/tenth of a mile of the first drop-off, that was considered to be a “Ride of Glory.” Tellingly, these rides become less frequent around Valentine’s Day.

What’s scary about this is that BuzzFeed claims that a reporter was foolish enough to claim Uber was working with escort services.

Here is one quote form the Oregoninan on this:

Well, isn’t that interesting? This is an old Uber blog post but it is newly chilling in the wake of recent comments made by company executive Emil Michael. Michael, talking at a New York City dinner of movers and shakers, was mad at PandoDaily journalist Sarah Lacy, who has reported on Uber doing business with an escort service. Lacy has called Uber misogynistic.

Farther on, you will read this:

Michael’s comments: “Over dinner, he outlined the notion of spending ‘a million dollars’ to hire four top opposition researchers and four journalists. That team could, he said, help Uber fight back against the press — they’d look into ‘your personal lives, your families,‘ and give the media a taste of its own medicine.”

Finally, back to Rides of Glory:

Uber charts “Rides of Glory” by neighborhood and day of the week. In that 2012 blog post, it tries to soothe any privacy worries we might have by mentioning in passing that all of its RoG work is done “blind.” Do you believe them? Neither will the divorce lawyer who knows his client’s spouse uses Uber.

The above three quotes can be found on this web page.

Get to the point, you say. OK, let me try.

In Toronto, the argument is partly that Uber is trying to out-skip the normal taxi regulations by claiming not to provide taxi service. While this is literally true, it is enabling competition to ordinary taxi service. If it walks like a duck, talks like a duck, and squats like a duck, it probably is equivalent to a duck.

In Toronto, the argument is partly that the normal taxi service (a source of continuing bickering, what with Ambassador licenses and more powerful sellable licenses and the city trying to make the latter as limp as the former) is defending itself as best it can against an opponent it does not know how to defeat.

In Toronto, privacy and safety in taxicabs and limo services is pretty good. Licensing creates trackability. Uber does track, but only in their favour. Uber does surcharge (overcharge, imho) whenever it can get away with it. Uber appears to be using some non-professional drivers who may have inadequate or self-invalidated insurance.

The city of Toronto is following a few other cities in trying to stop Uber. You can read about this here.

Now for the dumb question. What do you think will happen?

Toronto has, imho, been trying to warp or break the taxicab ‘monopoly’ in various ways. Taxicab owners and drivers have been organizing to prevent this. Now Uber comes in with another paradigm which could allow the following:

  • amateurs drive Uber-directed fare rides.
  • licensed professional drivers (limo service, for example) drive Uber-directed fare rides.
  • Real taxi drivers with their own taxicabs break away from the owner of the cab license they are using, and use Uber to get fares.

All of these would help break the existing monopoly of the owners of the non-ambassador taxi licenses. (This would mean, if you meant to sell that license as your retirement income, you’re going to be impoverished. Politicians don’t seem to care about widows of taxi license owners. Odd.)

Our new Mayor, John Tory, is pro-Uber. Our city council must be anti-Uber. John Tory has been known to change his mind should it be politically convenient to do so.

Again, what do you think will happen?


Nothing, right?

On Water Pollution, and the Silencing (attempted) of Canadian Scientists

Chris Wood is a writer. His book, Down the Drain: How We Are Failing to Protect Our Water Resources, is a rebuke to our Federal Government’s stealth unravelling of environmental protection. You can find Wood’s website here.

John Smol is a top biologist. He was shocked and outraged to learn earlier this month of an internal Natural Resources Canada memo criticizing him over comments he made to reporters about a study on lakes near the oilsands.

The study, jointly conducted by Smol’s lab and Environment Canada, found that levels of hazardous polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons in six regional lakes ranged from 2.5 to 23 times greater than they were before oilsands development.

The italicized lines above can be found at this web page. For ‘oilsands’ you can read ‘tar sands’ if you prefer accurate description.

It is well-known that Canada’s government tells Canadian scientists to check with them before making any public statements. Otherwise their research, institution, or supporting company can come into federal disfavour. I first saw this stated baldly in print in the British research journal Nature, where shock was mingled with anger at the Canadian federal government’s interference with Canadian scientists telling the truth to the Canadian public.

There are resources for finding out about such things, but they are off-beat. Here is an example of such.

Water is an essential resource. Polluting of water should be considered a form of terrorism. Permitting pollution should be considered collusion.

Ebola, Cuba, and a dumb question

The world’s effort against Ebola is being led by Cuba. Here you will find these words:

But, in a sense, all of these countries are following the lead of Cuba. On September 12th, President Raúl Castro’s health minister announced that Cuba would send nearly five hundred health-care professionals to West Africa. Since then, a hundred and sixty-five Cubans have arrived in Sierra Leone and a second group of eighty-three have arrived in Liberia and Guinea; two hundred more are expected. No other country, to date, has contributed as many trained health-care professionals to the Ebola crisis as Cuba has. (The closest parallel to Cuba’s effort may be Doctors Without Borders, the French-based humanitarian organization, which currently has more than two hundred and fifty international medical staff in the region, as well as more than three thousand local workers.)

If you click on this link, you will find these words:

In 2003 Cuba had the lowest HIV prevalence in the Americas and one of the lowest in the world.

and these:

Cuba began a food rationing program in 1962 to guarantee all citizens a low-priced basket of basic foods. As of 2007, the government was spending about $1 billion annually to subsidise the food ration. The ration would cost about $50 at an average grocery store in the United States, but the Cuban citizen pays only $1.20 for it.

Cuba achieves these goals more efficiently and more cheaply than the USA. If you click here, you will find these words:

Health care in Cuba consists of a government-coordinated system that guarantees universal coverage and consumes a lower proportion of the nation’s GDP (7.3%) than some highly privatised systems (e.g. USA: 16%) (OECD 2008).

Cuba teaches and sends doctors all over the world. If you click this link, you will find these words:

Cuba provides more medical personnel to the developing world than all the G8 countries combined.

On top of all that, Cuba has been active internationally on other fronts. For a military history of Cuba (which had surprises for me, I had no idea they were that involved outside the Caribbean) go to this link.

So what, you might say. Well, now it’s time for the dumb questions.

How come, while MSF upbraided the WHO for their inaction on Ebola, and mobilized themselves, how come Cuba is way ahead of the pack? Is this a rich nation? No. Is this a democracy demonstrating its superiority? Not that either. Surely it can’t be simple humanitarianism, eh?

How come health care in Cuba is universal, cheap, and efficient? Since we all know it can’t be done in the USA and Canada’s success is supposedly a misunderstanding. (It is not.) Could it be that the pharmaceutical companies lobby to keep costs and profits high, whereas Cuban government aims are humanitarian?

How come nobody goes hungry in Cuba?

How come Cuba provides so many medical personnel to the developing world? Are G8 citizens of a lower level of humanitarianism?

Cuba’s military history is fascinating, and I will not attempt to summarize it here. They have helped other countries in significant ways, sometimes from far away. If you dig deeper into the Angola mess, you’ll find that even getting airplanes there was a challenge – but the Cubans did it.

So, Cuba is leading the world toward containment of Ebola, leads the world in domestic health care, leads the world in feeding the poor at home, and leads the world in international health care generally.

Is this why the USA hates them? That’s the final Dumb Question.

Best Before Dates – three examples – and a Dumb Question

Drug expiration dates. I don’t mean get-happy drugs, I mean the usual pharmaceuticals: NSAIDs, for example.

Due to Don Tyrrell I have this pointer to some facts on this, which I will summarize here:

  • tetracycline should not be used if it’s old. My MD tells me the breakdown products can be toxic.
  • liquid medicine, including nitroglycerine, should not be used past the best-before dates.
  • most other medicines are good well beyond their ‘expiry’ dates.

The manufacturer must test to the expiry date. Thus, it will be far enough out that you will buy the product, and not much farther.

Medicines kept cool and dry can be good for a very long time. Ten or fifteen years.

Car Seat expiration dates. Here you will find a page explaining why these exist. I will summarize this briefly and sarcastically. I will attach a quote and insert my comments.

  • frequent use and exposure to sunlight can damage and weaken plastic; Car seats are used inside cars and are not exposed to sunlight UV.
  • safe-use labels on the products fade or become hard to read; Maybe. Seems a thin reason: if the seat is sensibly designed, a sensible person should be able to figure it out.
  • instruction manuals have likely been lost; Same comment as above.
  • food, cleaners, drinks and other materials that have been spilled or used on webbing, buckles, adjusters and other parts may prevent them from working safely; Surely a buyer knows this? surely the first owner knows this, and replaces the seat?
  • the history or condition of the car seat or booster seat becomes hard to check (was it in a crash, was it stored in a place or in a way that caused damage to parts, etc.?); Again, this is ridiculous for the first owner of a car seat.
  • safety regulations and standards may have changed, so safer products may now be on the market; Yes, but the seat was safe enough to be sold, eh? and
  • second or subsequent owners may not get product safety recall notices if problems arise. If there are recall notices after six years, I’d like to know how often.

So, for car seats, it seems the expiration date is a rip-off forcing large families to replace the seats they once used with their older children, with new ones for their younger siblings.

Mandate Expiration Dates. Just when I thought Steven Harper was reaching his best-before date, his fortunes have shifted. Cleverly putting the opposition in the anti-war camp, conflating two nutcase murders with terrorism and IS and bombing in Iraq, cutting services to create a surplus which will be devoted to tax cuts for the rich, our Prime Minister has apparently extended his likely mandate life by quite a bit.

Therefore I make the following prediction:

Canada will be in a federal election soon, approximately on Valentine’s Day. I expect a date to be chosen that minimizes youth turnout. We might even see robocalls telling the right (wrong, actually) people where (where not, actually) to vote (as we did in a previous election here, eh?)

So in a sense the expiration date of this Prime Minister’s realm will be adjusted, and like the car seat, we’ll be forced to buy a new one. Unlike the seat, we will not be getting a more modern product. Like the pharmaceuticals, we really don’t need an extra trip to the polls (stores), but we’ll be getting one.

Now for the dumb question: Does anybody want to bet against me here? Coherent posts with real (but kept secret by me) eMails – those will appear on this blog. Any takers?