A realization about Trader Joe's
Trader Joe's is not actually a grocery store. They have very few groceries in the sense of "fresh raw ingredients". They've got a tiny meat section and a tiny vegetable section, but if you want to actually cook something from scratch you will find they are sadly lacking in even very basic things.
Almost everything they sell is pre-packaged, either frozen, canned, dried, or ready-to-eat out of the box. It's a good place to go if you want to stock up on instant meals but very disappointing if you want to make your own food.
Like the Apple store, what they're selling is three-quarters self-image. You wouldn't expect anti-consumerist hipsters to be unironically in love with a corporate, global, consumer-electronics brand. But Apple uses their gigantic marketing budget to persuade them that it's OK; in fact it makes them an individualist!
Trader Joe's does the same thing. You wouldn't expect to find health-conscious food snobs stocking up on processed, packaged, dehydrated food, boxes of cookies, and microwave dinners. But Trader Joe's are experts at using subliminal cultural signaling -- wooden paneling! groovy hawaiian shirts! whimsical paintings of pirates and hot-air balloons! hand-lettered chalkboards! The word 'organic' everywhere! -- to lure in the "wants to be a food snob, but not rich enough to waste their money at Whole Foods" set, and make them feel righteous about eating junk food that is just slightly different from the mass-market equivalent.
(Noooo, these aren't Doritos, they're made of blue Aztec corn and mediterranean sea salt! That's completely different! They're like healthy or something! These aren't Oreos, see, they've got a toucan on the box! That means they're... um... something something rainforest? Shut up, I'm an enlightened foodie! I know what qinoa is!)
"Isn't that illegal?"
My coworker Jinghua is from China. She's been here less than a year. I am her go-to guy for asking questions about American culture.
A couple days ago she said, "I keep seeing cartoons making fun of the president. Isn't that illegal?"
So, yeah, I had to explain that whole thing about how Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances, and all that kind of stuff.
This was a really interesting conversation both for what it reveals about Chinese attitudes, and also because she kept pressing me on it until I admitted that, yes, actually we do have slander laws, and you can get sued in civil court if you knowingly and maliciously damage someone's reputation by spreading falsehoods about them. And then I had to try to explain the fine legal line between what's slanderous intentional falsehoods, and what's protected speech, and how parody and statements of opinion don't count as intentional falsehoods, and also how if you're an elected official than all bets are pretty much off and your whole life is a legitimate target for any kind of attack.
I realized that a lot of these lines are really complex and fuzzy, and it's not as simple as just saying "we have freedom of speech in this country".
But anyway, yeah, I'm glad it's not illegal to draw cartoons making fun of the president. I'm glad I live in a country where people have the freedom to parade around with signs that have Obama with a Hitler moustache or say "TAXES = SLAVERY".
And I'm glad that I am free to call those people obnoxious ignoramuses with no sense of proportion or knowledge of history, because that's what they are.
Anyway, Happy Fourth of July!
The other Christmas activity I really object to is the whole elaborate pretense with the cookies and the presents "from Santa".
I don't care if it's traditional, lying to children is wrong. I keep overhearing parents talking about the lengths they go to, when their kids almost figure it out and they have to come up with a cover story. All that effort! Why not just tell them? Kids can enjoy fiction without having to believe that it's literally true. Is keeping up the ruse really for the kids' benefit, or because like Calvin's dad we think it's cute to watch kids believing arbitrary lies?
I dunno, I think I'm just gonna tell my kids straight-up: "Santa is just a story".
More goofy things that Silicon Valley types say a lot
"Cloud Computing". Nobody can get through two sentences without saying "it lives IN THE CLOUD!" about something. As far as I have been able to figure out, saying something "lives in the cloud" is equivalent to saying "it's hosted on an internet server, but you're not allowed to ask where or how." I think the term has become popular precisely because of its vagueness.
"Bread crumbs". Used to describe navigation aids on a website that help you find your way back to the home page. Cute metaphor. Unfortunately everybody seems to have forgotten that Hansel and Gretel's bread crumbs got eaten by animals and completely failed to get them home...
"Laundry list". Everybody's always talking about e.g. a "laundry list of features". Despite the fact that nobody makes lists of their laundry anymore because it's 2010 and people have, like, washing machines. I don't know anybody who's ever made a "list" of their laundry. Grocery lists, yes. Shopping lists, yes. Laundry lists? It's one of those undead linguistic cliches, a metaphor that lives on long after its referent is no longer a common part of life.
Awfully specific date isn't it?
I keep seeing this billboard everywhere lately. There's one in Oakland and one in Saratoga.
Awfully specific date, isn't it, for the Judgment Day?
I always wonder, how do doomsday cults feel when their chosen date rolls around and the world continues existing? Are they relieved or are they kinda disappointed?
Terrible Chinese Tattoos
A couple weeks ago at work I was talking to one of the new people and I noticed she had a tattoo on her elbow that said just:
That's "ye(4)" in Chinese, or "gyou" in Japanese; it's the second character in the word "industry" and also the second character in the word "graduation"; it's rare to see it by itself.
Curious, I asked her why she had the character "industry" tattooed on her. I thought maybe it had a special personal meaning for her.
Big mistake. Her face fell and she said "It's supposed to mean 'Karma'..."
I immediately regretted saying anything. Like, why did I have to go and ruin her tattoo for her and make her feel bad? It was really awkward and it's not like she could change it. I wished I had just kept my mouth shut. Backpedaling furiously, I told her, well, I could be wrong, I'm not Chinese or anything so what do I know.
("Karma" would normally be "因果". It's a two character word, because there is no single character for karma, because guess what, the concept of karma comes from Indian, not Chinese, religion. If you're into karma so much that you want it written on your body, wouldn't it make more sense to get it in Devanagari script instead of hanzi/kanji?)
Looking up terrible Chinese tattoos led me to a hilarious blog called Hanzismatter ("Dedicated to the misuse of Chinese characters in Western culture") which has some pretty cringe-worthy displays of poorly-thought-out ink: Characters that are upside-down, missing strokes, or just plain don't mean what the tattoo-ee thinks they mean... there's apparently a whole completely bogus mapping of the English alphabet to random characters and character fragments, made for all the drunk idiots who want "my girlfriend's initials, in Chinese". Why wear your voice out trying to explain that there is no such thing as initials in Chinese, when you could just draw gibberish on them and take their money? The customer is always right.
My favorite, though, is the guy who got "Live free or die" tattooed on him in Chinese except that the word used for "free" is not 自由 (personal freedom) but 免费 (without fee). "Live for no cost or die", great words of wisdom there dude. Also, um, wasn't this famous slogan spoken by an American? in English? Why would you put it in another language?
People! This is what happens when you treat Chinese as a collection of mystical ancient sigils to be plundered for talismanic purposes, instead of as a language with grammar and vocabulary and everything, used in the modern world by over a billion people for everyday communication.
There's probably even a few Chinese people living near you! Maybe next time try asking one of them what something means before you permanently embed an embarrassing typo in your dermal tissues.
At least the woman I met didn't have something offensive or terrible written on her; it was merely cryptic. I told her that "Industry" could be a good thing! It could mean like "hard working".
Anyway, I talked to Jinghua and Sushu about it and discovered that 業 can actually mean "karma"... it's like the 5th or 6th definition in the dictionary, an old, obscure, and somewhat obsolete meaning, but it's there. When I saw the woman again I told her it was a classical Chinese meaning and that's why I didn't know it. I don't know if I was just enabling but she seemed relieved.
Question for the commenters: would you tell somebody their tattoo was bogus? How well would you have to know them first?
The Story of Thanksgiving
Gather round, let me tell you a story for Thanksgiving.
So you may have heard of this Indian dude named "Squanto" who taught the Pilgrims how to grow corn or something. Right?
He had a fascinating and tragic life. First of all, "Squanto" wasn't his real name; it was short for Tisquantum, which in Algonkian means something like "Wrath of God", or more specifically the wrath of Manitou. One of John Smith's minions lured Tisquantum and several of his friends on board their ship, then kidnapped them at gunpoint and took them across the Atlantic with the intent of selling them as slaves in Spain. Tisquantum escaped to England, learned English, gained his freedom, and spent about five years finding his way back across the ocean to Newfoundland and then hitchhiking south to Massachusetts Bay.
When he finally came home he discovered that all his friends and family were dead, his entire Patuxet tribe wiped out by European diseases to which they had no immunity. His village had been destroyed, and the Pilgrims had built Plymouth on top of the ruins.
For all the terrible things that the colonizers did on purpose -- enslavement, genocide, forced religious conversions, and treaty breaking -- possibly the worst thing was what they did by accident: bring their germs across the sea. An estimated 90% of the population of the Americas died between the time of Columbus and the time of the Pilgrims, wiped out by wave after unstoppable wave of smallpox, hepatitis, measles, bubonic plague, and tuberculosis. Every disease that the European gene pool had gradually built up resistances to got dumped into the unprepared American gene pool all at once. It was probably the biggest single mass die-off in human history.
Those tribes of nomadic plains hunters so romanticized in modern depictions? Their lifestyle was probably very different from the lifestyle of their ancestors a few generations earlier. There's evidence that before Columbus most of the indigenous population of the Americas grew crops and lived in villages. The nomadic plains hunters were the scattered few who had survived the pandemic; they were survivors of the apocalypse, roaming the landscape like Mad Max or something. Their technology level had been significantly higher before the pandemic wiped out their villages and towns. In fact, there's evidence that much of the American landscape was the result of human intervention (e.g. the Plains Indians had used controlled forest burning to artificially expand the Great Plains, in order to increase the range of the bison.)
Back to Tisquantum. Given that the English had 1. kidnapped him, 2. tried to sell him into slavery, 3. wiped out his entire tribe between the ones they murdered directly and the ones they infected with their mystery plagues, and 4. moved in on top of their unmarked graves, why did he decide to help the Pilgrims survive the winter?
I think it's safe to say it wasn't because he liked them; instead it was because he needed their guns. The Wampanoag confederation, of which the Patuxet tribe had been a part, had been nearly wiped out and the surviving members were too few in number to defend themselves against their old enemies, the Narraganset alliance to the west. The Wampanoag survivors allowed the Pilgrims to stay only provided the Pilgrims allied with them against the Narraganset; Massasoit, the sachem (leader) of the Wampanoag survivors, sent the English-speaking Tisquantum to make the deal and secure the Pilgrims' superior firepower. Meanwhile Tisquantum had his own agenda, planning to overthrow Massasoit and become sachem himself by playing the Pilgrims and Wampanoag against each other.
The Wampanoag survivors made a critical miscalculation: They feared subjugation by the Narragansett more than they feared the strangely-dressed, sickly strangers with their tall ships and metal weapons. They didn't yet realize that these Pilgrims were the thin end of a wedge that would end their civilization.
This is a pattern that happened again and again in first contact between Europeans and American Indians -- a tribe or nation would try to ally with the newcomers, seeing the Europeans' superior weapons as an opportunity to gain the advantage over some ancient enemy. Then they'd start dying of mysterious diseases. As soon as they were weakened, the Europeans would betray their alliance, kill or enslave everyone, and take over the land.
The Pilgrims that Tisquantum was negotiating with were extremely poorly prepared for living in America. They apparently didn't bring any farm animals or proper fishing equipment, they didn't know how to grow New World crops, and they were unprepared for Massachusetts winters, colder and snowier than England's. They were a group of religious extremists; maybe they though God would provide everything for them if they prayed hard enough. Their leaders made a bunch of stupid decisions which would have resulted in everyone's deaths. If it hadn't been for the Wampanoag going "no, you idiots, look, THIS is how you grow maize, now shoot some Narragansetts for us please", the Pilgrims would be remembered as a cult that led its followers on a suicide mission -- a 17th century version of Heaven's Gate or James Jones's kool-aid drinkers.
Maize, by the way, was domesticated somewhere in central Mexico, and a funny thing is that modern botanists are still not sure how the ancient Mesoamericans did it. The closest surviving wild relative of maize is a grass called teosinte which has tiny, inedible cobs and reproduces in a way that makes it hard to breed selectively. Ancient Mesoamerican farmers apparently knew something that modern botanical science still doesn't. They also figured out a technique to keep the soil fertile indefinitely by growing maize in the same field with beans and squash. The three crops form a sustainable nutrient cycle (e.g. the beans fix nitrogen into the soil as fast as the maize and squash draw it out) so they could farm the same plot of land continuously for generations.
The presence of maize and related agricultural techniques in what is now called New England is evidence of a continent-wide network of trade and communication. Which would have been a pretty interesting thing to learn about; too bad we have to reconstruct it from archaeology because European colonists killed most of the people who could have told us about it.
I learned all this stuff from a book called 1491 - New Revelations of the Americas before Columbus by Charles Mann. I started reading it on the plane to Turkey and I could barely put down until I was done. It puts together the last several decades of archaeological and anthropological research to form an absolutely fascinating picture of North and South America before and during the European invasion. (The chapters about the Incas and their knot-based writing system are particularly cool.) I recommend getting the book, but you can also read a short version of the Tisquantum chapter on the Smithsonian magazine website.
Actual history is messy, complicated, fascinating, and often horribly tragic. The true history of first contact bears little resemblance to the bowdlerized fairy-tale version of the Thanksgiving story we tell kids.
In that version, "Friendly Indians" have no history of their own: just appear out of the woods like magical fairies to reward white colonists with goodies. Everybody is friends and has a good meal, yayyyy! Both groups have funny hats appropriate for construction-paper craft projects. Then the Indians conveniently sort of vanish from the story when the white colonists want to take all the land.
The whitewashed Thanksgiving story is just one example of the disgraceful way Native Americans are treated in the cultural mythology of mainstream modern America -- they're either savages or they're helpless victims, but either way they're NPCs in a story where the white colonizers are the protagonists.
The modern, white-liberal-guilt stereotype has them as wise, mystical, inherently peaceful, environmentally conscious, living in harmony with nature, but ultimately innocent and helpless children doomed to be slaughtered and be replaced by a more "advanced" culture. Elves, basically. Or maybe you could call it a myth of mankind in its pre-fallen state: pre-Columbian America as Garden of Eden.
I mean yes, OK, this is a more positive stereotype than the one we used to have, the stereotype of the primitive and bloodthirsty savage that was used as a propaganda tool to promote genocide. But it's still deeply problematic in several ways. To pretend the American Indians were these perfect pacifistic nature children denies them human agency, makes them props in somebody else's morality play. There's also a weird subtext, like, what, genocide is only wrong if the victims are cute and cuddly? Finally, the "Garden of Eden" type narrative renders invisible the continued existence of over 4 million people (1.5% of the US population) in the "American Indian or Alaska Native" Census category. Parents telling their kids about the origin of Thanksgiving don't want to have to connect it to the reservation down the road where people live today in poverty on the worst possible land, with rampant unemployment and alcoholism, as a result of the U.S. government repeatedly breaking treaties for hundreds of years. Easier to pretend the Indians are a vanished people and it was all very tragic but it happened a long time ago and has nothing to do with us, right?
What I really liked about reading 1491 was that it let the people and nations it covered be the protagonists of their own stories. The Wampanoag and the Narragansett (and the Mayans, Navajo, Amazonians, and many other nations covered) were not hapless children, bloodthirsty savages, or magic forest elves. They were human cultures with plans of their own. They were going places before their history was interrupted by the European invasion. They had both wise and foolish individuals. They were more populous, more technologically advanced, and had more of an impact on the land than we used to think. They had their own agendas, their own motives, their own inventions, languages, philosophies, wise and foolish decisions and everything else, good and bad, that defines human culture. The book really let me see things from their point of view, as best it could be reconstructed from archaeological evidence and interviews with their descendents.
What the white man did to them is a horrible, tragic story, but it's one that needs to be told, not glossed over or whitewashed.
Me and my family are Yankees from Connecticut. One of the less wholesome aspects of the culture I grew up in was that people around me tended to look down upon, and make fun of, Southerners.
(I never even got to try Southern food until grad school. Which is, like, a crime, because Southern food is freakin' awesome. I took my first bite of collard greens at age 24 and I was like WHERE HAVE YOU BEEN ALL MY LIFE. These days I go to "Home of Chicken and Waffles" in Oakland every chance I get.)
Anyway one of the main disses that Northerners like to use against Southerners is to claim that (white) southerners are all, like, super-racist.
When I was younger I accepted this view uncritically. Later I realized that "southerners are all racists" is something that northern white people like to repeat because it makes them feel superior -- it is a way of distancing themselves from racism without actually confronting it or addressing it: just make it sound like somebody else's problem.
But racism in America has never been just a southern problem. The South had slavery and Jim Crow, but the North had "sundown towns."
Never heard of sundown towns? Neither had I, until recently. It's not something that tends to get covered in history class.
You should read this 2006 Washington Post article about them: "When Signs Said 'Get Out'". It was an eye-opener. (Here's a single-page version so you don't have to keep clicking Next.)
They were called "sundown" towns because they had signs warning black people not to let themselves be caught in the town after the sun went down -- or else risk being murdered by a mob of white supremacists. And they were all over the Northeast, Midwest, and West.
According to the article, a town in my home state of Connecticut had a sign saying, "Whites Only Within City Limits After Dark". Darien, CT (a wealthy NY suburb) forbid Jews as well as black people.
This went on from about the 1890s through the 1950s - from the backlash against Reconstruction until the beginning of the Civil Rights movement. This was the era of Jim Crow laws in the South; it was horrible and I don't want to minimize that fact, but white people in the rest of the country weren't exactly innocent either. It's just that instead of making black people sit at the back of the bus and use a separate washroom, the northern variety of white supremacists preferred not to let black people live in their towns at all, using violence, intimidation, and discrimination laws (e.g. not allowing black people to buy houses in certain neighborhoods) to enact what was effectively ethnic cleansing.
The small towns in Connecticut where I grew up were almost entirely white, and now I'm wondering if that's a demographic accident, or if they were made that way on purpose and the history has been covered up.
Meanwhile, on the West Coast, a parallel wave of ethnic cleansing was going on against Chinese immigrants. Chinatowns in cities all over California, Oregon, and Washington were burned down and their citizens forced out by armed lynch mobs. Chinatown in San Jose, for example, was intentionally burned down in 1887 and apparently several other times as well.
I wish I was making all this up, because it's horrible, but I'm not. Anyway, the main point I wanted to make is that racism was, and still is, a big problem in all parts of America, not just the South. And to my fellow (white) yankees: implying all southerners are racist hicks is not cool. I know a lot of southerners who are very enlightened. Try meeting a few and getting to know them personally. If somebody you meet turns out to be racist, by all means give them a hard time about it. But maybe learn some more about your own history before judging a whole region of the country.
Bus Ride to the Twilight Zone
The Wednesday before I left for China. My bike had a flat tire (again) so I was taking the bus home.
Getting on the bus, I tripped over the step and fell to my hands and knees. I was fine. I got up and brushed myself off. "I'm fine", I said to the bus driver.
"I still have to file an Incident Report", she said.
"Do You Require Medical Attention?" she asked, formally.
"What? No! I just said I was fine!" I found an open seat at the back of the bus. Next to me was an ancient hippie, with long black hair under a baseball cap, military dog tags, and mirrorshades. His face reminded me of my grandmother.
The bus sat idling while the bus driver made a call to HQ to file her Incident Report. A minute. Five minutes. I laughed nervously. People on the bus were giving me the evil eye. "Sorry, I guess I better be careful next time", I mumbled. "Oh yeah, you're hurt so bad" somebody joked. "Better call your lawyer!". Mirrorshades guy said something about how maybe this was the first step of implementing martial law. I thought he was joking.
The bus driver called me back up to the front of the bus and made me fill out a form with my contact info, stating that I had been offered medical attention and refused it. What the hell, I wondered as I stalked back to my seat, is wrong with this country?
Having now wasted like ten minutes of everybody's day over nothing, the bus finally got moving. I had my laptop out and was trying to work a bit on Collusion. Mirrorshades guy asked what I was working on. I said something about Mozilla and Firefox. He started talking about how the CIA can spy on your computer, and all the software he uses to stop them (most of which I hadn't heard of). He asked me "how Firefox compares to Linux". Ooookay. At this point I thought he was just a weirdo who didn't know much about computers.
I thought of telling him that I was working on stuff to help protect people's privacy, but there was no point. He started going off on a weird rant about how "they" can get into your computer and remote control it using satellites. He knows this because one time he was talking to Microsoft Tech Support in India and they started moving his mouse pointer around! (Note: this is called Remote Desktop). Soon he was talking about FEMA death camps and how flouride is put in the drinking water to make us stupid and I realized he wasn't just your average bus weirdo, he was the real deal: a bona-fide grade A conspiracy theorist.
I have some sympathy for conspiracy nuts, up to a point. I agree that our government does all sorts of secretive and unethical things. The president actually does have a secret "kill list" of people to be targeted by flying robot murder drones. That, and other things which would have sounded like crazy ranting not too long ago, are today unarguable facts that politicians admit, and even defend. If you want to complain about Guantanamo or NSA wiretapping or the police arresting lawful protesters, I'm right there with you, bro.
But with all the real stuff that's wrong in the world, why do conspiracy theorists fixate on theories that are so dumb?
Mirrorshades guy said that the proof of the flouride thing was that on the back of the toothpaste box there's a warning to call poison control if you swallow too much of it. Therefore flouride is poisonous, but it's in our drinking water! Therefore, it's a conspiracy to make us stupid, no other possible explanation. (The concepts of "effective dose vs. overdose" or the differences between different flouride compounds don't seem to exist to these guys.) He asked what I thought and I said I doubted it; he said only because I've been brainwashed and "you better WAKE UP, son!" (No, dude, I doubt it because I've been to countries that don't have flouride, and the people there are not noticably more intelligent than us, they just have nastier teeth.) (I do enjoy the idea that the conspiracy is powerful enough to control all government, business, and media, but they can't take the warning message off the back of a toothpaste box.)
Pretty soon he was on about a supposed suicide spree and how a recent earthquake had tilted the earth's axis by some number of degress and... I'm not sure what his point was, really. He asked me what I thought again and I tried to point out that earthquakes of that magnitude must have happened plenty often throughout earth's history and whatever cumulative axis-tiling effect they've had doesn't seem to have been detrimental to life, but it was impossible to even engage this guy with logic; every time I tried he just spun off to an unrelated conspiracy theory before I could really formulate a response. He was free-associating, loudly, aggressively, and in my face.
I kind of wish now that I had asked the bus guy whether he was a "Jews are in charge of everything" conspiracy theorist or a "Lizard people are in charge of everything" conspiracy theorist. But at the time I really just wanted the conversation to be over. It was hard to get a word in edgewise, anyway, and the mirrorshades made it impossible to read his eyes, which made the conversation even more awkward and unnerving. I was contemplating getting off the bus early and walking the rest of the way, just to escape.
He kept saying "you better WAKE UP, son!" and "They're keeping an eye on me because I know things!" and "You think I'm making this up?"
No, sir, I don't think you're making it up. I've been on the Internet, I've heard all these theories before. They've been around for decades, and it's always the End Times and the UN coup is always imminent, and yet somehow it never happens. The really sad thing about conspiracy theorists is that they pride themselves on being too smart to fall for the official version of events; but far from being skeptical they're some of the world's most credulous people. They'll believe anything they hear as long as it sounds sufficiently scary and contradicts the "official" story. (Like how any hole they can pick in the official 9/11 story is automatically evidence for their alternate theory, no matter how far-fetched; there is never a third possibility.)
Something I'd like to ask a conspiracy theorist: If it's true that there's an all-powerful conspiracy that controls everything, and basically everybody is in on it, what exactly do you want us to do about it? Is there anything we can do? How do you beat them? (Or join them?)
My guess is it's not about taking action -- it's about feeling smarter than everybody else because you have secret knowledge. Secret knowledge that can never be disproven, because any counterargument is just "what THEY want you to think". Secret knowledge that you can lord over the "sheeple". Or rant about to random strangers on a bus.
How to vote when both parties are terrible?
What a depressing election. (Warning: giant rant ahead.)
We have one party which is dismantling civil liberties, is building a total surveillance police state, is intent on continuing to wage unwinnable wars, is thoroughly corrupted by lobbying, and is in thrall to big banks and other corporate interests.
The other party... is the Republicans.
Everything I just said about Democrats applies double to the GOP, plus as a bonus the GOP is run by racists, homophobes, and Christian supremacists. Or, at best, run by plutocrats willing to pander to all the prejudices of racists, homophobes, and Christian supremacists in order to decrease the marginal tax rate on their capital gains. The Republicans openly support torture and reject science and they're itching to start a war with Iran. They just get crazier and crazier every year; they now seem to have retreated entirely to some alternate universe based on Ayn Rand / Leviticus crossover fanfiction.
I care a lot about civil liberties, OK? They're kind of my main issue. And both parties are terrible on civil liberties. A lot of the stuff that made me so mad about the Bush administration - Guantanamo, the warrantless wiretapping, the Patriot act - is still going on under Obama. Guantanamo's still open, our government is still spying on us without warrants, we're still stuck in an endless war in Afghanistan, and the Democrat-controlled Senate was happy to renew the Patriot act and then one-up it with the NDAA.
I guess what this has taught me is that I was wrong to blame the erosion of civil liberties after 9/11 on Bush specifically. It's bigger than one president or even one party. It's endemic to the whole system. Obama either couldn't change it or he didn't want to.
Here's an article about how the Democrats have retreated on civil liberties in their 2012 platform. Meanwhile, the Obama administration just won a court challenge over his right to indefinitely detain citizens using the NDAA. The CIA is refusing to publicly admit the existence of the drone assassin program that they've publicly bragged about in the past!
And when the Senate Intellignece Oversight committe asked the NSA how many Americans had been spied on, without warrants, under FISA, the NSA refused to comply, saying it would "violate the privacy" of citizens to say if they had been spied on or not. They refused a request from the Senate Intellignece Oversight committe, which you think would have the authority to, you know, oversee intelligence or something? Our shadow government seems to be sending the message that it no longer takes orders from mere elected officials.
How can we have a democracy (or even a republic) if voters are not allowed to know what the government, that supposedly represents them, is doing in their name?
How does a citizen vote to change a bad policy when both parties agree on continuing to support that policy?
There's simply no party to vote for if I want my country to stop killing Pakistani civilians as collateral damage from drone strikes. Or if I want the 4th amendment back, or if I want Habeas Corpus reinstated, or if I think the FBI should get a search warrant before wiretapping citizens, or if I want to close Guantanamo Bay, or if I want the government to stop wasting money imprisoning non-violent drug offenders, or if I think the people responsible for torturing prisoners of war should be prosecuted.
You can vote for a 3rd-party or fringe candidate; that sometimes works in a local election, but in a national election I'm not sure that actually accomplishes anything other than making yourself feel good. I wish third-parties were viable, but the structure of our voting system works against it; until we implement some kind of instant-runoff voting, third parties in national elections will continue to be spoilers and protest votes.
I've got a friend who was a volunteer for the Ron Paul campaign this year, claiming that Ron Paul is the only candidate who wanted to end the war, dismantle the surveillance state, and restore constitutional rights. And while Ron Paul does agree with me on some things, wants to go back on the gold standard, abolish all public education, and fucking repeal the Fourteenth Amendment. And he opposes the Civil Rights Act. Paul isn't pro-freedom; he just prefers tyranny to be implemented at the state level instead of the federal level. This is not even getting into the openly white-supremacist newsletters published under his name.
I look at Ron Paul and other third-party/fringe candidates and it's like, they will never have to seriously face the consequences of their policies, because there's no chance their policies will ever get enacted. They can go on feeling superior due to their ideological purity and never have to make the hard decisions that come with governing a country.
There's a Calvin and Hobbes strip where Calvin, not wanting to take a bath, screams that he refuses to compromise his principles. Later, in the bathtub, he muses that he doesn't need to compromise his principles, because they don't have the slightest bearing on what happens to him anyway.
Maybe we just need to lower our expectations of politics. John Kenneth Galbraith said, "Politics is the art of choosing between the disastrous and the unpalatable." Mark Twain said "If voting made any difference, they wouldn't let us do it."
Maybe the best we can hope for is to prevent the worse of two candidates from getting into office. In practice, that seems to be how most people vote anyway -- not voting for a candidate, but voting against the party they hate more.
I'm not saying we should give up on changing things. Rather, real change is a long, hard process that takes a heck of a lot more involvement, work, and sacrifice than just voting. Sometimes it even requires being willing to go to jail for your beliefs.
So if the parties are near equally bad on the main issues I care about, then I guess I should vote based on the issues where the parties do differ. For me the big one is Romney's desire to start a war with Iran. Or at least he repeatedly during the primaries that he wanted one; some say he was just pandering to the base and he didn't really mean it, but is there any reason to think Romney would get any better at resisting the warmongers in his party after being elected?
I don't think so. I think there's a real danger he would really do it, having learned absolutely nothing from the disastrous failure of our attempts to remake Afghanistan and Iraq. Tens of thousands could die in a conflict that might not even succeed in stopping their nuclear program, or even delaying it for more than a few years. Obama's policy of containing Iran's nuclear program with diplomatic and economic pressure, imperfect as it is, is probably the least bad option.
There's plenty of other things to hate: the fact that Romney is an elitist scumbag who sees half the country as parasites, that his economic plan ("cut the deficit by cutting taxes on the rich and raising military spending") makes not a lick of sense, and that he's happy to pander to racist birthers by gloating that "nobody's asking to see my birth certificate". (Yeah, because you're white, asshole.) At the same time, he's aspiring to be even worse than Obama on civil liberties, promising to "double Guantanamo".
So as unhappy as I am with Obama's civil liberties record, it's a very easy decision to support the unpalatable (Obama) over the disastrous (Romney), and I'm glad to see Obama pulling ahead in the polls.
Meanwhile, we should use methods other than voting to work for restoring civil liberties. Speaking of that, my representative Anna Eshoo is a cosponsor of HR 3702, the Due Process Guarantee Act, which would undo the indefinite-detention-without-trial provisions of the NDAA. It looks like there hasn't been much movement on it Maybe find out where your representative stands on it and encourage them to support it too? It may not have much of a chance but it's better than nothing.
Voter suppression laws
There's a spirited argument going on in the comments of a previous post about whether it makes sense to vote at all. My current thinking is to vote for the lesser evil while trying to get real change through other means.
And I think, before you decide voting is stupid, it's worth remembering the generations who fought and in some cases died for your right to vote. The women's suffrage movement started in 1848 but the 19th amendment wasn't passed until 1920, after 72 years of suffragette activism! Despite the 15th amendment passing in 1870, Blacks were in practice denied the vote by Jim Crow laws throughout the southern US until the Civil Rights movement led to the voting rights act of 1965, less than 50 years ago. So we're not talking ancient history here; we're talking people who are still alive today. Appreciate the sacrifices they made, and beware of modern efforts to disenfranchise people.
John Lewis, rep from Georgia, is one of those who marched for civil rights in the 60s, facing down deadly white-supremacist violence to do so. He draws a straight line from disenfranchisement under Jim Crow to the new voter ID laws that Republican state legislatures are pushing today.
Which brings me to the thing I want to talk about -- partisan voter-disenfranchisment efforts that come in the guise of "preventing voter fraud".
Of course we should prevent voter fraud! Who could possibly be against that? ... is what they're hoping we'll say, and not look too closely at the likely effects of the laws.
When the Republicans won control of many state legislatures in 2010, one of the first things they did was to start passing laws restricting early voting and requiring voters to show photo IDs at the polls. 19 states have passed laws along these lines since the 2010 elections.
Who is eligible to vote but disproportionally lack photo IDs? People without drivers' licenses, which is to say people who don't own cars. The young. The poor. People who live in urban centers, which is to say disproportionately minorities. All of these groups reliably lean Democrat.
"More than 10 percent of U.S. citizens lack such identification, and the numbers are even higher among constituencies that traditionally lean Democratic—including 18 percent of young voters and 25 percent of African-Americans."
"These new laws could make it significantly harder for more than five million eligible voters to cast ballots in 2012."
"So what", you may say, "Go get a photo ID if you want to vote; what's the big deal?"
Well, as an example, more than 5% of Texas voters lack a photo ID, and 1/4 of Texas counties lack a DMV office, meaning some Texans would need a 250 mile round trip to get photo ID! Which is pretty hard if you don't already have a drivers' license. (warning: link has auto-play video about 80-year-old nuns in indiana turned away for not having photo IDs)
Getting photo ID also requires going to deal with bureaucracy during business hours on a weekday, which means taking days off of work, which if you're poor and working to support your family you often can't afford to do. So yeah, for some people, having to get a photo ID (after being able to vote for years without one!) is not an insignificant barrier.
The South Carolina Election Commission Executive Director answers questions about how easy it will be for partisan poll-watchers to challenge every voter they don't like, and how hard it will be for voters to overcome these challenges.
OK, so a lot of poor, young, and minority people will have a harder time voting under these laws. That's too bad, but maybe it's just an unfortunate side-effect of laws that we desperately need in order to save democracy from an onslaught of voter fraud!
Turns out... not so much. The only fraud scenario that photo ID requirements prevent is in-person voter impersonation fraud. Somebody who's not eligible to vote walking into a polling place and pretending to be somebody else.
I've been reading up on election fraud, and everything I've read says that this type of fraud is incredibly rare. Like, a recent study found ten cases of voter impersonation since 2000 rare. Ten.
Election fraud has happened in this country, but not by people walking into a polling place and impersonating someone else. The most effective methods of voter fraud all involve corrupt officials inside the system, involved in counting the votes at the precinct or county level. They can tamper with electronic voting machines, "lose" or invalidate a bunch of ballots marked for the other guy, or get ahold of a bunch of extra blank ballots that should have been thrown away and use them to stuff the box. Or they can simply report made-up numbers.
For instance, many people suspect that Mayor Daley of Chicago stole the 1960 election for Kennedy by tampering with Chicago vote totals enough to swing Illinois. If true, the fraud wasn't based on individuals showing up and voting who shouldn't have been allowed to vote. It was based on election officers who were part of Daley's machine making up thousands of Kennedy votes from thin air.
Individual voter impersonation is just too inefficient to swing an election. It's far more efficient for bad guys to work the system from the inside.Requiring photo IDs or shortening the time the polls are open does nothing to prevent this. You need more independent auditing of the tallying process.
Another way to cheat is buying votes, which is apparently fairly common... but photo ID laws do nothing to stop it. Someone with a valid ID can still be selling their vote.
Theoretically you could also cheat by registering a lot of fake absentee voters and requesting mail-in ballots for them ("Yes, there are ten eligible voters living in my house..."), thus getting a bunch of extra ballots you can fill in yourself. Again, requiring photo IDs at the polling place or shortening the time the polls are open does nothing to prevent this. The way to prevent this one would be stricter checking at the registration stage that someone is a real person.
Is election fraud real? Yes. Should we try to stop it? Yes. Is requiring photo IDs an effective way of combating election fraud? No.
OK, so Republicans got into power in the states and passed a bunch of laws that are ineffective at fighting voter fraud and will have the effect of suppressing voting among democratic-leaning demographics. But maybe that's just a coincidence; none of that proves that Republican state leaders are deliberately trying to...
"Voter ID, which is gonna allow Governor Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania, done", said Pennsylvania state House Republican leader Mike Turzai.
Laws in Tennessee, Wisconsin, Florida, and Pennsylvania specifically disqualify student IDs. Is there any reason to do this except to discourage college students, who lean liberal, from voting? The speaker of the New Hampshire state house, speaking to a Tea Party group, basically admitted that that's the reason: "foolish" college kids are liberals, "just vote their feelings". So... we should stop them from voting?
John Boehner, Speaker of the House, really lays it out on the table when he says out loud he hopes Blacks and Lations won't show up for this election.
In the same article, a Republican county-level party chair in Ohio says this about closing down early voting: "I guess I really actually feel we shouldn’t contort the voting process to accommodate the urban — read African-American — voter-turnout machine... Let’s be fair and reasonable."
Hey dude, what exactly is wrong with "the urban - read african-american - voter-turnout machine"? They got a right to vote; what's fair and reasonable about blocking it?
You guys aren't even pretending not to be racist anymore.
Registered voter polls are regularly a few percent more democratic than likely voter polls. Republicans know that if everyone who is eligible votes, they lose. So they are trying to make it harder for the young, minorities, and the poor. They know that their voter suppression laws won't register as problematic to many people thanks to their superficially reasonable terms. "Photo ID? Of course! Who doesn't have one of those?" thinks the middle-class white guy.
Many of the Jim Crow laws designed to prevent blacks from voting didn't explicity mention race. They were couched in terms of poll taxes and literacy tests. History teaches us that attempts at legal disenfranchisement come in disguise; therefore, we should closely examine any law that puts restrictions on voting.
There is good news: Some of these state laws have already been challenged, overturned, or put on hold by the courts. The federal DOJ has been investigating whether several state laws violate the Voting Rights Act. The Pennsylvania one just got blocked today, thankfully; Mississipi's has been put on hold, and early voting is going on in Ohio now.
In the long term, we should all be speaking out against voter suppression laws and opposing them wherever possible.
But for right now, make sure you know the voting requirements for your state and check whether you're registered! (Due to voter roll purges, you might think you're registered but actually not be -- they might have taken you off the rolls because you have a name similar to a felon or a dead guy, and it's not like they notify you when they do it.) Make sure anybody you know in IN, FL, TN, MI, SD, ID, LA, KS, NH, or GA knows that they currently need a photo ID to vote!
The ACLU state-by-state voting rights site and a site called Let My People Vote 2012 have a lot of links to relevant information.
California ballot 2012 - how I voted and why
I filled out my mail-in ballot on Friday. Too late to mail it, so I'll drop it off in person on Tuesday. It's a big ballot: Three national offices, 2 state, 4 local, 10 state propositions and three local propositions - so I'm glad I had time to do my homework.
I'll be working at the neighborhood polling precinct on Tuesday (crossing off peoples' names and addresses, giving out "I voted" stickers, etc.) It will at least give me something to do all day besides obsessively check early poll results over and over again.
There is some big stuff on the California ballot this year. We have the chance to end the death penalty, for one.
Here's how I voted and why:
Not real happy with how Obama turned out on civil liberties. But I'll support him over Romney as the lesser of two evils, easily.
My internal debate ran along the lines of the dueling Atlantic articles Why I Refuse To Vote For Obama and Why I Refuse To Refuse To Vote For Obama, which comes down to categorical imperative versus utilitarianism. I found the latter more convincing.
I'm not in a swing state so I was tempted to vote third-party. But then I look at how the polls are basically tied right now, and how there's a significant chance Obama could win the electoral college but lose the popular vote, and I don't want that. We'd never hear the end of it.
Not happy with Feinstein either, as she supported SOPA and NDAA and other attacks on civil liberties. I voted against her in the primaries.
But I can't justify anything that would increase the Republicans' chances of controlling both houses. There's not even a third-party running. So I guess I'll hold my nose, vote for Feinstein, continue writing her letters begging her to change her positions, and support any Democrat who wants to challenge her.
In the abstract I would love to be one of those "swing voters". But doing so would require Republicans to be substantially less insane.
I actually like Anna Eshoo a lot, so this is an easy one.
State Senator, district 13:
Thanks to the "jungle primary" rule that California passed as a ballot proposition in 2008 (The two candidates with the most primary votes, regardless of party, go on to the general election), we now have two Democrats running against each other for state senator of district 13.
Jerry Hill (incumbent) and Sally Lieber (challenger) are almost identical policy-wise. I voted for Sally Lieber as she is trying to campaign with less money, she has some pretty decent legislative accomplishments and she didn't bury our house under a non-stop flood of obnoxious mail advertisements like Jerry Hill did.
State Assembly, district 24:
Voted for Richard Gordon, the incumbent. He's actually gotten a rather impressive amount of stuff done in just 2 years in office.
Chengzhi "George" Yang seems like one of those increasingly rare non-crazy Republicans, but he also seems like kind of a single-issue guy (his single issue being reform of the state employee pension system).
Oh, and I didn't even realize until now that I had an openly-gay assemblyman. Can I tell you how glad I am this isn't even remotely being raised as an issue by either side? That's how it should be.
(Santa Clara County Board of Education, Foothill-De Anza Community College District, Palo Alto Unified School District)
I've never been enrolled in any of these schools and don't have children enrolled in any of these schools so I feel like these races have nothing to do with me. I literally have zero stake in them so I think I'm going to abstain and leave the decision up to the people who will be affected by the choice.
Palo Alto City Council:
This is one of those "choose four" votes, and there are only 6 people running. So it's the same as choosing 2 not to vote for. I feel like I should vote for this one because I live here, even though I've never really thought of Palo Alto as home or considered what the local issues might be. (Palo Alto to me is generally just "the place I have to get out of when I want to go somewhere fun".)
I voted against the guy who wants to stop new train lines from going through Palo Alto and against the guy who wants to stop low-income housing from being built in Palo Alto. Snobs!
Measure 30: 1/4 cent sales tax hike plus increase on income over $250,000 for seven years, to prevent cuts in public schools.
The fact that this is on the ballot at all is a sign of California's dysfunctional state legislature -- it takes a 2/3 vote to change the budget, which isn't happening, so the only way to get stuff done is to do an end-run around the legislature and go straight to voters with budget questions like this. The governor is practically going door-to-door begging voters to approve this so he doesn't have to
Anyway, sounds good to me. If and when I am ever making $250,000 a year I'll be happy to pay more for schools.
Measure 31: Large package of random changes to state government
Includes a new "pay as you go" two-year budget cycle for state and local governments: anything they pass with new expenditures would also have to include means of paying for those expenditures. Also has 72-hour print rule so that law can't be changed at the last minute without leaving time for people to read it. Allows local governments to override state laws in many cases and allows the governor to unilaterally enact certain budget cuts if there's a budget crisis the legislature refuses to deal with.
OK wow. This proposition is some advanced wonkery. It was the thing I had the most trouble deciding on. So potentially important, and yet so boring and hard to understand! I listened to lots of arguments for and against but still didn't know where I stood on it.
If it was broken into smaller pieces there would be some parts of it I would vote for. But I finally decided to vote no just because I didn't feel like I understood the potential effects well enough. Giant changes to the functioning of state government that I can't understand? I'm gonna default to "no".
Measure 32: Prohibits unions from using payroll-deducted funds for political campaigning.
I don't like this one bit. It's an attempt at campaign finance reform, which I'm generally in favor of, but it's entirely one-sided: it reduces the ability of unions, but not of corporations, to influence campaigns. I feel like campaign finance reform needs to be a mutual disarmament situation. I would support this if it also applied to corporations but as is it seems nakedly partisan.
Measure 33: Allows auto insurance companies to set prices based on driver's history of continuous coverage
The fact that premiums go up if you have a gap in your coverage is one of the worst things about the health insurance system - why would we want to apply it to auto insurance to? No.
Measure 34: Ends the death penalty in California, replaces it with life imprisonment.
I support this one because I'm generally against the death penalty. Unlike some people I don't consider it morally unacceptable; my objection is more based on the practical matter that sometimes we get the wrong guy. Jury trials are not infallible. They make mistakes. Sometimes we find evidence later that exonerates a convict. With life imprisonment, mistakes are reversible; if we execute the guy, it's too late.
Also, the death penalty has often been applied in a racist way: people who kill whites are more likely to get it than people who kill blacks.
The one argument that might get me to support the death penalty in some cases is that life imprisonment is expensive for taxpayers. But even the price argument falls apart when you find out that it costs California an average of $300 million to execute one prisoner, due to the years-long legal wrangling and special facilities involved. We can actually save money -- an estimated $100 million a year, according to the legislative analyst quoted in the voter info guide -- by not executing people.
The argument submitted against Measure 34 for the voter guide is quite horrible. It's a naked appeal irrational feelings of vengeance. They list off horrible crimes while saying "come on, doesn't this person DESERVE to DIE?!?".
I don't really think public policy should be set by whether somebody deserves to die in some cosmic moral sense. We should look at the deterrence effect, the cost of various penalties, the value of removing a repeat offender from society, and the risk of punishing an innocent person, and try to do the thing that makes most sense for society.
I'm a quote Gandalf: "Many who live deserve death, just as many who die deserve life. Can you give it to them? No? Then be not so hasty to deal out death in judgement."
Measure 35: Increases criminal penalties for human trafficking
Sounds good at first, but it's written in a really weird way with a very vague definition of human trafficking and a bunch of sex offender stuff tacked on. Human trafficking is already illegal and I haven't heard a good argument for why the current punishments are insufficient -- or why the voters should go over the heads of the legislature to set a harsher penalty. No.
Measure 36: Amends "three strikes law" so that third crime = automatic life imprisonment only if the third crime is serious or violent.
Makes sense to me. The prisons are already overcrowded; I don't think somebody should get life just for taking drugs or shoplifting.
Currently in California a third conviction of any crime gets you automatic life imprisonment. This amendment to the three strikes law returns the power to judges and juries to set the punishment as fits the facts of the individual case. They can still consider the convict's previous criminal record when sentencing, but they're no longer forced into the maximum penalty in the case of misdemeanors.
Measure 37: Requires labeling of genetically modified foods
I see a lot of support for this measure on the lawn signs around my neighborhood. Personally I think the fear of GMOs is somewhat overblown. Isn't basically everything we eat genetically engineered? The wild ancestor of corn was a grass called teosinte with tiny inedible 1-inch ears. It's just that it was genetically engineered by Mesoamerican Indians 5000 years ago.
Sure I think people have the right to know what they're eating, but I'm not convinced a state constitutional amendment is required to give them that information. I already see a lot of food packaging that says things like "No GMO" or "No growth hormones". So if people would prefer to eat non-GMO foods, can't they already do that? Companies are already seeing "no GMO" as a competitive advantage and putting it on their label, without a law forcing them to do so, so I feel like the market is already doing its job sorting this out.
Measure 38: A different tax to fund schools, alternative to 30. If both pass than only the one with more votes goes into effect.
I like measure 30 better (The tax structure in 38 is more regressive) so I voted no on 38.
Measure 39: Multistate businesses pay income tax based on percentage of their sales in California; revenues go to clean energy projects.
Paying California income tax based on the percentage of your sales in California sure sounds fair to me! I was surprised to learn that this isn't already the case; currently companies can choose between tax based on percentage of sales or tax based on percentage of employees in California. Which gives them a perverse incentive to choose the latter and then have as few employees in California as possible.
The fact that the extra revenue from closing the loophole will go to clean energy projects is just a bonus.
Measure 40: Approves the citizens' redistricting commission's redrawing of state senate districts.
In 2008 we voted to have an independent commission of regular citizens redraw all the districts to reduce gerrymandering. I supported this idea. This interactive map shows what the commission came up with.
I read an article about how the Democrats found various sneaky ways to influence the supposedly independent commission and as a result will probably wind up with more safe seats than before, even though the districts are much more geographically reasonable-looking than they used to be.
This vote is to approve their work. If it fails we spend another million dollars on a do-over which will probably have very similar results. The group opposing approval has withdrawn their campaign so no argument against Measure 40 was submitted. Well, if nobody cares enough to argue against it, I'll take it.
County Measure A: 1/8 cent county-wide sales tax hike
No; unlike with proposition 30, the proponents of measure A don't make a good case for the budgetary need for this tax hike. And sales tax is a regressive tax.
County Measure B: Renews a parcel tax that would otherwise expire in order to pay for cleaning up and preserving the local streams and wetlands
Sounds good to me. Confusingly, the counterargument is that the proposed program doesn't do *enough* for the local environment, and they want to send it back and write a stricter one. I ended up voting yes anyway.
Palo Alto Measure C: Allows three marijuana dispensaries to operate in Palo Alto.
Hell yeah! maybe that will make this town less boring.
Seriously though, I support state and local efforts to resist the federal government's illogical marijuana prohibition policy.
Happy Mayan Non-Apocalypse
The idea that the world is going to end tomorrow due to Mayan prophecy is so silly that it hopefully needs no debunking.
Even if the Maya did predict the world would end on Dec 21, 2012, there's no reason to think that prediction would be any more accurate than any of the other predicted doomsday dates that have come and gone without incident. But the Maya didn't predict the world would end on Dec 21, 2012. Nothing of the sort.
Since I enjoy tracing the lineage of crackpot ideas, I looked into where and how this nonsense started.
Tomorrow, in the Mayan Long Count calendar, is the end of the 13th B'ak'tun. Contrary to popular culture, the calendar doesn't "end" tomorrow, it just rolls over to the next B'ak'tun. The date will be 22.214.171.124.0. It's not a prediction of doomsday any more than the Gregorian calendar predicted doomsday by rolling over to a new millenium in 2001. I guess if computers used Mayan dates we might be dealing with a kind of "y126.96.36.199.0" problem right now, but that's about it.
There are plenty of references to dates after 188.8.131.52.0 in ancient Mayan writings like the recently discovered wall carvings in Xultun. So they clearly didn't think the world was going to end. There is only one Mayan text that predicts anything at all happening on 184.108.40.206.0, and it is merely a vague reference to an appearance by the god Bolon Yokte. It seems more likely they thought of the end of the cycle as a date to celebrate than as the end of anything.
Present-day Mayans are certainly not real impressed by the 2012 hysteria.
That's the other weird part of this 2012 doomsday business -- we keep talking like the Mayans are a vanished people. They're not. Despite the genocidal attempts of Europeans, there are about 7 million Mayan people (i.e. descendants of one of the Maya groups and/or speakers of one of the Maya languages) living in Mexico, Guatemala, Belize, and Honduras today.
We are not myths of the past, ruins in the jungle or zoos. We are people and we want to be respected, not to be victims of intolerance and racism.
-- Rigoberta Menchú, Guatemalan of Mayan ancestry, accepting the Nobel Peace Prize in 1992.
As I've written before, pretending that native Americans had some kind of magic powers is perhaps slightly better than pretending they were savages, but it's still a falsehood based on racist stereotypes.
Anyway, where did the prediction of apocalypse on December 21, 2012 come from? Not from the Maya themselves, but from a German scholar, Ernst Förstemann. In the early 1900s he examined a Mayan book of dates and astronomical predictions called the Dresden Codex. At that time, the only part of the Mayan writing system that westerners had translated were the dates; so all Förstemann had to go on was the dates and the pictures. The last page of the Dresden Codex features a illustration of a sky lizard vomiting water. Speculating wildly, Förstemann interpreted it as a prediction of an apocalyptic flood at the end of the B'ak'tun cycle.
Förstemann's interpretation of the Dresden Codex says more about the western Judeo-Christian tradition (obsessed as it is with floods and doomsday prophecies) than it says about Mayan culture.
An American archaeologist named Michael Coe reproduced Förstemann's ideas about the significance of the date in his 1966 book The Maya. It became popular with various 60s new-age hippie gurus, who interpreted 220.127.116.11.0 (conveniently falling on the Winter Solstice, 2012) not as the apocalypse but as a date of spiritual transformation or awakening. But in recent decades American popular culture (the X-files, that horrible disaster movie, pseudoscience specials on the Discovery Channel, etc) got ahold of the idea and turned the hippies' spiritual transformation back into an apocalypse.
So what we're dealing with here is a Hollywood misunderstanding of a new-age misunderstanding of an archaeological misunderstanding of a Mayan tradition that didn't predict anything in particular.
Some 2012 doomsayers even believe they know the precise agent of the apocalypse: There is an urban legend, or conspiracy theory, or something, about a rogue planet called Nibiru which is going to make a close approach to the earth; its gravity, or maybe its magnetic field, is going to wipe out civilization. This idea was started in 1995 by a woman who believed that she was recieving messages from aliens in her brain. She originally predicted Nibiru would destroy civilization in 2003. But since nothing happend in 2003, she moved the date to 2012 to coincide with the Mayan date 18.104.22.168.0.
A hilarious part of the conspiracy thoery is that a missing patch data in Google Sky was intentionally blocked out to hide the existence of Nibiru. (Hint: if Nibiru was really appraoching, blocking out Google Sky wouldn't do anything. Anybody could point a telescope at that part of the sky and see it for themselves.) What's not funny at all is that some people - children even - have been freaking out over the Nibiru rumors, to the point of considering suicide. NASA scientist David Morrison, who answers questions on the site "Ask an Astrobiologist", has has had to become something of an expert in trying to talk people out of their irrational fears.
Doomsday scenarios: Not harmless, no matter how goofy they sound. And yet, debunking them never seems to do any good. When the world doesn't end tomorrow, I'm sure the doomdsay crowd will simply pick a new date to fixate on. Some people need to believe the world is about to end. Who knows why? Maybe it helps their personal problems seem smaller, maybe it gives more historical significance to the time they happened to be born in, maybe it's a way of avoiding having to plan for the future. Maybe people react to the overwhelming change and complexity of modern civilization by imagining a future drastically simplified by cataclysm.
But whatever. Appropriating (and misunderstanding) other cultures' beliefs doesn't make your doomsday predictions any more believable. And Mayan culture should really not be blamed for this kind of crackpottery.
Lessons from Martin Luther King
I've been reading A People's History of the United States, by Howard Zinn. It tells the story of the USA from Columbus to the War on Terror, from the perspective of the downtrodden: Indians, slaves, women, poor tenant farmers, immigrants, factory workers, etc. It contrasts the "official" story, the one based on presidents and other powerful people, with the first-hand accounts of the people on the bottom who lived through these events.
What I like about the book is that most of it is quotations from original sources. So even if you don't like Zinn's commentary, you can read for yourself what people were saying about the times they lived in, and draw your own conclusions. There is a lot of powerful, defiant, inspiring stuff written by people who were ground down for centuries.
I spent most of yesterday on buses and airplanes, so I had a lot of time to read. Since it was MLK day I decided to flip forward to Zinn's chapter about the Civil Rights movement.
Confession time: When I was younger I was one of those sheltered white kids who didn't really understand why Martin Luther King was such a big deal. The story we hear in school is heavily sanitized: The south had segregation, it was unfair, but then MLK made a lot of inspiring speeches, and now there's no segregation anymore, hooray!
To understand the true extent of Dr. King's heroism you have to understand the evil and brutality of the entrenched power structure the Civil Rights movement was working against.
Zinn analyzes the roots of racism as a strategy by elites in the early days of American colonization: plantation owners knew that if poor whites ever teamed up with slaves, they'd have the strength to overthrow the aristocracy. By teaching poor whites to hate blacks, the elites pitted the two groups against each other and secured their own position on top. Not sure that's the only explanation, but it sure is thought-provoking.
By winning the Civil War, the North could force the South to end official slavery, but it couldn't end the hatred of black people that whites had had drilled into them for centuries. The Fifteenth Amendment could guarantee voting rights to blacks on paper, but without sustained federal intervention it couldn't guarantee them in practice: As soon as the Reconstruction governments went home, whites started using mob violence to stop blacks from voting (this was the period when the Klu Klux Klan was first formed) and southern state governments went to work re-implementing every part of the white-supremacist power structure except slavery.
(Sad fact I discovered: California voted against ratifying the Fifteenth Amendment, because it was afraid of having to give the vote to Chinese immigrants. True story. Shame on you, California!)
And this system of white supremacy, enforced by violence, was still in force by Dr. King's time. Jim Crow wasn't just about having to go to different schools and drink out of different water fountains: it was about the fact that a mob of white vigilantes would beat you up, or lynch you and hang you, if you were a black person trying to claim your equal rights. And the police would watch and do nothing. Or join in the violence. Or arrest the victims. And the courts (where you weren't allowed to serve on a jury) would acquit the murderers.
So the story of the Civil Rights movement is the story of standing up to this violence. When activists peacefully staged sit-ins at the counters of whites-only diners, they were beaten and arrested. When activists boycotted segregated buses in Montgomery, Alabama, white supremacists firebombed Martin Luther King's house. When activists registered black people to vote in the summer of 1964, white supremacists murdered them. When the Freedom Riders rode through Birmingham, the white local police joined with the KKK in attacking them. When the Civil Rights movement marched on Washington, white supremacists retaliated by bombing a church, killing four innocent girls.
And the Civil Rights movement appealed to the federal government to protect them from racist violence, and the federal government paid lip service to the idea, but they had the FBI infiltrate and subvert Civil Rights groups. They put Martin Luther King under illegal FBI surveillance, all as part of a heavily-classified program called COINTELPRO, under the pretense of suppressing Communist activity. Meanwhile conservatives in Congress staged the longest filibuster in history against the Civil Rights bill.
Somehow the version of Civil Rights history we got in school glossed over the extent of the murderous evil they were up against. Possibly on purpose, to avoid offending the powerful.
Against all this evil, Dr. King didn't just have courage, moral imagination, charisma, and inspiring speeches. Those are all important, but they're not enough to end a system of oppression as entrenched as Jim Crow. But Dr. King had something else: He had a strategy. A smart one.
The strategy was to, by peaceably demanding their rights, provoke a violent backlash from white supremacists, and then to turn the other cheek and maintain the moral high ground. Thus they'd show to the world the violence, brutality, injustice, and evil of the forces maintaining the status quo. And by so doing, get public opinion on their side, in order to create the needed political pressure to get civil rights legislation passed and (more importantly) actually enforced by the national government.
In his letter from Birmingham Jail, Dr. King says:
You may well ask: "Why direct action? Why sit ins, marches and so forth? Isn't negotiation a better path?" You are quite right in calling for negotiation. Indeed, this is the very purpose of direct action. Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and foster such a tension that a community which has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue. It seeks so to dramatize the issue that it can no longer be ignored...
...and then later...
Actually, we who engage in nonviolent direct action are not the creators of tension. We merely bring to the surface the hidden tension that is already alive. We bring it out in the open, where it can be seen and dealt with. Like a boil that can never be cured so long as it is covered up but must be opened with all its ugliness to the natural medicines of air and light, injustice must be exposed, with all the tension its exposure creates, to the light of human conscience and the air of national opinion before it can be cured.
Some say this was naiive, that non-violent resistance alone would have led only to more lip-service (e.g. the earlier civil rights acts which congress had passed but were not enforced at the state level) without Malcom X and the Black Panthers to be the "bad cops" and show America that black people were ready to fight violence with violence for their equality if they couldn't get it through nonviolent pressure.
Nevertheless, Dr. King kept going out in public and organizing and making speeches and doing his thing even though he knew people were literally gunning for him. When your strategy involves provoking a violent reaction from the forces of evil, you have to be prepared to get beat up, to go to jail, to get shot. Dr. King was ready to die for his cause, and he would not be intimidated into giving up, because he wasn't going to let the terrorists win. (Yes, terrorists. White supremacists were using murder and assassination to scare black people away from political action: that's the definition of terrorism.)
Political power comes from the barrel of a gun, and if you really want to change the power structure, you're going to be looking down the barrel of that gun sooner or later. The American power structure talks a nice game about equality and peace and democracy but when it feels itself being seriously challenged, the velvet gloves come off and the iron fist comes out, just like any other government.
It's interesting to contrast the civil rights movement against, say, Occupy Wall Street. The civil rights movement, at great cost, achieved the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights act. (not to say that prejudice is over or that everyone has equality of opportunity - there's clearly far to go.) Occupy may have injected some much-needed ideas back into the national conversation, but it didn't exactly accomplish concrete political goals.
I'm not sure anybody knew what its goals were. Lots of people agree that banks have too much influence over the government; but what, exactly, do you want us to do about it? There was a moment when I think a lot of people had sympathy for Occupy (Something about passively resisting students getting pepper-sprayed in the face by cops). But unlike Civil Rights, Occupy wasn't able to channel that sympathy into anything. It lacked a strategic and charismatic leader like Dr. King. It lacked a forceful message like "End Segregation" to rally people behind.
Occupy Wall Street really should have learned more lessons from Dr. King and the Civil Rights movement. (It's not like this is ancient history: there are still Civil Rights veterans alive to learn from, if Occupy was willing to listen.) Anybody who wants to change the world today should study these lessons intently.
One more quotation from Birmingham Jail:
We must come to see that human progress never rolls in on wheels of inevitability. It comes through the tireless efforts and persistent work of men willing to be co-workers with God, and without this hard work time itself becomes an ally of the forces of social stagnation....We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed.
That is really what you decided to call your business?
Today when I was biking home I saw a bright purple truck labeled "PIZZA PIMP". It had a slice of pizza wearing sunglasses and a flamboyant purple hat.
It looked like this.
Really? Really? Maybe I'm just getting uptight as I get older, but why would you name your pizza after a criminal who exploits vulnerable women and profits from sex trafficking?
Hideous Public Sculptures of Palo Alto
I call it "the car on chubby baby legs"
Eh, I guess let's just pile some cubes on top of each other and call it art?
"I've got a great idea! Let's make a rag doll with a disturbing human face in its belly."
A close-up on that expression of terror.
Egg covered in circuit boards. Because the egg is, like, the SYMBOL of CREATION... or something.
According to the plaque, the text on this random-looking collection of signs was generated by asking people "What will be on this spot 100 years from now?"
Some kind of... slanty... maze-like... trident-thing... look, I can't even make a joke about this one, it's too boring.
These rings are mounted on swively-things so sometimes they move up and down. Wheee.
The roots of anti-Chinese stereotypes
TeoTheo asked a question on an old post of mine ("How to Make Up Bullshit About China and Get It Published"). I'm responding in a new post, because nobody will see his question or my answer on the old post.
"One of my professors used the theory about why Chinese work harder than Americans in his class. He went through the entire script that Chinese worked the rice fields and that it took them six hours or something to get a result, while the US Farmers had to work simply 40 hours per week to get results in the wheat fields. Is there an explanation as to why the Chinese work harder, or is this just a statement based off prejudice?"
You're skipping a step here. Before asking "why do the Chinese work harder" you should stop and say "Hey, is it a true fact that Chinese people work harder?". A lot of people skip this step, in all sorts of contexts. They jump straight to "why" before they check whether the "fact" they're explaining is actually a fact.
And if you ask "Do Chinese people work harder?" then you should ask "Compared to who?" And "How do we measure how hard someone works?" Average hours worked per week? Worker productivity per hour? Where do we get the data to make this comparison? Are we talking about Chinese people in China or Chinese-Americans?
If your professor actually said that US farmers only had to work 40 hours a week in the wheat fields, he's probably full of shit. The 40-hour work week we have in America has nothing to do with how long our farming ancestors had to work -- it was a hard-won achievement of the labor movement during the industrial revolution, along with a lot of other worker treatment standards that we take for granted today.
If workers in China work longer hours (under worse conditions, for less pay) compared to workers in America, it's probably not because they want to -- it's because China has shitty worker protection laws (ironic, for a country that still claims to be Communist), and because it's got a ton of people from poor rural provinces competing for a limited number of factory jobs in the cities. If you're trying to explain a difference between the hours people work in China vs America, there's no need to invoke ancient agricultural habits -- look at labor laws, look at political systems, look at basic economics.
If you're talking about Chinese-Americans versus other groups of Americans, then you bet your ass this is a statement based off prejudice. To see how the prejudice got started, all you have to do is look at racist 19th-century political cartoons and the arguments supporting the Chinese Exclusion Act.
The following is a very, very rough overview of this period of history. Sushu and Bankuei both know a lot more about it than I do. (Maybe they will add some details?)
Lots of Chinese people came to America in the 19th century trying to escape poverty and earn some money to send back to their families. White Americans wanted cheap labor power (to work in the mines and to build the transcontinental railroad
, among other things) and could get away with paying Chinese immigrants shitty wages because the immigrants had little to no negotiating power.
But at the same time as we wanted cheap labor, white Americans were scared of Chinese people because oh my god, they look different and they write different and they have a different religion and they wear their hair funny (queues were mandatory on men until the fall of the Qing Dynasty in 1911 or so).
We were so freaked out that we passed the Chinese Exclusion Act. Chinese people, unlike any other nationality, were forbidden from immigrating to the US. This lasted from 1882 until fucking 1943. We also passed a bunch of laws banning Chinese people from professions that we thought were too good for them. (You know the stereotype of Chinese people running laundromats? It's kind of an old one, I think it's finally dying out, but the reason that started was because America had legally excluded Chinese people from so many other professions that in some cases laundry was all they were allowed to do.)
This was all justified by, first of all, paranoid ranting about how the Chinese immigrants were all secretly preparing America for invasion and conquest by China (aka "The Yellow Peril" aka "White people's fear that they would be treated the same way they'd been treating everyone else for the past few centuries")
...and second, by making white people afraid that Chinese immigrants were going to steal their jobs, because Chinese people could work longer hours for lower pay, because unlike white people Chinese people had no wives or children to support and were happy living in conditions of unimaginable squalor and were generally not quite human. Conveniently ignoring the fact that it was the white business owners who were making them living in conditions of unimaginable squalor by forcing them to work long hours for low pay in the first place! And they didn't have wives or children with them because the racist immigration laws had forbade them to bring their wives and children with them from China!
This is how racism works: it creates its own self-justifying circular logic.
If you dig into how a lot of stereotypes got started, they're basically "The majority group passed laws to keep you poor, and now we make fun of you for being poor." Like, you know the stereotypes about what kinds of food African-Americans supposedly like? The traditional cuisine of black people in the south was the result of making the best they had with cheap ingredients, because they couldn't afford to eat anything better, because centuries of slavery and Jim Crow laws had made sure they were poor.
Over time, the Chinese stereotype slowly morphed into the more positive, but still prejudicial attitude of "Oh those Asians, they're so hard-working". But America's racism towards underpaid immigrant workers hasn't improved that much since then; it's just that most of the hate has transferred from Chinese immigrants to Hispanic "illegals".
Even though it seems positive on the surface, "Chinese people are hardworking" has a dark side -- it's called the "model minority myth". It implies that if any other ethnic group hasn't done as well as the Chinese, it's their own fault for being lazy and they just need to try harder.
Government whines that spying on citizens is too hard, demands new backdoors in internet software
Also wow is this a lot of depressing links to see in one go. You need to spread these things out. Also, possibly balance out your reading of depressing stuff with some positivity.
Hahahaha, nope! The depressing links are JUST BEGINNING!
Obama May Back F.B.I. Plan to Wiretap Web Users - NYTimes.com
The F.B.I. director, Robert S. Mueller III, has argued that the bureau’s ability to carry out court-approved eavesdropping on suspects is “going dark” as communications technology evolves, and since 2010 has pushed for a legal mandate requiring companies like Facebook and Google to build into their instant-messaging and other such systems a capacity to comply with wiretap orders.
Lawfare - Susan Landau on Obama Administration’s New Wiretapping Proposal
On the face of it, the new FBI proposal to fine companies that don’t comply with wiretap orders seems eminently reasonable. If law enforcement satisfies the Wiretap Act requirements for a court order, surely the communications provider should deliver the goods... This view of wiretapping is mired in the 1960s, when each phone was on a wire from the phone company’s central office, and a wiretap consisted of a pair of alligator clips and a headset.
This proposal, if enacted, would essentially make it a crime to develop a secure communications technology. Software developers would be required to build in a back door for the government to spy on their users.
Also, notice the FBI's logic: unintended flaws of telephone tachnology (you could stick alligator clips on a phone line and hear what they were saying) used to make wiretapping easy, so we made laws restricting when it could be done. But oh no, improvements in communication technology have made wiretapping harder, so we demand that you replicate the flaws of the old phone system (at your own cost, for the FBI's benefit).
Of course, they're saying that they'd only use these backdoors with court approval... while at the same time, they're also arguing that they don't need court approval to read your e-mail!
DOJ: We don't need warrants for e-mail, Facebook chats | CNET News
The U.S. Department of Justice and the FBI believe they don't need a search warrant to review Americans' e-mails, Facebook chats, Twitter direct messages, and other private files, internal documents reveal. Government documents obtained by the American Civil Liberties Union and provided to CNET show a split over electronic privacy rights within the Obama administration, with Justice Department prosecutors and investigators privately insisting they're not legally required to obtain search warrants for e-mail.
So the ACLU filed a Freedom of Informatoin Act request to the Justice Department to find out about the government's warrantless snooping, and...
Most Transparent Administration in History Releases Completely Redacted Document About Text Snooping - Hit & Run : Reason.com
Here's what they got back:
A memo header: “Guidance for the Minimization of Text
Messages over Dual-Function Cellular Telephones” and then 15
pages, completely blacked out.
Reminds me of that guy from the NSA who said they can't tell the Senate Intelligence Oversight Committee (!) how many Americans they've spied on, because telling would "violate their privacy".
So, the government gets to know everything about what we're doing, but we don't get to know anything about what the government is doing. Hmmm. Sounds fair, right?
The whole idea of a representative democracy is that, in theory, if the citizens don't like what their representatives in government are doing, they can vote them out.
What happens to that when the citizens are not allowed to know what the government is doing in their name?
Today I learned: the origins of Memorial Day
How Memorial Day Was Stripped of Its African-American Roots | Dominion of New York
What we now know as Memorial Day began as “Decoration Day” in the immediate aftermath of the U.S. Civil War. It was a tradition initiated by former slaves to celebrate emancipation and commemorate those who died for that cause.
As I'm now learning from reading Howard Zinn, there was a period in the late 1800s when most of the gains African Americans had made during Reconstruction were rolled back. The Northern Republicans in power essentially reneged on their promise to push for full equality for black people. Deciding it was more important to get the South on board with the project of nationwide industrialization, they stopped pursuing Reconstruction policies in order to appease racist Southern Democrats.
It was in that context that the modern version of Memorial Day as an apolitical holiday, honoring dead soldiers in general, got propogated. Celebrating emancipation was considered too divisive by a national government trying to bring the South back into the fold.
I did not know this! Memorial Day is going to have a whole different meaning for me from now on.
When I saw a link on hacker news called How I Stopped Eating Food, at first I thought it had to be a joke. Some kind of stealth parody of weird San Francisco lifestyle fads.
I hypothesized that the body doesn't need food itself, merely the chemicals and elements it contains. So, I resolved to embark on an experiment. What if I consumed only the raw ingredients the body uses for energy? Would I be healthier or do we need all the other stuff that's in traditional food? If it does work, what would it feel like to have a perfectly balanced diet? I just want to be in good health and spend as little time and money on food as possible.
I haven't eaten a bite of food in 30 days, and it's changed my life.
So the guy measures out the recommended allowance of all his nutrient needs in powder form, mixes it with water to make a gross beige-colored sludge, and...
It was delicious! I felt like I'd just had the best breakfast of my life. It tasted like a sweet, succulent, hearty meal in a glass, which is what it is, I suppose. I immediately felt full, yet energized, and started my day. Several hours later I got hungry again. I quickly downed another glass and immediately felt relief. The next day I made another batch and felt even better. My energy level had skyrocketed at this point, I felt like a kid again.
Surely this story is going to get to the punchline soon.
But on day 3 I noticed my heart was racing and my energy level was suddenly dropping. Hemoglobin! I think, my heart is having trouble getting enough oxygen to all my organs. I check my formula and realize iron is completely absent. I quickly purchase an iron supplement and add it to the mixture the next day. I have to be more careful not to leave anything out.
Perhaps this is a morality tale about how these Silicon valley wunderkinds always think that, since they're good at computers, they're automatically good at everything else (e.g. nutrition) without having to put any effort into studying it. Which leads to potentially life-threatening newbie mistakes like not getting any iron.
Anyway, this is all fake, right? Please tell me this is fake. Please tell me this guy is not really doing this to his body.
No. It's real. Now they're crowdfunding it.
We are incredibly excited that so many of you share our vision for Soylent: the easy, healthy future of nutrition! We reached our funding goal in under 3 hours, and every additional dollar we raise will go directly towards improving the formulation, manufacture, and distribution of Soylent.
It's at 300% funding.
Here's an excerpt from their pitch:
50% of the food produced globally is wasted, and food makes for the largest component of municipal garbage. If not for this waste there would be plenty of food to adequately nourish everyone alive. 2 million people are killed annually by smoke inhalation from indoor cooking stoves alone. 70% of americans are overweight or obese. 1 in 7 people globally are malnourished, and 1 in 3 in the developing world suffer from deficiency. Countless others are living hand-to-mouth, subsistence farming, hindering economic development. Even in the developed world, agriculture is the most dangerous industry to work in by occupational injuries and illnesses, and obesity is on the rise.
So, all you have to do is convince all the world's malnourished poor people who rely on indoor cooking stoves to give up food in favor of your $65/week beige milkshake, and all their problems will be solved! That's the plan, right?
Or is this just that thing that Silicon Valley entrepreneurs do? That thing where working on experimental technology for the fun of it doesn't give them enough sense of importance, so they have to convince themselves that their pet projct is a world-saving advancement? So they list a bunch of extremely difficult, long-standing real-world problems that are kind of related, in some nebulous way, and they stop short of explicitly claiming that their iPhone app (or whatever) is going to overthrow all the world's dictators (or whatever), but they imply it enough to satisfy their delusions of grandeur. (See also: every TED talk ever.)
Wait, am I stereotyping unfairly? Let's check the crowdfunding page to see if the team is five white 20something hipsters in San Francisco... oh hey look, what a surprise.
The Economist picks up the story:
Nutrition: Gruel today, gruel tomorrow | The Economist
Its creator, Rob Rhinehart, a 24-year-old computer scientist, assures Babbage that his version of Soylent contains no human flesh. In fact, Soylent promises to be as tasteless as its name, comprised as it is mostly of powdered starch, milk proteins, olive oil, oat fibre and various trace minerals and vitamins. When reconstituted with water, Soylent becomes a unflavoured beige liquid.
They're really going with "Soylent" for their product name? Really??
Mr Rhinehart is no nutritionist and early versions of Soylent had their problems. Omitting iron from his original formula made Mr Rhinehart’s heart race and an absence of sulphur caused joint pain, while (deliberate) overdoses of potassium and magnesium resulted in cardiac arrhythmia and burning sensations.
And he's selling this to other people to be used as their sole source of nutrition? As long as he was only experimenting on himself, his lack of nutritional science knowledge was just stupid and dangerous, but now that he's potentially hurting other people's health, his lack of expertise becomes a serious ethical problem. This isn't like writing mobile phone apps, where it's easy for amateurs to break into the field because the worst that happens when they screw up is somebody wastes $1.99 on an iPhone game that doesn't work right.
Anyway, the Economist throws cold water on the supposed price and environmental benefits of Soylent:
Adam Drewnowski, director of the Centre for Public Health Nutrition at the University of Washington, will not be among them. “To some extent, Soylent is an expensive glass of milk,” he says. While Soylent’s $65 weekly price-tag is certainly cheaper than eating out, it compares unfavourably with the cost of cooking for yourself. America's Department of Agriculture recently calculated the weekly cost for a family of four to eat a thrifty but healthy diet at home as $146, even allowing for some spoilage.Mr Drewnowski is also sceptical of Soylent’s environmental credentials. He notes that the bulk of food’s carbon footprint and greenhouse-gas emissions come from production and processing, rather than distribution, cooking or waste. Mr Drewnowski calls the carbon impact of Soylent’s milk protein "not insignificant".