Category Archives: politics

Free-range Humans

At one time we were.  And in some way, we’ve circled back, except that we’ve spiraled around and landed on a different prairie.

Our new free range is an amplified ability and willingness to stretch and distort definitions to suit a wide variety of purposes.  The hijacking of words and dilution of their authenticity has become commonplace.

Not long ago, a US president demonstrated our new grazing land when he said, under oath, “it depends on what the definition of the word is, is.”  The economic meltdown of 2008 occurred, in part, because financial institutions went as far as roaming off the range by packaging garbage, then labeling and selling that junk as triple-A solid, pixie-dust lined, investments.

Our free-ranging technique of twisting the truth is especially blatant in food marketing.  Two, of many, recent examples: 1) In 2009 Kellogs Rice Krispies claimed the cereal would “support your child’s immunity.”  2) Nutella ads stated that their hazelnut spread “is a nutritious part of a kids breakfast.”

With our penchant for free-ranging food claims, what could natural flavors mean as a food ingredient? Bull testicles and sheep lips are natural, so is arsenic and formaldehyde.  Our legal definition of natural flavors is wide open according to the US Code of Federal Regulations and could include the aforementioned items.

Exaggeration and hyperbole have been used since there was language.  But when accuracy is elongated to harmfully fool others, then those doing the bending are better off put out to pasture.

The marketing campaigns labeling chicken and eggs as free-ranging and cage-free is a more literal example.  We’ve grown a sizeable appetite for chicken.  A few short generations ago, chicken consumption in the USA per person was, at best, a poultry few per year.  Today we gobble down, on average, more than 27 bloated, steroid & antibiotic-infused, mega fowl per person annually.  That’s not counting eggs (w/added synthetic yolk colorants).

The same dynamic chicken euphoria is happening around the world.  Travel anywhere, to any airport, any major city, and there is no shortage of chicken anything.

Chicken is the cheapest, most efficient form of meat to produce.  Chicken producers want us to feel good about eating more fowl because production has turned intensive.  It’s estimated that the planet is pumping out at least 50 billion chickens annually.  But where are they all?  Hmm,…there must be a reason they are hidden, tucked away, and out of sight.

World population is growing strong, and so is our appetite for more chicken.  China is the chicken heavyweight.  Stats show they produce more chickens than the next four chicken producing countries combined (USA, Indonesia, Brazil, India).  The KFC outlets, saturated throughout most China cities, stay more jampacked with hungry chicken customers than overcrowded industrial henhouses.   The Chinese also produce a mind-boggling 500 billion eggs annually.  And those hens are not free ranging.

Not enough of us care yet about the quality of what we stick in our mouths.  Just keep the buckets of nuggets coming.

But in fairness, some do care, a tiny bit, which is why demand for free-range is on the rise.  But in fairness to fairness, this is just free-range marketing.  The image of chickens running around, foraging and pecking the ground as is their nature, living part of their life in the sun, makes (some of) us feel a little better about eating them and their eggs.  No problem, we are free-range humans.  We simply expanded the definition of free-range to include the addition of a popup window to a giant, industrial overpacked chicken coup, containing thousands of birds. As long as the window is open for a few minutes per day, even if only a hand-full lucky enough to be near the window have a glimpse of the outside, voila, we have free range chickens — and free range eggs, and a warm & fuzzy image as a bonus.

But soon, thanks to,

  • a growing movement to improve the environmental impact of industrial chicken production,
  • an eagerness to significantly upgrade food quality, and
  • a new, determined focus to raise the standards for the humane treatment of animals,

a good portion of the world’s chicks destined for meat and eggs will soon be free-ranging, roaming the earth for real….along with fairies, leprechauns, and free-range humans.

honest discrimination

Discrimination has gotten a bad rap over the last generation.  It has a negative connotation when it’s not only natural but vital to our health.

Sure, there are all forms of biases.  Not only the more notable such as skin color and religion, but also social status, gender, intelligence, body type, culture, age, and a myriad of others.

Discrimination is hard-wired into the animal kingdom, not from conscious thought, but from a kind of natural selection.  Animals, including humans, tend to identify with the familiar.  We are attracted to those with overlapping qualities or complimentary characteristics.  Those who don’t fit in are filtered out, perhaps even unfairly.

several cars on both ends of each metro car are "women only" a stiff fine is levied to any man with a foot over the line

several cars on both ends of each metro car are “women only” a stiff fine is levied to any man with a foot over the line

Animals living in clans or tribes (a human trait) are innately suspicious of those they don’t know.  Our ancestors, the chimps, have been known to treat those outside their band rather harshly.

Fortunately, most of us have evolved to the point where we’ve learned not to harm those with whom we are not attracted.  Nevertheless, we use our inherent prejudices to avoid those with whom we choose not to interact, or consider detrimental.

In the USA, being a racist is slander.  It’s commonly used by media to peg those they find disagreeable.  It’s partisanship, or discrimination, at its finest.

It’s not to say that we are not attracted to differences.  In our ever-connected world, millions roam the globe seeking out dissimilarities, attracted to novelty.   Many of us have rich experiences doing so.  But we have our moments — times where we have an inability to fully connect, creating subliminal biases.

In the Arab world, whether it’s race, gender, or religion, open discrimination is alive and thriving.  In Dubai’s metro system, there are separate cars for women only.  They can ride in those cars or mixed cars with men, but men are not permitted in those allocated for women.  Local restaurants typically dedicate mixed sections for families and sections for men only.  In many supermarkets, non-Muslims have their own meat shopping area.  Forget entering Dubai with an Israeli passport, and expect problems if your passport has a stamp from that country.

Customer service -- for a (non) religious community

Customer service — for a (non) religious community

Open and honest discrimination can be healthy.  It can also be harmful if we deceive ourselves.  If a supermarket has made a section for non-Muslims, it’s a form of discrimination that we’ve deemed acceptable.  If we go about hurting or harming others due to an intolerance, it could be said to be a kind of discrimination gone awry  — a form of devolution.

We constantly make conscious and unconscious judgments, some barely noticeable and ever so slight, about everyone we see.  The question isn’t about whether we discriminate or not, it’s to what degree.  And, about how honest we are admitting so.

And yes sure, there are loads of spiritually enlightened individuals who operate in a sphere above natural selection.  It’s just not most of us.  Maybe some day.  As a species, we are working to get there.

So if we think we don’t discriminate, in all likelihood it wouldn’t be true.  But if no overt harm is done, no harm no foul.  But we’d be wise to be wary of the invert repercussions of fooling ourselves.

OPM

Other People’s Money.  It’s what we are all after, one way or another.  Unless we are not seeking to build more wealth, which is less than 1% of the 1%, the money we need today or in the future, belongs to other people.

The 99.99% of us who either need or want (more) money, by default, seek it from other people.  And why not.  After all, it grows on trees.

The flip side of acquiring OPM is not very attractive unless we have no money.  Both socialism and communism are based on society or the state deciding how goods and wealth will be distributed.  Both those forms of governments heavily restrict how its citizens can attain OPM.  They were designed to be a sort of utopia, promoting cooperation instead of competition.  They ended up far from Shangri-La.

Most states have evolved to a form of capitalism as the preferred choice for exchanging goods and services for wealth (money).  As such, we are being enticed all the time by expert marketers dangling delicious looking advertisements, discounts, bargains, and beautiful looking people in our faces — hooks to bait us into opening our pockets to buy things we don’t need.  Over a short period of time, capitalism has grown a large pool of experts who have infiltrated every level of society with the singular purpose of acquiring OPM.  In fact, maximizing receipt of OPM is the basis of most business models.  Being able to access OPM is also the reason we have so many great products at our disposal.

The point of the post?  Every great advertisement or product you see was made by someone after our money.  Of course, we know that.  It just helps to consider the concept once in a while.

this is not a political post

At least one that is not politically one-sided.

This past week most people in the USA woke up Wednesday morning to a surprising presidential election result.  Not many expected DT would win.  As a result, the left-wing extremists were out in full-force.

March 2

5th Av @ 22nd Street — a constant flow for more than an hour

Yesterday thousands marched up 5th Avenue in New York chanting “not my president” or “we reject the president-elect,” among others things.  The same happened in other cities.

I would not have known about the march had I not had to cross 5th Ave a couple of times.  Listening to those who were shouting made me wonder whether they knew that they were rejecting the very constitution that gives them the right to march.  Many more thousands were inconvenienced for a couple of hours so that those thousands could invoke their freedom of speech.

We might not like who was elected, but that person was nevertheless elected by our democratic system.  Many on the other side felt the same when Mr. O was elected 4 and 8 years ago.

But alas, there is a heavy dose of heavily opinionated people when it comes to politics and religion.  Some feel the need to shout and carry signs and worse — even consider that those not of their view are the enemy.

Madison Sq Park heading up toward Trump Tower at 57th

Madison Sq Park heading up toward Trump Tower at 57th

Humans like drama.  We are attracted to it.  The more opinionated, the more drama.  Sure there are times when demonstrations and marches have moved political forces in a favorable direction for the majority.  Nevertheless, when we are marching against the result of a long, hard-fought democratic election, the sub-text of what is shouted is that “my perspective walls are rigid and I don’t have the capacity nor the tolerance to consider perspectives beyond those walls.”

Anyway, democracy is not the most ideal form of government, but it’s the best we have for now.  The US constitution is a structure and system most of its citizens are proud of.  Choosing to invoke rights under one part of the constitution while rejecting another part is not quite reasonable.

The US has elected to government movie actors, comedians, and military commanders.  We even elected a president without any experience at managing or leading anything or anyone.  Now we’ve elected a real-estate tycoon cum business man with, at times, an outlandish opinion and manner of speaking.  The establishment might do well with a little ruckus.

So life moves on and the world keeps turning.  And, I doubt the sky will fall.

SCI

Much of the past week’s news was headlined by our now former head of the CIA getting caught for personal behavior not befitting the leadership position he held.  An example of yet another prominent citizen brought down by doing something he didn’t want exposed.  Another more recent example was a certain famous cyclist.  Different issue but same thing.  Both went to great lengths to hide a behavior they didn’t want the public to see.  They fell under the weight of an imbalance.

Some of the news analysis this week focused on why DP (CIA guy) didn’t use a more covert method for hiding a relationship (not emails).  It stuck me with how much we are OK with what we don’t know.  DP rationalized his behavior was OK, until it was exposed.

I’d be the last to criticize anyone for having (extra) personal affairs.  Personal relationships are a personal matter.  But an exemplary leader shouldn’t need to expend energy covering up behavior that is not exemplary.

Recently scientists have discovered that self-serving tendencies (misplaced ambitions) evoke stupid cells in our system.  These cells end up attacking the judgement section of the brain.  Once judgement is attacked, our system becomes imbalanced.  Tilted too far, the imbalance leads to slips, tumbles, and sometimes injury.

Thankfully, we are not born with stupid cells.  They are released when we internally rationalize we can do something that may not be the correct thing to do. It’s a malady the scientists are calling stupid cell imbalance, or SCI.  The more airtight we construct our skewed rationalizations, the greater the SCI.  With an abundance of SCI, our immune system becomes susceptible and compromised.

During his news conference this week, our president chastised certain senators for criticizing SR (current US ambassador to UN) for going on news shows and telling the wrong story about what happened in Benghazi on 9/11 this year.  He said she was merely conveying “intelligence she was given at the time.”   Sorry Mr. President, that was not intelligence.  It was a fabrication.  We all know that now.  A dreamed up fairy tale is not intelligence.  Someone on your (our) team has a bad case of SCI.  Don’t defend SCI.  Seek to cure it.  Or at least throw some stimulus dollars to developing a remedy.

As a society, we (humans) are constantly challenged how to manage a system for the greater good.  To be successful, we need a strong immune system.  Good leaders have got to know that SCI has an inverse effect on intelligence and on the integrity of the system.

DP succumbed to SCI.  As did the famous cyclist.  As did many others in public life we know of.  My brother said once, “we are only human.”  He was referring to the fact that none of us are perfectly balanced.  Part of the challenge and excitement of life is achieving a certain level of controlled balance on an ever moving and sometimes volatile surface.

I wish I could say I’ve never had a case of SCI.  Therefore no pot calling the kettle black from this unbalance soul.   I (we) can just hope that the scientists come up with an antidote, a magic pill, which will help eradicate the menace of SCI.  Or would life be just too predictable without a little imbalance?

don’t pull the wool

Unless, of course, it’s over my eyes.

In a literal sense, if I were cold, more specifically, if my eyes were cold, having wool pulled over them might feel good.  But we all know what the idiom means.

Why bring this up?  Because I kind of follow cycling with wool over one eye.  And the biggest name in cycling has been all over the news lately.  Lance A, one of the most prolific wool pullers in the sport.  Although not officially proven, 11 teammates have sworn so, along with various others who worked on the team during the years that LA made himself famous.  He might just save what is left of his backbone and stop pullin.

LA is yet another in a long list of those who have risen to the top of their career, with a little help from wool.  Strive, at all cost, to get to the top and deceive the public in the process.  What kind of satisfaction can there be?  But I guess one gets to the point of being such a fine wool puller, one could conceivably pull the wool over one’s own eyes.

I remember years ago not liking the French who accused LA of being a doper.  Disdain I had for them.  I, and most others, had the wool pulled.  The French were right.  Sorry Frenchies.

Too bad, the guy did incredible things.  He had ball cancer and then won the Tour de France.  Seven times.  Now all the arrows point to the fact that he cheated to win.  The only person who defends LA is the lawyer he pays.  (the tea kettle on the stove is furiously whistling and steam is gushing out its snout, but I swear the water isn’t hot).  It would have been amazing enough had he just participated in the Tour seven times post cancer.  But he had to go and pull wool to prove he was a super, duper man  (super doper man).

someone please, pull the wool over my eyes

I was fortunate enough a few years ago to have gone on a ride with George Hincapie.  It was a large group ride.  I looked up to GH, he being a New Yorker with Colombian roots, and having ridden in more Tours (de France) than anyone else and rode with LA during all his wins.  He was one of the 11.  Little did I know that GH was such a professional wool puller himself.  Both guys used their wool pullin expertise to make additional success outside the cycling world building brands for themselves.

It’s something we all have got to deal with in everyday life to some degree.  It may sound corny, but one of the most valuable assets we own is our integrity.  Pullin wool greatly depreciates that value.

A couple of days ago, my neighbor called to inform me he had an extra invitation to a private opening at the Guggenheim for Picasso’s Black and White show.  When he asked if I wanted to go, I asked him if he was sure he wanted to go with someone with a swollen, lopsided face.  He said that we were going to see Picasso after all.

As we were walking there, he was telling me about his divorce process.  He said that his lawyer counseled him to flat out deny things that may true. Her instructions to him, “even if your wife catches you with another woman, outright deny it.”  That’s the world we live in.  We are counseled to pull wool.

One may or may not like all of Picasso’s work, but the guy laid it all out there.  No wool pullin possibility when your work that transparent.

And, maybe it’s a good thing that we are surrounded by a certain quantity of wool pullers.  We’d like to think we could believe most people most of the time, but we need to lean on our gut instinct.  So knowing there are wool pullers among us keeps us on our toes.  It might feel better standing on wool rather than having it pulled over our eyes.

I’m not pullin any wool.  I swear.

Note: This was written prior to today’s front page New York Times article.

aligned incentives

Popped on Bloomberg News the other day (it seems to be less repetitive than CNN Intl), and heard a guy talking about aligned incentives (as it relates to where we need to drive policy).   He was specifically talking about unemployment benefits and how the longer they are extended, the less incentive there is to be employed.  In other words, if we are giving out a benefit for not working, why work?  He was also mentioning that no one is talking about how the job opportunity market has been rising, but the skills required for those openings are not aligned with the those looking for work.

It can’t be an easy task, running a country.  We say that everyone is created equal and then we structure laws which end up favoring some at the expense of others.  The incentives get all misaligned.  We see this all the time in trade policy, with subsidies, and taxes.

Aligning incentives?  That is one lofty goal.  We know the incentives start with the individual, each of us.  But then how far up the chain to we align them?  The news guy was talking about the state (our country).  But in our global economy, we could roll it up further.

Who understands the logic of our tax code?  Taxing is like a penalty.  The more you increase a penalty, the more behavior changes.  If two people are equal, and one works harder than the other thereby making more money, the harder working person must pay more in taxes.  When I worked at a manufacturing plant in off seasons during my pre-college graduate days, when offered, many workers would turn down double-time pay because of the disproportionate amount of taxes they would end up paying.

I remember feeling incredulous in my early 20’s when my tax rate jumped the day I could no longer file single.  Had I known, (stupid me at the time), that marriage cert would never have been signed.  We let our incentives get so out of alignment.

With so many of us clamoring to fulfill own incentives, it’s damn near impossible to get all of them aligned as a country.  But we should be looking at how rules and policy affect general behavior.  That’s kind of a basic dumb dumb rule of thumb but we seem to miss it many times.

Oh well.  Today, my incentives ended up aligned with a ride in the hills for some fresh air.  Whatever is happening on the left side of my head is totally out of alignment.  I’ve got to go find me some aligned incentives.  Anyone out there have any (extra)?

rode to Palmitas today. a tiny pueblo where they make great cheese bread (I didn’t/couldn’t eat any).

arepa de choclo con queso y aqua de panela. omg, processed carbs, dairy and sugar water. what’s a human to do?