Frequently, in political satire truth is so much stranger than fiction that it makes my job a simple matter of setting reality to music. If I were to write a fictional character who was so clueless, he didn’t bother to secure basic variations of his domain name, and so egotistical that he compared his science denial to the principled stance of Galileo (and then completely mis-represent Galileo’s breakthroughs), no one would take me seriously. Which is why satire is almost always the best response to political shenanigans.
Ted Cruz’s first week as a declared candidate was like something out of a Monty Python routine. So here’s a fitting musical tribute:
Humans have been using sugar since the 5th century. And since that time, humans have been consuming it in record amounts. In fact in 1801, historians estimate each American consumed 8.4 pound of sugar each year. In 1909, Americans consumed 85 pounds of sugar a year (6 lbs of corn sweeteners, 80 lbs of cane and beet sugar). In 1999 Americans consumed 151 pounds of sugar (84 lbs from corn sweeteners). Oh and by the way a person dies from Type 2 Diabetes every 7 seconds and it wasn’t officially discovered until 1935! Wow! There is a direct relationship to the amount of sugar one ingests to the potential for contracting Type 2 Diabetes.
Sugar is very debilitating to the human body, causing hormone issues and ultimately leading to Type 2 Diabetes. It is also very addicting. Princeton University did a study and found that sugar has the same effects on the brain as cocaine and other street drugs do. “Our evidence from an animal model suggests that bingeing on sugar can act in the brain in ways very similar to drugs of abuse,” says lead researcher and Princeton psychology professor Bart Hoebel. Some of this information may surprise you, as there are a lot of myths out there as it relates to sure. Here are a few, with the real story.
Both “reduced sugar” and “No added sugar” mean the product has no sugar? NO
FDA allows the term “reduced sugar” on all products that have 25% less sugar than the leading brand. Meaning that the product could still have 75% of the sugar content of the original formula. “No added sugar” is used for a variety of foods with naturally occurring sugars such as jams, jellies, yogurt, milk, tomato sauce.
If a food is labeled “sugar free,” it contains no sugar? Not necessarily
“Sugar free” foods can legally contain trace amounts of sugar (less than .5 grams per serving). Meaning 1/8 of teaspoon of sugar might be in the food you are eating. If you consume one serving its no big deal, but if you are eating several of these items it could add up.
“Low fat” and “Fat free” mean “Sugar free?” False
Low fat yogurt is a perfect example, low in fat but high in sugar. It is possible the product could have more sugar than its high fat counterpart. Many low fat muffins, breads, cookies and salad dressings have more sugar than the regular product. Many of these products also contain health harming artificial sweeteners.
Raw sugar, brown rice syrup, and maple syrup are better for you than refined sugar? No
This is a way manufactures fool consumers by capitalizing on their desire for natural sugars. Raw sugar and maple syrup have different flavors but their nutritional value is no different than plain table sugar. They are all metabolized like sucrose raising blood sugar levels and suppressing the immune system.
Fruit juice concentrates are better for you than refined sugars? False
Foods containing orange, pineapple, or other fruit concentrates may look healthy but they are metabolized in the same way as refined sugars. Fruit concentrate is stripped of its vitamins and minerals, fiber.
Honey is much better for you than sugar and we process it differently? Not true
Honey is made up of 1/3 fructose, 1/3 glucose, a little maltose and water. Honey is more concentrated than sugar. It has 5 grams of sugar per teaspoon versus 4 grams for table sugar. Some studies even have shown that honey raises your glucose levels higher than table sugar and suppresses your white blood cell count more.
Sucrose is natural? NOPE
In its natural state sugar would be a 20 foot cane stalk. Natural means you can pick it off a tree or bush or dig it out. To make sugar, sugar they have to add hydrocholoric acid or sulfuric acid to rid it of impurities. In addition, sodium nitrate or salt is added as are chlorine and other harmful agents.
Anything labeled “All Natural” is better than anything refined? No
There is no legal term for using the word natural under US food law. Companies can call anything natural that they want. In fact some sweeteners are made from all natural ingredients but are highly concentrated sources of sugars
Fructose comes only from fruit? No
Fruit consists of many sugars, only one of them is fructose. Fruit also contains glucose, dextrose, maltose, galactose. You can also get fructose from processed foods and beverages as well as pharmaceuticals, flavors and cosmetics. Fructose typically is chemically refined from corn in the US. People get it confused because they think of fruit. Fructose is more readily metabolized to a form of triglycerides in the liver and in the blood.
Sweeteners are ok to use in substitute of sugar? No
Most popular sweeteners used today:
High fructose corn syrup
These cause water retention and decrease potassium, causing the adrenal glands dysfunction because of the mineral imbalance.
At the end of the day most of us (myself included) have physical goals related to decreasing our body fat. The first place I would start in that quest would be to evaluate the amount of sugar I took in. From here we can decrease as necessary to achieve our goals. Foods higher than 5 grams per serving of sugar would be the first I would dispense of. This is easier said than done but keep it simple and great things will come.
By Greg Harris, on Wed Mar 25, 2015 at 10:00 AM ET
Speculation about a Kasich presidential run is still very much alive and well, and deservedly so. By any objective measure, Ohio’s economic situation has improved greatly under his leadership, which was affirmed in his landslide re-election. Kasich has emerged as somewhat a maverick at a time when other presidential contenders are sounding very much alike in making appeals to a small base of the Republican party (with some exception for Jeb Bush and Sen. Rand Paul).
Governor Kasich stands out for a track record that no other contender can offer: a track record of effectiveness at the state and federal level. While many presidential hopefuls spout the need to cut spending and shrink government, Kasich actually led Congressional efforts to accomplish a balanced budget while in Congress. And Ohio’s economic recovery outshines that of Wisconsin, the home state of current frontrunner, Governor Scott Walker.
As a fulltime Governor, Kasich cannot camp out in Iowa. But he can distinguish himself from other candidates by tapping his inner-wonk and letting it shine. He would quickly distinguish himself by releasing a specified plan on exactly how he would balance the budget, which would quickly make the rhetoric of other challengers—lacking specifics—sound empty. Furthermore, Kasich can espouse at the national level what he is trying to do at the state level: convert from taxing income to taxing consumption.
A Kasich candidacy could spark a more deliberate policy discussion on tax reform. As I asked previously in the RP, does the income tax complement the American entrepreneurial spirit, or serve as its harness? Perhaps a national sales tax instead of income tax is more in line with the American experiment? Exempting the first $10,000 in worker earnings from payroll tax (FICA) could offset the regressive nature of a sales tax. The message of doing away with the IRS would certainly have appeal to Republican primary voters.
Policies that encourage savings, a real individual-level valuing of goods, and genuine control over what you earn and how you spend what you earn, should be part of some new reckoning with an economy that is ever changing. It also addresses hundreds of billions in uncollected taxes, and would not exempt the very rich if applied to financial transactions and capital gains.
More exciting still, such tax reform would have a strong cleansing effect on democratic institutions hijacked by powerful interests that currently manipulate the tax code to the advantage of elites that pay for their services—you know, the very institutions that were formed to give power to the people.
Kasich is currently fighting to return some of the money to Ohioans from the natural resources on which energy interests’ profit. A carbon tax on energy interests that likewise profit off our land could be used to reduce personal and corporate income tax rates, while incenting industries to reduce their carbon footprint.
A Governor Kasich presidential platform could be built on re-empowering the individual in an otherwise consumption-driven nation while bettering our economic and environmental well-being.
While the Governor wouldn’t capture the bank of big donors initially, his platform of substance would ride a wave of earned media and capture the imagination of much of the primary electorate by offering specifics where others only produce rhetoric. He would emerge as a reformer with results and a compassionate conservative in one.
In the process, Kasich would revive the long dormant Teddy Roosevelt wing of the Republican Party that is decidedly not in the pocket of special interests, and that cares about a clean environment and clean government. In so doing, he would appeal to a silent middle that does not currently have a home in the two-party system.
By Lauren Mayer, on Wed Mar 25, 2015 at 8:30 AM ET
I don’t generally take pleasure in the woes of others, but every now and then it is delicious to see someone get a much-deserved come-uppance. Like when that speeding shmuck who cut you off 2 miles ago gets pulled over by a cop, or when a morality-preaching evangelical gets caught with his pants down. So you can’t blame people for gloating a bit about the spectacular (and quick) downfall of resigned Congressman Aaron Schock – he used taxpayers and donors to finance a glamorous, jet-setting lifestyle having nothing to do with his district, and flaunted his exploits – and his abs – at every opportunity, on social media and magazine covers. Not to mention his homophobic voting record, which as Barney Frank pointed out, actually does make his sexuality at least somewhat germaine.
And how fitting that Schock was a fan of Downton Abbey, a show about the lavish, glamorous lives of a soon-to-be-obsolete upper class . . .
By Jonathan Miller, on Fri Mar 20, 2015 at 12:00 PM ET
Call it pre-spring fever but every year in March (just before the basketball Madness begins), I break out with a serious case of roundball Walter Mittyism (James Thurber’s meek and mild-mannered fictional character with a daring and vivid fantasy life.)
Growing up in Kentucky means the usual childhood dreams of grown-up greatness inevitably include, at some point, imagined greatness as a basketball player. For the vast majority of us, basketball greatness never goes beyond the dreaming phase. But it’s a dream that continues to linger posthumously.
Kentucky basketball in March is a beautiful thing to behold. I suspect I am not alone in experiencing this annual psychological condition as our state’s college basketball teams emerge to dominate college basketball. The fever always passes but rarely before I experience obvious –and occasionally embarrassing – tell-tale symptoms.
This past Monday night I asked my 20 year old son Johnny to join me at a basketball court where we could play some competitive pick up games and he agreed.
As I strode onto the court, I imagined myself becoming transformed from a 5′ 8 1/2 middle-aged man in ” reasonably good health” (My doctors words) into a 51 year old basketball phenom who was about to dominate a new court playing against some unsuspecting innocent bystanders.
The other players on our pick-up team were impressive. In fact, daunting. They were regulars and probably played in high school and maybe even college. Two of them could dunk with little effort. As I took my warm-up shots from the range where Aaron Harrison strokes his tournament game winning 3-pointer jumpers, I imagined myself dishing a thrilling off-the-glass alley-oop pass to my one of my teammates who finishes with a thunderous dunk. My pass would be, I imagined, part John Wall, part Andrew Harrison and part John Y Brown III. After the dunk my teammate would find me on the floor and point as if to say “Nice pass, my man” and I would casually nod back (but without pointing) as if to say, “Nice dunk.”
My son Johnny was warming up with me but seemed more concerned about how successfully we’d match up with our fellow players on the court. After a few minutes, our pick-up game had begun.
And a few more minutes after that, our pick-up game had ended.
Political philosopher Thomas Hobbes would have described the game for our team as “Cruel, nasty, brutish –and short.” Dick Vitale would have simply said “Blowout, baby!”
Mostly, though, I didn’t care about the humiliating loss. I just wanted to steady myself against the court wall before collapsing or having to lie down on the floor to catch my breath.
One pick-up game, it turns out, was all I could handle last Monday. As we drove home, I said to Johnny in an forced upbeat voice (after having caught my breath), “Well…. I guess we did it. We played.”
“Uh, no Dad. We didn’t do anything.” Johnny responded slightly irritated with me trying to put a happy face on our disappointing performance.
“It was our first pick-up game in a long time. We are just rusty. That’s all.” I offered.
“Sure, Dad. If you say so.” Johnny said as be broke into a self-deprecating grin, “You know, even though I missed both my shots I was secretly hoping our teammates thought to themselves, ‘Hey, that guy may have missed his shot but he does have really nice shooting form. I hope he shoots again soon.’” Johnny laughed louder mocking his feeble fantasy.
“I think they probably did think that!” I offered compassionately. “You do have good form. Even great form. In fact, I was thinking that very thought when you missed your first shot.”
“You’re my dad. I can assure you no one else on our team had that thought” Johnny said shaking his head.
“Well, Johnny, when I shot my air ball I was secretly hoping the other players on our team were thinking ‘Hey, that guy may have just shot an airball but he does have really nice shooting form. He probably just feels nervous right now since it’s his first shot of the game. That happens to all of us including me. I’m not surprised at all he shot an airball. I hope he shoots again soon.”
I paused “Do you think the other players might have thought that after watching my airball shot?”
We both kept laughing at ourselves as we pulled into the driveway and we pledged for the remainder of March we would only play basketball on our backyard goal.
Oh, and in case you’re wondering about that stunning off-the-glass alley-oop pass to a teammate leading to a thunderous dunk? Well, it never happened. But it was a beautiful thing to behold. In my imagination anyway.
But there is a consolation for my annual March Mittyism. Some Kentucky college basketball player will make a comparable stunning play this month and do so on national television as millions of roundball fans watch in awe. And that makes my delusional fantasies just a little less absurd because I, too, am a Kentuckian in March.
Life is busy. We live in a world that goes a hundred miles per hour, everyday. Eating healthy can sometimes get put to the back of the line. From day to day travel to business trips to flying on airplanes, learning the best ways to eat better when we are busy can be challenging, but they can be done. From the appendix of my book 12 Steps to Fitness Freedom here are 12 steps to eating on the go:
1. You either prepare to succeed or fail. Preparing your lunch ahead of time would ensure you didn’t stop for fast food on your way back to the office.
2. Knowing what restaurants are on the way on a three hour business trip that serve healthy options would allow you to stay within your healthy eating strategy and not go for convenience. If we prepare, we can succeed.
Know Your Food
3. Anytime I go to a restaurant I know what my choices are going to be. I have either looked at their menu online or I have frequented there before. I know what I am walking into.
4. Use nutrition apps to look at menus and food items before sitting down for dinner. This will help you better understand the food quality.
Bring Healthy Snacks
5. If you are in an airport your choice of healthy options are slim. Bring almonds, nuts, Quest bars or fruit with to curve your appetite an prevent you from making a decision out of convenience.
6. Know the ingredients and how to read the food label on the back to know what your are eating.
Know How to Order Food
7. Different restaurants use different things to cook with. Some use olive oil, some may use butter. Either way, I always ask for my food to be prepared without butter or seasoning.
8. If it is chicken or beef I asked that it be prepared over an open fire and grilled. This cuts down on all the extra calories the cooking process can add.
9. On the go we sometimes forget about hydrating ourselves. Water keeps us hydrated but also decreases the hunger signals and keeps us full.
10. Keep big bottles of water on you at all times and refill as necessary.
Say No to Fast Food
11. If it has a drive through, say no!
12. If you have to stop for something quick choose grilled chicken over beef and baked potato over French fries.
By Lauren Mayer, on Wed Mar 18, 2015 at 8:30 AM ET
Public approval for marriage equality has skyrocketed, as state after state joins the accelerating trend. But a few states are holding on to the past, this time by trying a bit of clumsy obfuscation – framing discrimination as ‘religious freedom,’ as though bigoted florists and bakers are the real victims. They aren’t losing the right to worship the way they want, but when you do business in public, you follow basic laws. For example, what if my religion disapproved of being Mormon?, or left-handed, or homophobic? I still couldn’t turn away those clients. (On the other hand, it’s hard to imagine a homophobic client wanting to hire a liberal musical satirist, but still, you never know!)
Clearly these feeble attempts are the last frantic sputters of dying-out resistence to gay marriage. (Which always reminds me of the scene in Blazing Saddles where Sheriff Bart tries to keep the put-upon residents of Rock Ridge from leaving town and giving into Hedly Lamarr’s evil plot. He says, “Can’t you see that’s the last act of a desperate man?,” and Howard Johnson replies, “We don’t care if it’s the first act of Henry V. We’re leaving!”) So here’s a musical reminder to opponents of marriage equality that we see through their feeble attempts to disguise what they’re doing:
By John Y. Brown III, on Mon Mar 16, 2015 at 12:00 PM ET
A picture of a yellow bird hangs on our bathroom wall. I can’t say I love it but it seems to work. It wasn’t originally intended for our bathroom. I bought it on sale and in a hurry to fill up empty wall space in another room but now it hangs prominently on our bathroom wall instead. It’s part of my life’s daily scenery and will probably stay that way. It’s “good enough” and has grown on me over time and now seems to fit there.
Which made me wonder how many other facets of my daily live are what they are simply because they are “good enough.” Each day we have limited time to make unlimited life decisions –-small, medium and large— and these cumulative daily life decisions add up over time to become the sum total of who we are.
I look at another wall in our bathroom and see two pictures of our family hanging there. The top picture is slightly crooked and probably has been since we put it up nearly 5 years ago when we moved in. But you can barely notice the slant and they are good enough just how they are and will stay there.
I look at our shower curtain and it is pleasant looking and adequate, as shower curtains go. I can’t remember who decided on the shower curtain. But it, too, is good enough and seems here to stay.
On our bathtub rim is the same brand of soap we have used for over 20 years. Buying soap hasn’t been a conscious decision in our lives for two decades. I figure either my mother or my wife’s mother recommended this brand of soap many years ago and it has been a fixture in our home ever since. That brand of soap didn’t have to become a fixture, of course. But it did because, like so many other things in our lives, it is good enough.
As I continue my observational journey I catch my reflection in the bathroom mirror. I stop and see myself and ask if I am who I am because the habits, personal qualities and attitudes I have chosen for myself were chosen because they were “good enough.” And have these habits, personal qualities and attitudes that make me who I am today somehow managed to grow on me over time and now just seem to fit, like the picture of the yellow bird seems to fit on our bathroom wall?
I stare deeper into the mirror looking at myself looking at myself and don’t want to answer that question. The question of whether or not I am an accumulation of life decisions that just seemed “good enough” at the time but were never given adequate thought — decisions made too quickly, too often and in too many areas of my life.
Instead of answering that question I choose to look back at the picture of the yellow bird to distract myself. And decide, for the moment, that I regret not trying harder to pick out a better wall hanging to fill up the empty space on our bathroom wall.
And hope my deflective response to the more poignant question I asked my reflection in the mirror is good enough.
There has been a lot of hype lately about the coming wave of capabilities enabled by the Internet of Things (IoT). Through products as diverse as the Apple Watch, Google Nest, and any number of “connected-car” features offered by major auto makers, we are beginning to link together our most valuable possessions—our homes, our vehicles and even our own bodies. Each product comes with a new wave of “smart” applications designed to study our habits and get to know us better than ourselves; each will help us offload the complications of daily life.
The promise of a “smart” life, an IoT life, is usually couched in broad language about a utopian future where everything works “optimally” and “in balance.” But as any reader of Orwell might point out, these are subjective terms. What is optimal?
Defining how things are “supposed” to work
When did we decide exactly how things are supposed to work? Whose values and needs will be most represented in an optimized world? Those of the engineers who are coding it? The product manager who is defining the features? Certainly, for the moment, it’s not the end user.
A smart traffic management system, for example, will make decisions for drivers: prioritizing lanes, setting speeds, timing light changes, etc. These decisions will make traffic more efficient, in theory. But the traffic management system will also have to decide whether right of way goes to the parent with screaming kids in the back who is running late for school, or to the trucker with perishables in back.
In an ideal traffic system, is the goal that everyone move at the same speed? Should decision-making algorithms try to optimize fuel efficiency by speeding up slow movers? Or should they limit pollution by letting electric cars use the fastest lanes? One possible tradeoff of efficiency will play straight into the classic US tension between fairness and an individual’s right to take risks for higher rewards: in this case, to drive faster and get there sooner.
Smart systems are stumbling on values and policy questions
In Jan. 2015, the city of Los Angeles stepped in to ban parking apps like MonkeyParking and Haystack, which allow drivers to auction off the parking spots they occupy, creating an optimized market for parking supply and demand that put drivers who most wanted certain parking spots (and could pay) directly in touch with those who had them. But many in the Los Angeles City Council objected to what Councilman Mike Bonin described as “pimping out a parking spot in the city of LA—taking something which is a public good, something that all of us own, and privatizing for a period of time.”
Within the next three to five years, a similar tension is likely to play out in home delivery services. As a key piece in fulfilling the promise of online commerce, delivery growth rates are expected to rise and include more food delivery and other types of services. Amazon, Google, and Wal-Mart are already competing with UPS, FedEx, and the US Postal Service, as well as crowdsourced-based startups such as Deliv and Postmates.
Smart delivery platforms will have to prioritize. With food delivery, will it be the customers who pay the most or those in most need of better nutrition who get the first drop-off? Is it okay for UberFresh to optimize profits over need? In another part of its business, the recent furor over Uber’s surge pricing is a good example of the public demanding a voice in what, on the surface, is simply an automatically optimizing mechanism.
Who gets to have a say?
We have already seen one optimization battle play out in the net neutrality debate. In Feb. 2015, the United States’ Federal Communications Commission ruled that all Internet traffic is equal. This is not the most efficient approach; some applications don’t really need the same speed as others, just like an Instagram photo needs less than a realtime, remote surgery protocol. But we’ve decided to sacrifice priorities like need and profit for the sake of protecting other values: an “open” internet, unrestricted access, and unrestricted speech. The same decisions will need to be made when it comes to the IoT.
As automated systems mechanisms control more of our everyday lives, governments and markets want to know—and influence—decision-making algorithms, even if those algorithms belong to privately-run businesses. In an Oct. 2013 paper published in the Boston College Law Review, Kate Crawford (Microsoft Research) and Jason Schultz (NYU School of Law) argue that consumers deserve to understand the data and decision-making processes used by analytics systems to make recommendations and perform other types of optimization.
Public intervention in optimization practices is not new. We have always had to make choices and trade-offs in community or national policy decisions. What is different this time, however, is the specificity of choice that is exposed by the technology: day-to-day choices that have historically remained hidden, embedded in social norms, like letting the hurried guy pass you. Other choices have been historically been made by experts and regulatory bodies specifically tasked with designing and running things on our behalf, like public utilities commissions.
What this means for developers
“Code is never found; it is only ever made, and only ever made by us,” once wrote Lawrence Lessig, law professor and director of the Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics at Harvard University. Although he was discussing the structure of digital space (such as virtual worlds), the same is true of our integrated physical and digital platforms. With this in mind, the companies currently developing, deploying and using smart, big data, and algorithmic platforms would be wise to do a few things:
Be explicit about the values that are being optimized in these solutions during development and regularly test these against the market or societal sentiment.
Build in the flexibility today that will allow for substantial revision of the core algorithms in the future, as society changes. Yes, even if this does cost more; optionality comes at real time and resource cost.
Take pride in the shared values embedded in the code. It’s what defines and differentiates a community and keeps society together for the long haul.
Just as we now have very specific parameters for building codes, it should not surprise us to eventually demand oversight on smart software code. And when we do, we will have to agree, as human stakeholders, on what we mean by “optimized” lives.