Tale of two rides

SF Muni

Yesterday I took the bus downtown. At first, there weren’t many other passengers. A teenaged white girl sat with her feet on the seat next to her, facing the back of the bus where I was sitting and had a phone conversation that I could hear every word of. A family of French tourists boarded. They also didn’t stop chatting.

Then a young black man got on with a grey pit bull: an muscular, overgrown puppy who he could barely control. This dog hadn’t been fixed, and was trying to mount the laps of other passengers or root around under their legs. To get the dog under control, the man yanked the leash and raised his hand suddenly, making a warning sound. The dog flinched and behaved for a few minutes. Then started trying to mount passengers again. The man whipped the dog with his leash to get control. This replayed throughout the ride. The man also started talking on his phone, recounting his adventures in shoplifting. He was annoyed that a sales clerk at a clothing store kept checking on him and asking him how things fit when all he wanted was to be left in peace so he could pop the security tags off the clothes. He also said “I got a watch and an iPhone 8 from the Apple store yesterday. It was so easy, like, someone just left them lying around. I’m about to go back to there.” Ironically, he also said he finally got called back to interview for a security guard job at Stonestown. While talking on the phone, he played tug-of-war with the dog and its leash. When the dog got overly enthusiastic and pulled to hard, the man would hit the dog on his nose. The French family looked on in horror. To exit the bus, I had to step over the dog and avoid its curious nose.

Total duration: ~1hr

Uber ride

N and I walked 1 block and waited a few minutes for our Uber Express pool. Inside, there was already another passenger, but he had considerately taken the front seat. He and the driver were debating the Trump tax cuts, and the driver was insisting he just heard that middle class married couples would be paying thousands more. The man in the front said “I doubt that, I’ll look it up.” He and I ended up reading the same Fox news article saying the New York Times had to print an embarrassing retraction on their tax cut analysis. We laughed about that. He told us he was on his lunch break that day when a homeless man shouted “Faggot!” at him. His response? “10 points for accuracy!” We also laughed about this. Our ride was done in no time. The driver declared “5 stars for you!” as we got out.

Total duration ~ 25 minutes

For 2 riders, the two rides cost about the same. The latter took half the time and is much less likely to force me to be in close proximity with the sort of person who considers shoplifting to be his god-given right (or at least something that makes him feel proud enough to brag about). Not to mention the animal abuse. I actually don’t mind the extra time or walking that public transit takes. What makes Uber worthwhile for me is the people I can exclude from my commute. If SF Muni wants to be competitive, they can rescind the all door boarding policy and make sure everyone pays. After all, Mr. Animal Abuser/iPhone Thief probably wouldn’t bother with the bus if he weren’t stealing service.

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Ten thoughts on a Monday [4]

1

I’ve been playing HQ trivia. I actually won ~$6 one time. Finally, I can put all of my useless knowledge to use!

2

There are words that should never be used. No, I’m not talking about racial epithets. I mean words like vibes (its singular form is no less offensive). Any co-opting of a term from physics or mathematics for use predominantly in social media posts is offensive. Impactful is also terrible. Full of … impact? It would be okay to describe an impacted wisdom tooth this way, if you really wanted to. But anything else? Unacceptable. Any word that could go on this list or a future one like it is untouchable. Here’s a good rule of thumb: if Richard Dawkins would sound ridiculous using the term, then no one should use it. Higher standards: let’s at least attempt to have them.

3

It’s common in blogs with many followers to hedge any statement that may sound like a complaint with acknowledgements of privilege. This is absurd. (And this, folks, is why those blogs are popular and this one is not). Think of the full range of any individual’s experience as something that can be mapped onto anyone else’s full range. The worst thing that’s ever happened goes on one end, the best thing on the other end, and the in-between, in between. Now, do the conversion yourself. A rich person complaining about an outdated bathroom may sound petty, but if you perform the mapping properly, it may be the 184th worst thing that’s ever happened to them. Which may equate to your cat dying when you were seven. There. Now maybe you won’t need to deride them for having too easy a life. Think of it this way: the pain they experience from those passé sink fixtures is like what you felt when your mother told you that Fluffy got run over by the mailman.

4

My friend asked rhetorically “Why can’t we just live in a city where no one steals anything?” What a brilliant idea. Discussions in San Francisco about housing seem to have the default premise that it is a bad thing if people are priced out of the housing market. But is it so bad?* Here’s something I’m pretty sure of: if someone has the income to pay $3500 a month to rent a luxury condominium, they won’t be interested in stealing my bike or mugging me. Here’s something else I think is true: people who commit crime usually do not commute to do so — they target others in their own neighborhood or close by. That’s not to say that everyone who is too poor to afford market rate rent in SF is likely to commit quality of life crimes: just that those who can afford it are unlikely to.

5

This NYT recipe for black bean soup is perfect for coldish weather. N says he never expected beans to be that delicious. I would share a picture, but it looks like poo.

6

Food blogs with recipes are making a mistake. This is how each post should look. First, one attractive picture of the finished product. Then, the list of ingredients. Then, the instructions. After those, then and only then, should there be any long-winded stories about grandma or how much you love beans. Or any of the dozen unnecessary but beautifully lit pictures of your stand mixer at work. I’ve stopped bothering with food blogs because they put the fluff first and I have to scroll to see the ingredients list and directions. Scroll for a really really really long time.

7

I read an article about lonely death in Japan and it made me wonder what Japan will look like in 50 years. 100 years. Besides the minor issue with population decline, gender imbalance problems, and the Japanese government’s refusal to recognize and atone for past atrocities, Japan is pretty much the ideal society. Unfortunately, it seems that countries our president would call shitholes are the ones with higher birth rates. Not sure what that word encompasses for President Trump, but I imagine it’s some combination of corruption, poverty, illiteracy, and a general inability of most of its citizens to find a decent living. It’s a sad fact that countries like that are the ones with the highest birth rates. It’s almost like foreign aid and charity are preventing evolution from doing its work. Bonus word of the day for lonely death: kodokushi.

8

The best response is no response. I mean, if you’re a famous person and there’s some scandal. Apologies, denials, acknowledgements: they all seem to backfire. There’s no response that sounds good or makes a person look good. If there’s no response, well, maybe the person is too busy and the rumors are too petty.

9

Microgoals are interesting and maybe worth trying. Anything to trick myself into being more productive! I have found that just having a to-do list helps with my own productivity. And that getting started on something (even something unrelated to the larger goal) gives me momentum that makes work on the goal more likely. I feel a little silly, but I have to start somewhere. Motivation has always been a problem for me.

10

When a single day of market fluctuations makes a bigger difference in your net worth than what you earn at your job in a month how do you stay motivated to work at all? Asking for a friend. 😉

* We would have to make sure the homeless aren’t allowed within city limits as well.

Angelyne

I visited LA once, as a child. I don’t have many specific memories of what I did or saw, but I do remember the feeling I got from people at the supermarket. There was this palpable desperation. I didn’t know how to describe it, but it filled me with revulsion and, at the same time, I couldn’t look away. Like seeing a mangled corpse. Desperate to make it, desperate to be famous, just desperate.

This week, the Hollywood Reporter’s exposé on Angelyne pulled me back to that feeling again. I couldn’t stop looking. I googled her and found this slightly terrifying documentary short.

I can’t make left or right of it all: it’s a rabbit hole. Don’t do an image search of her. She claims that she covers her face in public because she wants to charge $10k for pictures of her full face but the reality is that after a certain age, even the best plastic surgeon can only make you look like, well, an old lady who’s had a lot of work done. It’s probably too easy to dismiss her … persona … as a result of trauma or even intergenerational trauma, but it’s interesting nonetheless. What I find unsettling is that she’s a smart person playing at being a bimbo. I see the opposite all the time, but this, well, it’s an enigma. Probably how she intended it. The easiest way to part a man from his money?

My longest fast

Also my first serious fast. I did one for 3 days in college because I wanted to prove a point to a friend (with no diagnosed medical problems) who was convinced she would pass out if she didn’t eat every 2-3 hours. I noticed then that after day 2, hunger went away. The same thing happened this time.

Day one was a normal day. I got hungry a few times, ignored it, and powered through. The hunger didn’t come back worse each time, it just came and went at about the same level. Apparently, if you exercise on day 1 and deplete your blood glucose, you start burning fat faster. I’ll try that next time. Day two must have been the beginning of ketosis because my mouth tasted bizarre, like fake sugar, and I was constantly thirsty. I still got hungry, but less so than on day one.

Days 3-6 were fantastic. I never have energy like that when I eat food. I felt more focused and clear-minded. I didn’t get groggy in the afternoons. I wasn’t hungry. I lost about 1.5-2 lbs a day throughout. This was mostly water weight. I’ve been off the fast now for nearly a week, but I haven’t regained all of the weight. I’m still 2-3 lbs lighter than when I started, which is about how much fat loss I had expected.

One question I do have about fasting to lower insulin resistance is how many times or how long the fasts have to be to show stable changes to the body’s set weight? Theoretically, the body has a set-point for weight which gets nudged higher as insulin resistance builds. But when insulin resistance goes down, does this set-point decrease as well? Is it harder to decrease it than increase it?

After the science, my second favorite thing about fasting to lose weight and improve health is its simplicity. It appeals greatly to the sloth in me to be told that 95% of weight loss depends on diet (and only 5% on exercise). It is wonderful not to have to cook. Or clean up after meals. Or think about what to eat. Or shop for it. Modified versions with “eating windows” are simple too: eat 1-2 meals between these hours and never at any other time in between. How easy is that?

Another thing I love about this diet: I have enough fat stores to see me through a week-long backpacking trip. How wonderful not to have to pack anything to eat. Or a trip to one of these tropical islands with over water bungalows and exactly one severely overpriced restaurant. I can go for week-long vacations and never have to worry about eating! I’ve never before been so pleased about my fat stores. Finally, they’re useful for something.

Tidal: why Jay-Z and Taylor Swift are wrong

Jay-Z, along with Madonna, Kanye West and other thoroughly cringeworthy big names in music have launched Tidal, ostensibly to protect music, musicians, art. But this Instagram post from Madonna is telling. She says, in part

And remember nothing is for free! This is a universal LAW. Somewhere-Somehow-Someone has to pay.

Let’s not forget that this is also the woman who compares an album leak to rape and terrorism. How could such a person possibly be wrong about the future of music? I guess she’s in pretty good company though, as Taylor Swift (who is also on Tidal) pulled all her music from Spotify, saying

Music is art, and art is important and rare. Important, rare things are valuable. Valuable things should be paid for.

But she and other artists who believe they’re being paid too little under the streaming model are wrong. Here’s why.

1. No one else gets paid forever for work they did once

Art is indeed valuable. No one is contesting that. But isn’t everything valuable? Nursing care, doctors, teachers, the guy who painted your house. The software engineers that make Google work, or the ones who maintain Wikipedia. All of their work is valuable. But does the engineer who wrote part of Google’s search code get paid $0.0006 every time someone does a Google search? Does the guy who installed your toilet get paid every time you flush it? Even if their work continues to be of value, even if there’s a measurable way in which it’s being used, most people do not get paid forever for work that they did once. What millionaire musicians don’t seem to realize is that they already enjoy a position of great privilege in the royalty system and they should be more grateful. It’s easy to understand why they aren’t: they see that Spotify pays 70% to the recording companies, which leaves a smaller share to them. But the answer is not charging the end user more money.

2. Making streaming more expensive will not increase revenues

The same applies to making streaming more difficult. If someone wants a playlist with all their favorite artists, but the artists each have exclusive contracts with five different streaming services, it makes life difficult. If streaming costs $20 per month, it makes the service less attractive. In fact, according to data analysis done by David Touve of the University of Virginia, the price of streaming that will maximize revenues is around $6/month.

3. Lost album sales is the wrong way of looking at things

Musicians just need to forget about the glory days when buying a CD or waiting around for the song to play on the radio were the only ways for a fan to consume their music. The metric of “lost album sales” is misleading. There’s no evidence that if pirating and streaming weren’t options, those fans would all be paying for albums.

4. The only way to increase revenue is to increase value

It should be fairly obvious that free or nearly free streaming and pirating are here to stay. It should also be obvious by now that fighting these (with encryption, lawsuits, shutting down sites like The Pirate Bay) are a temporary stopgap at best. If it’s easy to get free music, the only way to convince people to keep paying a premium price for it, whether via album sales or costlier streaming services, is to offer them something extra. Tidal claims it offers some exclusive content, but I think they’ll have to do better. Promotions like “buy this album and be entered for a chance to win a dinner with this artist” or “subscribe for N months and you can qualify to get these limited edition items” — things that freemium streaming and pirating don’t and can’t offer.

I’ll end with simple armchair psychology. If musicians alienate their fans by complaining that an estimated $6 million per year earned from Spotify is too little, fans will be less likely to care about “hurting the artist” by pirating.

Kim Kardashian: the new American dream

If you look at the comments section of any online article featuring Kim Kardashian, you will find detractors. There are the people who deride her appearance, who call her fat, who say she’ll be nothing when she’s 50. There are people who say she’s vapid and doesn’t deserve fame. There will always be someone who asks why she’s given any attention at all, and “why can’t she just go away.”

The reason is, we won’t stop talking about her. Or clicking on articles about her new nude photos or her latest cleavage bearing, flesh colored, slit-up-to-her-netherparts vinyl dress. We can’t. I think our collective fascination with her is that she’s the new American dream. It’s got nothing to do with the old one: the one where your parents come as immigrants and you work hard every day of your life and give your children a life better than your parents ever dreamed. No, not that one.

This one is much more glamorous. The new American dream is that anyone can become rich and famous and jetset around the world. After all, Kim Kardashian did it, so what does she have that you or I don’t?* You don’t have to be particularly pretty — she’s not ugly, but she’s not exactly a supermodel either. You don’t have to be smart. You don’t have to have a college degree. You don’t have to have any particular talent or skill. You don’t have to be interesting. I’m not criticizing her: she’s just thoroughly average, the way that most of us are.

Who am I supposed to be impressed by? Stephen Hawking? Bill Gates? Hilary Clinton? Those people were born brilliant. I expect them to do great things. Kim was born average and she’s achieved wealth beyond what most of us can imagine. I’m impressed the way the rest of the world is impressed when someone with Down’s Syndrome writes a book.

There you have it. If you conveniently ignore that she was born into wealth, the rest of her is average. But that gives us hope. We see her and think — maybe someday, for no good reason at all, I can be the idle rich too. I can get paid $20,000 for a tweet. I can go to fashion weeks in Paris, New York, Milan and sit in the front row. I can go to the Met ball. I can fly off to Dubai on a whim. I can have any dress, any purse, any shoes, any house, anything anything anything I want. Won’t that be marvelous? We sneer over every mistake she makes and every poor fashion choice. We make fun of every tasteless misstep, but it’s really because we’re imagining how we would do it better. That’s why we can’t stop looking, clicking, talking. It’s because we’re all secretly dreaming.

* It may not sound like it, but I deeply admire Kim and of course I wish I could be just like her. That’s why I wrote this: she truly is the new American dream!

Benedict Cumberbatch’s shotgun wedding

BBC

A few months back, when Benedict Cumberbatch announced his engagement in The Times (of London), I thought “That’s interesting — I didn’t know he was seeing someone.” It was not that surprising though, since he’s famously protective of his privacy. Good for him. I left it at that. A week or so later, he was in my newsfeed again, commenting on his engagement. When asked if he was happy about the fan approval he was getting, he responded that he was, but

The only support I really need, to be honest, is from the woman I love, who I proposed to.

That seemed strange and unnecessarily distancing. That quote was when I first thought something was off. Is that the reaction of a man in love? Someone who is happy spreads joy involuntarily. He’d gush about his future wife and his lovely fans.

A month later, his fiancee was rumored to be pregnant, and a month after that, it was confirmed by his PR. Then, things started to make more sense, e.g. why Benedict seemed grumpy and irritated rather than happy. After news of the pregnancy, I googled for any indication that the engagement was the result of an unplanned pregnancy and came across the delightfully addictive Sophie Hunter Gossip Blog. In one sitting, I must have hit “previous posts” about a hundred times. It was a joyous occasion, discovering that I’m not the only one who doesn’t buy the “we fell in love and had to get married right away” spin they’ve put on it.

What do I want?* I think it’d be nice if he had a sit-down interview and just told the truth instead of trying so hard to sell this fairytale version of it. Something like — they just started seeing each other, she got pregnant, he’d been wanting kids since he was a kid, Oscars season was coming up, everyone advised him to play it up as a happily ever after and he tried but his face gave him away. Oh, wasn’t that silly. Still, they’re making a go of it, and who knows, it could work out. I see nothing wrong with that story. It has a charming honesty and relatability to it.

There’s been speculation that he has ambitions to be the next Hollywood leading man like George Clooney or Brad Pitt. A better way to court a larger fanbase is by staying dorky and lovable. Who says you can’t be a huge star and a goofball at the same time? Just look at Taylor Swift! People value authenticity and kindness. Trying too hard to emulate someone more famous doesn’t play well. Feeding the paparazzi may garner Kardashian status at best — but if he really cares about the longevity of his acting career, that isn’t what he wants. It isn’t too late to come clean, and I hope he does soon. Maybe his new baby will inspire some honesty.

Disclaimer: I’m a fan of his work, but I’m too lazy to be a really dedicated fan. I’ve never had the energy to fantasize about marrying him, nor have I even paid to see any of his movies. Forget about seeing him live or waiting anywhere for an autograph. I think my favorite of his work must be Parade’s End, and it seems like life is now imitating art.

* (Okay, yes, who cares what I want because I’m a dog on the internet)