I was a stupid child

Forgive me if I’ve told some of these stories already. These all happened in elementary school.

Saddam Hussein

Saddam Hussein was in the news constantly when I was about 6. The news was on in the background of my life several times a day. As a result, I heard about Saddam Hussein constantly. But I never looked up to see how his name was spelled. I heard “Saddam, who sang”. It was curious that I never heard him sing during any of the news segments featuring him. I wondered (to myself) — “If this guy is so good at singing that they can’t say his name without mentioning that he sang, how come we never get to hear him sing?” I also wanted to know what he sang. I imagined him wearing a tux and white gloves, singing our national anthem, wildly gesticulating in the air.

No stove, no problem

I was forbidden from using the stove. But my dad was also grumpy if I woke him up from naps. Once, I got hungry while he was asleep and decided to make myself a grilled cheese sandwich. Since I couldn’t use the stove, I figured the toaster could work. I put a Kraft single with one of the pieces of bread, pressed the lever, and waited. When the toast was done, the cheese had disappeared. I thought, “The toaster must’ve been hungry. Poor toaster. We always put bread in but we never feed the toaster.” So I tried again with more cheese. This time, the toaster started smoking and my dad woke up. He was pissed. He imposed a new rule for the toaster: only bread.

No stove, no toaster, no problem

The same happened again. Dad asleep, no stove, no toaster. There was cold pizza, and we had a microwave, but I didn’t like flabby microwaved pizza. Oven was off limits too. So I asked myself what makes things warm that I am allowed to use. I considered the hair dryer, but that would wake up grumpy dad. I settled on the VCR, which has that convenient slot like a toaster, and also does warm up the cassettes while playing them. The thing is, a VCR doesn’t “play” slices of pizza, and it doesn’t “eject” them either. I pretended none of it happened. My dad was not happy to find the pizza some days after, but at least I wasn’t banned from using the VCR.

The right to bear arms

I guess I heard about this on the news too. The phrase “constitutionally protected second amendment right to bear arms” was in my head from an early age but I thought it meant that as a U.S. citizen, I had the legal right to go around with sleeveless shirts in public whenever I wanted. One sunny day, I wanted to wear a tank top out and my mom wanted me to put on a jacket. I said I didn’t have to. She disagreed. Loudly. I told her “I have a constitutionally protected second amendment right to bare arms.” She had no idea what I was talking about. I explained my legally protected right to show my bare arms in public. She said “If that’s true your country has strange laws but I’m your mother so I still get to tell you what you wear out of the house.” I put on my jacket.

Freedom of speech

I got in trouble constantly at school for talking in class. I had nothing better to do once my schoolwork was complete, so I’d pester my neighbors. I was thrilled to discover that the first amendment gives me freedom of speech. When I was told by my teacher to stop talking in class, I said “I have a first amendment right to freedom of speech. I CAN TALK IF I WANT TO!” I got sent to the principal’s office for that. They had to drag my mom in to tell me that at school, students don’t have that right. Oops.

Always impolite

I was at a dinner my uncle put on for his boss when I was about 5. His boss was a large man. When I met him he was eating a plate full of hors d’oeuvres, so my first question to him was “Did you know that you are REALLY FAT?” Every adult in the room gasped, audibly or inaudibly, and went silent. Luckily for me, the boss thought I was hilarious and replied, laughing, “Yes, I know.” I continued my line of questioning: “So why are you STILL EATING?” He looked embarrassed, but kept eating.

When I grow up

At the same dinner, all of us kids were asked what we wanted to be when we grew up. I had no idea what that meant. “What do you mean, what I want to BE?” The boss explained, “If you work hard, you can be whatever you want to be when you grow up.” Shocked, I repeated “ANYTHING? I can be ANYTHING?” He nodded. I struggled with the infinitude of possibilities. I looked around at everything in the room. Had all of these inanimate objects once been people? A person who wanted to be a spoon? A dining room table? A television? My cousins answered first: a veterinarian and a race car driver. When it was my turn to answer, I said “If I can be anything, I guess I want to be a bathtub.” Because I liked to take baths. What could be better than not having to do anything but take baths. The boss thought this was funny too.

I’m not sure I’ve grown out of the stupidity, but the stories are less funny now that I’m older. Happy Thursday.

ReadyReturn: Make taxes easy

This post was inspired by an NPR Planet Money episode I recently listened to called Tax Hero. Well worth the listen. It gave me all the emotions: sadness, anger, amusement. Stanford tax law professor Joseph Bankman piloted a program in California where the government would send taxpayers a pre-filled form outlining how much they owed in state income tax. If their records agreed, they wouldn’t have to do anything else — taxes were done. Only those who found discrepancies between the income reported to the government and their own records had to file tax returns. The program ran in 2005 and had a 99% approval rating from participants. So it should have been easy to get it implemented at the federal level, right? Maybe in a world without lobbyists and corporate donations to politicians. Even after hiring his own lobbyist, Bankman was unable to succeed.

More recently, Elizabeth Warren put forth a bill that would enable the federal government to start sending pre-filled income tax forms. H&R Block lobbied against it.

This issue seems like a no-brainer for the average American. There are only two cases:

  1. If they don’t like doing their taxes, they can just accept what the government has pre-filled for them.
  2. If they like doing their taxes the old way, they still can.

Pre-filled forms would be at least as good as our current system for every taxpayer. QED.

Despite working on the issue for a year and spending tens of thousands of dollars, Bankman did not succeed in rolling out his ReadyReturn in California. But maybe there’s a way that the rest of us can. You can easily call or email your representative after finding them here. Sure, it’ll take a few minutes of your time but if enough people do this, we might have some effect. Here’s a guide on how to write to a representative. But apparently, it is more effective to call.

Might I suggest 2 birds with one stone? Do you have a friend or relative whom you love but who talks your ear off? Try to get them interested in this issue. Then encourage them to tell all the other folks they talk to, and call their representatives too.

10 Reasons Fasting is Fantastic

1. It’s FREE. Diets, especially fad diets, come with specialized foodstuffs that taste only vaguely edible and cost more than actual food. There’s often a subscription-only service to a website, an app, a community. The only thing you need for fasting is some salt to replenish electrolytes.

2. Simplicity. There’s nothing to keep track of. No calories, no carbs, no macros to count. There’s no list of foods to reference.

3. Diabetes reversal without drugs. I’m not that kind of doctor, so don’t take medical advice from me. Those wishing to find out more can check out Dr. Jason Fung’s book The Diabetes Code: Prevent and Reverse Type 2 Diabetes Naturally.

4. Increased energy. This sounds counterintuitive, but it’s true. If think about fasting, you’re probably imagining starvation. And when you’re starving, your body will conserve energy so you’ll feel tired and slow, right? Not quite. Imagine if that happened every time our ancestors couldn’t find food for a few days. We wouldn’t exist today. Instead, fasting increases energy — it’s that extra boost we need to get out and hunt some food.

5. Lower food costs. Common fasting protocols recommend fasting for 2-3 days a week. Or eating only during an “eating window” of up to 8 hours a day. Even if you try, it’s hard to cram the same amounts of food you eat when not fasting into a fasting regimen. Which brings us to…

6. Decreased hunger. This also seems counterintuitive, doesn’t it? It was a revelation to me that hunger doesn’t increase linearly or exponentially the longer you don’t eat. Hunger is controlled by hormones, and is cyclical. I’m sure it’s happened to you: you were hungry but too busy to stop and eat. After 10 minutes or so, you weren’t hungry anymore. It’s the same when fasting. You’ll get hungry in response to cues like normal meal times or food smells, but if you don’t eat, it goes away. For those who do extended fasts, hunger will generally go away entirely as the body switches to ketosis (burning fat for fuel).

7. Flexibility. There are many ways to fast. Alternate day, 2 days a week, eating windows, extended fasts a few times a year. Since there are no special foods, you can easily bring fasting with you on vacation. If you’re on a road trip and the only food available is unappetizing, like day-old pizza from the gas station, you can fast.

8. More free time. How much time does it take to do meal planning, grocery shopping, cooking, cleaning up? Even going out for each meal doesn’t save as much time as fasting. If we estimate that 2 hours per day are spent preparing and eating food, then fasting 2 days a week saves you 4 hours. How much is your time worth to you?

9. Improved mood. No, this can’t be right. Don’t people get “hangry”? Sure, but it’s a response to wild swings in blood sugar (which happen after eating high-carb foods without the balance of fiber to slow down the release of glucose into the blood stream, and the concomitant flood of insulin which crashes blood sugar levels). When you don’t eat, your blood sugar is low, but stable. No wild swings in blood sugar means no accompanying swings in mood.

10. Less bloating. As mentioned in 9, fasting keeps blood sugar low. In turn, this keeps insulin levels down. Insulin causes water retention (because it causes our bodies to retain sodium).

There are some folks who shouldn’t fast, but for the vast majority of us, it’s a good idea. This is not, in any way, a sponsored post, but a lot of great information about fasting can be found here.

10 thoughts on a Wednesday [5]

one. Ask 100 people to define “success” and you’ll get 100 different answers. Most will involve some combination of money, power, status, happiness. Ask me, and I’ll say this: the only way to be successful is to be paid to kiss Alexander Skarsgård.

two. Stormi is a strange choice for a name. It seems like it should be defined as

Stormi (v.) – Past participle of regular French verb “stormir” meaning “to enter a space in an angry or aggressive manner.

three. Men are wearing flood pants. Or capris. I don’t know what to call the trend, but these are fashionable men with pants that end several inches above their shoes. Sometimes, this shows off colorful socks (and is supposed to indicate colorful personalities?) but sometimes what I see is 5 long ankle hairs. San Francisco is too cold for this trend: please notify these poor men that their mothers think they’ll catch their deaths exposing that much ankle.

four. Speaking of trends, has the culinary world gotten over putting foam on food? I would so love to have a tasting menu where not a single course has what appears to be cat vomit on it!

five. I found an 8gb usb thumb drive on the sidewalk that says “BELTRAI” on it. Maybe it’s someone’s name. Maybe there are secrets on it and this is the beginning of a mystery spy novel. But probably it fell out of a trash can that was being emptied. And just has old pictures of landscapes and things once put up for sale on Craigslist.

six. I have been spending most of my evenings working on jigsaw puzzles. Why? It’s strangely meditative. I am trash at meditation because I am unable to not think thoughts. One trivial thing chases the next and I either can’t empty my mind, or I fall asleep. But when I work on puzzles, I don’t think anything — my brain’s busy hunting. Also, finding a piece and feeling it click into place is rewarding. The topic deserves an entire post, but why is it that useful pursuits never feel as satisfying as things no one needs to do? It’s really too bad that useful things like work or chores can’t reward the brain circuitry the way that candy crush or scrolling on Instagram does.

seven. While I still agree with the idea that there is nothing religion does for humanity that can’t be accomplished in a secular way, I’ve come to recognize that there are areas where some religions are doing a better job. One is community. I follow a few Mormon family blogs, and I saw this post. Middle school and high school students in the community were able to raise $20,000 by throwing a festival for a friend in a coma. I would be surprised to learn of a secular community of students accomplishing the same, even with similar levels of wealth and education.

eight. I learned something fascinating about starches: if you let them cool and then reheat them, you are only able to absorb about half the calories as if you ate them immediately after cooking. I know, it sounds like fake news. But it’s real: I read it in The Death of a Calorie.

nine. For some time, I’ve wanted to be an advice columnist. Isn’t it fun to tell people how to deal with their problems when you’re the world’s premier expert on ignoring your own? Anyway, please comment with things you’d like advice on. This should be fun.

ten. According to Pete Buttigieg’s campaign, his last name is pronounced “boot-edge-edge.” But when I heard it, it definitely sounded like “Buddha-judge.” I was pleased that my interpretation is the 2nd on on Chasten Buttigieg’s list. I was also pleased that he knew his first name would bring its own pronunciation questions so his bio says “Chas-ten” (as opposed to the verb chasten, which rhymes with Jason).

Aerie “real” campaign

I had a few Aerie / American Eagle gift cards languishing and I thought, why not put them out of their misery. I opened up the AE website and started shopping for bras. But it was so distracting! A strange shadow here, a fat roll there, and not at all model-sized models sprinkled throughout. It drew my attention from the clothes to the bodies. If Aerie is trying to sell clothes, not the trivially true idea that many body types exist, this is not a good thing: I was unable to concentrate enough on the actual clothes to choose something I liked.*

Confession: I like watching obese bodies move. Have you ever seen those videos where dogs with curtains of hanging skin run in slow motion and all of their skin undulates and flaps with such joyous absurdity? It’s art. Just like how obese bodies move. Think of the fluid dynamics! Some have so much fat on their thighs they have to improvise a waddle. It’s so interesting to watch. It’s nothing sexual, just one of the small pleasures of life like flossing or plunging your hand into a cool sack of dry beans.

I guess what I’m getting at is that model-thin bodies make good models precisely because there are not many ways to be model-thin. There’s a certain uniformity achieved there (for example, look at a Victoria’s Secret catalogue). After a few pages, one automatically starts ignoring the bodies and focusing on the clothes because the bodies are an unchanging stimulus in the environment which naturally fades into the background. On the other hand, there are many different ways to hang an obese amount of fat onto a body. It’s a combinatorics problem: there are n different places on the body to grow fat, and there are k pounds of added fat, so how many ways can we distribute that fat over the body? The variety of fat bodies is probably why most clothing manufacturers don’t bother with that range despite the sizable (no pun intended) market share.

Why use model-thin bodies? Then the observer can concentrate on the clothing and not be distracted by the diversity of ways in which one can carry fat. We can admit that there is a diversity of intelligence levels without insisting that people of all intelligence levels be represented as neurosurgeons or janitors. Surely we can do the same with fat bodies and modeling.

* Yes, one may argue that in the case of gift cards this is great for business, but I just bought accessories to zero out my gift cards and in general, it’s not great to distract your customer from buying your products.

Exchange BP gift cards for Arco

BP gift cards used to work at Arco, but in some areas, a system upgrade now prompts users for a PIN when they try to use a BP gift card at an Arco gas station, and these cards do not come with PINs. Here’s how to exchange your BP gift cards for Arco gift cards.

  1. Call the number on the back of the BP gift card: 1-800-519-3560.
  2. Follow the menu prompts to get to an operator. Tell the operator you have BP gift cards which no longer work at your local Arco stations, and you would like to exchange them for Arco gift cards. They will ask for a name, phone number, email address, and mailing address. Then they’ll instruct you to do the following:
  3. Email sservices@alorica.com (no, that’s not a typo, it is “sservices”) with:
    • your name
    • a copy of the original receipt (when you purchased the BP gift card(s))
    • picture of the front of the gift card(s)
    • picture of the back of the gift card(s)

That’s it! According to customer service, you should receive a response/replacement within 7-10 business days.

Shaun King: unwitting tool of white supremacy

Shaun King is a black lives matter activist. I follow him because it’s good to see what points others have, especially if I don’t agree with them. He claims to stand against all injustice, but a quick review of his social media posts reveals that he heavily favors painting whites as evil and blacks as innocent victims. He often leaves out relevant facts or neglects to correct previous misstatements if doing so makes the story less enraging.* He also paints incidents as racist when there’s no evidence of racist motivation.** As a result, his followers stay at a low simmer of rage and frequently comment in favor of starting a race war or getting weapons and protecting themselves [against the police].

How does his work benefit white supremacists? They can point to Shaun King’s poorly informed followers (mostly black) and generalize about the ignorance of black Americans. His followers are angry and comment on nearly every post in favor of starting a race war. This fuels the narrative that blacks are hostile, threatening, dangerous, and need to be shot before they can hurt others. Psychology research shows that feeling annoyed, feeling you’re the victim of injustice, makes you more likely to commit antisocial acts. This creates a vicious cycle of law enforcement treating blacks as a larger threat, blacks feeling this is unjustified, and subsequently behaving in antisocial ways that make cops see them as even more dangerous. Relatedly, feeling the world is targeting them makes them commit more criminal acts, also raising the rate of incarceration and contributing to violent crime stats which white supremacists can point at in support of the idea of segregation. they can say “it’s not about racism, it’s about safety.”

An activist truly concerned with improving the lot of black folks wouldn’t focus so heavily on police violence or interracial violence because it’s a relatively small portion of all violence visited upon the black community. Sure, it’s injustice, but isn’t all violence a form of injustice? Shaun King’s work may punish individuals for acts perceived as racist, like Permit Patty, but his activism does more harm than good if he’s helping perpetuate white supremacist stereotypes about black people being ignorant and violent with his deliberately inflammatory and one-sided reporting.

*examples where Shaun King presents stories without all of the facts, in a way that maximizes outrage:

  • He initially reported Antwon Rose‘s age as 13, never corrected this mistake
  • He never reported that Rose and another passenger were suspected shooters in an earlier incident, and that the car had ballistic damage that matched the shooter’s car.
  • Markeis McGlockton‘s girlfriend was parked in handicapped spot and was confronted about this — he presents it as a man threatening someone over “a parking spot,” making the man sound crazy.
  • He says McGlockton was “defending his girl and his kids” without mentioning that he escalated to physical violence first by shoving the man to the ground.
  •  He never mentioned Permit Patty‘s claims that she tried to talk to the girl and her mother to have them be quieter, but the mother cursed her out instead of cooperating, which led to the cops being called.

** examples where Shaun King claims racist motivation without evidence

  • Nia Wilson: “Investigators are still trying to determine what led to the attack. Rojas says they have no information it was racially motivated, but they are not discarding that as a possible motive.
  • Donesha Gowdy: He claims this would never have happened “to a white girl” — implying racism. In the comments, some claimed the cop was also black, further complicating matters.
  • Chicago bait trucks: He calls this “fundamentally racist” — which is not true unless it’s his contention that blacks are less able to avoid committing theft than people of other races.