I guess that everything is better wherever you are

The war on fat has just crossed a major red line. The Los Angeles City Council has passed an ordinance prohibiting construction of new fast-food restaurants in a 32-square-mile area inhabited by 500,000 low-income people.

We’re not talking anymore about preaching diet and exercise, disclosing calorie counts, or restricting sodas in schools. We’re talking about banning the sale of food to adults. Treating French fries like cigarettes or liquor. I didn’t think this would happen in the United States anytime soon. I was wrong.

The mayor hasn’t yet signed the ordinance, but he probably will, since it passed unanimously. It doesn’t affect existing restaurants, and initially it will impose only a one-year moratorium. But that period is likely to be extended to two years or more, and the prohibition’s sponsor hopes to make it permanent.

Slate, July 31 2008

Tell me I’m being an extremist. Tell me I’m fighting a futile battle. Tell me I’m missing some finer point that justifies banning this harmless life choice but not your pet cause. I’ve heard it before.

Just please stop telling me that I’m fucking crazy.

perich.livejournal.com, Feb 1 2008

can it be the casanova speech therapy that heavily puts the flavor right where it should be?

“Ever sift sand through a screen?” she asked.
The tangential slash of her question shocked his mind into a higher awareness.
– Frank Herbert, Dune

I had about four minutes to go, three blocks from my front door, when the girl in the blue T-shirt and worn clipboard spotted me.

“Hi?” she asked, dropping her last conversation like a hot roll. “Do you have five minutes to save the Earth?”

“Have they paid you yet?” I asked, continuing to walk.

The rehearsed smile vanished. “What? Yeah.”

“Make sure they pay you. I know too many people who worked for them all summer and didn’t get paid.” The effort of pitching my voice and speaking over my shoulder while I continue to walk tightens my throat. If she says anything else I don’t hear it.

It’s an open secret that the same vaguely left political organization, wearing the hat of either Greenpeace, the Sierra Club or MassPIRG, hires students in Boston at dismal wages every summer. They stand them on busy street corners with clipboards and pens and ask them to get donations. No cash, no checks; only credit cards or bank account numbers will do. Income streams, not splashes; that’s what save the environment.

It’s such a well-known feature of the Boston landscape that copycats have sprung up, scamming people out of a few dollars in order to “end racism”.

The students get paid on commission. Most quit early. The ones who do rarely get their checks.

When I see a Greenpeace / Sierra Club / MassPIRG solicitor asking for my time, I keep walking and shout that question over my shoulder. “Have they paid you yet?” No student should have to spend all summer sweating in Boston’s asphalt oven without at least getting what they’re owed. They could cut lawns and see more money. I was a poor student in Boston once; I sympathize.

Here’s the dirty secret, though: even if GP/SC/MaPR didn’t cheat these kids out of a measly $12 an hour, I’d still ask that question. I’m a malcontent like that. I like finding the line or trick or reaction that shakes them out of the routine. Managers drill routines into these poor kids’ heads – “if they say they can’t afford it, say this; if they want to give you cash, say this” – and the most successful ones stick to those routines. I like breaking them out of the patter and forcing them to think on their feet.

And I want to keep at it. I want to find the one thing to say to a Scientologist, handing out fliers for a “free psychological evaluation,” that’ll get him to question what he’s doing. I want the one question that’ll make a defender of the Iraq Civil War sit back and re-evaluate. I look for the pithy remark, the turn of phrase, the unexpected insight. Forget debating; forget yelling. Give me the unorthodox strategy and the left-handed attack.

Per Deirdre McCloskey (though apparently Boudreaux paraphrases her), no one was ever convinced by raw data of a proposition that he did not already hold true. It’s never the brute fact that changes our minds. It’s the image. It’s the new perspective. It’s the weird new angle. It’s the sea of faces on the Washington Mall, or the lone man in front of the tank treads, or the Vietnamese general putting a gun to the prisoner’s head.

Ditch the old arguments. Reframe the debate.

president gas is up for president

Time to talk politics.

First, hitting up the Opposition Party, Radley Balko has a few questions for Barack Obama:

In your autobiography, you admit to using marijuana and cocaine in high school and college. Yet you largely support the federal drug war — a change from several years ago when you said you’d be open to decriminalizing marijuana. Would Barack Obama be where he is today if he had been arrested in college for using drugs? Doesn’t the fact that you and our current president (who has all but admitted to prior drug use) have risen to such high stature suggest that the worst thing about illicit drugs is not the drugs themselves, but what the government will do to you if you’re caught?

He also has some questions on farm subsidies and ethanol, but I like that question best.

Next, picking on the Ruling Party candidate, John McCain has changed another of his long held political beliefs, this one on cigarette taxes:

McCain’s war against the tobacco companies – and this former POW does believe the metaphor is appropriate – stands as a self-acknowledged failure. In 1997, McCain was the moving force behind legislation to expand government powers to regulate tobacco and to levy a tax on cigarettes of more than a dollar per pack. In 1998, the legislation failed, but McCain helped to broker the industry’s $338 billion settlement with state legislators.

McCain developed an antipathy to tobacco lobbyists. He once threw lobbyist Charlie Black out of his Senate office because Black worked for Phillip Morris at that time. (Black now works for McCain as a strategist.)

McCain now opposes sin taxes on cigarettes. He said he worries that Congress would put the additional money into a general revenue pool. “Does anyone here have confidence in Congress?” he asked the crowd. Moderator Paula Zahn was skeptical. Might McCain change his mind if researchers proved that raisng the tobacco tax would help lower smoking rates?

Finally, I have to credit Patri for pointing this out: the Congressional Effect Fund, an equity fund that only buys long on the days Congress sits in session and looks for interest-bearing securities otherwise. Their reasoning: the market reacts spasmodically to Congressional pronouncements – e.g., Congress declares higher fuel standards for cars; car company stocks fall – so you’ll do better to invest when Congress goes on vacation.

I wouldn’t sink my retirement fund into it just yet. The graph looks convincing, sure, but any fool with a degree in Finance can fair a curve with 40 years of past results. However, I respect the logic behind it, so I might pitch a couple bucks their way.

nat turner with the sickle, pitchfork and machete

Could someone with more street cred than I explain the appeal of Lil’ Wayne? He has the most mediocre flow of any mainstream rapper I’ve heard in months, combined with the voice of the pimple-faced teenager from The Simpsons. Compress Lil’ John by 80% and hit him in the face with a plugged-in iron and you get Lil’ Wayne.

For instance, find below one of his “hot” new releases, “Lollipop.”No flow. No rhymes. Not even very good production values.

On the other end of the spectrum, why did nobody tell me about Immortal Technique? Damn. Mix the literate stylings of Mos Def with the raw attitude of Method Man and Immortal Technique comes pouring out. Listen to him name drop Zyklon-B, the Knights Templars and the star called “Wormwood” from the Book of Revelations in “The Point of No Return”:

Finally, I think I may have discovered the worst thing on YouTube.

So, as much as I love the Notorious B.I.G. and the gangsta style, his song “Gimme Da Loot” has always made me really uncomfortable. Listen to the lyrics and you hear a different Biggie than you might be used to: an insecure murderer hopped up on meth. Consider:

Man, listen all this walking is hurting my feet
But money, look! Sweet! (where?) In the Isuzu jeep!
Man, I throw him in the Beem, you grab the fucking cream
and if he start to scream – bam, bam – have a nice dream!
Hold up, he got a fucking bitch in the car
Fur coats and diamonds, she thinks she a superstar.
Ooh Biggie, let me jack her, I kick her in the back
Hit her with the gat / Yo chill, Shorty, let me do that

You really have to listen to it to get the sense of disgust in the “fur coats and diamonds” line. How dare she think she’s better than the streets! Look at her, dressing up and wearing nice things. Ha, ha. We’ll show her.

Anyhow, yeah, not my favorite.

As offensive as that song sounds, could it possibly get any worse? Yes. That song could get worse with two white boys in ski masks and Enyce jerseys lip syncing it:That is how that song could get worse.

yeah, flipmode; flipmode the greatest

I visited the Isabella Stewart Gardner museum for the first time this Sunday, taking Rachel V. as a birthday present. My impressions: the first floor felt a little cluttered, though the courtyard looked pristine. The second and third floors looked stately and impressive. The curators have labeled almost none of the pieces, leaving the audience to guess at what they mean (Lindsay, you’d have a blast playing “docent for a day” here).

Saturday morning, I squeezed in a workout at the BSC in Davis with Marie. I finished my routine earlier than she did, so I decided to sauna before I showered off. The balls-out naked man doing push-ups on the floor of the sauna gave me pause at first – it’s a pretty small room; I couldn’t exactly step over him – but I finagled my way in. The dude then leaned over the radiator, breathing in hot dry air in ragged, panting gulps, before toddling off to a shower. Still, better than the Central Square BSC any day.

Later I did some paperwork and watched Vertigo. I had kept myself free of half a century worth of spoilers through some miracle, so everything after the first hour caught me completely by surprise. The movie deserves all its critical acclaim: the Hermann score, the weird cinematography and the two leads cooperate to induce a dreamlike hypnosis over the audience. You believe that Stewart and Novak are the only two people in the city, or even on the planet.

I also had some drinks with Serpico and Rachel V. in celebration of their birthday at the classy B-Sides Lounge in Cambridge. They pour a tasty Manhattan. I alternated between socializing – giving Dave S. advice on how to pick up girls, a position I never thought I’d find myself in – and watching the UFC fights on TV. “Why are they fighting?” Rachel asked. “Is it over a girl? Is it a land dispute?”

“Yes, it’s land,” I told her. “We’re watching the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.”

On Friday, not only did I hit up 90s Night (again), but I stopped by Melanie T’s party downtown. She has a place on Boylston St. behind the State House with a stupefyingly gorgeous view. Probably the best view in Boston – you can see from the Zakim Bridge to Southie from the roof deck. I snacked and I chatted up coworkers. The consensus on marriage: expensive! Enter with caution.

all of her lovers, they talk of her notes and the flowers that they never sent

Overstuffed media blow.

The Heart is a Lonely Hunter: I unwittingly joined the Oprah Book Club by picking up this one up used. A fantastically nuanced portrait of the immense loneliness a person can feel even in the heart of civilization. The fact that McCullers wrote this at age 23 will astound me, and probably bother me, for weeks. Nothing else to add to 3 generations of critical acclaim for this book.

Dress to Kill: Marie learned, to her dismay, that I’d never seen Eddie Izzard do stand-up, so she sat me down to watch it this past Wednesday. It takes a little bit to ramp up but then it takes off at a lightning clip. I prefer Izzard at his smallest – the tiny nuances, like the Pilgrims saying “Pardon me” to the Indians, or the way he can do an entire 5-minute routine in French – rather than his biggest: the crazy noises and the wacky faces and the flailing about. Anyhow: I liked it.

Soon I Will Be Invincible: Borrowed this off my dad’s bookshelf when I visited Baltimore. I picture the novel’s protagonist, supervillain Dr. Impossible, as Stephen Colbert for two reasons. One, because he voiced a character named “Professor Impossible” on the Venture Bros. and the association stuck. Second, because he really fits the type: that naturalistic blend of arrogance and self-pity. I wanted more of him and less of his counterpoint, a new recruit for the world’s premier superhero team. The novel also teeters weirdly in tone between blissful embrace of its silly, comic book roots and self-conscious disdain for them. Save for those points, the novel will move and entertain you very easily.

Psychedelic Furs Greatest Hits: Picked this up for $9 in Newbury Comics. Not a sleeper on here. I don’t know what about New Wave touches the right chords in my brain, but I love it so much.

Love In The Ruins: Walker Percy’s smug Catholicism aside, Love In The Ruins paints an entertaining picture of the 60s run rampant. Cars have largely been abandoned, free love gets tested and measured in clinics, hopelessly abstract leftists feud with intransigent conservative Knotheads. In front of all this sits Dr. Tom More, whose pocket encephalograph – which he calls a lapsometer – can not only diagnose spiritual illness but correct it with a dose of radioactive sodium. Comical chaos ensues. A fun read, but, knowing now just how seriously Percy takes his religion I probably don’t need to read another.

am I coming through? am I coming through?

Though you have to scan in to enter the fitness center near my office, you can walk right out the back with no trouble. The back door communicates directly to my office, so I always slip out that way. A big sign on the door reads Caution Emergency Exit Alarm Will Sound, but it never has. The sign fails at its ruse.

Of course, one of these days the fire code will catch up with us and the fitness center will have to turn the emergency exit alarm back on. Then, for about nine weeks, the alarm will go off at least three times a day as everyone used to slipping out the back learns that the alarm actually works now.

I wonder about the easiest way to prevent these mishaps when the day comes. My thought: a sign, handwritten in Sharpie, taped to the door which reads: The Emergency Exit Alarm Actually Works Now. Don’t Open This Door Or You’ll Set It Off. A handwritten sign looks different enough that it draws the eye. And you can’t miss big Sharpie block lettering.

My follow-up thought: rather than activate the alarm, why not just put up that sign? If you want people to stop using that door, you can turn on the alarm and post the sign warning people, or you can just post the sign. An incentive to create an effect is an incentive to create the appearance of an effect, after all. Sure, an actual alarm would make me safer, but if the sign makes me think the alarm works, then the sign makes me think I’m safer. And really, thinking I’m safer is almost as good as actually being safer. Almost.

I think about these things when a TSA goon in a short-sleeved dress shirt rifles through my toiletries kit, shaking my bottle of contact lens solution as if that proves it’s not a bomb.