Most racist ad ever?


Full deconstruction here.

I think my wife loves her Diet Mountain Dew too much for a boycott, though.

Why potato chips are so good

I’ve been meaning to blog about Salt, Sugar, Fat, and never gotten around to it.  Here’s a really interesting interview with the author about why potato chips are so irresistible:

Here’s how it works.

It starts with salt, which sits right on the outside of the chip. Salt is the first thing that hits your saliva, and it’s the first factor that drives you to eat and perhaps overeat. Your saliva carries the salty taste through the neurological channel to the pleasure center of the brain, where it sends signals back: “Hey, this is really great stuff. Keep eating.”

The industry calls this salty allure a food’s “flavor burst,” and I was surprised to learn just how many variations on this effect there are. The industry creates different varieties of salt for different kinds of processed foods: everything from fine powders that blend easily into canned soups, to big chunky pyramid-shaped granules with flat sides that stick better to food (hollowed out on the inside for maximum contact with the saliva).

Then, of course, there’s fat. Potato chips are soaked in fat. And fat is fascinating because it’s not one of the five basic tastes that Aristotle identified way back when—it’s a feeling. Fat is the warm, gooey sensation you get when you bite into a toasty cheese sandwich—or you get just thinking about such a sandwich (if you love cheese as much as I do). There’s a nerve ending that comes down from the brain almost to the roof of the mouth that picks up the feel of fat, and the industry thus calls the allure of fat “mouthfeel.”

The presence of fat, too, gets picked up by nerve endings and races along the neurological channel to the pleasure center of the brain. Which lights up, as strongly as it lights up for sugar. There are different kinds of fats—some good—but it’s the saturated fats, which are common in processed foods, that are of most concern to doctors. They’re linked to heart disease if over-consumed. And since fats have twice as many calories as sugar, they can be problematic from an obesity standpoint.

But potato chips actually have the entire holy trinity: They’re also loaded with sugar. Not added sugar—although some varieties do—but the sugar in most chips is in the potato starch itself, which gets converted to sugar in the moment the chip hits the tongue. Unlike fat, which studies show can exist in unlimited quantities in food without repulsing us, we do back off when a food is too sweet. The challenge is to achieve just the right depth of sweetness without crossing over into the extreme. The industry term for this optimal amount of sugar is called the “bliss point.”

So you’ve got all three of the big elements in this one product. But salt, sugar, and fat are just the beginning of the potato chip’s allure. British researchers, for instance, have found that the more noise a chip makes when you eat it, the better you’ll like it and the more apt you are to eat more. So chip companies spend a lot of effort creating a perfectly noisy, crunchy chip.

Predatory loans = more jobs for NC?

Ummm, I guess so, if you are an NC Republican legislator.  There’s just no limit to their willingness to screw over NC’s poor in order to help rich people get richer.  Pretty disgusting:

RALEIGH, N.C. — A proposal to allow consumer finance companies in North Carolina to charge higher rates and more fees is headed to the Senate floor after passing the Commerce Committee Tuesday on a voice vote. 

The proposal, Senate Bill 489, would roll back several of the state’s legal limits on consumer lending.

Lenders can currently loan up to $7,500 at a maximum annual interest rate of 30 percent for the first $1,000, and 18 percent for the next $6,500. For loans from $7,500 to $10,000, the maximum annual interest rate is 18 percent and the maximum term is seven years. 

The bill would expand the cap from $10,000 to $15,000 and increase the rates: 30 percent for the first $5,000, 24 percent for the second $5,000 and 18 percent for the third $5,000. The maximum term would be eight years.

To put that into perspective, someone who borrows $10,000 can currently only be charged 18 percent annual interest. Under the proposal, that borrower could be charged 27 percent – an increase of 50 percent.

The legislation also allows finance companies to charge late fees of $15 per payment and charge up to 1.5 percent for a deferred payment. 

Sponsor Senator Rick Gunn, R-Alamance, said small consumer lenders haven’t been allowed to raise their interest rates in 30 years.

“Some reasonable adjustments are necessary,” he said. “Forty to 50 percent of these companies have operated at a loss” over the past few years.

“We have lost over 1,000 jobs in the last decade,” Gunn said of the consumer lending industry. “We sit down eye to eye and qualify these folks. The last thing I want them doing is going to these other places where they’ll get the credit but the terms are not good.”

Sen. Jerry Tillman, R-Randolph, agreed. “It will bring reputable lenders back to North Carolina. It will bring jobs back to North Carolina,” he said of the proposal. “The need is there.”   

1) Oh no, the interest rates have been capped at already exorbitant levels for 30 years.  Ummm, surely they therefore need to go up.  The logic is simply unassailable.

2) I’ll expect our state unemployment rate to drop a full percentage point after this is implemented.  Not to mention, it will bring back all those “reputable lenders” who charge 30% interest.  

Photo of the day

From an In Focus gallery of Sony World Photography Awards winners:

Youth Photographer of the Year – Traditions. New Year’s eve traditions in Romania.(© Alecsandra Dragoi/2013 Sony World Photography Awards)

Dumb, dumb, dumb!

If there is any single policy which seems to offer the most bang for the buck, it is investing in quality pre-school for at-risk youth.  How sad then, that when the evidence keeps piling up in this direction, policy-wise, we are moving in the opposite direction:

States are drastically underfunding programs for their youngest learners now more than ever, according to a report released Monday, even as researchers and policymakers increasingly point to pre-school as a ladder to the middle class.

Funding per student for state pre-school programs has reached its lowest point in a decade, according to “The State of Preschool 2012,” the annual yearbook released by Rutgers University’s National Institute for Early Education Research. “The 2011-2012 school year was the worst in a decade for progress in access to high-quality pre-K for America’s children,” the authors wrote. After a decade of increasing enrollment, that growth stalled, according to the report. Though the 2011-2012 school year marks the first time pre-K enrollment didn’t increase along with the rate of population change.

“The state of preschool was a state of emergency” in 2012, said Steve Barnett, NIEER’s director. Between the 2010-2011 and 2011-2012 school years, pre-K spending on state programs dropped by more than $548 million overall, and $442 per student (to $3,841) when adjusted for inflation, according to the report.

Now, admittedly, not all these pre-K programs are going to have the fabulous results of the high-quality ones that have been studied.  But surely, far better than nothing.  Of course, when these kids are that much more likely to end up in jail or on welfare instead of producing income tax revenues in 15-20 years, that will some new generations’ politicians’ problem to deal with it.  Just so wrong.

How Democrats lost the sequester

Nice piece from Ezra on the sequester last Friday.  Here’s the rub:

In effect, what Democrats said Friday was that in any case where the political pain caused by sequestration becomes unbearable, they will agree to cancel that particular piece of the bill while leaving the rest of the law untouched. The result is that sequestration is no longer particularly politically threatening, but it’s even more unbalanced: Cuts to programs used by the politically powerful will be addressed, but cuts to programs that affects the politically powerless will persist. It’s worth saying this clearly: The pain of sequestration will be concentrated on those who lack political power.

In other words, middle-class and rich people fly airplanes, so Congress will eliminate the sequester’s effects on air traffic control.  Middle class and rich kids do not have their kids in Head Start.  So, so much for restoring funding there– or for anything that is hurting poor people.

What if the Tsarnaev’s had used assault weapons instead of crude bombs?

Really interesting counter-factual think-piece from John Cassidy:

Here’s a little mental experiment. Imagine, for a moment, that the Tsarnaev brothers, instead of packing a couple of pressure cookers loaded with nails and explosives into their backpacks a week ago Monday, had stuffed inside their coats two assault rifles—Bushmaster AR-15s, say, of the type that Adam Lanza used in Newtown. What would have been different?

Well, for one thing, the brothers would probably have killed a lot more than three people at the marathon. AR-15s can fire up to forty-five rounds a minute, and at close range they can tear apart a human body. If the Tsarnaevs had started firing near the finish line, they might easily have killed dozens of spectators and runners before fleeing or being shot by the police…

Set off in a public space a couple of crude, homemade bombs that you appear to have made using a recipe on the Web, and the state will make you Public Enemy Number One. To insure that you are caught and punished, there are virtually no lengths to which the authorities won’t go. They’ll assemble a multi-agency task force overnight, calling on some of the enormous investments in hardware, intelligence, and manpower that have been made since 9/11. They’ll haul in anybody who might be remotely connected to the crime scene, and, if necessary, shut down an entire city. Once you’re caught, they’ll interview you in your hospital bed without reading you your legal rights and then charge you with using W.M.D.s. If you weren’t born in this country, there will even be talk about changing the immigration laws.

If you systematically shoot a classroom full of defenseless six-year-olds and blow off your own head, things proceed rather differently. To be sure, you, or your memory, will be hated and vilified. But the political system, in hock to the N.R.A., will classify you as a nut whose deadly actions have few or no policy implications.  [emphases mine] (With the demise of the gun-control legislation, that’s what it did with Adam Lanza.) Life and politics will go on as normal. The President will probably visit the scene of your outrage and say consoling things to the families of your victims. He’ll mean what he says, but he won’t be able to do much about it, and nobody will ask why the F.B.I. or the C.I.A. didn’t realize you were such a menace to society and lock you up preëmptively. Crazed shooters, after all, are something we’ve grown used to.

Because we have become inured to deaths from shootings, and because of the association of guns and liberty in the minds of many Americans—an association assiduously promoted by the gun lobby—the political system no longer responds to gun deaths. Terrorist acts, on the other hand, even ones masterminded by Mutt and Jeff from Cambridge rather than Osama and K.S.M. from Tora Bora, still have the power to spook the nation and swing the entire U.S. government into action.

Wow good points.  The whole piece is a great reflection on how our national collective psyche responds so differently to different forms of violence.  Too bad we don’t take gun violence more seriously.

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