7 things @ 9 o’clock (9.13)

1. Friday the 13th: A Ghost Story. Somewhere in America, tonight:

Those who have witnessed it firsthand are, for obvious reasons, reluctant to talk about it. You’ll never see them publicly recounting their tales in front of the cameras and the microphones. These are not stories they are eager to tell.

But one hears whispers, rumors, stories told by the friends of friends. And those whispers, rumors and stories are too numerous and too eerily similar to be dismissed.

Something is happening. Something, it seems, happens every Friday the 13th, just before midnight.

The stories begin right around the turn of the 20th century, with the earliest reference I can find coming from August of 1897. …

2. FloridaFloridaFloridaFloridaFloridaFlorida. Florida.

3. The Washington Post reviews I, Saul, by Jerry Jenkins and James McDonald, calling it a “less-fun Da Vinci Code”: “Paul is indeed an intriguing character, but I, Saul doesn’t break new ground in terms of better understanding the historical figure. And it doesn’t help that the 2,000-year-old characters talk (and pray) exactly like the present-day ones.”

It’s Friday the 13th. It’s not a dream.

4. Religious liberty! Feel the freedom.

5. Most of what we drink here in America has added sugar. That’s true not just of fizzy soda, but also of fruit juice. You can get the all-natural, no-sugar-added, fresh-squeezed, not-from-concentrate variety, but it costs twice as much.

And but so, the working poor who get SNAP benefits (a.k.a. food stamps) don’t have a separate set of healthier beverage options available to them than the rest of us. “Researchers found that 58 percent of all refreshment beverages purchased by SNAP participants were for sugar-sweetened beverages such as regular soda, fruit drinks, and sports drinks.” Is that more or less than the percentage of “refreshment beverages” purchased by non-participants? The researchers do not say. They’re not interested in scolding the rest of us for our beverage choices — their condescension and resentment is focused exclusively on the working poor.

It’s a terrific bit of “research,” too, since no matter what, we get to judge the poor, condemning them for whatever they drink. Do they buy the cheap stuff? Well, then, we’ll wag our finger at them for consuming too many “sugar-sweetened beverages.” Do they choose the more expensive healthy stuff? Well, then, we can sniff at those uppity poors fleecing the investment-class with their fresh juices and artisanal teas and Perrier.

And then, if you work for The Hill, you can take this research and lie to make it sound even worse — twisting that 58 percent into something else entirely and reporting that “more than half of all SNAP benefits are used to buy sugary drinks.” Turns out that 58 percent of beverage purchases works out to more like 3 percent of total SNAP money spent, but that doesn’t matter to these folks. What matters is that they resent the poor and they’re losing sleep over the possibility that some of the people they’ve trapped in dead-end, $7.25/hour jobs might still be pulling a fast one by occasionally quenching their thirst with something that tastes good. How dare they?

6. Charles Koch is a jerk. A complete knee-biter.

7. On NPR’s “Fresh Air,” Terry Gross interviews Barton Gellman about the leaks by Edward Snowden and what we’ve learned about the NSA.

It’s a good overview of the story — where things stand and how we got there — without having to read around quite so much Glenn! Greenwald!


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  • Please, show me how to diagonalize a language.

    No, seriously. This habit of using geometrical and mathematical language to express opposition of ideas or differences of ideas is a bit absurd, because concepts don’t exist at angles with respect to one another. They don’t exhibit positions in physical nearness or farness from one another. They don’t even behave like they’re in Hilbert space*.

    * Hilbert space is an abstraction, but it lets you set up vectors (think “pointy arrows”) that have properties which work well for quantum mechanics. While wavefunctions don’t physically exhibit themselves the way probabilities do, they do have definite mathematical propertes that correspond to orthogonality and overlap.

  • Actually ISTR it was right here on Slacktivist that someone explained in generalities how a bank could use the ignorance of computer programmers to implement an algorithm that maximizes overdraft probability.

  • My bank has a hard overdrawn limit. You’re either funded or you have no funds. So checks will be returned NSF or not returned.

  • It is as LBJ once said, paraphrased: “We gotta reach out to the hard-core unemployed. Those who never got taught the kinds of things you and I got taught. Folks who can’t get jobs because they didn’t learn these kinda things.”

  • And tap water has flouride, chlorine and possibly lead.

    The fluoride is regulatorily limited and is unlikely to harm you. Conspiracy theorizing notwithstanding.

    Chlorine? Run a gallon of water and let it sit, covered with a screened vent hole to keep insects out, for an hour. The chlorine will evaporate and the resulting water can be put in the fridge or consumed. Alternatively. boil it in a clean pot, let it cool, and pour it off into a clean jug. It will re-oxygenate over time while the chlorine will evaporate permanently.

    Can’t do anything about the lead, but there are laws regarding lead content and the EPA can probably point you to who to start rattling the cages of to get it remedied.

    Also? Water taste depends a fair bit on the hardness (i.e. the presence of sparingly soluble alkaline-earth compounds in the water).

  • The sheer nitpicky asininity of those kind of regulations has to beat the angels on the head of a pin way in which the Canadian GST is NOT applied to fruit drinks unless they are processed and mixed in a combination only understandable to the authorities in Revenue Canada.

    Par exemple: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/british-columbia/hst-takes-a-sweet-and-sour-approach-to-food/article4189904/

  • Jim Roberts

    Yes, exactly. One of the biggest things that gets taught is that deferring payment is rarely a good thing. An amazing number of people rent their furniture and pay well more than the cost of it before replacing it, for example.

  • Basically the perennial difficulty of writing software for hire is that the people who want your product, not being engineers themselves, don’t think like engineers, and therefore are not able to properly specify what they want. A lot of the time, they don’t even know exactly what they want. At the same time, the software engineers are engineers, and not subject matter experts in whatever the program is going to be about, so they won’t know what’s important. Even when dealing with very technical people, I often run into the problem of having delivered a product, only to have someone come back and say “Oh, I just assumed it would also [thing which not only was not specified, but is utterly anathema to the fundamental design of the tool].”

    So you end up in situations where the bankers contracting for the software would never even think that they had to tell the developer what order to do the transactions without being asked (Because the whole idea that the transaction gets held until midnight and then they all get processed at once is really a step removed from their perception of it), and the developer would never even think that the order might matter without being told (Because they’re thinking in terms of the final answer being what matters).

    Of course, this being banks, I’m more inclined to imagine they do it on purpose to be evil. Especially since they used to do this crap on just as grand or grander a scale before everything was automated (Though back then, it was all very obvious and up-front. They’d process debits immediately and deposits took several days. Everyone knew this and planned accordingly when they were able. And they only tracked it to the day, not on a transaction-by-transaction basis.)

  • According to our pediatrician, the very small class of humans does have to be careful about getting too much fluoride and should avoid combining municipal water with any other source of the stuff until they’re four or five.

  • The point of the bottled water is that it’s tap water from somewhere that has good tap water. It makes sense to use if if you live somewhere with bad tap water.

  • Some people with knowledge of alternatives are simply going to have different priorities. WIC=Women, Infants, and Children. That means WIC users have kids and are probably going to make decisions to buy nutritious foods for the children. SNAP recipients may be more likely to be adults without children, who may be more likely to buy high-energy foods just to get themselves through long, stressful days.
    More obviously, there’s the fact that WIC doesn’t pay for junk foods and SNAP pays for anything with a “Nutrition Facts” label on it.

  • Amaryllis

    I would’ve stopped at “Dr. Augustine Aquinas Knox.”

    I’m all about Significant Names, but that’s just ridiculous.

  • Jim Roberts

    Or just not entering it into the calculation.

  • Anton_Mates

    Well, all households* in this particular study had young children, and used WIC benefits at least once; the comparison was between WIC-only households and households on WIC and SNAP. I suppose there could be a significant difference between those groups in the average number of children per household–the authors had no data on that–though I can’t anticipate which group would have more kids.

    The authors’ preferred interpretation is the second one you raise, I think. Low-income folks on SNAP + WIC are buying more sugary stuff than low-income folks on WIC alone, because SNAP pays for sugary stuff. Meanwhile, high-income folks could afford to buy more sugary stuff than either low-income group, but don’t–they buy only about as much as the WIC-only group. So either high-income folks don’t enjoy sugary stuff as much, or they’re more deterred by health concerns (or image concerns or whatever).

    *The actual data used were supermarket records of purchases associated with store loyalty cards. Each card was assumed to represent a household, more or less, but the authors had no access to identifying info about the card owners. Privacy concerns, I imagine.

  • Anton_Mates

    Soda rarer still, but then, we live in the South. Who needs to buy that expensive, unhealthy soda when you have cheap tea, sugar, and a stay-at-home mom?

    Your neighbors, apparently! The South is actually the part of the US that consumes the most soda.

  • Katie

    The differences are actually pretty easy to explain. For people in extremely urban areas who are getting SNAP, getting access to healthy food can be problematic. Also, a lot of people on SNAP are elderly, and so may not have the physical ability to cook, or may find it easier to just make a sandwich, or heat up a pre-prepared meal rather than cooking for one.

    Regarding the comparison with families who get WIC but not SNAP, its a lot easier to get WIC, at least if you have more than one child, so you’re probably looking at different pools of people. For a start, people getting WIC are, by definition, families with young children, and such families often make an effort to eat healthier, and make things like soda into an occasional treat, to instill good eating habits in the children. Also, as a member of a WIC-but-not-SNAP family, making sure that my family gets sufficient healthy food means very, very tight budgeting. If I got SNAP, my food budget would increase significantly, so I’d be a lot more likely to make an occasional purchase of soda or similar treats.

  • esmerelda_ogg

    There may be another reason for WIC and SNAP recipients to choose different foods – WIC (at least in the past) apparently has / had a list of approved foods. The benefits could only be spent on items on the list, which were chosen for nutritional value. SNAP? As long as it’s food produced in the US, basically anything goes, nutritious or the opposite. (There are also some rules to prevent SNAP money from going to restaurant meals, but again there’s no distinction between whether you’re buying a carefully balanced organic locally sourced dinner or a monster hot fudge sundae.)

    Anyway, tldr – WIC recipients aren’t allowed to buy junk food with their benefits; SNAP recipients are.

  • Katie

    The tap water in my area tastes nasty, so we have a filter pitcher. It works well, is cheaper and less hassle than hauling around gallon jugs of water.

  • Anton_Mates

    I just edited my original post because I hadn’t made this clear, but all the SNAP recipients in this study are on WIC as well. More precisely, all the store loyalty cards they tracked had been used to buy stuff with WIC benefits at least once in the previous 2.5 years. The authors then compared the purchasing on cards that were also used with SNAP benefits in a given month (“SNAP households”), versus those that were not (“WIC-only households.”)

    So–to the degree that it’s accurate to equate loyalty cards with households–all these households were families with young children, or at least had included young children within the last couple of years. Elderly SNAP recipients were probably rare or absent within this sample, I’m guessing.

  • Katie

    Fair enough. But what you’re missing is that the families on SNAP and WIC are going to have the bulk their milk and juice needs covered by WIC, and so won’t need to use their WIC benefits to purchase milk and juice.

  • train_star

    Bottled water has as many if not more contaminants than tap water. In fact, most bottled water is tap water.

  • Lori

    This isn’t a reason to go all Dr. Strangelove about fluoride in the municipal water supply though. It’s a reason to buy kids toothpaste without fluoride for young children.

  • Anton_Mates

    I’m not sure what you mean, sorry. Do you mean that families on SNAP+WIC are less likely to include milk and juice in any individual SNAP-covered purchase, since they include those beverages in the WIC-covered purchases instead?

  • Lee B.

    Water taste depends a fair bit on the hardness (i.e. the presence of sparingly soluble alkaline-earth compounds in the water).

    My tapwater is basically liquid limestone, so to me the bottled or filtered stuff just tastes weird.

  • Sue White

    I figured it must have been something like that. But I never read the labels on the cans, so I never knew which energy drinks were going to be rejected by the card. And the customers didn’t know either, since the energy drinks were usually displayed in the cooler next to the regular beverages.

  • Lori

    My comment had nothing to do with the exclusion of milk from LINK, or the genetic incidence of lactose intolerance. I was strictly commenting on the fact that mistformsquiiel drinks a lot more mill than I do.

  • chgo_liz

    Could you give some specifics on how you got involved in this volunteer work? For example, is there an organization you work through, or did you come up with this on your own?

  • BaseDeltaZero

    Well yeah. That’s why it’s a metaphor, not the exact same thing…

  • Alix

    Also, there’s such a thing as language drift. Definitions aren’t static things.

  • Katie

    Yes, sorry if my phrasing was unclear.

  • Anton_Mates

    No worries, I just wanted to make sure; my reading comprehension isn’t tip-top at the moment.

    So, that particular thing would not have affected the results in this study, because they made the “SNAP+WIC” vs. “WIC-only” distinction at the household (loyalty card) level, not the level of individual purchases. If a household bought anything with SNAP benefits in the last month, all their milk/juice purchases would go in the SNAP+WIC pile, regardless of which benefits they used for it. Nonetheless, the SNAP+WIC pile still has a smaller fraction of juice and unsweetened beverages than the WIC-only pile.

    I think it’s more about the other explanation you give–the additional benefits are being spent disproportionately on sugary stuff. The SNAP+WIC families aren’t actually buying less juice or diet sodas or bottled water, according to the study. In fact, they’re buying significantly more of everything than the WIC-only families.* But they’re buying proportionately more sugary drinks, as you predict.

    The authors argue that, if SNAP was changed to be more like WIC and no longer covered sugary stuff, then SNAP-participating households would no longer buy more of it. You–again, if I read you right–are suggesting that they would still buy more of it, because SNAP would pad their budget and they could afford to buy more treats period. Maybe they wouldn’t buy the extra soda with SNAP, but they’d buy other stuff with SNAP and then buy the soda with any spare cash or whatever. That prediction seems at least as plausible as the authors’ prediction to me.

    *Although maybe the SNAP+WIC households are larger, on average. Is that likely to be the case? Is it easier for larger families to get SNAP?

  • GuestPoster

    Indeed. We had the same thing happen during the Salem era, and again during the McCarthyist era, and again during the Gitmo era that we’re still trying to put an end to.

    None of this changes, of course, that the current stuff is entirely legal. The fourth amendment to the constitution is the one that actually tells the government exactly how to subvert it. The Patriot Act was the government further defining what subversion was good enough to qualify. The current security state is the natural extension of that – and the Greenwald worship phenomenon that’s all-too-typical these days both ignores that some (but not nearly enough) good has come from modern security measures, and that the way to thwart them is to repeal the laws that explicitly make them legal, not to keep conducting hearings with people legally bound not to tell the truth during those hearings. That’s why I like more balanced articles like the one linked. Folks like Greenwald are zealots, and are doing the same thing all zealots do, telling exactly one aspect of the story, and refusing to admit, possibly even to themselves, that any other aspects exist. Especially troubling given that those other aspects are really, really important to understand what’s going on.

    It’s a witch hunt, just like all the others. We’re looking for somebody other than ourselves to blame, which means we’re looking in the wrong place. Repeal one law, it all becomes illegal again. But that would be crazy talk.

  • chgo_liz

    That’s the norm, sure. But your bank has a short list of customers who get special treatment….I can almost guarantee it.

  • Jim Roberts

    My son has ended up in the public school system, in elementary school, and wherever my boys go, that organization gets a volunteer. I’ve been picked up by a local organization who uses his school for remedial education. I helped them print and collate some of their educational materials, but after that was done I helped go through some of their e-mails, which is where I saw some rather surprising questions.

  • Oh, I’m sure. It’s just that up here I’ve not heard of the American practice of setting “soft” overdrawn limits such that checks still clear but then the account holder gets dinged the $20 NSF fee anyway.

  • Jim Roberts

    Special treatment is definitely a thing, and it stinks.

  • The Booky stories are semiautobiographical in nature. During her childhood, their author, Bermice Thurman Hunter, once read some of her writing to Lucy Maud Montgomery, who praised her imagination and abilities, but told her that she must go to university, which was out of her family’s ability to afford As a result, she never even attempted to become published until after her children were born.

    She was one of five children, but I have not been able to find what happened to her siblings. The closest I can come is that someone may have made a donation in her brother Gordon’s memory to the Sunnybrook Hospital Foundation.

  • I have taken all kinds of split payments in my job at the pharmacy at Walmart. I have people who ask to put some purchases on one card and others on a different one; customers who want to pay a certain percentage in cash and some on a card, or on several different cards. I’ve even had people split payments between cash and a check.

  • John Alexander Harman

    As well she should; Fred’s “Left Behind” posts probably constitute well over 50% of all the literary analysis that’s been written about the execrable works of Jerry B. Jenkins.

  • The way WIC works must be dependent on the state you live in. In Texas, WIC recipients get a smart card — an ordinary looking card with a chip embedded in it. The recipient slips the card into a reader at the base of the PIN pad, which deducts the appropriate items from her allotted total for the month.

    I don’t know if any other states have the smart-card based program, but it generally works pretty smoothly.

  • It’s less to do with the number of books and more to do with his relationship with his editor. Most importantly, does he have one?

  • Has that changed? I swear that some foods didn’t used to be covered. I recall one family being miffed that their parboiled ready-to-bake lasagna noodles (not the whole lasagna, just the noodles) weren’t covered back in what is likely to have been early 2010.

  • Headless Unicorn Guy

    The Washington Post reviews I, Saul, by Jerry Jenkins and James McDonald, calling it a “less-fun Da Vinci Code”: “Paul is indeed an intriguing character, but I, Saul doesn’t break new ground in terms of better understanding the historical figure. And it doesn’t help that the 2,000-year-old characters talk (and pray) exactly like the present-day ones.”

    Seriously, like you expected anything else from Jerry “Buck” Jenkins, GCAAT?

  • Headless Unicorn Guy

    And that is the difference between Aristos and Serfs.

  • Headless Unicorn Guy

    As a guy who’s performed unnatural acts with software for 30+ years, never underestimate the “But Everybody Knows THAT!” factor.

  • Katie

    Its easier for larger families to get both WIC and SNAP. I don’t remember the exact formulas at the moment, but essentially you qualify based on if you make a certain percentage of “poverty” and the amount of money that is considered “poverty” for a family of 2 is lower than a family of 12. The biggest difference between WIC and reduced/free school lunches is that those programs only consider income and number of people, where SNAP also looks at the household’s total assets.

    This is part of the reason why I think that WIC-only and WIC+SNAP families are likely to be different pools of people. If you’re getting SNAP, you’re more likely to be in pretty dire straights, and to have been there for some time, whereas you can be fairly comfortably middle class and get WIC if you have a bunch of kids.*

    I agree that education about food and nutrition might be a good idea, but I think that this study really doesn’t explain what is going on, and I don’t think that not allowing certain purchases is going to help things.

    *To be clear, I think that this is a feature, not a bug.

  • chgo_liz


  • Mary

    “In fact, most bottled water is tap water”

    A lot of it is..however it is purified. Bottled water does not taste like swimming pool water because the chlorine is filtered out. ( Yes I know you add more chlorine to pool water but I am using that as an example of the difference in taste.)

    If you try to do a nasal rinse with tap water it will burn like hell. That is why you use distilled or purified water for that. That alone is a good indication of the difference between the two.