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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  • Lori

    I doubt that it’s a case of doing it on purpose to fuck with people. Malice isn’t remotely necessary to explain it. They care a lot about keeping the state’s costs as low as possible and not at all about the experience of the users.

  • Chloe P. H. Lewis

    I’m incredibly fond of the science-fiction novel _The Gone-Away World_. It has a lot of fun stuff in it, in a bitterly serious framework — one of the parts of the framework is about how a bureaucracy, an algorithm, set up to find traitors will find them *especially* if there aren’t any. Even if each individual person is not evil or paranoid.

  • Chloe P. H. Lewis

    Very side note: If you’re somewhere really not designed for pedestrians, you sometimes have to walk with traffic to minimize the awful road-crossings needed for a trip.

    If a road isn’t safe for a pedestrian on either side, and isn’t a freeway or railroad, and we can’t afford sidewalks, we should drop the speed limit until it *is* safe. Now, drivers being more cautious at a given speed, that would be fine. But safety for all.

  • Baby_Raptor

    Dear Boyfriend flew down today because it was dirt cheap due to the date. He didn’t have any issues.

  • One might posit a corollary to Hanlon’s Razor that applies broadly to the actions of conservatives vis a vis the poor:

    Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by cupidity and callousness.

    (Possibly more useful in its Gray’s Law analogue, “Sufficiently advanced callousness is indistinguishable from mallice”)

  • I’ve never had a problem with the EBT “Independence” card we use in Maryland to receive SNAP benefits. Well, almost never–there’s one local store where one of the machines occasionally freezes up when somebody uses the card and I always double-check my new balance to make sure the machine didn’t charge me twice (that happened once).

    Maybe it’s because Maryland is such a strongly Democratic state, but the card really isn’t any worse than your average debit card. On the other hand, it is a highly visible shade of bright orange which could be embarrassing if you’re surrounded by judgmental people waiting to pounce on you for buying food that tastes good. But in my experience, the only people who recognize those bright orange cards are the people who use them and the people who accept them as payment.

  • “Orthogonal”.


    Language does not inhabit an abstract vector space.

  • dpolicar

    OK. Edited accordingly.

  • Jim Roberts

    That’s still apathy, though. There’s no one steepling fingers and cackling at the pain that causes, there’s just someone in a boardroom thinking about how they can make more money and coming up with a way to get more overdraft fees.

  • Jim Roberts

    I agree that the study’s goal was laudable, but I still question it’s results. As you point out, SNAP recipients are probably unlikely to purchase bottled water when and where tap water is available – was there any control for that? Honestly, given the price of bottled water vs. soda and sugary drinks, if that is the case it may explain quite a lot of the discrepancy.

  • But that also requires actively refusing to consider that they are going to inconvenience a lot of people in the name of making a bigger profit.

  • They don’t see us as people, just numbers in a ledger.

  • Yeah, put me down as a SNAP user who drinks large amounts of tap water and never buys bottled water unless there’s no other water available. The last beverage (using their limited definition of “refreshment beverage”) I purchased was almost certainly Gatorade. Why? Because I have no air-conditioning, because I get dehydrated easily, because Gatorade works pretty much as advertised, and because it’s incredibly cheap in the summertime.

    Juice isn’t something I buy often. I would love to buy more of it, but it’s expensive and I do need to use SNAP to get foods that will fill me up.

  • Happy Birthday!

  • The first time I applied for SNAP, it took the local department of social services so long to deal with my application that by the time I got my benefits, I received something like $900 in benefits for all the months I’d been waiting. That ended up being a very good time to stock up on canned goods and spices!

  • I’m weird, I drink chocolate milk and strawberry milk, as well as adding
    coffee to milk* and drinking straight milk. Oddly enough I don’t eat
    cereal at all.

    One of our local dairies makes root beer milk. It’s fantastic. For a while I bought a quart of it every grocery trip just to help motivate myself to drink a glass of milk a day. It went *fast*.

  • train_star

    Does it help to know that there are other people who use multiple cards to buy things? I used four different cards on a trip recently.

  • smrnda

    If it’s somehow okay to be disgusted by poor people’s spending habits, why isn’t equal disgust displayed for people who make money from passive ownership (investments, etc.) I mean, workers get screwed so that investors can make more money.

    And yes, I *know* that many investors are, in the end, middle class people whose pensions, 401(k) or else are being invested, but I’ve never actually heard anyone complain that the people who more or less make money exclusively through passive ownership aren’t working, and are siphoning away resources from those who did work into their own pockets.

    Even if people on welfare were often scamming the system, that’s chump change compared to the Trust Fund Class.

    I mean, nobody is saying ‘hey, more money could have paid the workers and they all could have had a few more vacation days if some pompous rich jackass just didn’t insist on 1.2 million more dollars instead of just 1.1 million more.’

  • J_Enigma32

    Humans are actually unique in this aspect; behaviorally speaking, we’re a combination of the chimpanzee and the bonobo, our to nearest relatives. Humans are used to working with members of their tribe to ensure survival; you get sick, your tribe will take care of you. You get hurt, your tribe will take care of you. Your tribe will place a value on your life that increases the older you get, due to wisdom/knowledge/forethought/[insert abstract quality here].

    Everything is done at a tribe level. As far as intratribe behavior goes, humans are pretty similar to bonobos. We don’t really mind if someone from our tribe borrows money from us, because we know we’ll either end up borrowing it back and then some or we’ll get it back some other way. There’s not a lot of intratribe conflict – in fact, humans put social measures in place to prevent intratribe conflict.

    It’s Intertribe where we start to see the more chimpanzee-like behavior. And that basically amounts to “you can’t trust them, they’re shifty”, and all of the conflict that humans are notorious for. My completely unscientific opinion on the matter is that this behavior is atavistic in nature; they’re more than happy to justify it when people from their own tribe are benefiting, because to them, that’s a non-zero sum. They can get that stuff back through intratribal trading and relationships. But when an opponent’s tribe are benefiting, all of a sudden it becomes a zero-sum game because they view the opponent’s tribe as a major threat to their established existence.

    Humans are an interesting species to study. I call this behavior atavistic because as a species, through urban living, we’re actually in the process of taming ourselves; that is, humans are domesticating the human species. This domestication process is ultimately breeding out the natural tribalism that humans have – see how rates of patriotism have actually fallen, as well as church attendance, in younger generations (nationalism and religion are two huge tribal markers; abandoning those means you’re abandoning quite a bit of the social tribe in favor of a different type of existence). Those who have the misfortune of displaying this atavistic tendency, however, will do no such thing, and they’ll buckle down to reinforce their boundaries and barriers. That’s what we’re seeing here; an attempt to reinforce the boundaries and the tribal markers. And they’re looking for anything that doesn’t associate the individual with their tribe to justify their atavistic behavior.

    At least, that’s my take on it. I do believe I read somewhere that self-righteousness triggers the same chemical process in the brain as getting high on any variety of drugs, so it’s just as likely what you said – they’re self-righteous anger junkies.

  • MarkTemporis

    I think using SNAP to buy bottled water is more of a waste of money than buying sugary beverages, as the alternative to bottled water is free and in most states subject to higher quality controls.

  • Katie

    I’m glad that they’ve fixed SNAP*, you have NO IDEA how much I wish they’d do the same thing with WIC**. For those who are unfamiliar with the system you get a set of “checks” for each month, that are basically a shopping list for X ounces of cereal, X amount of milk ect. along with checks that are for a given amount of money and can be spent on produce. This means that I generally have 2, or sometimes 3 transactions, which always takes longer to process, and annoys the people waiting behind me. To make it even less fun, the rules on what you can and cannot get are absolutely byzantine-you can get organic produce, but not organic milk. You can get any kind of sardines, but only water packed tuna. Cereal can only be 14 oz or larger boxes. Any error, and its easy to make an error when you’re getting used to the system, or the rules change, result in a humiliating rushed trip to switch out for the proper item/size. Its a terrible, terrible, humiliating system to use.

    *I don’t get SNAP, because my household income is “too high”, even though my kids get reduced priced lunches and the 2 youngest kids and I get WIC. Because of that, I can sort of understand where some of the resentment towards people who “waste” their SNAP benefits. My family eats well, but we eat very frugally. Of course, the fact that we’re able to afford to eat frugally is in itself a marker of the fact that we aren’t truly poor, I have the time and space to cook, we have the storage space to stock up on food when its on sale, and I have a car, so I can travel a bit for a better price. But, the fact remains that as things are, the only thing standing between us and major food insecurity are careful planning and a lot of hard work, and I don’t think that my situation is terribly unusual. If I *could* get SNAP, my food budget would triple, and yes, that does piss me off. The difference is that I prefer to direct my anger at the government than for the people who are less fortunate than I am.

    **One thing that I have noticed is that when I was visibly pregnant, I didn’t get nearly as much hostility from people in line and from cashiers. Now that I’m carrying an infant its another story.

  • Drow

    That is a pretty interesting idea, and some of it definitely has plenty of support (the “intertribal zero-sum outlook” explains an outright tragic amount). I’m not sure about the ultimate result hypothesis, though, save maybe in a limited perspective. As I understand it, on a global scale religious identification is actually increasing, with the hypothesis being that it’s related to globalization making former cultural borders (particularly national borders) more translucent. It’s not necessarily related to intertribal relations (save as a reaction to outside forces perceived as trying to homogenize their image out of existence; the CocaCola-ization, if you will), but more to maintaining an identity as a distinct tribe. Human nature being what it is, this can certainly involve some level of “other-ization,” in which case I’d put forward that it’s going strong and not necessarily going away.

    Also, now you’ve suddenly gotten me curious as to the way bonobos and common chimps behave intertribally and intratribally, respectively.

  • Asha

    I hate that. I genuinely, truly hate that. Because I can’t do something for a person who wants to follow the rules, but it saves me having to explain myself, but if that person had pushed I could have gotten away with doing something.

    But then there are entitled assholes I have to be nice to because they are entitled assholes. Customer service jobs suck.

  • That does help in fact My anxiety disorder is so frustrating since it blows really minor stuff wayyyyy out of proportion.

  • Ugh, I’d never had to deal with WIC before that sounds awful. I really wish they’d straighten that around, nobody should be humiliated because they need a little assistance.

  • That sounds fantastic root beer is amazing, milk is amazing, the combination sounds divine.

  • I couldn’t agree more. Even setting aside the obvious “poor people should suffer” subtext, to worry about poor people making “luxury” purchases like games consoles & tattoos is missing the point in a big way. The big expenses in life are the everyday, weekly & monthly bills that just add up over the course of a year, dwarfing those one-off treats.

  • Victor

    Fred YA should know better than to wake UP the dead on “Friday The Thirteen” cause there’s no telling what could happen!? What if “ONE” of Victor’s feminine cells decides to jump on her male which broom and does start flying around? Do you think that we gods will protect YA’s all from Victor’s lamp, “I” mean lambs of invisible nukes?

    Listen Fred! “I” will tell YA just “ONE” more time! GOD created the darkness first and then the light which should be believed. Then HE created The Angels and there’s no truth to the untold rumors that Lucifer had sex with woman and the product was “MAN” no no, the truth is that GOD (Good Old Dad) created Adam and St. Eve on Friday The Thirteen in the darkness of Wo Men’s mind and like YA know, these creation also did not obey and were cast down and …..not yet Victor? and then they can still be seen on the twelve of nev her, “I” mean never and…….


    Go figure brothers and sisters in Christ!

    God Bless Peace

  • arcseconds

    I dunno, I’m always a bit suspicious about this kind of speculation about what psychological thingies we have lingering from our evolutionary past. Often it seems an exercise in reifying prejudices about human nature — often the ones which hold we’re innately selfish and aggressive, which is vaguely where you’re going at the moment. (I appreciate you wouldn’t go that far, but it’s worth noting the similarities with those that would)

    (Of course, there’s also the opposite prejudice, that we’re all ‘naturally’ sharing and caring, but people who hold this prejudice also tend to think everything’s cultural, which I suppose is where I’m vaguely going at the moment…)

    There are many reasons to be suspicious, but one of the biggest problems in my view is that ‘innate’ traits often require very specific development environments to be realised. Language is a dramatic example: the ability to speak (or sign, or write) a human language is to some extent innate (there are specialised areas of the brain for it, etc.), but if you don’t have a very specific kind of development environment around you (i.e. one where you can interact with language speakers) sometime before you are 12 or so, you won’t ever be able to acquire language.

    This makes for a huge potential pitfall when looking at psychological traits we have now and trying to reason as to how they would work out in the ‘ancestral environment’. To do so is making the assumption that the psychological traits we have are robust with respect to different development environments, and that’s a gratuitous assumption.

    In this particular case, we know that human societies exhibit an extremely wide variety of attitudes to ‘mine-ness’; from selfishness and property paranoia that would make a libertarian blush (in some societies your family will just be let to starve if it can’t provide for itself, even if others are doing OK), to almost complete nonchalance.

    So while I don’t deny that there’s probably something we could call an innate proclivity to territorialism, it can’t be as simple as ‘someone has taken my thing, therefore rage’. What counts as your thing, what counts as someone taking it, and what the appropriate response is are all so thoroughly culturally determined, so we face a lot of difficulty separating out the ‘innate’ trait from its culturally-determined manifestations, if indeed it is really possible to do this at all. We face even greater difficulties in knowing how it was manifested in past societies earlier in our evolutionary history, hence it is going to be extremely difficult to have an account of its selection that’s any better than guesswork.

    Assuming you’re right and it is a reaction to property norms being infringed, though, this does raise some interesting questions. Why do they regard poor people spending any money at all on all but the most spartan necessities as a form of theft? Why do they respond to this with outrage and entrenched selfishness (i.e. why is that the culturally-appropriate response)?

    Also, societies where there’s no expectation to help starving or poor people often live in harsh environments. Is this what’s going on here? If so, why are they acting like they’re living in a harsh environment when in fact they’re (in many cases) living in clement climates in technologically advanced societies with massive amounts of resources?

    I’m going to suggest another possibility, one that has been mentioned before, that this is not so much about property, but about hierarchy. Poor people are bad, worthless sorts who don’t deserve anything. Them having something is almost a form of challenge, like not offering the right forms of submissive behaviour (cowering, tail between the legs, bowing and scraping, not looking you in the eye). This has the advantage of explaining why corporate welfare isn’t a problem: rich people are good, worthy sorts who deserve everything that’s going. Approving of their wealth is the right sort of submissive behaviour.

  • banancat

    Sounds like a root beer float.

  • arcseconds

    I’ve got one happy(ish) story along these lines.

    An acquaintance of mine was on a helpdesk at a university, and had to deal with an extremely trying person who wouldn’t listen to reason and ended up yelling at him. Apparently she had also rung several other people (department administrators, another helpdesk, etc) with essentially the same complaint (something about a course she thought she was enrolled in not appearing on a website somewhere where she expected, and she took this as evidence she had been dropped from the course without notification. There was a perfectly mundane explanation, which she refused to listen to). One person she verbally abuse broke down in tears and was allowed to go home.

    Eventually the dean phoned her, and told her her behaviour was absolutely unacceptable, and if she continued, she would be hauled before the disciplinary committee.

  • Mary

    And tap water has flouride, chlorine and possibly lead. It tastes terrible too. In my mind it may be worse than surgary sodas because they are made with purified water.

    The gallon jugs of water are pretty cheap, less than a dollar for the generic in my area. .

  • SkyknightXi

    And yet it’s not good training of the psyche to treat even numbers like that. Even if the numbers can’t feel pain, what sort of habit are you making yourself cleave to?

  • SkyknightXi

    Even if the “nice things” might boost their morale? I know the archons like to extol unalloyed hard work, but what they’re foisting on the poor is that PLUS constant desperation-addling. Maybe we should get someone to hypnotize them into a state where they can at least imagine a constant nimbus of dread over whether they’ll be able to get regular meals next week.

  • SkyknightXi

    Hence why my suspicion isn’t towards investors, but specifically speculators. The recent automated stock trading programs don’t exactly help their image; are they even TRYING to do *specific* boons for local or general society?

  • Erl

    The hell it doesn’t! :P

  • Anton_Mates

    If you can actually hunt down their methods section,* they controlled for month of year and assorted “store location characteristics” (state where the store is located, demographics of its customers, etc.) I suspect that would capture a lot of the tap vs. bottled factors.

    Bottled water actually made up the same proportion of beverage purchases for both SNAP recipients and WIC-only, so that doesn’t seem to be the cause. The big differences are that SNAP recipients bought much more sugar-sweetened beverages and fruit drinks, and much less 100% juice, diet beverages and un-sweetened beverages.

    Diet beverages are, AFAIK, about the same price as their sugar-sweetened counterparts, which suggests that SNAP recipients aren’t just buying sugary drinks because they’re the cheapest liquids available.

    *Probably the biggest problem with this paper is that the regression models and all the inferential statistics are in a supplementary appendix file. The paper itself contains nothing but the predicted mean expenditures for various categories, without even a standard error or confidence interval or anything. I don’t know if that was an editorial choice, but it sure is weird.

  • chgo_liz

    In an interesting twist, the Whole Foods I shop at on the near south side of Chicago has a lot of customers who use the LINK card, and I have never seen any other customer exhibit a negative reaction in line. I’m sure it happens occasionally, but it’s not common. So at least at one store – one that is known for being higher cost, even – there seems to be little-to-no public judgment of those who use the LINK card to buy their groceries.

  • chgo_liz

    I used to be an officer at a bank. That is exactly how it’s done: debits are put through first, to give the bank every opportunity to charge overdraft fees.

    I wonder if they explained the scenario they were looking for so obliquely to you because they were afraid a computer programmer might side with the minions and put in some code to offset the situation.

    edited to add: this was written first, before my comment above. It says a lot about how much I value Slacktivist that I’m willing to suffer Disqus in order to be part of the conversation.

  • chgo_liz

    Which reminds me: there were two people plus the supervisor in one department of the bank who were responsible for going through the computer printout (this was awhile back; perhaps now it’s all done on screen) every morning to check for special customers (business and individual) who were on that overdrawn list. Those customers would get personal phone calls to check what was going on and how would they like it handled, and their fees would be waived.

    Just saying.

  • chgo_liz

    Incubator = good
    mother and baby on WIC = welfare queen

    Didn’t you get the memo?

  • chgo_liz

    They’re doing the 21st century equivalent of stealing a loaf of bread.

  • chgo_liz

    There is a genetic component to lactose in/tolerance. Northern Europeans are number one in the world for having the ability to digest lactose after the toddler years. Native Americans (excluding those who are mixed with northern European heritage, obviously) are 100% intolerant. Most Asian (other than the Indian subcontinent) and African groups are in the 90-95% range for intolerance.

    However, I don’t believe the exclusion of milk from LINK has anything to do with the powers-that-be using a scientific basis for their decisions. My guess is that the milk industry is in the driver’s seat on this issue.

  • chgo_liz

    I’m reminded of an ex who lived in abject poverty until his mid-20s who would put the most astonishing amount of sugar and cream in his coffee. I couldn’t drink it, but for him it was how he stayed alive for many years, and he couldn’t break the habit just because it was no longer necessary.

  • chgo_liz

    But the reason there is no accommodation for pedestrians on many roads has as much to do with drivers having priority over walkers as any concern about cost. Making the drivers slow down would impinge on their “rights”. Not gonna happen.

  • chgo_liz

    Especially lead. If you’re poor, you probably live in poorer housing, which includes old plumbing. In Chicago, for example, building codes REQUIRED (until some time in the 1960’s) lead pipe for the connection between a house/building and the water main under the street. Unless someone has built new housing on a site or spent tens of thousands ripping out the old water lines from the street to the building (either of which indicate a level of wealth), you are guaranteed to have your tap water running through many feet of lead before coming out your faucet. That’s just reality.

  • How bad the water tastes depends on where you are and how recently the pipes have been replaced. Tap water in my neighborhood improved drastically a few years ago, so taste isn’t going to be a deciding factor for me–especially since so much bottled water is really just tap water imported from a different state.

    Gallon jugs of water may be cheap, but remember that a lot of us poor people have no cars. If I’m carrying a gallon of anything home from the store, I probably won’t be able to carry anything else. If I’m buying something that heavy, it’s going to be something with some kind of nutritional value (even if that nutrition is just the quick energy of sugar).

  • the card didn’t always recognize energy drinks as food

    SNAP benefits are meant to pay for food, but not nutritional supplements. If the energy drinks had a “Nutrition Facts” label, they should have been covered as those items are considered food. But if the energy drinks had a “Supplement Facts” label, then SNAP wouldn’t pay for them. All of which means that, yes, SNAP will pay for ordinary chewing gum, but not gum that’s been fortified with vitamins that make it into a “supplement” rather than a food.

  • Some people believe that a state of constant dread encourages the poor to be more hardworking and resourceful. Those people are wrong, but they continue to exist.

  • Jim Roberts

    Interesting, and thank you for the analysis. I’m curious about the education of WIC vs. SNAP recipients at this point. One of the things I’ve been doing in my limited spare time is helping out with remedial education for people on welfare and it’s pretty astounding what basic knowledge (like, stuff I got in grade three) some of them simply don’t possess. I think part of the reason for their bad decisions may simply be lack of knowledge of alternatives.