The Importance of Checking Your Facts First

Recently, someone dear to me, but whom stands on the opposite side of many important contemporary issues, sent me an email about the current state of Hiroshima as the 67th anniversary of our bombing the city approaches. (***Correction: This apparently has been floating around the web for some time as the 68th anniversary will be this August 3rd.

The whole thing is a mess of propaganda, weird claims, and outright lies. Here it is (be sure to get past it to read my response below!):


67 years later!

What happened to the radiation that 

lasts thousands of years?


We all know that Hiroshima and Nagasaki were destroyed in August 1945 after the expl*sion of atomic bo*bs.  However, we know little about the progress made by the people of that land  during the past 67 years.















What has caused more long term destruction- The A-b*mb,


Government welfare programs created to buy the

Votes of those who want someone to take care of them?

Japan does not have a welfare system.

Work for it or do without. 

These are possibly the 5 best sentences you'll ever read and all applicable to this experiment:

1. You cannot legislate the poor into prosperity by legislating the wealthy out of prosperity.

2. What one person receives without working for, another person must work for without receiving.

3. The government cannot give to anybody anything that the government does not first take from somebody else.

4. You cannot multiply wealth by dividing it!

  1. When half of the people get the idea that they do not have to work because the other half is going to take care of them, and when the other half gets the idea that it does no good to work because somebody else is going to get what they work for, that is the beginning of the end of any nation.


 Wow.  Right? It certainly seems to make the case that welfare is more destructive than an atomic bomb.  Well, that would be true, except that those pictures above are not actually of Hiroshima but of the much larger Osaka.  This is immediately recognizable from the ferris wheel, which is a rather famous landmark in Japan’s third largest city, not the much smaller but certainly rebuilt Hiroshima. It is on one hand dishonest by the person who wrote the email and on the other hand offensive.  How would you like it if a Japanese person said “Oh, you’re from Los Angeles?  Isn’t that where the Statue of Liberty is?”

The pictures of Detroit are sadly true, but the city’s woes are not the result of large social welfare programs.  If that were true, other cities with a substantial social safety net thought to make workers “lazy” like Chicago or New York City would look the same.... but they don’t.  The most common consensus in reading the history of the city is that its troubles began as trade barriers began falling and car companies outsourced their work to other countries where the labor was cheaper.  China first, the Mexico with the passage of NAFTA, and now many other parts of the world.  It is disingenuous at best to claim welfare destroyed Detroit when it is readily apparent that de-industrialization is the prime culprit.  This is happened in numerous small towns across the US - the main industry leaves and there are no jobs left so it becomes a ghost town.  Is it that big a leap of understanding to see how this applies to Detroit?

Further claims are made, let’s see if I can refute them one at a time.

  1. You may or may not be able to legislate poverty out of existence.  We haven’t been successful despite the 50 years of War waged on it since president Johnson declared it.  We can, however, note the influence of money in politics.  Unless you are a hardcore Commie (I know a few), the end goal is not to make the wealthy less prosperous but to see that their prosperity doesn’t equal more than the one vote we are all given as a right by being a citizen of this country.  The rules are written to privilege the already privileged and not to help those with already dire life circumstances.
  2. This is a common zero-sum assumption - that welfare is only sustained by stealing from the rich to give to the poor.  It also ignores that those who often scream loudest about it don’t actually work for their money.  The richest of the rich, who should be paying the highest share as they benefit from our economic system.  The current classic example of this is Mitt Romney, whose net worth of $250 million means that he can sit back, do nothing and earn $22 million a year as his wealth generates returns.  Did he work hard to get where he is?  Certainly.  But is he working for dividends?  Hardly.
  3. This one may be true, but I don’t see it as a problem.  We all participate in society of give-and-take.  I give currency and get bread.  The government taxes me a builds a road.  What’s the problem here?
  4. You absolutely can multiply by division.  What is 1/.01? 100!  Non-monetarily speaking, investment in social programs like welfare have been shown to yield the highest multiplier effect as economic investments.  That means that for every dollar invested in feeding people, more dollars are spent throughout the economy, which has a stimulating effect.
  5. I hate this.  It’s similar to the 47% remarks Romney made in the 2012 presidential elections.  It’s insulting to the people who are actually trying to find work but can’t, the people stuck in underemployment because big companies want to dodge paying full time benefits, and my whole generation who went through the expected motions of a college education only to move back in with their parents after facing a shitty job market.  Don’t call people who can’t find work lazy, you might be in that position someday and see how it really is. I know I have been.

Also, Japan does have a welfare system, and a much more extensive one than the United States.

If we tried some kind of experiment as the email suggests, it would end disastrously.  It would be based on false assumptions and un-truths that would send us back to a time when children were forced to work 10 hour day in factories from the time the were 8, or people would never be able to retire because their job didn’t pay enough beyond subsistence to be able to save. 

Sorry this got so rant-y.  I’m just sick of being told that a lack of motivation or personal failure is to blame for those who have to lean on the social safety net.  It’s a lack of compassion that leads to such an accusation.


Thanks to some motivation from my friends in the Sociology department (especially Audrey and her blog), I’ve registered for my first 10k this fall.  Those of you that go way back with me will remember the pudgy kid in high school who did shotput and discus for spring sports because running was hard, or who completed approximately half a workout on the first day before quitting cross country.

Things are different today.  I’m down to about 180 lbs. from a high of 210ish, and the practice of riding my bicycle every day has made running more approachable.  It doesn’t hurt the way it used to when I would get shin splints, cramps, rolled ankles, etc.  In fact, I’ve been able twice this year to actually run the 6.2 miles that constitute such a race - the hard part now will to actually make a race out of it. New shoes also make a world of difference. Bonus: my recently retired dad will be running it with me.  And by that I mean behind me :).

I don’t think I’ll ever be inclined to run a full marathon, but this is a bit of growth that I am happy for.  Especially when I sit at a desk all day.

The Meaning of "Fresh" and Other Fast-Food Myths

A while back I was sitting the Cleveland airport and hungry after repeated delays.  Not wanting to miss a flight that would surely not have left on time, I wandered to the food court for sustenance.  Being on the road, among almost all things in life, made me crave something fatty and salty so I settled for a lackluster Fuddrucker’s burger with fries.  As I sat down to eat, I noticed across the court the sign for Sbarro that proclaimed “Fresh Italian Cooking” and began to ponder on how such a thing could really exist coming from a fast food chain in an airport.

What is fresh?  Does it mean not frozen, not processed, or organic? Subway wants us to “eat fresh” and has made millions selling it to us, yet their meats are heavily processed and their bread dough made thousands of miles away to only be baked at the final location.

This article I found in Slate sums up the mantra of fresh pretty well: 

"I think it's meaningless, almost, now," says Mark Crumpacker, the chief marketing officer with Chipotle. "You could claim that something very heavily processed was fresh, I guess. I don't think there are any rules around 'fresh.' You can just say it with impunity. And I think lots of people do."

In other words, fresh doesn’t mean shit.  Just like “all natural,” it is a marketing phrase allowing companies to continue to sell the same old unhealthy food products while putting a healthy spin on the consumers’ view of it.  There is absolutely no regulation or standard for what most terms we apply to food should mean.  Premium foods aren’t necessarily premium.  Grade A means little when no one would possibly imagine selling a Grade B product.  A rare exception I can think of is organic - which does have a set of (loose) standards defined by the USDA on what can go into a food to receive that label.  Other labels enforced by that agency like “grass-fed” or “cage-free” differ so little from convention as to be almost meaningless.  The difference between sticking a bird in a crate with the square footage of a piece of printer paper and cramming the same number of birds into the equivalent lack of space without cages separating them (but with their beaks cut off to they don’t peck each other to death) really doesn’t match the image communicated to the customer.

The other part of Sbarro’s fallacious slogan was that their food is Italian, which it isn’t.  I’ve been to Italy, and they don’t make New York style pizza by the slice loaded with sausage or extremely mediocre salads with vegetable oil.  One could even contest the “cooking” part of the slogan, given that their food is baked in an oven.  

The fast food industry relies on consumers’ perception of health, which changes over time.  We as a society used to think that hamburgers were good for us, and fed liquor to sick children in the form of hot toddies.  The jury is still out on butter - not on deliciousness but on health impacts.  Fast food restaurants somehow seems to fit our model of health with each new trend and this is not because they change their menu substantially but how they market it.  Even the famously healthy chain Chipotle has stirred controversy when they began labeling their GMO ingredients.  Many people were shocked because GMO and healthy often seem at odds, but that hides how prevalent GMOs are in the rest of the food system.  Kudos to Chipotle for being brave enough to be the first honest chain.

The only real way to know what is in your food is to be actively engaged in its production or the local food system.  Local doesn’t mean much either, considering that the general convention is to apply that definition to anything coming from within 400 miles, but it is better and easier to hold accountable.  Start a garden or go to the farmer’s market if you can.  The more you know your food the more it can nourish you.

Tablets and the Computing Market

I don't own a tablet, but I am extremely thankful for their rising popularity for a number of reasons that have to do with stirring up virtual monopolies that previously existed in the computing market.  

First processors - before the rise of mobile devices you basically had to buy a computer with a chip from Intel.  The only other option was AMD as a real competitor, but they never broke 10% market share even in their best years.  Now, tablets are made with processors from several competing companies - Qualcomm, AMD, Apple's A5 & A6 and Samsung all make their own in the market.  Intel has struggled to compete because their x86 architecture is too power hungry to work well in a small portable device and they entered ARM race later than the other 4.

Second - Operating systems.  Again, we for many years saw a near monopoly of Windows because no one could create a functional and easy-enough OS to compete.  Linux cornered the power user market and Apple the high end hardware market, but neither were very popular.  Now, thanks to Apple's iOS (in the iPhone and iPad, which has had a reciprocal effect in boosting the popularity of OSX and selling more Mac desktops and laptops) there is an entirely new market for operating systems - one in which Microsoft has floundered in for years.  The main competitors are Apple and Google, but modest market share goes to Blackberry and Microsoft and the makers of Mozilla Firefox are about to release a mobile OS of their own.  

People who know me should get two fundamental parts of me: I don't have unlimited faith in the free market to solve the world's problems, and I'm a huge nerd.  Very often, those come in to conflict when I realize that the technology I love is generated in a free market that externalizes huge social and ecological by-products to the developing world, as when we dump our tech-waste in India or outsource the building of MacBooks to Foxconn in China where workers are pushed so hard they become suicidal.  In this case, though, I find some comfort in the re-opening of previously un-competitive markets because it has a unleashed a wave of innovation in software and hardware that I haven't seen since the 90s.  Seriously, it is exciting to watch today.

The one major downside to all of this is that newer computing devices tend to be non-upgradeable.  You can't swap out RAM or storage chips they way you can on traditional desktops without highly specialized tools.  Even then, good luck figuring out how to solder the new one in.  This has even trickled into the laptop market - newer ultrabooks are so tightly engineered that you cannot modify components.  I'm dreading the purchase of a new laptop this fall because I won't be able to upgrade the RAM and the hard drive they way I was able to on my current one.

Zach Rubin, 2018