Keating flags some odd news out of China, which is planning to do away with its 2,600-year-old state monopoly on table salt:

The salt monopoly began during in the Qi state on the Shandong peninsula around the seventh century BC and may have been the first ever state-controlled monopoly. During the third century BC, the Chinese imperial state sold salt at a markup, effectively levying a tax used to pay troops and, perhaps, the early stages of the Great Wall of China.

Several centuries, dynasties, and revolutions later, the world’s oldest monopoly is still in place. Under the policy’s current incarnation, the China National Salt Industry Corp. designates who is authorized to produce salt and is the only entity allowed to sell it to consumers. These consumers often pay three to four times more than what the CNSIC does. The new plan will liberalize the industry and scrap price controls starting in 2016.

Some Chinese netizens, Bethany Allen-Ebrahimian observes, are concerned that opening the salt market will just lead to more food safety scandals:

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The Moral Case Against Zoos, Ctd

Nov 28 2014 @ 5:23pm

Mayor Sahin visits  the baboon rejected by its biological mother

Chelsea Wald reflects on Benjamin Wallace Wells’s argument:

[H]ow can we justify keeping animals in zoos? Wallace-Wells asks. His conclusion is that we can’t, and that we won’t continue to try for much longer. I’m not sure I agree. But there are certainly bits and pieces of zoos that could be handed over to technology. The educational aspect of zoos would be relatively easy to make virtual. And since zoo animals don’t really act as they would in nature (even when they’re not psychotic), it’s hard to argue that zoos can convey much about the animals other than how they look. And while many zoos attempt to share a lot of material about conservation, it’s not clear how much of that is getting through to visitors. Certainly, technology that connects people to animals in the wild could reveal far more about the animals’s actual behaviors as well as the need for conservation. If kids just want to see an animal up close, they can go to a farm or get a pet.

But we do lose something, if we lose physical zoos.

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Mental Health Break

Nov 28 2014 @ 4:20pm

When Black Friday gets dark – real dark:

More Private, Less Of A Dick

Nov 28 2014 @ 3:36pm

Pamela Stewart, a former private investigator, describes how moral qualms led her out of the profession:

I talked to a few friends in the industry this week and asked if they were considering using drones. They are excited about the possibility. Legislation doesn’t keep pace with technology, so there are grey areas in that blue sky. A private investigator cannot observe you in any place you have a reasonable expectation of privacy, but that doesn’t mean they won’t try. Years ago, a colleague followed a subject to a nudist colony and got video of the subject and others playing volleyball. Everyone in the office watched that video. …

Most of the people who do this work don’t care about you or your privacy. Most of the people being surveilled don’t know how to protect their personal information. And most of investigating bodies don’t care. You are just data. And even if you are doing nothing wrong, you’re just collateral damage in the search for the “truth.”

I want to say I am done. I helped many people get the information they needed to make decisions about their lives or their businesses, but in doing so I devalued myself. While focusing my camera on others, I blurred my own definition of right and wrong. I was a licensed liar and a snoop. It’s a judgmental, and soul-destroying world. From now on, I’ll stick to reading Raymond Chandler and sign off with the words I used in every investigation report: “Surveillance discontinued.”

The View From Your Window

Nov 28 2014 @ 3:01pm

vfmw-photo

Chicago, Illinois, 3.20 pm

Cultish Consumerism

Nov 28 2014 @ 2:36pm

Derek Thompson notes that “many of the most successful new brands have been looking to an unusual but powerful source of inspiration – religious cults”:

Cults like the Moonies are built on the paradox that we feel most like ourselves when we’re part of a group, says Douglas Atkin, the global head of community at the room-sharing company Airbnb, and the author of the 2004 book The Culting of Brands: Turning Your Customers Into True Believers. “The common belief is that people join cults to conform,” Atkin wrote. “Actually, the very opposite is true. They join to become more individual.”

A number of Bay Area companies have come to incorporate this insight into their marketing strategies.

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A Poem For Friday

Nov 28 2014 @ 1:40pm

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“Known to Be Left” by Sharon Olds:

If I pass a mirror, I turn away,
I do not want to look at her,
and she does not want to be seen. Sometimes
I don’t see exactly how to go on doing this.
Often, when I feel that way,
within a few minutes I am crying, remembering
his body, or an area of it,
his backside often, a part of him
just right now to think of, luscious, not too
detailed, and his back turned toward me.
After tears, the chest is less sore,
as if some goddess of humanness
within us has caressed us with a gush of tenderness.
I guess that’s how people go on, without
knowing how. I am so ashamed
before my friends—to be known to be left
by the one who supposedly knew me best,
each hour is a room of shame, and I am
swimming, swimming, holding my head up,
smiling, joking, ashamed, ashamed,
like being naked with the clothed, or being
a child, having to try to behave
while hating the terms of your life. In me now
there’s a being of sheer hate, like an angel
of hate. On the badminton lawn, she got
her one shot, pure as an arrow,
while through the eyelets of my blouse the no-see-ums
bit the flesh no one seems now
to care to touch. In the mirror, the torso
looks like a pinup hives martyr,
or a cream pitcher speckled with henbit and pussy-paws,
full of the milk of human kindness
and unkindness, and no one is lining up to drink.
But look! I am starting to give him up!
I believe he is not coming back. Something
has died, inside me, believing that,
like the death of a crone in one twin bed
as a child is born in the other. Have faith,
old heart. What is living, anyway,
but dying.

(From Stag’s Leap: Poems by Sharon Olds, copyright © 2012 by Sharon Olds. Used by permission of Alfred A. Knopf, an imprint of the Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. Photo by Dave Walker)

Thoughts On Affirmative Action

Nov 28 2014 @ 12:59pm

Freddie has a long post, in which he expresses exasperation at my opposition to racial discrimination against Asian-American students in the Ivy League. His core point is that without affirmative action, and the punishment of Asian-Americans for their race, there would be far lower proportions of black and Latino students in college, and that therefore ending it is grotesquely irresponsible if you care about “racial economic equality” in America. Above all, I am talking in “abstractions”, while I seem oblivious to the human tragedy of black and Latino students being shut out of college.

Some of our disagreements are structural. Freddie, for example, writes:

This whole debate depends on a flatly bogus notion of what college is, or what our country is. There is no such thing as meritocracy. There has never been anything resembling meritocracy.

In contrast, I think that the establishment of standardized testing in the post-war years – together with the GI bill – was a huge step forward for meritocracy in America. Millions of people who previously were unable to go to college had sudden access to education for the first time in American history. The SAT liberated millions from the grueling fates of their parents. The huge increase in the numbers of women in colleges and the workforce also powered more meritocracy – as more competition in a labor force will tend to do. Both of these changes were huge gains for meritocracy in America. Is this a perfect system? Of course not. It’s increasingly compromised by extreme economic inequality and all the corruptions it entails. Nepotism, racism, and sexism also play a big part, as they will in every human society, in frustrating the goal of equal opportunity. We have a flawed and imperfect meritocracy (when in history has there ever been anything else?). But the idea that there “has never been anything resembling meritocracy” in America is hyperbole.

Freddie says I operate in abstractions, rather than human beings. But I am defending real human beings who often come from poor immigrant families and who have worked hard and scored high grades and are then denied a place at college solely because of the color of their skin. That human experience is a terrible one to inflict in a meritocracy. I’m baffled why many are so comfortable with this ugly fact or feel no sympathy for the plight of those treated by Harvard today the way Jews were in the 1920s. Freddie argues that this is defensible because it is a benign and well-meaning form of racism. But racism has always been defended as benign and well-meant, hasn’t it? Shouldn’t we be a teensy bit skeptical about such claims?

But if I oppose affirmative action, what would I do to mitigate racial economic inequality? Plenty of things, actually – and none of them requiring race discrimination.

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A History Of Emoji

Nov 28 2014 @ 12:39pm

Adam Sternbergh explains where those ubiquitous cartoons come from:

Emoji were born in a true eureka moment, from the mind of a single man: dish_emoji Shigetaka Kurita, an employee at the Japanese telecom company NTT Docomo. Back in the late 1990s, the company was looking for a way to distinguish its pager service from its competitors in a very tight market. Kurita hit on the idea of adding simplistic cartoon images to its messaging functions as a way to appeal to teens. The first round of what came to be called emoji – a Japanese neologism that means, more or less, “picture word” – were designed by Kurita, using a pencil and paper, as drawings on a 12-by-12-pixel grid and were inspired by pictorial Japanese sources, like manga (Japanese comic books) and kanji ­(Japanese characters borrowed from written Chinese).

Kurita wound up with 176 crude symbols ranging from smiley faces to music notes. This feature proved so popular that the other Japanese telecoms adopted it. In 2007, Apple released the first iPhone – and the global smartphone market boomed. Apple and Google both realized that, in order to crack the Japanese market, they would need to provide emoji functions in their operating systems, if only for use in Japan. So Apple buried an emoji keyboard in the iPhone where North Americans weren’t intended to find it. But eventually tech-savvy users in the U.S., who were curious about the Japanese emoji phenomenon, figured out that you could force your phone to open this hidden keyboard by downloading a Japanese-­language app, and voilà—suddenly you could bejangle your texts with a smiling Pile of Poo.

(Image by Niels Heidenreich)

Face Of The Day

Nov 28 2014 @ 11:43am

DebtPortrait7

From photographer Brittany M. Powell’s ongoing series The Debt Project:

Debt Portrait #7, Oakland, CA 2013

James Riggs Davidson III (J.R.), Electrical contractor, $52,335.63 in debt. I bought a truck and moved to California where work was scarce. Then decided to go back to school to finish a degree. After graduation, I decided to start my own business and take on more loans needed for equipment and slow times. Within the second year of business, I had to buy new truck due to an accident. By the third year of business, I was making triple payments on most loans so as to pay off quickly… then the economy tanked and my triple payments were barely a single payment due to most lenders ramping their interest rates to cover “losses.”

Powell says of her experience shooting the subjects:

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