Archive for March 2016
Why don’t they just feed us kibble? It’s going in that direction. — Jaw-dropping story of a Silicon Valley juice-box startup
Yes, really. Read this NY Times article by David Gelles: what sure seems like a crackpot money-sinkhole of an idea is sold on the basis of machine feeding, more or less. From the article:
By some measures, Juicero is very much on trend. Soylent, a liquefied meal replacement, is already popular among single-minded coders too busy to eat. Chime, a device meant to brew Indian chai, will soon be on the market. A company called Tovala is raising money on Kickstarter, hoping to build a hybrid microwave and toaster, and also sell specialized meal packs.
You have to read the article to believe it.
BTW, note also in the article this very clear depiction of meme competition and evolution (and dead-ends).
To succeed, Juicero will have to buck these trends, and also clear a more pedestrian hurdle — persuading people to pay a premium for another kitchen doodad. “Seven hundred dollars for a small cooking appliance is extremely high,” said Virginia Lee, beverage analyst for Euromonitor. “There are a lot of appliances competing for counter space, never mind the wallet.”
And I personally, as a type-2 diabetic (and I’ve heard that there are more than a few of us around), juice is contraindicated: a type-2 diabetic needs the fiber that the Juicero discard and definitely doesn’t need the quickly-digestible high-carb product. So I think the reception might be substantially underwhelming. But I’m sure he’s made his bundle, which is what the whole exercise seems to be about, unless it actually is to move us all closer to a piped-in diet of kibble and sludge.
This. If you can’t smell it, you can’t enjoy it, and that’s at least part of the point: wearing a fragrance you yourself enjoy. No smell, no enjoyment.
Well, it’s already happened, hasn’t it? Corporations are memeplexes that strive to avoid death, seek to grow, and when grown will spawn off other corporations (subsidiaries until sold), children that resemble and reflect the parent corporation, though with some variations, which may have different survival rates. Replication with some variation and intense competition for available resources (money, mainly), thus inducing natural selection.
And once corporations are legally considered persons, then the memeplex has become a (conscious) person—the consciousness expressing itself as the corporation’s, culture, values, goals, and point of view, which is independent, in a way, of the individuals who work there (the hosts) just as we are independent of the individual cells that make up our body. They live and die but the body (physical or corporate) lives on, until it at last dies as well. But a successful life includes reproduction: the essence of a replicator. And we have indeed seen how the same corporate personality and character, for a successful corporation, will span several or many generations of CEOs, operating staff, etc.: the personnel change, but the meme goes on. Same with the cells in our body and our conscious selves.
That seems very like consciousness, if you ask me, close enough so that it can be tricky to distinguish once you view things from the meme’s point of view.
The corporate/governmental/organizational memeplexes seem to be increasingly interested in tracking every individual—cf. the iPhones that so many host individuals carry, while it transmitsand records all sorts of information about the host, information that the government meme can access at any time. A memeplex can presumably detect changes in behavior that might affect it negatively, and by definition the most successful memeplexes will take action to protect themselves and extend their life. One version of a memeplex immune system (such as the one we see in North Korea) does require certain forms of government that are heavy on power and authority. Have you checked out lately what police forces in the US have been up to. Check out Radley Balko in the Washington Post by subscribing to his feed.
It could conceivably fit together as a science-fiction novel. It surelu isn’t reality, is it?
But it is interesting the extent to which large corporations and industries—memeplexes all—now control the government to such a degree. Take, for example, the Department of the Treasury: heavily staffed by each administration, Democrt or Republican, with denizens of Wall Street taking a ride through the revolving door? And all the financial regulatory agencies, the SEC and others, staffed in all higher-level positions by Wall Street representatives. There are a few others, but look at the pattern.
And lobbyists, quite overtly in action to benefit this memeplex or that one. Firece competition, easy adaptation, rapid evolution.
I describe. You decide.
UPDATE: After sleeping on it, I realized the idea of a single entity whose individual components are separate humans is a fairly old conceit. For example, the title page of Hobbes’s Leviathan includes this image:
The memeplex illustrated is of a “nation” meme, with citizens as the body and the monarch as the head.
Hobbes talked about the state of nature in which humanity lived before organizations (memeplexes) arose, a state he famously characterized as “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short,” in which a state of perpetual war of one against another, since the only way to decide conflicts was by fighting or retreating. And that is not unlike the state of memes, though I suppose other meme-constructs, like laws and courts, are used. But it does seem that large memeplexes struggle against each other more or less constantly.
Ben Hubbard reports in the NY Times:
BURAIDA, Saudi Arabia — The men were not hardened militants. One was a pharmacist, another a heating and cooling technician. One was a high school student.
They were six cousins, all living in Saudi Arabia, all with the same secret. They had vowed allegiance to the Islamic State — and they planned to kill another cousin, a sergeant in the kingdom’s counterterrorism force.
And that is what they did. In February, the group abducted Sgt. Bader al-Rashidi, dragged him to the side of a road south of this central Saudi city, and shot and killed him. With video rolling, they condemned the royal family, saying it had forsaken Islam.
Then they fled into the desert. The video spread rapidly across the kingdom, shocking a nation struggling to contain a terrorist movement seen as especially dangerous not just because it promotes violence, but also because it has adopted elements of Saudi Arabia’s conservative version of Islam — a Sunni creed known as Wahhabism — and used them to delegitimize the monarchy.
“Wahhabism is fundamental to the Islamic State’s ideology,” said Cole Bunzel, a scholar of Wahhabi history at Princeton University and the author of a recent paper on Saudi Arabia and the Islamic State. “It informs the character of their religion and is the most on-display feature, in my opinion, of their entire ideology.”
Among 20 terrorist episodes in Saudi Arabia since late 2014, the killing of Sergeant Rashidi was the third in which citizens had secretly joined the Islamic State and killed relatives in the security services. In each case, they justified their acts by saying Saudi Arabia practiced a corrupted version of the faith, a charge aimed at a kingdom that holds itself up as the only true Islamic state.
The Islamic State, however, has been able to infiltrate the kingdom through digital recruiting, and it has found devotees willing to kill fellow Sunnis, as well as Shiites, to destabilize the monarchy.
In July, a 19-year-old man murdered his uncle, a police colonel, before carrying out a suicide attack near a prison, wounding two guards.
In an audio message released by the Islamic State after his death, he addressed his own mother.
“Your apostate brother was a loyalist to the tyrants,” he said. “Were it not for him, the tyrants would not exist.”
Maj. Gen. Mansour Turki, a spokesman for the Saudi Interior Ministry, said that terrorist attacks over the past two years had killed scores of people, along with about two dozen militants.
In addition, about 3,000 Saudis have joined militant groups abroad, and more than 5,000 have been incarcerated at home on terrorism charges, a large increase in recent years.
Saudi Arabia has a tangled history with Islamic militant groups. For a long time, it backed them as proxy forces to push its agenda in places like Bosnia, Chechnya and Afghanistan (where it worked with the United States). But that largely ended in 2003, when Al Qaeda turned its focus on the kingdom and staged a series of deadly attacks.
Now the Islamic State poses a new challenge, by turning aspects of Saudi Arabia’s conservative creed against it. Wahhabism has been molded over the years to serve the interests of the monarchy, emphasizing obedience to the rulers and condemning terrorist attacks, even against those seen as apostates.
Still, among the Islamic State’s many enemies, Saudi Arabia is the only one that considers the Quran and other religious texts its constitution, criminalizes apostasy and bans all forms of unsanctioned public religion.
The country was founded on an alliance between the Saud family, whose members became the monarchs, and a cleric named Sheikh Muhammad ibn Abdul-Wahhab, whose teachings were used to justify military conquest by labeling it jihad against those deemed to be infidels, most of whom were other Muslims. . .
The best-selling jazz record of all time is a universally acknowledged masterpiece, revered as much by rock and classical music fans as by jazz lovers. The album is Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue, which brought together seven now-legendary musicians in the prime of their careers: tenor saxophonist John Coltrane, alto saxophonist Julian “Cannonball” Adderley, pianists Bill Evans and Wynton Kelly, bassist Paul Chambers, drummer Jimmy Cobb and, of course, trumpeter Miles Davis.
Carolyn Kormann has a New Yorker article that is fascinating reading for a foodie:
Look out the windows of Gustu, the most ambitious restaurant in La Paz, Bolivia, and you’ll see the city climbing up toward the looming peaks of the Andes in a lumpy, shimmering mosaic. You might experience a momentary dread, like the one that hits before a steep hike: you’re at the bottom of the bowl. But in La Paz the lower the elevation the better you feel. The city’s average altitude is twelve thousand feet above sea level, which means about a third less oxygen per breath. The lowest-altitude neighborhoods are the most desirable. In the one called Calacoto—where Gustu is situated, at 10,993 feet—quiet cobblestone streets are lined with embassies and the offices of N.G.O.s. Local kids pronounce rico, meaning rich or delicious, as an American would, without rolling the “r”—a Bolivian version of a Brahmin lockjaw. “In the U.S. you pay for the view,” a resident told me. “Here you pay for the oxygen.”
Gustu, housed in an imposing gray concrete cube with a bank of protruding windows, is both a restaurant and an experiment in social uplift. It was opened in 2013 by the Danish food entrepreneur Claus Meyer. At the time, his most widely known venture, Noma, in Copenhagen, had been named the world’s best restaurant for the third year in a row by a jury of international chefs, critics, and restaurateurs. Meyer’s sprawling food company had come to include an apple orchard, a vinegar factory, a coffee roaster, and a salmon smokehouse. “The total group suddenly went from earning a hundred thousand dollars a year to four million a year,” he told me recently. He was surprised, and a little uncomfortable. He had always been more concerned with things like finding “an unseen vinegar-flavor balance” or harvesting the uniquely succulent turnips of the Faeroe Islands.
In recent years, Meyer and René Redzepi, Noma’s head chef, have promoted an influential declaration of gastronomic principles: the “New Nordic Kitchen Manifesto.” The document has ten points, including pleas for using local ingredients (often highly obscure ones) and a call for “purity, freshness, simplicity, and ethics.” Making millions of dollars is not one of the points. “I got to thinking I could give a little bit away, in a nice way, without feeling poor afterwards,” Meyer said. He started a foundation called Melting Pot, which taught prisoners in Denmark how to cook, but that came to seem insufficiently ambitious. He wanted to fight against “McDonaldization,” and see if his philosophy of food could help lift people out of poverty. Maybe, he thought, eating sea buckthorn and gooseberries had “something in it for mankind.”
His first idea was to open an outpost in one of the troubled countries of southeastern Europe—Bulgaria, Greece, Romania—or possibly in Kazakhstan. He wrote to the European commissioner of agriculture to ask “if she thought there would be a poor country in Europe that would maybe benefit.” When she didn’t answer, he started researching other possibilities, looking for a poor (but not too poor) place with exceptional biodiversity and relatively little crime. He developed a ranked list and considered Ghana, Vietnam, and Nepal. Vietnamese cuisine was already too good, Meyer decided; all the great combinations of ingredients had been discovered. Then he hit on Bolivia. Though it is one of the poorest countries in Latin America, it has, Meyer said, “a great undiscovered larder of fantastic products that people could be seduced by.”
Yet when Meyer visited La Paz, he recalled, he was “frustrated and depressed.” The altitude made him so sick that he brought an oxygen tank to meetings. “I would never take my family to live there,” he concluded. “You can’t even drink the water.” The average monthly wage was less than two hundred dollars, and most locals preferred to eat traditional Bolivian dishes sold at sidewalk stalls and markets; soups made with dehydrated potatoes or beef kidneys were popular. The tourist trade catered largely to backpackers looking for cheap hostels and coca tea. Meyer remembered thinking, “This can never happen. There is no market for this. We will have forty employees but no clients.” Then he descended to Calacoto and began to feel better. “We found a place in La Paz that looked as if it had some well-dressed people.”
He began planning a Bolivian equivalent of Noma: a “fine-dining temple” with an avant-garde tasting menu, composed entirely from indigenous ingredients. To advance his goal of “fighting poverty through deliciousness,” he would create a culinary school for disadvantaged youths. Meyer wanted to train a generation of cooks who would educate their communities and redefine the way Bolivians perceive traditional ingredients. “When you see kids in the slums growing up on white rice, potatoes, and white flour, all imported from another country, then getting diabetes before they turn twenty, something is wrong,” Meyer said. He formed a partnership with a Danish N.G.O. called IBIS, which had been working in Bolivia for decades, and started a Bolivian offshoot of Melting Pot. Each organization agreed to an initial investment of five hundred thousand dollars. To his critics, especially in Bolivia, the idea smelled like a Viking in need of a shower. Meyer shrugged them off
The cooks for his restaurant could come from the culinary school, he decided. But he needed a chef to lead the kitchen. He approached Kamilla Seidler, a thirty-two-year-old Dane who had worked in some of Europe’s top restaurants, including Mugaritz, a two-Michelin-star establishment in northern Spain that is known for such whimsical experiments as edible cutlery. To interview for the job, Seidler went to Meyer’s house and cooked for his family: four courses, she recalls, with a dessert built around passion fruit (“giving it the Latin touch”) and sorrel (“for some acidity”). She got the job, and in the next three years she was joined by staff members from Bolivia and half a dozen other countries. Her friend Michelangelo Cestari, an Italian-Venezuelan chef, was hired as Gustu’s C.E.O. “I’m extremely impressed with what they are doing down there,” Meyer told me. “And the fact that they have found—what do you call it?—peace. I think it changed their lives in a good way and not a strange way.”
Seidler might disagree about the strange part. To bring prosperity to the restaurant, she participated in a sacrifice of a llama fetus. She helped craft a recipe for quinoa Communion wafers and had them delivered to Pope Francis when he passed through La Paz. She hosted a lunch for families of Amazonian reptile hunters. Although she went to Bolivia planning to stay for a year, she recently bought a house next to a tourist attraction called the Valley of the Moon—an expanse of sandstone and clay that resembles a colossal sea sponge. “I feel like I’m in a Tarantino movie every time I drive home,” she said.
Seidler grew up in Copenhagen, cooking with her grandmothers, and got her first food job, in a bakery, at fifteen. From the start, she was implacable in the kitchen. When burglars broke into the bakery one day, she chased them off with a bread knife. At Gustu, she has the attentive look of a goalkeeper surveying the field; the anxieties of the job show only in her hands, which fidget constantly. She spends most of her time at work, but during off hours she reads about the local cuisine or flips through Danish thrillers or goes to the movies, occasionally by herself. One evening in La Paz, when a ticket-seller asked if she was alone, she retorted, “Would you like to accompany me?”
On a recent Saturday morning, Seidler drove her black Suzuki to a market in central La Paz. It was the day before a national referendum that would shut down the city, and shoppers jostled along the steep street, hurrying to gather provisions. Venders—mostly fierce-looking women with long braids and bowler hats—sat in stalls between heaps of Andean produce: watermelons as big as a bulldog’s belly, purple corn with kernels like gumballs, plantains the color of paprika. Seidler, dressed all in black, had her blond hair tied in a messy bun. She gestured at a stall where silvery trout were arrayed, without ice, in the hot sun. “Beautiful, isn’t it?” she said. “Or terrifying.” The vender smiled and started sharpening her knives.
When Seidler moved to Bolivia, in October, 2012, the street food made her sick, but she visited the market every day. Occasionally, she was reminded of something that Meyer had told her: “This could be the biggest career shortcut you’ve ever made, or the biggest mistake.” As she began to create Gustu’s first menu, Meyer gave her complete freedom. “He was just, like, ‘Make sure there’s a lot of acidity in the food,’ ” she said. Although she had prepared for her move by reading about Bolivian history, politics, and economics, she didn’t want to know anything about the food until she could see and taste for herself. She discovered a cornucopia. Bolivia, two-thirds the size of Alaska, is one of the world’s most biodiverse nations, with more than twenty thousand documented species of plants. It contains an extraordinary range of ecosystems, from the alpine valleys and salt flats of the western highlands to the rain forest and wetlands of the eastern lowlands. La Paz, in the west, sits on the altiplano, a vast plateau whose altitude prevents many trees from growing there, leaving the wind free to rip across its expanse. Yet even the altiplano supports some hardy nutritious plants, including quinoa, amaranth, and cañahua, which Seidler describes as “quinoa’s little brother.” . . .
If you’re going to subscribe to only one magazine — well, really you should be subscribing to more! But you could start with The Atlantic, and then move on to be sure, as I have, to include All About Beer on your list (subscribe!).
I mention it now on general principles, and because its site now features an interesting piece by Jeff Alworth, author of The Beer Bible, extending my premisethat craft breweries have become a no-joke indicator of larger civic revival. This is how he explains it, in a way that rings absolutely true to what my wife Deb and I have seen from Georgia to California to Mississippi to Minnesota:
[Fallows] suggests that the appearance of a craft brewery is one effect of community health—but I’d argue that it’s at least in part the cause of a community’s vitality.
Breweries are industrial operations, and they’re expensive. Beer is a mass beverage, and even making it on a brewpub scale means you have to have quite a bit of space for the brewhouse, fermentation, and storage. All that equipment costs a lot, and real estate does, too. When you’re spending a quarter- or half-million dollars on equipment, you can’t afford expensive commercial space. So breweries end up on the fringes, in bad parts of town where the rent is cheap. That alone is the first step of revitalization. [Emphasis in first paragraph was from Allworth. This is added by me.]
But breweries aren’t like the average industrial plant. They are people magnets, bringing folks in who are curious to try a pint of locally made IPA. In fairly short order, breweries can create little pockets of prosperity in cities that can (and often do) radiate out into the neighborhood. Pretty soon, other businesses see the bustle and consider moving in, too.
It doesn’t hurt that breweries often find run-down parts of towns that have great buildings. Once a brewery moves in and refurbishes an old building, it reveals the innate promise of adjacent buildings to prospective renters.
Alworth gives an example of the way a brewpub is affecting development in bigger cities like Tampa. Then he adds:
But the effect may even be stronger in smaller communities. Little towns are often underserved with regard to cool places to hang out. When they open up shop, they provide much-needed social hubs. That the rent is cheaper there than in big cities gives these breweries a competitive boost, to boot—and we have seen many small towns (like Petaluma, California; Kalamazoo, Michigan; and Milton, Delaware) spawn outsized breweries. And whether they’re in small towns or cities, breweries serve an important community-building function. They’re not only a nice place to spend an evening, but serve as venues for events like meetings, weddings, and even children’s birthday parties.
I got a mention in the “continue reading” part. 🙂