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Archive for July 28th, 2019

White people assume niceness is the answer to racial inequality. It’s not

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Robin diAngelo writes in the Guardian:

I am white. As an academic, consultant and writer on white racial identity and race relations, I speak daily with other white people about the meaning of race in our lives. These conversations are critical because, by virtually every measure, racial inequality persists, and institutions continue to be overwhelmingly controlled by white people. While most of us see ourselves as “not racist”, we continue to reproduce racist outcomes and live segregated lives.

In the racial equity workshops I lead for American companies, I give participants one minute, uninterrupted, to answer the question: “How has your life been shaped by your race?” This is rarely a difficult question for people of color, but most white participants are unable to answer. I watch as they flail, some giving up altogether and waiting out the time, unable to sustain 60 seconds of this kind of reflection. This inability is not benign, and it certainly is not innocent. Suggesting that whiteness has no meaning creates an alienating – even hostile – climate for people of color working and living in predominantly white environments, and it does so in several ways.

If I cannot tell you what it means to be white, I cannot understand what it means not to be white. I will be unable to bear witness to, much less affirm, an alternate racial experience. I will lack the critical thinking and skills to navigate racial tensions in constructive ways. This creates a culture in which white people assume that niceness is the answer to racial inequality and people of color are required to maintain white comfort in order to survive.

An inability to grapple with racial dynamics with any nuance or complexity is ubiquitous in younger white people who have been raised according to an ideology of colorblindness. I have been working with large tech companies whose average employees are under 30 years old. White employees are typically dumbfounded when their colleagues of color testify powerfully in these sessions to the daily slights and indignities they endure and the isolation they feel in overwhelmingly white workplaces. This pain is especially acute for African Americans, who tend to be the least represented.

While the thin veneer of a post-racial society that descended during the Obama years has been ripped away by our current political reality, most white people continue to conceptualize racism as isolated and individual acts of intentional meanness. This definition is convenient and comforting, in that it exempts so many white people from the system of white supremacy we live in and are shaped by. It is at the root of the most common kind of white defensiveness. If racists are intentionally and openly mean, then it follows that nice people cannot be racist. How often will a white person accused of racism gather as evidence to the contrary friends and colleagues to testify to their niceness; the charge cannot be true, the friend cannot be racist, because “he’s a really nice guy” or “she volunteers on the board of a non-profit serving under-privileged youth”. Not meaning to be racist also allows for absolution. If they didn’t mean it, it cannot and should not count.

Thus, it becomes essential for white people to quickly and eagerly telegraph their niceness to people of color. Niceness in these instances is conveyed through tone of voice (light), eye contact accompanied by smiling and the conjuring of affinities (shared enjoyment of a music genre, compliments on hair or style, statements about having traveled to the country the “other” is perceived to have come from or knowing people from the other’s community). Kindness is compassionate and often implicates actions to support or intervene. For example, I am having car trouble and you stop and see if you can help. I appear upset after a work meeting and you check in and listen with the intent of supporting me. Niceness, by contrast, is fleeting, hollow and performative.

In addition to niceness, proximity is seen as evidence of a lack of racism. Consider the claims many white people give to establish that they aren’t racist: “I work in a diverse environment.” “I know and/or love people of color.” “I was in the Peace Corps.” “I live in a large urban city.” These are significant because they reveal what we think it means to be racist. If I can tolerate (and especially if I enjoy and value) proximity, claims of proximity maintain, I must not be racist; a “real” racist cannot stand to be near people of color, let alone smile or otherwise convey friendliness.

In a 1986 article about black students and school success, Signithia Fordham and John Ogbu describe a “fictive kinship” between African Americans, a kinship that is not consanguineal (by blood) or affinal but derived from the assumption of shared experience. The racial kinship white people attempt to draw from niceness might be seen as a false or fabricated affinity. Most white people live segregated lives and in fact have no lasting cross-racial relationships. We are in the position to choose segregation and often do. The claims of non-racism that we make are therefore based on the most superficial of shared experiences: passing people of color on the street of large cities and going to lunch on occasion with a co-worker.

Note that our cursory friendliness does not come without strings. Consider the case of a white California woman who called the police this past May when a group of black Airbnb guests did not return her smile.

The expectation is that the “nod of approval”, the white smile, will be reciprocated. This woman, like all the other white people who have called the police on people of color for non-existent offenses, vigorously denied she was racist. After all, she did smile and wave before reporting them. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

28 July 2019 at 2:59 pm

Dr. Greger’s Savory Spice Blend

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I just made this, and it’s quite good. I’ll definitely be using it. Recipe here, and:

Written by LeisureGuy

28 July 2019 at 2:36 pm

The Secret History of Why Soda Companies Switched From Sugar to High-Fructose Corn Syrup

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Tom Philpott reports in Mother Jones:

In a mesmerizing recent articleMother Jones’ Tim Murphy recounts the surprising backstory of one of corporate marketing’s greatest flops: Coca-Cola’s quickly aborted 1985 effort to tweak its formula and convince consumers to accept “New Coke.”

Tim Murphy is on this week’s episode of Bite, talking about New Coke and doing a blind taste-test: http://at%20the%20link%20-%20LG

The piece ends with a twist I didn’t see coming (spoiler alert). Gay Mullins, the eccentric Oregonian who launched a crusade to restore the old formula, wasn’t satisfied when the beverage giant caved in to his demand. Soon after the restoration of Coke Classic, Mullins held a press conference to complain that it tasted differently from the Coke he remembered, because it was made with corn syrup. He declared he “would not rest until Coke was once more made with real sugar,” Murphy reports.

Mullins’ “pivot to high-fructose agitation” turned out to be as much of a bust as the New Coke he helped kill. Coca-Cola had already started adding high-fructose corn syrup to the mix five years before the New Coke fiasco. By 1984, a year before New Coke’s debut, the switch was complete: sugar out, HFCS in. “Mullins hoped that by joining the pile-on, he might entice the trade association to cut him in on some profits,” Murphy writes. “We were interested in being supported by the Sugar Association,” Mullins admitted.

How did high-fructose corn syrup take over for sugar as the soda industry’s sweetener of choice, anyway?

The conventional story, laid out by Huffington Post’s Julia Thompson in 2013, goes like this: “Nearly 30 years ago, Coca-Cola switched over from sugar to high-fructose corn syrup to sweeten America’s beloved carbonated soft drink. With corn subsidized by the government, its sugary syrup became a more affordable option for the beverage company.” So: corn subsidies begat cheap corn, which in turn lead to a corn-derived sweetener cheaper than sugar. Voila: HFCS takes over the soda market.

But while corn subsidies played a role in the story, another, less-famous government intervention likely played an even bigger role. The tale—which I first saw laid out in Richard Manning’s excellent 2005 book Against the Grain—started in the early 1971, when a massive, surprise sale of US grain to the Soviet Union triggered a boom in corn prices, which in turn led to a massive ramp-up in corn planting. By the mid-’70s, corn prices had returned to earth; but buoyed by subsidies, farmers kept planting “fencerow to fencerow,” as then-department of agriculture chief Earl Butz put it. The result: massive overproduction of corn. (The current corn glut, on the heels of the ethanol-driven boom of 2006-2012, followed a similar pattern.)

Corn-processing giants like Archer Daniels Midland had access to all the cheap corn they could ever want, but could only make a profit with it if they could find new markets for corn products. The company came up with two big ideas: ethanol, designed to disrupt the massive gasoline market; and high-fructose corn syrup, which the company hoped would break up Big Sugar’s hold on the soda industry.

They’re related, because both involve a process called “wet-milling” that isolates corn’s starch. To make ethanol, you ferment the starch and distill it into pure alcohol. To make HFCS, you add an enzyme to the starch that transforms some of its glucose into fructose—producing something with a sweetness profile similar to sugar. A single wet-milling plant could make both, and ADM began investing big in wet-milling in the early 1970s, a time when high gasoline and sugar prices offered opportunity for cheaper substitutes.

The company was led by an industry titan named Dwayne Andreas (vintage 1995 Mother Jones profile of him here). Hailed by PBS’s Frontline as “perhaps America’s champion all-time campaign contributor,” Andreas gained legendary status as a political double-dealer during the Watergate investigations, when congressional hearings revealed that he was the source of the $25,000 used by Richard Nixon’s “plumbers” to finance the 1972 famous hotel break-in. From the same investigation, it emerged that in 1968, Andreas had illegally donated $100,000 to Minnesota Sen. Hubert Humphrey—Nixon’s Democratic opponent in that year’s election, and a longtime Andreas favorite.

Despite political machinations . . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

28 July 2019 at 10:30 am

Lentils are not lens-shaped; lenses are lentil-shaped

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The nominative singular of the Latin word for lentils is “lens.” When opticians first made a double-convex lens, they were seen to be in the shape of a lentil, so “lens” was used as their name.

Written by LeisureGuy

28 July 2019 at 10:03 am

Posted in Daily life

Best healthcare system in the world: First Came Kidney Failure. Then There Was The $540,842 Bill For Dialysis

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Jenny Gold reports for NPR:

For months, Sovereign Valentine had been feeling progressively run-down. The 50-year-old personal trainer, who goes by “Sov,” tried changing his workout and diet to no avail.

Finally, one Sunday, he drove himself to the hospital in the small town of Plains, Mont., where his wife, Jessica, happened to be the physician on call. “I couldn’t stop throwing up. I was just toxic.”

It turned out he was in kidney failure and needed dialysis immediately.

“I was in shock, but I was so weak that I couldn’t even worry,” he said. “I just turned it over to God.”

He was admitted to a nearby hospital that was equipped to stabilize his condition and to get his first dialysis session. A social worker there arranged for him to follow up with outpatient dialysis, three times a week. She told them Sov had two options, both about 70 miles from his home. They chose a Fresenius Kidney Care clinic in Missoula.

A few days after the treatments began, an insurance case manager called the Valentines warning them that since Fresenius was out of network, they could be required to pay whatever the insurer didn’t cover. The manager added that there were no in-network dialysis clinics in Montana, according to Jessica’s handwritten notes from the conversation. (The insurance company disputes this and says that its case manager told her there were no in-network dialysis clinics in Missoula.)

Jessica repeatedly asked both the dialysis clinic staff and the insurer how much they could expect to be charged, but couldn’t get an answer.

Then the bills came.

Patient: Sovereign Valentine, 50, a personal trainer in Plains, Mont. He is insured by Allegiance through his wife’s work as a doctor in a rural hospital.

Total bill: $540,841.90 for 14 weeks of dialysis care at an out-of-network Fresenius clinic. Valentine’s insurer paid $16,241.73. The clinic billed Valentine for the unpaid balance of $524,600.17.

Service provider: Fresenius Medical Care, one of two companies (along with rival DaVita) that control about 70% of the U.S. dialysis market.

Medical treatment: Hemodialysis at an outpatient Fresenius clinic, three days a week for 14 weeks.

What gives: As the dominant providers of dialysis care in the U.S., Fresenius and DaVita together form what health economists call a “duopoly.” They can demand extraordinary prices for the lifesaving treatment they dispense — especially when they are not in a patient’s network. A 1973 law allows all patients with end-stage renal disease like Sov to join Medicare, even if they’re younger than 65 — but only after a 90-day waiting period. During that time, patients are extremely vulnerable, medically and financially.

Fresenius billed the Valentines $524,600.17 — an amount that is more than the typical cost of a kidney transplant. It’s also nearly twice Jessica’s medical school debt. Fresenius charged the Valentines $13,867.74 per dialysis session, or about 59 times the $235 Medicare pays for a dialysis session.

When Jessica opened the first bill, she cried. “It was far worse than what I had imagined would be the worst-case scenario,” she said.

Sov had a different reaction: “To me, it’s so outrageous that I just have to laugh.”

Dialysis centers justify high charges to commercially insured patients because they say they make little or no money on the rates paid for their Medicare patients, who — under the 1973 rule — make up the bulk of their clientele. But nearly $14,000 per session is extraordinary. Commercial payers usually pay about four times the Medicare rate, according to a recent study.

Dialysis companies are quite profitable. Fresenius reported more than $2 billion in profits in 2018, with the vast majority of its revenue coming from North America. . .

Continue reading.

After this story was reported, Fresenius backed off and said they would waive the bill, which strikes me as admitting the bill was unjustified if not frivolous. They were just seeing if they could get away with it.

Written by LeisureGuy

28 July 2019 at 7:58 am

Jennifer Rubin: Mueller didn’t fail. The country did.

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Jennifer Rubin writes, Cassandra like, in the Washington Post:

Being thousands of miles away from home in Portugal, a country that 45 years ago was in the grasp of a brutal dictatorship, gives me an interesting perspective on former special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s Wednesday testimony and on the now nearly forgotten — was it only a week ago? — racist call for four nonwhite congresswomen to “go back” to where they came from.

I worry that we — the media, voters, Congress — are dangerously unserious when it comes to preservation of our democracy. To spend hours of airtime and write hundreds of print and online reports pontificating about the “optics” of Mueller’s performance — when he confirmed that President Trump accepted help from a hostile foreign power and lied about it, that he lied when he claimed exoneration, that he was not completely truthful in written answers, that he could be prosecuted after leaving office and that he misled Americans by calling the investigation a hoax — tells me that we have become untrustworthy guardians of democracy.

The “failure” is not of a prosecutor who found the facts but might be ill equipped to make the political case, but instead, of a country that won’t read his report and a media obsessed with scoring contests rather than focusing on the damning facts at issue.

Many well-meaning figures continue to beat the drums of impeachment rather than demand that Trump be voted out of office for betraying his country and lying to voters to conceal his crew’s unpatriotic sellout to Russian actors.

Trump reads from the same hymnal of disinformation and recites the same slander of democratic institutions that 20th-century totalitarians deployed, yet too many in the media call him the “winner” because Mueller did not pass their ridiculous tests (e.g. add new information, persuade Republicans).

Trump’s authoritarian liturgy, like that of many 20th-century despots, also co-opts religion, abandons universal liberal values including a free press, substitutes corporate cronyism for democracy and excludes from the body politic those who disagree with the government. Given his druthers, this president would exile critics just as dying colonial regimes would send off dissidents without hope of physical return.

And despite all this, too much of the chattering class remains dangerously unfocused and frivolous. It deploys irony and cynicism when clear-eyed explanation and morally defensible perspective are essential. Democratic presidential candidates and voters had better . . .

Continue reading.

Those around Cassandra ignored the warnings and focused instead on distractions. That’s what the US seems to be doing. Being distracted helps the forces now at work on weakening America.

Abraham Lincoln, looking at America in another contentious era, said, “A house divided against itself cannot stand.” At that time, the result was a civil war; now, it is more likely to be an economic war and a breakdown of civil law.

Written by LeisureGuy

28 July 2019 at 7:03 am

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