Pearl Harbor. Walk with me.
There are well-known and less-well-known consequences of American involvement in WWII. It's common knowledge that the eventual nuclear annihilation of Hiroshima and Nagasaki set up the Cold War which was the ultimate battleground between capitalism and communism. Less well-known is the fact that the United States didn't ultimately win the war because of the atom bomb but because of our powers of industrial and agricultural production.
Marc Reisner argued that the Army Corps of Engineers won WWII with Grand Coulee Dam. It produced an impossible surplus of power when it was brought online; it had no customers. Then the war broke out and Americans were able to refine aluminum (an electrically-intensive process; the Intalco plant in Blaine, WA uses more electricity than Los Angeles) at a fraction of the price of anyone else in the world.
But in addition to aluminum, the impossible edge in oil refining really took off in WWII. Germany ground to a halt when we took their oil fields in North Africa. Meanwhile our fields in California and Texas turned out gasoline in quantities unmatched anywhere else in the world. And when you make gas, you can also make fertilizer. And when you've converted the Great American Desert to "the Heartland" you make food. You make food that travels. You make corn, potatoes and rice. And you feed that corn and rice to chickens, cows and pigs. And you drop food on the Russians, you drop food on the Chinese, you ship food to England and Australia, and while Germany and Japan are wracked with famine you share your American bounty around.
An interesting side note: because it was a Japanese attack, the safe thing to do, obviously, is lock up all the Japanese. Especially as they're sitting on a bunch of plum farmland on the West coast. You know, the one closest to the Japanese Empire. The one full of refugees from the Dust Bowl. Itinerant farmers from the South and the Midwest who came to California and starved because there are only so may people to pick oranges and strawberries. The ones who will thank you and vote for you and keep growing oranges and strawberries and everything else on formerly-Japanese farms they bought for pennies on the dollar when their original owners get shipped off to Manzanar.
So now Europe is in ruins and the Marshall Plan is going to make everything better. Ship that food out. Soft power! But it's got to travel. Hedgerow to Hedgerow we'll even push the Soviets around by selling it when they behave and withholding it when they don't. But it's got to travel. So corn, rice, soy and potatoes are food. We'll do anything we can to grow more food so that we can influence the behavior of the world with food. We'll subsidize the shit out of food so that everyone is growing food. Meanwhile those now-rich farmers on the West Coast who are growing carrots and olives and lettuce and spinach and oranges and apples? Yeah, they don't need any competition. They don't grow food because then those uppity black folx might go into competition with them for the high-value stuff. So they grow specialty crops. And it's assigned a fair market value.
A market value that goes up because you don't need to eat "specialty crops," not really. After all, the Irish subsisted off of potatoes and potatoes are food. And corn can be made into anything, man. It can be made into sugar - sugar that's way cheaper than cane sugar! It can be fed to cows - way cheaper than grass! It can be fed to chickens! Pigs are less likely to eat it, so pig farming largely goes away (it's come back with a vengeance because the Chinese have a preference for pork but as a foodstuff it's consumption by Americans has plummeted). But Americans eat corn, and things that eat corn, and there's so much excess corn and rice and soy when we're not shipping it all over the world to cajole our foreign policy needs through soft power that there are entire divisions of the USDA trying to figure out what to do with all the stuff.
And you know capitalism. Make more money. Finished products make more money than raw ingredients; you'll get so much more for a box of macaroni and cheese than you will for wheat and milk. Process the shit out of it and it'll keep forever. Process the shit out of it and it'll travel far. Process the shit out of it and you can turn it into whatever flavor you want it to be. Process the shit out of it and you can sell it to anyone, anywhere forever.
Somewhere around here we've got an article that argues the dominant species on earth isn't humans, it's corn. After all, we've basically given over our food production to it. A Wendy's meal, if I recall correctly, was ultimately about 80% corn (including the French fries). And against that we've got "specialty crops" that we have to refrigerate to get them across country and there are vast swaths of the US where "specialty crops" aren't even sold because it's so easy and cheap to get food. A box of Little Debbie snack cakes costs less than a head of lettuce. And a box of Little Debbie snack cakes will keep you alive if you're starving. And a box of Little Debbie snack cakes will sit on the shelf for nine months or more and nobody will be the wiser. The power goes out on that head of lettuce and it's garbage before morning.
And it's fuckin' lettuce.
Meanwhile we're all working harder for less, working longer for less, driving farther for less. The calories are easy and the nutrition is hard and that's before you recognize that we've arranged our entire food economy around food not "specialty crops." Reuters pointed out yesterday that one in three workers also has some form of job in the gig economy; even if we're working 40 hours a week (we're not, we're working 47) we're also filling our spare time with TaskRabbit, with Uber, with Mechanical Turk. And as humans, we're biologically programmed to pack on pounds when we're stressed because stress means starvation. I think it was Richard Wrangham who pointed out that there have only been about 125,000 generations since homo habilus split off from Australopithecus. Homo Sapiens is only 7500 generations. Go to Mile High Stadium, start "The Wave" and by the time it makes its way back round to you, the person next to you is a Neanderthal.
So here we are. Impossibly cheap calories, impossibly sedentary lifestyles, impossible stressors. Fight or flight doesn't care if it's a mastodon or an impending bankruptcy they'll both keep you up at night. At least if it's a mastodon you can run. We can't. So we get fat. And because we're Americans, and we've got a nice Protestant work ethic, and because we're rugged individualists, if you're fat it's a personal failing. Society hasn't let you down, the system hasn't failed you, you're a glutton and you should feel bad.
Well, I'd start with
1) Take it the fuck easier on the poor and lower middle class.
2) Prioritize nutrition over calories. Know who used to be in charge of school nutrition? The goddamn Department of Defense. Then Nixon kicked 'em out and Reagan categorized ketchup as a fruit.
3) Make healthcare a nonprofit industry again. Know what's stupid cheap? Diet, exercise and sleep. Know what's crazy expensive? The time of medical professionals. Know where you can't make any money? Diet, exercise and sleep. Know where your profit centers are? Prescription drugs.
Weight Watchers costs around $700 a month - including food. They get an extra $13 a week to tell you "atta boy! You're doing good!" Insulin costs around $500 a month. No food. Insurance pays for insulin, usually. It rarely pays for Weight Watchers. Can you imagine what our society looked like if we had, you know, nutrition?
The fundamental basis of this article is "we know how to make people healthier, but we don't give a shit." I think it's more than that. It's more than tradition. It's that in order to solve the problem, we have to break capitalism.
And nobody wants to break capitalism.
OH FUCK MUTHERFUCKER NOW YOU'RE WINDING ME UP
Because beer fucking sucks right now.
You know it, you just don't want to admit it - beer is straight-up bullshit at the moment. Yeah, sure there's a million tiny shitty little breweries out there but they're all being bought up one by one by AB InBev or SAB Miller and they all make fucking IPA. You know what IPA is? It's the beer you make when you don't have the room to make beer - IPA requires no refrigeration to make. It's that shit you made in your dorm room when the RA wasn't watching. It's that swill that tastes the same whether it's turned or not because they sell it to you pre-turned. It's that shit you drink because hefeweizens are too heavy - you know, the beer that they've convinced you to put an orange slice in it so it doesn't taste quite so much like pruno.
Fortunately for the beer companies, your tiny shitty little IPA from bumblesquatch colorado can be sold for fuckin' $2.50 a bottle because it says you need a lumberbeard to drink it or some shit, as opposed to $1.25 a bottle for pilsners that you're shipping from Canada or Copenhagen (or brewing down the street, but as we all know your dad's macrobrews have been fucking terrible for decades, that's why we started down this road). Unfortunately for the beer companies, nobody wants to spend fucking $9 for a sixer of Fat Tire anymore and the alternative you're offering them is fucking Michelob Ultra Organic or some shit which tastes about the same as Zima without the sugar, assuming you remember what Zima is. Fortunately nobody remembers Zima or Bartles & Jaymes so let's try selling them "summer shandy" or "radler" because a wine cooler by any other name would taste as cloyingly sweet.
LOOK AT THIS PICTURE.
LOOK AT IT.
Bud. Light. Lime. STRAW ber RITA. "Try it over ice!" What. The Actual. Fuck. This is AB InBev throwing their hands in the goddamn air and saying "we never knew why they liked our swill in the first place, mix a Kool-Aid packet in there and see if they buy it." Meanwhile the beer that everyone drank forever is fucking gone, yo. When was the last time you saw an Anchor Steam? I mean, I live 150 miles from the brewery and I have a hard time finding Weinhard's.
I used to drink Kirin Light. Now I can't even find Kirin.
I used to drink Amstel Light. I haven't seen it at the market in three years.
I'm drinking Sam Adams Light - and that'll work - but it is literally the only drinkable light beer left at my supermarket. They generally have three cases of Sam Adams, two cases of Sam Adams Light, five cases of Heineken, two cases of Heineken light, and an entire aisle of various and sundry IPAs.
And those fucking "summer shandys."
You know what I drink down here in LA?
They've got me drinking Russian beer, yo. I live in goddamn America, home of the macrowbrew and because the industry is pushing trasherita premix I'm drinkin' shit that's been shipped from SAINT FUCKING PETERSBERG.
Let's drive a stake through the heart of the whole goddamn industry. I'm so completely fucking over the direction it's taken. Kill this bitch so we can bury it and move the fuck on.
'K. So. That was delicious.
The "disappearance" of "telephone culture" is a direct consequence of place and decorum in that telephones used to be for places. You had a home phone and an office phone and if you needed to be reached at the office you had a number. If you needed to be reached at home it was presumed it was someone who knew you personally, wanted to know you personally, or had something important to communicate.
A phone was not an obligation - a phone was a tool for communicating within certain settings. And because phones were controlled by large monopolies with ridiculous build cost and tremendous vertical integration it was exceedingly difficult to sidestep the decorum associated with calling a phone number. And if you didn't connect, you didn't connect. If it was important, you'd call back.
Answering machines, which are older than Alexis Madrigal, allowed people to leave messages. This allowed people to screen calls, which has been happening since before Alexis Madrigal was born. Where things got messed up for the phone company, however, was when they went digital.
Because they couldn't do it all at once. Your digital system had to be backwards-compatible with your analog system, and your analog system had to be backwards-compatible with the first phone systems installed back in nineteen diggity-two. Which meant, effectively, that the controls on digital technology were adequate for nineteen diggity-two.
The same technology that allowed the phone company to give you voicemail allow VoIP pirates to phonebank the shit out of everyone from a call center in Bangalore. Once it's become data you can do anything with it. The original PCS transport protocol is literally 10BaseT. You're on a computer now, bubba.
So they made them smaller and they put one in everyone's pocket and phones were no longer about place. I fought them for years using this very argument: "I am not a place. If you need to reach me, you can reach me AT home. You can reach me AT work." For a while cell phones were things you called in an emergency because they were expensive. Texts, despite being free sideband metadata, were equally expensive. And then things were deregulated such that texts were free and calling was cheap and suddenly
And that's the thing Madrigal doesn't get (because he's a fucktard). "Telephone culture" has vanished because there's no goddamn freedom from it. There's no longer any unreachability because the number everyone has (and it's on Facebook and it's everywhere and VoIP is so cheap that you can literally dial every number sequentially) is in your back pocket. Which means if someone is calling you, they're fuckin' interrupting you. You can't get away from that thing.
So yeah. People text first because it's polite and asymmetrical. If you're the kind of person who responds to texts too quickly, people email you. You likely chat with your friends on the phone, but rarely... but when you do, it's important.
I work freelance. We're hired on the phone. Random-ass number calls you, you pick up because it is likely a producer who got your name from a friend or coworker and they don't want to waste time. They want to take your pulse and answer any questions. I once almost got fired off a job because I cracked a joke (wish I had in retrospect). Voice communication is more important now, not less.
My wife delivers babies. She's got a client portal in her EHR. She answers texts from patients all the time. But every single one of them - ALL OF THEM - call when it's time for the baby.
That most reclusive of species, the early-20s woman, who never talks to anyone on the phone anymore, CALLS my wife in the middle of the night to say the baby is coming.
Telephone culture isn't dead. It's just been elevated. And if you don't get that, you deserve to get hung up on.