31 January 2010

Let Me Count The Ways

Let’s pick an adverb that goes well with “eat” and describes Subway. “Fresh” is off limits, already been used. How about “lots”. Perhaps "a lot" is more grammatically correct, but "Eat a bunch" works too, as does "Just keep eating" or even "Eat, eat, fast food is good for you, we promise, and here's a group of carefully obfuscated facts that prove why."

I had a deep seated hatred for Subway even before I saw the scene in Super Size Me in which Jared the Subway spokes-tool stands there spouting the company line while an obese preteen weeps convinced that the only way she can lose weight is to eat Subway food all the time and her family is too poor to afford it. It says a great deal about Subway Corporate rhetoric that they have successfully convinced people that their food promotes health and/or weight-loss, and based on this particular incident, appears to have a corporate policy of indifference towards the truth.

I found this little pamphlet in the gutter where the word freedom caught my eye. Enjoy the taste of FREEDOM. It might be a little bit late to jump on the freedom bandwagon here guys, but we’ll go with it. Every patriotic American loves liberty, especially when it can be applied directly to your taste buds.

The first ten pages advertise the product with big glossy pictures, no nutrition information, just glistening meat and cheese and iceberg lettuce. Subsequently, none of the six sandwiches shown in the first ten pages is listed in the nutrition information because each is a version of their regular sandwiches with a bunch of extra ingredients like ranch dressing or “chipotle southwest sauce” added.
Five of those ten pages also feature Coca-Cola products, Frito-Lay products or cookies and milk.
This deliberately tempting introduction makes the subsequent nutrition information seem extra oppressive. But there it is, and it states that the items shaded in green are “Subway Fresh Fit” choices. The fine print adding that Fresh Fit choices should not be considered a diet program despite the fact that on the previous page it was stated that “Fresh Fit Meals fit into the American Heart Associations approach to a healthy lifestyle”.
Anyway, of the 145 items listed with their nutrition information, only 34 are shaded green (Fresh Fit choices). 11 of those are not meals, three are individual servings of things like bread, or apples, or yogurt (Dannon brand), the remaining 8 are beverages (four of these being Coca-Cola).

The Fresh Fit sandwich selections include 8 6-inch subs and four “mini-sandwiches”, the former all with 6 grams of fat or less per serving. The question however is how large is a serving, fortunately Subway has provided serving size information, but there is no servings per sandwich information, so the serving size given in grams is useless unless you have a scale and calculator handy.
Which I do, so I bought the Veggie Delite sandwich exactly as described in the pamphlet: “values include lettuce, tomatoes, onions, green peppers, cucumbers and olives.” (not even salt or pepper)

Serving size is given at 169 grams. The sandwich I received weighed 184.25 grams meaning that I only got to eat approximately 91% of this sandwich. (In total, the sandwich was 109% of the serving size) Looks tasty doesn’t it?

If you count only the bread on my sandwich (9-Grain wheat), which is listed in the pamphlet as one of the items which adheres to the Fresh Fit non-diet program, serving size is 78 grams. The bread I got, minus all the veggies came in at 92.13 grams. That means I only got to eat 84% of this bread before I was in violation of Subway’s non-diet program which they promote as if it were a diet program.

And finally on the last page (the back cover, image at the top), the pamphlet itself, printed on a mindboggling 10% post consumer waste admonishes its intrepid readers to pass it along to friends and/or to recycle it. Ostensibly because this is the right thing to do for the environment from a moral standpoint. The pretty logos on the back page declare Subways commitment to such lofty moral doctrines:
The Forest Stewardship Council: This organization certifies other organizations to monitor the “responsible management” of world forests. It has come under harsh criticism for the not very responsible policies of the third parties it certifies among other things. See more extensive criticism at: FSC Watch

The Rainforest Alliance is an organization that works with individuals and corporations to bring responsibly produced products to the marketplace. However, it has come under criticism as a “greenwashing” organization, effectively helping corporations clean up their image rather than actually improving their behavior. This link will take you to the Wiki of criticisms of the RFA, but I recommend following all the footnoted links at the bottom of that page to the sources.

Carbonfund.org, an organization that sells carbon offsets which are a subject of controversy in and of themselves. You can click here for the Wiki on carbon offsets including a section on controversy. Again I suggest following the footnoted links for primary sources, there are too many to list here. Here also is a link to an article on this touchy subject. Here is another strong criticism, and a monitoring website, Carbon Trade Watch .
The last logo doesn’t really mean anything, it’s an empty unverifiable claim, just like Subway’s health rhetoric.
You can read what they say about themselves here:

My conclusion that not only is Subway not objectively “healthy” food, no real revelation there, but that it’s deceptively marketed, and the information that they brag so much about “voluntarily” providing is intentionally obfuscated, and actually disclosed by requirement of the law. I guess that’s not really a big revelation either considering that the name the founders of Subway gave their corporation is “Doctor’s Associates.” Neither of them is a doctor of anything at all. This is the core of my complaint: While many fast-food corporations promote their food as not-unhealthy, Subway explicitly markets their food as proactively healthy in a deceptive and confusing way. While others may decline to tell the truth, Subway intentionally lies.

28 January 2010

Restriction and Coercion

A lot of people might say that this is impossible, that is why we need government after all, but I tend to see this as a self fulfilling prophecy with a whole litany of sub-problems. My hypothesis is that the more we are inurred to having external coercion/enforcement the less they are able to intellectually and morally conceptualize cooperation and reciprocity. Simply put, based on historical and anthropological evidence I don't believe that people are inherently selfish, only that we've been well trained to be that way. I think that means we can be un-trained to be compassionate and cooperative again.

The biggest potential problem I see with getting people to contribute to community projects is dealing with rights of access.

Private Goods or Public Commodities are those that have restricted access, they can only be enjoyed by those who own them. A book or movie for example which I own, means that you cannot enjoy that book or movie since I own it. You could buy your own, but that would just give you private access to your goods, you could prevent anyone else from ever enjoying it. Of course there are other copies out there, but assuming there are a finite number of analogues, your enjoyment of it effectively limits the number of analogues available for other people to consume.

Public Goods doesn't mean state-owned or nationalized, rather it means those goods that anyone can enjoy without preventing someone else's enjoyment. For a cheesy example think of the sunset, or a fireworks display. My enjoyment of said "good" is not limited or precluded by your enjoyment of it.
Cable television may be a better example. Hypothetically speaking you, or anyone, could connect to the cable (or satellite) and watch the programs without precluding others from enjoying the same; your use doesn't prevent someone else's. The cable company however is able to scramble the signal or whatever and require you to pay for access. Then they have the legal system to enforce this restriction. This is excludability in "public" goods.

However, in situations in which you cannot effectively restrict access, or where you don't want to restrict access, how do you generate and maintain the infrastructure to provide the goods in question? Simply, you need money to provide the good (the road system for example) to the public (in this sense we do mean, "the people").

In our present case, the government does this through taxation. We all pay a little bit and collectively the roads get maintained. In this case however, you can't prevent access to people who don't pay, there is no excludability, but it works (objectively) pretty well because the government has a coercion apparatus called taxes and the IRS... etc.

The difficult question comes when you don't have or don't want that coercion apparatus and still want to generate a public good. How do you get people to fund/contribute to non-excludable public goods in a non-coercive manner?

13 January 2010

What Birds Are These

"We cannot keep the birds of sorrow flying over our heads, but we can keep them from building nests in our hair."

-attributed to Li Hung Chang

Quoted in the diary of Phillip C. Van Buskirk. May 10, 1902, Tacoma, Washington

Separation Anxiety

06 January 2010

Thinking Justice

Another one for Real Change, pretty straightforward I guess, not much subtlety here.

05 January 2010

Condition of Being

I can understand the implication of enjoying Coke, it is a sugary sweet beverage. But I don't understand what the fuck Coke-ness is.
Enjoy the condition of being Coke? Since Coke is something of a phenomenon other than an object, a brand, it's a little more theoretical than some other things. Lets try a substitution exercise.
Enjoy table-ness.
I can understand having a table and appreciating it. I can understand having a soft-drink and enjoying it, but I don't see it as an existential experience.
What they are trying to do is conflate the physical characteristics of the object with it's hypothetical existential meaning. The object Coke, cold liquid with sweetener and bubbles and flavoring, with its "spirit", its essence. Its as if "Coke" were a condition of being which one could obtain through practice or privelege. And by consuming Coke Zero you could experience that condition without the hard work.
Now I understand, they're saying "Just like Coke without the calories", but what they're implying is that Coke has an emotional and spiritual meaning. Which it doesn't.

04 January 2010


After your Martin Luther King Junior Day volunteering, come relax with this.

02 January 2010

This Is The Only Revenge I Will Ever Take

Ultimately the way you dumped me suddenly and without warning is, as you said “probably for the best.” We could date for another three years, but it hurts less to break up now; a mercy killing.

You said I was the “man of your dreams,” and when I warned you that I wasn’t perfect, you said you weren’t either and what attracted you to me was my constant striving to be a better person. Successful relationships are built upon mutual growth, compromise and communication. Yet you dumped me on the assumption that I wouldn’t do that for our relationship. You were too scared to tell me what you needed and ask me to grow with you, even though I asked you many times (we were supposed to be a “team!”).

You convinced me to love and trust you, but what hurts more than that betrayal, is the fact that you clearly never really trusted me. Who knows, in three years you might have really had to come face to face with your dreams. Better to kill them now before they grow too big.
Good job.