May 14, 2018 in 4,065 words

War to end the war on pot — latest battles

The next battle in the war to end the war on marijuana will be fought on June 26 in Oklahoma.

June 26 is the date of Oklahoma’s primary election. It’s also the date on which Oklahomans vote on State Question 788, an initiative to legalize medical marijuana in the state.

Supporters of the initiative collected their signatures in 2016 — they needed 66,000 valid ones — and had hoped to be on the ballot that year. They had enough, but they couldn’t get their petition certified in time for the 2016 ballot. Under Oklahoma law, that meant the governor would decide when the vote on the initiative would take place. Last January, Governor Mary Fallin decided it would take place during the June 26 primary.

Primaries usually are relatively low turnout affairs, especially among younger voters, who nationally are overwhelmingly in favor of legalization.

However, the initiative’s supporters seem OK with the date.

“I would say the sooner the better,” said Chip Paul, a co-founder of Oklahomans for Health, the group that sponsored the petition.

Why should China change its successful trade policies just to please the US, given America’s own history of violations?

Dani Rodrik says when crafting a global trading environment, it’s important to realise that all nations have different political and social settings, and so will not play by the same ‘rules’

A high-profile United States trade delegation appears to have returned empty-handed from its mission in China. The result is hardly a surprise, given the scale and one-sided nature of the US demands. The Americans pushed for a wholesale remaking of China’s industrial policies and intellectual property rules, while asking Beijing to refrain from any action against US President Donald Trump’s proposed unilateral tariffs against Chinese exports.

This is not the first trade spat with China, and it will not be the last. The global trading order of the last generation – since the creation of the World Trade Organisation in 1995 – has been predicated on the assumption that regulatory regimes around the world would converge. China, in particular, would become more “Western” in the way that it manages its economy. Instead, the continued divergence of economic systems has been a fertile source of trade friction.

There are good reasons for China – and other economies – to resist the pressure to conform to a mould imposed on them by US export lobbies. After all, China’s phenomenal globalisation success is due as much to the regime’s unorthodox and creative industrial policies as it is to economic liberalisation.

Selective protection, credit subsidies, state-owned enterprises, domestic-content rules and technology-transfer requirements have all played a role in making China the manufacturing powerhouse that it is. China’s current strategy, the “Made in China 2025” initiative, aims to build on these achievements to catapult the country to advanced-economy status.

Algorithms are making the same mistakes assessing credit scores that humans did a century ago


Are you worthy?

Money2020, the largest finance tradeshow in the world, takes place each year in the Venetian Hotel in Las Vegas. At a recent gathering, above the din of slot machines on the casino floor downstairs, cryptocurrency startups pitched their latest coin offerings, while on the main stage, PayPal President and CEO Dan Schulman made an impassioned speech to thousands about the globe’s working poor and their need for access to banking and credit. The future, according to PayPal and many other companies, is algorithmic credit scoring, where payments and social media data coupled to machine learning will make lending decisions that another enthusiast argues are “better at picking people than people could ever be.”

Credit in China is now in the hands of a company called Alipay, which uses thousands of consumer data points—including what they purchase, what type of phone they use, what augmented reality games they play, and their friends on social media—to determine a credit score. In a culture where the elderly casually pull out their phones to pay for groceries and even the homeless don QR codes to accept donations, there’s plenty of data to draw on. And while the credit score can dictate the terms of a loan, it also acts as a proxy for general good character. In China, having a high credit rank can help your chances of accessing employment, for example, or of getting a visa to travel within Europe, and even finding a partner via online dating. One Chinese dating site,, offers greater visibility to users with high credit scores.

And all of it is dictated by the algorithm.

The decisions made by algorithmic credit scoring applications are not only said to be more accurate in predicting risk than traditional scoring methods; its champions argue they are also fairer because the algorithm is unswayed by the racial, gender, and socioeconomic biases that have skewed access to credit in the past. It might not be clear why playing video games, owning an Android phone, and having 400 Facebook friends can help to determine whether or not a loan application is successful, but a decade after the financial crisis, the logic goes, we need to trust that the numbers don’t lie.

Employers are monitoring computers, toilet breaks – even emotions. Is your boss watching you?

From microchip implants to wristband trackers and sensors that can detect fatigue and depression, new technology is enabling employers to watch staff in more and more intrusive ways. How worried should we be?

Monitoring is built in to many of the jobs that form the ‘gig economy’ – but surveillance is increasing across the workplace.

Last year an American company microchipped dozens of its workers. In a “chip party” that made headlines around the world, employees lined up to have a device the size of a grain of rice implanted under the skin between their thumb and forefinger. At first, Todd Westby, the CEO of Three Square Market, thought only about five or six people – him and a couple of directors, some of the people who worked in the IT department – would volunteer. But of the 90 people who work at the headquarters, 72 are now chipped; Westby has a chip in each hand. They can be used to open security doors, log on to computers and make payments at the company’s vending machines.

Can he see it taking off at lots of other companies? “Not necessarily,” he says. Or at least not yet. It’s partly a generational thing, he believes. “You may never want to be chipped but if you’re a millennial, you have no problems. They think it’s cool.” There are other uses for it – two months ago, the company (whose core business is selling vending machines and kiosks) started chipping people with dementia in Puerto Rico. If someone wanders off and gets lost, police can scan the chip “and they will know all their medical information, what drugs they can and can’t have, they’ll know their identity.” So far, Three Square Market has chipped 100 people, but plans to do 10,000.

The company has just launched a mobile phone app that pairs the chip with the phone’s GPS, enabling the implantee’s location to be tracked. Last week, it started using it with people released from prison on probation, as a replacement for ankle tags, which Westby describes as “intimidating and degrading”. Could he ever see the company using GPS to track its chipped employees? “No,” he says. “There’s no reason to.”

DEGREE OF DIFFICULTY: Amazon has patented wristband technology that “reads” employees’ hand movements, buzzing or emitting a pulse to alert them when they were reaching for the wrong item.



Thought leader.

Long before I read French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre, I had a clear idea of who he was. Or who I thought he was. I knew all about the turtleneck-wearing, chain-cigarette-smoking, moody sort of soul, with a melancholy philosophy to match. After I opened his books, though, it became clear to me that this brooding reputation didn’t match the reality. His words, to me, didn’t read like those of a poet in crisis, but like something that would not look out of place in a self-help book.

In his peppiest work, the 1946 lecture Existentialism is a Humanism, Sartre takes issue with the notion that existentialism—the philosophy that asserts humans must search for and create their own identities and meaning—encourages despair. On the contrary, Sartre says in this essay (and elsewhere in his writing) that “man is nothing else but what he makes of himself.”

In language that is far more quirky than melancholic, he argues that this trait distinguishes humans from “a patch of moss, a piece of garbage, or a cauliflower.” While there’s not much moss can do about what it is, Sartre says, humans must create themselves through actions and choices. In other words, “man will be what he will have planned to be.” This self-deterministic mindset sounds little like the fatalism typically associated with Sartre.

Of course, existentialism’s gloomy reputation must’ve come from somewhere, and Sartre does make a big thing about the fact that, because we create ourselves, we are “condemned to be free,” he writes. This is quite the burden. If someone’s a coward, Sartre writes, that’s his fault. “He’s not like that because he has a cowardly heart or lung or brain; he’s not like that on account of his physiological make-up; but he’s like that because he has made himself a coward by his acts,” Sartre writes. In a self-help book, this would be the “real talk” section.



Dharma or deep house?

What do the Dalai Lama and a bass-music fanatic getting low at 3am at Burning Man have in common?

A surprising amount, actually.

From mood enhancement and relaxation to full-blown oneness with the cosmos, music has the ability to powerfully shift our state of mind. Meditation is not that different. Meditation lowers the stress hormone cortisol, helps us sleep better, and rewires the brain with a host of positive emotional qualities. Attempting to meditate in a nightclub may not be high on the list of recommended practices for monks and yogis, but maybe it should be: When you’re fully lost in music, you’re getting a taste of nirvana without any of the rigorous training.

As both a musician and meditator, I believe that there is a connection between the exalted states on the dancefloor and the spiritual states achieved in meditation. Since the late 1990s I’ve been DJing and producing music with the likes of Bassnectar, Santigold, and Professor Green, and I’ve also been trained in meditation in the Yogic, Tibetan Buddhist, and Theravada Buddhist traditions.

The goal of both music and meditation is to create a powerful and positive shift in our mental state. Music is a reliable source of transformational experience for many, and we are attracted to music for the same reasons that meditators meditate. Music and meditation both allow a fuller and richer experience of our emotions: They stop our incessant and often negative mental chatter and offer us an opportunity to inhabit the present moment more fully and meaningfully. These are all important for good health and happiness in human beings.

DEGREE OF ACKNOWLEDGNESS: It’s usually deep house at my house.

Acknowledgness is a word. I didn’t make it up. It occurs 39 times, beginning on page 155, in A Treatsie on the Law of Contracts.

ACKNOWLEDGNESS: noun; the euphoric exhilaration an individual experiences upon the acceptance of the truth or existence of something tangible.

5 Random Things You Had No Idea Had Tons Of Fans Overseas

Hollywood assumes that Western pop culture is fairly universal. If Star Wars succeeds in America, it should do well in the rest of the world. If Uncle Larry’s Star Battle Adventure flops in America, the people of Vietnam probably aren’t going to get much out of it either. But sometimes that’s not the case. Sometimes a creation resonates so hard with another culture that not even the most turtlenecked of market researchers could have predicted its success. Like how …

5. Mexicans Love Morrissey

Morrissey made a name for himself as the frontman for The Smiths, then embarked on a solo career as the godfather of sad indie songs. He has plenty of fans across the glove, but there’s one group in particular that really loves his downer ballads: Mexicans (and Mexican-Americans).

Why does a British pop star’s tear-filled droning speak to such a different culture? Well, they have more in common than you’d think. Morrissey is a first-generation immigrant, born in Ireland, and while that might not seem like a big deal now, there was a time when Ireland was full of people who didn’t much care for the English, and used explosions to express that sentiment. Having been born Irish but raised English, Morrissey was trapped between two worlds, and he wrote songs about the dilemma. Unsurprisingly, many Mexican-Americans could identify with the feeling of being torn between two cultures. So Mexicans have Morrissey-themed karaoke nights, cover artists, and even a Morrissey convention, which is surely more fun than it sounds.

Instead of a costume contest, con-goers compete for “Most Tragic Regret.”

Morrisey’s music has also been compared to Mexican ranchera ballads — slow, moody pieces about lost loves and other grim subjects. So it’s a beautiful story about how cultural isolation can bring two groups together in their shared misery, and show us that life is fucking awful no matter what color your skin is.



History helps explain why the treadmill can feel so torturous.

By Diane PetersMay 12, 2018
If you are one of the 51.8 million people in the US who use a treadmill for exercise, you know there’s much pain for your muscle-and-fitness gain. On your next 30-minute jog, as you count down the final seconds, ponder whether the hard work made you a better person. Consider whether the workout would feel different if you had powered something, even a fan to cool yourself off.

Two hundred years ago, the treadmill was invented in England as a prison rehabilitation device. It was meant to cause the incarcerated to suffer and learn from their sweat. It would mill a bit of corn or pump some water as a bonus.

William Cubitt, a civil engineer raised in a family of millwrights, created the treadmill—which was also called a treadwheel in the early days—in 1818. Cubitt later became famous for overseeing the construction of The Crystal Palace in London in 1851, and was knighted by Queen Victoria for his efforts. Cubitt’s early attempts at the treadmill’s design took many forms, including two wheels you walked on whose cogs interlocked. But his most popular edition, which was installed at Brixton Prison in London, involved a wide wheel. Prisoners pressed down with their feet on steps embedded in the wheel, which moved it, presenting them with the next step. Picture it like the sport of log-rolling, only the log-like wheel was fixed in place. The Brixton treadmill was hooked up to subterranean machinery that ground corn. It wasn’t fun.

This treadmill could busy as many as 24 prisoners, standing side-by-side along the wheel. Some devices at other prisons were smaller, and most treadmills soon included partitions so convicts could not socialize. They slogged for 10 hours a day in summer, and a mere seven in winter.

Inside Shanghai’s robot bank: China opens world’s first human-free branch

‘Little Dragon’ can chat to customers, accept bank cards and check accounts. She joins a growing army of robot workers in China’s cities.

Pay pal … Xiao Lang, or Little Dragon, at the China Construction Bank on Jiujiang Road, Shanghai.

Xiao Long, the latest employee at the Jiujiang Road branch of the China Construction Bank is never late for work. “Welcome to China Construction Bank,” she chirps to customers arriving at the Shanghai branch, flashing her white teeth. “What can I help you with today?”

Xiao Long, or “Little Dragon”, is not your typical employee – she’s a robot at China’s first fully automated, human-free bank branch.

As guardian of the bank, she talks to customers, takes bank cards and checks accounts (she comes complete with a PIN pad) and can answer basic questions. After a quick initial chat with Xiao Long, customers pass through electronic gates where their faces and ID cards are scanned. On future visits, facial recognition alone is enough to open the gates and call up customer information.

Inside, automated teller machines help with services such as account opening, money transfer and foreign exchange. A second robot waits inside the barriers, and there is a VR room and video-link should customers want to talk to a mortal.

Rising fame: experts herald Canadian woman’s 120-year-old sourdough starter

Ione Christensen’s starter, one of the oldest strains around, is being added to a collection in a Belgian ‘library’ with 84 samples from 20 countries.

Ione Christensen, former Canadian senator, in 1999.

Every Saturday night for the last sixty years, Ione Christensen has followed the same routine to prepare waffles for breakfast the following morning: she measures out two cups of flour and two cups of warm water, then she reaches into her fridge to bring out her sourdough starter.

“It’s a family pet, if you will,” she said from her home in Canada’s Yukon territory.

Like any pet, the starter needs to be constantly fed – in this case, with flour and water.

But the spongy blend of wild yeast and bacteria has far outlived any ordinary pet: At 120 years, the sourdough is much older than Christensen, who is 84.

Earlier this month, Christensen baked for a new guest: Karl De Smedt, a Belgian baker, who scours the globe for new sourdough strains to add to his “library” in Belgium.

So far, the collection in the town of St Vith contains 84 samples in refrigerated glass jars from 20 countries, including Mexico, Greece and Japan.

De Smedt’s archive is meant to both showcase geographically diverse varieties of yeast and preserve a growing collection for future generations to study.

The Ultimate Guide to Bizarre Lies Your Mom Told You

Turns out mothers all over the world are telling a lot of the same outrageous fibs.

BEING A MOM IS A tough job, in large part because you just can’t reason with small children. What you can do, however, is lie to them. In honor of Mother’s Day, we asked Atlas Obscura readers to send us the most outlandish white lies their mothers ever told them. As it turns out, moms all over the world are telling some wonderfully inventive lies.

We received over 500 responses, and as uniquely crazy as many of them were, there was also plenty of common ground. Many mothers still tell variations on the classics: If you make a funny face, it will stay that way; if you eat before you swim, you’ll get cramps (or die); moms have eyes in the backs of their heads, and so on.

But then there were the more esoteric fibs, such as the dangers of dragonflies sewing your lips together, that playing in puddles will give you polio, or that a little man lives in your eyes and signals your mom when you aren’t telling the truth.

We couldn’t include all of the fantastic entries we received, but we’ve collected over 100 of our favorites below. Check and see how many of your own mom’s fantastic tales you recognize. Oh, and watch out for the “Lie Man”


Today in History: May 14, 2005

To many climbers, mountaineers, and general fans of low oxygen environments, summiting Mount Everest represent the literal peak of physical achievement. But while an impressive feat for a human, it turns out vultures can happily survive exposed to altitudes of 40,000 ft or 12,200 meters above sea level and, indeed, have been seen flying around at this height. (For reference, this is about 11,000 ft or 3,350 meters above the peak of Everest.) Meanwhile tardigrades laugh in the face of the conditions on Everest, able to survive even nakedly exposed to outer space for quite some time with no ill effects. (Although, note: humans can actually survive exposed to the near vacuum of space for about 90 seconds without long term damage, but we have nothing on the tardigrade for durability in just about any environment.) And let’s not even talk about microbes… In the end, there are creatures that can outdo even the best of humans at pretty much any physically intensive task we feel like setting our minds to, no matter how hard we train and how good our genetics.

But you know what no other known living thing can do? Use their minds to create machinery to do an otherwise extremely arduous and dangerous task in about a half an hour, all while kicking back in a very comfy chair. And that’s exactly what French fighter pilot Didier Delsalle did when he conquered Everest in a product of human ingenuity- the Eurocopter Ecureuil AS350 B3 helicopter. Humans 1, Animal Kingdom 0.

Although Delsalle is the first and so far only person in history to land a helicopter on the summit of the world’s highest peak, likeminded daredevils and pilots have been trying to do exactly that since at least the early 1970s. One of the most notable of these individuals is Jean Boulet who still holds the record for highest altitude reached by a helicopter at 40,820 ft (12,442 meters), at which point his engine died, though he did manage to land safely. (Yes, contrary to popular belief, helicopters don’t just drop like a rock when the engine dies, and they are relatively safe in this condition. In fact, you have a better chance of surviving in a helicopter when the engine fails than you do in an airplane where the same happens.)

Like Boulet before him, Delsalle broached the subject of landing a helicopter on Everest with the company he flew helicopters for (in this case Eurocopter) and was similarly stonewalled by killjoy executives who didn’t want to deal with the negative PR if he crashed.

Video Goodnesses
and not-so-goodnesses

Gotta wonder why Youtube suggested this to me…

John Oliver discusses the devastating economic crisis in Venezuela and enlists the help of a large bird who bears a striking resemblance to Wilmer Valderrama.

THANKS to HBO and Last Week Tonight for making this program available on YouTube.

Texas Democratic Rep. Joaquin Castro discusses the shady dealings of Trump lawyer Michael Cohen, the fate of “Dreamer” immigrants and the importance of finding common ground.

THANKS to Comedy Central and The Daily Show with Trevor Noah for making this program available on YouTube.

CAUTION: Some language may not be appropriate for work or children.

Max needs to make sure he has the right pitch for his screams so he has been trying to fine tune his vocals.


Sustainability without borders

Boulder-based nonprofit works on environmental projects with Palestinians and Israelis.

A monastery famed for its holy water faces contamination issues in the Kidron Valley stretching from Jerusalem to the Dead Sea.

Around the year 483, in the middle of the desert in the Kidron Valley halfway between Jerusalem and the Dead Sea, St. Sabbas is said to have prayed for water and out of the rock a spring began to flow. Ever since, Eastern Orthodox monks have lived in a cluster of caves at the Monastery of Mar Saba following the religious traditions of St. Sabbas and drinking the holy water.

But in recent years, the water in the monastery’s cisterns has become contaminated, prompting local authorities and environmentalists to seek solutions as an estimated 420 million cubic feet of sewage runs down the valley each year.

“If you went to any of the holy sites in East Jerusalem and went to the bathroom, that waste ends up untreated going down the Kidron Basin,” says Peter Ornstein, president of Sustainable Israeli-Palestinian Projects (SIPP). Founded in 2015, SIPP is a Boulder-based nonprofit made up of a variety of academics and experts lending their know-how to sustainability efforts in the region.

On a recent trip to the area, Ornstein, a retired EPA lawyer, along with Bernard Amadei, civil engineering professor at the University of Colorado Boulder and founder of Engineers without Borders USA, consulted with the monks at the monastery and hiked around the facility in an attempt to determine the source of the contamination.

Ed. More tomorrow? Probably. Possibly. Maybe. Not?