gutter, rainwater, pollen, leaves. un-still life.

Measure D

Peanut cast his first ballot in a national election when he was 2.5 years old. He didn’t pull any levers, because that’s illegal. But he was sitting on my hip in a sling while I voted. And I’ve been taking both boys to vote, despite my preference for early voting, to every election since.

I want to teach them voting is important. And I focus on reading them ballot initiatives and discussing candidates’ positions so they understand why people vote different ways, and why every vote matters.

Express yo'self

Express yo’self

We’ve been seeing dozens of signs on front lawns, a handful of mailing supplements, and billboards aplenty. No on D. Yes on D. And Peanut wants to know what’s with all the hubbub, Bub.

I talked to him about the measure itself. Measure D is Berkeley’s Tax on Distributors of Sugar-Sweetened Beverages initiative. It’s been framed as Berkeley vs. Big Soda. And as local government sticking its nose where it doesn’t belong. The truth is somewhere in between, as is always the case with ballot measures.

I told Peanut that the basic idea is, if this measure passes, when you buy a soda, you have to pay more. A few cents. And that money accumulates and pays for the government’s costs for healthcare and services. That the people who wrote the bill want the cost of making a choice that hurts your body higher so they don’t have to pay so much later to help bodies that are hurt by soda.

It’s not that simple, of course. But he’s eight. Voting needs to be simplified a bit when you’re eight.

Since Measure D taxes sugar-sweetened beverages, it doesn’t tax artificially-sweetened beverages, which studies have suggested are actually worse for bodies than sugar-sweetened beverages are. And I told Peanut this, that the tax isn’t for all sodas, or all unhealthy drinks. Just sugar-added drinks.

He shrugged. “If it’s bad for you, and the tax is only a few cents, you should vote for it.”

“Maybe. But if the goal is public health, why not chemically-sweetened sodas? Why not juice? Why not tax sugar itself?”

“Because,” he said. “Sugar can be used a little or a lot, but in soda it’s a lot. And soda doesn’t have protein or fat, just sugar.”

Now we’re talking, buddy.

We’ve gotten too many mailers from the Beverage Industry, which whine that the measure doesn’t tax sugar-added coffee drinks. It does tax them if they’re in a bottle on a shelf, but not if you order one freshly made. But the goal is not taxing sugar; the goal is to tax sugar-sweetened processed beverages. Adding sugar to coffee later is optional, even with frothy $5 coffee drinks with syrups and whipped cream. You can order those without syrup or whipped cream. You can’t order a Coke or Pepsi without syrup, nor can you order a Starbucks bottled, shelf-stable thingamabob without sugar. Because those drinks are processed and packaged with the sugar already added, they are, in fact, different. Soda manufacturers don’t have to like that difference, but it is still a difference.

So what about the public health benefit of reduced consumption and increased tax revenue for health education?

There’s no way to determine that consumption will go down based on a tax. People still smoke, despite tobacco taxes. But they do smoke less. People still drive, despite heavily taxed gasoline. They drive a smidge less when gas is over $5 a gallon. But the increased revenue from Measure D’s penny-per-ounce tax pays for healthy-eating education, so ideally it will have an aggregate effect where each additional tax collected will further drive down consumption. It might wind up disproportionately taxing poor and less advantaged residents who will drink soda for a variety of reasons, including the low cost offered by federally-subsidized sugar priorities and lack of access to healthy alternatives at neighborhood markets.

I had Peanut read the mailers we keep getting. Clearly, the American Beverage Association seems terrified of this initiative, because they’re pouring enough money into mailings to pay for the education of all Berkeley students ($11 million at last count; I have no idea what that would pay for, but it’s a gobsmacking amount of money to preserve the low cost of soda and makes me mad enough to vote for D regardless of the nuances).

The marketing efforts focus on how residents must be confused about Measure D.

Confused? Marketer, Berkeley has one of the most educated populations in the country. Don’t you worry your sweet corporate head about our confusion. We’ll be okay. Across the Bay, San Francisco is deciding a similar measure. Don’t worry your CCM degree about them, either. They’re pretty smart, too.

my son trying to escape Berkeley for San Francisco

my son trying to escape Berkeley for San Francisco

What would make Measure D successful despite its limitations is if it cracks the door for governments to push food producers toward actual food rather than lab-facsimiles of food. Ideally, this will get us talking about federal subsidies for sugar and corn syrup. Hopefully, Measure D will spur a diet soda tax. Perhaps Measure D will get us talking about the artificial colors, banned in other countries and in U.S. cosmetics, but legal in our food. Maybe Measure D will get some effort behind the nutrition programs in Berkeley, where we’re teaching our kids to grow, prepare, and eat healthful foods but face smaller and smaller budgets.

If nothing else, Measure D has allowed some good talks in our house about legislation, about nutrition, and about why it’s important to vote.

Go vote! Unless you’re eight. In that case, wait ten years. Sorry.


I’ve been hearing truly depressing things about people not voting because they’re not sure they’ll make the right choice, or that the election does not matter to them, or that their vote doesn’t count.

This is going to be a very close presidential election. There are countless ballot initiatives and local offices on your ballot.

Any choice you make if you have read the ballot and understand the basic arguments, is right.

We all make mistakes, we all choose based on incomplete information. But the only mistake is not voting.

The results of the election will matter to every single American. This election determines how your local taxes are spent, who runs your water board and transit board and town. And this election will determine what the federal government will try to do for the next 2 years. And who will appoint Supreme Court justices.

Every vote counts. The 2000 election was won (maybe) by just over 500 votes. Five hundred votes. Changed the course of history forever.

Don’t say you can’t decide. Don’t declare politics are not your cup of tea. Don’t think it doesn’t matter.

This is your country. People have died for your right to vote. It matters oodles and buckets and tons.

Go. Vote. Now. Or Tuesday. I don’t care when. But vote.

Rantlets, little rants of the day (iv)

Hey, people who believe things: stop using your kids to campaign for you. It’s disgusting to have children who can’t form their own opinions holding signs for anything, let alone for hatred, discrimination, and bigotry.

Oh, and companies who make kids’ toys? So help me, if one more toy hollers out after being abandoned for 30 seconds, I’m gonna boycott your whole freaking company. Peanut actually has a toy that clears its throat and bellows, “Excuse me!” to get him to come back and play with it. Newsflash: you piss me off, I won’t buy your toys. Newsflash ii: toys that don’t know when it’s time to move on piss me off. Newsflash iii: when my kid’s falling asleep in the car, a toy that wakes him up to demand that he play some more really pisses me off. Newsflash iv: You know who you are, LeapFrog bastards. Unless you change your ways and announce your contrition publically, I’ll make sure you’re on the entertainment non grata list this Chrismakkah.

By the way, country: way to go on that election thing. I’m not totally pleased, vis a vis California ballot initiatives. But overall, you done good, nation. It’s nice to share this country with you.

Go vote

Not sure where to vote?

Not sure what ID you need?

In a swing state and not convinced you want either candidate? Please, please, please consider following your gut rather than your party affiliation. Test what really matters to you at and

And if you live in a swing state and happen to be Peanut’s grandparent, I can tell you that, without discussing politics with him at all, he has a very clear preference for one of the candidates by appearance (from newspapers, magazines, and campaign posters) and for the same candidate by voice (listened to the podcast of the debates). He doesn’t even know their names, but he really wants one to be the boss and make the rules (he keeps telling me that B.M.D. voted for him as the boss of me. I reject this form of toddler democracy.)

Please, swing state grandparents, vote for the person Peanut wants because Peanut will be here longer than all of us and has to pay for our choices. And his parents’ votes don’t count because we’re in California. And we might all have to move to Canada if one of the candidates wins, and Peanut’s winter clothes are all in a POD somewhere while we try to find a place to live. So vote for his guy because otherwise he’ll freeze wearing just sandals and shorts in Quebec this winter.

And I’m not here to threaten Peanut’s love or anything, because that would be wrong, but we might not come visit certain states this winter if certain states screw up another election. Tell your neighbors. Their grandkids might not visit, either. Maybe.

What about the issues?

So the blogoshere and FoxNewsForRepublicans are abuzz with silliness about Sarah Palin’s Newsweek cover. Some are upset that she wasn’t airbrushed to within an inch of recognizability. Um…two things. First, airbrushing the humanity out of women’s faces is part of the problem with the way we, in this country, judge a woman first by her exterior and almost never by her ideas. Second, other persons of political importance have had exactly the same angle and zoom, and have looked just as flawless as she does, and nobody made a stink. How sexist that FoxNews thinks this cover is nasty, just because she’s a woman and presumably valuable for her looks. The cover pictures her face, and we’re not obligated to beautify it–every human face is beautiful the way it is. Sarah Palin’s face on this cover lovely and it’s not the point, because her politics are the point. Get over the fact that we should white glove her but manhandle the three other major political figures of the American presidential race. She gets the same treatment–respectful, full frontal magnifying glass. Airbrushing is reprehensible enough for fashion models and celebrities. She’s not in this game for her face. She’s in this game for her mind. Can we finally have a picture of that, please?

(Wouldn’t that be awesome? Have medical science design a way to measure a person’s intelligence, fairness, logic, goodness, and fundamental worthiness? Then election and marriage and hiring and friendship decisions would be much easier.)

Here’s a blog about the zoom-y cover nonsense. The first response, about a plastic surgeon judging her face is positively offensive. When are we allowed to look like ourselves? Baby photos are Photoshopped for magazines, toddlers are tarted up in full makeup for Little Miss Pedophile contests, teens are mocked for their appearance, and the rest of the country carves themselves to get self esteem.

On a similar note, I was searching the phrase “Sarah Palin is a hater” because after seeing a few clips of her speeches I marvel at how toxic and acerbic her tone is. “Who is the real Barack Obama?” Ah, excuse, me, Madam Governor, but isn’t that the pot calling the kettle an outsider? If his daughter or Joe Biden’s daughter was pregnant we’d be having a different election. If his religion or Joe Biden’s religion was as extreme, we’d be having a different election. If he or Joe Biden had been found by a bipartisan committee to have abused power, we would have a different election. Barack Obama has given hundreds, nay thousands, of interviews. And he has several flaws. But we know about them. Who is the real Barack Obama? Who is the real Sarah Pain? She can’t even name what media she relies upon for her information, let alone give a clear answer (I’m not going to answer that , and will instead answer the question I prepared…I read everything put in front of me…I’ll get back to you on that…it doesn’t matter what I believe about global warming, we just need to fix it). Obama’s Christian pastor said some really eye opening things, and Obama left his Christian church. (Had to repeat that qualifer because there are still people who think he’s Muslim. Not that I would care. Religion or not, I care how people think, not which brand of god they buy.) Palin’s pastor has said some really eye opening things and nobody calls her on it. Seriously, people. When is the superficial lovefest about this woman going to end, and when do we get to hear what she really believes? After the election? She doesn’t believe in global warming or evolution or birth control or government oversight, (until just recently, when it became clear that unbridled capitalism really kind of sucks for the innocent). She believes The Lord is at work in things like gas pipelines and wars (take a look at this article). She believes that rape and incest victims should be forced to have the children conceived in those violent acts, and she believes her daughter is the only one who should get to choose what to do with her own body.

Anyway, I found this blog, which led me to this New Yorker article. Funny, I guess, if it weren’t so scary.

Makes me want to go back to teaching critical thinking, because a good percentage of this country needs some of that skill.

(Speaking of, I heard a fantastic program on NPR yesterday that included a lengthy discussion of Harlem’s efforts to lift children out of the cycle of poverty. An interesting bit, early on in This American Life‘s piece, noted that job training and welfare programs are failing because some Americans aren’t missing one skill, something teachable that, once fixed, will enable them to work. They’re missing dozens of skils, including motivation, financial knowledge, and basic critical thinking. If we give kids positive, enriching environments that teach them to think broadly about problems, we create a future of universal success. Critical thinking might also help us end the cycle of getting the government we deserve, because we might, collectively, vote in our best interests, not in our narrowest interests.)