California to Start Automatically Registering Voters


America’s most populous state is on its way to automatically registering its citizens to vote.  By a 24-15 vote, the California State Senate voted in early September to automatically register anyone that receives or renews a state driver’s license, unless they opt out of registration. The House previously passed a similar measure. Government Jerry Brown has not taken a position on the bill. However, all signs point to him supporting automatic registration. Brown, a Democrat, previously pushed for and signed legislation allowing Californians to register to vote on the day of the election.

Secretary of State Alex Padilla, the key backer of the legislation, says that nearly 7 million Californians are currently eligible to vote but are not registered to do so. The automatic voter bill is designed to reduce that number and bring more people to the polls come election time.

Throughout the last decade Republicans around the country have taken steps to restrict voting, including voter id measures requiring certain forms of identification in order to cast a ballot, reduced early voting days, and shorter voting hours. In addition, Republicans have supported challenges to the constitutionality of the Voting Rights Act and have stymied attempts to pass legislation fixing the law after parts of it were held unconstitutional by the US Supreme Court. Using the pre-text of reducing fraud, the methods employed have been largely designed to make it more difficult for traditionally Democratic constituents, such as college students, millennials, and transient service sector workers, to cast a ballot come election time.  Now in blue states around the country, including here in California, legislators are taking steps to increase voter turnaround and paint a clear contrast between policies meant to promote democracy with the policies of their Republican opposition designed to stymie the voter.

The California motor voter legislation is modeled largely after Oregon’s similar law that went into effect in 2015. While signing the bill, Oregon Democratic Governor Kate Brown noted that it can increase the state’s rolls by as many as 300,000 voters, or more than 10% in a state currently home to about 2.2 million residents who are registered to vote. Like Oregon, California legislators hope that the automatic voter legislation will pave the way to an “opt out” mindset to voting, versus the current system requiring residents to opt in before being able to cast a ballot.

In addition to Oregon and California, earlier this year New Jersey’s Democrat controlled legislature passed an automatic voter registration bill. However, Governor and 2016 Presidential candidate Chris Christie is unlikely to sign it. Last June, Christie was quoted saying “is it really too much to ask someone to fill out a form?

In contrast to Governor Christie, fellow 2016 Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton has staked out a pro-voter position early on in her campaign.  In a key speech on voting rights last June, Clinton laid out a campaign policy platform designed to boost turnout. Clinton called for all Americans to be automatically registered upon turning 18 unless they opt out. Clinton went further by criticizing Republicans for engaging in a systemic effort to disenfranchise people of color, the poor, and the young.

Washington Post Says Salad is Overrated

Slatepitch” was coined sometime around 2009 after the online magazine Slate published an article claiming that the band Creed was “severely underrated.” In essence, the phrase refers to a ridiculous proclamation where the author stakes out a comically contrarian position for seemingly the sole purpose of attracting clicks. It has been parodied extensively on Twitter, with some proposing such future Statepitch articles like “Soccer: It’s time to let players use their hands”, and “Windows Vista: Simply Ahead of Its Time?”.

A few weeks ago the practice was put to use by a seemingly respectable publication: The Washington Post. As the parent company of Slate, the mother ship published an article titled “Why Salad is So Overrated.” Californians eat more salad than probably anyone in the world, so I couldn’t help but take the bait and respond to every claim made by writer Tamar Haspel.

Haspel first claims that salad is overrated because salad vegetables are low in nutrition. Specifically, lettuce is mostly water and therefore offers very little else. The irony behind this claim is that it is criticizing lettuce for not being calorie dense enough.

Caloric density is not a positive.

Dense, low moisture foods like Pringles are bad precisely because they provide too many calories in too few bites. On the other hand, high water foods like watermelon, strawberries, and yes lettuce are known to deliver the most nutrition per calorie. Furthermore, the water in lettuce and other vegetables is held in cell walls made of fiber, along with vitamins like K and A. In an era of runaway obesity, the fiber helps one feel full without delivering too many calories. Since it provides a feeling of fullness, it displaces poorer eating choices, like feeling hungry and pigging out on the aforementioned Pringles.

If that wasn’t enough, consider that wine and beer are also “mostly water”. Are we really willing to live in a world where we stigmatize certain foods simply because of their high water content?

Second, Haspel claims that salad tricks people into making bad food choices because what passes for salad nowadays can be high in calories. The claim can be summed up as follows: salad is bad because some people and some restaurants stupidly choose to douse it with a ladle of ranch dressing.

By that logic, the following foods are also to be avoided at all cost: tomatoes because they can be turned into vodka cream sauce; collard greens because they can be baked or fried in lard; and carrots because they can be dipped in yes, also ranch dressing. The versatility of salad, the ability to turn it into a high calorie, high fat meal on a dime, if anything makes it underrated. Too many people assume that salad is a dieter’s food, but it doesn’t have to be.

Finally, Haspel argues that lettuce is one of the top sources of food waste in America. Choosing not to eat something because a lot of it is thrown out due to spoilage is a little ridiculous. Instead, we should focus on easy solutions that let us continue to consume salad without the spoilage. For example, in California, romaine, arugula, and butter lettuce can be grown year round at little expense. Most greens can even be grown indoors in pots.

While not writing slatepitch articles calling salad a “resource-hungry luxury,” Tamar Haspel farms the ultimate luxury food item: Cape Cod oysters. At just over 7 calories, oysters sell for over $1 apiece. They provide very little nutrition at an outrageous expense. They can be breaded and fried and turned into a high calorie fat delivery mechanism. Like all seafood, they are highly perishable and often discarded due to spoilage, after traveling half way across the country in a CO2 spewing plane. Perhaps next time Haspel chooses to claim that a food item is overrated, she should look in the mirror first.

Gang Members Solitary Confinement

Is Moving Gang Members Out of Solitary Confinement Going to Cause Gangs to Flourish in California?

The California Department of Corrections announced it is revamping its solitary confinement selection procedures when it comes to gang members sentenced to prison time. A settlement in the class action lawsuit Ashker vs. Brown results in California prison officials deciding to end solitary confinement for thousands of inmates in state prisons, where something as simple as a gang-related tattoo can warrant the prisoner be placed in solitary confinement for years, with no release to the general population in sight.

Why is Solitary Confinement so Prevalent in California?

30 to 40 years ago, waves of violence in California prisons prompted officials to take drastic measures to decrease gang activity and get better control of inmates. Once a prisoner was “validated” by prison officials as having some association with a gang, they were relegated to solitary confinement – a cell with no windows and no contact with any other prisoners. The prisoners could not protest this decision and had no legal recourse, until a class action lawsuit was filed by white supremacist and murderer Todd Ashker. The movement among the prisoners prompted a widespread hunger strike in the prison population, notably in the notorious Pelican Bay prison in Northern California, where many of the solitary confinement prisoners are held in one of the nation’s largest isolation units. While there was pushback on the lawsuit from the California Correctional Peace Officers Association, citing the potential risks to correctional officers, a settlement was reached that will drastically alter the reasoning behind who is placed in solitary confinement and for how long.

A Redesigned System to End Unending Solitary Confinement

Going forward, prisoners will not be placed in isolation before they have committed a violent act. They will be assessed based on how they behave in the general population first. If they do commit an act of violence against a fellow inmate or officer, they can be placed in isolation, but only for a maximum of five years, then they must be released into a step-down unit. Those who have currently spent over 10 years in solitary confinement will also be released to a step-down unit. The step-down units will allow the prisoners two years to reform enough to enter the general population once again. They can take advantage of the classes and programs available to non-isolated prisoners and will be allowed to exercise and interact in groups for 10 hours per week. This change will affect the isolation of almost 2,000 prisoners currently held in isolation units in the state of California.

Will Gangs Once Again Become a Problem in Prisons?

There is no easy answer to whether the move will spark riots, killings and violence. Naysayers think it will endanger correctional officers and increase gang activity. But can a justice system work effectively based only on fear of what could happen and what a previously convicted criminal might do in the future? If so, America might as well be a police state, not a land of freedom and opportunity. Advocates of the change to solitary confinement procedure are firm in their belief that criminals, while they are criminals, should be punished appropriately. Holding a potential “bad actor” in a concrete box for 23 hours of the day for decades at a time, is a “cruel and unusual” way to preemptively punish some inmates over others. With no lawful guidelines in place, prison guards and officials are free to dole out their own selective proactive justice, which is not lawful in accordance with the Constitution.

It will take additional funds, closer attention and extra care given by all involved in prison policing to stay on the lookout for increased gang activity as a byproduct, but that is a small price to pay for the assurance that individual rights are not violated by the people who overstep their boundaries of power.

Things Not to Add to Guacamole

Remember when the New York Times decided to tweet a link to a Guacamole recipe that included green peas? Twitter outrage ensued. Even the President weighed in by tweeting “respect the nyt, but not buying peas in guac. Onions, garlic, hot peppers. Classic”.

This misguided recipe was originally concocted by French chef and ABC Contina owner Jean-Georges Vongerichten in collaboration with his chef de cuisine Ian Coogan. It calls for adding half a pound of fresh, sweet peas to three Haas avocados, jalapenos, cilantro, scallions, and lime. The peas purport to “add intense sweetness and a chunky texture to the dip.”

So what went wrong?

Guacamole is a California inspired creation. Though it is technically Mexican food that traces its history back to the Aztecs, the fairly recent Haas avocados were first grown in California and are named after a California postal worker. In fact, the original Haas mother tree lived in suburban southern California until 2002, when it tragically died from root rot at the age of 76. Guacamole as we know it would not possible if not for California Haas avocados. Don’t believe me? Try making guac with a green skin avocado and let me know how it turns out.

Sadly, chefs and chef wonnabes online have been messing with guac for years. For example there is this guacamole with cottage cheese recipe. Hidden Valley decided to promote its ranch dressing guacamole with the hopes of selling more dressing. Not to be outdone, the Food Network decided that guacamole is yet another place we can add bacon. I haven’t found a recipe that includes both ranch and bacon, but I am sure it’s out there somewhere. How about a blue cheese guacamole-stuffed mushroom cap, topped with buffalo sauce? Though to be fair, this is not guacamole per se since it seems to be used as an ingredient.

The New York Times acknowledged that adding peas is a “radical move”, but insisted on doing it anyway. And there lies the flaw. Guacamole is not fertile ground for experimentation. A classic, popular dish that we all expect to have a certain flavor profile just doesn’t lend itself to wholesale reinterpretation. You can sub serrano peppers for jalapenos or hold the onions, but don’t overshadow the main ingredient: avocados. It’s like using barbecue sauce as salad dressing: both have their place and both are perfectly delicious, just not in the same bowl. We associate each with something entirely different.

In other words, when it comes to certain classic recipes, we all revert to our 8 year state. If it doesn’t taste exactly or almost exactly as we expect it to taste, we toss it and have cereal for dinner instead.

Unlike the horrible recipes I listed above, at the risk of internet scorn, there is nothing objectively wrong with the peaguac recipe. It’s not too sweet, sour, salty, fatty or acidic. On balance, it might actually work. But with food, objectively matters only in the context of history, point of reference, and expectation. Good chefs understand their food but more importantly, understand their audience and their association with that food. The New York Times struck a nerve because it failed to take the strong association we have with tasting the “right” kind of guacamole into account. Next time, maybe they can suggest subbing lime juice for lemon juice. It won’t drive internet traffic like adding peas, but it will make for a better guacamole.