I’ve been bad about posting new material recently, but I’ve been basically head-down (aside from a trip to MassMOCA & maybe a few runs of Mario Kart) for the past few weeks trying to get a project finished. I’m looking forward to getting this out there, but I hate talking up something before it’s finished, so I’m cutting this short.
“In a major ruling on press freedoms, a divided federal appeals court on Friday ruled that James Risen, an author and a reporter for The New York Times, must testify in the criminal trial of a former Central Intelligence Agency official charged with providing him with classified information.”—
The New York Times expands on the impacts of the decision:
Friday’s ruling establishes a precedent that applies only to the Fourth Circuit, but that circuit includes Maryland and Virginia, where most national security agencies like the Pentagon and the Central Intelligence Agency are. As a result, if it stands, it could have a significant impact on investigative journalism about national security matters.
The Times also describes the ruling as “awkwardly timed for the Obama administration” due to the ongoing discussions between free press advocates and Attorney General Eric H. Holder on the justice department’s treatment of the press.
Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. has portrayed himself as trying to rebalance the department’s approach to leak investigations in response to the furor over its aggressive investigative tactics, like subpoenaing Associated Press reporters’ phone records and portraying a Fox News reporter as a criminal conspirator in order to obtain a warrant for his e-mails.
Last week, Mr. Holder announced new guidelines for leak investigations that significantly tightened the circumstances in which reporters’ records could be obtained. He also reiterated the Obama administration’s proposal to revive legislation to create a federal media shield law that in some cases would allow judges to quash subpoenas for reporters’ testimony, as many states have.
But really, all this underscores how dumb it is to arbitrarily set the bar so low for food aid to economically disadvantaged children and families. It makes no sense, since people aren’t able to afford enough food, the money is spent, and the people who need the assistance are still facing the same trouble as before.
(*There’s a maximum gross income, from which you can deduct expenses like child support or medical payments — in my case, that figure is $14,532 a year. The USDA explains the deductions here.)
Based on the formula offered by the USDA’s SNAP website, the benefits are based on spending 30% of your income on food. So based on the formula they use….
$931 x .3 = $279.30
And the USDA subtracts that figure from the maximum benefit for your family size, and the difference between the two becomes the amount of your SNAP benefits to buy food with.
Which in my case is $200, according to the USDA. Math is not my strong suit, but that formula works out as
$200-$280 = $-80.
The SNAP site doesn’t address my situation with their formula, really, so I’m gonna go ahead and stick with the $3.
When I hit the grocery store on July 15, I planned ahead with a cookbook and make a food stamp diet that didn’t include, say, brussels sprouts and strawberry yogurt as a single meal (don’t ask). I decided on vegetarian chili, mostly because its easy to make and I could use whatever I’d like. Because, you know, science and such.
I’d intended to tackle organic items, but the prices and selection at my local store didn’t exactly wow me, so I switched back to the canned veggies. I actually came in pretty under budget, and I really, really think I should have picked up something else with the extra cash this week:
This is a successful fail, in that I could put together a shopping list that includes fruit and vegetables, but pretty much leaves no room for variety. I had to cut some things out. So: no oatmeal, no orange juice. I hoped that veggie chili with taco shells will be as appetizing over the weekend as they were on Monday. (They are not. FYI.)
When I was there, I picked up some soft tortillas because tacos make anything better. I also sprang for “Mexican style” corn, mostly because they came with chopped peppers. (I don’t know how that makes it “Mexican style” but, yeah, that still is a horrible name for the stuff.)
Even doing it this way, I still come up short nutrition-wise — and do a little worse than last week:
Next week, I’ll probably use a diet similar to the first week’s haul, but swap in peanut butter instead of bread and that brown sugar. I have a loaf of bread and a PB jar here that I bought to cheat this week, so I’ll factor in their costs for the week of the 22nd. I won’t starve, that’s for sure:
Two PB sandwiches would easily help me reach a healthy calorie intake, and more than half my fat intake for the day.
But if I was gonna eat like a grade schooler as a grown-up, I might have kept my Knight Rider lunchbox. Dammit.
“A trillion dollars in student loan debt right now. A trillion right. A TRILLION dollars.
We are lending money that we don’t have to kids that will never be able to pay it back, to educate them for jobs that no longer exist.”—Mike Rowe on Real Time with Bill Maher (via dingyfeathers)
Well, by run out, I mean, run out of options, because oatmeal has become my new best friend, and what seemed like an extravagance in buying a pound of brown sugar has made it way, way better.
After my first week participating in the food stamp challenge, I was down to a couple of cups each of:
And about 20+ servings of
…and a large bag of brown sugar. Yay.
Not exactly a success, seeing how I used up (in grey):
Now, this isn’t meant to be a accurate representation of an average person living on food stamps — if you’re at that income level, you’re worried about more than food — say, like housing, healthcare or earning adequate wages — none of which apply to me, luckily. And at least we’re not at the stage when ketchup qualifies as a vegetable.
But it is illustrative of the cost-cutting and planning someone would have to do, especially if you’re one of those people who like being healthy.
I started this project getting a simplified list of the kinds of things I usually buy, and less of it. I burned through the cereal because it was hot and the cereal is served with cold milk. I was greedy. There is nothing more depressing than trying to pour a bowl of cereal, and only getting a few crumbs and a small plume of dust from the open end of a cereal box.
I shouldn’t have wasted $2.79 on that bread. Ditto on carrots. Part of me thinks the best way to tackle this is just buying peanut butter and oatmeal, but that can’t be terribly great for my health.
So the plan is to score high-volume food during this trip — those gallon-size bags of cereal look okay; although I hoped they come in varieties other than Tooth Decay with Extra Sugar. Basically, the plan this week was to get stuff that look like I could put them into a recipe, instead of Hilliard Buys What He Normally Gets Because He Does, which isn’t very sustainable in hindsight.
So the week’s haul looks like this:
Milk - 16 servings
OJ - 11 servings
Cereal - 11 servings (x2)
Fat-free yogurt - 4 servings
Frozen vegetables - 3 servings (x2)
Potatoes and bananas
I also still have about 20 servings left of oatmeal, which I’m gonna include here.
I did manage to stay under $21 this time — a small victory there:
I caved and picked up three potatoes at .79 per pound. Also dumped bread for one package each of frozen squash and brussel sprouts. The goal here was pick up stuff that could potentially be used in (gasp) a recipe. Maybe.
Because the SNAP program is based on doling out cash to help buy food, rather than establish nutritional guidelines, it’s a mixed bag whether someone would actually be eating right.
The federal departments of agriculture and of health and human services say that an adult man needs at least 2,400 calories per day (see page 14) to just live a nice, sedentary life, and more than that if you’re planning to, you know, work and pay rent and stuff. At $21 and keeping an eye on buying bulky, healthy foods, here’s where I ended up:
I come up about 1,280 calories short if I eat a serving of everything I bought this week — which I can’t, since there is not enough of everything to last through the week. I won’t go hungry, but I won’t be eating enough, either, unless I continue leaning on my oatmeal/brown sugar habit. My dental hygienist is going to love me this summer.
I’ve never considered the nutritional value of what I’m buying, other than to rationalize why a box of Twinkies sounds like a good idea. You do spend more time with that Nutritional Facts label, though, when you realize you might have to live off something for a week.
Obviously, I’m not the only one tackling this. A writer at Bon Appetit was able to score much better, much healthier food options, albeit way above the $21 limit.
Next week, I’ll try to squeeze an all-organic shopping list out of this budget.
For the next month, I’ll be charting what it’s like to live on $3 a day for meals.**
I started on July 1 and headed to the store to buy my normal list — and instantly had to cut a few items, including coffee and peanut butter — to try and hit $21.
And as you can see, I still failed on my first attempt:
Obviously, I got greedy. A dime isn’t a big deal in itself, but illustrates just how little flexibility a food stamp budget offers.
I usually have oatmeal for breakfast, and splurged on brown sugar, so my mornings wouldn’t have to taste like cardboard.
There’s more than 3 1/2 pounds of banana in there, a bag of pre-cut carrots, staples like gallon jugs of milk and OJ, and a large container of fat-free strawberry yogurt. I also splurged on some supermarket-baked bread instead of the pre-sliced mechano-loaves you can get in the bread aisle.
I’ll have to trim down the list next week.
**I stuck with the $3 per day figure, which is admittedly a few years out of date, but a bit closer to reality. While a single guy like me would get an average $4.90 per day in food stamp support these days, families see dwindling returns with more members. A family of four, for example, would collect an average of $3.90 per family member. And if adults need access to good nutrition for their long-term health, kids need it more.
EDIT: Because I didn’t double-check my math, the correct figures for a single person under SNAP would be about $5.10 per day, and a family of four would receive about $4.08. It’s about 20 cents more for each, but wanted to correct my error.
“Mainly you really have to love writing and reporting. Like it’s more important to you than anything else in your life—family, friends, social life, whatever.”—Buzzfeed reporter Michael Hastings • Offering advice to young journalists in a Reddit thread last year. Hastings, 33, died in a car crash on Tuesday morning. Despite his young age, he left a fairly significant mark on the journalism world, scoring a 2010 Rolling Stone interview with Gen. Stanley McChrystal in which the then-Commander of U.S. and NATO Coalition Forces in Afghanistan spoke negatively of White House staff. Hastings’ report sent shockwaves through Washington, leading to McChrystal’s firing before the report was even officially published. While McChrystal was eventually cleared of wrongdoing in the case, Rolling Stone stood behind Hastings’ article. Hastings’ death led many journalists to leave statements of remorse in the wake of the news, including his editor, Ben Smith, who said in a statement that “He wrote stories that would otherwise have gone unwritten, and without him there are great stories that will go untold.” (reddit thread via Twitter user @nbj914)
“Whatever you now find weird, ugly, uncomfortable and nasty about a new medium will surely become its signature. CD distortion, the jitteriness of digital video, the crap sound of 8-bit - all of these will be cherished and emulated as soon as they can be avoided. It’s the sound of failure: so much modern art is the sound of things going out of control, of a medium pushing to its limits and breaking apart. The distorted guitar sound is the sound of something too loud for the medium supposed to carry it. The blues singer with the cracked voice is the sound of an emotional cry too powerful for the throat that releases it. The excitement of grainy film, of bleached-out black and white, is the excitement of witnessing events too momentous for the medium assigned to record them.”— Brian Eno, 1995 (via throughascreendarkly)
“They quite literally can watch your ideas form as you type.”—
a career U.S. intelligence officer on the U.S. government, in a Washington Post exclusive on how the NSA and FBI is tapping into the central servers of Microsoft, Yahoo, Google, Facebook, PalTalk, AOL, Skype, YouTube and Apple. (via washingtonpoststyle)
My first thought was wondering how much the government understands about me as a person and if they understand me better than my friends do. I don’t know what this says about me.