As far as I’m concerned, this election was mostly about whether or not to tax soda

Soda-TaxBoth Berkeley and San Francisco had ballot propositions this year regarding whether to institute a tax on soda (and many juices). The tax, at least in Berkeley, is only a cent per ounce, so the cost isn’t that high. And the proposition clearly riled up some huge corporations because every house has gotten fliers about this, and I hear ads about it on the radio constantly. Seriously, if I was to judge by my radio, there were only three election issues in California this year: a) the soda tax; b) a silly proposition requiring mandatory drug-testing for doctors; and c) a school superintendent’s race somewhere in the South Bay (between some guy named Turlock and another guy named someone else–did you know that Timothy Turlock has never been a classroom teacher and that the last time he ran a school district, it went bankrupt or something like that? Or maybe it was the other guy who was bad? I forget).

In my own life, I’m pretty anti-soda. I used to drink copious quantities of it, but I haven’t touched any in about three years. There’s something about it that is, quite frankly, a bit addictive. Soda-drinking does not obey the dictates of hunger. No one was ever hungry for soda. And soda-thirst cannot be satiated. Many people (myself included) are capable of drinking many sodas in a day. Mankind was not meant to consume food that was so sweet! (On the other hand, I am not a scientist. And I don’t know if science is as convinced on the health risks of soda as the public seems to think it is. But for the sake of this post, let’s assume that drinking soda is, actually, in some way worse than, for instance, drinking milk.)

But, on the other hand, there is something awfully paternalistic about this tax. It would be one thing if we as a people were like, “We drink too much soda. Soda is bad. Soda should be taxed.”

But is that what these ballot propositions are about? Or are they about one group of people telling another: “You drink too much soda. Soda is bad for you, and this soda drinking of yours needs to be discouraged.”

I think it’s more the latter than the former. Of course, eventually what happens in these cases is that the nannies brainwash the children. That’s why cigarette smokers often support increased restrictions on smoking. They’re ashamed of their habit, so they punish themselves.

I don’t know. When you’re dealing with broad, societal problems, you have to use policy mechanisms like taxes in order to discourage or encourage behavior. However, I hate the way these policies get transformed into personal imperatives. I feel as though taxes like these are only going to contribute to a world where people who drink soda are considered bad and people who eschew it are considered good. We already have enough of that with weight issues, and it’s disgusting. But it seems impossible to say “soda drinking should be discouraged” without also saying “people who drink soda are doing something that is wrong.” I guess maybe our mythos could be, “People who drink soda are paying a tax that exculpates them from the act: since societal costs have now been internalized in the cost of the product, people can drink it with a clear conscience,” but somehow I don’t think that’s the message that’s getting through.

I’m starting to think that being familiar with the work of Ke$ha is not the cultural touchstone that I thought it was

47e29f9fe96a1771642fb05ac8a8fd00_XLI’m in Berkeley for the summer, and I have to say that it’s a bit like an alternate world out here. You know, everything is mostly the same as in Baltimore: people walk on two legs and wear pants and say ‘Hello’ and eat at vegan bakeries and go to Farmer’s Markets and drive bikes to work (on a sidenote: it’s unbelievable how many Bay Area people think that the standard markers of modern yuppie living–farmer markets, veganism, etc–are unique to their little part of the world).

But there are differences. And one of the weirder ones is that no one knows what’s on the radio. I listen to the radio all the time: if it’s on the radio, I’ve definitely heard it. But many 27 year olds around here do not. That’s for two reasons: a) lots of them don’t own cars; and b) they’re way too cool for the radio.

Which puts me in the weird position, because almost everyone that I meet around here is really, really into music. They all play in bands and go to shows and are just generally up on things. And whenever the talk turns to music, I can generally only contribute information about: a) Nashville-based pop-country music (which no one cares about); or b) whatever I heard on the radio.

So, wometimes I’ll say something like, “Oh yeah, I listened to that Ke$ha song ‘Die Young’ like fifty times while I was driving across country.”

And my conversation partner will respond: “Who?”

“Uhh, Ke$ha? The pop singer?”

And then there’ll just be incomprehension. It’s very weird to me; there’s a real cultural disconnect here. My view of engagement with art is very shaped by my experience with science fiction. You start with the most accessible, most poppy stuff (Ender’s Game, Dune, Starship Troopers, etc) and then, when that stops providing you with pleasure, you go out and you find more and more obscure artists. But you always stay current with the mainstream, because that’s, it’s just…it’s like what you have in common with the rest of the world. When I meet another SF fan, we don’t talk about Ted Chiang…we talk about Neal Stephenson and John Scalzi. Because that’s how shit works.

But in music, at least out here, it feels different. I don’t know. Maybe it is an age thing. It feels obvious, to me, that the radio is primarily geared towards sixteen year olds. Maybe the model is that when you’re sixteen, you listen intensively to the radio, and then you branch out and, as you age and become less and less the target demographic for the music industry, more and more of the bands you like aren’t on the radio anymore.

To me, it seems a bit uncool to not be familiar with what’s on the radio. I mean…that’s the radio. How can you know anything about music if you don’t know what people like? I mean, you don’t need to like what you hear on the radio, but you should at least hear it on occasion.

But since all my friends out here are super cool, I think that my supposition is incorrect. Here, in the East Bay, amongst a certain age group, the radio is irrelevant.

I know, right? It’s like I’m summering on Mars.

(It’s also possible that this is true everywhere, but I just notice it more here because I have more friends here. I’ve certainly encountered people in DC who were too cool for the radio).