99 percent of microbes in your body are completely unknown to science

99 percent of microbes in your body are completely unknown to science

Whenever you feel lonely, just remember: you’re always carrying several hundred trillion friends with you. A dizzying number of microbes call the human body home, and it turns out that science knows very little about most of them. In fact, a new Stanford survey of the foreign DNA fragments circulating in the human body has found that 99 percent of microbes inside us are completely unknown to science.

The discovery was initially made by accident, as a team investigated less invasive ways to predict whether a patient’s body would reject a transplanted organ. Rather than the wholly unpleasant experience of having a tissue biopsy taken, the researchers were studying whether a simple blood sample would suffice. Essentially, the idea was that if they found fragments of the organ donor’s DNA circulating in a patient’s blood, it was a good indication that the body was rejecting the transplant.

Along with the patient’s DNA and potentially that of the organ donor, the technique gives an insight into that person’s microbiome – the trillions of bacteria, viruses and other microbes that live throughout the body. Of all the non-human DNA floating around in there, the team found that a staggering 99 percent didn’t match anything in existing genetic databases.

“We found the gamut,” says Stephen Quake, senior author of the study. “We found things that are related to things people have seen before, we found things that are divergent, and we found things that are completely novel. I’d say it’s not that baffling in some respects because the lens that people examined the microbial universe was one that was very biased.”

The team then set about categorizing that pile of unknown DNA, and found that most of it belonged to a general group known as proteobacteria, which counts E. coli and Salmonella among its ranks, along with many, many others. On the virus side of things, the team found a huge amount of previously unknown members of the torque teno family, including an entirely new group that doesn’t quite fit current descriptions.

“We’ve doubled the number of known viruses in that family through this work,” says Quake. “We’ve now found a whole new class of human-infecting ones that are closer to the animal class than to the previously known human ones, so quite divergent on the evolutionary scale.”

With so many microbes living in the human body, it’s hardly surprising that science hasn’t gotten around to identifying them all, and the researchers say that attention is largely focused on a few particularly interesting species. The next step, the team says, is to apply the technique to the microbiomes of other animals in order to identify viruses that could potentially jump to humans and trigger pandemics, like avian and swine flu.

http://newatlas.com/99-percent-microbiome-unknown/51037/

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Open Letter: An Open Letter to the Lady Selling Seashells By the Seashore – McSweeney’s Internet Tendency

Open Letter: An Open Letter to the Lady Selling Seashells By the Seashore – McSweeney’s Internet Tendency

Dear Lady Selling Seashells by the Seashore,

Let me get this straight. You managed to create the most successful word-of-mouth marketing campaign of all time but forgot to include a call-to-action? You’ve got half the world talking about your sea shell business (trying to at least, your tagline is a real sonofabitch) and somehow failed to mention where your retail stores are located? On behalf of all my marketing peers, what the actual fuck?

I mean, come on. “By the seashore” isn’t even close to a street address. Are you milking tourists on the Mediterranean? Peddling off the Persian Gulf? Bartering on the Black Sea? How am I supposed to plug you into Google Maps when I don’t even know what hemisphere you’re operating on?

You could’ve had class. You could’ve been a shell vendor. You could’ve been somebody. I know this for a fact because I had my intern, Kevin, calculate the profit loss resulting from your marketing fiasco.

Let’s say the bargain shells go for a buck and the posh ones cost five. Knowing that your campaign has reached approximately two billion people, your little oversight may well have cost you $10 billion. Kevin had to take two weeks off to recover from witnessing such a high level of fuckery.

Does your business even have a name? How do we know you’re running a legitimate operation over there (wherever there is)? For all we know you could be stuffing those puppies full of illegal drugs and selling them to pre-teens. Is “seashell” code for a new type of ammunition designed for underwater warfare? Are you an arms dealer sent from the future to bring ruin to our world? I demand answers!

That’s it. I’m tweeting a complaint to the Department of Commerce (that is the best way to get in touch with the governing body of the most powerful country in the world these days, right?).

Regards,
Thatcher Jensen

https://www.mcsweeneys.net/articles/an-open-letter-to-the-lady-selling-seashells-by-the-seashore

25 Words That Are Their Own Opposites | Mental Floss

25 Words That Are Their Own Opposites | Mental Floss

Here’s an ambiguous sentence for you: “Because of the agency’s oversight, the corporation’s behavior was sanctioned.” Does that mean, ‘Because the agency oversaw the company’s behavior, they imposed a penalty for some transgression’ or does it mean, ‘Because the agency was inattentive, they overlooked the misbehavior and gave it their approval by default’? We’ve stumbled into the looking-glass world of “contronyms”—words that are their own antonyms.

1. Sanction (via French, from Latin sanctio(n-), from sancire ‘ratify,’) can mean ‘give official permission or approval for (an action)’ or conversely, ‘impose a penalty on.’
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2. Oversight is the noun form of two verbs with contrary meanings, “oversee” and “overlook.” “Oversee,” from Old English ofersēon ‘look at from above,’ means ‘supervise’ (medieval Latin for the same thing: super- ‘over’ + videre ‘to see.’) “Overlook” usually means the opposite: ‘to fail to see or observe; to pass over without noticing; to disregard, ignore.’
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3. Left can mean either remaining or departed. If the gentlemen have withdrawn to the drawing room for after-dinner cigars, who’s left? (The gentlemen have left and the ladies are left.)
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4. Dust, along with the next two words, is a noun turned into a verb meaning either to add or to remove the thing in question. Only the context will tell you which it is. When you dust are you applying dust or removing it? It depends whether you’re dusting the crops or the furniture.
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5. Seed can also go either way. If you seed the lawn you add seeds, but if you seed a tomato you remove them.
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6. Stone is another verb to use with caution. You can stone some peaches, but please don’t stone your neighbor (even if he says he likes to get stoned).
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7. Trim as a verb predates the noun, but it can also mean either adding or taking away. Arising from an Old English word meaning ‘to make firm or strong; to settle, arrange,’ “trim” came to mean ‘to prepare, make ready.’ Depending on who or what was being readied, it could mean either of two contradictory things: ‘to decorate something with ribbons, laces, or the like to give it a finished appearance’ or ‘to cut off the outgrowths or irregularities of.’ And the context doesn’t always make it clear. If you’re trimming the tree are you using tinsel or a chain saw?
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8. Cleave can be cleaved into two “homographs,” words with different origins that end up spelled the same. “Cleave,” meaning ‘to cling to or adhere,’ comes from an Old English word that took the forms cleofian, clifian, or clīfan. “Cleave,” with the contrary meaning ‘to split or sever (something), ‘ as you might do with a cleaver, comes from a different Old English word, clēofan. The past participle has taken various forms: “cloven,” which survives in the phrase “cloven hoof,” “cleft,” as in a “cleft palate” or “cleaved.”
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9. Resign works as a contronym in writing. This time we have homographs, but not homophones. “Resign,” meaning ‘to quit,’ is spelled the same as “resign,” meaning ‘to sign up again,’ but it’s pronounced differently.
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10. Fast can mean “moving rapidly,” as in “running fast,” or ‘fixed, unmoving,’ as in “holding fast.” If colors are fast they will not run. The meaning ‘firm, steadfast’ came first. The adverb took on the sense ‘strongly, vigorously,’ which evolved into ‘quickly,’ a meaning that spread to the adjective.
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11. Off means ‘deactivated,’ as in “to turn off,” but also ‘activated,’ as in “The alarm went off.”
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12. Weather can mean ‘to withstand or come safely through,’ as in “The company weathered the recession,” or it can mean ‘to be worn away’: “The rock was weathered.”
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13. Screen can mean ‘to show’ (a movie) or ‘to hide’ (an unsightly view).
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14. Help means ‘assist,’ unless you can’t help doing something, when it means ‘prevent.’
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15. Clip can mean “to bind together” or “to separate.” You clip sheets of paper to together or separate part of a page by clipping something out. Clip is a pair of homographs, words with different origins spelled the same. Old English clyppan, which means “to clasp with the arms, embrace, hug,” led to our current meaning, “to hold together with a clasp.” The other clip, “to cut or snip (a part) away,” is from Old Norse klippa, which may come from the sound of a shears.
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16. Continue usually means to persist in doing something, but as a legal term it means stop a proceeding temporarily.
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17. Fight with can be interpreted three ways. “He fought with his mother-in-law” could mean “They argued,” “They served together in the war,” or “He used the old battle-ax as a weapon.” (Thanks to linguistics professor Robert Hertz for this idea.)
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18. Flog, meaning “to punish by caning or whipping,” shows up in school slang of the 17th century, but now it can have the contrary meaning, “to promote persistently,” as in “flogging a new book.” Perhaps that meaning arose from the sense ‘to urge (a horse, etc.) forward by whipping,’ which grew out of the earliest meaning.
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19. Go means “to proceed,” but also “give out or fail,” i.e., “This car could really go until it started to go.”
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20. Hold up can mean “to support” or “to hinder”: “What a friend! When I’m struggling to get on my feet, he’s always there to hold me up.”
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21. Out can mean “visible” or “invisible.” For example, “It’s a good thing the full moon was out when the lights went out.”
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22. Out of means “outside” or “inside”: “I hardly get out of the house because I work out of my home.”
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23. Bitch, as reader Shawn Ravenfire pointed out, can derisively refer to a woman who is considered overly aggressive or domineering, or it can refer to someone passive or submissive.
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24. Peer is a person of equal status (as in a jury of one’s peers), but some peers are more equal than others, like the members of the peerage, the British or Irish nobility.
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25. Toss out could be either “to suggest” or “to discard”: “I decided to toss out the idea.”

http://mentalfloss.com/article/57032/25-words-are-their-own-opposites

White nationalists flock to genetic ancestry tests. Some don’t like the result

White nationalists flock to genetic ancestry tests. Some don’t like the result

It was a strange moment of triumph against racism: The gun-slinging white supremacist Craig Cobb, dressed up for daytime TV in a dark suit and red tie, hearing that his DNA testing revealed his ancestry to be only “86 percent European, and … 14 percent Sub-Saharan African.” The studio audience whooped and laughed and cheered. And Cobb — who was, in 2013, charged with terrorizing people while trying to create an all-white enclave in North Dakota — reacted like a sore loser in the schoolyard.

“Wait a minute, wait a minute, hold on, just wait a minute,” he said, trying to put on an all-knowing smile. “This is called statistical noise.”

Then, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, he took to the white nationalist website Stormfront to dispute those results. That’s not uncommon: With the rise of spit-in-a-cup genetic testing, there’s a trend of white nationalists using these services to prove their racial identity, and then using online forums to discuss the results.

But like Cobb, many are disappointed to find out that their ancestry is not as “white” as they’d hoped. In a new study, sociologists Aaron Panofsky and Joan Donovan examined years’ worth of posts on Stormfront to see how members dealt with the news.

It’s striking, they say, that white nationalists would post these results online at all. After all, as Panofsky put it, “they will basically say if you want to be a member of Stormfront you have to be 100 percent white European, not Jewish.”

But instead of rejecting members who get contrary results, Donovan said, the conversations are “overwhelmingly” focused on helping the person to rethink the validity of the genetic test. And some of those critiques — while emerging from deep-seated racism — are close to scientists’ own qualms about commercial genetic ancestry testing.

Panofsky and Donovan presented their findings at a sociology conference in Montreal on Monday. The timing of the talk — some 48 hours after the violent white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Va. — was coincidental. But the analysis provides a useful, if frightening, window into how these extremist groups think about their genes.

Reckoning with results

Stormfront was launched in the mid-1990s by Don Black, a former grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan. His skills in computer programming were directly related to his criminal activities: He learned them while in prison for trying to invade the Caribbean island nation of Dominica in 1981, and then worked as a web developer after he got out. That means this website dates back to the early years of the internet, forming a kind of deep archive of online hate.

To find relevant comments in the 12 million posts written by over 300,000 members, the authors enlisted a team at the University of California, Los Angeles, to search for terms like “DNA test,” “haplotype,” “23andMe,” and “National Geographic.” Then the researchers combed through the posts they found, not to mention many others as background. Donovan, who has moved from UCLA to the Data & Society Research Institute, estimated that she spent some four hours a day reading Stormfront in 2016. The team winnowed their results down to 70 discussion threads in which 153 users posted their genetic ancestry test results, with over 3,000 individual posts.

About a third of the people posting their results were pleased with what they found. “Pretty damn pure blood,” said a user with the username Sloth. But the majority didn’t find themselves in that situation. Instead, the community often helped them reject the test, or argue with its results.

Some rejected the tests entirely, saying that an individual’s knowledge about his or her own genealogy is better than whatever a genetic test can reveal. “They will talk about the mirror test,” said Panofsky, who is a sociologist of science at UCLA’s Institute for Society and Genetics. “They will say things like, ‘If you see a Jew in the mirror looking back at you, that’s a problem; if you don’t, you’re fine.’” Others, he said, responded to unwanted genetic results by saying that those kinds of tests don’t matter if you are truly committed to being a white nationalist. Yet others tried to discredit the genetic tests as a Jewish conspiracy “that is trying to confuse true white Americans about their ancestry,” Panofsky said.

But some took a more scientific angle in their critiques, calling into doubt the method by which these companies determine ancestry — specifically how companies pick those people whose genetic material will be considered the reference for a particular geographical group.

And that criticism, though motivated by very different ideas, is one that some researchers have made as well, even as other scientists have used similar data to better understand how populations move and change.

“There is a mainstream critical literature on genetic ancestry tests — geneticists and anthropologists and sociologists who have said precisely those things: that these tests give an illusion of certainty, but once you know how the sausage is made, you should be much more cautious about these results,” said Panofsky.

A community’s genetic rules

Companies like Ancestry.com and 23andMe are meticulous in how they analyze your genetic material. As points of comparison, they use both preexisting datasets as well as some reference populations that they have recruited themselves. The protocol includes genetic material from thousands of individuals, and looks at thousands of genetic variations.

“When a 23andMe research participant tells us that they have four grandparents all born in the same country — and the country isn’t a colonial nation like the U.S., Canada, or Australia — that person becomes a candidate for inclusion in the reference data,” explained Jhulianna Cintron, a product specialist at 23andMe. Then, she went on, the company excludes close relatives, as that could distort the data, and removes outliers whose genetic data don’t seem to match with what they wrote on their survey.

But specialists both inside and outside these companies recognize that the geopolitical boundaries we use now are pretty new, and so consumers may be using imprecise categories when thinking about their own genetic ancestry within the sweeping history of human migration. And users’ ancestry results can change depending on the dataset to which their genetic material is being compared — a fact which some Stormfront users said they took advantage of, uploading their data to various sites to get a more “white” result.

J. Scott Roberts, an associate professor at the University of Michigan, who has studied consumer use of genetic tests and was not involved with the study, said the companies tend to be reliable at identifying genetic variants. Interpreting them in terms of health risk or ancestry, though, is another story. “The science is often murky in those areas and gives ambiguous information,” he said. “They try to give specific percentages from this region, or x percent disease risk, and my sense is that that is an artificially precise estimate.”

For the study authors, what was most interesting was to watch this online community negotiating its own boundaries, rethinking who counts as “white.” That involved plenty of contradictions. They saw people excluded for their genetic test results, often in very nasty (and unquotable) ways, but that tended to happen for newer members of the anonymous online community, Panofsky said, and not so much for longtime, trusted members. Others were told that they could remain part of white nationalist groups, in spite of the ancestry they revealed, as long as they didn’t “mate,” or only had children with certain ethnic groups. Still others used these test results to put forth a twisted notion of diversity, one “that allows them to say, ‘No, we’re really diverse and we don’t need non-white people to have a diverse society,’” said Panofsky.

That’s a far cry from the message of reconciliation that genetic ancestry testing companies hope to promote.

“Sweetheart, you have a little black in you,” the talk show host Trisha Goddard told Craig Cobb on that day in 2013. But that didn’t stop him from redoing the test with a different company, trying to alter or parse the data until it matched his racist worldview.

https://www.statnews.com/2017/08/16/white-nationalists-genetic-ancestry-test/

Small retailers switching to chip cards but still worried by lack of PIN | National Retail Federation

Small retailers switching to chip cards but still worried by lack of PIN | National Retail Federation

A new survey conducted for NRF shows small retailers have nearly caught up with large merchants in making the switch to chip-and-signature credit cards — even though virtually half say the cards would be more secure if easy-to-forge signatures were replaced with a secret personal identification number.

The survey found that 60 percent of small bricks-and-mortar retailers had installed chip card readers by this spring and another 10 percent expected to have done so by July, bringing the total so far to 70 percent. The number is expected to reach 81 percent by the end of the year. (Online retailers aren’t affected because the chip doesn’t work unless the card is physically present.)

That compares with 86 percent of mid-size and large retailers surveyed last year who said they would have chip readers in place by the end of 2016, with 99 percent planning to do so by the end of this year.

With each chip reader averaging $2,000 when installation and other costs are factored in, small retailers have generally lagged behind larger retail companies with deeper pockets in the changeover from traditional magnetic stripe cards.

Small retailers have made the switch despite concerns the new cards don’t provide all the security they are capable of: Of the 750 surveyed for NRF by research firm GfK, 49 percent said their businesses would be more secure if credit cards required a PIN, which is standard in most parts of the world where chip cards are used. Only 16 percent disagreed, with the remainder neutral.

Nonetheless, 63 percent said their businesses could not afford to risk increased liability for fraudulent transactions, which retailers have faced since a change in card industry rules took effect in October 2015. In the past, banks paid fraud costs when a card turned out to be counterfeit; the cost has now been shifted to retailers if the card has a chip but the retailer doesn’t have a chip reader.

Not all affected small retailers are making the move: The survey found 19 percent have no plans to adopt chip cards, with 55 percent of them saying it is because their businesses are not at high risk for credit card fraud.

The survey results are not surprising. NRF has said for years that chip-and-signature cards are far less secure than chip-and-PIN. The chip makes it more difficult to create a counterfeit card, but counterfeits are still possible and the chip does nothing to prevent lost or stolen cards from being used. As we’ve often said, a chip without a PIN is like locking the front door but leaving the back door wide open. A PIN alone could stop most credit card fraud without the need for a chip — or the expensive new equipment needed to read a chip.

Virtually all U.S. banks have refused to include PINs on their credit cards, choosing to keep transactions on lucrative signature processing networks run by Visa and Mastercard rather than open them up to the dozen or more competing networks that can process PIN transactions.

Beyond the PIN issue, chip cards do nothing to keep card data from being stolen from computer systems. The chip transmits an encrypted code that confirms that the card is not counterfeit, but the actual account number and other card data are still transmitted in the clear.

Despite those shortcomings, the change in fraud liability rules effectively coerces many retailers into adopting chip cards: A coffee shop can afford to lose the cost of a doughnut if a customer uses a counterfeit card, but a jeweler selling rings that cost thousands of dollars can’t take the chance.

Overall, U.S. businesses are being forced to spend $30 billion to switch to chip cards that fall far short of the advances in security that are needed. That’s money that could be better spent on encryption, tokenization and other technologies that actually keep card data from being stolen in the first place. If the card data can be made secure, the physical cards become much less of an issue.

Retailers have been demanding truly secure credit cards for years. It’s time for banks to deliver.

https://nrf.com/news/small-retailers-switching-chip-cards-still-worried-lack-of-pin

Oracle Wants to Give Java EE to the Open-Source Community

Oracle Wants to Give Java EE to the Open-Source Community

Oracle said this week it plans to transfer management of the Java EE project to an open-source foundation, such as Apache or Eclipse.

The announcement came ahead of Java EE 8’s release this fall when Oracle seems poised to announce to whom Java EE development will be transferred.

The Java EE (Enterprise Edition) project is a collection of APIs for the Java platform that were specifically built to help developers create enterprise-scale applications.

Oracle to withdraw from a leadership role

The project, along with Java SE (Standard Edition) were already managed in a semi-open-source fashion.

Up until now, Oracle has welcomed the participation of the open-source community with suggestions and plans on how to develop the Java SE and EE platforms but has always kept a leading role over Java SE and EE’s future, always having the final say in all matters.

According to a statement from David Delabassee, Java Evangelist at Oracle, the company plans to withdraw from its leadership role for the Java EE platform.

“We believe that moving Java EE technologies including reference implementations and test compatibility kit to an open source foundation may be the right next step, in order to adopt more agile processes, implement more flexible licensing, and change the governance process,” said Delabassee.

“We plan on exploring this possibility with the community, our licensees and several candidate foundations to see if we can move Java EE forward in this direction,” he added.

Apache and Eclipse foundations are main favorites

The Apache Foundation and the Eclipse Foundation are the primary candidates for taking over Java EE. Both manage a slew of Java-based projects and Oracle has previously off-loaded other tools in their laps.

For example, Oracle dumped the NetBeans IDE and the OpenOffice app suite to the Apache Foundation, and the Hudson server to Eclipse.

    If Java EE were to be moved to a foundation outside Oracle, which one would you prefer?

    — Reza Rahman (@reza_rahman) August 11, 2017

Oracle said it will continue to provide feedback for Java EE development, but not from a leadership role. The company did not reveal a similar plan for Java SE.

Oracle has been leaving Java to die

Oracle has been moving away from Java to cloud-based solutions in recent years. In September 2015, the company fired most of its top Java evangelists.

The Java community felt that Oracle was starting to ignore Java development and in 2016 created the Java EE Guardians project to force Oracle to focus more resources on Java EE.

In January 2016, Oracle announced that they will be deprecating the use of Java browser plugins starting in JRK 9, with it ultimately being removed altogether in future versions of the Java runtime environment.

Java 8 is set to be released this fall, while Java 9 is scheduled for next year.

[Claiming Oracle is abandoning Java for cloud computing is nonsense.  They are two different things. The problem Oracle has with Java is they never found a way to make money off of it. Oracle got Java when they bought Sun Microsystems.]

https://www.bleepingcomputer.com/news/technology/oracle-wants-to-give-java-ee-to-the-open-source-community/

America Has Been Struggling With the Metric System For Almost 230 Years | Smart News | Smithsonian

America Has Been Struggling With the Metric System For Almost 230 Years | Smart News | Smithsonian

At press time, only three of the world’s countries don’t use the metric system: the United States, Myanmar and Liberia. But it didn’t have to be this way.

On this day in 1866, the Metric Act was passed by the Senate. The law, which was intended “to authorize the use of the metric system of weights and measures,” was signed by then-President Andrew Johnson the next day. It provided a table of standardized measurements for converting between metric and the commonly used American system that could be used for trade.

The Metric Act doesn’t require Americans to use the metric system, but it did legally recognize the then-relatively-new system. It remains law–although it has been substantially amended over time–to this day, writes the US Metric Association. It was just the first in a number of measures leading to the United States’ current system, where metric is used for some things, like soda, drugs and even for military use, but not for other things. “Americans’ body-weight scales, recipes and road signs,” among other examples of everyday use, haven’t converted, writes Victoria Clayton for The Atlantic. “And neither has the country’s educational system,” she writes. This split system exists for reasons, but arguments about how to create a good national standard of measurement go all the way back to 1790.

The USMA is one of a number of voices advocating for America’s full “metrification.” It argues that converting to the International System of Units (the modern form of the metric system, abbreviated as SI) would make international trade simpler. (Technically, the American system known as Imperial is called United States customary units or USCS.) It also argues that the decimalized metric system is simpler to work with.

SI units influence the size of packages (such as 750 ml bottles of wine ) as well as how the package must be labelled. Since 1994, both metric and USCS have been required on commerical packaging under the Fair Packaging and Labeling Act.

“The United States is metric, or at least more metric than most of us realize,” writes John Bemelmans Marciano for Time:

American manufacturers have put out all-metric cars, and the wine and spirits industry abandoned fifths for 75-milliliter bottles. The metric system is, quietly and behind the scenes, now the standard in most industries, with a few notable exceptions like construction. Its use in public life is also on the uptick, as anyone who has run a “5K” can tell you.

America has been creeping towards metrification almost since the country was founded.

“In 1790, the United States was ripe for conversion,” writes David Owen for The New Yorker. At the time, the metric system was a new French invention (SI stands for Systeme Internationale), and adopting a system that departed from the Old World conventions and was based on modern decimalized units seemed like a good fit for the United States.

The French and Americans had supported and conflicted with one another over their revolutions in statehood, Owen writes, and there was some expectation on the part of the French that the country would join them in the measurement revolution as well.

But even though “the government was shopping for a uniform system of weights and measures,” Owen writes, the meter was too new, and too French. Then-Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson originally advocated for the meter, but then discarded the idea. “His beef was that the meter was conceived as a portion of a survey of France, which could only be measured in French territory,” writes Marciano.

In the course of the nineteenth century, though, the meter gained traction again and other countries started to pick up on it. However, by this point in time, American industrialists already ran all of their equipment based on inch units. “Retooling, they argued, was prohibitively expensive,” historian Stephen Mihm told The Atlantic. “They successfully blocked the adoption of the metric system in Congress on a number of occasions in the late 19th and 20th century.”

Add to these arguments America’s nationalist pride and traditional resistance to outside influences, and you have an argument for maintaining the status quo–metric, with a quarter-inch veneer of Imperial.

http://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/america-has-been-struggling-metric-system-almost-230-years-180964147/

The Metre adventure

http://www.french-metrology.com/en/history/metre-adventure.asp

 

 

A History of Taco Bell’s Failed Attempts to Open Locations in Mexico – MUNCHIES

A History of Taco Bell’s Failed Attempts to Open Locations in Mexico – MUNCHIES

Taco Bell currently has 6,604 outlets in 22 countries and territories throughout the world, and over the next five years, it plans to push into Peru, Finland, Sri Lanka, and Romania—and add at least 100 locations each in China, Brazil, India, and Canada. Yes, on the tiny Micronesian island of Guam—which has a population of only 174,214—there are currently seven Taco Bells. But despite all that, you might be shocked to learn there is not a single Taco Bell currently in operation in the nation that gave birth to its titular taco.

That’s right: There are no Taco Bells in Mexico. But that sure as hell isn’t for a lack of trying. And then trying again.

Taco Bell’s forays into Mexico started back in 1992, when the chain had only around 3,700 restaurants, the vast majority of which were in the US. The company made its first stab at the Mexican market with a food cart in Mexico City, which served a limited menu of soft-shell tacos and burritos, along with Pepsi, the chain’s corporate owner at the time. A few other outlets were briefly opened next to KFC locations.

Problems arose from the get-go. The wildly inauthentic names of several popular Taco Bell items had to be changed because Mexican customers didn’t understand what exactly they were ordering. For instance, the crunchy taco—an anomaly in Mexico—had to be re-branded the “Tacostada,” thereby evoking the crunchiness of a tostada in taco form.

Still, the Mexican population wasn’t buying it. One iconic comment on the issue came from Carlos Monsivais, a cultural critic, who spoke to the Associated Press at the time and dubbed the attempt to bring tacos to Mexico “like bringing ice to the Arctic.” In short order, the first Taco Bells in Mexico were shut down less than two years after opening and the chain retreated back across the border.

But by the mid-aughts, Taco Bell was ready to try to break into the Mexican market once again. In 2007, when the fast-food company opened another outlet south of the border, the Chicago Tribune wrote that the move meant “the cultural walls fell for good.” Hopes were high; after almost a 15-year absence, Taco Bell could once again be found in our southern neighbor Mexico—this time next to a Dairy Queen in the parking lot of a fancy shopping mall just outside of Monterrey.

This second attempt called for a new approach. “We’re not trying to be authentic Mexican food,” explained Rob Poetsch, who was the director of public relations at Taco Bell at the time. “So we’re not competing with taquerias. We’re a quick-service restaurant, and value and convenience are our core pillars.” Poetsch claimed that this venture would be different, because the brand had changed by then—it had become more international, with 230 locations outside of the US—and a consumer-research team had been put in place. The goal was to reach 800 international locations, with 300 stores to open throughout Mexico. In 2008 alone, Taco Bell planned to open between eight and ten locations throughout Mexico.

At that first Monterrey location, Taco Bell made no attempts to hide how gringo-ish its food really was. French fries and soft-serve ice cream proudly held forth on the menu; Steven Pepper, the Yum! Brands Managing Director of Mexico admitted, “Our menu comes almost directly from the US menu.” In fact, a half-page newspaper ad that ran at the time came straight out and told the public, “One look alone is enough to tell that Taco Bell is not a ‘taqueria.’ It is a new fast-food alternative that does not pretend to be Mexican food.”

The branding strategy summed it all up succinctly: “Taco Bell is something else.”

Something else, indeed.

Once again, critics were skeptical. Scott Montgomery—CEO of Brandtailers, a California ad agency—said, “It’s like Mexicans coming up and trying to sell us hot dogs.” Customers agreed. Marco Fragoso, an office worker remarked to the Associated Press at the time, “They’re not tacos. They’re folded tostadas. They’re very ugly.” Another customer, Jonathan Elorriaga, told the AP reporter, “Something is lacking here. Maybe the food shouldn’t come with French fries.”

A food writer for Monterrey’s El Norte newspaper summed it all up with the following: “What foolish gringos. They want to come by force to sell us tacos in Taco Land. Here, they have a year in operation and the most ironic part is that they are doing well. Are we malinches [a Mexican term for traitor] or masochists?”

The new stores closed in swift succession, and pundits tried to explain the debacle. Some chalked the second failure up to the political climate in 2007: the mid-aughts were indeed an era of tougher enforcement of immigration laws and the inability to pass temporary-worker laws in the US. Meanwhile, Taco Bell’s contemporaneous move into the China market—where the outlets served soy milk and plum juice—was much more successful than the chain’s second attempt to sell Mexican food to Mexicans.

Taco Bell has stayed out of the Mexican market ever since. Today, the idea of a Taco Bell in Mexico has become something of a joke. There’s even a Facebook page for a non-existent Taco Bell in Mexico City that has a one-star review and is littered with comments deriding the chain. One Facebook user from Culhuacán left a comment on the page saying “NO SON TACOS, SON CHINGADERAS,” which translates to “They are not tacos, they are trash.” In a TripAdvisor post asking what ever happened to the Taco Bell in Mexico City, a user from Mexico City wrote the following: “In 29 years I’ve never seen a Taco Bell in Mexico City… or in Mexico, although I could be wrong. I agree to bring a Taco Bell here it’s a pretty bad idea. Taco Bell… is everything but Mexican food.”

Truth be told, there is one Taco Bell left in Mexico… sort of. When you cross the border from California into Tijuana, you may come across a cluster of decidedly un-corporate-looking taco stands called, well, Taco Bell. They even have a bell as their logo, but the bell is yellow instead of the chain’s pink. Evidently, this joint has absolutely no affiliation with the Irvine, California-based chain. You’ll know you’re in the right place because—if the Yelp reviews are accurate—this Taco Bell has no running water, the bathrooms are “disgusting,” and there are flies aplenty. But the beers cost a buck, and the tacos are legit street-style—and truthfully don’t sound bad at all.

When MUNCHIES reached out to Taco Bell and asked if it had any plans to re-enter the Mexican market in the future, a spokesperson provided us with the following statement: “We’ve changed our international expansion strategy in recent years, focusing on open-kitchen restaurant concepts that feature localized design, menu offerings, shareable plates and beer and alcohol. We are on track with this approach to grow to 9,000 restaurants in more than 40 countries by 2022, and have identified four partners in key markets where we will open 100 restaurants: Brazil, Canada, China and India. While we’re not currently in Mexico, we are seeing continued success in the more than 130 Taco Bells in Central and South America, as well as across the globe.”

In the end, nothing better encapsulates the Sisyphean task that was trying to convince proud Mexicans that they should willingly ditch the nation’s countless taquerias in favor of an American fast-food chain than Taco Bell’s no-longer-used “run for the border” slogan. After all, each time Taco Bell attempted an ill-advised foray into Mexico, the result was a mad dash back to the States.

https://munchies.vice.com/en_us/article/a3d4xg/a-history-of-taco-bells-failed-attempts-to-open-locations-in-mexico-fastfoodweek2017