Dating Apps Finally Target This Ignored Community of 70 Million

  • A new wave of dating apps is emerging, focused on people on the autism spectrum.
  • Standard apps, while open to people with autism, aren’t tailored to their needs, resulting in uncomfortable experiences.

About a decade ago, Dutch web developer Douwe Boschma found out he was on the autism spectrum. One of the struggles that led to was in his dating life. “It was very hard for me to connect with people when they didn’t know that I was autistic,” he says. “So I got this idea of building my own dating website.”

In 2016, Boschma, now 50 and married to a woman who isn’t on the spectrum, launched Aspie Singles, a dating site focused on the autistic community. It’s become a thriving group of about 4,500 people, a side project to his day job that he hopes will help people experiencing the same problems he faced. The site normally gets about 15 or 20 new sign-ups per day.

Boschma isn’t alone in recognizing the unmet demand among people with autism for dating platforms that cater to their specific needs. The CDC estimates that more than 1 percent of the world’s population is on the autism spectrum, meaning more than 70 million people. Standard dating apps like Tinder are open to people with autism, but are designed for those who are neurotypical — people not on the spectrum. That makes them far from ideal as platforms where people with autism can sell themselves as a potential partner.

Hiki, launched in 2019, is one among a growing set of apps that — like Aspie Singles — is pointedly targeting people on the spectrum. Founded by entrepreneur Jamil Karriem, the app has 9,000 users already. Uneepi, an app launched in 2016, has coaches who help people with autism pick up on social cues and learn to communicate their emotions and desires effectively. It has 3,500 users.

“It’s often difficult for [people with autism] to read social cues,” says Elizabeth Mazur, a professor of psychology at Penn State Greater Allegheny, who has studied the use of dating apps by people with various disabilities, including autism. “They may not have had the social experiences many young adults have that build them up to dating, like good friendships and going out in mixed groups.”

Our mission is that all humans deserve access to social opportunities and all kinds of relationships.

Jamil Karriem, founder, Hiki

Though awareness about autism is growing, the condition is still stigmatized. It’s a challenge on traditional dating platforms to decide when to tell a potential partner you have autism. A 2011 analysis of U.S. data found that just 1 percent of people with autism spectrum disorder were married eight years after college graduation — the average age at which Americans get married.


Source Hiki

Hiki, which means “able” in Hawaiian, hopes to take on those challenges. It was designed by an autistic woman and tested by people who are on the spectrum, though Karriem himself is neurotypical. Most apps aren’t designed to address challenges around sensory processing that adults with autism often confront. “Our mission is that all humans deserve access to social opportunities and all kinds of relationships,” he says. “Unfortunately, the reality is that within the neurodivergent community, there historically has never been a medium to enable these sorts of relationships.”

Thomas Sheil founded Uneepi after watching the movie Hitch, which stars Will Smith as a professional dating guru who coaches men on how to romance women. He realized dating sites should have coaching services to help people present themselves to potential matches — and, inspired by a different film, decided to focus it specifically on people with autism. Sheil isn’t on the spectrum, but during college he built a computer game to help kids with autism better recognize emotions in others.

Such apps do risk the possibility that people on the spectrum end up looking for — or finding — love only within their own communities.

But the creators emphasize that people without autism are welcome on their apps too — and furthermore, the apps aren’t simply a tool to find romance. They’re also a way to find friends who will understand their experience. “More people are actually joining Hiki to find friends than they are to find a romantic partner,” says Karriem. That can be just as critical for a community often deprived of the social experiences neurotypical people take for granted. It’s all part of becoming “able” in one’s relationships.

Butterfly Effect: China Doublespeak Will Backfire on America

It was no staged show of anti-Americanism. In fact, Chinese police officers were trying to disperse the crowds of Chinese onlookers cheering as the American flag was pulled down from the U.S. Consulate in Chengdu on Monday. China’s decision to shut down the U.S. mission was in retaliation for America’s order shutting down the Chinese Consulate in Houston last Friday over allegations of intellectual property theft.

Yet even amid the heightened tensions between the nations, the public response in Chengdu was a repudiation of the Trump administration’s latest approach to China — portraying itself as a friend to the Chinese people, and enemy only to the country’s ruling Communist Party. The problem doesn’t lie in drawing that important distinction. It lies in the lack of sincerity in that approach, and how that doublespeak is part of a pattern that has left the world distrustful of foreign policy pronouncements by Washington.

Last Thursday, just four days before the Chengdu incident, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo delivered a major policy speech at the Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum, where he said democracies must work to “induce China to change,” and placed America’s outreach to ordinary Chinese citizens as the centerpiece of that strategy. “We must also engage and empower the Chinese people — a dynamic, freedom-loving people who are completely distinct from the Chinese Communist Party,” he said.

That sounds great, but how do you influence young Chinese people about the diversity and openness of American democracy when, in reality, you plan to stop a giant chunk of them from seeing that alternative to CCP rule in action? In late May, President Donald Trump signed an executive order banning student visas for all Chinese postgraduate applicants who have received support from universities described as part of Beijing’s “military-civil fusion.”

In other words, those who are pursuing studies at universities that have collaborated with the Chinese military on any research needn’t bother to dream of American postgraduate programs. Most top Chinese science and tech universities participate in research that could in some way be used by the country’s military establishment, so this in effect means that a majority of the brightest students from that nation are barred. To consider a parallel, it’s like an American military rival banning all Ivy League students since some research from these schools routinely feeds into the Pentagon’s work.

That divergence between “engage and empower the Chinese people” and the ban on the entry of many of that country’s brightest isn’t an isolated case of the intellectual dishonesty in America’s dealings with nations it views as enemies.

Consider Iran. As that country convulsed under popular protests late last year and security forces brutally cracked down, the Trump administration was quick to offer support to those raising their voices. “America hears you, America supports you, America stands with you,” Pompeo said. “We do so for the sake of freedom, for the sake of human dignity, for the sake of respect.” He used similar language in 2018 to draw a distinction between the Iranian regime and the country’s people. Yet how does that square with the fact that Iranians were among those targeted in a blanket, seven-nation entry ban introduced by Trump in one of his first acts after taking over as president in 2017? You can’t claim to support a people and treat them with suspicion at the same time.

For sure, China in particular is guilty of significant industrial and military espionage. And it has used its consulates in the U.S. to direct those activities, including through some students. So improving scrutiny makes sense. But that’s a surgical process that needs tweezers to yank out troubling cells, not a tank to blow the body apart.

That’s precisely why the Trump administration’s own May 20 report on future relations with China outlines a more nuanced approach. “The United States values the contributions of Chinese students and researchers,” it says. “We are improving processes to screen out the small minority of Chinese applicants who attempt to enter the United States under false pretenses or with malign intent.”

Using a scalpel to weed out student applicants who plan to spy once in the U.S. would have been particularly easy this year. The coronavirus pandemic has already upset the recruitment plans of American universities in China, and most U.S. schools expect a drop in international students in 2020.

Instead of screening out a “small minority” from a reduced number of students, Trump’s executive order will affect a vast majority of China’s smartest postgraduate science and tech applicants. As the official policy document implicitly acknowledges, the absence of their “contributions” will eventually hurt America.

In his speech at the Nixon Library, Pompeo said the Trump administration had decided to go not by China’s words, but by China’s actions. “The only way to truly change communist China is to act not on the basis of what Chinese leaders say, but how they behave,” he said.

That’s a fine premise, but it cuts both ways. The rest of the world — including China, Iran and America’s own allies — now increasingly treat the U.S. the same way: Because far too often, the Trump administration’s words and actions don’t match. 

A Blue Texas Runs Through This Valley

The Rio Grande Valley is a place often forgotten or passed over. In pre-pandemic times, retirees (the so-called Winter Texans) and college kids would pass through on their way to cheap medicine and surgeries or spring break revelry south of the border. Now, the region with disproportionately poor, rural, majority-minority communities is being ravaged by the coronavirus.

But Texas politicians avoid it at their peril: The valley is emerging as a crucial battleground for Democrats hoping to paint the (famously red) state blue in November. Polls are showing Joe Biden and Donald Trump neck and neck in the state. To see the valley’s electoral importance, all one has to do is look at the Senate race here in 2018, when Democrat Beto O’Rourke lost to Republican incumbent Ted Cruz by just 3 percentage points.

“What people don’t realize is that [O’Rourke] underperformed Hillary Clinton levels in the Rio Grande Valley. If he had the Hillary 2016 vote there, and continued with the suburban push he got, he would have had enough votes to flip the state,” says Abhi Rahman, communications director of the Texas Democratic Party. “It’s kind of how you win Texas.”

And there’s a huge tranche of available votes:

The four core Rio Grande Valley counties all had voter turnout of 46 percent or less in 2016, putting them near the bottom of the country.

That’s according to an exclusive county-by-county analysis of voter turnout across America for OZY’s “Who Cares?” project, in partnership with data firm 0ptimus. Hidalgo, Willacy, Starr and Cameron counties all ranked in the bottom 10 percent of America’s 3,000-plus counties when it comes to voter turnout in each of the last four election cycles. “Brownsville [in Cameron County] has always been bottom of the barrel when it comes to resources,” says Kim Hunter, an immigration lawyer who works in the area. “Everything about the valley is so isolated.”

The people being missed in previous elections were disproportionately Democrats and disproportionately people of color. And a huge portion of them are in the Rio Grande Valley.

Hudson Cavanagh, data director, Texas Democratic Party

In March, before the COVID-19 pandemic began gripping the nation, Democrats spoke about their plans to target the valley. The state party had already done a public outreach campaign during the primary, using Spanglish mailers for the first time — leaning into the local dialect fusing English and Spanish. They were planning to field 1,000 staffers across the state in November, with at least a fifth of them being in the Rio Grande Valley. Those specific numbers could change by the fall, depending on how social distancing guidelines alter campaign tactics. Still, the party has also invested in a voter targeting model to fill in the gaps where the national party database is lacking, and it has a valley emphasis too.

“It’s the first time a state party has built a machine-learning model like this,” says Hudson Cavanagh, data director for the Texas Democratic Party. “The people being missed in previous elections were disproportionately Democrats and disproportionately people of color. And a huge portion of them are in the Rio Grande Valley.”

The Democratic National Committee has named Texas one of its top 10 battleground states for the 2020 election, and has already tripled its investment in the state from four years ago. The Biden campaign recently started spending a bit of money on TV ads in Texas as it seeks to expand the electoral map. But it remains a massive undertaking, trying to turn out low-propensity voters in a state that takes 12 hours to drive across. That task becomes even more difficult when trying to reach valley voters who often have less access to quality home internet or face significant language barriers.

Republicans continue to dominate the scene in the state. And they’re working hard to paint Democrats such as Biden and MJ Hegar — who won the nomination last week to face Republican Sen. John Cornyn — as too extreme for the state. “They stand for far-left ideas like government-run health care, taking away our right to self-defense, and taxing policies which would kill the Texas economy,” Republican Party of Texas Chairman James Dickey said after the March presidential primary election.

There’s also a nagging polling concern for Biden that is particularly acute here: He isn’t performing as well as Clinton did among Latino voters. Hidalgo, Willacy, Starr and Cameron counties are all at least 88 percent Latino.

For Democrats, winning Texas at the presidential level for the first time since 1976 would be icing on the electoral college cake — it would mean Biden already won big — but it would represent an existential crisis for Republicans, given its 38 (and growing) electoral votes. And the path runs through this forgotten valley.

The Hat Man Cometh

In this occasional series, OZY takes to streets and neighborhoods across the globe to ask a simple question: “How was your day?”

Carson Finkle
Los Angeles

My wife and I live a pretty normal life. We’re usually up by 5:15 a.m. We went to a Tony Robbins event recently and since then we’ve been jumping on trampolines for five minutes every morning to get the blood flowing. Then five minutes of concentrated breathing. Then 15 minutes of guided meditation.

The meditation is to think about how we want our lives to look five years from now, 10 years from now and so on.

Then I box. Something about working hard to not get hit in face keeps you sharp.

If you had asked me a few years ago whether I’d be living the hat life, I’d have gone, “What?”

By the time I roll into the office at 9:15, I’m ready for business, and that business is hats. Period TV shows like Peaky Blinders and people like Bruno Mars, who wears a lot of our Biltmores, have really had an effect. That, and the fact that we’re the official licensor for the new Indiana Jones movie scheduled to hit theaters in 2021.

Despite the rough ride hats have had since JFK stopped wearing them, and I don’t think those pre-Kennedy days are coming back, my business, Tenth Street Hats, has products in thousands of retail operations. We’ve been around since 1921 (or the company that owns us has, at least).

My partner’s family owns the company. After college, my partner and I were selling solar backpacks, but you know, how often would you buy one of those? His family saw what we were doing with the backpacks and got the idea that maybe the world was ready for a hat jump-start.

If you had asked me a few years ago whether I’d be living the hat life, I’d have gone, “What?” But the world has changed, or how we understand it has changed, and when people started taking sun protection seriously, outdoors folks started taking hats seriously. Funny thing is, and most people who are not part of the hat world probably never think about this, the world is divided up between functional wearers and fashion wearers.

Bruno Mars wears the Biltmore, which is what I wear, not to keep the sun off his face but because it makes a statement. My statement? It doesn’t really have to be much more than “I look good in this.” Which my wife tells me I do.

Carson + Krysten

Carson Finkle: the Cat in the Hat

So I spend my days doing the business of hat business. Hats have been with us a long time and how we make them hasn’t changed much. But how we sell them has. I still get a thrill when I walk into the main office and there are more hats there than you could ever imagine. More hats than you’ve probably ever seen before. Walls of hats that go on for what feels like miles.

Philosophically, once you start thinking about hats, it gets demographically interesting. Men who are going bald might start wearing them. Among the functional set, men and women who are spending more time outdoors and those with kids.

There’s a whole universe around hats and that’s where I spend my time, trying to help people figure out the statement they want to make with a hat. You see me in a Biltmore with gray tones? That’s when I’ve accepted the fact that you can’t be bold every day.

This is how I spend my days: hat whispering. What I’m going to do after I stop talking to you? Probably head home, cook dinner, relax, wind down, take my hat off. I think I do a good job of keeping work at work.

The Science of Dating

For as long as love has existed — basically forever — people have been trying to perfect it. For some, that means following what seem like signs and fate; for some it’s arranged marriage; for others it’s “never date a Leo.” And for still others? It’s digging into the data to calculate odds.

In this original OZY series, we’ll introduce you to the apps, stats and studies that people are using to try to up their odds of finding happiness, and the ways in which, datawise, we’re all still stumbling around in the dark.

Dating Apps Finally Target This Ignored Community of 70 Million

People with autism often find connecting with others in traditional ways to be a challenge, and that includes dating. A few intrepid entrepreneurs — some with autism themselves — are creating internet spaces for people on the spectrum to find love and to learn what love can look like.

How Much You Hate Your Ex Might Depend on Your Gender

The data is in and ding ding ding women are more likely to hate their exes than men are. In a lot of cases, that has to do with who’s held responsible for the breakup — and with women more likely than men to be physically or psychologically abused in relationships, it’s no wonder they aren’t that fond of their former baes.

Will the Recession Rock Marriage?

A look back at history uncovers some startling stats: The Great Depression and the Great Recession both had a huge effect on marriages in the U.S., with massive drops in the number of people saying “I do.” Will that happen again, in the current downturn? It’s hard to tell, say scientists. Given that marriage isn’t as important as it was in the 1930s, people might not have chosen to get legally hitched anyway.

91M People Tap This Dating App of Destiny

Happn is a French dating app that uses geolocation technology to tell you if you’ve crossed path with other users — a 21st-century solution to connecting with that cute guy you locked eyes with on the subway but never spoke to. Of course, it’s had to adapt in the past few months, given how few people are crossing paths with one another these days.

91M People Tap This Dating App of Destiny

  • Dating app Happn uses geolocation tools to recreate chance encounters, and now has 91 million users in 17 countries.
  • Founder Didier Rappaport foresees a new phase of AI-influenced online dating, but with real-life magic added in.

Our eyes met across a crowded bar. We were waiting in line next to each other. We were the only two people hanging out in the kitchen at a party. He randomly sat next to me at a play.

Or: We matched on Tinder, and now we’re getting married.

Relationships forged online are no different to those forged offline, but man, are the how-we-met stories more boring. Dating apps are really utilitarian and do not at all smack of destiny. Except for one.

I wanted to bring real life back into the dating space.

Didier Rappaport

Happn, a French app (of course), uses geolocation to show you other people on the app whose paths you crossed. The cute girl you locked eyes with on the subway because you were reading the same book, but never spoke to? In past years, you’d have to resort to a Craigslist missed connection. Happn’s goal is to — if you’re both amenable — bring you two crazy kids together.


“I found that dating sites were too virtual. Like a catalog,” says Happn founder Didier Rappaport from his office in Paris. “I wanted to bring real life back into the dating space.” Rappaport, 65, a co-founder of massive video sharing site Daily Motion, describes himself as someone who’s always “open.” Though he’s always been focused on tech in his professional life, one day, during an unrelated conversation about the possibilities of geolocation, he realized it could cross paths with dating. That was the spark for him.

“Romance is about coincidence,” he says. “One day you’re in front of someone that will become your one.” The idea behind Happn isn’t that it will definitely find you love — it’ll just help you meet someone. The rest of your life is up to you.

You may not actually have locked eyes with the people you meet on Happn — which has 91 million registered users and markets itself in 17 countries — but when it launched in 2014, you’d have come within 250 meters of them. Over time, the app has introduced new ways to connect online, like CrushTime, a game where you can see four nearby profiles and guess which one has liked your photo in order to match with them.

The physical proximity aspect means that Happn needs to be vigilant about security, never showing users their matches’ precise location and being strict about banning people who harass others. The app also sends users advice on how to behave, Rappaport explains, to help train people used to, say, sending unsolicited dick pics, that “you can’t do in the digital world what you wouldn’t do in real life.” They’re always adding new tools to deflect scammers, including, this month, facial recognition. And for many people the romantic spark has really worked — Rappaport has even been invited to weddings of people who met on the app.

And research indicates that users do routinely see people on the app that they recognize from real life. “It’s just interesting that you could cross paths with someone like eight or nine times and never really even see them or realize that that’s them,” explained one interview subject in a 2017 study of how users felt about Happn’s use of location data.


But as the agoraphobic narrator of best-selling 2018 novel The Woman in the Window wondered after downloading the app: “What if you haven’t crossed paths with anyone? What if you forever navigate the same four thousand vertically arranged square feet and nothing beyond them?” It’s a question that this spring suddenly because relevant to a lot more users.

An app based on randomly star-crossed paths with strangers works less well when everyone is trapped in their own apartments by a global pandemic, working from home and only emerging once every few days for essentials. Like so many businesses, Happn had to adapt, expanding the range at which the app detects nearby matches to 120 kilometers in order to keep users from having to stare at a sparse list of matches. They’re planning to keep that system even as the pandemic passes — but sorted by distance, showing you first the people nearby and eventually enlarging your circle.

“Before the COVID situation, only 3 percent of our users said they were keen to use video calls,” he explains. Now that number is 60 percent, and the app facilitates virtual video dates.

Rappaport sees online dating as existing in two distinct periods — desktop, which was about the perfect profile, and mobile, which is all about speed and infinite options. As mobile dating moves forward, he hopes AI will start to fill in the once-exhaustive profiles of the desktop age, using geolocation to intuit that you both go to the movies a lot, for example, and giving you ways to start up a conversation. “Many people are shy,” he says, “They don’t know how to start a conversation.” Even with that person they locked eyes with across a crowded subway car.

Where India & Mexico Meet: Right at Your Mouth

As a young Indian girl, I used to always want to eat — much to my parents’ dismay — at Taco Bell. So in order to make me eat more home-cooked meals and cut down my fast-food intake, my father learned how to make his very own seven-layer burrito.

He would use the same seven ingredients but — here’s the catch — would wrap it all up in a roti, fried in buttery ghee that gave the burrito an extra crunchy bite. This was my first experience of a somewhat Indian-Mexican crossover dish.

And although my younger self always thought my dad’s Taco Bell-meets-India invention was innovative and unique to our household, turns out Indian-Mexican restaurants all over the country have been one-upping the Indo-Mex blends of the Kola family with new, adventurous tastes — and their menus feature more than just roti-wrapped burritos. 


Little me and dad bonding over melting ice cream.

If you happen to step into one of these fusion restaurants, expect your taste buds to be greeted by tacos filled with street-side-style paneer, or Punjabi burritos served with basmati rice, seasoned chickpeas and curried pumpkin, all rolled together in a whole wheat tortilla.

You may even find quesadillas filled with cheese and chicken tikka (or paneer tikka for us vegetarians) sandwiched inside a potato-stuffed paratha. Some Indian-Mexican restaurants have even taken this fusion cuisine to a whole new level by making an in-house hybrid flour that creates a blend of Indian rotis and Mexican tortillas.


Paratha quesadilla

Source Curry Up Now

Crossover cuisines and fusion restaurants have become the norm in today’s international food scene, which is far more globalized than ever before. Chefs from every background are mixing ingredients and culinary techniques from across the globe in an effort to find the next big thing. However, the Indian-Mexican cuisine sets itself apart as something uniquely different.


Aloo gobi tacos

Source Curry Up Now

In the early 20th century, men from the Indian state of Punjab came to the United States in search of work, many of whom eventually settled in California. At one point, almost 2,000 Punjabi men lived in California, writes anthropologist Karen Leonard in Making Ethnic Choices: California’s Punjabi Mexican Americans.

Yet because of California’s miscegenation laws, which didn’t allow these Indian workers to marry outside their race, along with the Immigration Act of 1917 that restricted these men from bringing Indian wives into the country, many Punjabi men ended up marrying Mexican women. The confluence of these various laws and policies created not only a distinct bi-ethnic community of Punjabi-Mexicans, but also a rich micro-cuisine in the unsuspecting town of Yuba City, California.


Punjabi-Mexican Family

Source Karen Leonard, Stanford University Libraries

Although not all Indian-Mexican restaurant owners today may attribute their food to this history, it’s a cuisine whose cultural DNA nonetheless represents an organic community of Indians and Mexicans brought together by a delicate alignment of immigration policies, miscegenation laws, migratory patterns and cultural similarities. 

Are you dying to try it, but the pandemic is getting in your way? Here you go!

Indian-Mexican Recipes

Mexican Chaat

By Sanjeev Kapoor Khazana
This Mexican chaat is an easy first step to making a favorite Indian street-side snack with a Mexican flare.

  • 1 cup nacho chips, broken into large pieces (plus more for serving) 
  • 1 medium potato, boiled, peeled and cut into small pieces
  • ¼ cup boiled corn kernels
  • 1 medium onion, finely chopped
  • 1 small tomato, chopped
  • 1 jalapeno, finely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon green chutney (plus more for garnish)
  • 1 tablespoon tamarind chutney (plus more for garnish)
  • 1 teaspoon chaat masala
  • Salt to taste
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh coriander leaves (plus more for garnish)
  • 2-3 tablespoons yogurt
  1. Combine broken nacho chips, potato, corn kernels, onion, tomato, jalapeno, green chutney, tamarind chutney, chaat masala, salt and chopped coriander in a bowl and mix well.
  2. Add yogurt and mix well.
  3. Serve garnished with a few nacho chips, green chutney, tamarind chutney and chopped coriander.

Desi Spiced Tequila Twist

Inspired by Tarla Dala
Tequila with an Indian twist is a great way to spice up your weekend and is sure to give a kick to your taste buds.

  • 1.5 ounces tequila (blanco or reposado)
  • 4 ounces club soda
  • 2 teaspoons cardamom powder
  • ½ tablespoon chopped coriander 
  • ½ teaspoon rose water
  • 4 tablespoons kala khatta syrup (plum sherbet)
  • 1 teaspoon chaat masala
  • Few drops lime juice
  • 1 pinch of salt
  • Crushed ice
  1. If desired, rim a glass with salt by wetting with a lime wedge and rolling in salt. 
  2. Crush or grind chopped coriander 
  3. Add to a bowl with cardamom powder, rose water, kala khatta syrup, chaat masala, lime juice and salt.
  4. Fill the glass with ice. Add tequila and all other ingredients. Top it off with club soda.
  5. Garnish lightly with sprinkling of chopped coriander leaves.

Saffron and Cardamom Churros 

By Sandya Kola

For the syrup:

  • 1 cup sugar
  • ¾ cup water
  • 1 generous pinch of saffron 
  • ¾ teaspoon cardamom powder 

For the churros:

  • ½ cup water
  • ½ cup buttermilk
  • ½ cup butter
  • 1 pinch salt
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1¼ cups flour
  • 3 large eggs
  • Ghee or vegetable oil as needed (for frying)
  • Pistachios for garnish (optional)
  • Star tip with at least ½-inch-wide opening
  • Wax paper

Make the syrup:

  1. Add sugar and water to a pot and bring to a boil.
  2. Cook over medium heat until mixture reaches one string consistency. (To test for one string consistency, put a small portion of the syrup in a spoon. Cool slightly. Take it between your thumb and forefinger, gently rubbing your fingers together and then pulling them apart. If you should see a single, unbroken string of syrup, it’s ready.)
  3. Add cardamom and saffron. Stir and remove from heat. Set aside to cool.

More detailed instructions for syrup

Make the churros:

  1. Add water, buttermilk, butter, salt and sugar to a pot. Bring the mixture to a boil.
  2. Add flour and stir, continuing until the mixture clumps together to form a ball. Make sure to turn the dough over in the pot for even heating.
  3. Add eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each. The mixture should begin to look shiny and slightly stiff.
  4. Place dough in a pastry bag fitted with a tip.
  5. Place a sheet of wax paper on a cookie sheet. Pipe the dough to your desired length onto the cookie sheet. Place in the freezer while you heat up the ghee or oil.
  6. Add ghee to pot and allow it to melt. It should fill one to two inches of the pot. When the churros feel firm, drop them into the melted ghee using a spatula.
  7. Work in batches. Fry the churros for about two minutes or until they’re golden brown. Remove them using tongs, let the oil drain on paper towels, and add churros to the pot of syrup.
  8. Let them soak evenly in the syrup for about one minute. Remove and place to cool on wax paper-lined cookie sheet.  
  9. For a true desi touch, option to garnish with chopped pistachios.  

More detailed instructions for churros

Can’t find some of these Indian ingredients in your local grocery store? Find the closest Indian store near you.

American Fringes: The Bizarro English Used by Sovereign Citizens

This article is part of a series exploring the fringes of American life, and how they’re redefining the mainstream. Read the first installment here.

  • In 1988, David Wynn Miller invented his own take on English grammar and syntax saying it would end all human misunderstanding … but it’s gibberish.
  • Still, the serial fabulist has left a legacy with the anti-government Sovereign Citizens movement, which uses his syntax to this day.

Few people know much about David Wynn Miller’s life, in large part because he told so many blatantly false stories about himself. Like the racist tale of how he once went in for kidney surgery but a Korean doctor misread his chart, removed both of his kidneys and his adrenal gland, and killed him — until he came back to life while cut open on an autopsy table, and walked away with a deep understanding of the threat of linguistic misunderstandings

All we really know is that he was a machinist from Wisconsin who in the early 1980s had trouble navigating the legal system and wound up convinced it was nothing more than a cynical process of arcane linguistic maneuvering. But instead of trying to learn to game the system by reading up on law, Miller tried to override it — by inventing his own take on English syntax and grammar in 1988. He called it QUANTUM-MATH-COMMUNICATIONS. Or PARSE-SYNTAX-GRAMMAR. Or CORRECT-LANGUAGE. In it, he styled himself DAVID-WYNN:MILLER. 

By all rights, Miller’s linguistic doodling should have amounted to nothing. He claimed he’d identified a mathematical truth at the root of all human languages and used it to create something no one could ever misunderstand— that would end human conflict through its utter clarity. But it reads like pure gibberish. The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) actually noted in a 2016 report that Millerian syntax is mainly identifiable by its virtual unparsability. Yet Miller’s syntax took off with a small but influential group: Sovereign Citizens. Many of these conspiracy theorists elevated him to guru status and shelled out thousands of dollars a head to learn his true English. “His name is big,” says Matthew Sweeney, a researcher who studies the Sovereign Citizen (or SovCit) movement. “He is so well known — because he is so odd.” 

Sovereign Citizens are almost as hard to pin down as Miller. Historians have attempted to trace their roots to the Posse Comitatus movement of the 1970s, a group that argued both that white Christians are the only true American citizens and that common law and sheriffs are their only true authorities in the land, meaning the federal government — and taxation — are illicit. But the Sovereign Citizen movement quickly developed into a decentralized, and less explicitly racially driven, phenomenon. Most still believe the feds are illegitimate tyrants who trick us into giving away our freedom — our inherent sovereignty — by signing official documents. But almost every cluster has unique beliefs about when American governance turned malignant, and original sovereignty’s nature.  

Miller’s tutorials are opaque and packed with easily disproved claims, like that he was crowned King of Hawaii in 1996.

Experts estimate that there are as many as 300,000 “SovCits” in the U.S. alone, many of whom are obsessed with finding secret codes or tricks that will allow them to break their “contracts” with the federal government, escaping any law or tax they disagree with. Many attempt to do so by employing linguistic gambits dreamed up by gurus that will supposedly override federal trickery, like adding signed under threat, duress or coercion (or simply TDC) after their names. 

Despite the shared goal of outfoxing the legal system through language, it can be hard to see why even SovCits flocked to Miller and his syntax. His tutorials are opaque and packed with easily disproved claims, like that he was crowned King of Hawaii in 1996. His syntax, as a number of linguists have noted, also makes no sense. It demonstrates “confusion about the nature of language in general … and of the English language specifically,” says David Peterson, an expert on constructed languages. Notably, it’s rooted in a belief that nouns have absolute, static meanings (e.g., that there is one true and universal definition of what constitutes a shoe, a gender, etc.). That conviction led Miller to arbitrarily recast words’ definitions and roles in line with his own understanding and convenience. As Peterson points out, “there is no such thing as context-independent meaning — in life or in language.”

Recent analyses of SovCit communities, however, suggest that many come into the scene and adopt radical ideas at times of intense personal vulnerability — in the midst of bankruptcy or divorces or other disorienting legal battles. Most were already prone to conspiratorial beliefs before these experiences. Miller explicitly reached out to people desperate for help in their legal battles, offering relief via briefings written in something that seemed just as inscrutable as the other legal documents they were trying to grapple with. But there’s no evidence he ever actually helped anyone solve their legal woes.

Miller, who died in 2018, once claimed he had a billion followers, including Bill Clinton and prominent judges — a sure flight of delusion. But he did amass a small, dedicated group of followers, whom Australian Federal Magistrate Michael Lloyd-Jones once referred to as a “linguistic cult,” and who may include Australian politician Malcolm Roberts and American mass murder Jared Lee Loughner. His most dedicated followers continue to spread his language and legacy far and wide. 

Miller’s bizarre and misguided linguistic experiment is niche enough that most people will never encounter it. But no matter how tiny and nonsensical, it is an established part of the global linguistic landscape now. And it has an outsized power to mystify and infuriate most folks — especially government officials — who do encounter it in the wild.

In that sense, one could perhaps declare Millerian syntax a limited success. It did not bring about world peace or crack some secret legalistic code, as Miller ostensibly hoped it would. But it sure has vexed lawyers, judges and other agents of the state as much as they once vexed him. 

Screw COVID? Sex Partiers Say So

Breathing: It’s Fundamental

EUGENE, SIR: While going down on my man he holds my throat. Not too tight. But firm. I like it. This past weekend, though, he started to hold my nose while he did it. So one hand around my throat and the other holding my nose. I sort of liked this too. It was different. But at some point after, I had to use his phone for something and saw some porn that he had been watching and, yes, light choking and nose holding. Feels much less “different” now. Like discovering your favorite writer is a plagiarist. I am seriously disappointed. He’ll get defensive if I bring it up, so please talk me through this. — Pat

Dear Patty Cake: Couple of issues working here. For example, while I am unsure of whether he was modeling behavior (doing what he saw) OR seeking out behaviors that he had previously modeled (seeking out and seeing what he’d already determined he liked, confirming his kink), you seem quite sure that it’s the former. You’re either guessing, intuiting or you know him well enough to know.

If it’s the former monkey-see-monkey-do stuff, you’re right. Much less impressive than if it’s the latter and he just improvised himself here. But we’re really splitting hairs here since there’s plenty of stuff we have to learn by watching other humans. Indeed, being human seems to be about modeling certain behaviors, like running from bears or how to ballroom dance.

I’m unsure whether you’re a Patrick or a Patricia and it doesn’t really matter, since I suspect in this instance that the issue is more his plagiarizing from a substandard writer versus stealing from a great one. That is: your prevailing sense that learning much of anything from porno is like learning how to cook from a frozen TV dinner chef.

And despite having friends in porno, I think that would be a largely correct assessment. I have an ur-theory of porno that I won’t bore you with here, but porn has been led, periodically, by the occasional true artist that finds themselves there. But 95 percent of it? Dreck. Which we could say about life.

So, to your issue? I’d cut him some slack. I mean how many of us can be Picasso? In the end, if it gives you pleasure, the fact that it wasn’t his idea should be a lesser issue. Hope this helps.

Safer Sex Parties?

EUGENE, SIR: I been reading what you said about sex parties, but you need to know that that is one of the safer places you can be during quarantine. We’re a small community of people, usually the same 30 people are showing up at our events, we’re doing temperature checks before entry, and you can have a sexy time even with a mask on. Plus you can only get COVID from sustained exposure. Two hours at a party outside at our pool is not “sustained.” So please get your facts straight. — Sexy in Sacto

Dear SOS: You know the internet culture that we’re currently knee-deep in has bred its own language, habits and affectations. The constant and continual state of agitation that seems to presage some argument somewhere that one or both of the actors had just come from, were just in, or were heading to affects all manner of discourse, and colors it with a crap-hued tone that makes civility difficult and guarantees that no one feels better no matter how many emojis are spewed after whatever is being written.

But that’s out there. In here? Well, I’m free to tell you that if you believe all of what you wrote, please continue to act on it as much as you like but know that I aggressively disagree with you and moreover believe it to be both dangerous and ill-advised. And even if your exercise of your freedoms will inevitably make life more difficult for the rest of us, if your public orgasms mean that much to you, you’ll find no argument from me.

In fact, none other than the CDC of British Columbia just released a guideline to help prevent transmission of the COVID-19 while engaging in sexual activity where they recommended … wait for it: glory holes. Specifically, penises through holes in the wall. So, some are siding with you.

Me, I disagree though.

And so does Admiral Brett Giroir from the White House coronavirus task force. He claims that masks and physical distancing could quickly stop the spread of COVID-19.

But both the White House and I feel that what’s really important is that you have an orgasm no matter how many people have to die — 149,000 at last count — so you should do that, you brave sexy party warrior.

A Throaty Yowl

EUGENE, SIR: My boyfriend has gotten obsessed with me deep-throating him. He thinks we haven’t done this because I’m afraid it’ll “hurt.” The real reason is that he’s not big enough for this to really happen. I don’t feel like telling him would be nice, so allowing for how wide open the jaw can go and position shifts, what can I do to make this happen? — HS

Dear Hard2Swallow: At first I laughed. Then I got sad. Then I laughed again. Then I realized that no matter how hard you try to be convincing once you’re in a mental institution, no amount of telling people you’re not crazy is likely to help.

But the bathos/pathos here? Too much. This is like some fleshy Gift of the Magi tale but let’s get to answering you. So positions that are out are positions where he can clearly see that it’s not happening or he can definitely feel that is the case. Him standing in front of you? Out. You coming in from the side or cross-body? Also no-go.

Positions to try? The best for this kind of magic act would be the so-called 69 position. Whether he’s on top or you are, his vision of whatever it is you’re doing is blocked. Generally then he has no idea what’s going on in that position, so whatever he feels and hears is stage-managed by YOU.

I’m not encouraging lies, deceit and trickery. I’m just trying to help you cater to a man who has an aggressive facing of the facts in his future somewhere. Good luck.