Tuesday, October 17, 2017

the same old

The last couple of years have felt rather different from any I've experienced in my short adulthood, at least politically. This is partially because we do live in odd political times where standards that applied before no longer do. However, that being acknowledged, many of the issues being argued in politics and the problems with the political system are as old as the country is.

I am just now wrapping up listening to the audio book version of David McCullough's biography of John Adams.  In this, I have been struck by the number of issues that are still resonant today.

Foremost among the problems in the political system are people's loyalty to party over country.  Adams himself is presented in the book being aghast at the party-ism he saw, though he did represent a party when in office.  The book goes to great lengths to illustrate that his fellow Federalists, such as Alexander Hamilton, caused him as much trouble as the Republican-Democrats did.  Hamilton was to Adams like the modern-day tea partiers to establishment Republicans or Bernie supporters to establishment Democrats.  The sense is presented that many Federalists didn't believe that Adams was enough on their side on some matters.

Another issue McCullough presents is how many people picked and chose their media coverage based on whether they presented the political slant that they agreed with.  Furthermore, the papers that sided with one party over the other were ruthlessly savage to the opposition, and one gets the sense that they weren't overly concerned with accuracy.

It is partially because of the savage press that Adams committed what many consider to be his most shameful act in signing the Alien and Sedition Act.  This was partially anti-immigration legislation, which apparently is not a new thing, and partially legislation to limit what was called seditious speech against the government in power.  I personally believe that this act is a black mark on Adams' legacy, but it is interesting that recent immigration actions by the current administration that feel like a new thing are not new at all.

It's almost only mentioned in passing in the book, but one of the early debates in the country was whether having a national bank was reasonable.  This sounds very much like the Libertarian and somewhat Trumpian rumblings today of, "Wouldn't it be better if markets ran themselves rather than being managed by the Fed?"  That view toward the national bank was more mainstream then than the anti-Fed view is today.

The Federalists were seen as the war-mongering party of their day, as there was a major push by Hamilton to go to war against post-revolution France.  Adams was called a monarchist in part because he favored a good trade relationship with Britain that was imbalanced against the Americans, which was the equivalent of decrying someone as unpatriotic today.  Likewise Jefferson, the figurehead of the Republican-Democrats, was labeled as an irreligious and immoral person.  These are still go-to attacks for some candidates.

The book spends time discussing the work put into establishing trade deals, and at least one ill-conceived embargo that backfired on Adams' son when he voted for it in Congress.  Those are both scenarios that are salient today.

One final thing unrelated to politics that has struck me about the book is the different amounts of time that Adams spent with his different children.  He spent a lot of time in Europe, and his oldest son--John Q. Adams--was there with him much more than any other member of the family.  Later, Adams' two other sons turned out to have very significant issues, with one dying of cirrhosis of the liver, and one wonders if this is partially due to them being left behind when their dad traveled away.  This makes me feel fortunate that I have not had to travel away from my family for work as many others have had to.

Monday, October 02, 2017

fiber

When thinking about today's topic, my mind keeps going to the old SNL skit below.


When I started watching my calories this past March I very purposefully avoided putting too many rules in place.  I figured if I started trying to manage carbs, or sugar, or anything else I'd eventually give up.  So, I kept it to simply managing calories, and that was a very effective approach for me in cutting weight.

In the course of managing my calories I noticed a side benefit to this as well that minor digestion issues that regularly flared up for me largely died down.  Over time, I have concluded that this is because my fiber intake has increased some as I've started eating more low-calorie fruits and vegetables.

This confused me a little since the way fiber helped me seemed to be the opposite of what it's reputation is.  I was visiting the bathroom less frequently rather than more.  The jokes I had always heard were always about how fiber kept you chained to the toilet.

With this evidence behind me and having learned about some of the purported benefits of a high fiber diet I decided a few weeks ago that I would increase my fiber intake.  If increasing my fiber intake a little helped out my digestion increasing it a lot would make it even better, right!?

WOW, have I learned a life lesson!  Specifically, it is not wise to increase your fiber intake between 50% and 75% overnight.  The body has to adjust to this new way of life.  Fiber has to be stepped up gradually.  The problem is, this is hard to do.  Too much fiber produces just so much gas (Sorry for that detail!), but too little fiber will not adjust my body to being able to handle the volume of fiber I need to have in my diet.  Furthermore, it's not always easy to know whether I've properly hit my fiber target.

So, I'm hopefully at the tail end of this adjustment period.  Having gone through this, I really don't ever want to fall off the fiber wagon because it'll be painful getting back on.

Friday, September 22, 2017

capturing value

Years back in Managerial Economics, the very first class that I took as part of my MBA program, the very simple concept of capturing value was presented.  The example used to illustrate the idea was something like the following.

Person 1 wants to sell a car and Person 2 wants to buy a car. Person 1 values his or her car at $8000 and person 2 values that car at $10,000. There is therefore $2000 worth of value to be captured.  If Person 2 purchases the car for $2000 he or she has captured that amount of value in the transaction. If he or she purchases the car for $9000 both individuals capture $1000 of value.

With a few notable exceptions, most of the classes I took in that program could be boiled down to, "These are the strategies you take to capture the most value."  I even had one instructor who I respected a great deal state that a business person's primary objective is to collect the most margin dollars, which is another phrase for capturing the most value.  If you understand the nuances of this, you're more or less an MBA, I guess.

What is noteworthy to me is that this is slightly different than the economic story that I usually hear people tell laypeople.  One illustration I heard a radio personality provide was the following.

To understand Capitalism imagine I need $20. I then go to my neighbor and agree to exchange one hour of my time to mow his yard and he gives me $20 for that time. Through this arrangement we both get what we need. I get the $20 and he gets a mowed lawn.

On the very simplest of levels this works, but there's a reason that this is not the example provided to business students.  Business is not the art of creating value, but rather it is the art of capturing value. If I run the business I'm less concerned with who creates the value than I am with whether I get to capture that value.

When I hear someone present an illustration like the above I now figure that they haven't gone through business training, or I assume that they have a vested interest in their audience having an incomplete understanding about how business works.

This distinction is important for a few reasons.

First, the mowing example is typically in line with what parents teach their kids.  It's actually a good example to use to explain a minimum wage job.  It's probably not a good example to give someone who is looking to establish a career, though.  There are many types of jobs where the worker captures less value than the business.  All else being equal, it is in a person's best interest to look for fields in which workers are able to capture more of the value that they personally create.

Second, the mowing example implies that there's a yard out there to mow and that I have the skill to mow it.  While this has always been the case, automation is changing the economy such that the ratio of unskilled work to skilled work is decreasing.  Some people have the means to "learn how to mow" and some do not.

Third, this understanding is key to grasping the value or danger (depending on your perspective) of a union.  One of the things a union provides is a guarantee to capture a specific amount of value for the worker, and on the flip side a union causes a business not to be able to capture specific value from its operations.  FYI, I have no strong opinions of unions in general.

There are other reasons for understanding the distinction, I'm sure.  I'll stop at two for now, though.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

feel loved

When you think of the feeling of love between spouses, boyfriend/girlfriend, or whatever, how do you define it? What does it mean if a person feels loved? I believe that this is the most fundamental difference between men and women, and this discovery is a multi-year process that I am still walking through.

A long while back I wrote something about not needing to feel loved. Ultimately, I've determined that this is not true, but only because of the way the word is defined. Almost every time I have heard the phrase "feel loved" used it has been applied to some need I identified as feminine. I don't generally have the same needs as a woman, so that verbiage feels inaccurate.

I really did not think in terms of actually needing love until Golden and I read The 5 Love Languages together a few years ago, and that only because the author kept speaking in terms of "feeling loved."

However everyone has needs.  That's part of the human experience, and I'm certainly no different.  If those needs are or are not getting met I have not historically gauged it in terms of whether I, "feel loved," though. I have discovered over the years that the phrase, "feel loved," makes more sense to the women in my life (especially Golden) than other phrases that I might use.  While to me the words might be "respected/disrespected" or "important/insignificant," the words "loved/unloved" appear to communicate feelings better.

Now, when I think of whether I or anyone else feels loved I try to reinterpret, "feel loved," with, "feel like my needs are getting met." I know these aren't perfect apples-for-apples phrases, however this makes much more sense to me.  While we all have different needs, we are all alike in that we do have needs. So, this is how I am resolving this minefield of a phrase.

Monday, September 04, 2017

based on a true story

I am extremely fascinated by history, and especially the cultural and human factors that were behind consequential events in history. I also greatly enjoy taking in an entertaining film as a pastime. Surprisingly, even given these two likes, I have a hard time getting excited about movies based on true events. I've had trouble pinpointing the reason, but I do think I know a big part of why this is.

When we initially watched Catch Me If You Can through a Blockbuster rental I recall watching a documentary on the extras on the disc about the person the movie is based on--Frank Abagnale, Jr. One small comment that the real Abagnale made in that documentary was that, though the movie portrayed his mother as unfaithful to his father, this was not actually the case in real life. This illustrates a huge issue I have with "Based on..." movies. I don't trust them, and artistic license is often used to sully people's names in the interest of telling a more compelling story.

I know this isn't a shock, but little of The Sound of Music, from the character of the individuals, to the number of kids in the family, to the nature of their escape from Austria is based in fact.  At least the antagonists in that movie were actual Nazis, regardless as to whether they were based on real people. Other movies cast real people as antagonists based on artistic choice rather than because those people deserved to be portrayed in that way (Examples: Titanic, The Imitation Game, Cinderella Man, Rudy, Lawrence of Arabia, and Gladiator).

I understand that "Based on..." stories are supposed to allow for modifications through artistic license, but knowing that the story really is modified usually tells me that the most compelling and interesting aspects of the story are probably contrived. As a result, I typically feel manipulated through the story, and it makes for a less enjoyable experience. Worse, I feel like movies like this improperly cast real people as heroes and villains, and so dishonor the real people who are being portrayed.  Furthermore, they give audiences a wrongheaded view of history and humanity.

Also, I know there are exceptions to this. I've heard that many of the scenes both in Saving Private Ryan and in Dunkirk are accurate portrayals of respective World War II battles.

I did a search for, "most accurate historical movies," and found several list pages. I noticed that I have not seen most of the movies at this page, though I do recall that I enjoyed the Jesse James one, only wishing it was a bit shorter. Maybe my real problem is that I've been watching the wrong historical movies.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

totality


I have long been interested in solar eclipses.  When I was fourteen an annular eclipse cut across the United States, and I remember being disappointed that my entire experience with it was through a pinhole projector.

When I found out last year that an eclipse was going to be going through the area, I almost immediately told Golden that I wanted to see it, and I wanted the kids to experience it too.  This led to me researching for months the best possible place to see the eclipse.  We ended up going with one of Golden's friends, and bringing the kids she watches during the day, so this significantly affected which locations would be ideal.

I bought our eclipse glasses early, and we planned a trip to a park in Liberty, Missouri.  The morning of, we checked the weather forecast, and I steeled my nerves for disappointment as the weather did not look promising there, but it looked better than most of the other places I had been scouting out.

When we got to the park we had to sit in the car for 45 minutes while we waited out a rainstorm.  Then, just as the eclipse started, the clouds parted.  We got to watch the entirety of the eclipse from start to totality without any clouds blocking our view.  Then, within five minutes of viewing totality the sun was hidden behind clouds.

Totality was spectacular, and a completely different experience from watching the eclipse through eclipse glasses.  It's hard to describe, but the entire world sort of changes, and the thing in the sky looks completely different than we're used to.  Adding to the experience is the crowd around you getting excited as well.

I know several people who made a good-faith attempt to see totality, but missed out due to clouds.  And so, I feel just a little guilty and a lot fortunate to have been able to have this experience.  It's definitely been a bucket list item for me, and so I feel very privileged that at least this once I was able to experience this with the rest of my family.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

actually healthier dust

Sorry for the length of this post.  My health routine has sort of taken over my life, so there's a lot I want to report.  No one is under any obligation to read this entire thing.

As should be obvious, I have had the longest hiatus from posting to this blog since I opened it.  This wasn't intentional, but was a direct result of my exercise routine and church teaching prep cutting into the spare time I would have had to post.

I did want to report back in on how my healthier lifestyle is progressing.

When I started this exercise routine I wasn't extremely excited about it because I had real doubts that I would be able to stick with it, and to me it was worse to start and give up than not to start at all.  I still have those concerns because it's an extraordinary challenge to squeeze my routine in, but I have stuck with it.  I don't know if I'll be still doing this in a few years, but my mindset right now is that nothing I'm doing now is worth it if I don't stick with it over the long haul.

One thing that changed since I last posted is that I did actually start watching what I eat.  I didn't at first because I didn't want to commit to more than I could stick to.  However, in March I determined to try modifying my diet because I felt like if I'm already exercising hard I should do what I can to see good and more speedy results.  I started using the app Lose It! to keep track of what I eat, and I've been a real stickler to keep on top of it.  This has actually helped me stick with the exercise routine because it's undeniable now that there's a benefit to what I'm doing.

At this point, the benefit I can see is having lost about 35 pounds and somewhere between three and four inches of belly fat (belly-button level).  My body fat levels have gone from somewhere in the 25% to 28% range to 20% or 21%.  I know my VO2Max (how much oxygen your lungs can take in) is improved too because I can breathe better when exercising, but I don't know how to measure that.  All of this is gravy (hmmmmm... gravy), however.  My real goal is to lower my triglycerides and LDL cholesterol, and I won't have a reading on those until my next annual doctor's appointment in January.

I've had a few observations along the way.
  • Most of the diet challenge was finding foods I'm happy to regularly snack on at night.  For now I've settled on a rotation of apples, celery, pickles, oranges, and carrot sticks.  I'm convinced that this is the change that has effected my health the most.
  • Early on, I'd occasionally still be hungry come time to go to bed, but I rarely am any more.
  • I still snack on cereal and cheese and crackers occasionally.  The difference is that it is more sparing, and I'm careful to limit the amount of milk I swallow with the cereal.  I remember my great aunt telling me that I should use all of the milk that I poured into my cereal when I was a kid, but I believe now that advice made more sense when she was a child during the Great Depression than it does today.
  • I used to make peanut butter and jelly regularly just because it was easy.  I very rarely do that any more because it's a high-calorie food.
  • If I'm ahead in my calorie count for the day, I absolutely splurge on some food I'm craving.  There are two reasons for this.  One is that eating too few calories negatively affects metabolism.  The other is that there's a great psychological benefit to being able to regularly eat higher calorie foods when I'm ahead for the day.
  • I track calories because those are quantifiable, but I'm coming to believe the calories matter less than that I'm eating more fruits and non-starchy vegetables.
  • I personally avoid diet and fat-free foods and beverages.  I used to drink Diet Pepsi, so I cast no judgment on those who use those.  In fact, if you like the taste it might make sense.  Whatever research I've been able to find on those products has made me doubt that diet and fat-free foods are beneficial, however.
  • My weight loss has been reasonably steady at around a pound a week (maybe a little more) throughout this whole process.  Everything I'm reading indicates that you don't want to lose more than two pounds a week.
  • Just in the last few weeks I've started watching videos from NutritionFacts.org.  They basically just walk through what the research says about different dietary habits, and it's extremely interesting.  I'd recommend it for anyone who's interested in improving their health through (possibly minor) dietary changes, such as consuming a few more nuts a day or eating brown rather than white rice.
  • I never dreamed I'd be the sort to look into supplements because that's the world of snake oil salesmen and bodybuilders.  In fact some research indicates that vitamin supplements have a negative affect on peoples' health.  However, I just ordered creatine supplements for the first time because the effects that specific supplement has on the body align with my personal health goals (namely, I'm targeting18%-ish body fat).  It's a whole new world for me.
  • Even after exercising for this long it's still obvious that my body has not been gifted with endurance or the ability to get a runner's high.  Maybe it's because running is not part of my routine?
  • I'm actually amazed at the number of minor things that these life changes have helped with (example), and I've also discovered some things that I didn't realize were an issue that I still need to put a plan together to address.
  • I have never once exercised in a gym, and I don't ever expect to have a gym membership because I don't have time to go.  If my exercising relied on me going to the gym, I wouldn't exercise at all.  Everything I'm doing right now is from a FitnessBlender YouTube video in my living room.
So, lest anyone make the mistake of thinking I'm doing anything extraordinary, the following is the routine I've been doing.

When I first started out I was very out of shape, so I just rotated through the following routines, exercising five or six times a week until I started seeing some improvements.  Mind you, they felt very slow in coming, but I did start to see them after a few weeks.








Then, I started working in some resistance exercises into my routine because I had read that it was important to have a mix of cardio and resistance to lower LDL cholesterol.



As I improved I slowly started working in more challenging and/or targeted routines and dropping old routines.  Right now I have a five-day rotation that I typically go through in a week.

Day 1: Abs/Core (The hardest of all days)



Day 2: Tabata Style HIIT Aerobics



Day 3: Arms and Legs




Day 4: Beginner HIIT Aerobics


Day 5: Total Body Workout



I'm constantly reassessing this, so there will be changes in the future.  I still have a lot of room for improving how challenging my cardio routines are, and I need to start stepping up my weights on "resistance" days.  For now this is what I'm doing, though: about 140 minutes of exercise a week plus some watching what I eat.

Golden sometimes joins me in my exercising as well.    Those are fun days.