Thursday, October 30, 2014

thoughts from Cooked by Michael Pollan and other things

I'm reading a second book by Michael Pollan,Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation,and I am thoroughly enjoying it. So glad my sister gave these to me. One of the themes that keeps coming up in this book is the link between health and home prepared meals. One quote:
A 2003 study by a group of Harvard economists led by David Cutler found that most of the increase in obesity over the last several decades could be explained by the rise of food preparation outside the home.
Another quote from a consultant named Harry Balzer who works with some of the big industrial food companies:

I asked him how, in and ideal world, we might begin to undo the damage that the modern diet of industrially prepared food has done to our health.

"Easy. You want Americans to eat less? I have a diet for you. Cook for yourself. Eat anything you want - just as long as you're willing to cook it yourself."
And now I will quote myself, writing about my experience on the $3 Diet: 
Ironically in retrospect what I think I realized is that being "rich" (and I use that loosely since I hardly see myself as "rich" in the sense it is commonly used in political conversation) has been harmful to my health, at least in terms of diet. The ease with which I have been able to access high cost food - especially processed and restaurant food - has been detrimental to my health. I was never ignorant about the fact that a Big Mac, fries, and a Coke was an unhealthy lunch choice. But the relative cost of buying a meal from McDonald's vs. taking the time to prepare one myself was so inexpensive that I have indulged far too many times. It doesn't help that my preferences from growing up favored such indulgences as well, associating them with positive values like independence. I've become more focused on how often Kandie and I give the kids fast food during the week when we're all busy - because it's just easier - meaning the relative cost of planning and preparing a meal is higher than the monetary cost of just buying a meal from Sonic (the kids' favorite).

Being nominally rich made making bad choices about diet and health relatively less costly - at least in the short run. I suppose given that I have valued health as a means to an end and not an end in itself, this was actually a rational choice, even in the long run. After all, if I developed excessively high cholesterol levels, I could simply get a prescription for Lipitor (or its equivalent), which would be nearly costless to me because of health insurance, and I could possibly continue engaging in most of the activities I valued.
I wrote the above passage on Feb 11, 2014, reflecting on my experience eating on $3/day. The thing that the $3 Diet revealed to me was just how much harm eating out, eating from the industrialized food supply, was doing to my health. That 30 day experiment may have been the most valuable investment in myself that I have ever made.

I don't think I would have appreciated Pollan's books until now. I'm pretty hard headed, and eating is closely tied up with my feelings about social status and class. I'm coming around to the ideas that underlie organic and whole foods (that's whole foods with a lower case w-f, not to be confused with the hipster conclave of the same name).

I think what I love about Pollan's food writing is that he doesn't get sucked in by the class rhetoric. He throws the bullshit card on a lot of the organic movement. He goes back, and underneath, to find the story - find the old ways - the ways that emerged for centuries of practice, experimentation, and trial and error. Practices that predate the scientism of the 19th and 20th centuries. The social practices we have inherited, such as ways of cooking, were stable and sustainable. We couldn't understand them, but we didn't have to. They worked. But we've applied our limited science to them and created monstrosities. The tale of Frankenstein is a tale of arrogance; and we are ever so arrogant with our science. We have Frankensteined our food supply; we have Frankensteined our health care system; and we have Frankensteined our economy with far too much scientism. We need a healthy dose of skepticism, and we need to step back and let all these things go back to emergence instead of trying to control what we fundamentally do not understand.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

well worn path

well worn path

Heading up to my exit, it suddenly struck me how many times I have driven up and down this little strip of I-35, and how in not much longer, I might never do it again.
“I had not lived there a week before my feet wore a path from my door to the pond-side; and though it is five or six years since I trod it, it is still quite distinct. It is true, I fear that others may have fallen into it, and so helped to keep it open. The surface of the earth is soft and impressible by the feet of men; and so with the paths which the mind travels. How worn and dusty, then, must be the highways of the world, how deep the ruts of tradition and conformity!” ― Henry David Thoreau

currently reading...

Household-6 made a point of complaining about the seemingly endless string of packages from Amazon that have been arriving lately. I guess with the fact that I will have a few weeks of time without intellectual requirements, I've been unconsciously filling in that expected gap. And of course I'm starting everything as it rolls in. Here's most of what I've got going, at different degrees of completion:

Niccolo Machiavelli, "The Discourses"
Saint Augustine, "Confessions"
Femia, "Machiavelli Revisited"
Monks & Minow, "Corporate Governance"
Michael Pollan, "Cooked"
John Creswell, "Qualitative Inquiry and Research Design"
Lofland et al, "Analyzing Social Settings"
Krueger & Thuesen, "Typetalk"
"The Selected Writings of Ralph Waldo Emerson"
Epictetus, "Enchiridion"
Raven Grimasi, "Grimoire of the Thorn-Blooded Witch"
Stephen Schimpff, "The Future of Health-Care Delivery"
Vedder & Cox, "The Walmart Revolution"
Marcus Aurelius, "Meditations"
Schumpeter, "Capitalism, Socialism, and Democracy"
Seneca, "Letters from a Stoic"

There's a big stack behind all those, too, but these are the active ones.

I'm pushing on a long term project, thinking about the influence of Stoicism and Stoic ideas on Western culture. It's a primary theme of my project, "Freedom of our Fathers." So that's why there are several Stoics in the list.

I'm also trying to swallow as much information on qualitative methods as I can. I really think that's the direction I want to go methodologically for future research. I've got several projects outlined for when I get up to UNH. I'm really excited to start this next phase of my professional life.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Paleo Diet - Week 3 Summary

Week 3 of Whole30/Paleo, a few days late. Stats like last week are as follows:

Week 2 stats here.

This first chart shows the breakdown of daily calories by

blue: fat
red: carbs
green: protein
The above chart shows calories consumed (blue) and calories burned (red). The calories burned come from my Fit-Bit tracker. 

There's still a lot of variation in terms of calories and composition. Weight has been stable since last week - I don't seem to be making any more progress. Perhaps a plateau?

It's interesting to see how few calories I'm eating. I feel reasonably sated most days most of the time. At these levels of calories, I normally feel quite hungry. That hasn't been the case on this diet. I find that interesting. No doubt it's the result of the high fat/high protein content.

I'm not really craving anything. I am looking forward to a pizza and some beer. But I wouldn't call it "craving".

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Hillary Clinton: Did I really just hear that?

(in case embed fails: )

"Don't let anyone tell you corporations and business create jobs." - Hillary Clinton

What? First it's Obama and you didn't build that. Now Hillary claims jobs come from somewhere, but not corporations and business. Seriously? Where do jobs come from then?

There are government jobs, of course, but to create a government job, you have to tax someone who doesn't have a government job to create a government job - otherwise it's like a snake swallowing its own tail. So where is this job creating force if it is not business?

So rather than just yell back and forth like stupid monkeys that follow these politicians and believe the garbage that flows out of their mouths, let's look at the data. Did the private sector, meaning businesses and corporations really not create any jobs since the beginning of "trickle down economics" (which I date to 1981 and the Reagan administration)? Let's see.

So here's where the jobs are in the US. The red line is private sector jobs. Those would be jobs with business and corporations. The blue line is government jobs.

Now I can be a little slow. But it looks to me like most people who have a job in the US have a job with a business or corporation (that's the red line, again).

And, bear with me here, it looks like there are more jobs on the right side of this graph than the left side of this graph. In particular, around the time of the "trickle down economics" thing that Hillary says didn't work, there about 75M jobs in the private sector (with businesses and corporations). And now there are about 118M jobs in the private sector (yep, still with businesses and corporations). That's an increase of about 57%.

So, if the businesses and corporations didn't create the jobs, where did those additional jobs with businesses and corporations come from?

During the same time there's been about a 30% increase in government jobs. I know where those came from. Our tax dollars pay for those, and they get created by politicians like Hillary. But those jobs only represent about 12% of the total increase in jobs over the last 34 years. Where did other 88% of jobs created come from if the corporations and businesses weren't creating them, especially given that those jobs are with businesses and corporations?

Somebody help me. First, entrepreneurs were wrong about the fact that they built their businesses. Now it turns out that those businesses aren't responsible for job growth.

I'm slow. It looks to me like there are more jobs in the private sector than before. And as far as I know, the government isn't giving people jobs in the private sector (at least not on that scale). So where are these jobs coming from?

Compare this to Romney's 47% gaff, and it's much more worrisome. Romney was just admitting people who are dependent on government hand outs weren't going to vote to have their hand outs taken away. That was dumb, but really a statement about strategy, not the nature of reality. Hillary is declaring that up is down, and down is up, and her audience loves it. They believe her when she says up is down and down is up. It's like the final taming of Katharina from Taming of the Shrew:

KATHARINA Then, God be bless'd, it is the blessed sun:
But sun it is not, when you say it is not;
And the moon changes even as your mind.
What you will have it named, even that it is;
And so it shall be so for Katharina.

I wish this were a joke. The economic literacy of our nation is abominable. OK, Hillary, the sun is the moon. Whatever you say. We're too stupid to think for ourselves.

Baaa. Baaaa. We the sheeple salute you.

Friday, October 24, 2014

New Hampshire and Tiebout Model

(in case the embed fails: )

I used this video to introduce the Tiebout model during a discussion of economic regulation. (It's the idea that states compete to provide an optimal set of policies and citizens vote with their feet by moving to places that provide the best set of services.)

Stoicism and Buddhism

This is not a new revelation, but I have always been fascinated about the similarities between Buddhism and Stoicism, and the fact that the two would co-evolve. I have been trying to read more about Stoicism to understand its impact on Western thought, and I came across this passage in a letter from Seneca to someone named Lucilius (letter V in Letters from a Stoic) which I thought illustrates the similarities quite well:
Limiting one's desires actually helps to cure one of fear. 'Cease to hope,' he* says, 'and you will cease to fear.' 'But how,' you will ask, 'can things as diverse as these be linked?' Well, the fact is, Lucilius, that they are bound up with one another, unconnected as they may seem. Widely different though they are, the two of them march in unison, like a prisoner and the escort he is handcuffed to. Fear keeps pace with hope. Nor does their so moving together surprise me; both belong to a mind in suspense, to a mind in a state of anxiety through looking into the future. Fear keeps pace with hope. Nor does their so moving together surprise me; both belong to a mind in suspense, to a mind in a state of anxiety looking into the future. Both are mainly due to our projecting our thoughts far ahead of us instead of adapting ourselves to the present. Thus it is that foresight, the greatest blessing humanity has been given, is transformed into a curse. Wild animals run from the dangers they actually see, and once they have escaped them worry no more. We however are tormented alike by what is past and what is to come. A number of blessings do us harm, for memory brings back the agony of fear while foresight brings it prematurely. No one confines his happiness to the present.
(*the "he" is apparently a reference to an author named Hecato; bold is mine)

I like the idea of ceasing to fear, but I have no idea how to limit my desires. Much of the richness of life comes from hope. A life without hope seems like it would be colorless.

More to think about.