Monthly Archives: March 2011

A Shared Misunderstanding

Are you shocked to read stories of creationism still being presented in American schools? I’m sure the folks who originally came up with the biblical story of creation had good intentions and that it was the best they could do at the time. At the time most people came to accept it on faith. After a while enough people bought into the idea that the creation myth became a culturally shared misunderstanding.

But here we are in 2011 and the creation mythology is still thriving in some corners. Now it’s becoming corrosive and holds people back. What about the saying: You do what you know, but when you know better you should do better?

Sure, teach the creation myth in school if you want to; just not in the same classroom that evolution is taught in. I think the creation myth can be included in mythology class, where it now belongs. I really enjoyed the mythology class I took in sixth or seventh grade. Thousands of years ago, lots of people firmly believed in Thor, Zeus, and other colorful gods and their stories. I’ve never met a believer in Zeus, but I’m sure if I had been around 3,300 years ago people would have been confident in their myth too – that the goddess Eurynome coupled with a huge snake and went on to…. you get the picture.

This issue is one of the things stifling the United States. Teaching the creation myth in place of science only winds up displacing real eduction, effectively holding back students. Ironically the proponents of teaching creationism seem to attribute some divine nature to the United States. Whatever factors that have made the US great have done so despite the influence of myth pushers and their ideas, not because of them.

The Favor Bank

Here’s an idea and a request. Are you familiar with the idea of a favor bank? The idea is attributed to authors Tom Wolfe in “The Bonfire of the Vanities” as well as Paulo Coelho in his”The Zehir.” It’s been around for a long time before these guys I’d imagine and has probably been named before too.

You make deposits into a Favor Bank by doing a favor or something nice for someone. After some time you’ll have built up a big balance. Then when you need a favor you should think of it as a withdrawal from the bank account that you’ve built up. Lots of people feel funny asking for a favor even if they’ve got a big balance. But it’s okay to make withdrawals.

Here’s my favor. I’m reaching the six month mark with my website. I don’t track the stats for my site. I could check stats about this site, but I don’t think at this point they would add much to my satisfaction and I don’t want to fret over stats that I’m not interested in at this point.

I’m flattered when comments show up and I like reading them. I don’t actively seek out comments from readers. Lots of popular bloggers with a lot of traffic have abandoned their comment areas because consumed too much of their time. So, basically I don’t really know how many people are reading my blog.

I’m pleasantly surprised during conversations when people mention a blog of mine they liked. It’s hard to guess which blog a person might really connect with and the blog they like is often not the one I would’ve guessed they’d like.

I try to keep my blogs short, pithy. I hope they’re interesting and useful. Posting every Tuesday and Friday makes it easy to check in. Mention the blog to three friends who you think might enjoy it. Thanks


Magico Mexico

Our street in Mexico is only a block long. It seems a fairly normal little residential street. But there’s lots happening. On one end of our block is a laundry and there’s a tortilla shop on the other end. Two doors from the laundry is a nice small hotel. If you go around the other corner you’ll find a grocery store, surf shop, and hair salon that also sells musical instruments. Not to mention there’s a Mexican traditional healer and someone selling shrimp who both live in the middle of our block. Three houses away from mine is a guy who’ll climb up your palm tree and harvest the coconuts.

Guess what else? This weekend I found out a young dentist just opened up shop on our block at the end of the healer’s driveway.

Saturday night my girlfriend slipped and fell. The fall didn’t look too bad – until I saw a tooth skitter across the floor. I picked it up and realized it was one of her front teeth. Luckily a friend was with us who is a dental assistant. We got my girlfriend up, into the bathroom, and slid the tooth back into its rightful spot within 30 seconds. While putting the tooth back, we saw that three of the neighboring teeth were half of their length and loose; the shiny tile floor that she hit was hard.

Enter the new dentist on the block. We had no idea he was tucked in across the street. But our friend had just started working with him doing volunteer dental work on school kids in town. She woke him up and he worked on the damaged teeth for two and a half hours (’til 3 am).

It was a neighborhood affair really. Our bilingual friend from the laundry and his friend came in, providing exact translations. I did some assisting and moral support. Our dental assistant friend and her husband were there for encouragement and technical advice. And to top it off the dentist’s mom, who’s a nurse, came in at 2:30 am to supply and administer two non dental injections, after the teeth were stabilized.

The care and attention continues from more and more people each day. The final work will probably be done by a cosmetic dentist in Puerto Vallarta. The bad news is four damaged teeth that’ll be fixed . The good news is all the great people around us in Mexico.

Unseen Boneyards

There’re unseen boneyards out there containing the people who didn’t survive situations that favored other people. Since we usually only see the people who make it through and not the ones who don’t, there’s a tendency to think the process (or activity) is producing or causing a result – when it’s really also favoring certain individuals over others.

For instance, swimming competitions favor certain types of bodies that are the most efficient for a certain event. By the time you see the last heat of an olympic swim race most of the racers look pretty much the same. So you might think “If I swim a lot I can look like Micheal Phelps because he swims a lot.” He does swim a lot. But so did lots of other kids who didn’t thrive in the pool but swam a lot. And so you wind up only seeing the “cream of the crop” when you’re watching the olympics and none of the shorter, stouter kids who maybe swam as much and were as enthusiastic but never wound up with a “swimmer’s body.” That shorter, stouter swimmer is part of an unseen boneyard of swimming.

When Arnold Schwarzenegger claimed he ate a particular supplement or did a particular exercise in a novel way, we tend to think that’s what makes him a champion bodybuilder. He had the genes and drive (and steroids) that allowed him to respond to a high volume of training that put other people in an unseen bodybuilding boneyard. I think he’d have done just as well missing a supplement or not doing curls using a barbell with a special shape.

Or consider the training Navy SEALS aspirants go through before graduating. The majority of the guys who try don’t make it. While the program they endure is tough, the ones that make it through are really more genetically suited to that workload. Most people who tryout will wind up in a SEAL boneyard that we never see. It’s important to realize that there’s a selection process going on that favors a certain set of genes – it’s not just the training.

One of my nephews, Ben, is a high school senior who’s keen to play college football. About a month ago, he injured his knee playing basketball and is rehabbing it. He’s still planning on playing football, but he’s in a boneyard at the moment. While looking for some  helpful info for him, I came across this talk by Doug McGuff, MD. Doug’s one of the sharpest guys in the health and fitness area. He has a good book, that I read about a year ago, called “Body By Science.” He discusses the boneyard idea in regards to workouts, basically saying that your workout should minimize any chances of winding up in a boneyard by overtraining or training in a potentially dangerous way.

About auto racing, someone said that to finish first, you first have to finish. If you wind up in a boneyard, you won’t finish. So take care in choosing the activity you want to pursue by checking out its boneyard as well as the folks at the top of the heap. Did they make it to the top because of what they do or despite what they do?

What’s So Funny?

Most guys will find the illustration to the right funny or at least  amusing. But I think lots of women will say “huh?” Whenever you try to explain anything that’s humorous you usually just get an unenthusiastic “Oh.”  Better to live with the idea that some people get jokes others won’t. And then sometimes, there’s just a difference between what men and women generally find funny.

Here’s a funny take on men’s rights (whatever that means) from Scott Adam’s blog. Scott is the guy behind the cartoon empire Dilbert. I don’t follow comic strips so I don’t know the Dilbert material; but I know it’s popular. I think his blog is clever. Recently, Scott’s funny post about men’s rights was taken down because some people didn’t think it was funny. It’s cached at Google; I cut and pasted it below for you:

This is a surprisingly good topic. It’s dangerous. It’s relevant. It isn’t overdone. And apparently you care. Let’s start with the laundry list.

According to my readers, examples of unfair treatment of men include many elements of the legal system, the military draft in some cases, the lower life expectancies of men, the higher suicide rates for men, circumcision, and the growing number of government agencies that are primarily for women.

You might add to this list the entire area of manners. We take for granted that men should hold doors for women, and women should be served first in restaurants. Can you even imagine that situation in reverse?

Generally speaking, society discourages male behavior whereas female behavior is celebrated. Exceptions are the fields of sports, humor, and war. Men are allowed to do what they want in those areas.

Add to our list of inequities the fact that women have overtaken men in college attendance. If the situation were reversed it would be considered a national emergency.

How about the higher rates for car insurance that young men pay compared to young women? Statistics support this inequity, but I don’t think anyone believes the situation would be legal if women were charged more for car insurance, no matter what the statistics said.

Women will counter with their own list of wrongs, starting with the well-known statistic that women earn only 80 cents on the dollar, on average, compared to what men earn for the same jobs. My readers will argue that if any two groups of people act differently, on average, one group is likely to get better results. On average, men negotiate pay differently and approach risk differently than women.

Women will point out that few females are in top management jobs. Men will argue that if you ask a sample group of young men and young women if they would be willing to take the personal sacrifices needed to someday achieve such power, men are far more likely to say yes. In my personal non-scientific polling, men are about ten times more likely than women to trade family time for the highest level of career success.

Now I would like to speak directly to my male readers who feel unjustly treated by the widespread suppression of men’s rights:

Get over it, you bunch of pussies.

The reality is that women are treated differently by society for exactly the same reason that children and the mentally handicapped are treated differently. It’s just easier this way for everyone. You don’t argue with a four-year old about why he shouldn’t eat candy for dinner. You don’t punch a mentally handicapped guy even if he punches you first. And you don’t argue when a women tells you she’s only making 80 cents to your dollar. It’s the path of least resistance. You save your energy for more important battles.

How many times do we men suppress our natural instincts for sex and aggression just to get something better in the long run? It’s called a strategy. Sometimes you sacrifice a pawn to nail the queen. If you’re still crying about your pawn when you’re having your way with the queen, there’s something wrong with you and it isn’t men’s rights.

Fairness is an illusion. It’s unobtainable in the real world. I’m happy that I can open jars with my bare hands. I like being able to lift heavy objects. And I don’t mind that women get served first in restaurants because I don’t like staring at food that I can’t yet eat.

If you’re feeling unfairly treated because women outlive men, try visiting an Assisted Living facility and see how delighted the old ladies are about the extra ten years of pushing the walker around.  It makes dying look like a bargain.

I don’t like the fact that the legal system treats men more harshly than women. But part of being male is the automatic feeling of team. If someone on the team screws up, we all take the hit. Don’t kid yourself that men haven’t earned some harsh treatment from the legal system. On the plus side, if I’m trapped in a burning car someday, a man will be the one pulling me out. That’s the team I want to be on.

I realize I might take some heat for lumping women, children and the mentally handicapped in the same group. So I want to be perfectly clear. I’m not saying women are similar to either group. I’m saying that a man’s best strategy for dealing with each group is disturbingly similar. If he’s smart, he takes the path of least resistance most of the time, which involves considering the emotional realities of other people.  A man only digs in for a good fight on the few issues that matter to him, and for which he has some chance of winning. This is a strategy that men are uniquely suited for because, on average, we genuinely don’t care about 90% of what is happening around us.

I just did a little test to see if I knew what pajama bottoms I was wearing without looking. I failed.

What’s so funny? What’s not so funny?

Eating Way Back

Stylewise, where on the timeline of human existence are you eating? I came across this diagram and think it’s great distillation of what lots of people are trying to figure out about their health.

Conventional wisdom, more and more, is finding fault with industrial, modern foods like Twinkies, 20 ounce servings of sodas, and trans fats and so conventional wisdom advocates eating in ways similar to our great-grandparents’ style, featuring whole grains, beans, etc. That’s a big improvement and you’ll probably get healthier because you’ll be avoiding industrial and processed foods. In the diagram above that’s going from the red area backwards into the yellow area.

But, the diagram isn’t to scale. The green area representing most of mankind’s existence should be 200 times(!) longer than the yellow. Most of our genetic make up has evolved accommodating the foods we encountered for a couple of million years. During that time as hunter-gatherers, before agriculture, we wouldn’t have been eating much in the way of grains, legumes, and sweets. And there’d have been zero processed foods.

Like most Americans, I drank the low-fat Kool-aid. After a while though, cracks started appearing. There’s the growing obesity problem that started taking off in the 80’s. And people seem to be getting unhealthier every year.

Several years ago I noticed the a low-carb resurgence. Then I read some of the early Paleo literature from Loren Cordain,Ph.D. which was intriguing but I wasn’t convinced.  And then a few years ago I heard an NPR interview with Gary Taubes about what his investigations indicated. But It wasn’t until I read Taubes’  “Good Calories Bad Calories” a couple of years ago, that I really came around to re-evaluate the standard American diet.

Gary Taubes is a top science writer at the New York Times. The book isn’t a breezy read. It’s the nature of the material combined with the thoroughness needed to challenge the accepted wisdom. But it’s worth the read if you want to dig deep. Fortunately, Taubes has just come out with the more accessible “Why We Get Fat.” One of the main ideas is that easily digested sugars drive insulin secretion in our bodies. Insulin then signals our bodies to store excess sugar as fat. Taubes says obesity is not a disease of overeating but a disease of fat storage, insightful but hard to wrap your head around.

For a couple of million years we usually didn’t have easy access to simple sugars and grains. Our bodies and big brains are fueled by sugar (glucose), so we crave it. But it wasn’t until the past few generations that easily digestible sugars became such a dominant part of our diet. We should be following the “smart money” arrow above all the way back to the green, hunter-gatherer area of the diagram. I’m not saying to re-enact the way we once lived as hunter-gatherers. Instead we need to learn what it is we’ve evolved to eat. Because you’re not what you eat; you’re what your DNA does with what you eat (to paraphrase Art DeVany).

It can’t be worse than current situation. If you go to a public space, it’s easier to see unhealthy folks than to spot healthy ones, which seems to be the opposite of the way it should be.

Big Hat, No Cattle

Sort of like having guest bloggers, this post is a mash-up of quotes. Each quote is about the same idea, doubts about religion.

If you’d like to know the source for each one just click on the (blue) period at the end of that sentence.

Our history and each individual’s experience are sown thick with evidence that a truth isn’t hard to kill; and that a lie told well is immortal. Religion  is darkness. There’s probably no god. Now stop worrying, and enjoy your life.

Science has done more for the development of Western civilization in 100 years than Christianity did in 1,800. There was a time when religion ruled the world. It’s known as the dark ages. Every step which the intelligence of Europe has taken has been in spite of the clerical party. Anything that we scientists can do to weaken the hold of religion should be done and may in the end be our greatest contribution to civilization.

This story of redemption won’t stand examination. That a man should redeem himself from the sin of eating an apple, by committing a murder on Jesus Christ, is the strangest system of religion ever set up. But… You can’t convince a believer of anything: for their belief isn’t based on evidence, it’s based on a deep-seated need to believe.

Don’t let yourself be deceived, great intellects are skeptical. Without cultural sanction, most or all of our religious beliefs and rituals would fall into the domain of mental disturbance. The idea that He would take his attention away from the universe to give me a bicycle with three speeds is just so unlikely that I can’t go along with it.

I just believe in one fewer god than you do. When you understand why you dismiss all the other possible gods, you’ll understand why I dismiss yours.

TRAVELER: God has been mighty good to your fields, Mr. farmer.

FARMER: You should gave seen how he treated them when I wasn’t around.

When I was a young boy, my father taught me that to be a good Catholic , I had to confess at church if I ever had impure thoughts about a girl. That very evening I had to rush to confess my sin. And the next night, and the next. After a week, I decided religion wasn’t for me.

The continually progressive change to which the meaning of words is subject, the want of a universal language which renders translation necessary, the errors to which translations are again subject, the mistakes of copyists and printers, together with the possiblity of willful alteration, are themselves evidence that human language, whether in speech or print, can’t be the vehicle of the Word of god.

This is my simple religion. No need for temples. No need for complicated philosophy. Your own mind, your own heart, is the temple; your philosophy is simple kindness. I believe there’s nothing we can know except to be kind to each other and do what we can for other people. I can live with doubt and uncertainty. I think it’s much more interesting to live not knowing than to have answers which might be wrong.

I prayed for freedom for 20 years but received no answer until I prayed with my legs.

It may be that ministers really do think that their prayers do good and it may be that frogs really imagine that their croaking brings spring.

An Eskimo hunter asked the local priest, “If I did’t know about God and sin, would I go to hell?”

“No,” said the priest, “not if you didn’t know.”

“Then why,” asked the Eskimo earnestly, “did you tell me?


Things Are Looking Up

Money will always flow toward opportunity, and there is an abundance of that in America. Commentators today often talk of “great uncertainty.” But think back, for example, to December 6, 1941, October 18, 1987 and September 10, 2001. No matter how serene today may be, tomorrow is always uncertain.

Don’t let that reality spook you. Throughout my lifetime, politicians and pundits have constantly moaned about terrifying problems facing America. Yet our citizens now live an astonishing six times better than when I was born. The prophets of doom have overlooked the all-important factor that is certain: Human potential is far from exhausted, and the American system for unleashing that potential – a system that has worked wonders for over two centuries despite frequent interruptions for recessions and even a Civil War – remains alive and effective. We are not natively smarter than we were when our country was founded nor do we work harder. But look around you and see a world beyond the dreams of any colonial citizen. Now, as in 1776, 1861, 1932 and 1941, America’s best days lie ahead.

I’ve excerpted what you’ve just read from Warren Buffett’s February 26, 2011 annual letter to Berkshire Hathaway’s investors. If you’re curious, here’s an interesting little insight into how the company is run:

… Many of our CEOs are independently wealthy and work only because they love what they do. They are volunteers, not mercenaries. Because no one can offer them a job they would enjoy more, they can’t be lured away.

At Berkshire, managers can focus on running their businesses: They are not subjected to meetings at headquarters nor financing worries nor Wall Street harassment. They simply get a letter from me every two years and call me when they wish. And their wishes do differ: There are managers to whom I have not talked in the last year, while there is one with whom I talk almost daily. Our trust is in people rather than process. A “hire well, manage little” code suits both them and me.

Berkshire’s CEOs come in many forms. Some have MBAs; others never finished college. Some use budgets and are by-the-book types; others operate by the seat of their pants. Our team resembles a baseball squad composed of all-stars having vastly different batting styles. Changes in our line-up are seldom required.

All sorts of issues other than optimism are addressed in Buffett’s annual letter (it’s 26 pages long!) if you’re interested in how this multi-billion company runs. I was. Here are a couple of things. He’s now 80 and discusses how his eventual replacement was selected along with insights he’s acquired over his long successful career. He even discloses the rent on their headquaters ($270,212) and equipment costs ($301,363) for everything from high tech stuff to furniture; pretty good cost control for a company valued in the billions.

It reminds me of Seth Godin’s quote “Optimism is hard. But it’s usually worth it.”


Modifying Habits

Modifying a habit is usually tough. When I moved to Mexico I needed to adjust some habits.

Here’s an example. Plumbing and water treatment are approached differently here in Mexico at least compared to how it’s done the States. Mexico’s septic systems depend on people throwing all used toilet paper into the ubiquitous waste basket found next to each toilet. Never into the toilet. That would cause some real issues quickly. If you can make a minor adjustment everything works quite well.

Surprisingly, this minor adjustment took some adjustments. Talking to other North Americans, I found they also had a difficult period of adaptation. It takes some getting used to, after years of tossing toilet paper into the toilet bowl, now in Mexico there was a subtle but significant habit modification to make. At first it feels like you’re trying to brush your teeth with your nondominant hand.

Most new comers to Mexico run into two issues trying to adapt to this new twist on a habit that we acquired as a young kids. One issue is the unconscious act of the toss, you never think about putting toilet paper anywhere else other than into the john. After you succeed in the switchover from a two point shot to the outside three pointer, the next issue is overcoming the strangeness of depositing used toilet paper into a waste basket. The waste basket always has a plastic bag lining it and it’s changed out every other day, but it still takes some getting used to mentally.

My guess is that the older you are the more difficult modifying your habits become. There are a few oases of  gringo septic systems in Mexico but who wants to move into the Four Seasons where you could be anywhere and nowhere at the same time.