Tuesday, July 29, 2008

The 'All Mighty' Dollar

I was at church on Sunday and I heard mention of, 'the all mighty dollar'. It made me think (and stop listening), isn't there only one 'All Mighty'? And if my understanding of other teachings at church are correct, it's not money. And this is what I thought about in church instead of what was being discussed...

Money is treated a lot like a god. I'm going to take a step out of my religious understandings and present this from the perspective of the people. I don't know who 'the people' are, but I'm going with what I think most people believe.

Those who believe in God generally believe that he is all powerful. He (God is generally referred to as a He, although some seem to be feminizing God... I think) is immense and incomprehensible. He can cause any change to come about that He wants and He is all controlling. While no one, or at most very few (I think there is some debate there), have seen God, they know that he exists because of His power and works.

Now let's compare that with money. Is money all powerful? The phrase about the 'all mighty dollar' certainly suggests that it is. Is money immense and incomprehensible? I think that pretty much sums up the economy. When I get ready to leave for school in the mornings, I listen to NPR and I almost always get the economic reports. I am fascinated by how many professional economists there are and how they can all have differing views. That is quite similar to all of the various preachers across the country that all believe in a God, but see Him quite differently. Does money cause change to come about? How many of you were 'rewarded' financially for good grades? or for performing better at work? So money seems to make change come about as dictated by the controller of the money (remind me that I need to talk about the controller of the money at some point). So how many people have actually seen money? Sure, we've got that stuff in our wallets that we can exchange for goods, but paper has little value at all. The stuff in your wallet represents gold that is on reserve at Fort Knox (I believe). Have you seen the gold represented by the paper in your wallet? I haven't. We can even take this a step further with online banking. My paycheck is automatically deposited into my account and then I use a credit card to pay for things and send a check in every month to pay off my credit card bill. I never see money, and if it weren't for the check that I wrote I could never really have any tangible proof of money existing (that's really sort of scary on some levels).

Let's talk about a golden calf. Wasn't there a group in the Bible that got in trouble for worshiping a golden calf? (I'll give you a hint, the answer is yes). The problem with the golden calf thing was that God told the people not to put any god before Him. I think that's a reasonable request since He is all powerful and the creator of everything we have, including ourselves.

Now I want to make a distinction that is very important. Golden calves aren't bad, it is the worship of the golden calf that caused the problem. Having a golden calf in your yard may get the fashion police after you because it is sort of tacky, but I don't think God cares if you own a golden calf or not. The important thing is that you don't worship the golden calf. When you place the golden calf in a position equal to God, then God gets mad and we have problems.

Likewise money isn't inherently bad. While I like the idea of bartering for all of my purchases, I don't have much to give. My garden has zucchini (which I have to pay people to take) and green tomatoes. I could trade my knowledge for your food... in fact, since most of my knowledge is about weight control and obesity prevention, that might work out really well for you. The point is that bartering won't always work so money is essential.

So here is the big question, do we worship our money or use it for its intended purpose. How about if we talk about faith. In the Bible (Hebrews 11:1) it says that "faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen". So while our money isn't really substantive, we certainly hope that it has value and while we've never seen the gold it is based on, we have before purchased with the paper stuff and received goods in return. It seems like we have faith in money. How much to we rely on God for those things that we hope for? How often to we recognize God's work as evidence of things that we can't see? Sorry, that got a little preachy and that wasn't what I was going for.

We seem to have faith in money, but that may not be the end of the world. Jesus said, "Come follow me". How much time and energy to we spend following Jesus and how much time and energy do we spend following money? While it's important to note that those two things are not mutually exclusive, we need to be attentive to what we are following.

In my hour of thinking about money and how god-like it can be, I was amazed at the examples I could come up with where people follow money and it really becomes like a god. While the point of this post wasn't to bring a non-believer to believe in God, I think that it is crucial that money does not become the god that we all worship, although I think we may already be pretty close to being there.

So who are the controllers of money (you forgot to remind me)? I would say there are two ways of looking at it. Number one, you can say that big business and government control money. They decide who makes the money and they decide which businesses get the benefits. There's a lot of corruption in these areas and it's scary to think of them as the controller of our god. Number two, you could say that we, the consumer are the controllers of the money. Big business will listen to what consumers want, otherwise they will not longer be in business. Do you want an opportunity to have real power in this world? Do you want to be the source of big and great changes in the world around you? Then put your money toward what you really believe and don't give any to those you would consider the problem.

I'm done ranting for the day. At least online.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

How to make big bones

I hate creating titles for blogs. I just don't think I'm good at it. But today I'm excited for the multiple meanings of this title. First, if you want to become 'big boned' it's really easy, stop exercising, watch lots of television and eat what is advertised on the television. That wasn't one of the main meanings that I was thinking of.

One topic that I want to address is how to make big 'bones', you know, like money. So how do you make a lot of money? OK, so maybe the title wasn't that great because I don't want talk about get rich quick schemes or finding the job that pays a lot of money. I want to talk about how to pad your savings account and accumulate money. Here's the secret, make more than you spend. I hope that was obvious to everyone. Here's a little video to illustrate the point (A friend and his little family recently brought this clip to my attention). You may want to visit that site, his family is going 'car lite' for the next month and sharing their experiences. Provide them encouragement.

Generally when we talk about getting rich, we talk about making more money, but I don't think that's how it is done. If you look at the sports and music stars that file for bankruptcy after their moment of fame it becomes evident that making a lot isn't the whole story. You also have to spend less. I would even argue that being conscious of what you are spending and working to minimize your expenses will work better to save money than making more money. I know that it doesn't make sense, and while I understand the math of it and know that if you make more you have the potential of saving more, but I don't think that's is the way human nature works. When we start making more we feel entitled to more stuff, so we spend more. So what I'm saying is that if you want to be a millionaire (and I don't know why anyone would want to be), the secret is to spend less, not necessarily earn more.

Now comes the final part of making big bones. This is quite literally about how to make your bones stronger. When you think of building strong bones what is the first thing that you think of? Probably calcium. The milk industry has gone through great efforts to encourage us to associate milk and calcium with bone health. It has been effective, although not entirely true. While calcium is certainly a major contributor to bone health and milk is a great source of calcium, there is far more to the equation. Did you know that you can lose calcium from your bones? Of course you can. Just like with saving money, it's not only about making more (taking more calcium), the key really lies in spending less (losing less calcium from the bones). So how do you lose less calcium? Two things, diet and exercise.

First, I will talk about diet. Your body goes through extreme lengths to maintain the pH at a neutral level. If the body becomes too acidic it can use calcium bicarbonate to neutralize the acidity. Calcium bicarbonate comes from bone. That means less bone and weaker bones, osteoporosis, you know the deal. So what foods are acidic? Let's start with the obvious, colas. caffeinated or not, the carbonation in sodas renders them fairly acidic. Less obvious, but also quite potent foods that acidify the body are processed meats like Salomi, Bologna, hot dogs, lunch meats, etc. Other contributors to an acidic diet are processed foods like all of the packaged garbage that fill the supermarkets. While these foods are not as acidic as other foods, it is important to consider the quantity of these foods that people eat. People live on instant dinners, potato chips and processed foods from the store.

So what is basic? What foods contribute to an alkaline diet? I'll give you two words. Fruits and vegetables. I know that the old 5-a-day bit is getting old and we've heard it all before (and continue to ignore it), but here is yet another reason to consumer at LEAST 5 servings of fruits and vegetables a day.

The other major contributor to bone health is weight bearing exercise. The important part of that is that it needs to be weight bearing. As much of an advocate I am for cycling, cycling is actually really bad for bone health (but easily compensated if you do other exercises and eat right). So what are the good exercises? Walking, running, weight training (probably the best), tennis, racquetball, jumping. My wife hurt her back recently and as soon as she's back in proper working order we're going to institute a 10 jumps morning and night routine. It's nothing big, but when is the last time you jumped? Most people just don't jump much after childhood. What better way is there to provide an impact to the bones in the body? OK, there are other great ways, but I think that jumping 10 times in the morning and 10 times at night will provide far more of a bone building stimulus than most of us currently get. They actually tried to conduct a research project on that here, but they couldn't get middle aged women to conform to the protocol (jumping 20 times a day).

So here are the two points I wanted to make in this post. #1 Don't believe everything that you hear in advertisements, in schools or from friends. Many companies make a lot of effort to keep you spending money and buying their products, they want you thinking in a specific manner and have many powerful tools to do so. There are lots of ways to do without products. #2 Life isn't always about more, bigger, better. There are times (MANY times) when less is actually more. Less expensive, more simple foods are healthier (not the junk 'health' foods that are marketed in stores). Doing with less actually can have big dividends in the end.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008


I was involved in a study today and I had the opportunity to talk with the father of one of my young subjects. This man was a professor of communications at the University that I attend. I learned a lot and thought of changing my major, although I think that two years into a doctoral program is a little late for a drastic change of directions.

First I learned a little about communications. At our university there are three major directions that people take that are related to advertising, convincing people to buy things they don't want and convincing people what to think so that they will buy what they don't really need. OK, I made that up, but the big three were sort of centered around advertisement. There was also a lesser known major that is the consequences of communications which this guy I talked to studies. Specifically he was interested in print media and its influence on consumers.

OK, he's interested in print media, but we talked almost exclusively about television. He talked about how the television has become a cue to so many things. You wake up and turn on Good Morning America, you come home in the evening and turn on the television and watch whatever, but then when a certain show comes on you know it's time for dinner and then when the news is over it is time to sleep. Our lives literally revolve around television programming. So is it the television that has programs or the television that programs us? While many of us use the television as a cue to eat, sleep, go to work or whatever, that is not the main problem. The programming which may contribute to violence, drinking, or other undesirable behaviors is a small part of the problem. The real problem is what we would be doing if we weren't watching television. We watch television instead of doing stuff... like exercising, being involved in our community or playing with our kids. The major problems with television are not what they bring into our home, but rather what it keeps us from doing.

Speaking of community, this guy showed the differences in homes since the advent of the television. First, lets look at the interiors.

Before televisions living rooms were arranged so that people could interact with one another and communicate.

Now living rooms are situated so that people can interact with the television, although the multiple people in the room may distract one another from the real reason for being in the room.

Do you know what else happened around the 1940s or 1950s? The exteriors of houses changed Before that time we were big into the Craftsman style homes with big front porches that invited the community to interact with the homes.

Now we have no need to be with the community because we can interact with our television and house styles have changed to reflect that (that's probably not the only reason for changes in house styles, but it is one that I talked about today with this guy).

Good buy front porch, hello big fence.

I was pretty proud to announce that I don't have a television. He suggested that wasn't the solution. He said that we need to be 'inoculated' with television. We need to watch a little with our kids and make sure to communicate with them and positives and negatives so they understand the use of television. But he suggested that we don't depend on the television for our scheduling, that's sending the wrong impression. He even went as far as to say that television are a good way to introduce kids to social standards. He admits that the television gives a skewed image of social standards, but if a child goes to school without ever watching television, he will be in a situation where everyone else relies on television to understand social interactions, but without television experience you won't understand. It's an interesting thought. We won't be purchasing a television any time soon (probably never).

Another thing I found interesting was the laws that we have in the US regarding advertising to children. They are quite limited. Did you know that in Norway (I think it was Norway) they are not allowed to advertise to children. The Happy Meal is absolutely never advertised, you just have to know about it from the menu, that is all the promotion it gets, because any advertisement for a happy meal would be directed at children and that is illegal. During Saturday morning cartoons, or any children oriented television programming there is no advertising allowed. Not during the program and not for a certain amount of time before or after the children's time. They also don't allow any cartoons that have products associated with them. They are illegal because it is advertising at children. Many countries actually have laws like that protect children. Here in the US, we have some limitations, but we seem to allow the advertisers a lot of reign over our children.

I just felt like writing that today.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

The 19th century

I had a friend recently asked if my ideas would take us all back to the 19th century (to save you all the confusion or embarrassment of having to ask, that's the 1800s). First, I want to be clear that I'm not against technology or development. Automobiles are fundamentally good, ambulances save lots of lives. Cell phones have the potential of being quite helpful when used for emergencies. And mcmansions have served to pad the wallets of Freddy Mac and Fanny May employees at the expense of taxpayers. The point is that much of the development that has occurred over the last hundred years has drastically improved the quality of life. My images of ideal developments and societies is not devoid of developments that we've made since the 19th century.

My friend was, however, correct in suggesting that most would do without many of the modern conveniences that we currently take for granted. I blogged recently about the cost of our standards and I think this is a similar principle. We have certainly developed as a country and a civilization, but what has the cost been? While we certainly may have longer life expectancies, and many more conveniences, what has it cost us? I think in many situations it has cost us our health. The modern conveniences make us lazy and take from our health (like the obesity epidemic). In my ideal image of things we could have the medical opportunities that we currently enjoy, but go back to actually doing things for ourselves rather than relying on gadgets to do things for us.

In the last sentence that I wrote, I used the phrase, "go back". I want to be clear that I'm referring to going back in time, this is not regressing or going back to a worse time, just a past time. What is really important in your life? What puts value in your life and makes this time on earth worth living? Is it how many gadgets you can collect so that you can do less and less? Or is it time spent with family and friends doing things? I don't know what 'things' are, but when I think back to memorable experiences they involve people and activities, not modern conveniences. I see how cars and cell phones detract from personal interaction. People talk to the same group of friends on the cell phone rather than interacting with the people around them and making new friends. And cars just seem to make people mad at each other. I have no doubt that these new inventions can help improve our relationships and make more things accessible to us, but is that how we are using them?

In fact, I want to question whether we are using the gadgets or are we becoming a slave to them? How much is your car payment? Credit card payment? mortgage? income? Are the 'things' in our life bringing us happiness or are they pulling us away from our friends and family because we are stressed about finances or in order to work more and make more money to buy more stuff? In the 19th century, people owned stuff and they spent time with friends and family. Sure, things were hard and it was a struggle to produce food to eat and diseases were bad, but they built meaningful relationships with family and friends and enjoyed life. (OK, I really don't know how the 19th century was, how old do you think I am?) My point is that many of our developments have been for our good, but others (or our overdependence on some) may be actually leading us away from where we really want to go.

People will often ask my wife what she does with the kids since we don't have a TV. This may be hard to believe, but she spends time with them. They help clean and cook. They play and she plays with them. Try turning the TV off and see just how entertaining your kids can be, really it's incredible. If we didn't have a car, we would be further 'confined' to the home or nearby. Would that limit us from seeing things and exploring? Maybe. Would it also give us more time as a family and enable (force?) us to live a slower, more deliberate life? Probably.

I don't want to go back to the 19th century, but I really think we need to look at our goals in this life. My goals aren't about collecting stuff, they are about developing relationships and I think that I can do that (and am forced to do that) as I do without some of the modern conveniences. While some will always consider this a 'step back', I'm going to call it a step forward as long as they are helping me to build and strengthen relationships.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Speed limits

A commenter recently questioned whether the upcoming generations are really apathetic and claimed that I'm in a location where people really don't care, but elsewhere it is growing trend. That could be true, there are signs as you enter Utah that read, "Welcome to Utah, please set your watches back 20 years and 10 minutes". Anyway, I don't doubt that there are differences depending on locale, but I want to take this point a little further.

I want to take speed limits as an example. There is currently a movement by some to reduce the speed limit to 55 mph in order to reduce gas consumption and vehicular emissions. I think it's a great idea, reducing the speed limit may reduce the speed of drivers a little, but it would certainly increase the size of the ticket for the select few who were actually pulled over for exceeding the speed limit.

Here's the thing, it is currently not illegal to drive 55 on highways. I am unaware of studies on the safety of it, but I could see potential hazards. Here's the point that I want to make. We are debating a reduced speed limit when everyone on the road has the option of reducing their speed, saving money and reducing their CO2 output by slowing down. Why do we have to change the law for that to happen? I drive 55 on the highway, I accelerate very slowly and I make sure that I never leave my car idleing. I would guess that I get ~30% better gas mileage than someone who excedes the speed limit, accelerates quickly and spends a lot of time idling in the same car.

I hear people complain about gas prices, but I hear those same people complaining about the 'idiot' who drives the speed limit in the fast lane (suggesting that they are generally exceding the speed limit). I hear almost everyone complaining about gas prices, yet on the corner where I live, almost everyone accelerates quickly, even when there's no traffic coming. I see lines of people waiting in drive thrus, all with their engines idling. When are we going to take personal responsibility for the amount we are paying for gas rather than asking for the government to impose regulations? The pedal on the left is the brake, it is not illegal to use it.

I see similar things with recycling. Sure, recycling is becoming more popular. I think that's great, but do you know what would be better? It would be better if consumers would demand products with less packaging so the stuff that we currently recycle never had to be produced in the first place.

The apathy that I see, may not be apathy, but rather a lack of initiative. Rather than making the environment into a personal matter, we are waiting for the government, or for our place of employment to act. The government and businesses are waiting for it to be financially adventageous. Do you know what makes items with little packaging financially advantageous for the producer? CONSUMERS THAT WON'T BUY STUFF WITH LOTS OF PACKAGING. It's the individual choices that change the world, and upcoming generations (and by that I mean people under 40)aren't taking the initiative to improve the world we are inherritting.

Sunday, July 6, 2008


The making of a mud pit (watering the tree that hadn't been watered in a long time).

Mud wrestling

Oldest boy making the new one laugh... we'll try for better lighting next time.

We've got some pictures to put in here as well. Let's see what we can find...

This is the aftermath of the mud pit.
This is what happens when the boys don't get along as well. It stopped bleeding pretty quick and we didn't even get stitches. It will be a good scar to share in later years. Sorry, it's blurry.
And here are a few cute pictures from my mom's recent visit.

Back to work, I have a dissertation to write, or something.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

4th of July

I drove my Japanese made car that is powered by Saudi Arabian fuel to the Indian Reservation to buy fireworks that were made in China so that I could set them off and pollute the air of my country and litter the streets of my neighborhood. How did you celebrate your 'independence'?

OK, truth be told, we took the bus to the colonial celebration and looked at how life was in the US in the 1700s. I appreciate that I'm free to deviate from the norm and celebrate something that I believe in rather than the status quo.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

The cause of apathy

Again I got some good comments. Heather asked about the cause of apathy. Why are upcoming generations more apathetic? I think there are a couple of answers.

First I want to address family. When I was thinking of posting about apathy I had thought of posting this, but forgot yesterday while I was typing. So it's a little late, but right on topic. My grandfather (the one who provides pen names to my boys) once commented that when he was a boy he would do absolutely anything to make his father proud of him. There was a tremendous respect for parents and children valued their parents opinions. In current generations, parents will do almost anything to please their children. It is as if parenting and family values have done a complete flip-flop. Now you are going to ask me why that happened... I don't have a clue. My first idea would be to suggest that many of my grandfather's generation found the parenting to be too strict and many of the parents of that generation were unsuccessful at gaining respect from their children. Instead of respect they got some animosity and a desire to raise children differently than they had been raised. When it was time for the next generation to raise kids they wanted to make sure their kids liked them, so they gave them everything they wanted.

That idea seems logical, until you take a bigger perspective. My grandfather's generation was not the first generation to have parents. I'm sure civilizations have been struggling to raise children for most of the history of mankind. (Cain and Abel come to mind.) So why did this suddenly happen in just a few generations? Has this happened before in other civilizations? I don't know.

My second thought for why upcoming generations are more apathetic is distance. 'The system' has been developed to distance the consumer from consequences of production. For example I was listening to a show on NPR this morning about mushrooms. When you buy mushrooms at the store, do you know where they come from? While some are local, many are shipped here from China (meaning the fungus has spent months in the shipping process). Can you tell the difference? I can't, I don't know the first thing about mushrooms. So how do you find out where your mushrooms came from? You ask the store manager. Generally the store manager does not know, but he can ask the distributor. The distributor often knows, but sometimes has to ask another middle man. And I should point out that by law the distributor can remove and 'made in China' markings and replace them with 'distributed from California' or 'product of California'. The point is that as a consumer, I have been distanced from the product that I am buying.

Now let's look at the flip side. Let's take a small community from the 18th century and see how things would be different. You need to buy meat, so you go down to the local butcher. You know the butcher because it is a small town. You probably also know the people who may work for the butcher and the people from whom the butcher purchases animals. If the butcher is known to deal unfairly with the people who sell him animals, that gets around town and people find a different butcher because they don't like what the current butcher is doing to their friends. In the old way there are consequences to dealing unfairly with people and there is social pressure not to support poor businesses. In the current system, we don't see what the businesses do, we just look for 'low prices'. How was the business able to provide low prices? Why do I care, I'm just watching out for my pocketbook.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008


I heard the advertisement for a radio program (Radio West) on NPR about how upcoming generations are generally apathetic and that is causing many problems. I wanted to listen to it, but I missed it. So I figured I would blog about it, even though I don't know what it was about.

My last post on 'standards' generated some comments. I want to address those. One comment (which I will approach gingerly because it was from my mother-in-law) was about the difference between a 'standard' and a commandment in the religious sense. I suppose that I see some difference. For example, the ten commandments come to mind. Thou shalt not kill. That is one of my standards that would take a very high price for me to sell (like a severe threat to my family).

That is a straight forward religious standard, but I feel that most of my standards have a religious twist. For example, my standard to not drive comes from the fact that I believe that God gave us this earth and expects us to protect it and use it in a sustainable manner. There are certainly scriptures to support that and that is the source of my standard. I also believe that God gave us creativity and intelligence that lead to the invention of the automobile. For that reason I have a relatively low selling point for driving. I mentioned last time that I was more than happy to have my parents drive out to visit. That is a good use of a car and I'm fine with that. This week my wife hurt her back and we have been driving more than normal to get to doctor's visits and such. That is the purpose of a car. An able bodied person driving half a mile to pick up a gallon of milk...is that contributing to the stewardship that I feel that God gave me over this earth? I say no.

The point of this post is not to argue over what standards should be, but rather to point out that they need to be thought about and argued over. It is the lack of interest, the lack of questions, the apathy of the upcoming generations that is going to cause the greatest problems the world has ever faced. I have talked to many people about why they drove relatively short distances and one of the frequent responses was, "Oh, well I guess I never even thought about it". That's how you get places, you hop in the car and drive. My point is that we need to step back and think about it. Are our every day choices in line with our standards? I know that in my life the answer is often no, I do sell my standards at a certain price and I am sometimes OK with that, and sometimes I regret it. I don't care what the price is for your standards, we are all in different situations and while I am completely against the idea of moral relativism, people do find themselves in different situations and different situations are needed. The point is that we need to ask the questions.

One friend suggested that I was being too hard on myself. Sure, I'm critical of my decisions, but I don't see it as a bad thing (although it could be). I don't beat myself up over it, but I do think about it and try to make changes. I still love the quote by Hermann Hesse, "I want only to live in accord with the promptings of my true inner-self. Why is that so very difficult?" I center my life around living 'in accord with the promptings of my true inner-self'. First, I work to center my true inner-self with the desires of my God. Then I try to live in accord with what I have found. While I'm far from perfect, it is only through questioning that I could ever see where I need to be (will of God) or what I need to change to get there. I believe that it is the apathy of the upcoming generations that is leading to moral relativism that says that everything is OK. It is apathy that leads people to mindlessly spend money without ever knowing or caring the consequences of their actions. It is apathy that leads to the unquestioning destruction of the environment. I think that life is to be questioned. Why are we here and what are we doing? What are the consequences of our actions? Yes, we need to question all of our actions, even the small stuff. Without questioning we will never know if we are going in the desired direction. Without questioning we may not even know the desired direction.