You're Doing It Wrong

A CBC article entitled "7 Obesity Myths Shattered" takes a turn for the hilarious as it tackles myth number seven: "A bout of sexual activity burns 100 to 300 calories for each person involved." One Stefanie Senior, a Toronto dietician, disagrees: "'At the end of the day, it only burns less than 50 calories,' she told CBC News."

There certainly is a large gap between 50 and 300 calories, isn't there? Using the exercise lookup tool over at MyFitnessPal.com reveals the following (the default value of 150 pounds of body weight was used for all results):
  • 30 minutes of cooking burns 68 calories
  • 30 minutes of playing lawn darts burns 85 calories
  • 30 minutes of walking at a slow pace burns 85 calories
  • Sitting and playing the guitar for 30 minutes burns 68 calories
  • 30 minutes of mild stretching burns 85 calories
Poor Stefanie Senior!


Things Have Changed

By the time you finish reading this, the world will have changed in so many ways that it would be impossible to keep track of them all.

Some of the changes will be small and relatively insignificant. For example, some time has to pass in order for you to read what I've written. Once that time is over, you will still have to go about your day as usual, your list of responsibilities will be more or less the same, you will feel roughly the same, and you'll be wearing the same clothes. Nothing significant will have changed on that front.

But other changes will be so drastic and important that they will change life on Earth as you know it forever. Some important public figure may spark a national debate. Someone's grandparent may pass away peacefully in her sleep somewhere. A young child may come across an important idea or experience that shapes his life forever. Two romantic partners may separate. The seed for a great business idea may be planted in a bright entrepreneur's head.

My intention here is not to wax. I'm being serious. Any and all of these things are happening out there in the world, shaping our destiny, and changing everything. Just because you don't see it - because you're here, reading this blog post - doesn't mean it's not happening.

It is happening. Life is change.

But Don't Change - I'm Comfortable
Just as sunny days turn to cool nights, or sometimes even a week-long drizzle, nothing that happens in life continues into perpetuity. And, also like sunny days, no matter how much we prefer the current state of things, eventually things change.

No, it's even more transient than that, as a matter of fact. It's not as if sunny days are the inherent state of things, and then along comes some cosmic force that flips the entire universe on its head, rendering dark and rainy days the official New Normal. That's silly, right?

In reality, the air is constantly moving. The sunny day you are enjoying is currently in the process of turning into a rainy day. The air is moving, the Earth is turning, the forces of nature are in flux. Gradually, the same evolution of conditions that made for a sunny day further evolve into the conditions that make for a rainy day. It was happening even as you were sitting out on a patio, enjoying a sandwich.

It's not one or the other. It's the same process of changing creating a variety of conditions that can appear drastically different as time goes by. This is an unpleasant fact - an inconvenient truth, if you will - for many politically literate people in the world.

For example, some people feel that because their neighborhood, or even their whole darn state, has been run by the same five rich white families for the past 200 years, it should always be so. In their minds, the world is in a state, a current state of some kind. They prefer this state to an alternative future state in which (again) things are different. They see a lot of immigrants moving in and gaining affluence, and this threatens the current state. If it continues, the future will not look anything like the current state. So they object to immigration.

What they fail to see is that various different kinds of people are always migrating all over the surface of the globe. This has always been the case; humans are hunter-gatherers, and hence somewhat migratory. There is no guarantee that your town or country will possess its current racial demography in perpetuity, in fact, the opposite is far more likely. One day, your whole country will be populated by people who look and sound like strangers to you. Welcome to change, the real state of things.

Others suppose that, because we have been collecting climate data for the past 200 years, the world should always possess exactly the same climate and ecology that it does today. If things on this front change then that's bad! It no longer matches the current state! We must do something! Again, though the Earth's ecology has been in a state of constant evolution since long before the existence of the human race or any of the preferences of its individual members. Climate change is an ongoing process that humans cannot prevent. If the climate suddenly becomes significantly different than what it used to be, we may seek to explain the cause, but we cannot simply declare that the change was a negative one and that the true state of the Earth's climate "ought" to be something else. That is a little childish, actually.

The list goes on. Some believe that, because we have been at war with "the terrorists" for the past 12 years, we should continue to wage war against them. Gone from their minds is the state of the world as was prior to 2001.

Even many critics of the war on terrorism fail to recognize that 9/11 was not a cataclysm, but rather the world's governments had been steadily increasing domestic "anti-terrorism" measures for several decades, and the major world powers had been aggravating foreign chieftains for about the same amount of time. The policies of George W. Bush were no different than those of his predecessors.

Change is constantly happening. Static conditions are a self-delusion we use to preserve the rules of thumb we invoke in order to simplify our thinking process. These kinds of rules can often be quite handy in simple situations like work and play.

But the world as a macrocosm is anything but simple. Imagining that it exists in some kind of static set of conditions that become suddenly disrupted by major cataclysms is a silly and unfortunate protective device we humans have created to insulate ourselves from having to audit our world-view on a regular basis.

Illusions don't get you off the hook, though. You have to change with the times, or recede into a dark delusion in which bad people did bad things that put the universe asunder of how you would prefer it to exist.

When I put it in those terms, doesn't it seem rather primitive?


Growing Weary of Spin

Today, USA Today reports: 
Part of President Obama's immigration strategy -- and his gun control strategy -- is to build public support through speeches; that's why he's in Nevada on Tuesday.
I like this idea much better than the behind-the-scenes bullying that other reports of Obama's management style have described. I also like it a lot better than a new anti-immigration law of any kind. Life is a lot better when people talk and persuade each other, rather than ruling and bullying each other. So, insofar as Barack Obama uses unaggressive persuasion to win popular support for his policy goals, more power to him!

It does beg the question, though: How will we know if Obama's speech campaign is successful? How will we measure overall popular support of whatever it is Obama wants to do?

It seems to me that there are two ways that the average person can get a sense of to what degree there is "popular support" for something: (1) Read the results of a public opinion survey, or (2) Get a vague and unscientific "feel" for how "people" feel, based on personal observation.

Given that (1) quite typically yields controversial or inaccurate results, I think most people will rely on (2). But here's the rub: Few of us go around asking strangers about their views on immigration policy. This means that our impressions will most likely be based on what we read in the news and see on TV and on the internet.

So, Obama's genius plan is to give speech after speech after speech on the topic. Because it is a presidential speech, it will be reported and discussed in the news media. Because people watch and read the news, they will pick up on the fact that Obama favors Policy X on immigration.

Think about it: Obama builds popular support just by giving enough speeches to convince people watching the news that there is popular support. It's like a self-fulfilling prophecy.

It's All Spin
I hate it when people say, "It's all spin." But it's getting difficult to put your finger consistently on the truth. Obama's self-fulfilling-speech campaign is a great example of this. Another great example of this is what I wrote about yesterday with respect to Jeffrey Tucker's claim that "the great inventor" is a myth.

I understand that he's saying this in order to make a point about intellectual property. Fine. But what does intellectual property legislation have to do with whether or not there have been "great inventors" throughout history? I mean, why do you have to discredit society's perception of genius in order to argue against intellectual property legislation?

You don't. That's the point. He's engaging in spin. He's being deliberately inflammatory in order to riff on one of his favorite whipping boys.

And the same goes for Scott Sumner when he writes on his blog that "...low interest rates are not a monetary policy." Sumner is technically correct, because the Federal Reserve uses monetary policy to attempt to influence market behavior in such a way that interest rates reach the Fed's target at equilibrium. Fine. But every economics and Federal Reserve educator in the world simplifies that statement to, "The Federal Reserve sets interest rates." No, technically the Fed does not actually go around making sure that everyone is paying a particular interest rate. That's silly. But it's also pedantic to raise that technicality, because everyone who talks about the Fed's policy with respect to interest rates knows what the phrase "the Fed sets the interest rate" means.

So when John Taylor writes an op-ed saying:
Consider the "forward guidance" policy of saying that the short-term rate will be near zero for several years into the future. The purpose of this guidance is to keep longer-term interest rates down and thus encourage more borrowing. A lower future short-term interest rate reduces long-term rates today because portfolio managers can, in a form of arbitrage, easily adjust their portfolio mix between long-term bonds and a sequence of short-term bonds.
He is stating that he thinks the Fed is "setting the interest rate" at too low a level, and everyone knows that he really means that Fed policy is too expansionary. In fact, he spells out the technicalities in the paragraph I have just quoted. Nothing coy about it.

So why does Sumner spin? What do the technicalities of "setting the interest rate" have to do with the actual positions being discussed?

What I find unreasonable about all this is the level of pedantism to which we have to descend in order to get beyond the spin of it all. Seriously, Scott Sumner and John Taylor are both about as intelligent and respected as economists get. Why do we have to wade deep into the weeds of simple phrases like "setting the interest rate" just to have a discussion about what each of them would prefer the Federal Reserve Board do?

And why do we have to stipulate that "no idea occurs in a vacuum" in order to acknowledge that Einstein was a great inventor?

And why do we have to conduct an expensive public opinion poll just to to decipher whether the public supports Obama's immigration policy or if they've just seen a lot of news reports about it?

Can we all just give the spin a rest? This is getting ridiculous.


Sometimes Good Ideas Don't Take

Coming up with ideas is a skill that gets better with practice. Those of us who regularly come up with ideas (set aside the question of whether any of them are good ideas for now) know that it's not really about being the world's most brilliant or creative person. It pretty much comes down to the idea of getting into the habit of coming up with stuff. Not a big deal.

Even if you come up with a brilliant idea, there is no guarantee that it will be adopted by others.

For that matter, there is no guarantee that you will adopt your brilliant ideas yourself. So it goes with one of my better ideas, that I unfortunately did not really adopt: Project Guitar God.

Sometimes, the reason an idea doesn't stick is because its time hasn't yet come. In hopes that this is the case for PGG, I would like to provide a quick guide to my previous Guitar Exercises of the Week. Perhaps with greater dedication, I can make some better headway on this.
 Work on these in your spare time, and perhaps we can add to the list!

Beauty And The Beast

On his Facebook page, Jeffrey Tucker states:
The myth of the great inventor, the singular mind who shatters all prevailing belief by coming up with something entirely new, takes another hit.
This refers to a recent article suggesting that Albert Einstein might not be solely responsible for his world-famous, ground-breaking equation.

Let us set aside for the moment that Tucker probably means "takes another blow," not "takes another hit." I am fairly certain that myths are incapable of doing drugs. Apparently - and this may shock those of you who regard science as a legitimate pursuit - many brilliant physicists paved the way for the scientific developments that occurred after them! Shocking, I know...

Doesn't it just completely invalidate the idea that a single person could ever be responsible for something amazing? Isn't that a great message for your kids? "Sorry, Junior. Even Einstein was nothing more than a media concoction used to popularize physics. No one person could ever be that smart or talented."

Meanwhile, The Atlantic decides to write a screed exposing Lance Armstrong as a mentally ill aggressive narcissist whose most profound lie was the one he told himself.

Beauty And The Beast
In the classic fairy tale, Beauty and the Beast (the real story, the way it was before falling into the sanitizing hands of the Walt Disney Company), a kind but naive young girl named Belle agrees to live almost as a captive in a beautiful palace ruled by a terrifying beast so that she can spare her father the same fate. Each day, Belle is treated to the Beast's unbelievably kind generosity and hospitality. Each evening, the Beast offers a marriage proposal to Belle. Each evening she refuses.

Each night, Belle dreams of a handsome prince, with whom she falls in love. In Belle's dreams, the prince wants to know why she refuses the Beast's proposals, to which Belle gives the classic female response: "I don't like him like that." Basically, Belle confines the Beast to the Friend Zone.

After a while, though, Belle begins to suspect that the Beast has imprisoned the handsome prince somewhere in his luxurious castle. Despite the Beast's lavishing her with kindness and every possible amenity, Belle comes to believe that the Beast is a fundamentally bad person, who has taken her dream guy as his prisoner.

What follows is classic human nature. Belle decides she wants to go stay with her family for a while. Her family is a bit greedy and can recognize a good thing when they see one, so they conspire to sabotage Belle's relationship with the Beast. They convince her to break her promise to return to the Beast within a week. When the Beast learns of this, he nearly dies of heartbreak. Wracked by guilt and the impending end of her gravy-train relationship with the Beast, she sobs and declares her realization that - gee, whiz! - she actually loves him, after all!

The spell is broken. The love and the tears were all the Beast needed. Poof! He turns into the prince that Belle always wanted.

Normal And The Hero
This story plays itself out in front of us every day, day after day. Only, instead of calling it "Beauty and the Beast," we call it "Normal and the Hero."

In our story, we all play the role of Belle, being the naive, but basically nice and well-intentioned folks that we are. Most of us are born into a simple existence, in which we play a very minor role. While we observe the greedy nastiness of some people, just as Belle observed such traits in her own sisters, most of us just want to be simple, good people. I think. We live the grand designs and great aspirations to those who care for us, just as Belle left such things to her father.

All the time, though, we are basking in the generosity and hospitality of those few among us who have managed to produce important things, achieve heroic things, go beyond the humdrum of life and push for something new, something different.

I say "generosity and hospitality" because these people have produced things like automobiles and iPads, technology old and new. They have produced art, food, music, stories, and so forth. They have managed to produce our every convenience and respite from that harsh, unyielding law of life on Earth: that living is hard as hell.

We can fry our brains on drugs and TV only because other people are out there producing the things we need to keep life going the way we know it. And not only do they manage to do that - fabulously so - but they manage to keep humanity on a basically upward trajectory. Every year, we as a species get a little richer, a little better-fed, a little better-entertained. As time goes on, things improve.

Of course we love the people who do these things for us! We love them as a friend, just as Belle loved the Beast as a friend. Sort of like, "Thanks, pal, I really appreciate that your technology provides enough food to allow me to stay alive and even over-eat if I want to. Thanks for the pace-maker. Thanks for the Nobel-Prize-winning advance in medicine that may save my life one day...

"...but I don't want to marry you!"

Hang In There, I'm Getting To The Point
Meanwhile, as we bask in our luxurious world, we start to dream of imaginary princes. These princes are beautiful people, rich, powerful, just, and kind. They are everything we want our society to be, but we see them only in our dreams. Worse yet, we start to imagine that all these folks who are producing the things that keep our lives as wonderful as they are have imprisoned our imaginary princes!

What I mean is, we have come to believe that our society is capable of great things. Yet, somehow, we feel that our society has not managed to achieve these "great things" because there are evil people out there - corporate bogey-men, bad illegal immigrants, evil pharmaceutical producers, polluting farmers, and so forth - all conspiring to keep our society away from its princely potential.

The truth is right in front of our eyes, but we can't seem to see it. The handsome prince and the ugly beast are one in the same person.

That is, all these people out there who are producing plenty and achieving wonderful things, all these people that we demonize whenever we pause to think about it, are not keeping us from our prince. They are the prince. You dolt.

The Plot Thickens
This would be bad enough, if it weren't also so sad. Why sad? Because all those great people achieving brilliance and producing plenty are us. We are the beasts, and we are the handsome princes. And, yes, we hold the key to society's potential.

And, like Belle, all we have to do is learn to recognize this truth and we can avail ourselves of it. Instead, we're too busy tearing down our heroes, and tearing down ourselves, all in the name of some absurd fantasy that everything we love about life exists without its ugly side.

There is always room for improvement in life. I know that better than anyone. It's important to stay restless so that you can achieve more. But that doesn't mean that there are hideous beasts standing in our way to progress. The only "beasts" out there are us. We see ourselves every day, so we know full well that we're not standing in anyone's way. We're just living.

But maybe - just maybe - we'd all be a little happier if we learned to recognize that perfection exists in hypothesis only. Kiss the beast, so that you can recognize that the person who is making your life so good is you, and people like you. Get happy about it.

Then, stop tearing down the beasts.


Rhesus Pieces

This week, it's Rhesus 13: Gaucho. A nice little piece of music for those epic moments in life...


Should You Read This?

It is a funny quirk of human psychology that we can radically change the way a person views a given situation, depending on the way we ask the question. Indeed, sometimes it even depends on whether one perceives that there even is a question in the first place.

Child Eating Lunch
For example, here's a photo that came up in a simple Google Image Search for the string "child eating lunch:"
Photo courtesy www.visualphotos.com
The contents of the lunch itself are positioned in a bad angle to determine exactly what they are. From my vantage point, it appears to be that the child is eating the following for lunch: A sandwich, some orange wedges (perhaps?), a cup of Jell-O, and a glass of juice.

Just look at that photo, and let it sink in for a moment.

Should Children Be Given Juice?
Okay, suppose we change our search string to "should children drink juice at lunch". What do we come up with?

Before we get to the picture, specifically, let's take some time to consider the thoughts that are already forming in your head, without any real prompting. As you read this blog post right now, your mind is already at work, forming perspectives and arguments and takes on the supposed issue of children's drinking juice. Some of you are forming chains of thought centered around sugar content, and perhaps that involves some tangential thoughts about sugar and corn production, subsidies, high fructose corn syrup, food allergies, diabetes, tooth decay... and so on. Some of you may already have thought a phrase close to, "But it's no big deal if kids drink juice sometimes!"

The point is, these thoughts are occurring to you in some form or another. The results of the Google Image Search are reflective of this fact, as well. Here's one example that came up:
Photo courtesy www.carolinejinghory.com

For decades, we have seen pictures of children drinking a glass of juice at lunch, and most of us haven't given it a second thought. The fact of the matter is that children drink juice. So, when you see a child drinking juice, or a picture of a child drinking juice, it makes about as much impact on you as the fact that you saw the hood of your car while driving into work today.

But if I ask a question with the word "should" in it, then suddenly things change, and drastically.

It's not just a matter of juice, either. You can take a completely, pathetically, boringly descriptive statement like, "The office floor is carpeted," tack the word "should" in front of it, change the verb tense accordingly, and you'll end up with something that is basically political.

Should the office floor be carpeted? Suddenly the environmentalists chime in. The interior designers. The ergonomics experts. The employee's union. The contractors. The accountants.

It's just juice. It's just carpet. There is nothing about either of these concepts that demands the solicitation of public opinion. They are as innocuous as sand on a beach or feathers on a bird. They have no special power in and of themselves. They do not require special CNN coverage or an intimate Piers Morgan interview.

But do you know what does have special power? Do you know what does require special coverage on CNN? The word should, that's what.

Ten Thousand Years Of Human History, And We're Still Just Bald Monkeys
Of course, the political pundits have known this for eons. There is some wonderful magic in the word "should." "Should" takes boring things and makes them interesting. "Should" makes a person's thoughts about even office carpeting matter! "Should" pits brother against brother.

In the face of "should," we just can't help ourselves. We fall over ourselves to supply our take on what should be, no matter how pointless the issue actually is. Worse than that, when confronted by the word should, we will make a pointless issue a matter of national importance. Something that we never would have given a second thought becomes an excuse to post slogans and "info-graphics" on our Facebook page.

Oh, the power of the word should! He who controls the word should controls the world!

The next time you hear someone ask a "should" question, I would like to challenge you to first ask yourself if you would ever have given the matter a second thought had the question never been asked. If the answer is no, you would probably be better off not venturing your opinion.


Being Real In A Fake World

By now, you must have heard that this "breathtaking" performance of the US National Anthem was a ruse: Beyonce lip-sync'ed it. Some have expressed shock and disapproval, but I have to wonder why. This was the presidential inauguration of this man:
Not to put to fine a point on it, but "Let me be clear..." Teleprompting is the speech equivalent of lip-syncing. Why the hubbub? Why the shock? Why even the surprise? Shouldn't we have expected by now that our most celebrated vocalists are lip-sync'ers, and our most celebrated politicians' most important quality is the ability to read stuff off a couple of screens placed just outside the camera angle?

It's not as if this is anything new.

Life In The Twenty-First Century
I am not really talking about Barack Obama or the office of president. I am not talking about Beyonce Knowles or the state of popular "live" music. Neither am I talking about the Manti Te'o media hoax, nor the fact that Lance Armstrong "never" doped to win the Tour de France. Nor will I mention that Bill Clinton "did not have sexual relations with that woman. Not once." I'm not going to write about the pantomimed YouTube video I saw of "five people playing the guitar" while covering that Gotye song and that there are people out there who really believe that the video depicts a live performance.

What I would like to say is this: As the 1990s wound to a close and Photoshop, AutoTune, teleprompters, and air-brushing all became household names, some of us lost our ability to decipher truth from... fantasy.

I say "fantasy," because "lie" is not exactly the right word to use. It's not as if anyone ever lied about using pitch-correction software in the music studio. It's not as if anyone lied about employing a teleprompter, or hiring a public relations specialist to craft our messages in a more favorable light. Everyone seems to understand, at least on some level, that the models shown on magazine covers do not really have perfectly sculpted abs, right?

Reality Check: Do we all understand that models as skinny as those used for magazine covers simply do not have sufficient muscle mass to make the painted-on abs shown in the picture to be real? If you want great abs, you have to build muscle and add body mass. Those little magazine waifs simply don't have what it takes for their abs-as-shown. This is a simple, logical point that should be universally recognized, but if you're still not convinced, then I can pull out some quotes from industry insiders, i.e. the guy who actually gets paid to paint the abs on.

Polished Fantasy Is A Tempting - But Unsustainable - Alternate Reality
Well, that's a case in point. You see, some of us willingly engage in the suspension of disbelief. We can't really blame them, either. Isn't it a lot more fun believing that Barack Obama is The Greatest Orator In The History Of The World? Isn't it more fun to believe that Beyonce sang that anthem live-and-in-the-moment? Isn't it better to aspire to a more fantastic vision of beauty than exist in a world where perfect abs and a 22-inch waist are two things that can never coexist? Isn't it better to believe that all the amazing performances we see on YouTube really do depict what we want them to depict?

For what it's worth, all of my YouTube videos show the very performances heard in the recording. Note, though, that my videos will never have as many views as those five hipsters pretending to play the Goyte song. And that's the key point, right there: As a society, we tend to prefer deluding ourselves with an attractive lie than keeping ourselves honest. It's just a YouTube video, right? It's just some Goyte song. Who cares if they didn't record it in that one take like that?

Look, it's not just TV inauguration ceremonies, magazine covers, and YouTube videos. (I may seem like a relatively trivial guy, but I'm not that trivial.) We humans enjoy that which we perceive to be "harmless" delusion. How many of these things can we think of? The delusion of "god." The delusion of "good government." The delusion of "there ought to be a law." The delusion that simply voting for something or posting a cute little "info-graphic" on your Facebook page will "affect change." The delusion that those Kiva micro-loans actually produce economic development. The delusion that the American Idol competition really does single out the one, most talented unsigned musical artist in the nation.

Har har har...

It's not that I object to anyone's belief in god, government, or the artistic merit of obvious media concoctions. Instead, I'd argue that when you live your life under the weight of all these seemingly harmless fibs, the truth eventually catches up with you.

Eventually, you realize that Barack Obama's promise to end the wars and close Guantanamo Bay was just a lot of empty political talk, no different than "saving or creating jobs." Eventually the money and time you spend at the doctor's office hits your pocketbook, no matter how much you believe that the ACA "is supposed to" cut health care costs. Eventually you die and God doesn't pat you on the back for eschewing bacon and wearing a magic hat. Eventually you and four of your friends try to play Goyte on one guitar and discover that it doesn't actually sound that way. Eventually you turn 40 and realize that no matter how much dieting you combined with how many crunches, you still didn't develop the physique of a 13-year-old girl with picture-perfect abs.

What happened? Reality happened. Life didn't conform to your wishes. Instead, it conformed to reality. In the meantime, you could have done something that made a real impact on politics. You could have saved real money on health care. You could have eaten bacon occasionally and wowed a cute guy with a gorgeous head of hair. You could have learned to play a real song on a real instrument, the way music can really sound, and you could have made your body genuinely healthy.

But, you couldn't do any of those things because you were too busy hiding from the facts, replacing them with a fantasy you would prefer to be true.

Getting Real
That slimy guy who got a promotion over you even though he never did any real work? Don't worry about him. He got fired and then got divorced. You never saw him fall back down to Earth, but it wouldn't have been satisfying, anyway.

It wouldn't have been satisfying for exactly the same reason it was so unsatisfying watching him attempt to build a career on a lie. I'm all for justice, but being the spectator at an execution is macabre. It's not gratifying to watch someone receive their come-uppance.

For the most part, this is because someone else's failure has nothing to do with your own success. Even if that someone else is initially successful in living life according to an elaborate delusion, reality catches up at some point. We have to ask ourselves how we're going to feel about it on our death beds.

Someone like Lance Armstrong can dope his way to the top, sure. He won 7 Tours, retired, and set his sights on living out the rest of his days comfortably; but reality had other plans. Now he has to go begging for our National Forgiveness on the Oprah Winfrey Show. Someone can dedicate their lives to a false idol, a false god, a false government, and drive a lot of wedges between themselves and other people, all for the sake of what they wish to be true on their death bed. But for those people, there will come a moment when they will realize that the conflicts we have with other people in our lives are never worth an imaginary hug at the end of a losing battle with death.

Your god, your politics, your art, and your work all come down to how you feel about yourself. If you consider yourself morally reprehensible, you will seek forgiveness from a kind Santa Claus who will lavish you with toys in reward for being good. If you don't think your neighbors can trust you to respect their privacy, you will seek control of your entire community through politics, where respect for property and privacy is enforced by your raw, political will. If you feel you have no creative talent, you will imagine that anyone brave enough to post a YouTube video is a budding virtuoso. If you feel incompetent on the job, you will seek success through perception.

It goes without saying, that a person fully satisfied with herself will feel no need to seek out imaginary redemption, political power, artistic delusion, or undue career success. She'll never achieve any of those imaginary things, of course. But neither does anyone else, not permanently.

In the meantime, every second of her life will be hers, lived according to her creed and her values. Everything she counts on will be the truth.

It's a shame that our presidents, artists, and colleagues are phonies. We can't change that, even if we wanted to. (To believe that we can change this age-old fact of human existence would be to suffer yet another silly delusion.)

What we can change - what is perfectly easy to change - is our own behavior. We can shrug off our delusions and stop engaging in the suspension of disbelief. We can learn to value the beautiful colors of the real world, using our own two eyes, over and above the imaginary life we see in pictures and Facebook .jpegs.

The result is a beautiful life lived in reality, in spite of the phoniness surrounding us. It's worth it!


Movie Review: Matru Ki Bijlee Ka Mandola

I took the opportunity of having a long weekend to make the drive out to the nice theater that plays Hindi-language movies (contrast to the lousy theater that plays Hindi-language movies). I couldn't wait to see Matru Ki Bijlee Ka Mandola in the theaters, because it is a big-budget movie featuring two of my favorite actors in the lead roles: Imran Khan and Anushka Sharma.

Unfortunately, as we learn time and time again, casting two fantastic actors is not sufficient to make for a great movie. While I did enjoy Matru Ki Bijlee Ka Mandola, it fell far short of my expectations. It was, nevertheless, a good movie.

The movie begins by depicting some of the drunken antics of local bigwig Harry Mandola (played by Pankaj Kapur), a corrupt businessman, landowner, and incorrigible alcoholic. As his mischief unfolds, we learn that he owns all of the farmland that the local villagers farm, and that his dream is to convert this huge expanse of agricultural land into a modern metropolis, full of factories, shopping malls, and high-rise apartments.

Of course, building a huge subdivision on top of an enormous expanse of wheat fields will mean the end of the villagers' livelihoods, so we are not surprised to discover deep resentment and political unrest among those villagers. Aiding them in their fight for land ownership is Hukkam Singh Matru (Imran Khan), who works as Mandola's personal assistant ("servant," in Hukkam's telling of it) by day, and moonlights as a crafty political dissident and public organizer who goes incognito by the pseudonym "Mao Tse Tung." Matru, trained as a lawyer, fights the villagers legal battles while keeping a close watch on Mandola from the inside.

The final element to the story is the inevitable Bollywood romance. Mandola's daughter, Bijlee (Anushka Sharma), is to be wed to the son of the corrupt politician who is helping Mandola in his plot, for mutual benefit. Naturally, the marriage is more about the ambitions of the parents than it is about the love of the children. Nevertheless, Bijlee commits herself to loving Baadal (Arya Babbar), even though, deep-down, she understands that she does not really love him. Matru sees this easily, and while he and Bijlee are first at each other's throats, their romance begins to blossom as they discover more and more about each other over the course of the movie.

The most striking thing about this movie is that, by Hindi standards, the plot is remarkably complex. The complexity is not so much about many twists-and-turns as it is about nuanced characters and parallel storylines set amid a real-world backdrop. The script is incredibly well-written. While many Hindi movies bite off far too much and leave many of the plot strings dangling unsatisfactorily, Matru Ki Bijlee Ka Mandola really does wrap up all its loose ends, and does so without the often cheesy and unrealistic liberties taken in most Hindi films.

Indeed, unlike most Bollywood films, this one deftly avoids the trappings of cheap melodrama. The good characters are flawed in realistic ways. The bad characters are more than just pure, ridiculous evil - they are also human, with redeeming human qualities, too.

Of course, not every aspect of the film is good. Much of the film revolves around Harry Mandola's alcoholism. While this aspect of the movie was, in my opinion, quite well-depicted, I felt that the writers too-often regressed to cheap slapstick humor. A drunk is indeed a stumbling buffoon, but this is no laughing matter. All alcoholics see their fair share of "pink buffaloes," but this is no real source of comic relief. As I heard the audience in the theater bellow out their laughter at the various drunken antics displayed, I couldn't help but feel that the filmmakers had perhaps focused too much on humor and not enough on the seriousness of alcoholism.

Then again, cinematic treatments of alcoholism have always danced between tragedy and comedy, and this film is no different. Perhaps this reflects the nuanced reality of substance abuse.

By putting Marxism front-and-center in the villagers' struggle, the writers fail to do justice to the intricacies of real-world poverty. Why, for example, would building factories and modernizing the village be bad for the villagers? The script suffers from an unjust romanticism toward traditional Indian life, unnecessarily casting the antagonists - most notably Harry Mandola - as greedy, evil scumbags. The truth is, modernizing a poor village is equally as noble a goal as fighting for political independence and land ownership.

That said, I would be asking too much of a script writer to demand that he do justice to all sides of a political issue when the film is, at its core, more of a statement about political corruption than it is about Marxism or capitalism.

All said, Matru Ki Bijlee Ka Mandola is a good, solid film featuring some excellent acting and a surprisingly good script. I would not recommend this film for younger viewers, owing to some strong language (if you understand Hindi - it is sanitized quite a bit in the subtitles), and to its treatment of alcoholism. But it is a good, solid film that adult fans of Hindi cinema will really enjoy.

Change And Blood Glucose

I still remember the day my first endocrinologist told me (and I quote verbatim), "One to two mild lows per week is part of good blood glucose control." Doesn't that just roll off the tongue? Isn't that just the perfect soundbite in answer to the question, "How often should I experience hypoglycemia as a diabetic?" Critical as I am of the Canadian health care system's ability to treat me, that doctor was a really great one, and I miss her every time I find myself in a doctor's office. (Probably no coincidence: she was not a Canadian doctor at all; she was Irish, doing a sabbatical in Canada.)

Over the last few weeks, I have gone from experiencing one mild low per week to experiencing several of them. While one low is not a big deal to me at all, having several is somewhat bothersome. So what changed?

While I can probably point to a handful of minor recent lifestyle changes, the biggest change of them all is a new exercise regimen I have undertaken. This began with three strength training sessions per week, plus some mild cardiovascular exercise. As the weeks went by, my strength training sessions became much more intense. Over the past weeks, I have increased the intensity even further. And, in the past week, I have made regular and somewhat intense cardiovascular activity a consistent part of my workouts.

It is always true that increasing one's activity level reduces one's need for long-acting insulin. So, at least some of my recent lows can be attributed purely to an increase in my overall activity level.

But that doesn't really tell the whole story. I have increased and decreased my activity level many times and many different ways since my 2009 LADA diagnosis. Not every change in activity level has resulted in a significant change to my blood glucose levels. Considering that fact, it seems likely that there is more to it than just a bald increase in activity.

Which brings me back to my post from the other day. My recent blood glucose levels seem to lend additional credence to the notion that the important aspect of physical fitness - at least with respect to diabetic exercise - is the degree to which one's fitness regimen changes and progresses.

In summary, I'd like to make a recommendation to my fellow diabetics. Don't merely exercise. Vary your workouts to the tune of doing something new every two weeks or so. This "something new" can consist of increasing the weights you're lifting or increasing the speed at which you do cardio, but perhaps more ideally it should involve entirely new exercises every one to two weeks. If you used the stairmaster all last week, good for you; now try jumping rope. If you played a lot of racquetball last week, that's great; now try swimming for a week. If you went to a CrossFit gym last week, excellent; go to a boxing gym this week, for a change.

The point here is that variety is more than just "the spice of life." It's an important component in blood sugar management as it pertains to exercise. Shake it up!


The Phoenix

A few years ago, I wrote a piece for steel-string acoustic guitar that encapsulated how I felt after thoroughly embarrassing myself. What better way to find your footing than to come up with a fun piece of music? Actually, what happened was that the next day, I set my sights on "buttressing my cool." Not sure if worked, but it's a nice piece nonetheless.

And, apparently, it works on the guitalele also:


From Which I May Never Return

The funny thing about my most recent recording, Rhesus 11: I-35, is that I originally intended to record every track with a different instrument. The underlying idea was that a person watching the video on YouTube would be able to identify which instrument is playing which part easily, via visual cue. I also wanted the rhythm guitar (seen at bottom-left) to be extra-chunky - played on my solid mahogany Agile Valkyrie - the "lighter" lead guitar (seen at top-right) to be extra-twangy - played on my single-coil-equipped Carvin bolt kit - and the "heavier" lead guitar (seen at bottom-right) to be thick and meaty - played on my Carvin DC400. It would also have been nice to record the lead guitars with my Washburn BT-10.

See? Every track recorded with a different instrument. That would have been great. So, what happened?

The truth is, I did record the rhythm guitar with the Valkyrie and the lighter lead with the Bolt Kit. The problem is that I couldn't capture the feel that I was going for, using those instruments. My picking attack was throwing some of the notes slightly out of pitch (I have a pretty heavy picking attack). My Bolt Kit, which is easily the most comfortable guitar I own, wasn't quite nailing the kind of twanginess I hoped for. Everything felt awkward and funny. I recorded half of the piece on Saturday and had to just stop. I called it a day and went back to it on Sunday.

When I started recording again on Sunday, I picked up my DC400 and just went with it. This is my newest guitar; I bought it late in 2010. Now, as "chunky" as I like to think the mahogany Valkyrie is, and as comfortable as I like to think my Bolt Kit is, there is something about this DC400. It responds to my picking attack in exactly the way it should. My hands fall against the fretboard in exactly the right way. Simply stated, it just works.

Not surprisingly, I was able to wrap up the recording in a couple of hours, and that includes completely re-recording the rhythm guitar and the "lighter" lead (invoking the DC400's phase switching feature for added spirit). The fact is, when it's right, it's right.

So I now find myself faced with the following "problem:" Having acquired the DC400, I can't seem to warm up to any of my other electric guitars. They don't quite have the right thing, the right mojo. They're all great instruments, but they don't have the same magic ingredient that the DC400 has.

This leads me to believe that I'm on a journey from which I may never return. The DC400, with it's ergonomic comfort, beautiful core tone, and tonal flexibility through its active preamp, coil-tapping, and phase-switching functionality, has rendered my other guitars somewhat obsolete.

I'm doomed. Once you play a DC400, it's hard to return to any other instrument. I am seriously considering selling off my inferior instruments, and maybe even using the money to purchase another DC400, or perhaps a DC700. We'll see. For now, I can't stop playing my beautiful, walnut DC400. What a wonderful guitar.


Movie Review: Fire With Fire

Fire With Fire tells the story of a California firefighter named Jeremy (Josh Duhamel), who witnesses a brutal double-homicide after work one day. We soon learn that the perpetrator is Hagan, a neo-nazi mafioso with no fear of law enforcement (Vincent D'Onofrio). Jeremy agrees to testify against Hagan, but must enter the Witness Relocation Program in order to survive long enough to do so. But the mafia eventually tracks him down and engages in an intimidation campaign to prevent him from testifying. Driven to the breaking point, Jeremy takes matters into his own hands in order to protect himself and those he loves. Vigilante-ism ensues.

As you can see, this is not exactly a "plot heavy" movie. Designed as a bit of a whiz-bang shoot-em-up, the movie delivers with plenty of blood and violence, plenty of action movie cliches, plenty of plot holes, and plenty of questionable moral stances.

But what really struck me about this film was the direction from which it appears to have been written. The hero is a firefighter with close ties to the local community, sexually promiscuous, and bereft of any real family. His fellow firefighters, all well-built and good-looking, clean-cut heroes in their own right, serve as Jeremy's surrogate family. The villain is a particular kind of evil man, too: He's a white supremacist. The supporting male role was played by Bruce Willis, a man with a history of sexually charged fillmmaking roles and frontal nudity.

What I'm hinting at is this: The whole movie strikes me as though it was written by someone who wanted to come up with a plot line that would appeal to every gay male stereotype in the book, only stopping short of making the protagonist himself a gay fire-fighter.

Now, I don't have a problem with this sort of thing, but at the end of the day, the appeal is a bit too narrow for my tastes, and it seems obvious that I was not this movie's intended demographic (which is apparently 15-year-old gay male teens). So it's no surprise that I do not think very highly of this film. That's not to say you won't enjoy it, of course, but you should know what you're getting into beforehand.

This Has Been Bothering Me For A While

The Last Psychiatrist has an astoundingly good post about whether modern feminism has any hope of empowering women, or whether it is actually enslaving them. [SPOILER ALERT: It's the latter.] The article is very long, and there are so many good points made that it would be too difficult to excerpt. Please take the time to go over there and read the whole thing. It is good. It is important.

But it is also deeply flawed in the same way that much of what might be called "libertarian culture" is deeply flawed. Here, I am not referring to the thoughtfully inquisitive, let's-work-for-whatever-we-can-get kind of libertarianism. No, I'm talking about the paranoid, the-system-is-out-to-get-me kind of libertarianism.

In a way, I think The Last Psychiatrist is a blog that reflects this latter branch of libertarianism, the "anarcho-capitalist" branch. These are the folks who seem to think that the state is not merely the one who has the legitimacy of force in society, but rather that the government is itself an initiation of force. According to these folks, the system is what keeps society down. The state exists to extract money from us, to transfer power away from us and into the hands of greedy individuals at the top.

To be sure, there are few arguments I can make against these claims. In one sense (once you get a handle on the basic anarcho-capitalist lexicon), they are logical. But in another sense, they are highly problematic. For example, if you have to invent a whole separate and unique lexicon to keep track of the internal logic of your own ideas - and looky here, I am totally guilty of this myself - then you are probably already on the wrong track.

The fact of the matter is, if your ideas are sound, they won't require their own, special language. They will be easy to convey. That's not to say that any idea that is easy to convey is therefore true. All I'm saying is that if your chain of logic has sufficiently many steps, you will start to lose track of whether it is actually circular logic to begin with.

Having said that, let's go back briefly to The Last Psychiatrist and his recent post on feminism. Riffing on the slavery theme, he makes a point about the movie Django Unchained [emphasis added]:
Of course Tarantino knew that the evil slaveowner's question has a hidden, repressed dark side:  DiCaprio['s character] is a third generation slave owner, he doesn't own slaves because he hates blacks, he owns them because that's the system; so powerful is that system that he spends his free time not on coke or hookers but on researching scientific justifications for the slavery-- trying to rationalize what he is doing.   That is not the behavior of a man at peace with himself, regardless of how much he thinks he likes white cake, it is the behavior of a man in conflict, who suspects he is not free; who realizes, somehow, that the fact that his job happens to coincide with the trappings of power is 100% an accident... do you see?   "Why don't they just rise up?" is revealed to be a symptom of the question that has been repressed: "why do the whites own slaves?  Why don't they just... stop?"  And it never occurs to 7th graders to ask this question because they are too young, yet every adult thinks if he lived back then, he would have been the exception.  1 in 10000, I guess.  And here we see how repression always leaves behind a signal of what's been repressed-- how else do you explain the modern need to add the qualifier "evil" to "slaveowner" if not for the deeply buried suspicion that, in fact, you would have been a slaveowner back then?  "But at least I wouldn't be evil."  Keep telling yourself that.
So here's my question, and it is a question I would like to pose to all those anarcho-capitalists out there who think they have it all figured out...

Why don't you assume that the kind of questions you're asking aren't the same kind of reflection of systematic slavery that you so easily see in other people?

Don't worry, I get it. I get that the answer is, "But we understand full well that we are slaves to the system." Now go back and read The Last Psychiatrist's blog post again, this time with the awareness that his whole point is that the struggle for power - in this case, feminism - is merely the struggle for what he calls "the trappings of power," i.e. the illusion of power, aka social respect for supposed authority without that actual authority.

I'm not sure what the libertarian response to this meta-question is, that's why I'm asking it. The point here is that maybe the entire libertarian lexicon is nothing more than what "the system" has devised for you in order to deal with your objections. Maybe the fact that you're so caught up in academic libertarian theory is exactly where "the system" wants you, to keep you out of "the system's" way.

Maybe, in giving you a few Capital-I-Institutes and PACs and academic branches, the system has figured out a way to contain you peacefully, where you can't rub anyone the wrong way, and where - if you must speak out - you do so in a way that makes you look either ignorant or crazy or at least quixotic.

And maybe - just maybe - "the system" is a fancy word for "human culture," and if things need to change, it's our culture, not our system.

You know, because maybe the reason women and non-whites have been the victims of violence and bigotry is that no one thought it important enough to stand up for them. Maybe society became more individualistic in the 18th Century because that's the way the wind was blowing, and it's been blowing the other way since the mid-1800s.

Maybe reforming or "subverting" "the system" is all a lot of cheap talk to make us feel better about the fact that human beings are constantly subverting each other in an attempt to deal with each other's difficulties and improve their own individualistic interests.

And maybe that's what "the system" really is.

Maybe we should figure out a way to deal with that, rather than point out how we are all slaves to a system that no one really seems to be able to identify in a way that doesn't imply the possibility of some idiotic Utopia.


Art And The Cognitive Time-Horizon

I have spent the last several days immersed in music written by a musical act I used to like, then eventually grew to dislike immensely. My primary criticism of this band was that, after all is said and done, the way they chose to write their music was intellectually dishonest.

(Note: people who know me well know which band I'm talking about here, but for the purposes of today's discussion, it is not necessary to dive into that. Imagine whichever band you think fits the mold; the moral of the story will remain the same.)

The thrust of my criticism was thus: Because this particular band is comprised mainly of great repertoirie musicians, their chosen writing style is to associate sounds with specific artists, and therefore, they might begin a song with Sound X, which would be an approximation of a real-life passage from the existing material of Band A. Then, for the next passage in the song, the band might want to move to Sound Y, otherwise known as an approximation of music by Band B, and so on. This band has composed whole albums this way, and they have been quite successful in doing so.

My problem with this approach is, as I first mentioned, it strikes me as being a bit intellectually dishonest. The band isn't even pretending to come up with their own sounds and compose the music they hear in their hearts. Instead, they "paint by numbers," using a repertoire of reference material. And while it is true that every artist to some degree "references" her influences when creating art, few are so audacious as to readily admit when and where those references are deliberately included, and to state outright that the entirety of their catalogue was written that way.

So that aspect of the band is remarkably off-putting.

But there is a lingering problem here, which is this: Despite the methodological fly in their ointment, the band has managed to produce an extensive body of work that is nonetheless fully coherent and continuous. This "conceptual continuity" (to use Frank Zappa's term) offers listeners a deeper and more profound experience than other bands tend to offer.

Why? Because conceptual continuity invokes the artist's cognitive time-horizon, as well as that of the listener. There is a consistent artistic theme providing the underlying context for the listener's experience. Each new work the artist produces exists, not as a separate and unique entity, but as a smaller component of a larger whole.

When listening to a single song, then, the listener experiences more than merely the song itself. The listener also experiences the full context in which the song resides.

This provides the listener with the kind of powerful artistic experience that fans of this particular band are well-known for obsessing over. In fact, I'd argue that invoking conceptual continuity and the cognitive time-horizon is a great way to move one's fans to a higher level of dedication. Fans appreciate the time it takes to provide this kind of experience, and they reward the artist handsomely for having provided it to them.

In that case, the artist uses her cognitive time-horizon twice: Once in applying her cognitive time-horizon to the creation of art in the form of conceptual continuity, and once some period of time before that, in understanding that doing so is "worth it" in terms of long-run benefit.


Rhesus Pieces: I-35

Not all Rhesus Pieces are improvised solos. For example, Rhesus 8 is a mostly composed piece about a stretch of Texas highway.

As you will see when you watch the video, I am getting a much better handle on my new video editing software. I also received some criticism about the drumming on my last Rhesus Piece, so I stepped my game up a little bit for this one in the percussion realm, too.

I sure hope you like it. Please feel free to subscribe to the YouTube channel any time...


Friday Chill-Out Music

Friday is stacking up to be quite a slow news and blogging day. I consistently find it challenging to drum up topics for Fridays that aren't a re-hashing of topics that have arisen over the course of the week.

Of course, I could always expound a bit more on the gun control debate or weigh in further on the debt ceiling "debate" or even ridicule the trillion-dollar coin again.

But why? It's Friday. Most of us are ready to go home for the weekend and be happy. So chill out and forget about the news. Take a look at this excellent performance on an instrument called a guitalele:


After All That "Soul-Searching" We're Talking About A $1 Trillion Coin

A short time ago, Paul Krugman acknowledged the shortcomings of his ideological companions in a screed against Robert Murphy, as follows:
The fact is that while Keynesians predicting a fast recovery weren’t really relying on their models, the failure of that fast recovery has nonetheless prompted quite a lot of soul-searching and rethinking. It is now standard, in a way that it wasn’t before, to argue that recessions that follow financial crises have a very different time path of recovery from other recessions, and that debt overhang, in particular, poses special problems.
Of course, those of us who have been following "the economics blogo-sphere" since about 2006 could point to dozens of other navel-gazing articles and blog posts discussing the economic identity crisis (and accompanying Austrian School revival) that has been playing out in the minds of all the self-congratulating, well-educated economists out there. "We failed," they say. "We're sorry," they say. "We shall reassess our methodology," they say, "and find out where we went wrong."

So, six years played out in front of us all. Six years went by while Paul Krugman criticized everyone, Brad DeLong criticized everyone who wasn't Paul Krugman, The Ludwig von Mises Institute made a name for itself by sneering at the fatally conceited knaves who continue to solve economic problems using math, and the folks at The Big Picture and Zero Hedge and Euro-Pacific Capital waxed long and hard about how to make money in these zany times of ours.

But, through it all, for six solid years, we were assured that economists were soul-searching, reassessing, coming out stronger than ever before. Six years down the road, what do we have to show for it?

Well, after six years, it appears that economists have given us two new, big ideas through which they propose to solve this crisis and future crises:
  1. Nominal GDP level targeting. This is a process by which the Federal Reserve prints as much money as possible, delivers it to banks, and does everything in its power to make sure that the price level increases by a certain percentage per year. Some say 2%. Some say 4%. Who cares? The point is to convince the economy that, no matter what else may be going on, the money supply will increase as much as possible to allow for a given percentage increase in nominal spending - whether that means pure inflation or real growth. Who cares? What's important is that NGDP increases. That's the only thing that matters. If you don't get it, then NGDP. QED.
  2. The $1 Trillion Coin. This is a process by which the government pays off all its debt by creating a platinum coin worth $1 trillion and using it to pay off the national debt. But this wouldn't occur by virtue of the fact that the government has $1 trillion worth of platinum lying around. (For, if it did, we wouldn't have a national debt. We'd just sell the platinum and pay off the debt. The coin would be a needless extra step. Everyone gets that, right?) Instead, the government would mint a coin with a small amount of platinum in it - an affordable amount, a trivial amount - and then say, "I hereby declare this coin to be worth $1 trillion. Here you go, guys, here's a coin I made to pay off the debt. So we're good, right?"
I have discussed point #1 a few times before, so right now I want to focus on this platinum coin idea.

Problems With A $1 Trillion Coin
The first problem I see with a $1 trillion coin is that I am not aware of any vending machine in the country that takes that denomination of coin, not even the ones that sell cigarettes. So whoever gets stuck with this coin will have a hard time using it without first getting it changed at the bank.

The second problem I see is that I am not aware of any bank that has $1 trillion in available reserves, except for the one holding the $1 trillion coin. So let's say you open up a bank account to store your new-found $1 trillion dollars. You get a receipt from the bank teller, and the receipt reads:
Account Balance: $1,000,000,000,000.00
Available Balance: $0.00
Typically, when you transfer money into a new bank account, this sort of thing is common. You deposit whatever money - via check or money order - into your new account and the check has to "clear" before your balance becomes available. But coins don't have to "clear" because coins are just pure cash. But, as I mentioned above, the bank does not have access to any vending machines that accept $1 trillion coins, so for the time being there is not much the bank can do by way of offering you an available balance. Until such time as it can spend your coin on its own investments, you're screwed.

The third problem I see is that there are only two places the bank will be able to spend its $1 trillion coin:
  1. The Federal Reserve, where the bank can buy US Treasury Bills (i.e. government debt).
  2. The bond market, where the bank can buy $1 trillion in US bonds (i.e. government debt).
I don't want to sound stupid here, but a lot of serious economists are seriously entertaining the idea that we can pay off government debt with a token that can only be redeemed for more government debt. So at the risk of sounding stupid, let me ask the question bubbling up in everyone's mind...

How is this $1 trillion coin supposed to avoid hyper-inflation a la the Weimar Republic or Zimbabwe? How exactly is this $1 trillion coin supposed to result in anything other than disaster?

The economics profession engaged in six solid years of soul-searching and navel-gazing and meditating and self-flagellation, and this is what the Nobel Laureates are arguing for.

WTF is going on here???


A Theory About Exercise

I am not aware of any serious research on this idea, but I have noticed something that seems to hold true in my own personal experience...

Most of the benefits of exercise (weight loss, increased muscle mass, improved blood sugar control, increasing VO2 max, etc.) seem to be at their most pronounced levels when a person is undertaking something new. That is, when you first begin an exercise regimen, for the first, say, two or three weeks, one will notice major gains in muscle, major drops in body fat, major improvements in blood sugar, and so forth. But as that exercise regimen continues over 4, 5, 6 weeks, and beyond, the improvements become far less pronounced. In my personal observation, they even reverse in some cases.

To avoid losing out on all the progress I gain as I work out, I have taken to making major changes to my exercise regimen every two or three weeks. This might come in a variety of forms. For example, when I developed a case of tendonitis recently, I first switched to jump rope as my preferred cardiovascular exercise. When I reached the point of diminishing returns, though, I switched to a rowing machine and again started feeling good and healthy. Recently I reached the point of diminishing returns there, too, and so I've been focusing on interval workouts using an elliptical machine. Now I find I'm maxing out there, and my legs feel a lot better, so I am making plans to start running again.

For strength training, it's been the same way. I committed to making major changes to my weight lifting routine every week or two. The result is, at least so far, muscles that continue to get larger and better-toned, and stronger.

Of course, what I'm talking about here is basically the "muscle confusion" principle upon which P90X and other fitness programs are based. So there is at least a community of people out there who seem to have noticed the same thing I have.

But, I have no scientific evidence for this, and what evidence I have seen thus far looks more like marketing than exercise physiology. Perhaps I'll never know the answer to this question, but I can say at least this much: It seems to hold true for me.

What is your own experience with this phenomenon?


Rhesus Pieces: Pink City

I finally got some video editing software, so I can do picture-in-picture now.

Unfortunately, I'm still trying to figure it out, hence the inferior video quality. Hopefully the audio - you know, the important part - is still up to par.

I hope you enjoy this one. This is named after a shopping mall in Dhaka. The music will seem ludicrous to locals, but it is representative of my impression of it.

Right And Wrong Ways To Turn Over A New Leaf

The general pattern of things among most people goes something like this...

When we're young, we possess a critical blend of stupidity and a sense of invincibility. This gets us into various kinds of trouble. Whether that trouble takes the form of recreational drug use or poor romantic choices, whether it takes the form of questionable professional decisions or bullying, broken laws or strained relationships with friends and family... Whatever form it takes, our youth is our youth precisely because we lack the wisdom that comes with age and experience.

As we get older, we learn our lessons. We learn that we can't push our bodies so hard (partying, bungee-jumping, whatever it happens to be) without its taking a large toll on us. We learn from experience which people have the potential to properly love and respect us in romance. We grow up a little and learn how to express ourselves more maturely when communicating with others. We acquire that great, ancient intangible good: wisdom.

When we finally have a little wisdom under our belts - and trust me, we can never get enough of this stuff - most of us realize that, in retrospect, youthful mistakes are not only unavoidable, but instrumental in shaping our lives and providing us with wisdom.

Mistakes are never good, but you should expect that they will happen. They will. The wisest people I know learn to value their youth both for the fun they had and the mistakes they made, and therefore the wisdom they acquired.

But Some People Want To Wipe It All Away
For some, youthful mistakes are something to be locked away, deep inside the darkest closet in the remotest corner of the house, never to be spoken of again.

I can understand this perspective if the youthful mistakes are things like murder, but very few of us make those kinds of mistakes. What are we to make of people who make mistakes that are largely harmless in the long run - the same kinds of mistakes we all make, which I have mentioned by name above - but who wish to lock these things up in safe and pretend they never happend? What are we to think of people who turn over a new leaf, seemingly learning from their past mistakes, but who then proceed as though the not-so-dastardly deeds never occurred, making no mention of them, no reference to any such past experience whatsoever?

What can be said of someone who values youth enough to learn from it, but not enough to acknowledge it ever again?

Some Examples
What am I talking about really?

I'm talking about the man (it could be a woman) who drinks heavily in his youth, eventually sobers up, foregoes alcohol, and then proceeds to act as though he has never swallowed a drop of alcohol in his life. He'll even counsel others about the horrors and sinfulness of drink, but always from the standpoint of abstinence, and never from the more human aspect of sharing his youthful mistakes so that others may learn.

I'm talking about the woman (it could be a man) who has an extensive dating history when she's young, who eventually develops a more rational sense of self-respect and decides to seek healthier romantic relationships. She'll tell her children to practice stoic abstinence, but always from the standpoint of a wholesome, holy mother who never once made a sexual mistake. Never does she utter a word of genuinely useful information to her children about her own experiences and what she came to realize, for then they would know the thing that she wishes not to acknowledge.

I'm talking about the woman who sells her youth to her ambition, signing-on early to a work-you-to-death job in which she earns a king's fortune before ultimately burning out, seeking a more laid-back job and investing some quality time in smelling the roses. She'll make a point to tell others not to waste their lives working so hard, but never acknowledges the fact that life is only so leisurely for her because she spent her 20s and 30s working like a dog, 80 hours per week.

Wisdom Demands Acknowledgement
For them, the past is the past, never to be referenced again, never to be brought back into focus here in the present. But I've said it before, no one should ever fear their mistakes.

Building a relationship between yesteryear's events and today's wisdom and satisfaction requires both the courage to openly acknowledge past mistakes with humility so that others can learn from them, but also a rather lengthy cognitive time-horizon. Simply stated, wise people are those who understand that some knowledge comes from the very indulgences we deny ourselves once having acquired that knowledge.

Can one experience true love without first suffering a broken heart? Perhaps, but what good to our true love is it pretending that a prior heartache never happened? Who can we save by cautioning against youthful relationships?

Can one recognize the value of temperance without first over-indulging? Certainly, but once having over-indulged, a truthful account of one's experiences is the single best weapon against the next generation's potential mistakes.

Acknowledging one's own mistakes, not as a one-time admonishment before forever turning over a new leaf, but as simple understanding of the truth is important for your mental health. It is also a more compelling argument to others against mistakes they have yet to make. We do no one any good by keeping skeletons in our closet.

If you've changed over the years, if you've acquired wisdom, share that wisdom with others. But do it honestly. Share the mistakes as well as the successes. Talk about why what worked worked, and why what didn't work didn't work.

This is all part of being healthy, happy, and honest.


Libertarian Stupidity

While Robert Murphy, Thomas Woods, Bryan Caplan, Steve Horwitz, and Sarah Skwire are all blogging about whether this video is good for women or bad for women, I find I myself have nothing to say. It sure would be nice if there were more female libertarians. It sure would be nice if there were more libertarians in general.

Or would it?

I began winding down my involvement in the Ludwig von Mises Institute a couple of years ago, and ended my involvement in the Canadian branch when I moved to the United States. There were a few reasons for this. First of all, I am neither an anarchist nor a fan of Murray Rothbard's work. It didn't make a lot of sense for me to make ongoing contributions to an organization that didn't stand for what I believe; and I didn't want people to conclude later on that I am, in fact an anarchist or a Rothbardian.

Second of all, the LvMI struck me as an incredibly collectivist organization. It started to feel like an in-group. Libertarianism doesn't appeal to me for the sake of belonging to a group of people who feel the same way I do. It appeals to me because I have a distaste for groups and want to be left alone with the freedom to pursue relationships with people on a one-on-one basis.

But this is how it is with libertarians, this is how it has always been. They are always debating liberty, they are alway splintering off into factions. First it was the Rand/Rothbard dichotomy, which evolved into the minarchist/anarchist dichotomy, which evolved into the whatever whatever

Why aren't there more female libertarians? Because women are, for the most part, smart enough not to get wrapped up in a group of people that spend most of their time arguing over who has the most perfect concept of individual liberty. Gimme a break.


Music As Art

According to the channel info, the Official Richie Kotzen YouTube channel was created on July 23, 2011. By YouTube standards, this is a comparatively late arrival to the party. By comparison, SongeLeReveur joined in 2006 (click here to read my previous tribute to the incredible SongeLeReveur), and I joined in 2007 although, admittedly, I didn't start uploading videos until last year.

Kotzen's music is fantastic: bluesy, soulful, rocking, even jazzy at times. It is "guitar player's music" both in the sense that Kotzen displays a remarkable level of instrumental virtuosity and in the sense that the music is stylistically designed with the guitar player in mind. The chord progressions, licks, melodies, and overall vibe of his songs all come from that long heritage of great guitar players. Any fan of Hendrix, Van Halen, Jack White, et al. will likely also be a Richie Kotzen fan.

For that reason, Kotzen is an odd choice for a "Music As Art" post. He makes great music, but the style and shape of it is more about making good rock music than it is about making a striking artistic statement.

But, in this case, Kotzen's use of the YouTube medium is what makes his channel so compelling. Most artists upload a few official music videos and maybe an interview or two, their record label puts it on YouTube/VEVO, and away it goes. It's a workable approach, but it is very disconnected from the artist's audience. It feels like the product of a big marketing machine.

But Kotzen's channel is full of v-logs, lessons, and commentary. There are some official videos up there, but the great thing about them is that they seem pretty clearly self-produced. They aren't as glitzy as a U2 video, but YouTube isn't about glitz. YouTube is about real people, every-day average joes uploading their self-produced videos for all to see.

That's the whole idea of YouTube. It's not supposed to be slick, because it's supposed to be universal. So when people like SongeLeReveur upload music videos featuring themselves playing every instrument, there is a charm to it that goes well beyond Prince's multi-platinum albums on which he did the same. There is an intimacy that major record labels can't capture.

The amazing thing about Richie Kotzen is that he actually has managed to employ YouTube exactly the way it was intended. Here's his version of a one-man-band video:
Even better, Richie Kotzen has uploaded a number of videos featuring he and his band playing songs, seemingly at home, live. Here's a great example:
Simply stated, Kotzen's use of the YouTube medium captures precisely what YouTube creators envisioned when they invented it, and in doing so, he has also managed to one-up both regular YouTube schmucks like me and major-label recording artists.

The result is nothing short of art.


The Blogosphere Has An Existential Crisis

Tyler Cowen briefly comments on Andrew Sullivan's decision to offer his blog for a subscription. While he naturally focuses on the economic side of the picture, which is what a lot of people are focusing on, the real question is: How will the blogosphere react?

So while a few people are musing over the financial viability of the blogging model (and let's cut to the chase: there is no financial viability for blogging; we are and always will be a free service), Scott Sumner takes some time to reflect on the fact that blogging has made him progressively crankier and less interesting. Frankly, he's right. There was a time when he was one of the most civil and compelling bloggers out there, but at a certain point he sort of morphed into an NGDP-bot and, rather than engaging disagreements, he just started re-phrasing every objection and/or alternative viewpoint in terms of NGDP.

I mean, there is a limit to the viability of that sort of thing. It's basically the Paul Krugmas shtick, only Sumner has replaced the phrase "people who disagree with me are dishonest morons" with "people who disagree with me didn't use the phrase "NGDP," and has replaced the phrase "Y = C + I + G + NX" with "NGDP = N + G + D + P".

Add that to the fact that The Crimson Reach generously linked to my movie review of Django Unchained, and had this very good point to make about movies in general:
I note that, from all appearances, and Tarantino flourishes aside, Django Unchained is basically what they call a Western. Now, some of my favorite movies are Westerns. Westerns are usually violent and have creepy or downright disturbing political undertones, but people don’t obsess over them while watching them. Once Upon A Time In The West might be my second-favorite movie of all time. I love it and I enjoy it on a visceral level. But do I have a stance on it? No. If I thought about it, would there be some politics underlying the central drama of it? Of course! I’m quite certain there are in fact. And I like to read such theories, sometimes, after the fact. But I’m very glad I didn’t do so until well after watching, immersing myself in, and enjoying the movie on its own.
Oops. He's right, and I have a bit of egg on my face. See, movies (like blogs) are a fun way to pass the time. When we lose sight of that and get caught up in what we believe to be the "broader implications" - which we ourselves have invented by the simple virtue of the fact that we suddenly decided to call them "broader implications" - we end up sucking the fun out of things. We also end up writing a lot of nothing about a lot of nothing.

As it turns out, the "broader implications" of a movie like Django Unchained are exactly as interesting and important as prescribing an NGDP level-targeting monetary policy regime in response to every economic data point.

What I mean is, there is a reason blogging is a free service. The reason is that you can't possibly charge money for this garbage. You don't need me to tell you that controversy arises when a filmmaker decides to use one of the most taboo words in the American lexicon. And maybe you need Scott Sumner to tell you that NGDP level-targeting is really where it's at, but you only need him to tell you that once or twice. Okay, maybe a dozen times. But after that, you're good. And, for heaven's sake, don't pay for it!


Rhesus Pieces

You get an extra video this week, as I was able to record a brief composition/improvisation on New Year's Day.

The sound is a little rougher than the all-glitz YouTube videos to which we have become accustomed in the digital age, but that's because each of the three instruments (bass, guitar, and lead) were recorded in one take without overdubs or extensive digital editing.


Briefly, On Budgets And Deals

I don't really want to weigh in on the politics of Washington's failure to cut a half-decent budget deal, or whether the current deal is really the one we need or want, etc. Go read Huffington Post or Breitbart or whatever. Get your fill of that kind of thing elsewhere.

But I do want to make one simple point about all of this: Isn't it strange that the entire US federal government grinds to a halt if the annual budget cannot be worked out?

The fact that the US budget has become a single, gargantuan legislative act that keeps running federal undertakings as diverse as appeals courts and drone strikes, subsidies for low-income housing and the delivery of postal mail, the daily business of foreign consulates and once-a-year appropriations for the funding of public broadcasting... Doesn't this all seem to imply that we have tied far too much to the federal budget?
There are aspects of the federal government's business that require advanced degrees and years of experience to understand. That strikes me as being highly un-democratic: If ordinary people can't even understand the issues, shouldn't we be alarmed that the government is in control of them?

Similarly, if the business of the government all gets funded by a single act of Congress, we shouldn't ever be surprised that it is so difficult to come to a deal. We are talking about every facet of the federal government.

But then, isn't it time to ask the question? If the budget is so complicated that a deal is nearly impossible, isn't it time to reduce the number of things the federal government spends money on?