Sunday, July 27, 2008

Is Courage Really Allowed a Politician?

My short answer is "no."

My longer answer is that my definition of courage in politics is standing up for what is right in the face of strong opposition. Unfortunately strong opposition usually means voters, which means forfeiting any chance of being elected.

When a courageous stance becomes popular (as with Obama's initial opposition to the war) then the positions taken before are lauded as evidence of courage, but they were not actually taken in a courageous manner (specific to his position at the time).

I suppose that it may not be best to speak in less than glowing terms of the candidate that I will be voting for and whom I want a (large) majority of other Americans to vote for, but I sense a real feeling surrounding his candidacy that he will do many wonderful things, and the reality that will come to be will be harsh for many with such high hopes. He will not end our dependence on oil. He will not get the government fast out of debt. He will not get universal health care that is best for the people (eliminating or minimizing for profit insurance). He will not make housing affordable again. He will take steps in those directions, but they will be small.

We need real courage from our government to set goals, to force us to adapt to a new and different world. We need that, but, because it is difficult, because it takes us out of our comfort zone, we will not support it. We will not vote for it. If Obama becomes the champion of change that so many of his supporters want him to be, it will be very hard to get him re-elected. But if he does not, then he will be viewed as a failure.

This is all neverminding that the handful of GOPers that will be left in the halls of congress come January will probably do their damnedest to grind the government to a halt and prevent the change from happening.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Through Fat and Thin

So here's a little "think yourself thin" thing. Once again there is an idea for a diet steeped in common sense that probably won't work for most people.

The problem with dieting is the focus on weight loss. This is also a problem within the medical community where there is a larger emphasis placed on getting the right BMI (a semi-useful tool that is way over used) rather than simply being healthy.

Eating well and exercising is the best way to lose weight, but it is not a guarantee of weight (fat) loss. The reason is that losing fat--particularly the subcutaneous kind which doesn't start to drop until after the muscular fat is used up--is actively opposed body. When a body activates the processes that use fat (instead of sugars) to get energy it signals starvation. When the body is starving it reacts by shutting down energy burning processes and by triggering "cravings" for foods that are high in sugar/starch content.

This makes losing weight very difficult. It is biology in action and it is a remarkable thing, but the only way to overcome it is to be aware and stick to it...or not.

It is possible to be healthy and overweight, just like it is possible to be thin and at risk. A healthy diet and exercise provide benefits that go beyond a thinner waist, and when dress size/pant size doesn't start dropping it should not lead to frustration. If you eat right and exercise you will be healthier and likely live longer, even if you don't lose a quarter inch from your waist...with muscle development you may even gain.

If we stick to a healthy lifestyle rather than overconsumption, then the next generation will never fall into the obesity trap that we have now.

...Of course with the rising cost of food and energy there may be no choice soon but to eat little and eat healthy.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008


Ah, the almighty dollar. I've been trying to figure out what it really takes to live in this country and what that all means. The answer, of course, is "Well, that depends."

It depends on where you live.
It depends on your commuting options.
It depends on whether you can cook.
It depends on whether you can have a garden.
It depends on whether you are married.
It depends on whether you have children.

I live with a roommate in an apartment north of Philly and am fairly frugal. My general cost of living is under $2000 /month, including over-paying off debt (mostly student loans). Of course I have plenty of incidental expenses (mostly travel, like to France for a friend's wedding) not included.

Ignoring extravagances and paying only the minimum, I could get by--reasonably comfortably--on about $1500 /mo. That's $18k/year after taxes, ~$21k before (depending on your state/local). Zero debt would reduce that to closer to $1200 /mo. Having dependents does not double the amount necessary. Most expenses remain static or go up by very small amounts. Food will scale almost linear with the number of people, but even that isn't completely true.

A rather liberal estimation would add 33% of the single person cost to maintain standard of living, excepting the potential to have lots of extra education debt. This means $2000 /mo. for two people, $2500 for three, $3000 /mo. for a family of four. That is $36k /yr after taxes, somewhere in the neighborhood of $41k before.

Factor in fun expenses (like a vacation) and I think $50k /year should be plenty for most families.

But it isn't. While for many families the biggest problem is debt, that is largely self inflicted due to over-indulgence, and does not concern the real cost of living. The real first, biggest problem is housing. Housing costs, though coming down are still way too high, and they will remain there for the next few years at least. Though there is no real fix for this problem increasing taxes for better off Americans (here I am really talking any family income over $100k) would help.

The second problem is energy, including for transportation...there are several separate issues here. On the transportation side, increasing the gas tax and using it to fund public transportation, establishing routes that are bicycle/scooter/motorcycle friendly (no cars allowed), and altering safety standards (to allow city/kei cars) while taxing heavy vehicles would do way more to help ease the financial burden in the long run than trying to make gas cheaper (it would also have other benefits, but that is not for this post). On the energy side, reducing consumption is of utmost importance. There are a few other potential fixes, especially long term with respect to new, renewable energy, but for now energy is very expensive because we demand a whole lot of it.

A third, sort-of-problem, is food. Food costs are strange. Most people spend too much on food because they don't want to/don't have time to/can't cook. Preparing one's own meals from the basic ingredients is the single best way to save money on food. Eating out and buying a lot of packaged finished foods is very expensive.

The last problem I will list here is health care. For many people, this is not a major problem, but for anyone for whom it becomes a concern, it can easily outstrip all of the others listed here combined. Better preventative health care is the best option (including healthy diet and exercise), but it is not exactly an easy thing to manage. This concern is beyond the scope of this post, but I will say that I do favor a single payer system, though, for reasons passing understanding, it is a political non-starter, and I can not envision any fix for health care that relies on for-profit insurance providers.

Ok, this is already too long. Caio.