Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Zimbabwe's inflation

You've probably heard about this, but check out Zimbabwe's inflation rate. Ever seen a $100,000,000,000 bill before?

If that ever happens here, my advice is to avoid cash money like the plague... It will quickly become worthless in your hands, like gold that turns into dirt overnight. If someone pays you in cash, go buy some canned food (or toilet paper or socks, etc.) with it *right then and there*.

The picture of the guy carrying two armfuls of money to pay for dinner is just crazy.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Religion, mental health, and LDS folks

Daniel Judd's talk on religion, mental health, and Latter-day Saints managed to strike a few chords for me on my way to work this morning.

His talk is partly about the correlation between mental health, including depression, and the connection to religious observance, especially in LDS people. Remember the statistic that Utah prescribes more anti-depressant medicine per-capita than any other state? We all inferred that the LDS religion must be really depressing -- but it turns out that Utah also prescribes more anti-biotics and anti-inflammatory medications per capita too. Huh? Bro. Judd studied the issue and determined that it's much more likely that it's because of the facts that the average LDS Utahn has better education, access to healthcare, and understanding of symptoms, and is also less likely to self-medicate with alcohol or other drugs.

That was all interesting, but then he goes on to talk about a couple of psychological tactics that Satan uses to trick people -- e.g. if he can't get you to be lax in your religious observance, he may try to get you to be overzealous and "look beyond the mark".

Not sure why I liked it so much, maybe it was just the right set of tidbits at the right time for me.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

The music upstairs...

Yesterday I was putting up a ceiling fan upstairs, and Kyla and the kids were listening to music downstairs. Reminded me of my time in college when I lived in a ground-level apartment beneath another apartment. When those neighbors would crank up the music it was overbearing, and it sounded terrible!

It could be that the music they were playing really was terrible; more likely, though, it was just a result of the fact that music doesn't travel well through walls -- you only get some of the frequencies, so there's a lot of "thump" and very little "twing".

I was reminded of the fact that everybody already knows: beautiful music can sound terrible when there is "stuff" between the listener and the source.

I then realized that the gospel of Jesus Christ, as played within the wall of church and our homes, really is a beautiful symphony -- but to those who happen by on the outside, it doesn't always sound that great. They might even wonder how anyone could stand to listen to that racket.

But as many can attest, it sounds much better inside.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Are you 18?

Since Iron Man doesn't come out to rent for another week on ATV, I did something I haven't done in a long time -- I went to a movie rental place last night.
"Any chance you have any copies of Iron Man left?"

"Yeah, we should have a few..."

"Great. Uh, I've never been here before, do I need to sign up to rent movies?"

"Yeah, you need to get a membership to rent movies. Are you 18?"

So I've been keeping track of the last time someone seemed to think there was a chance that I wasn't 18 yet. I thought last March would be the last time, but alas -- it's now at 10/24/08. I still can't believe that to this adult lady, there was a chance in her mind that I was 17, or younger!

(For those who don't know me very well, I'm 33.)

Saturday, October 18, 2008


Check out picture #16 here. Just thinking about being the lead swimmer in a narwhal pod makes me straighten a little. =)

Friday, October 17, 2008

Cause and effect

Back in college, I remember hitting a mental logjam, and it wasn't clear to me what the problem was. It went something like this:

Say I have a headache. A roommate gives me a pair of aspirin. My headache doesn't go away when I swallow them, so I wait. After 10 minutes I feel a little better, but the headache's still there. What can I deduce? I didn't read the directions, maybe I should've taken three? Or do I need to just wait a little longer? Or is it cheap aspirin and doesn't work very well? Or was my headache going away on its own anyway? Or did my drinking water help because many headaches are caused by dehydration? Or did I take too many and this is a *new* headache? Come on, can I really not get any closer than that?!

I posed this question to a very wise friend, John Holman, and with a single sentence cleared up the whole thing for me. Without even thinking he said, "Yeah, it can be hard to separate cause and effect."

Ah, that was my problem -- it *is* hard to separate cause and effect. I just assumed it was easy, and that somehow aspirin just wasn't cooperating.
Kathy and LaVar Jones

Good people and religion

My Uncle LaVar and Aunt Kathy were some of the neatest people I have ever known. They were the epitome of kindness, warmheartedness, and industry -- and everybody seemed to love them. They were deeply religious and attended church and fulfilled church callings to the very end.

After they died, I was talking to one of my cousins who himself is a little more distant from religion, and he made a rather odd statement -- he said, "LaVar and Kathy were tremendous people -- the Mormon church had nothing to do with it, they would've been that way wherever they had ended up."

He was saying, in effect, they were great before they were members of the church, as opposed to believing they were great, at least in part, *because* they were members of the church.

Why were they great? I could never speak for them, but I have a hunch they would interpret the cause of their characters quite differently than my cousin.

If we don't understanding the correct relationship between cause and effect here, we won't be able to emulate well that greatness in ourselves.

Politics and the USA

This is the greatest nation in the world.

But why?

We like the effect of this greatness, but what are the causes of it?

A lot of people right now don't seem to know. Otherwise we wouldn't have two candidates with such disparate views within even a 20 point spread in the polls -- it'd be a landslide for the candidate who had it all figured out.

Since this is my blog, and I can say whatever I want =), let me volunteer a few of my favorite cause/effect pairs (note, these are not my original ideas, but mostly gleaned from great politicians):
  • Freedom. This country was built on the premise of freedom, *not* prosperity* -- yes, we like prosperity, but freedom is the cause, and prosperity generally is an effect. Again, generally speaking, you *cannot* increase prosperity by limiting freedom -- that's backwards.
  • Innovation and industry. We are prosperous because our nation is an incubator of innovation and industry. We have beds and toilets and refrigerators and cars because someone had the energy, knowledge, motivation and means to build them for us -- company makes stuff > jobs > salaries > buy more stuff > make more stuff. Take away any of those resources, and you cripple the cause of this prosperity. Higher taxes is an example of a "crippler".** So is most government regulation.
  • Infrastructure and protection. Government exists to provide infrastructure (roads, bridges, central banks, etc.), and to protect us from one another (police, military, fraud investigators, etc.). It does *not* exist to manage healthcare, bail out failing businesses, dole out welfare, or subsidize farming. All of those things are freedom-limiting, because freedom includes both choice *and* consequence.
  • Execution. Another way to state the above is that what prospers this nation is wise execution of great ideas. What's the incentive to execute well if the government stands ready to coddle you in failure? And do it with the dollars taken from those who had the drive to succeed? with dollars that would've been spent creating further industry?

This nation has lots of headaches, and our media and half our citizens have long-since forsaken aspirin for political heroin -- and when the headaches remain, they think the cause is that they just need more.
* Thanks Ryan Parker.

** My brother likes to quote Winston Churchill: "A nation trying to tax itself into prosperity is like a man standing in a bucket and trying to pull himself up by the handles."

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Cheap flash

Well, it finally happened: flash drives large enough to hold an entire DVD's worth of video at the cost of a new DVD release from Wal-Mart.

About a year back, someone figured out how to put all of Wikipedia on an iPhone, that the whole thing was something like 4 gigabytes. Can you believe that $20 will now buy you a device with enough storage to store the entire content of Wikipedia which holds a very significant portion of all human knowledge, and is yet small enough to slip into your coin pocket?

For 8 GB, we can just about round that $20 down to "free". Awesome.

Friday, October 10, 2008

"The Age of Turbulence"

At the recommendation of a good friend, Daniel Rovey, I'm reading The Age of Turbulence by Alan Greenspan.

I still have a lot more to read, but a few things have already started sink in. The first is that this truly is an age of "turbulence". Other things:

We've already tried that...

Hearing a lot of talk about regulating financial companies these days? Though I wasn't around, supposedly in the early 70's the country was facing double-digit inflation and high unemployment, which was supposedly a new phenomenon (which they labeled "stagflation").

Everyone (including President Ford) came to the conclusion that overregulation was *causing* the problems, and that the industries needed to be deregulated. They were, and it worked. The economy started growing again.

(It would've continued, except it was an election year, and the pundits and press claimed the steady growth had stalled [which it hadn't, according to Greenspan] and somehow blamed it on Ford, who then lost the election.)

Bottom line: We were already "regulated", and it caused bigger problems than we have now.

Stunning to me how often through history we have cycled from one extreme to the other on policy (corporate regulation, foreign interventions, farm policy, etc.), when reason simply encourages us to stay carefully in the "middle".

If businesses aren't failing, it's not capitalism

Mr. Greenspan brings up several times the concept of "creative destruction" -- that the strength and beauty of capitalism is that only the creative and successful succeed in business, and they're the ones who do things better and more efficiently than the other guys. Those who can't keep up or adapt are forced out, and their resources are redistributed so others can have a chance.

That process results in better products coming to us cheaper, and innovation being encouraged and rewarded.

If we bail out the losers with public tax-dollars, what are we rewarding then? Bloat and sloth.

Let them fail and open up the market so others can step in and do better.


Economies are like plants, growing too fast is a recipe for disaster. Just like my bradford pear trees that were originally planted because they grow fast, economies that grow too fast don't have the stability needed to weather the storms.

As a rule of thumb, Greenspan seems to point to mid-to-high single digits as a sustainable rate of growth for an economy.

(Maybe a good level to shoot for on your personal investments too? As an aside, I sold my Apple stock at the beginning of June -- check it out today. My 401k isn't faring as well, I'm down 20% in just the last few months.)

Doing the right things right.

In life, it's not enough just to do the right things. You have to do the right things right.

If I get a flat tire, changing it is the right thing to do. However if I forget to tighten the lug nuts, my day's going to get a lot worse. I did the right thing, but I did it *wrong*.

We don't always know what the right things are, though, so we look at the outcomes. If the outcome is bad, we often assume that we did the wrong thing -- but all too often we have done the *right* thing, but we have done it *wrong*.

Buying a new house for most people is a "right" choice. Buying a house that costs more than a third of their gross income is doing it wrong.

We need to bailout, but we need to do it right.

We need to regulate, but we need to do it right.

We need to change some things in Washington, but we need to change them right.

I certainly don't know how to do these things right -- one of many reasons I'm not running for President -- but I hope the guy who does has some pretty good ideas. At this point, though, I'm not convinced that either of our candidates knows how to do any of this stuff right.

But I am pretty sure the solutions of one will be much farther from *dead wrong* than the other's.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Thee and thou

Ever wonder why we use the words "thee" and "thou" in prayers? Me too -- I just always figured it was a more respectful way of speaking.

Well, I'm not sure I have the whole story, but I just got a lot more of it yesterday...

Quick Spanish lesson

Let's start with Spanish. In Spanish, there are two different words for "you": tú and usted. "Tú" is informal/familiar, and is what you'd use when talking to a child (or someone obviously younger than you), or when talking to a close friend. "Usted" is a more formal term, and is used to show respect, deference, and manages to maintain a reasonable "distance" between you and the other person.

When learning how to pray in Spanish, I figured we'd use the "usted" when speaking to our Heavenly Father, but turns out the "tú" form is what's used. Why? As it was explained to me, our communication/communion with our Father should reflect a very close, loving, familiar relationship, which is what the form reflects.

Et tu, English?

So, back to English -- why "thou" and not "you"?

According to Grammar Girl, back in the 14th century English used to have formal and familiar forms of "you" too... But what surprised me is that when we went down to one, we dropped the familiar form! Yep, that's right, "thou" is the familiar/informal form, and "you" is the formal form.

So when you say "thee" and "thou", you're actually using the less-formal, familiar-relationship forms of you.

Learn something every day.
* Interesting sidenote, as GG points out, "you" is both a subject *and* object pronoun, e.g. "You are very kind.", and "I gave the books to you." But the familiar versions of you have different subjective and objective forms, e.g. "Thou art most kind." and "I trust thee."

Does anyone read this thing?

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