Mammon: Best Idol?

There’s a famous expression, “The love of money is the root of all evil.” Which is a damn shame, because money fucking rules. I don’t just mean in the typical sense, in that money opens up a lot of doors and also lets you buy cool ass shit – I mean in the sense of its utility and the different abstractions money can represent. For example, there’s a pretty popular movement right now called FIRE, meaning financial independence / early retirement.

The goal of the movement is for its followers to break down their expenditures into a monthly/yearly spend, extrapolate the amount of money needed to live out their remaining lives, and save money to hit that financial goal and live in retirement. Of course, this doesn’t necessarily mean they have to quit their jobs – this financial independence opens up the door to them doing whatever they want. What’s interesting here is that money is transformed into essentially units of living time – that is, X amounts of dollars now represents Y number of days/months/years in which a person can subsist. As they say, time is money. But in this case, money is time.

Here’s another conversion: money to social status.  The more money you have, the more mobility you have in social status. This gets mixed up a bit with upbringing and social class, because it’s also possible to have a glass ceiling on social status despite your richness. How so? take a look at the concept of the nouveau riche – new money. Think of The Great Gatsby: Tom and Daisy can shit on Gatsby’s parties as ostentatious and flashy – while he may be in the same stratosphere of wealth, he’s still culturally inferior. His concept of displaying wealth is the poor man’s envisioning of how rich people live. Conversely, Tom’s form of wealth is how rich people envision the rich living. It’s another form of putting the poor in their place. “Sure, you seem wealthy, but you know you’re just playing at being rich. You still ain’t shit.”

There’s also the most obvious conversion – money to influence/power. You can see this in political lobbying and businesses. Businesses in particular is an interesting application of converting money into social influence. You take money and human capital and use it to solve a problem in the real world. If you think about it more abstractly, that’s essentially the core concept of a business: applied problem solving. The bigger the company, the bigger the problem. Or, as is the case with all multinationals, more problems getting solved. Its’ obviously good to diversify your business streams as you grow, because the problem you solve might not be a problem in the future. Look at any number of industries that’s been superseded by upgraded technology. You see it happening with television now – the problem of people spending their free time. Television is no longer the only game in town: there’s tons of other forms of media competing for people’s attentions, which lessens the amount of money television broadcasters can make as a whole. You see them resorting to bundling strategies and crippling new media companies (ISP throttling) to keep a competitive advantage, which leads to my next point: At a certain point, you start to see companies strategize around maximizing profit, instead of solving a problem.

Going back to the television example: the core problem that television broadcasters and ISPs solve are no longer the main priority – that is, delivering content. These companies want to maintain current systems and just extract more wealth from subscribers. Television is having a hard time because people are simply leaving the television packages altogether. However, ISPs have the advantage in that many areas are monopolies, so subscribers can’t leave to go to different broadcasters. Ideally, this is the point where government steps in and is like, “Hey, quit dicking around and do your damn job”. But then you get into regulatory capture, and, well… you can see the current state of broadband in the US. It kinda sucks.

On Miracle Drugs

Burn extra fat! Recover from injuries/exertion faster! Put on more muscle!

You see a lot of advertisements for miracle drugs that make dubious claims – At Walgreens, they sold green tea diet pills that claimed to help burn fat faster. They had a shelf dedicated to these diet pills – I deemed it the snake oil section. What’s crazy to me is how much bullshit gets hawked as legitimate, when such miracle drugs actually exist – they’re called steroids. Steroids, are, of course, a controlled substance and therefore illegal to own in the US without the right prescription.

Of course, steroid is a vague description for a wide variety of substances that provide various benefits to the body. Hydrocortisone is a commonly available over the counter steroid that can help with skin problems. But when people refer to steroids in the taboo sense, they’re typically talking about anabolic steroids, which can provide many varying benefits, including but not limited to:

  • Muscle growth
  • Faster recovery from workouts
  • Increased endurance
  • Lose fat faster

So if the established benefits of anabolic steroids (now referred to as steroids) is so great, why aren’t they more commonplace?

I’d wager it’s mostly due to the huge stigma against steroids in the US. Here are some typical associations:

  • Steroid rage
  • Gym bros
  • Impossible bodybuilder physiques (Not in impressive way, either, though you do have the bodybuilder association with steroids. I think a lot of people imagine the crazy blown up synthol arms when they think of steroid usage)
  • Needles in asses
  • A multitude of health complications, biggest being possible death (RIP Zyzz)

The thing is, there’s no such thing as a free meal. Of course steroid usage has consequences, but like all drugs, careful usage and moderation can mitigate most of the harmful effects. From what I’ve gathered of steroid usage, the biggest issues stem from steroid abuse: multiple cycles where you start getting careless with mixing different types and dosages.

I read that some people get addicted as well – they see the easy, constant gains from steroid use and keep using to the point of going overboard, maybe in terms of physique or devastating side effects.

You can also get contaminated gear – after all, it’s still a controlled substance and illegal to own in the US. Meaning if you want sick gains you have to find a dealer. Unless you buy it from a known source, you don’t really know what you’ll be getting.

I feel like this is a problem that’s largely comparable with the recreational drug epidemic in the US today.  Ignorance to the problem and a heavy handed approach to users has greater side effects than education and rehabilitative methods. Instead of demonizing steroid usage, why don’t we look into steroid usage more, educate the populace on safe usage, and have controlled methods for dosing patients? Shit, if we have steroids that help burn fat with literally no extra work needed, why don’t we open this up to obese people instead of selling them snake oil and fat shaming them?

I mean, obviously it’s putting a band aid on the problem instead of actually solving it, but I don’t see why it couldn’t be a component in a true weight loss regimen.  Side effects? Unless it kills you, I don’t see how the side effects would be worse than the results of carrying 300+ extra pounds of fat on your body. Of course,  it’d help to be administered in a controlled setting with careful monitoring by a medical practitioner, as I could see the same problem of abuse cropping up for obese patients who get addicted to the easy win and fluctuate between cutting and bulking up again.

Of course, I’m talking out of my ass here – I have no experience with steroids and have no desire to in their current state. I’m relatively risk averse, and don’t feel comfortable using drugs with no oversight on production, as well as lack of guidance from medical professionals. Maybe when safe usage methods are disseminated into the mainstream.

To sum: Legalize it!

On Diversity

I was watching this episode of Bizarre Foods where Andrew Zimmern goes to the Ozarks to eat bear. I guess it’s pretty popular up there, because he was talking about how limited the hunting season was and it’s supposedly really hard to get a permit to actually hunt bear. Anyways, there were butchering the bear to eat and Mr Zimmern starts talking about how bear fat is used for everything up there, from oiling machines to lighting candles. Apropos of nothing, the guy who hunted down the bear was a banker. This stuck out to me.

When I think of bankers, I think of either some Wall Street fat cat, or a bank manager at your local bank chain. But when I see a TV show like this, it reminds me of the actual diversity of lives that are being experienced by people worldwide. It’s really easy to live in a bubble if you live in an urban populous city like San Francisco or Seattle. While every city has distinct characteristics, you also see a lot of similarity in the lifestyles of the people in the city.  You get a lot of people who work standard 9-5 jobs, with some time to go out on the town on the weekends. The 9-5 exists in the country, too, of course, but I feel like there’s definitely more variety in what people do in their different localities, mostly because they don’t have the option of consuming stuff in the city like museums or bars or clubs or whatever. That’s not necessarily a bad thing – hiking out in nature or hunting seems like it would have its own appeal.

Then there are the people who are completely divorced from the concept of the 9-5. I remember a while ago, I read this news article about the Ringling Brothers circus closing down. What got my attention was thinking about the carnies who would be put out of a job by the closure of the circus. I can’t imagine the lifestyle of constant travel and performances in the circus. It’d probably be low pay and hard work. Now that the circus is closing, I’d think it’d be pretty hard to find a new job, too. Who’d hire you? I’m getting pretty off track here, but I just think it’s surprising how niches like this can exist. I guess it doesn’t any more, since it seems like circuses are dying out. Ah well.

On NPR

I heard this story on NPR recently, about a woman who found herself in a case of mistaken identity. Here’s a link to the story. To sum, someone else in the same town had the same name as her, and she would often get the other Katie’s emails or membership benefits to grocery stores and so forth. This is like the epitome of an NPR story.

Katie talks through the emotional turmoil of having her identity mistaken as the other Katie and vice versa – The other Katie publishes a book that her friends mistake as being written by her. She tries multiple times  to reach out to Katie 2 – to get some form of closure over this uncertainty in her life, I suppose. For one reason or another, these two Katies never meet up, until an encounter is brokered by the radio program to have them both talk through their experiences.

It’s a pretty mundane story, but it feels like the events are given a ton of unearned emotional weight. My favorite part of the story is when the second Katie finally reaches out by sending a Facebook friend request to OG Katie after having previously established radio silence, and OG Katie notes, “This is shocking, because being friends on Facebook is pretty much the opposite of ignoring someone.” I don’t personally know Katie, so I don’t have the context on the importance of this event, but it’s risible to ascribe such importance to a friend request on Facebook. That’s NPR for you.

On Enjoyment

One thing I try to work on is focusing on the moment. There’s a lot of focus nowadays on being mindfulness and being in the moment. One aspect that I work on is savoring my food. When I eat, I try to pay attention to what I’m eating. What this means in practice is using all of my senses to enjoy the food – the taste, obviously, the aroma, the sensation of the texture in my mouth, taking in the food visually, and even listening to how the food sounds when I’m eating it or breaking it up or whatever. This is really hard to do.

Something I ran into when meditating was having my mind wander constantly. The mindful eating process, for lack a better term, hits some of the same mental muscles. I start wandering within seconds when trying to focus on food. I’ll taste the food, mash it in my mouth a bit, then start daydreaming about some random crap. It’s a hard process to break out of.

Normally, I’d talk about how to work towards improvement to get out of the rut I’d be in, but this is really something that’s going to get solved by practicing more. So I guess I’ll try to keep at it.

On Transportation

This post is expanding on an earlier post I wrote. I went to a gas station to pick up some water after hitting the gym. I spent a good five minutes trying to figure out which bottle of water to get. Normally, I would focus on value – most amount of water for cheapest price. However, the best value products were the gallon jugs, which I didn’t want to get, because I would have to carry it the entire trip back home. Most of it would be on the bus, but roughly fifteen minutes of that would be walking or standing. So instead, I got the 1.5 liter bottle. On the way home, I stopped by Costco to grab random crap. I also ran into the same problem here – I have a limited amount of things I can carry. The weight of the items wasn’t a huge issue, as the bus stop was right outside the store, and it would also drop me off in front of my home, but my actual carrying capacity would be limited to whatever I could fit in a box. Being a bulk retailer, Costco is actually centered around people who have access to a car.

I realized that these types of problems have become marginalized as access to more forms of transportation becomes ubiquitous. I’d say most middle class Americans drive, which causes the issue of carrying capacity to go away. Most people probably have more than enough room to fit all of their groceries in their car. This is something that we take for granted now, but this is actually a major boon to modern society, on a greater scale and on the individual level. I was going to follow this up with examples of how it changed society on a micro and macro level, but I kind of ran out of steam. The end.

On Advertising, V2

Speaking of advertising, I think the FarmersOnly advertising campaign would make a pretty good case study. I don’t know how effective it’s been, but if my gut is correct, their numbers are probably doing like gangbusters. Here’s the ad I’ve been seeing recently.

What’s so great about it? First, I think it does a fantastic job at qualifying its target demographic. I’d imagine the first thought in a person’s mind when they hear of the website farmers only, is ridicule. A dating site for farmers is a pretty risible concept in the face of modern urban society. But watching the commercial, the ad makers turn this narrative on its head. It instead attacks the stereotypes of modern living, with an effeminate, health conscious guy who’s focused on materialism. What’s their message? You city slickers need to git on outta here. This site’s not for you.  They’ve taken what would ordinarily be a mocked subgroup, ie Rednecks/Country folk, and turned it into an exclusive club. Pretty damn effective messaging.

Second, I think the precision of their targeting is spot on. The common theme in FarmerOnly’s commercials is a rejection of modern living. Even the production values reflect this sentiment. Besides the smartphone in their ads, their commercials could be something produced in the nineties. The commercials are pretty rough around the edges, just like their customer. These aren’t going to be people who care about the slickness of the messaging, it’s the message itself that’s important to them. Making it lower budget makes it appeal more to its target audience, because it’s doing a better job of speaking to their values.

Plus, their jingle is catchy as hell. You don’t have to be lonely, at farmers only dawt cahhhm~~~

 

On Ads

Advertising to minors should be illegal. It’s crazy to look back and see what corporations have been able to get away with. If you think about it, advertising is essentially a low level form of mind control, in which a company will attempt to insert itself or its product into your mind space or get you to associate pleasant connotations with it. Advertising to the young can be a way to lock in a long term consumer while their minds are more impressionable. It’s not about “Protecting the kids” from bad influences like sex and drugs and rock and roll, it’s about having stricter limits on unabashed capitalism. There’s no benefit to society to having forcing ads down kids’ throats.

It’s not about parental responsibility either. To say it’s about having parents take more responsibility for their children is beside the point, which is you are still allowing people to exploit children. Putting the onus on the parent is little more than victim blaming. Anyways, the reason why I thought of this was due to me eating off brand cereal and I immediately thought, “This generic Cap’n Crunch tastes identical to the real thing.” I haven’t seen a cereal commercial in months to years and I could still rattle off all the cereal brands in my local supermarket.

Blog idea: Urban exploration

Sometimes I like to spitball ideas for things I’d like to see out in the wild. Bear in mind, I’ve done absolutely no prior research on this topic, so for all I know, this niche has already been fulfilled. The concept is google earth lite: the blog, or google maps street view with a more human touch.

The gist of the blog is to document the walk between two random destinations – say, from work to home. At roughly fifteen miles, the estimate for this walk is about five hours to six hours. I’d map out the route I’d be taking and take pictures of interesting locations along the way. I could write about any notable sites I came across, or any insight that would come to mind. What I like about this concept is that it gives context to the areas that you see on google map. While it’s possible view the same areas using street view, sharing my personal experiences about the same area makes it much more engaging, I think – attaching experiences to locations embeds the geography better in the mind. This isn’t a very practical skill nowadays, since we’ll always be able look up directions on our phones, but the idea’s still fun.

It actually seems kind of beside the point to brand it as teaching a practical application of geography, since I’d be doing it for fun, not to try to make money or fame or whatever. Actually, side projects like these that are almost better being divorced from those kind of issues, because if money or fame is a major factor for running the side project, then if you fail to grow either or these over time, it’ll serve to discourage you from working on it. If it’s done as a passion project, then your enjoyment of the activity will work to sustain it. In my case, I might run into problems because I’d be more interested in actually reading this type of blog than actually maintaining one, which is a ton of work.

On Hobbies and Finding Your Passion

I like the idea of being passionate about something. Having said that, I don’t really have a passion. I do have hobbies, though. For me, hobbies are something that improve the quality of my life in some way – something I can derive satisfaction from, or gain physical or mental benefits. However, they’re optional. I can do without them pretty easily, but they’re nice to have. Is it good to hit the gym? Sure, but I don’t mind skipping a day. I could sit at home and veg out or reddit all day and I would be fine. Not thrilled or anything, but my life would be adequate. Which is why I think the idea of finding my passion is so intoxicating.

When I think of passion, I think of people who are completely encompassed in their hobby to the point that it’s one of if not the main driver in their life. It’s something they actively look forward to or focus on when they wake up in the morning. For me, hobbies are something to break up the filler space while I wait to die. I don’t mean that in the sense that I’m sitting around depressed and waiting for the sweet relief of death. I’d say I’m just being pragmatic about my life in terms of time usage. After all, everyone dies one day. It’s something that you have to consider – best case scenario, you live to somewhere in the range of 70-100 and have a pretty fulfilling life. But in the present day, there are still a bunch of obligations that you have to deal with – money for rent, food, bills, that force you to get a job. You spend a large portion of the day doing something that you probably don’t (actively) enjoy to subsidize the other portions of your life. I think, if I were to die relatively soon, I wouldn’t regret the the time I allocated for my hobbies. It’s a minor pleasantry that improved my life by a marginal uptick. The alternative would’ve probably been reddit, anyways. Or sleep. Actually, I don’t allocate enough time for sleep. I wish I spent less time on reddit/other bullshit on the internet and slept more. Now I want to do a write up on sleep.