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.

Fix My Shit

I’ve been skimming my past blog posts, and it’s the damnedest thing – I noticed my editing is horrendous. Tons of typos, weird word omissions, and in one particular case, it felt like a whole paragraph was lopped off somewhere – I just stopped writing mid-sentence and moved on. I’ve got some ideas about why this happens:

One, I either don’t proofread or I skim. Makes sense why these errors would make it through.

Two, on the occasions that I do proofread, I still miss stuff. Sometimes, when I read sentences in my head, my mind will automatically do the mental mapping for the concepts – that is, I know where I’m going in my writing, so I naturally fill in the blanks. Even when there’s a glaring typo, it gets passed over. There’s a similar concept I read about where people can generally understand words within some degree of spelling error as long as the first and last letter is correct.

Three, even when I do catch errors, I mess up the editing. There’s various ways in which I edit:

  • Simple typographical errors
  • Sentence structure/grammatical errors
  • Rephrasing concepts

With the first, I can fix my errors easily. But with the second and third, I’ll add in new content, but also restructure existing content. What happens is I don’t do a second pass to see if the fixes integrate into the old stuff. Or even if I do make a second pass, I’ll then make some more edits that break the structure again. Basically, I don’t do enough concluding passes. Having said that, it’s kind of a hassle to go to each post and hunt for these errors, because I have to reread each post again to fix it, and then do another pass to confirm my fixes are right. I guess what I’m saying is, someone (not me) should invent a testing framework for writing.

Magic Food Power Combinations

There are some food combinations that become more than the sum of their parts. Combining these ingredients leads to a transcendent food item. Most of you are probably thinking of peanut and jelly as an example. That’s certainly a good example, but here’s an obvious one that people will probably skip over: Bread. Bread is delicious. Bread is life. At its core, bread is just water and flour. I’d recommend salt, too, for flavor, but these are the only ingredients a baker will need to incorporate. Yeast is also necessary, of course, but assuming we were living in ancient Egypt or whatever, we could easily make a starter using more flour and water and letting it sit out for a while. Anyways, this is completely tangential to the point I was trying to make: I’ve found another power combo.

I bought this sauce at the grocery store the other day – it’s called Chaka’s MMM sauce. It was on sale, so I figured I’d try it out. I put it on some pork chops and let it marinate overnight. The next day, I pan fried it for lunch. I gobbled that shit up – it was delicious! The fatty part of the pork in particular had this distinct umami taste. I realized it reminded me of the pork chops my mom would cook, but her marinade only kind of overlapped with the Chaka sauce. The ingredient list for the Chaka sauce is only like 5 or 6 ingredients long, so it couldn’t be that hard to distinguish the thread that linked the two marinades. I’m 90% sure the ingredient is soy sauce. Sounds simple, but I guarantee if you buy a cut of fatty pork, marinate it in some soy sauce over night, season it with salt and pepper and pan fry it, you’ll be surprised at the depth of flavor that the fat will pick up. It’s impressive, really.

On Communication

I had something interesting happen while I was shopping for peanut butter today.  (Edit for the sake of recall: this post was originally drafted on the 27th.)

I was shopping for peanut butter and this older guy came up to me. He grabbed one of the nearby jars of peanut butter and started motioning towards it. I thought he wanted some help from me, so I looked up to see what he was doing. He began pointing at the label of the jar I was holding. It was a jar of Natural Jif, but at the bottom, it stated, “Peanut Butter Spread Contains 90% Peanuts.” I thought he was making a joke about that statement, so I laughed and made some off handed comment – something like, “I wonder what the other ten percent is.” But then the man picked up another jar, pointed at it, and pointed at his mouth. It was at this point I realized the man was mute. I eventually also realized that this man was giving me his personal recommendations on which peanut butters to buy. I ended up carrying a conversation for a solid five minutes with this guy. He’d express something using his hands or his mouth, and I’d kinda interpret it –

*points towards jar of peanut butter, points to mouth,  mimes chewing*

“Oh, you like Skippy?”

*Head nod*

“Ah, that one’s not on sale though, I think only the Jif is on sale.”

*points to a jif jar, points to mouth, chews*

“Ah, Okay, so you you like chunky?”

*Head nod*

and so forth.

There’s nothing out of the ordinary about having conversations with strangers, but it’s rare to find myself in a situation in which my conversational partner can only communicate through nonverbal cues. What made it more strange was the asymmetry between the conversation modes. I was communicating verbally while the man communicated nonverbally through gestures. I’ve read it’s common for people to adopt the body language of their conversational partners in the course of a conversation – when one person smiles, the other will reciprocate, and so forth. That wasn’t really the case in this situation, but I thought it was interesting to bring up for some reason.

One other thing I wanted to bring up was empathy. As I get older, I become more aware of the importance of being empathetic to others. I was kind of uncomfortable talking with the man at first, but the conversation became more natural and flowed as we continued. If I were younger, I’d probably have continued the conversation until I found the most convenient exit point, at which point I’d give a polite “Thanks” and leave. Now, I’m willing to at least try to talk to others, especially if they put in the effort to reach out to me. I hope I wasn’t condescending, though – I tried to communicate while keeping in mind his perspective. I’m going to expound on this issue in relation to this TV show I watch, Steven Universe – it’s a central theme to the series, and gets big props from me for executing on the theme really well. Highly recommended.

On Growing and Changing Perspectives

One thing I think about is how your perspective changes at different points in your life. It’s not just the case that you have a different perspective, but as you age, the amount of life experiences that you’ve had only increases. I’d imagine  your parents divorcing when you’re thirteen is probably devastating, but if the same happened at forty, you’d probably cope much better. Having a major life event at thirteen is one of very few major impacts in your life, whereas by the time you’re forty, you’ve lived through way more and probably learned how to cope with better with major life changes.

I’m currently going through a phase where I’m learning to appreciate my connections with others. I think I’ve hit the twilight of my life about fifty years too early, because I feel about ready to keel over in a retirement home, as I reflect on all my missed connections and regrets in life. It’s a bit premature to declare my life completed, but I also kind of feel like at this point in my life, I’m pretty set in my ways, and even though I might have more major life changes like marriage and kids and career changes etc, my fundamental personality is probably fully formed now. When I was younger, I would think about exploring the endless different paths available to me in life and what kind of person I’d be.  Now, I don’t really think about who I’m going to be anymore – I think about what I’m going to do with my life.

On Empathy

I had dinner with some relatives recently and happened to notice the following exchange between a teenage relative (I think between 13-15 in age) and his grandmother.

Grandma: Are you done eating already? Here, eat this (starts picking up some food to give to him)

Teenager: No, I’m not hungry – *Grandma puts the food in his plate anyways*

Teenager: *Grumbles about being ignored* I already told her I wasn’t hungry, why doesn’t she listen to me?

I didn’t say anything, but I laughed inside, because I knew exactly how he felt. This happened all the time with my own mom. I couldn’t stand it when I was younger. Even though I could empathize with him, now that I look at it from my current perspective, I feel that my own needs aren’t really that important. Sure, the grandma isn’t listening to what the kid wants, but that’s more of an issue about frustration from lack of control. That’s a petty feeling that can be subsumed by what the other person is offering, which is genuine feeling of concern for your well being. Sure, the gift that’s being offered isn’t what you want, but who gives a shit – if someone else takes time out of their day to care about you, my philosophy is that you should gratefully accept their sentiment. I guess that’s probably the biggest change for me in growing up – when you’re young, you focus on yourself. But as you grow up, you need to pay attention to other people as well. Your needs are no longer the highest priority. I used to be a dick growing up. I still am, too, but now at least I notice when I’m being a dick to others – and understand is half the battle, right?

On Media Consumption

I’ve been watching a ton of TV recently. Probably since I started my new job, I’ve changed my lifestyle accordingly to veg out on the television after a long day of work. I’m guessing since it’s my first job, I’m not used to focusing so long, because I’m usually pretty wiped out after work. TV doesn’t really require a lot of active thinking, which is probably why I like it. I don’t necessarily think that TV is bad, but the amount of TV I watch is bad. I’m not really productive once I come home. I just space out and relax. I don’t even think there’s anything wrong with pursuing recreational activities, but I do think that I need a better balance of pure recreation like watching TV, and recreational activities that also serve to improve me as a person.

Examples: reading challenging literature. Once again, fluff is fine, but I need to work out my brain in other ways besides at work. When I was in school, I’d read things that would expand my perspective or challenge my worldviews. That’s good to do. I think staying in a comfort bubble has pros and cons, but the cons are huge in the long run. They limit you and what you will see and expect from the world. Maybe listen to podcasts, or some kind of radio. I’d always had a fondness for Planet Money – I’ve recently restarted the habit, but it’s not consistent. Hopefully, this post gives me that jump start I need to build up the habit.

On The Wheel

Man, the wheel was such a great invention. I walked to the grocery store today – about one and a half miles. I think I bought somewhere in the range of 30-40 pounds of groceries, which would’ve made for a pretty shitty walk back. Fortunately, there’s a bus line from the grocery store in the direction of my house which dropped me off about half a mile away. I walked the rest of way, but I had to stop to take a break multiple times. Carrying those groceries really made me think of the advancements in transportation that we take for granted on a daily basis. Even a bag is a huge step up compared to directly carrying whatever goods you need to lug around. Without a bag, you’re limited to whatever you can hold in your hands. With a bag, you’re limited by the size of the bag and your endurance. Which brings me to my original point – the wheel.

Carrying groceries made me think of those old Chinese ladies who use those stroller/carts to carry groceries. Having a wheeled cart like that expands your range of travel by an insane margin. Carrying fifty pounds of groceries, I’m guessing the maximum amount of travel would be tiny. You’d have to take constant breaks to rest your hands, which would get tired really fast. If you had a backpack or messenger bag that could support the weight at your hips, your distance would be extended probably double if not more, since it’s a lot easier to carry weight from your base. But pushing around a cart takes a fraction of the effort that carrying the weight would bring. The only real limit is your time and patience. I think my original insight had some more substance behind it, but I put off writing this post for the whole day and I’ve kinda forgotten what it was about. It’s like waking up after a dream – if you don’t document it immediately after waking, you’re going to forget it.