Saturday, September 25, 2010


Did you watch the Supermarket Secrets documentary? Did anything surprise you? I noted that from the video it looked like the food system in the UK was the same as what I have seen in the US and Oz. Well, lo and behold, a report released this week by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development found that among the 33 most economically advanced countries in the world, the three with the fastest growing obesity rates guessed it...the United States, Australia, and the United Kingdom. Coincidence? I think not. Here's a story about the finding in USA Today:

USA Today

In scripture drunkenness and gluttony are almost always paired together as an example of a person who is out of control. And yet for all the sermons and youth devotionals about the dangers of excessive drinking I've heard as a lifelong church goer, I have never once heard one on gluttony. And I probably need to. Looks like a lot of us need to...

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Supermarket Secrets

I have posted links below for an excellent 2 part documentary on industrialized food done by Channel 14 in the UK. As far as I can tell from the video, British supermarkets are just like the ones in America and Australia, so the information likely applies to all of us. All of us Anglo cultures that is - not all cultures have embraced the methods of our food industry - the "wow" moment for me came when they showed a supermarket in Spain. You'll see what I mean if you watch the videos. In the videos you'll learn why organic fruits and vegetables cost more (it's not because it cost more to grow organically), why the meat we eat has higher and higher levels of fat (it will blow your mind when you see how much fat is in a modern chicken), and a host of other interesting (and frustrating) facts. After watching this I really feel like I am a much more informed food shopper. Enjoy:

Supermarket Secrets part 1

Supermarket Secrets part 2

Sunday, September 19, 2010

The Novice

I recently finished reading the The Novice by Stephen Schettini. The book is an autobiographical tale of a journey, both physical and spiritual, that the author took as a young man which had lifelong ramifications. Schettini begins the story with his upbringing as a typical (though troubled) young man in England in the 1960s who decides to take a journey across Europe and Asia to "find himself." Schettini eventually comes into contact with exiled Tibetan Buddhists in Northern India and is absolutely captivated by them. This infatuation eventually leads him to abandon the familiarity of his upbringing (Western, Christian, etc.) and embrace the new found Eastern Buddhist culture. In fact, he embraces it with such zeal that he becomes a Buddhist monk. As a monk he goes on an amazing spiritual and intellectual journey - but not the one he expected to have. The story ends with Schettini leaving Buddhism and reentering Western culture. (I don't want to give too much away as to his reasons, for those who might want to read the book for themselves.) I found the whole story fascinating, especially the insights he gained as he moved from one culture to another and back again.

Here's a few of my favorite quotes:

"Denial is rooted in the pretense that we know what's going on, and only when things get desperate do we tend to admit otherwise."

"I tell my students that if they don't cultivate integrity they'll end up grumpy old men and women, and that there's no third option."

"What do I believe? That we have an instinct for right and wrong, and push it aside when it's inconvenient. That the more deeply we're motivated by emotion, the more insistently we pass it off as reason. That denial is a force to be reckoned with, and our principle obstacle. That ethical codes are as likely to produce hypocrisy as goodness. That belief is precarious, especially when it demands certainty. That no religious, scientific, or academic faithful can be trusted that can't laugh at itself. That the only way to respect the truth is to take it with a pinch of salt. That life leads nowhere until we consciously take the direction it provides."

Sunday, September 12, 2010


I'm on a bit of a financial corruption kick right now. I mentioned conspiracy theory in one of my earlier posts...well I just finished watching Collapse and it is undoubtedly in the conspiracy theory genre. But the thing about conspiracy theories is that they vary in their amount of plausibility. Some conspiracy theories are just crazy far fetched stuff that sounds like something someone cooked up while taking psychotropic drugs (stuff like alien abduction cover ups, etc.). Then there are those conspiracy theories that take real verifiable facts and give them a plausible (though not widely accepted) interpretation. Collapse falls into the later category. Michael Ruppert gives plausible, rational arguments for why he believes that modern industrialized societies are facing an impeding collapse.

For me, the least convincing aspects of his story are the bits about corruption in the CIA. I don't doubt that it happens, but some of his accusations seemed implausible. But to be fair, most of these comments were made in passing and he didn't share his reasoning behind them (since it's not what the film is about), so perhaps I would find it more plausible if I knew what his evidence was.

For his main point (the part about impending collapse) he makes a very convincing case. I think what he gives is a worse case scenario - but a plausible one. What I find most compelling is his depiction of a post-peak oil scenario. There are two undeniable facts he cites in the film: 1. modern industrial society is completely dependent on oil consumption; 2. oil is a finite resource. He takes these two facts and rams them down your throat with a shoe horn, forcing you to confront the inevitable conclusion. Click the link below to watch the film.


Monday, September 6, 2010

Democracy part 3: Are We Living in a Plutocracy?

Plutocracy: (n.) Government by the wealthy. <usage> a country or society governed in this way; an elite or ruling class of people whose power derives from their wealth.

In this post, I'm thinking about whether leaders really make public policy based on what's best for the people.
So what happens once politicians get elected? They go to Washington to swim in an ocean of special interest lobbyists (about 20,000 of them). Lobbyist specialize in selling legislation to politicians. Sometimes they've come to weigh-in on a hot button political issue, but usually they're corporate henchmen. Every year corporations collectively spend billions (yes, with a b) on lobbying. So, for example, if there is legislation trying to set a limit on the amount of trans-fat a restaurant can put in a children's meal, you can bet there will be a swat team from McDonalds swinging in to make sure it doesn't happen (sorry kids).

And here's an interesting fact - about half of congressmen today become lobbyist after they leave office. It's the plutocratic circle of life: business to politics and politics to business. I apologize if this sounds overly pessimistic, but here's what it boils down to for me - why would corporations, whose sole goal is to increase their profit margin, spend millions and millions of dollars on lobbyist unless it increased their profit margin? They wouldn't. They absolutely wouldn't. The only logical conclusion is that these corporations have tremendous sway over public policy (if I'm missing something, somebody please tell me). How is that not plutocracy?...

Here's another question (this one might cook your brain) - What if the illusion of choice in the political realm is just the tip of the iceberg? What if most of the choices in our great Western democracies, the choices we make in our every day lives, aren't choices at all, but rather the illusion of choice? Am I starting to sound like some kind of crazy conspiracy theorist? Maybe you're thinking I've read 1984 one too many times. I'll admit this sounds like the stuff of an Orwell novel, but I assure you it's real. If you want to see how deep the rabbit hole really goes (to quote Morpheus) then check out this excellent article over at Front Porch Republic:

Neo-feudalism and the Invisible Fist

Democracy part 2: Are We Living in a Plutocracy?

Plutocracy: (n.) Government by the wealthy. <usage> a country or society governed in this way; an elite or ruling class of people whose power derives from their wealth.

In my last post I was trying to get at the question of whether we really get to choose our leaders (democracy) or whether they are financially chosen (plutocracy)? Here's more for consideration:

Where do politicians get their money? Well, it's complicated - really complicated. Rather than write a long boring post describing the intricate details, I'll just summarize. There have been all sorts of legislation and reforms over the years designed to curb corruption and the plutocratic tendencies of American politics. This is good since it does limit fat-cat contributions, but make no mistake, the wealthy are still the primary players in financing campaigns. Here's the main sources:

1. The candidates themselves. Most people in the upper levels of government are multi-millionaires and they spend a ton of their own cash to get or keep their office.
2. Other rich people. Theoretically, an individual can only give $2,400 to an individual candidate, but there are loopholes - there are about a gazillion organizations out there known as political action committees that the individual can legally funnel money through so that their contribution comes out closer to $70,000.
3. The above mentioned PACs. Funded by the wealthy (private and corporate).
4. National, State, and Local parties. Likewise funded.
5. Straw donors. This is the illegal option. I'm guessing it happens frequently. A straw donor scheme is basically an inverted pyramid scheme in which someone gives lots of other people money to give the candidate in order to get around campaign contribution limits.

I don't know about you but I'm leaning toward plutocracy. I shall continue my rant in the next post...

Part 3

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Democracy part 1: Are We Living in a Plutocracy?

Plutocracy: (n.) Government by the wealthy. <usage> a country or society governed in this way; an elite or ruling class of people whose power derives from their wealth.

In the Western world we take great pride in our democratic ways. Democracy is one the core elements of our identity. It's the central thread in the narrative we teach to school children, "good citizens believe in democracy."

There's good reason for this. One benefit of democracy is that it gives us choices in life. Our leaders aren't chosen by something as arbitrary as being born into a royal family; we get to choose our leaders based on who is the best person for the least in theory.

But there's a problem with this narrative - that dirty little five letter word - money. Take my homeland for example - the good'ol USofA, a shining pennacle of democratic ideals. Here's a hypothetical situation from American politics:
Let's say you're from Arizona - you grew up swimming in the Colorado river, camping in the Grand Canyon, exploring every nook and cranny of your state. You went to the University of Arizona and while there you became interested in public policy and after college you embarked on a career in public service. And let's say that after 20 years of serving in every capacity imaginable, working with people from Yuma to Flagstaff, and learning the needs of your state from top to bottom you decide to run for John McCain's seat in the senate. Well too bad - you can't have it. It doesn't matter how good your ideas are or how great a leader you can be - you can't have it. Why? Because it's McCain's, and he'll bury you under a ton of cash if you even think about taking it. Think I'm exagerrating? Recently when McCain got wind that another Republican was going to challenge him for his seat he started running smear adds before the guy even entered the race. He went on to spend twenty million dollars...just on the primary. They haven't even had the general election yet! Needless to say, McCain will probably die in his senate seat (or should we say throne?).

Now don't get me wrong, I'm not saying that McCain is a bad senator, or that his challenger (or my hypothetical challenger) would have been better. My point is that when millions of dollars are being spent in elections, the question of who's the best candidate is of secondary importance (at best). The more likely determinate of a candidate's success is the amount of money they can spend. Which raises an interesting question - where does all this money come from in the first place?

I'll talk a little more about that in the next post...

Part 2