Errol Morris on the Impossibility of “Truth”

Errol Morris is a brilliant film-maker, but did you know he’s just as good with essays?

Nothing is so obvious that it’s obvious. When someone says that something is obvious, it seems almost certain that it is anything but obvious – even to them. The use of the word “obvious” indicates the absence of a logical argument — an attempt to convince the reader by asserting the truth of something by saying it a little louder.

Long and involved, but worth it…

[The New York Times: Which came first, the chicken or the egg?]

The Water of Life

Paul J. passed along a New York Times article on independent bottlers of Scotch whisky. These folks buy premade whisky from distilleries an then work new magic on it.

Suffice it to say, this isn’t your usual Macallan or Glenfiddich. And because of the intricacies of American importing laws, these gems rarely wash up on our shores. What’s more, now that many distilleries are bottling their own single-malt Scotches rather than selling them for blending, and with increased demand from the thirsty middle classes of China, Russia and India, the pool of whiskey that independents draw from is drying up.

Autumn is here, and that means whisky season has arrived. Kris and I were also noticing taht our wine rack is rather empty. We just haven’t been drinking much lately. (That’s a good thing, of course, both for our health and our pocketbooks.) Still, I think a re-stocking trip is in order.

Emotional Eating and Self-Regulation

One of the benefits of having a popular weblog (not this one, obviously) is that your readers send you lots of interesting reading material. Here are a couple of blog posts that are actually closely related to each other:

First up, at Brazen Careerist, Penelope writes about four weight-loss tips from her month in the mental ward. This is raw stuff:

  1. Understand that any weight problem is an emotional problem.
  2. Take time off so you can change bad patterns.
  3. Don’t be a snob. (In other words: know thyself.)
  4. Stop using your life as an excuse.

Trunk writes:

I’m telling anyone with an eating problem — if you are overweight or underweight — [life] can wait. Stop kidding yourself that [other stuff] is more important. People are always worrying that they will mess up their career by stopping their work to fix themselves. But the worst job is the job that you use to avoid your personal life.

I immediately ordered Breaking Free from Emotional Eating, which somebody recommneded to me long ago, but which I’ve conveniently ignored. Emotional eating is what I do. I need to stop it.

Meanwhile, here’s a related article on creating a habit of self-regulation. The author writes:

If you do ANYTHING that requires self-regulation, then that makes it EASIER for you to have self-regulation in EVERYTHING.

Self-discipline is one of my weak spots. It always has been. I don’t know how to change it, how to improve. This article claims that even practicing good posture on a regular basis can improve self-regulation in other areas of life. I’m skeptical, but I’m willing to give it a try (especially since my posture is poor to begin with).

Someday I will be a whole, complete person. I just wish it were today.

(P.S. On a related note, Dave sent me this story about mindless eating.)

Banker to the Poor: Micro-Lending and the Battle Against World Poverty

“Poverty does not belong in a civilized human society. Its proper place is in a museum,” writes Muhammad Yunus near the end of Banker to the Poor: Micro-Lending and the Battle Against World Poverty. “I want to see a world free from poverty.”

If anyone else made such a pronouncement, you might be justified in dismissing it as idle fantasy. But after reading 250 pages describing Yunus’ thirty-year micro-lending project, the reader knows that he is not dreaming — he’s deadly serious. What’s more, he just might achieve his goal.

Muhammad Yunus, who won the Nobel Peace Prize for 2006, is a Bangladeshi banker and economist. Born and raised in Chittagong, he came to the United States during the 1960s to study economics. He returned to Bangladesh to teach at Chittagong University in the early 1970s, but found the poverty around him at odds with the material he taught in class.

I used to feel a thrill at teaching my students the elegant economic theories that could supposedly cure societal problems of all types. But in 1974, I started to dread my own lectures. What good were all my complex theories when people were dying from starvation on the sidewalks and the porches across from my lecture hall?

It’s this delineation between economic theory and economic reality that makes Yunus’ story so compelling. Instead of ensconcing himself in an ivory tower, discussing economic policy based on ideas, he chose to put these ideas into practice, to see how they worked in the real world. There’s a big difference between fighting poverty in theory and fighting it in fact.

Yunus found that most of the poor people in the villages around his university didn’t lack initiative, but only lacked opportunity, opportunity that existing financial institutions were not prepared to grant. Yunus established the Grameen Bank to help the poor help themselves.

Commercial banks assume that every borrower is going to run away with their money, so they tie their clients up in legal knots. Lawyers pore over their precious documents, making certain that no borrower will escape the reach of the bank. In contrast, Grameen assumes that every borrower is honest. There are no legal instruments between the lenders and the borrowers. We were convinced that the bank should be built on human trust, not on meaningless paper contracts.

Grameen Bank offers small low-interest, collateral-free loans to the poor. These micro-loans — most of which are given to women — are used for entrepreneurship. One woman might make stools, another might weave baskets, another might own and operate the only cell phone in a village. In nearly every case, however, the loans allow the women to break free from the chains of poverty. This video offers a more comprehensive overview:

These micro-loans don’t just fight extreme poverty; they lead to deeper societal changes, as well. They help elevate the status of women, decrease the birth rate, lead to better education, and foster political activism.

The poor, once economically empowered, are the most determined fighters in the battle to solve the population problem, end illiteracy, and live healthier, better lives. When policy makers finally realize that the poor are their partners, rather than bystanders or enemies, we will progress much faster than we do today.

Banker to the Poor is a must-read for those interested in socially-responsible investments. It’s also good for those interested in charity, or in economics. Yunus has an agreeable style: he’s both humble and candid. I expected the book to be dry, the work of an economics professor. It is the work of an economics professor, but it’s anything but dry.

Last March in The New York Times, Nicholas Kristof wrote a piece entitled, “You, Too, Can Be a Banker to the Poor“. Kristof profiled Kiva, a web site that allows folks like you and me to make micro-loans to entrepreneurs hoping to escape from poverty. Here’s a PBS/Frontline clip about Kiva:

I love the concept of micro-lending. It combines community-based and community-centered finance — in essence, communism (or “communalism”, perhaps) — with good old-fashioned entrepreneurism and free enterprise — in essence, capitalism. It takes the best of both economic systems and binds them together. In doing so, it helps people in need.

Addendum: Thanks to GRS readers who are forwarding additional information. At Grameen’s official site, you can read about the 16 decisions, which loan recipients are required to affirm. Like Kiva, the Grameen Foundation (which is “inspired by” (though not affiliated with) Yunus’ Grameen Bank) offers people a chance to contribute to the microfinance projects around the world.

Thanks to Ramit Sethi of I Will Teach You to Be Rich, who mailed me this book several months ago. I’m glad he did.

The Dangers of Purging

If you’ve been following along elsewhere, you might be aware that Kris and I have been on a purging kick lately. We’re getting rid of all our stuff! Well, maybe not all of it, but vast quantities.

For one thing, I’m purging books. You know how painful this is for me. I’m sure those that helped us move the books three years ago are none too pleased to see them being sold (or worse — given away). But I’ve finally realized that it’s senseless to keep books that I never intend to read. Plus, we’re not far from the public library.

So, we’re purging many books. That means, of course, that we can purge bookshelves. I also bought a new desk, one that I can actually work at without experiencing pain. That means we have an old desk to purge. We’re purging old computer disks, manuals, and supplies. We’re purging our media collection.

Some of this stuff has just been thrown in the trash. I just want it gone. We’re selling other items on Craigslist. I’m selling some stuff online, too.

Surprisingly, it doesn’t hurt to get rid of my comics. I thought it would. It’s actually something of a relief to mail them to somebody who will read them. I’m not losing much on them, either. I bought them for an average of $25/book, and am selling them for about $20/book.

What did hurt, however, was selling our old RCA Victor “Living Sound” console stereo. We never used it — Kris thought it was ugly and wouldn’t let it anywhere in the main living area — but I always dreamed of having it sitting in our living room, providing its warm, rich tube-born sound. But I sold it for $25 yesterday to a guy who’s going to gut it to use as a computer-based music server. (He’ll wire the computer output to the console’s speakers — he loves the warm, rich sound, too.) Selling that thing hurt.

Imagine how awesome that thing would have looked with the chairs from Mac and Pam:

I knew there was something I was missing when I agreed to sell that console. It was a perfect match for those chairs. One of our projects for the next few months is to convert the study (the red room downstairs) into a proper Man Room. I could have made huge strides toward this goal if I’d put the console down there with the chairs.

I’m kicking myself now.

The Paleolithic Diet

I keep forgetting that one of the reasons I chose this blog template is so that I could post some smaller entries. I also thought that this new format would be a great way for me to leave notes to myself. For example, somebody — I can’t remember whom — forwarded me a link to The Paleolithic Diet. I haven’t had a chance to read through this, but the premise intrigues me:

For millions of years, humans and their relatives have eaten meat, fish, fowl and the leaves, roots and fruits of many plants. One big obstacle to getting more calories from the environment is the fact that many plants are inedible. Grains, beans and potatoes are full of energy but all are inedible in the raw state as they contain many toxins. There is no doubt about that — please don’t try to eat them raw, they can make you very sick.

[…]

The essentials of the Paleolithic Diet are:

Eat none of the following:

  • Grains, including bread, pasta, noodles
  • Beans, including string beans, kidney beans, lentils, peanuts, snow-peas and peas
  • Potatoes
  • Dairy products
  • Sugar
  • Salt

Eat the following:

  • Meat, chicken and fish
  • Eggs
  • Fruit
  • Vegetables (especially root vegetables, but definitely not including potatoes or sweet potatoes)
  • Nuts, eg. walnuts, brazil nuts, macadamia, almond. Do not eat peanuts (a bean) or cashews (a family of their own)
  • Berries: strawberries, blueberries, raspberries etc.

Try to increase your intake of:

  • Root vegetables: carrots, turnips, parsnips, rutabagas, Swedes
  • Organ meats: liver and kidneys

I haven’t read this entire article, but it intrigues me. I have to wonder, however, if our modern diet doesn’t have something to do with our increased life expectancy. (I’m not saying it’s the only factor — but might it not be one factor?)

Here’s some additional information on the paleolithic diet:

See? I want to make entries like this more often. Stuff for me to refer to in the future…

The Long, Cold Winter Ahead

It’s not even autumn and Kris is already whining:

“I’m cold and it’s only September. It makes me dread the long, cold winter ahead of me!”

By the way, I should point out that the only way I’m able to write so damn much is because Kris picks up the slack around this place. She’s been awesome. You all should know that. I don’t mention it often enough.

A Fine Frenzy

Serendipity is a wonderful thing. Some of the best things in my life have come through chance encounters. Here’s a new Seattle band called A Fine Frenzy, which features 22-year-old Alison Sudol. I love her music. Apparently I was meant to hear it, as it came at me from three discrete and varied sources last weekend.

So far my favorite song of the bunch is “Rangers”:


A Fine Frenzy — Rangers (live)


A Fine Frenzy — Rangers

I like “You Picked Me”, too.


A Fine Frenzy — You Picked Me

Actually, I like just about everything I’ve heard from her.


A Fine Frenzy — Almost Lover

Here are some others:


A Fine Frenzy — Whisper


A Fine Frenzy — Come On, Come Out


A Fine Frenzy — Lifesize

A Fine Frenzy has an album out: Once Cell in the Sea. I recommend it highly.