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Friday, January 28, 2005

About Voting

There is a lot to be cynical about in our democracy in the United States. Corporations have huge amounts of undue influence because of the way our system is set up. Meanwhile, because of the way the party system works, our realistic choice seems to be limited to two polar extremes in every election, with neither being very appealing. In this sort of situation, voting can seem irrelevant. It can seem like whoever spends the most money is going to win, and whoever wins it won't be that great a choice anyway.

But I doubt there is outright fraud happening on a routine basis. There are simply too many competing interests and too much incompetence to believe that such a conspiracy theory could remain secret for very long. Given that, surely our voting efforts must be seeping in here and there, making changes in subtle ways. If one issue gets to be a big problem, it really can and does effect lawmakers' careers. In my State of California, we have a referendum system that makes use of the voter to an even greater degree. I've seen first hand the recent affect of voting in the Governors recall vote and in several ballot initiatives in the short time I've lived in the State. Add to that the closeness of the last two presidential elections and it seems our individuals votes really do effect things.

If this is so, even in some small way through the filter of corporate influence and two-party domination, then we have to keep trying. Over time, as corporate influence and two-party rule grows and people are more and more put off by it, then lawmakers can be voted in who will try to deal with the issue. It will be a slow and long-term process, and the problem may have to get much worse before it gets better, but American history has shown for over 200 years that changes for the better can and do happen in this democracy. As long as there is even a chance that voting can make a difference then we have to try.

The upcoming vote in Iraq is a good reminder. Here we see a people who have never known a real democracy. Their choice isn't even to elect legislators, but to elect those who will write a constitution. They know very little about any of the parties or candidates they'll be voting for and, with the political influence of the United States an uncertainty, no real guaranty of the efficacy of their vote. Whatever challenges and frustrations face our democracy in the United States, their political predicament is a thousand times more uncertain. This alone might discourage many an American from coming out to the polls, but add to that the fact that these people face the fear of death at the hands of terrorists for voting.

Regardless of what the turnout levels will be in Iraq this Sunday, all indications are that millions of people will risk the lives of themselves and their families to cast an uncertain vote in a system of questionable political influence. Why would they do this? It seems to me they do so for one reason - hope. A hope that springs from a desire to better themselves, to be more than they are, and to provide a better world for their children than the one they experienced - the same hope that lives in every human being. Even in the face of uncertainty, suspicion, and fear of death millions of them will act on hope alone this Sunday.

But when we don't bother voting and are asked why, we complain about a check some politician got from some corporation we don't like. Perhaps we complain about how the candidates aren't very different and we don't know anything about them. Meanwhile media attention goes to questions about boxers or briefs, soundbites of politicians making speaking flubs, and pundits outyelling one another in what amounts to little more than the Jerry Springer Show with a jacket and tie.

Yet these Iraqis are the same people who some here said weren't ready for democracy, or would never be able to handle democracy. One thing is for sure - in my next election I'm going to the polls rain or shine, and I'll be thinking of the heroic people who voted in Iraq this Sunday when I do.

Edit, January 30, 2005:

While it is still early, it seems that the elections have gone off rather well in Iraq. Preliminary turnout estimates seem solid and although there was violence (regrettable at any level), it was not to the enormous amount feared.

What was especially inspiring was a report by the Associated Press which mentioned the bravery of the Iraqi people in the face of terror...

Rumors of impending violence were rife. When an unexplained boom sounded near one Baghdad voting station, some women put their hands to their mouths and whispered prayers. Others continued walking calmly to the voting stations. Several shouted in unison: "We have no fear."

Friday, January 21, 2005

Working on Self Discipline

Discipline has always been one of my most challenging areas. More specifically I mean spending my time wisely, keeping focused and finishing tasks, and so on. I tend to drift around or bounce from project to project and maintaining a reasonable diet is also tough as I gain weight extremely easy. I've recently been thinking of and realizing a few strategies that seem to be helpful in improving self discipline...

Daily Reflection

By taking some time at the start of each day to think about discipline goals and where greatest your challenges are, you can help to get your mindset straight. After identifying challenges and weaknesses, recite commitments for the day to yourself.

Set Your Self Up For Success

Take note of the conditions under which you are more tempted to give in to your urges. Don't place yourself in tempting situations. In other words, don't be a "hero" by thinking you'll expose yourself to temptation so you can prove to yourself that you can resist it, presumably strengthening your resolve. That is reckless and, since none of us are perfect, you're setting yourself up for failure with that approach. Instead, part of being disciplined is in good planning, acknowledging your weaknesses, and avoiding temptations in the first place.

Stubborn Affirmation

Throughout the day, if you start to get temptations say to yourself, "I am in control of my actions!" (or think this to yourself if others are around - you don't want the men in the white suits to come to your door). This may seem silly, but it seems to have a good effect for me. This is probably because it strokes my stubbornness and desire to control - two tendencies we all have. These are often traits that we are taught to suppress, but in the case of self control, nurturing them can be helpful. It's like saying to your emotions, your sloth, or other impulses, "Sorry, but I'm the boss here - not you." So, inside your skull you (your intellect) are the supreme ruler. Don't let other aspects of your psyche usurp control - have fun putting them in their place!

Appreciate the Subtle

Things we take for granted now can become "treats" to us if we regulate the frequency we enjoy them. Appreciating those things as treats is part of gaining contentment while being disciplined. Also, taking note of the small things and appreciating them is a similar idea. For example, when we smell good food we often want to eat it. But lately I have begun learning to enjoying smells as a thing to enjoy for their own sakes, and not some indication of another thing to be had. I then experience the aroma and feel contented as if I've enjoyed something, rather than it leaving me in desire. Another example would be with soft drinks. In my father's day, a coke used to be a "treat"; something you'd get for being good or after saving up all week for the trip to the local malt shop. Today we drink soft drinks like water - correction, breath them like air. As part of my own diet for a time, I was drinking only water. After a while, if I tried to drink a soft drink it felt intensely sweet, like a treat. If we learn to enjoy the subtle for its own sake, we can begin to get more out of less and/or appreciate what we have more.

Physical-Mental Connection

Something I've come to realize lately is the connection between physical and mental discipline. I suppose that the connection in military training methods and the eastern martial arts should have been a clue to me, but I always thought the connection was merely metaphoric. What I've noticed, however, is that I tend to be more disciplined in general when I am being disciplined with my body. I think that your brain must think, "hey this guy's serious" when it feels the body undergoing stress (the good kind). No doubt, spiritual exercises concerning fasting and other physical feats also play into this connection. The point is, it's not merely a metaphor. For some reason, physical discipline really does help discipline in just about every other area.

One Step At A Time

This one's an oldie but a goodie. Don't think about having to do x, y, or z your entire life or all at once. Take each day or challenge one at a time. After a while you'll look back and see what you've done and be surprised. Where resisting temptation is concerned, just keep your focus on the challenge at hand and let the big picture take care of itself.

Build Habits

This seems like a no-brainer, but what's important is that you think of your habits as a house of cards. You build them deliberately and carefully, and don't mess around with them or the whole thing will come tumbling down. You might take one card out and think, well that's not so bad. Then the next thing you know you're taking out another. Before long all the work you put into building a habit is collapsed. And it takes only a tiny fraction of missteps to undo a long period of patient work in building a habit. So, don't think that because you've got good habits that you are somehow ok to make a few exceptions. The presence of a good habit is no protection against occasional actions to the opposite. In fact, those actions (even a few) are kryptonite to your habit!

Anyway, these notions seem to be working for me but I'm still working on them. Just figured I'd share.

Thursday, January 13, 2005

Losing Weight: the REAL Plan (part 2 of 2)

A continuation of last week's entry...

3) You Must Suffer:
Accept it, deep down inside. If you want to lose weight, you will and must suffer. Anyone who tells you you can lose weight easy, without pain, is trying to sell you something or lying to you for some other nefarious reason. If you are not suffering, take it as a sign that you are doing something wrong. Once you fully accept this, you will bear your suffering as a mark that you are accomplishing something, and you won't wince out because it's too hard - you'll expect it. But fortunately, the suffering doesn't last. If you get into the habit of eating less, your stomach will adjust and before long you'll get full on things that would never satisfy you before.

4) No Non-Meal Eating
Somehow, the tradition of breakfast, lunch, and dinner has become all but history. Now people just grab food at random and eat it whenever. At home people just run to the fridge at any old time. Many work places have a community table area where food just mysteriously appears and everyone grazes off of it like a salt lick. Even getting gas you're expected to just grab something to munch on. What meal is beef jerky supposed to be eaten with? Is everyone going for survival hikes in the wilderness on the weekends or something?

If you want to do the health thing where you eat tiny bits of healthy foods, strewn throughout the day, which add up to a reasonable amount, then that's great. But that's not the sort of unrestricted munching I'm talking about here, and many people don't have time for that. So, in general, you have to say to yourself, "I'm only going to eat at meal times" and if offered food (which you will be) simply tell them you've already eaten. They may look at you funny, as if to wonder, "Are you mad?"

5) No Fast Food - Ever
Fast food companies will tell you that they exist as an occasional outing, to be a part of an overall balanced diet. Baloney - It's pure garbage. Don't eat it. That includes the "healthy" menu items like fried chicken patties and lard-drenched salads, and it certainly includes anything in a convenience store. There are a sizeable number of nutritionists that will say not only that fast food should rarely be eaten, but that it should never be eaten. In general, I've found that it's best not to eat something if a caveman wouldn't recognize it as food.

There are some restaurants that may be technically fast food, but serve decent natural foods that aren't fried, fake, or fatty. But even here you have to be careful to select the right items. It's best to stay away from such places and adjust your lifestyle if needed to avoid them. Instead, try eating at traditional restaurants if you eat out, but even there, watch the portions and content. Share or eat only half your food because nearly all of them give you way too much.

6) Accept Being an Outcast
As mentioned, the American culture is based almost entirely around food (and other consumerisms). Companies that sell food want you to buy 2 gallon colas and drink them in one sitting. They want you to order an appetizer, meal, and desert - each one large enough to be a meal in its own right. Basically, they want your stomach and appetite stretched as far as it will go because that will make you buy more. It doesn't matter to them much that you'll die in your forties because your kids will eat as much or more than you do.

So, all of the commercials, films, TV shows, and music videos have been custom tailored to promote a lifestyle of maximum consumption. As a result, our social lives are based around "going out to eat" and we find ourselves forced into fast food out of convenience, cost, or cool. The American lifestyle is not healthy. That means that to be a healthy person, you've got to accept the fact that you'll be a bit of an outcast in your own culture. You'll be the one who has to say, "I can't eat anything there" when everyone in the car wants to go to Tubocrapy's Burger Bar. You'll have to be the one who stops eating half way through the meal. You'll have to be the evil one at work who never eats the brownies poor Ms. Boothby makes for the office. Accept it, and accept it now, because you live in fatville and the only way to not be is to be a rebel.

7) Exercise
Fortunately, it doesn't have to be a lot but, especially if you work behind a desk like I do, then it's essential. Start out low and slowly work your way up to a level you can live with. Pick something physical that you will be okay with doing (or might even enjoy), but it also needs to be something you can do conveniently. If it's a lot of trouble, like driving somewhere, forget it. You'll do it a few days, maybe weeks, then stop. I also recommend doing it in the morning since I'm lazy after working all day, but that's just me. So there's the cold hard truth about weight loss. Everyone else is too scared to sound so harsh because they're afraid you won't buy their books. But after you've tried all the other nonsense out there, you'll eventually work your way back to this - that is, if you ever really want to lose weight and keep it off.

So, that's it. It's not pretty, but unless one is preparred to accept some cold hard fact, I don't think one is truly willing to do what's necessary to lose weight and keep it off. I've gained a bit back over the holidays, which in the long run I don't think will be too bad, as long as I get back into my good habits again. Now to DO it...

Please Note: One thing in trying to lose weight I would NOT do, is EVER click on or visit This company likes to spam comments on people's blogs repeatedly (the reason comments have been disabled on this post). This shows they have no scruples and thus can't be trusted for any other service. Please do not go to that site or do business with them. Thanks.

Thursday, January 6, 2005

Losing Weight: the REAL plan (part 1 of 2)

So what does weight loss have to do with virtue? In general, I think that good personal health should be considered an ethical issue. We have a responsibility to take good care of ourselves, both for ourselves and for our loved ones - especially if we have children or other people that depend on us.

Unfortunately, this has been one of my weak spots throughout my life. Admittedly, I didn't think of it as an ethical issue for most of my life, but I've always been overweight. I don't even really need to eat very much to gain weight, I guess we all vary in that.

But after losing 53 pounds in seven months, I think I'm justified in putting in my two cents on this issue. I'm thinner now than I've ever been before (I can actually feel bones and see veins here and there), but I'm still overweight for my height. I've been keeping fairly steady for the last few months, but now I'm beginning a new drive to get down even further.

People asked quite a lot what I've been doing. They were hoping to hear about some new method (everyone asked me if I was doing Atkins). But then I told them what they didn't like hearing - I was eating less.

With the United States currently suffering an overweight epidemic, I think there are some things the nation needs to know - no, there are some things the nation needs to drill into their skulls and never let it out again.

Hear are my pearls of wisdom I cast before the world - heed them well!

1) Fad diets are no good:
Forget them. Don't read about them in the supermarket magazines, don't buy diet books, don't look them up online, and don't listen to the people who tell you they're losing weight on them and it's easy. Sure, you'll lose weight in the short run (most of it water), but then you'll balloon back up again as soon as you grow tired of the dietary gymnastics (and you will). Along the way, you might even just hurt your health with overly rapid weight loss and lack of needed food categories. And no, it wasn't that you weren't doing it right, and you don't need to try a different fad diet. If it's something you have to pay for, if it requires special equipment or tools, if it says you can eat as much as you want as long as you only eat x, then it's probably bunk.

2) The Primary Directive:
Even the otherwise responsible and knowledgeable professional nutritionists are missing this one. Everyone is so consumed with "eat more of this", "eat less of that". Watch your carbs, eat low-fat, low-sugar, low-salt. All of that is "fine tuning" for optimal health - it's not what an huge person needs to be worried about. There is one thing, and one thing only, that our morbidly obese nation needs to hear - eat less - period. That's the Prime Directive. That's what it's all about - not saturated/unsaturated fat, not salt, not caffeine, not sugar, not carbs - it's all about calories.

And no, I don't mean eat less for a while to lose some weight. I mean that America eats too much, all the time. Even the skinny people eat too much. You go to a restaurant and they give you a plate larger than your torso. You go to the burger place and order a small fry - they'll often give you a large and say, "we only charged you for a small, we just need to get rid of them". You go to work and people are just randomly munching on stuff outside of meal times. This country produces so much food that it is flowing out of every national orifice. So we need to eat much less, as a norm, for the rest of our lives. My wife and I now often share a single meal at restaurants and we leave stuffed!

If you want to maintain, then follow the calorie limit for your height and ideal weight. If you want to lose, you'll have to limit your calories to less. Other than that, eat whatever you like. I lost 53 pounds and I had burritos and burgers (homemade) quite often. My wife has been excellent in finding ways to make low calorie things out of normal stuff that tast good (much of it is not even labeled as low calorie - which usually tastes bad). It has to do more with how you cook it from what I hear.

What if you're one of those people that gain weight easily, even without eating much? Then make your calorie limit even lower and never raise it to the standard. If you're not a normal person then don't expect to eat like one - consider it a medical condition.

You'll also find that drinking only water (or other 0 calorie drink) gives you a lot more food. It used to be that a cola was considered a treat. If you get used to drinking water then you'll start to think of it that way, which is a good thing.

What about malnutrition you ask? That's like a man who lives in the desert learning to swim out of fear of drowning. Believe me, if you only have so many calories per day, there's no way your going to blow the whole lot on a jelly doughnut. You will naturally seek out foods with a lot of mass and low calories, and that so happens to be some of the healthier foods. Once you're in a good weight range you can start to worry about fine tuning your diet with more of this or more of that. As long as your overweight or obese you should just focus on quantity.

Part 2 coming soon...

Please Note: One thing in trying to lose weight I would NOT do, is EVER click on or visit This company likes to spam comments on people's blogs repeatedly (the reason comments have been disabled on this post). This shows they have no scruples and thus can't be trusted for any other service. Please do not go to that site or do business with them. Thanks.