Putting on the Pounds

According to a new report, approximately 71 percent of millennials aged 17 to 24 — the prime age to enlist in America’s armed forces and fight a foreign war in the Middle East — are non-recruitable, with obesity disqualifying about 31 percent of them.

“Out of all the reasons that we have future soldiers disqualify, the largest – 31% – is obesity,” Maj. Gen. Frank Muth, head of Army Recruiting Command, said last Wednesday.

This is new. In my lifetime. It used to be that overweight teenagers were rare. Not anymore.

I’m certainly not an expert in such matters, although some of the reasons for this erosion in the health and fitness of our nation’s youth seem obvious. Less physical activity. More high-carb junk food. More prepared food and sugar drinks. Fewer home cooked meals. More stress.

As for our armed forces, perhaps we won’t need all that many fit recruits in the future anyway. Perhaps drones, robots,  computers and people sitting at terminals will do most of the fighting. Moreover, if we need more than we can get with a voluntary army, we can always reinstitute the draft.

But that won’t make America fit again. That’s something you don’t hear much about these days. You hear about making America “great,” but apparently you don’t have to be fit and healthy to be great.

The first step, in my experience, is to control what comes into the house. My record in such matters is very spotty at best. Too often highly addictive sugar-laced crap finds its way into the shopping cart, destined for our cupboards or frig. I don’t know how that happens, but I do know that, when I’m serious about my fitness and health, it doesn’t happen.

The second step, physical exercise, comes easier. While it’s important for fitness, it isn’t a substitute for controlling what goes into my mouth. You can’t exercise enough to make up for a shitty diet.

We don’t go to the shopping mall often, but when we do I always see overweight kids and wonder why there are so many. And how it happened. And what they’ll be like in another 20 or 40 years.

Perhaps we should have a campaign to make America great again.

Do You Live in a Bubble?

Follow this NYT link to a very cool map that will tell you how your precinct voted in the last election.

I was surprised to learn I live in a blue precinct, albeit not by much and, moreover, one that is surrounded by red. But at least it’s an improvement over the political inclinations of the last place we lived (Loveland, Colorado).

I see that the places where I spent most of my childhood years (south-central Pennsylvania) are solidly red (not surprisingly). I further note that many of my high school friends never returned to the area after college. Migration plays a big role in creating political bubbles.

Tribalism seems to be part of the human condition. There’s no way around it. But when it leads to closed minds, we all suffer. Which is why I’d rather not live in a provincial area (although I have, the worst being a short stint in Virginia).

Even more important than that, however, is to remind myself frequently of how little I actually know. And of the difference between narrative and reality.

In times such as these, narratives play an outsized role, and people are only thinly tethered to reality.

How to Cope with Indecency on a National Scale

America is not a decent country. Not today. Sure, there are some decent people living here. Many, actually. But there is an atrocious number of indecent ones, too. Terrible people. If you don’t believe me, just watch the hate rallies our president holds. Just listen to the angry lies that roll off his tongue. The rallies are a spectacle I never dreamed I’d see in America. But I was wrong. About America.

But don’t stop there. Ponder for a second the billionaires and multi-millionaires who hoard their money while kids go hungry. And consider the ways we use our allegiance to capitalism to justify cruelty. Ponder the number of kids who go without a proper education or health care.

Ponder the fact that all the wealth creation over the past several decades has gone to the people at the top of the economic pyramid, while the average Joe hasn’t gotten a real raise (after inflation) in over 40 years.

Drive through the poorest sections of our cities. And through much of rural America that is mired in poverty. Consider how the system enslaves them with debt. Pays them a pittance for their labor. Denies them adequate health care. And forces their kids to mortgage their futures if they want a college education.

Ponder the immoral war we waged on Iraq and its people. Ponder the torture our intelligence and defense personnel perpetrated on our behalf — the war crimes and other atrocities committed under the Stars and Stripes.

Ponder the corrupt political system we tolerate. Indeed, embrace.

Terrible. Decadent. Indecent. It’s who we are. Or at least many of us. Enough to control things, at least.

Perhaps we’ll all terrible, including those of us who feel like we’re better. Maybe we simply can’t see our own indecency. I don’t want to think that. I hope it’s not true. But I know we never see the log in our own eyes. So perhaps it’s true.

Maybe it’s just the way it is, always has been and always will be. Maybe we were never as virtuous and noble as I had been led to believe growing up. Perhaps it’s simply a matter of the scales of naiveté finally dropping from my eyeballs.

Maybe it’s a matter of perspective. After all, there are many good people in our midst. Courageous people who do extraordinary acts of kindness every day. Maybe it’s simply a matter of looking in the wrong direction. And focusing on the wrong things.

But, of course, it can’t be just that. The indecency and despicable words and actions are not figments of anyone’s imagination. Lies and offensive, crude lies emanate from the White House daily in a way they never did before. From Republican Senators and Congressmen, too. And from Hedge Fund titans and bankers who care about nothing other than accumulating more wealth for themselves.

Conduct is accepted today — at least, by many of us — that would have been unthinkable — indeed, unimaginable — in years past. Utterly deplorable things. The conclusion is painful yet inescapable: we are becoming more terrible. More decadent. Far less virtuous.

Perhaps it’s just a phase. Perhaps something will occur to bring us to our senses and reinstall some sense of right and virtue into the fabric of the public commons.

But perhaps not.

Who knows? Surely, not I.

So what is one to do? What can one do?

I suppose one must start by not succumbing. Not allowing decadent, ascendant cultural mores to pull us in.

We must endeavor to be virtuous. Honest. And kind.

I also think it helps to be stoic. To develop the strength within. And maintain perspective. And focus on that which we can control.

And to experience joyful things. To immerse ourselves in situations and with people who make us laugh. With people we love and who love us. After all, love is the best antidote for the hatred and anger that undergirds much of the decadence we see today.

Personally, I find spending time with nature to be helpful. Nature is my church. It pays to attend regularly.

It also pays to serve. To give. To help. To sacrifice. To nurture gratitude.

Will any of this make a difference?

Perhaps not for the country. But most certainly for the individual.

Therein lies my hope: that there are enough kind, caring, and virtuous people left in my country to turn it around. If not in my lifetime, then at least in yours, Vera.

In the meantime, while we work to make things better, we also shall play. And laugh. And allow the gift of life to flourish within our souls.

Incentives Matter. Indeed, They’re Everything.

Show me the incentives and I will show you the outcome. – Charlie Munger

Munger, Warren Buffett’s wise partner, thinks incentives matter; indeed, he thinks they’re everything. I wish I’d understood this at an earlier age. If I had, then I probably would have understood better myself and others and been more effective at my endeavors. And life would have been just a bit easier to navigate.

Patrick O’Shaughnessy wrote about misguided incentives.

In Vietnam, under French colonial rule, there was a rat problem. To solve the rat infestation, the French offered a bounty on rats, which could be collected by delivering a rat’s tail as proof of murder. Many bounties were paid out, but the rat problem didn’t improve. Officials soon noticed rats running around without tails–people were cutting off the tails and releasing the rats to breed, so as to increase the pool of potential bounty revenue for themselves.

The same thing happened in Colonial India: a bounty was offered on cobras because they were attacking people, which caused people to breed cobras for more bounties, and ultimately resulted in a higher cobra population when the bounty system was abandoned and the breeders released their now worthless snakes.

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