Monday, May 17, 2010

Some Random Thoughts On A Monday

Don't have real any real deep hypotheses for this Monday, but just wanted to take a few minutes and address some stuff that's been on my mind.

Stella is definitely in the Terrible Twos. She's alternately happy, sad, happy again, loving, upset, crying, trying to speak, speaking, eating very well, not eating at all, the whole deal. It's like menopause for toddlers. I also think she has a molar coming in. She also makes this kind of low grade whining sound a lot. Kind of like this: uuuuuuuh. It's been driving me and her mom a little crazy.

But the good news is that despite all this she is still healthy and growing, and all that. She loves her daycare days (today is one, we do it two days a week) and is becoming a bit more of a hugger, but not too much more. She'll kind of hug us to keep us on our toes, so that we don't get too used to it, or expect it or anything. For example, two days ago I was down on her playmat with her, and she got behind me and gave me a hug from behind, shocking me. Then I wanted to give her a hug back and she acted like I had completely offended her. Frankly, that part reminded me a lot of my dating life back in my 20s.

She still loves to have us read her stories, and she LOOOOOVES TV, a little too much. We don't watch much, on the theory that too much TV gives you social development cancer (I just made that up, but I think you know what I mean), but every single freakin' day she picks up the remote control and screams and wails for the "teebee" which is what she calls it. We resist most of the time, but not every time. She loves "The Wonder Pets" which is a cute show, but has a character with a speech impediment. Also the lesson is the same every single time: use teamwork!

Speaking of TV we've been watching "America: The Story Of US" on The History Channel, (which must have recently run out of documentary material on Adolf Hitler.) It's a great series, and one that is highly recommended. The episode on "Cities" which aired last night is required viewing for anyone that knows and loves NYC, as so many of the developments that hallmark the modern city started here. And the time they dedicate to showing how they actually built The Statue of Liberty simply gives me chills. It must have really been something to see when it was actually copper colored.

Even so, there is something about the show that Randi noticed that I did not. They go through all these great historic events, and cover many things that aren't typically taught in school, (like the race riots of the summer of 1919), but didn't cover the 19th Amendment, when women got the right to vote, at all. We get 10 minutes on The St. Valentine's Day Massacre and Al Capone, which is always fun, but the political enfranchisement of half the population seems to be not much of a big deal I guess. Randi's view is that this sort of bias is all too typical, even among liberal dudes.

(Maybe they will cover this down the road? Or maybe I somehow missed it?)

Still, there is lots of fun stuff to learn from the special. For example, we've learned that in the 18th century America's chief export and cash crop was beaver pelts. I now maintain that we would be wise to return to a beaver-based economy to get us out of our current economic malaise.)


Speaking of the economy, I am still thinking of what to write for my second Huffington Post column. I want to write something about the business world, since I allegedly know something about it, but I am not sure what yet. I will keep you posted as ideas come to me.

My new job has been a fascinating educational experience, though. I am helping to write an investing newsletter. Much of my job consists of reading financial statements, and gathering items of interest about firms that we hope are good investments. It is very intense and gives me a new appreciation for how hard it is to find a great stock. My contention has long been that most people shouldn't "play" the market, they should carefully select a group of reliable index funds, and put money in every month, good or bad. I did this for a long time, and have no complaints about this strategy, although I did temporarily halt my payments when I lost my job.

Truth is I still think most people would be wise to invest with indexes and dollar-cost-average, but there are some people, not too many, who have gotten fabulously wealthy by picking individual stocks, and beating the indexes. So that is always on my mind: most people won't beat the market, by definition, but some will and make boatloads of money.

What I would actually DO with boatloads of money I can't say. I've never had to think about it! But it's a reasonably safe assumption to say that I probably wouldn't buy an actual boat.


I am trying to work up the courage to do a bucket list thing, which is do five minutes of open mic standup this week. There are a few places in NYC that are allow nobodies to get on stage and give it a shot. I keep saying I will do it, and keep finding reasons to not do it. This week my reason is that I haven't had time to prepare my jokes or practice. I guess I can always find a reason to not do something, but I would like to give it a shot anyway, maybe right my jokes, or ideas, if they don't actually make the grade a actual jokes, down.

If I did it it would be Tuesday night, tomorrow! Zoinks! I will tell you if it happens and how it goes.


I've been toying with this idea that organic food is the new kosher. But I haven't really planned the whole idea out yet in my mind. My idea is that for the most part the health benefits of organic food have been shown to be nominal versus conventional farming, but people are still lining up to buy organic food anyway. (I say this because a big study from the University of Sydney found this to be true.) I can link to the studies that prove this, but for now, trust me that I've done some research here. Or don't trust me, it's your right, I guess. I try to be a reliable narrator, though. I will link later, cause I have to get to work soon.

Why are people so hot to buy organic food, and pay more, during a recession, if the health benefits have never conclusively been proven? I have a few half formed ideas, but they're not more than that.

One idea is that we feel that organic food simply has to be "better for us" and better for the planet even if the actual vitamin content, for example, is just about neutral versus conventional food. I think a good amount of this relates to pesticides, which, it should be noted the Australian study didn't examine. I have heard that organic farms use fewer pesticides, but that the amount you get on your fruit at the supermarket is just about the same whether you buy organic or not. (I can look this up, but haven't yet. Assume, for now, that I am just throwing out ideas here.)

I think there is also a humane factor at play. There has been a lot of information that's come out about how horrific factory farm life is for animals, for example, and I believe a lot of people are willing to pay more if they believe it means a better life for the animals they consume.

Third, I think there is simply a huge mistrust of the practices and power of big agriculture. Like so many things in our business world the agricultural business has consolidated greatly over the past decade, another legacy of the lax Bush business environment. I think it's possible that many people simply don't trust the intentions of a firm like Monsanto, and would much rather give their money to a local guy, even if they don't actually know this person or ever see their farm.

I have also come to think that one part of it is spiritual, in a sense. And that is my belief that in some way eating organic, for some, is kind of the new kosher. People do it because it assuages guilt, and they feel that they are "doing the right thing," even if the direct benefits of it are hard to measure. Seeing that seal on their milk, or meat gives stressed out American families a sense that they are doing all they can to promote the good health of their kids, and they don't have to think about it too much more.

This is the part that seems, to me, how eating organic is like eating kosher. For a long time there was an argument I'd hear where people would say the ancient Jews were practical and that's why they kept kosher, because if pork or shellfish went bad it could kill you. This sounds reasonable until you learn more. The truth is the ancient Jews kept kosher to stand apart from the rest of the idolatrous world, not for practical reasons. (Think about it, thousands of years ago in the desert you couldn't keep any meat around for long.) They did it to look at themselves favorably and to know they were doing the right thing.

I think this is the part that connects kosherness and buying organic food. As religion is a less central part of so many modern lives something has to fill that void, so people can feel they are living right, and in accordance with what is moral. It's practically hardwired into us. There are so many modern liberal folks who eschew the scriptures but embrace the belief in the organic rules put down by the FDA. They believe in it, it gives the simple act of eating a sort of deeper meaning, morally, not just for health. It makes them consider what they are doing every time they chew, which is not so different than how religious Jews are told to consider the lord above in everything they do, including that most basic of all acts: consuming food.

It gives a modern, ramshackle, sometimes meaningless-seeming American life a sort of definition of what is good, and what is right, and feels like action. In every bite, and every time we buy something to eat.

Does this seem far fetched to you? I would love to see what you think, whomever you might be, out there in cyberland. I sometimes get readers from places as far away as Europe or the Mid-east. Invariably these folks come to the site because I wrote about boobs once or twice. But for the rest of you, I would love to see what you think.



Amanda said...

Hmm, wow! Your blogs are just like mine - extremely long and cover many topics. I'll admit I skipped the middle, only because I don't have a lot of time.

As far as the end bit about food. I suppose I'm guilty, extremely guilty actually. Not only does my family buy organic, we're also vegan. Funny you mention the kosher thing because we're Muslim and have our own kind of "kosher", called halal. We gave up halal and became vegan (which technically IS still halal). Religion is confusing, right?

The one thing that sort of annoys me is that this whole "eating organic" and "going green" thing is a fad. It's trendy to do and people looooooovvveee to sit back and congratulate themselves on the fact that they eat organic or otherwise ethically. What happens when it isn't "cool" anymore?

Before going vegan I read a bazillion books on factory farming (Mad Cowboy is a great book and also covers the organic aspect of things), on the history and practices of the USDA, on Monsanto *shudder*, on the impact to our environment, etc. I guess in a way it's also cool not to care and be like, "psssh, I eat what I want" but the proof that factory and non-organic farming is terrible for us and even more so for the Earth is overwhelming.

I hear about the nutrition aspect of organic all the time. People are always telling me, "you know it doesn't have any more vitamins in it, right?" and it's like "DUH!" Does anyone think it does? I just like eating food that hasn't been sprayed with Agent Orange, that's all. If organic and non-organic were the same price, I can bet that 100% of people would choose organic.

It's unfortunate though that the food that is healthier for you is more expensive (not just produce, but leaner meats, non-GMO products, no-preservative, non-fat, no HFC, etc). Our kids are expected to live shorter lives than we are, despite modern medicine. There's something wrong with that.

David Serchuk said...

Hi Amanda,
Wow, you answered my post with another entire post! I admit,it is hard to argue with someone who is going organic if they have first really done their research, as you seem to have done.

I do wonder about hearing that our kids are expected to live shorter lives than we are, I didn't know that. I did always hear that we would be the first American generation to make less money and live less well than our parents did. I would take our deal over the deal we are giving our kids though.

As for Halal food, I am a fan. And I think it would be a good idea for me to go vegetarian too some day.


Amanda said...

Yeah, sorry I typed a lot. Halal's ok lol - way easier than kosher. I have friends in New York that are orthodox, (one's a Rabbi) and when I visited them in March it was like "woah!", keeping kosher is way tough.

The main reason kids are expected to live shorter lives is due to obesity which is obviously tied into the food we eat, but also the lazy lifestyles we lead. It's pretty frightening.

rachel leah said...

We let Gideon watch very little television and he loves it. He grabs the remote and brings it to us as says, "More, more, more!" He likes The Wonder Pets, too, but I have issues with shows where speech impediments are modled. My mother felt that way about Winnie the Pooh. Look, I am turning into my mother. His favorite is Jack's Big Music Show, whish Randu turned me onto, but I find that I have seen every episode way too many times. So now we are onto Fraggle Rock on Netflix. Seth thinks Gideon is more into it than I do.

You know I am a vegetarian and Seth is a sustainable eater, meaning he eats less meat than most. We also do the kosher thing, which is easy for me, both because I grew up doing it and because I gave up meat at age 12 and never looked back. I do like to buy organic, but since there are really no labeling standards, it is not the easiest. I try to go the local produce route. I am really hard core about only buying organic milk, though, because I have read the hormone research ,yself and anything banned in both Canada and the EU is not going to be something that I buy.

Seth did not grow up kosher, but he does it basically because it is important to me. But it was his decision. Before we started dating, he had cut down his meat consumption so the transition was easier. The deal was that the house had to be kosher, but he could do what he wanted on his own time. But he decided to go the whole nine yards.

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