Wednesday, July 6, 2011


I don’t consider myself all that interested in pop culture. However, I play video games and watch an average number of movies, television shows, cartoons, and cable news; but I do not read US Weekly, People Magazine, or the tabloids, with the exception of the front page when I decide to wait for a cashier at the supermarket rather than utilize the self-checkout option—my preferred method. I frequently eat fast food because I like how it tastes despite knowing it is horrible for my health and I shop at all the big chain supermarkets. I know I should go to the farmers’ markets more frequently but it isn’t as convenient and for me convenience is king, convenience and efficiency. Do I always go with the most convenience? No. Am I always the most efficient? No.  However, I appreciate efficiency.

Because I watch an average amount of TV I also see an average number of commercials. Most of them I don’t remember. Recently a few caused me to actually believe what they said. But only long enough to waste a somewhat significant amount of time (roughly 10 hours) finding out they are truly full of crap. They were all car insurance commercials telling me in oh so clever ways how to save money. Most of those same companies must have paid a lot of money for clever external advertising consultants because all of the insurance companies with clever ads wanted to increase my monthly premiums. I probably have friends that work for those same ad companies and I applaud my friends for their creativity and ability to make me laugh and believe the tag lines. I don’t applaud those insurance companies that can’t or won’t save me money.

It’s not that I have a great love of money; I just appreciate what it does in society and particularly what it does for me—it lets me buy things I need. I particularly appreciate how much time, sweat, effort, and frustration I put into obtaining it. So when an insurance company wants to take more of my money while providing me with what is probably the least tangible good I will ever purchase while at the same time providing creative and enticing, although mildly deceptive visual advertisements seems wrong. I only say mildly deceptive because for another person those same companies’ complicated algorithms that measure the particular level of risk for a driver given the car they drive, their age, geo-location, and other random data points might actually save them money. However, that only works until the equilibrium price is reached and you have to wait a few more years for the old companies to be priced out by newer, leaner, more innovative insurance companies run by more recent Ivy-League MBA graduates with their revised algorithms that utilize the same data points in a different approach plus a few other data points like moon phases, your astrological symbol, and your lucky numbers—as determined by your most recent fortune cookie—to adjust your risk measurement and once again save you money all while increasing their stock price and bottom line.

Mostly I am just amused by the convoluted workings of life, insurance, advertisements, and everything else that connects to create the human experience. 

Monday, April 11, 2011

Libya: Friend or Foe

Over the last few months the Middle East has been revolutionized by none other than...well revolutions.  Having spent the last six years of my life engulfed in studying the Middle East, watching the recent revolutions unfolding throughout North Africa, the Levant, and the Arabian Peninsula have been both exciting and concerning.  It's exciting that people have collectively decided to stand up for their beliefs and to challenge the systems of government that failed them due to autocracy, lack of transparency, and corruption.  The challenge now is determining what role the United States should play in helping these countries through these exciting, but challenging times.  The movement caught the world by surprise and as can be seen from various speeches and press releases from White House, State Department, and National Security representatives nobody is quite sure what the best approach should be at the moment.

The most concerning for me at the moment is the situation in Libya.  Here Gaddafi has determined to fight to the bitter end and the U.S. has decided to engage in military action to weaken Gaddafi's military so it cannot carry out in unnecessary slaughter of civilians.  At least that is the argument for military engagement.  For me, I'm more concerned with the bigger picture of the U.S. getting involved in yet another military conflict in the Middle East which will cost more money (in the middle of a budget crisis) and may or may not be beneficial (depending on the goals and objectives--which are unclear at the moment).  I am reading a lot of news articles, academic analysis, and other writings on what is happening in the Middle East and Libya and what the U.S. should/should not being doing.  I read two articles recently that provide the best explanation of the situation, the challenges, and the importance of thinking and planning before jumping into yet another foreign interventionist situation.

Take some time and read George Friedman's article "Immaculate Intervention: The Wars of Humanitarianism," and Stephen M. Walt's "Is America Addicted to War?"

Monday, February 21, 2011

Some thoughts: Theism, Atheism, & Religion

"A passionate and committed atheism can be more religious than a weary or inadequate theism." 
-- Karen Armstrong, The History of God

This quote stuck out to me as I read it months ago and various conversations I've had with friends since then has resulted in it coming back.  I have a few thoughts based from this and I'm interested in hearing others comments, thoughts, views, or beliefs as well.

Those of us who believe in God often take the "moral high-ground" when compared to those who claim to be atheist or agnostic.  We feel that our belief in God, whether complete or partial, is better than no belief.  Armstrong's quote and spending two years of my life doing nothing but talking to people about religion makes me think this may not be the case.  A person who does not believe in God but has taken the time and energy to search within their own selves and considers the world around them could have a greater claim to a so-called religious life than someone who claims a belief in God but has done so only partially or superficially with limited soul searching and limited introspection.

This might change depending on how one defines religion and religious belief.  Assuming religious belief is measured by the dedication and passion and commitment toward an idea then atheism can be a stronger, more faithful and more religious than a simple vocal claim of faith in God by one who does not understand nor live by the tenants that such faith would require.  In coming to understand how we view religion I found a definition by Clifford Geertz's work "Religion as a Cultural System" where he defines religion as "a system of symbols which acts to establish powerful, pervasive, and long-lasting moods and motivations in men by formulating conceptions of a general order of existence and clothing these conceptions with such an aura of factuality that the moods and motivations seem uniquely realistic."

Part of this thought process has resulted from various conversations with friends and strangers about religion where I discovered many people have extreme biases for or against God, for or against a particular religion, or for or against a particular sect within a religion.  I tend to ask a lot of questions to try to understand the reason people feel one way or another and I discovered that frequently people didn't know why they believed what they did.  They had not done their own personal soul searching, study, or pondering on the issue.  In contrast, I have a friend who decided he no longer believed in Christianity in general and in the LDS faith in particular but he did not do so lightly.  His introspective look at himself, his belief systems, his religious tenants, and his personal experiences led him to different conclusions, yet I can't help but admire him for the time and effort he put in to understanding himself and his relationship to the world and his beliefs.  In many ways, his belief and his religiosity is stronger and better understood than many people I know who on the surface claim a belief in God but internally have failed to really understand what that even means.  I don't necessarily agree with all of my friends conclusions, but I respect the process by which he came to them, and I respect his religious beliefs more than those who have not gone through their own soul-searching journey to understanding what and why they maintain a particular belief.

I realize a strong atheism is not the answer, nor is it what Armstrong is arguing (see quote above).  What she wants is for others to understand that this is merely a check upon one's own theistic understanding and that a half-hearted belief in God does not constitute greater religiosity than an atheist simply because God is in the equation.  In essence, this is a call to theists to take the necessary time to really believe in God and to understand the significance of what that belief means for how you understand life and how you live life.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

writings and such

Some of you know I use to write a lot more than I do now, poetry and other random things.  For some of you this is new.  For everybody, my goal is to post a new, edited, or reworked piece every week.  You'll be able to find them at  Enjoy.

Monday, January 3, 2011

2010 Year-End Road Trip

As my last final hurrah for 2010, I accompanied my sister on a 28 hour drive from San Antonio to D.C.  The highlight of those endless hours spent driving was the treat of a real southern meal compliments of The Loveless Cafe.  Having lived in the South whenever I have the opportunity to engorge myself in a delicious southern feast, I take it.  Thanks to the Loveless Cafe, I had the best biscuits, macaroni and cheese (Kraft doesn't count), hush-puppies, Southern Greens--complete with hot sauce and spicy vinegar, and fried okra.  There are a few select dishes that would qualify as more southern than these, but these satiate my tongues southern pallet perfectly.
If you are ever passing through Nashville and want something delicious, stop by Loveless and you won't be disappointed.