Welcome to Squanderville

Here’s an interesting article from Time Magazine regarding the current financial mess we are in. The end of this story isn’t particularly pretty if you’re an American citizen, but not so bad if you’re Chinese, Korean, etc.

I’ve been watching the financial crisis develop for a number of months now, and while I’d like to believe differently, I am pessimistic about the way the American economy is heading. Gas prices are still relatively stable, but I’m seeing more and more evidence, both concrete and anecdotal, that food prices are rising, and doing so at a fast clip in some cases. My family’s food bills seem to be creeping up… thankfully spring is on it’s way and with it the re-opening of the farmers’ markets and my nascent vegetable garden.

While I think the US economy is slowing down and may truly go into a depression at some point, I don’t think the wheels are about to fall off. I’ve thought that we were in major trouble several times in the past, and the resiliency of the system has continued to amaze me. Some of this is psychological, I think. The US dollar, like other fiat currencies, is worth what people think it’s worth, and a large mass of people fervently wish that it keeps as much of it’s value as possible. Many global fortunes will be destroyed if the dollar becomes more useful as toilet paper or heating fuel rather than as a medium of exchange. The power of positive thinking in action, I guess. Or, it could be that on the deep political level, a number of decision makers around the globe also understand that the “full faith & credit” of the US is also backed up by a large arsenal of weaponry, both conventional and nuclear.

A possible ray of hope: housing prices in my neighborhood have dropped far enough that some houses are starting to sell. A rough estimate so far is that housing prices have taken around a 20% haircut in my immediate neck of the woods. YMMV, of course. My one neighbor a few houses up is doggedly sticking to something close to a 2005 price for their home, and are swinging in the wind as a result.

The rest of this post deals with some personal & health issues. If you’re not interested, then thanks for visiting.

With this viewpoint in mind, I’m making some changes in my life. The biggest one is that I’m changing jobs, moving to another IT job in the Twin Cities area. The company I am moving to should be better able to weather the financial turmoil that will embroil the USA over the next few years. Like most people, I am interested in maintaining the current lifestyle my family enjoys for as long as possible, and this new opportunity provides better odds in my opinion.

Second, I’m focusing more on my health and that of my family this year. My leg hasn’t fully recovered from the surgery I had last year. Things feel fine but the effected leg lost a good 50% of it’s strength. I joined a gym in January (resolutions can be lame, I know, but in this case it was the right thing at the right time), and have been slowly but surely building that leg strength back up as well as improving my overall conditioning and fitness. Working a desk job, it’s very easy for me to eat poorly and generally act lethargic. I’m hitting the age where my body is starting to let me know in no uncertain terms that I’m an idiot and that if I don’t do something about it, it will start going on strike. For once in this particular part of my life, management has caved to union demands and is implementing a new collective bargaining agreement. I take better care of it, and it won’t stop working.

Another part of that is studying how to eat better. I have a history (both family and personal) of high blood cholesterol. While I’m somewhat skeptical of how important cholesterol levels are, I am convinced that the typical American diet is a heart attack waiting to happen. I’m reading up on several different nutrition plans (long-term changes, not short-term ‘diets’). All of them advocate moving away from processed foods, sugar, white flour, etc. Some of them focus more importance on cutting out or severely limiting animal products. I may go to an almost vegetarian/vegan diet for a while to jump-start things, but over the long term will continue to include animal products in my diet. (Just to clear things up: Everyone makes choices that work best for them. I am not advocating that anyone else eat in a particular way. This is the plan that I think will work best for me personally.)

My cholesterol levels are high enough that my GP has put me on statins. I don’t like being on them, but until I can get my act together, it’s a safeguard, and it keeps both the doc and my lovely bride off my back. My father died of a heart attack at 51, so I am aware of the need to take better care of my ticker. I was able to control my cholesterol levels pretty well through diet (i.e. when I was doing the vegetarian thing) a decade ago, and would like to get to the point where I can try that again. I am hopeful that a combination of eating better & exercising more will do the trick. If anyone’s interested, I’ll post irregular updates on this in the future.

In summary, I think things will get worse financially before they start getting better. As the economy continues to swirl in the toilet bowl, I would expect that the presidential candidates will start offering more comprehensive plans to deal with the problem. Any plan that will truly fix things will be very, very expensive, but never mind that. The people who will be holding the bag on that are clueless… in fact one of them is busy in our living room playing with her new Mickey Mouse Ride-Along Music Jam car she just got for her 2nd birthday.

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5 Responses to Welcome to Squanderville

  1. Jim says:

    I was eating at a neighborhood BBQ place a couple weeks ago. It’s the kind of place that tends to attract folks who are severely obese because the portions are pretty large. I was eating my sandwich and overheard a conversation between another customer and the waitress. The customer was this hugely fat guy. Sometimes I see a fat guy and I think ‘he looks like he’s probably muscular under the fat’, but this guy didn’t seem like the muscular type at all. Just 400+ pounds of flab. Anyway, he was carrying on to the waitress about how unhealthy vegetarianism is. It was really enlightening as he generalized the entire world of meat-lite or meat-less eaters as frail and sickly.

    This is a data point you will consider, I’m sure.

  2. Bart says:

    Important safety tip, thanks Egon!

    The one thing I know for sure about nutrition is that most people (including most doctors) don’t have a freakin’ clue as to what makes good dietary practice. This is the main reason why all of these cash-extracting ‘diet plans’ are out there.

    Some people believe eating meat is crucial; others don’t. I believe the studies that show that eating a completely vegan diet based around leafy green vegetables can trigger immediate and dramatic weight loss. I just don’t think I would be happy surviving on that for the rest of my life. I can see eating more fruits & veggies as larger part of my diet in the future.

  3. Jim says:

    “The one thing I know for sure about nutrition is that most people (including most doctors) don’t have a freakin’ clue as to what makes good dietary practice.”

    I don’t think I agree with that. It may be more accurate to say that doctors/experts haven’t managed to agree on the best dietary practice. But there are a number of good diet practices, and most of us have some sense of what is involved. More whole grains, more fiber, more vegetables, limited quantities of meat, minimal processed foods, probably fewer calories than most Americans consume, etc. Of course, knowing these things is different than resisting all the well-known bad foods and overindulgences that confront us.

  4. Bart says:

    The truth is probably somewhere in the middle. Docs haven’t agreed, and there are also a number of shysters out there promoting things that either are bogus pseudo-science, or maybe have a short-term positive effect with a nasty rebound that they fail to mention later. Much of the ‘knowledge’ that is out there is usually tied to one diet’s marketing plan or another.

    In my physical last week, my GP, who is medical director for the clinic’s wellness group, didn’t say much about nutrition options when I asked him about eating healthier & losing weight. He spent the most time describing different pills he could put me on if need be. The training from big pharma is paying off.

    Less fat, less meat, less starches & simple carbs will probably be what I shoot for. And yes, resisting the siren’s song is the hardest part.

  5. John says:

    “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly vegetables”
    – From Michael Pollan, from “In Defense of Food”

    2 points of clarification:

    – “Food” to Pollan refers to “things your grandmother would recognize as food”, i.e. minus most of the processed ingredients we’ve become surrounded by

    – This manifesto is his summation of years of studying the constantly changing ‘wisdoms’ of nutritional advice and food science.

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