Charlie's Blog: November 2023


Need Versus Greed

And that no man overreach, nor circumvent his brother in business: because the Lord is the avenger of all these things, as we have told you before, and have testified.

I prefer the Douay-Rheims translation because it gives the proper Catholic understanding of Scripture. This is because of a truth I learned decades ago at a Protestant seminary. There is no translation without interpretation. If you read a Protestant Bible, you will get the Protestant translation. If you read a Catholic Bible, you will get the Catholic translation. This verse is one of those verses.

The King James Version translates this verse this way:

That no man go beyond and defraud his brother in any matter: because that the Lord is the avenger of all such, as we also have forewarned you and testified.

 The New King James translates the verse this way:

that no one should take advantage of and defraud his brother in this matter, because the Lord is the avenger of all such, as we also forewarned you and testified.

 The New International Version translates the verse this way:

and that in this matter no one should wrong or take advantage of a brother or sister. The Lord will punish all those who commit such sins, as we told you and warned you before.

All of these verses are similar, but they are not the same. The Protestant versions caution against defrauding someone. The Catholic version cautions against monopolistic behavior. You can see how the Protestant translations evolved in their interpretation. When you consider the Protestant and the Catholic attitudes towards business and commerce, you can see why they have different translations. It is the case of need versus greed.

Despite the claims of modernist heretics in the Church espousing liberation theology, Catholicism has always opposed communism. The right to own property is part of natural law. The commandment to not steal implies that one can own something. But Catholicism also opposes the monopolistic tendencies of those who go beyond owning something to owning everything.

The final end of material wealth is to meet material needs. Imagine if some company could lay claim to the air itself which is free and charge people a fee for breathing. This seems ludicrous, yet this is exactly what companies have done with water, land, petroleum, and other free things they did not create. It is so bad that they have made it illegal in some states to harvest rainwater. Then, when a business can't own a resource, they pollute the hell out of it. When you can't drink the water or breathe the air, this is a crime. Even the owner of the offending business should want to drink clean water and breathe clean air.

The problem we have today is that anyone who criticizes capitalism and business gets hit with the Marxist label. You can be a capitalist and still criticize capitalism. Everyone has the right to make a profit but not at the expense of his brother. Yet, this is precisely what many businesses do. And when they can't do it in one country that says enough, they move their operations overseas where they can get away with this dirty business.

There are limits to what you can own. Commies want you to own nothing. Dirty businesses want to own everything. Catholics believe you should own what you need in order to live.

A fellow once told me that he was trying to make a living not make a killing. That stuck with me. I believe in making a living. I don't believe in making a killing. I didn't really settle on this until after my conversion to Catholicism. The irony is that I have done better materially after making that switch from my libertarian mindset.

People who are extremely pro-capitalism will deride contentment as making one soft and lazy. Greed is good. It motivates and innovates and blah blah blah. Here is the Gordon Gekko speech from Wall Street:

I am not a destroyer of companies. I am a liberator of them! The point is, ladies and gentleman, that greed, for lack of a better word, is good. Greed is right, greed works. Greed clarifies, cuts through, and captures the essence of the evolutionary spirit. Greed, in all of its forms; greed for life, for money, for love, knowledge has marked the upward surge of mankind. And greed, you mark my words, will not only save Teldar Paper, but that other malfunctioning corporation called the USA. Thank you very much.

This speech was based on an actual speech by Ivan Boesky. Both Gekko and Boesky would serve time for their crimes. Yet, their respective speeches would make Ayn Rand proud because they championed both capitalism and selfishness. Neither one of these two was content with what they had. They always wanted more.

Greed is not good. This is why it is listed in the seven deadly sins. The rapacious hunger for money and material things is one of the surest paths to poverty. The lack of contentment I see among friends and family members is what drives them to live paycheck to paycheck even when they make six figure salaries. They have to earn more which leads to them spending more requiring them to earn more. This creates a vicious cycle that has no end.

Companies engage in the same vicious cycle. They prosper by doing good business until the greed drives them to increase profits by doing dirty business. This is why you can't buy a decent can opener anymore because the company decided it was more profitable for them to stick it to the customers by making lower quality products. In the long run, customers turn away from that business to find what they need. I know I did.

Good business is good business. You can't run a good business on greed. That is a libertarian lie. This is why some of the best businesses belong to people who tend to be hippie types. I don't think these people are heroes necessarily, but they do eschew greed for the sake of other goals. Yvon Chouinard of Patagonia is a prominent example. Patagonia eschews greed and remains profitable. That is not supposed to happen, but it does.

Another quip I heard was this. "Pigs get fed while hogs get slaughtered." Basically, it is enough to be profitable. Going beyond this profitably involves increased risks and potential disaster. You see this with Facebook's failures with creating a metaverse. That was a dumb idea. At some point, you pay a dividend to your shareholders in concession to reality.

I see need as the driver of progress and not greed. Successful businesses satisfy needs. Unsuccessful businesses fail when they seek to satisfy their greed.

How much is enough? That is a hard question to answer. Needs are finite. Once present needs are met, you have to consider future needs. It is enough to eat today and to eat tomorrow. Beyond that, you are working to meet someone else's needs. This might be your family, your grandchildren, the poor, or what have you. Contentment naturally leads to generosity. Greed does not. Greed turns wants into needs and never finds satisfaction for itself.

I am a capitalist and will always be a capitalist. But I believe in clean business not dirty business. Businesses and individuals should focus on meeting needs not feeding greed. No business can last long without a profit, but profit is the byproduct of success. It is not success itself. A dirty business can be profitable for a season but not forever. Consequently, it is not successful in the same way that a bank robber or a lottery winner is not successful. Luck and theft are not winning strategies.

Good business takes a holistic view of things with an eye towards sustainability over the long haul. Quality and morality matter in business. I don't know any customer that wants to be robbed or deceived. Unfortunately, our culture today gives all the incentives to dirty business while punishing good business. This needs to change.


The Generalist and the Specialist

A jack of all trades is a master of none, but often times better than a master of one.

I have seen this quotation attributed to Shakespeare, but I couldn't say for sure that Billy Boy made this quip in any of his works. It doesn't matter because it is true. It serves as both compliment and insult. It also begs the question. Is it better to be a generalist or a specialist?

This topic came back to my mind a few weeks ago when we took a friend to the auto body place to inspect her wrecked vehicle. The car was totaled, and the guy told her that she could go ahead and get her things out of the car and take her license plate. I reached into my pocket and took out the small Leatherman Squirt multitool I carry on my key chain and opened the screwdriver attachment to remove the plate. It struck me how handy these multitools can be especially when one of them is all you have. It made me resolve to get a larger Leatherman to carry on my belt.

The Leatherman multitool is the best symbol I have of the value of being a generalist. The Leatherman is truly the jack of all tools. It is not the best of tools, but it is very handy when you need it. It certainly saves you a trip back to the toolbox to get the specialized tool. I have seen many fellows who carry one regularly on their person.

I would never use a Leatherman to overhaul an engine, plumb a house, or chop firewood. When it comes to certain tasks, the specialized tool is the only one that will do. Anyone who thinks he can replace a box of tools with a Leatherman is a fool. By the same token, you can't carry that box of tools in your pocket.

The same principle is at play when it comes to what you choose to do in life. Many folks come to the crossroads in life when they have to choose to be a generalist or to become a specialist. This choice comes with reward and regret. Neither choice is the right one or the wrong one because they have their upsides and downsides.

The upside of becoming a specialist is that it is much easier to focus on doing one thing well. It can also be more lucrative. The downside is that you may also be unemployed or become unemployable if your one thing becomes obsolete or can be done by a machine. I have seen this happen to specialists in my lifetime. They go from being rich to becoming broke.

The upside of becoming a generalist is that it makes you more employable and more useful. The downside is that generalists usually don't make as much as specialists even if they are always employed. There is less downside risk in being a generalist, but there is also less upside reward. If you're a narcissist, you probably won't be able to handle being a generalist.

Another aspect of the specialist/generalist debate is personal fulfillment. Specialization leads to boredom. Generalists are never bored. It takes more work and intelligence to be competent at various tasks than to be supremely gifted and trained for one task. Specialists make up for this lack of stimulation by seeking out competition. It becomes a game to them. When there is competition, there are egos. Generalists oppose this competitive spirit and tend towards humility.

Some people will argue that you can be both a generalist and a specialist at the same time. I disagree. I'm not sure what drives this crazy idea except a naive belief that you can have it both ways. You can't. As a golfer relative of mine once told me, he was never going to make the PGA tour while holding down a day job. I did not doubt him. Likewise, you're never going to make the top grades necessary for Harvard Medical School while also tending bar. You need rich parents for that which is why wealth has a way of perpetuating itself.

It may sound like I am selling the generalist path since I am biased on this topic, but I strive to be evenhanded in my discussion here. I appreciate the fact that my eye doctor specialized in his field, and I chose him based upon that expertise and ratings. I wanted the best guy to cut on my eyes. When you get your sight back, it makes you appreciate specialists.

Specialists are good for the world in general, but specialization is not so good for the individual. If my eye doctor developed a tremor in his hand or his own vision problems, then he better have a good financial planner looking after his money. The general practitioner doesn't have the same risks. This is why the path of the generalist looks better over the long haul. That path seems more certain and secure even if it is less lucrative.

Certain fields and endeavors tend to favor the generalist over the specialist. For instance, all blue collar jobs and trades favor the generalist. I have never known a plumber who didn't know a bit of carpentry, drywall repair, and electrical wiring as these come into contact with his profession. And if his van breaks down, he will not hesitate to pop the hood on that thing. I doubt the computer programmer wastes any time learning about the electrical wiring powering his machine.

In the military, specialists favor the Army, the Navy, and the Air Force as all three of those branches have specialized jobs for those who score high on their tests. The Marine Corps tends to favor the generalist who is primarily an infantryman who can learn additional skills as needed. As the Corps puts it, "Every Marine is, first and foremost, a Rifleman." This applies even to the desk jockey pushing a pencil. This is also why the Marines have been reluctant to provide personnel to the spec ops community because this requires specialization and a loss of those Marines to the service of other departments and missions. Turning these generalists into specialists also hurts morale as this brings in competition with many wanting to become special operators. Once you become a special operator, you don't want to go back to peeling potatoes and cleaning latrines.

In the world of sports and fitness, you will notice certain physiques serve certain functions. Basketball players tend to be tall, lean, and athletic. Marathon runners tend to be skinny and light with great aerobic capacity. Cyclists tend to be skinny and light from the waist up and muscled from the waist down. Bodybuilders are human statues while powerlifters are slabs of meat able to exert great strength. The generalist in the physique category would be the rugby player who is strong in the upper and lower body, heavy in weight, lean in muscle, and possessing the same aerobic capacity as a soccer player but the same strength as an American football player. I think the Rugby player physique is the most functional for general activities and life. They are the Leatherman tools of athletes.

In the world of academics and the mind, the generalist will simply be well read in all of the basic subjects of history, literature, philosophy, science, etc. He will not be a polymath or Renaissance Man like Leonardo da Vinci since this requires the same level of performance as a specialist but across multiple disciplines. Basically, a polymath is a master of all instead of one. I don't know if this is feasible in our day and time as knowledge has increased exponentially but not the time in which to learn it.

I think to be a generalist requires a real desire to follow that path. People motivated by greed or an aversion to work are not going to take this path. I have tried to recall generalists from my work or life that I have encountered, but my mind is drawing a blank. I remember one fellow who was fond of saying, "That's not in my job description." He did not possess a robust work ethic. Unfortunately, most followed his example.

Personally, I choose the generalist path. I'm not particularly good at one thing, but I am competent at many things and flexible enough to adapt to new things when needed. But I have learned one great lesson from specialists. If you are bad at something, you shouldn't do it at all. It is better to pay someone to do it right than pay them to do it right after you messed it up. Generalists should know when to let the specialists take over.

The key for the generalist is competence. The generalist knows that he needs to perform to a certain level of satisfaction but not more. A generalist can be a short order cook but not a French chef. A generalist can be an EMT or paramedic but not a surgeon. This is why being a generalist requires humility. You have to know what you can do competently and also what you shouldn't do at all. You leave the higher level stuff to the specialists.

I do not believe it is better to be either a generalist or a specialist. Each path has its upsides and its downsides. You have to decide for yourself which path fits your skills, talents, and personality. What is best is what will be best for you. Also know, you will always feel regret whichever path you take. You can't have it all which is the most important lesson in this debate. Learn to live with that brutal fact of life.


2 Recent Articles Related To Walking

DISCLAIMER: I am not a doctor, personal trainer, or healthcare professional. These are just my opinions. Consult a physician before starting any exercise program.

The vogue for counting steps springs from a work ethic gone wild, a need always to be meeting goals.

I recently read two articles related to walking that pertain to points I have made here at the C-Blog. The first deals with fitness trackers. The second deals with the debate about walking vs. running.

Confession of a Failed Steps Fanatic

I came across this article in the dead tree version of the Wall Street Journal. I figured it would be behind the paywall on the internet, but I was fortunate to find this version for free on the MSN website. The gist of the article deals with the obsessive/compulsive nature of using pedometer devices like the FitBit. Here is a great quotation from the piece:

The vogue for step counting seems to spring from our obsession with productivity, our work ethic gone wild, our need to be always accomplishing and meeting goals, or else we are lost, adrift. (The apotheosis of this impulse to maximize efficiency is probably the treadmill desk.) It may also be that unlike global warming, political chaos, pandemics, wildfires, disease and the inevitable deterioration of our own bodies, steps are one thing we can control.

The keyword here is obsession. I don't think Thoreau walked with this kind of obsession, and I can't picture him ever wearing a FitBit. I understand that having an obsessive-compulsive disorder is a great motivator for walking fitness, and this may be the only way some people will ever get out the door. But I think it takes much of the joy out of walking and life.

I walk with a Casio G-Shock with a timer that beeps. I use this watch to let me know when to go back inside. Otherwise, my daydreams would keep me outside longer than I need to be. I don't quantify my walks except that I did my walk for the day. I do not keep a log of my walking or post my stats to the Strava website. This is because I do not want to feed that quantitative side of me that leads to comparisons with others or doing dangerous things like walking in a lightning storm to get my steps in. I am not a steps fanatic.

Is running better than walking? New research says yes
You can finally conclusively win those arguments with your non-running buddies

This article is in the Canadian Running Magazine and references research featured in The New York Times. The gist of the article is that running gives greater fitness benefits than walking. I have already given my opinions on the topic here.

Why is there a giddy reaction over this research which says nothing new while leaving a lot of stuff unsaid? As the article puts it, "Here’s what you need to know to win all the walking vs. running debates with your friends." I am unaware of these debates mainly because I don't have any running friends. I do have many walking friends, and they do not care about runners.

The reason a running magazine would trumpet this research is no mystery. Running magazines sell the activity of running and related products and services. Anything that boosts running matters to their bottom line. Anything that undermines running (like walking) is not going to see publication in the magazine. The fact they even mentioned walking at all tells me the editors of this magazine must be worried and concerned.

Here are some facts that I do not dispute. Generally, an hour of running burns more calories than walking. It also burns more calories than cycling or swimming. Running, cycling, and swimming all burn more calories than walking. And what beats running? High Intensity Interval Training or HIIT burns more calories than running while also boosting endurance and strength. I won't even go into the calorie burn of sprinting, rock climbing, stair climbing, and on and on. The bottom line is that walking is definitely on the gentle side of the exercise menu. This is the reason I enjoy it so much.

What makes running so awful are the injuries. This part gets no mention in the article. That is the real debate here. I would rather walk an hour each day and do it again the next day than run for half an hour and hope to be healed up enough from whatever injuries I encounter to do it again the following week. The high injury rate among runners is undisputed.

This bring us to the longevity argument. The article claims that running boosts VO2 max which is a marker for fitness and longevity. As the article states, "VO2 max, a measurement of how much oxygen your body uses during regular exercise, is a helpful standard for assessing fitness and predicting life span." The keyword here is predicting.

The reality is that research shows otherwise. CBS News had an article entitled Too much running tied to shorter lifespan, studies find, which stated, "The researchers behind the newest study on the issue say people who get either no exercise or high-mileage runners both tend to have shorter lifespans than moderate runners." Basically, the high mileage runner lives about as long as the couch potato. The recommendation is for moderate running.

What is moderate running? The CBS article says, "In O'Keefe's view, the 'sweet spot' for jogging for health benefits is a slow to moderate pace, about two or three times per week, for a total of one to 2.5 hours." That does not sound like a ringing endorsement for running. The irony is that Canadian Running referenced this article that said the same thing as the CBS article but puts a more positive spin on it. At this point, you start to suspect that someone is fibbing on this information.

I will tell you what I think is the truth here in this research. Running high mileage at a fast pace will shorten your life. I think this is because of the sustained stress placed on the heart. I am not a doctor or a scientist, but the literature on the subject indicates to me that this is the case. The slow and infrequent jogger is probably safe from this risk.

The real debate comes down to slow jogging versus fast walking. Jogging seems to offer increased cardiovascular benefit at the cost of increased injury. Power walking seems to offer almost as much cardio benefit but without injury. Additionally, increased steps results in increased fitness.

My bottom line is that running in all its forms, durations, and intensities is not worth the injuries. The better way is to walk with a preference for duration and intensity. All things considered, a long brisk walk beats a slow jog. I suspect the editors at Canadian Running already know this.


Unpopular Strategies

Culture eats strategy for breakfast.

One of the debates that I follow online is till vs. no-till. This will be boring to the average reader, but it is a hot topic among gardeners. I am in the no-till camp, but that is not the topic of this blog post. I noticed that in this discussion no one mentions my favorite garden strategy which is lasagna gardening. They will mention other no-till strategies, but lasagna gardening is not one of them. Why is this? I have come to the conclusion that culture is the culprit.

I have mentioned before how most of my strategies tend to not be popular strategies. I don't choose these strategies because of their unpopularity, but I do see that unpopularity as a signpost now. Generally, my strategies are unpopular, yet they will possess a small but devoted following. This devotion comes from the fact that it works. Beyond that, no one else is buying it. Yet, they will subscribe to failing or difficult strategies in droves. You would figure that failure and defeat would make these bad strategies unpopular, but they don't. What is short circuiting the reasoning of the herd? It is the culture.

Culture overrides reason. People will ignore their own common sense and go with the popular option. The best example I can give on this is the plant based diet. The research on this is overwhelming, and you know it in your gut. Eating vegetables is good for you. Eating meat is not. Yet, the vegan diet is DOA and has been DOA for decades. I have even convinced a few people to try it, and they experienced the positive effects in as little as three days. They all gave up to go back to suffering and eating crap. Invariably, they turn to some low carb meat diet and experience explosive diarrhea followed by constipation. They will endure all of that to do what everyone knows is stupid. Why?

The Atkins diet was popular. Then, people turned to the Paleo diet which was a caveman redressing of Atkins. Then, the Keto diet became the hot thing which was simply another version of the same diet. Now, the Carnivore diet is becoming the new thing. All of this low carb nonsense is driven by culture and not common sense. Meanwhile, vegan restaurants and products go out of business left and right. The surest path to bankruptcy is to open a vegan eatery.

I wish bacon was healthy, but it isn't. It's just tasty. Spaghetti is also tasty, but these low carbers will ditch pasta without hesitation. It isn't about flavor but culture. I know because the vegan diet has made me the most antisocial person I know because I can't share a meal with someone. This is why I prefer to have a coffee with someone at Dunkin' Donuts.

I am adept at ignoring the culture and the rest of the herd when it comes to these things. I can't pinpoint when this began with me. I just remember a time in high school when I didn't care to fit in anymore. I stopped caring what other people thought about me. After a lifetime of this apathy, I feel as if I live in a culture of idiots. There is a strength in this but also a danger.

The first danger is that you may think that every maverick is on the right path. I don't think that at all. Our society has plenty of mavericks, but they represent a different flavor of idiot.

The second danger is that you think you are on the right path because you are a maverick. I don't think this whatsoever. I can ignore the herd but defying the herd requires reason not chutzpah. Oftentimes, the herd is exactly right. You just need to know when the herd is wrong, so you can take a different path.

The third danger is exchanging one herd for another. People who buck the majority will try and find what they lost in a minority of likeminded people. This is when the tests for "purity" come out. I learn to ignore this idiocy as well.

My advice is to focus on your strategy. You get knocked off strategy when you lose your confidence. This usually comes as the herd mocks you. They may or may not catch on to what you're doing. It shouldn't matter. 2 + 2 = 4 despite what the herd may think.


Fighters and Quitters

Somebody may beat me, but they are going to have to bleed to do it.

The conventional wisdom divides the world into winners and losers. That dichotomy has never agreed with me, but I have always been at a loss to replace it with something better. Then, it hit me one day. There are no winners and losers. There are only fighters and quitters.

The day it hit me came when the property manager at our apartment complex made a comment about my humble efforts to walk the path around the courtyard after my brain injury. She told my wife that I was a "fighter." I didn't feel like a fighter at the time. I felt like a tragic loser. I had to make the choice between "try" and "wait to die." So, I chose to try. That choice and the subsequent efforts made me a fighter instead of a quitter.

That episode showed to me the ridiculous nature of the winner vs. loser dichotomy. Being a winner or a loser is what the world says about you. Anyone can be a winner. Most everyone is a loser. Being a fighter is when you choose to stay in the struggle of life instead of giving up. Fighters become indifferent to winning and losing. What matters most is not quitting.

I divide the world into fighters and quitters. A fighter is the paraplegic who decides that the wheelchair is not the end of his life. The quitter is the young man who retreats to his parents' basement to escape the cruelty of the world. Circumstances are not what make you a fighter or a quitter. Your decisions are what make you fighter or a quitter.

Fathers push their sons to become winners, but this backfires on them spectacularly. The sons experience failure early and opt to quit instead of fight. The blowhard dad calls his son a loser, and the son agrees with him. The rest is tragic.

The better way is for fathers to teach their sons to be fighters instead of quitters. You carry on in the face of defeat and failure. Those setbacks are just an inescapable part of life. Those things defy you, but they don't define you.

I refuse to call someone a loser. But I will call that person a quitter. I see a generation of quitters today. The world has tainted the well with that winner/loser poison turning so many into quitters. At any moment, they can turn into fighters. They simply have to will it.

I don't know when I became a fighter. My life has been a real disaster, and I have wanted to give up more times than I can count. I haven't given up. I have faith in God who strengthens me. That is ultimately why I am a fighter. My only requirement in life is to not quit.

I don't care about winning or losing. I only care about not quitting. God will handle the winning. I choose to stay in the fight. I only have one rule to follow. Do not quit.

UPDATE: One of the great examples I can give about fighters and quitters is the movie, Rocky. My wife had never seen the movie before, so we decided to watch it for our movie night. She liked the movie until the ending where Rocky loses. She wanted him to win. That was the feel good ending, but that ending is too easy and not realistic. Was Rocky a loser at the end of the fight? Yes, but we don't care. Rocky was a loser, but he was a fighter. He refused to quit. He wanted to go the distance, and he did.

Most of the time, winning and losing is not up to us. It is not in our power to win. The only things truly in our power are fighting and quitting. When you fight, you may not win. When you quit, you always lose.