Why gyms don’t want you to workout

Because I move around a lot, I have used many different gyms. Golds Gym, the YMCA, Lifetime Fitness, I have been to them all. Several years ago I started to feel something in the back of my mind. It seemed to me if you really wanted to workout, most gyms were not designed for you. Despite being marketed as a place to workout, they often made it hard to actually complete that workout. It seems like I was right.

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What we have here is a failure to communicate

It has been hard the last few days to listen to the news and not here about a report released by the Senate Intelligence Committee on the CIA’s Detention and Interrogation Program. The actual report is over 6,700 pages long and is still classified. What was released was an executive summary which itself is over 500 pages long. Here is a clip of the reaction from Slate’s Political Gabfest.

You can hear the whole discussion here. I will say right now that I have not read the full report, just a few bits and a number of stories. Because of that, I do not want to talk directly about the report or what it says the CIA was up to for several years. What I want to talk about is the comparison of what we just hear from the Slate podcast and this:

Our times seem to be defined by political divide. The thing making today’s political divide different from the past is that our disagreement isn’t over how to deal with problems, our disagreement is over what is even happening. Torture, Benghazi, climate change, these are all issues where one side says the sky is falling and the other doesn’t even recognize something is going on.

All of these issues often come down to two people yelling at each other saying the other one is a liar. I honestly haven’t completely figured out a way through the mess but looking at each argument on its logical and philosophical merits seems to be a good place to start.

The first question is the logic of listening to Vice President Cheney or past leaders of the CIA on any of this. If anything was done wrong, he is one of the primary individuals to blame, would he ever admit something bad or illegal happened? Also, he was an inside player, we never let the players ref themselves. You have to have an outside observer who can impartially determine what happened. I will admit Congress may not be a completely impartial observer, but they are certainly more impartial than the former Vice President.

The next argument constantly used is about the importance of the intelligence gathered by enhanced interrogation. Both sides have their talking points and I do not know who is correct because at the end of the day, I don’t care.  If the line in the sand in determining what is appropriate is how effective it is, than we are going to have some problems.  Japanese internment made certain no immigrants attacked the US from within. The shooting at Kent State University was effective at stopping protests on the campus. You should rarely use the ends to justify the means, especially when the means are people and also especially when you are talking about government policy and not “in the heat of the moment.”

The final argument I will address is the protection offered these individuals by the Geneva Convention. Vice President Cheney has stated there is no protection because the detained individuals were unlawful combatants. Politifact did a great job of summing up this issue.

Among other things” prohibited at any time and in any place whatsoever” by Common Article 3 are “violence to life and person, in particular murder of all kinds, mutilation, cruel treatment and torture” as well as “outrages upon personal dignity, in particular humiliating and degrading treatment.”

This is a very heated issue with a lot of claims on both sides, the only way to make sense of everything is to do the hard thing and think. Don’t let someone else tell you the report is baseless, ask them what they mean and examine the reasons. Often the people talking loudest are the least qualified to say anything.

The Spending Bill

As I write this, Friday December 12th, the US Federal Government is operating under a 48 hour Continuing Resolution. Late Thursday night the House of Representatives passed a $1.1 trillion spending bill to cover the rest of the fiscal year but because the Senate also needs time to vote on that bill, the House also passed a two day spending measure to avoid a government shutdown.

Unlike the last time we were in this position, it is now the Democrats holding up the spending bill, with nearly all of them voting against the measure. Why is that? Here is Kai Ryssdal from Marketplace to explain.

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Tomorrow it Rain Money

Do you trouble saving money? Well, if you spoke Chinese you might have an easier time with it.

Chinese is one example of a future-less language, whereas English is a futured language, we make clear grammatical separations between the past, present and future. This talk from Keith Chen is just one example of the several great chapters to this weeks episode of the TED Radio Hour. In it he explains how the way we think about time has a great influence on our ability to make decisions concerning both future payoff and punishment.

The third chapter with Paul Piff is the most interesting to me. In this time of increasing inequality in America, it is important to think about how these changes affect us. One example from this talk is an experiment involving a rigged game of Monopoly. At the start of a game the two players would flip a coin, the winner of the flip would start the game with twice as much money and get to use two dice as opposed to one. As explained in his talk, the winning players in this rigged game begin to act very differently and also start to forget that the game is rigged to begin with.

All five speakers from this episode examine the way we look at money and the underlying reasons to explain our reactions. I highly recommend you listen to the whole talk or subscribe to the TED Radio Hour on iTunes.

Italy Divided

History is obviously important in making the world the way it is today, but sometimes it is easy to forget the strange ways in which that history can affect our everyday lives.

This episode of Planet Money explores the differences between the economy of northern Italy and that of southern Italy. In traditional Planet Money fashion they look at just one company and their efforts to combat high absentee rates of their employees.

In instances where an entire culture seems to act a certain way, such as southern Italians often calling in sick to work, it is easy to say that is just the way it is and that it has always been that way. But that isn’t the case. A hundred or even five hundred years isn’t forever. Often if you are willing to look back into history you can find reasonable explanations for most cultural norms. If those norms are positive, great, you now have information to help you spread those norms to other places. If the norms are negative, you are now armed with information to effectively change individual actions by targeting what are most likely subconscious decisions.


You can find more information on the episode here or subscribe on iTunes.

The Pop Up Ad

Anyone who uses the internet today hates pop up ads. From simple beginnings, traditional pop up ads have today been replaced by myriads of ad types, often making it impossible to figure out the 13 crazy facts you wont believe about childhood movies.

There is a lot more to this story and I would recommend you listen to the full podcast which you can get from Gimlet Media’s website or iTunes. You can also read the story in The Atlantic by Ethan Zuckerman to find out more background about The Internet’s Original Sin as he calls it.

As I mentioned yesterday, this is an example of an accident completely changing the world. Would these ads have been created eventually, maybe, but who knows. One thing that we do know is that these ads paved the way for the internet we know today, brought to you by (place random company name here).