CK Friday Links--Friday April 18, 2014

Links from around the internet. As always, I welcome your thoughts.

PS: Follow me on Twitter!

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Food labels aren't just labels: they evoke beliefs which actually affect our physiological response to food. (Jayson Lusk)

2014 may be one of the more volatile years for food prices. (Bloomberg)

Interesting review of the new book Caffeinated. (A Sweet Life) Related: How "Big Coffee" puts profits before people. (Casual Kitchen)

Excellent profile of Tom Lehrer, one of the 20th Century's most influential comedians. (BuzzFeed)

A Tesla car is a lot less green than you might think. (Slate)

Why there must be stock market crashes. (The Motley Fool)

You debt is an EMERGENCY. (Mr. Money Mustache)

Diamonds are bullsh*t! (Pricenomics)

When did being busy become some kind of mark of social status? (Slate)

Hooked: how companies create habit-forming products. (Farnam Street)



Got an interesting article or recipe to share? Want some extra traffic at your blog? Send me an email!


How can I support Casual Kitchen?
Easy. Do all your shopping at Amazon.com via the links on this site! You can also link to me or subscribe to my RSS feed. Finally, consider sharing this article, or any other article you particularly enjoyed here, to Facebook, Twitter (follow me @danielckoontz!) or to bookmarking sites like reddit, digg or stumbleupon. I'm deeply grateful to my readers for their ongoing support.

Four Incredibly Useful Books on Fallacy and Cognitive Bias

Readers, this is a somewhat off-topic post... that is, if you think the food industry and the various writers and bloggers who comment on it are somehow immune to bias and fallacy.
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The idea for this post came from a conversation with a friend who writes an insightful blog about abusive relationships (thanks, Taz, for all you do!). It's a list of helpful and highly readable books to help you identify and eliminate biases, fallacies and mental blind spots.

We’ve all got 'em. Might as well learn about them, understand them--and limit the damage they do.


You Are Not So Smart
This book will make you conversant in nearly every form of cognitive bias. Better still, you’ll also be conversant in a memorable (and sometimes hilarious) experiment or study demonstrating each cognitive bias. Why is knowing these amusing studies important? So that when you catch someone in an act of cognitive bias you can quickly tell them about the study before they throw something at you. This book was so helpful to me that I took eight full pages of notes from it. Also, see author David McRaney’s follow-up book You Are Now Less Dumb.



Stumbling on Happiness
You'll never trust your memory nor any of your predictions after reading this book (believe it or not, this is a good thing!). Particularly useful is author Dan Gilbert's insightful discussion of how we misperceive what we will value in the future--an insight with gigantic ramifications today for our health, wealth and happiness. Gilbert is an excellent writer, and he shares an astonishing amount of insight and knowledge about how our memories are fallible in sneaky yet predictable ways.



The Invisible Gorilla
An extraordinarily useful book that will teach you the illusions and paradoxes of human perception and cognition. The easiest read on today’s list.



Fooled by Randomness
If there’s any area where our cognitive frailties can be truly costly, it’s in our saving, spending and investing decisions. You’ll save yourself a lot of heartache and a lot of lost future investment money if you carefully read this book, which discusses the illusions of "great" investment performance and how luck and skill in investing are usually indistinguishable. See also Nicholas Taleb’s follow-up work The Black Swan and his most recent book Antifragile. All three of these books will change how you think.



Being Wrong
The granddaddy of all the books on this list, in my opinion, is Kathryn Schulz's brilliant book Being Wrong. It's an exploration of the fundamental nature of human error via history, philosophy, psychology and even the investment world. This was one of the most unexpectedly fascinating and provocative books I’ve read in years, and I find myself recommending it constantly.



[Unrelated bizarre sidenote: The authors of Being Wrong, Fooled By Randomness and The Invisible Gorilla were all--weirdly--plagiarized by the same man!]

Which brings me to my final point: Why am I talking about bias, fallacy and cognitive blind spots in a food blog? Well, to start with, if you think this isn't a place where we should seek to counteract our biases, well... you're biased. But let me ask: have you ever...

...wondered if Big Food is out to get us?
...concluded (uh, falsely) that healthy food has to be expensive or time-consuming?
...made lousy dietary choices, and then rationalized those choices afterward?
...assumed we could fix complex problems like obesity if we could just figure out whom or what to tax?
...decided that you’d be helping the world if you (and everyone else) ate 100% local?
...concluded that some people are just "lucky" or have "good genes" in order to justify your own personal health, weight and dietary miscues?
...underestimated the true capabilities of your body and your mind?

If you don't think your cognitive biases play a deceptive role in each of the questions above, you're... in denial. :)


Related Posts:
Never From Concentrate? Never Again
A Fund For... Who, Exactly? Addressing the "A Fund For Jennie" Controversy
How to Defeat the Retail Industry's Ninja Mind Tricks
On Spice Fade, And the Utter Insanity of Throwing Spices Out After Six Months


How can I support Casual Kitchen?
Easy. Do all your shopping at Amazon.com via the links on this site! You can also link to me or subscribe to my RSS feed. Finally, consider sharing this article, or any other article you particularly enjoyed here, to Facebook, Twitter (follow me @danielckoontz!) or to bookmarking sites like reddit, digg or stumbleupon. I'm deeply grateful to my readers for their ongoing support.

Money Sundays: Greece, the Media and Bizarro World: Some Thoughts For the Individual Investor

Success in investing doesn't correlate with IQ... Once you have ordinary intelligence, what you need is the temperament to control the urges that get other people into trouble in investing.
--Warren Buffett

Readers, remember back a few years when Greece was supposed to bring down the entire financial firmament? When it was the first domino in a daisy chain of crises that would bring down Portugal, Spain, Ireland, France... and perhaps lead to the breakup of the entire European Union?

Didn't quite work out that way, did it? Here, have a look at a five year chart of the Standard and Poor's 500 Index (a good proxy for the US stock market), where I've marked out a few key points. Forgive me for my crayola-caliber illustration skills:


A) December 2009: Start of the leading ratings agencies' (Moody's, Fitch, Standard and Poor's) downgrades of Greek government debt. At this point the world economy was still reeling from the 2008-2009 banking crisis.

B) April-May 2010: Another rash of debt downgrades, Greece receives its first IMF bailout package, the Greek parliament passes aggressive austerity measures, rioting in Athens. Note: this is more or less when negative newsflow peaked on the "Greece is going to bring us all down" narrative.

C) March-July 2011: Yet another rash of debt downgrades, accompanied by heavy media coverage.

D) April/May 2012: More violence during austerity protests, Greek parliament elections are held, but no party wins a majority, Greece's stock market reaches a bottom at 500 points.

Each of the points represent periods of heavy and highly negative newsflow about Greece. The situation seemed really dire. So dire, in fact, that it seemed obvious that the only prudent course of action was to sell. Everybody else seemed to be doing it.

But as we can now see, each of these points turned out to be excellent moments to buy! And last week's news that Greece successfully completed a major debt offering of five year bonds--at an unimaginably low 4.65% interest rate--puts the frosting on top of this delicious cake of irony. Bakes your noodle just to think about it.

Okay. With this in mind, here are six rules of thumb for readers looking to improve their investing sophistication and acumen:

1) No one ever made a dime panicking. You won't either.

2) When you know what it is that you're supposed to worry about, it's too late to sell.

3) Be in a position where you can comfortably add to your investments when events like this occur. This means you should always carry higher-than-you'd-think-are-necessary levels of cash in your investment accounts. High cash levels are an antidote to panic. Low cash levels make you fragile to panic and bad news.

4) Everything is backwards from what you think. At the very moment you think the media newsflow offers an airtight case for selling, it's much more likely that it's time to buy. Don't let your lizard brain trick you into fearfully reacting to the media. Instead, cultivate a counterintuitive, Bizarro-world mentality about bad news: "known" bad news is not bad news.

5) Note that bad news can always get worse, and that all investment decisions are made under uncertainty. Therefore, never, ever, ever make large "statement" investments (e.g.: I've put all my money in Greek swaptions and Greek olive oil futures!). Add to your holdings slowly, gradually and humbly.

6) Finally, the time to trim back your holdings (again: slowly, gradually and humbly!) is at times like the past few months--or even now: when things seem better, and there's not as much bad investment-related news flying around. This is the converse of point #4, and it's another example of using a Bizarro approach to media newsflow.

The investing realm is often quite cruel to those who overreact to the media. Fear costs you money, and the Greece story arc is just one example of many you'll face over your investing career. Stay counterintuitive, stay humble, and make gradual, incremental decisions with your investments. You'll keep your head while everyone else is losing theirs.

For Further Reading:
Reuters: Greece returns to bond markets, says end of bailout nears
Greek debt crisis timeline at Wikipedia

Related Posts:
Money Sundays: How To Make the Tax Code Work For YOU
Money Sundays: How To Get Balanced, Consistently Useful Expert Advice
Money Sundays: The "Stoplight Rule" For Creating An Emergency Fund
Money Sundays: Here’s How to Pay High Fees, Be Totally Undiversified, and Own the Same Consensus Stocks as Everybody Else
Money Sundays: Is Looking For Tax-Efficient Investments Icky? Or Intelligent?

How can I support Casual Kitchen?
Easy. Do all your shopping at Amazon.com via the links on this site! You can also link to me or subscribe to my RSS feed. Finally, consider sharing this article, or any other article you particularly enjoyed here, to Facebook, Twitter (follow me @danielckoontz!) or to bookmarking sites like reddit, digg or stumbleupon. I'm deeply grateful to my readers for their ongoing support.

CK Friday Links--Friday April 11, 2014

Links from around the internet. As always, I welcome your thoughts.

PS: Follow me on Twitter!

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Parsley Pesto Potatoes: just 81c a serving! (Budget Bytes)

Coconut Vegetable Curry. (Budget Bytes)

Two unusual ideas for chocolate... including Kale and Chocolate Cake!? (Stonesoup)

Did you know Google can give you a side-by-side nutritional comparison of foods now? Here's how to use it. (Google+, via Jayson Lusk)

Everything you know about unhealthy foods is wrong. (Guardian)

Is there really such a thing as humane meat? Long but brilliant discussion of the "ominvore’s contradiction." (American Scholar) PS: Also worth perusing some of the comments for a generally thoughtful debate.

Why health integrity matters. (Mark’s Daily Apple)

For years I resisted getting a Kindle. But when I got one, it was a big surprise. (Stephan van Coppenole)

How do you know when it's time to intervene with a friend's money mistakes? (Bargaineering)

Why we're not doomed. (Mr. Money Mustache)

Successful investing isn't a function of what you buy. It’s a function of what you pay. (The Reformed Broker)

Striking early demo of Michael Jackson's "Beat It." (Rhythm of the Tide)


Got an interesting article or recipe to share? Want some extra traffic at your blog? Send me an email!


How can I support Casual Kitchen?
Easy. Do all your shopping at Amazon.com via the links on this site! You can also link to me or subscribe to my RSS feed. Finally, consider sharing this article, or any other article you particularly enjoyed here, to Facebook, Twitter (follow me @danielckoontz!) or to bookmarking sites like reddit, digg or stumbleupon. I'm deeply grateful to my readers for their ongoing support.

Consumerism and Modern Pseudovalues: Some Thoughts

Happiness cannot be pursued; it must ensue.
--Viktor Frankl, Man's Search for Meaning

It's normal for human beings to search for meaning in their lives. Otherwise... what's the point? Unless we actively seek out real meaning--genuine, existential value--there is no point.

Unfortunately, consumer culture has handed us an easy alternative to the challenge of searching for true meaning: buying things. You can purchase meaning now. It's not the same, but it's close enough to fool many of us.

What, then, are examples of purchased pseudo-meaning?

* Meals at exclusive or high-status restaurants
* Branded merchandise
* Status-driven pastimes or activities
* Exotic-sounding vacations
* Relentlessly seeking more money or more income
* Purchases that signal our success, good taste, or wealth.

Okay. Intellectually, we all know (well, most of us know) that these things do not, and cannot, bring lasting meaning to our lives. But here's where the problem lies: When we buy stuff and experiences like the things above, it produces a temporary illusion of meaning and value, and it can be deceivingly easy to mistake that illusion for the real thing.

Another problem lies with the ostensibility of each of the psuedovalues above: each gives us overt ways to advertise our status, originality, importance, wealth, success… to the point where we can construct a plausible and believable facade of living a meaningful life just by filling our lives with things from this list. No one will know the difference, and you’ll "be seen" as the kind of person who (uh, ostensibly) lives a rich, meaningful life.

This would be lovely, if you were more interested in being seen as living a meaningful life than actually living a meaningful life. Can you spot the difference between the two? Many people can't, leaving them endlessly chasing items from the list above. They may think they're pursuing happiness, but all they'll end up with is more stuff. And usually more debt.

Worst of all, since consumerism-as-meaning is most peoples' default choice, it can be awfully lonely to avoid consumerism in order to seek out real meaning. Hey, if you're not out there buying stuff with everybody else, it's easy to feel uneasy. As if you're doing it all wrong somehow.

I'm not sure of much, but I'm certain that the point to life isn't to die next to a large pile of branded consumer goods. Which takes us to one of the key existential challenges of living in the modern world: You must discern true meaning from pseudo-meaning. Forget all the overpriced, meaningless crap on the list above. Instead, I'd make the case that meaning comes from activities like the following:

* Helping someone
* Teaching someone something
* Private learning and expertise-building
* Cultivating a mindset of "enough"
* Sharing a simple meal or experience with a friend, partner or family member
* Rejecting consumerism-based pursuits in all forms.

A final thought: It's an interesting coincidence that all of the things on this list are either free or close to it.

Readers, what would you add? Do you struggle with the consumerism of your peers, friends, colleagues or family? What solutions have worked for you? Share your thoughts in the comments!



How can I support Casual Kitchen?
Easy. Do all your shopping at Amazon.com via the links on this site! You can also link to me or subscribe to my RSS feed. Finally, consider sharing this article, or any other article you particularly enjoyed here, to Facebook, Twitter (follow me @danielckoontz!) or to bookmarking sites like reddit, digg or stumbleupon. I'm deeply grateful to my readers for their ongoing support.