RSSCategory: Quality of Life

Society’s most dangerous drug

November 8, 2010 | By | Reply More
Society’s most dangerous drug

The results are in at Lancet. The all-round most dangerous drug is [drum roll] . . . Alcohol!

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My kind of house

September 7, 2010 | By | 3 Replies More
My kind of house

Unlike Tony Coyle, I’m an introvert (I’ve tested off the charts as an introvert). Also, the pace seems to be getting too frenetic down in the city these days. My life seems to be in balance about like this hammer and ruler. You see, I’m not in a Koyaanisqatsi phase.

Therefore, when I found this site, I starting thinking that I’d like to live in one of these houses, just for a month or two or three.

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25 questions

August 20, 2010 | By | 1 Reply More
25 questions

When I started reading this list of questions, some of them initially struck me as naive. I don’t know why I had that initial reaction, because thought about them some more and most of them strike me as damned good questions.

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One out of eight Americans is now on food stamps

August 6, 2010 | By | 8 Replies More
One out of eight Americans is now on food stamps

One out of eight Americans is now on food stamps. Greatest nation on the face of the earth. The world’s only superpower. God bless America. Etc.

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We are neurons

July 22, 2010 | By | Reply More
We are neurons

British Author Matt Ridley recently gave a stimulating and entertaining talk at TED. The central topic was about “mating ideas,” but the talk (which was engaging all the way through) took an surprising turn toward the end when Ridley announced that he doesn’t care whether some individuals have a somewhat higher IQ than others. Smart individuals don’t necessarily make for a smart society–he suggested that Neanderthals were smart individuals, but they didn’t last. What do we modern humans have the Neanderthals lacked?

We exchange things and ideas (the evidence suggests that the Neanderthals didn’t exchange items and didn’t have any meaningful division of labor, not even a sexual division of labor). We function together and we are able to create things that nobody on earth knows how to make individually. Who knows how to make a computer mouse? Nobody. The “team” that makes computer mice includes the coffee-grower who provides coffee for the guy who works on an oil rig, who pumps out oil in order to allow a chemist to make plastic for the mouse. But there are 1,000,000 other members of this team.

We are prolific exchangers of ideas, and that is what we have over all other species. Each of us functions like a neuron, networking incessantly, enabling the whole to be much greater than the sum of the parts. Smart individuals (despite how interesting they sometimes seem) are often dead ends. What really makes a society fly is when individuals have a propensity to exchange ideas, a built-in drive for mating their ideas, allowing their ideas to go where no smart individual (or even many groups of smart individuals) could have ever anticipated.

For an interesting epilogue, consider the work of David Sloan Wilson, who suggests that humans are half-bee (we’re not quite there), and that religion serves as the binding force.

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Affordable Failures

July 7, 2010 | By | 4 Replies More
Affordable Failures

Much like Erich’s recent “Lecture to myself“, I’ve had a few things go wrong lately. I am also able to be philosophical about it. Tire Patch Kit

I’ve had 3 flat tires in the last week. One was on a dolly that had left the factory with patched inner tube last year. The patch failed, and I was unable to get another patch to hold after 3 tries. So I went to the hardware store, and was told that a replacement tube had to be ordered. So back home and to the internet. The replacement tube is in the mail to my house for a little less than the hardware store sells other ones. Another was a bicycle tire that patched pretty easily. The third was a tubeless wheelbarrow tire that was slightly off the rim. These are a bear to refill once empty. I am currently stretching the tire across the outside of the rim in the sun so that it will hold to the inside of the rim in a couple of days, allowing me to fill it.

The left rear pedals on our tandem bicycle stripped out this week, so I had to replace the pedal and crank. The left “Captain’s” crank is a specialty item that had to be special ordered by length and tooth count. Fortunately, I saw this coming, and had the parts on the shelf before the pedal fell off.

The vent hood over my stove, a must-have for us non-centrally-air-conditioned folks, finally died. The motor hums, but won’t turn. It had a good life; well used for two decades. It is a non-standard size that had to be ordered from the factory. Back when I got it, that meant going through a specialty kitchen store. Now, I ordered it direct online via a local hardware store to be delivered to my house for less than it cost me in 1990. I’m not particularly looking forward to the half-day job of dismounting the old and installing the new. Even if it does actually fit.

My laser printer has been getting streaky. This is a problem for MrTitanium, who prints bar-coded labels every day. I tried just replacing the toner kit with a factory original unit (instead of my usual after-market bulk refill). It cost four times as much, but did fix the problem (whew).

I recently found out that, due to a paperwork mix up, we have to pay a lawyer five grand to hand us some inheritance money that my parents had already paid a lawyer more than that to prevent it from having to be paid now. As with parking tickets, it is simpler and cheaper to pay it.

And we recently got three parking tickets in one stop that were arguably contestable. All during a brief stop between picking a used car up from the seller and dropping it off at the inspection site. One ticket was for expired plates. The next for expired inspection. And one for being in a handicapped spot. That last, most expensive one may be our fault. The back foot of our car occupied the front foot of a 30′ long handicapped space on a tree lined residential street. My wife didn’t see the rusty little blue sign facing rearward as she parallel parked in front of the car fully in the space in the rain. The car behind the car behind us occupied a foot or two of the handicapped space, as well. But it didn’t get a ticket. Let that be a lesson to you; always remove the plates when you buy a car!

A couple of months ago I had to get a couple of crowns (that I wrote about as To Tell the Tooth). This was my first expensive dentistry since my wisdom teeth were yanked in college. But back then I was covered by insurance. I pay out-of-pocket for all dental work these days.

But we have the wherewithal to deal with these nuisances of modern life. This Wednesday (from Woden’s Day) it seems that Woden/Wodan/Wotan/Odin likes me. I suspect that tomorrow (his son Thor’s Day) will be the same. Or is it more proof that Gods smile on those who disbelieve in them?

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Jury Duty Again

June 26, 2010 | By | 2 Replies More
Jury Duty Again

Every other year, I pull jury duty. I received my latest summons with some chagrin, as it seems like I just had it. So sure was I that I had served in 2009 that I checked the box on the survey form that says I’ve just done the duty within the last 24 months. So I thought I might be excused.

But to do this post, I checked my records. It has already been 30 months since I last spent half a week sitting in the courthouse deciding someones fate for up to $1.50/hr. Oops. They’ll probably check and I’ll make those big bucks yet again this July.

I’ve sat on several juries, and been foreman a couple of times. Civil lawyers don’t like me. I get bumped from all lawsuits involving measurable things, like product liability cases. But criminal attorneys don’t seem to mind my rational bent.

I may have to try harder. Murder trials are very stressful. Maybe an Atheist shirt or button would help. Atheists are among the most distrusted demographics in this nation. Sex offenders get more respect.

How do I feel about this regular duty? Consider my official number.

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The things our biggest and most nebulous villains have in common

June 20, 2010 | By | Reply More
The things our biggest and most nebulous villains have in common

Jonathan Haidt’s The Happiness Hypothesis is one of my favorite books of all time. It is in the top 10 books I have heavily annotated. Here’s a sampling of why (although if you search for “Haidt” in the search field of this website, you will find 20 of other posts regarding Haidt’s work). In the following excerpt, Haidt discusses what all of our biggest villains seem to have in common:

When the moral history of the 1990s is written, it might be titled desperately seeking Satan . With peace and harmony ascendant, Americans seemed to be searching for substitute villains. We tried drug dealers (but then the crack epidemic waned) and a child abductors (who are usually one of the parents). The cultural right vilified homosexuals; the left vilified racists and homophobes. As I thought about these various villains, including the older villains of Communism and Satan himself, I realized that most of them share three properties: they are invisible (you can’t identify the evil one from appearance alone) their evil spreads by contagion, making it vital to protect impressionable young people from infection (for example from communist ideas, homosexual teachers, were stereotypes on television); and the villains can be defeated only if we all pull together as a team. It became clear to me that people want to believe they are on a mission from God, or that they are fighting for some secular good (animals, fetuses, women’s rights), and you can’t have much of a mission without good allies and a good enemy.

How devastingly “refreshing” that modern villains are so identifiable and that they are doing such tangible damage. We are now looking at a devastated national economy, two expensive and needless wars, a ruined ecosystem in the Gulf of Mexico, an energy crisis and a helpless political system created by an utterly dysfunctional election system that, for the most part, attracts megalomaniac ignoramuses and repels humble, good-hearted and well-informed people. It remains to be seen whether we will ever be able to let go of our bogeymen and, instead, focus on our real villains.

Addendum: See this related post on “The Power of Nightmares.”

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Fool me once…

June 17, 2010 | By | 2 Replies More
Fool me once…

The events since the BP well exploded and began spewing oil and gas into the Gulf of Mexico have forced President Obama’s hand. No politician wants to be the one to catch the Peak Oil hot potato, but it looks like it’s landed right in Obama’s lap. In his Oval Office speech the other night, he came the closest any president has yet to frankly discussing the challenges we face (emphasis mine):

So one of the lessons we’ve learned from this spill is that we need better regulations, better safety standards, and better enforcement when it comes to offshore drilling. But a larger lesson is that no matter how much we improve our regulation of the industry, drilling for oil these days entails greater risk. After all, oil is a finite resource. We consume more than 20 percent of the world’s oil, but have less than 2 percent of the world’s oil reserves. And that’s part of the reason oil companies are drilling a mile beneath the surface of the ocean — because we’re running out of places to drill on land and in shallow water.

For decades, we have known the days of cheap and easily accessible oil were numbered. For decades, we’ve talked and talked about the need to end America’s century-long addiction to fossil fuels. And for decades, we have failed to act with the sense of urgency that this challenge requires. Time and again, the path forward has been blocked — not only by oil industry lobbyists, but also by a lack of political courage and candor.

The consequences of our inaction are now in plain sight.

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