RSSCategory: Quality of Life

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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Mixing up my own non-toxic shampoo and conditioner

May 12, 2010 | By | 16 Replies More
Mixing up my own non-toxic shampoo and conditioner

The perky woman on this Grist video (“Umbra”) has convinced me to make my own shampoo and conditioner. Not only will this save me money, but it will put end my practice of covering my scalp with numerous chemicals that contain known-harmful ingredients–many shampoos and conditions are laden with harmful and potentially harmful ingredients (I found this video at Huffpo). I should also mention that I have become extra-motivated to try this experiment based on this recent post by Brynn Jacobs. First, the fast-paced video featuring “Umbra”:

Now a short detour to the Environmental Working Group website, where you can determine all of the nasty chemicals in your shampoos, conditioners and other products. The EWG “Cosmetics” database is here.

I went to straight to my bathroom and dug out various bottles each of shampoo and conditioner. My Pantene “Full and Thick” shampoo contains all of the following (among other chemicals): METHYLCHLOROISOTHIAZOLINONE, ETHYLENE OXIDE, 1,4-DIOXANE, ETHYLENE OXIDE, 1,4-DIOXANE) NITROSAMINES) COCAMIDE MEA, METHYLISOTHIAZOLINONE, SODIUM LAURETH SULFATE. Various of these chemicals are associated with the following things: Neurotoxicity, Allergies/immunotoxicity, Organ system toxicity (non-reproductive) Organ system toxicity (non-reproductive), Irritation (skin, eyes, or lungs).

I checked out a bottle of Suave Professionals Sleek Shampoo and it contained a comparably ominous list. The Revlon Aqua Marine Moisturizing Shampoo was even worse in that it contained four chemicals associated with cancer.

Then I looked up two bottles of hair conditioner. The Garnier Fructis Fortifying Conditioner – Sleek & Shine has a comparably nasty list of chemicals –Umbra urges that these chemicals are totally unnecessary for washing one’s hair. I couldn’t find the Citre Shine Daily Revitalize Conditioner with Shine-Infusing Citrus Extracts on the EWG website, but I carefully read the fine print on the back label and plugged four of those chemicals into the EWG site; they all came up as bad, despite the front label’s suggestion that this product contains “healthy” ingredients. I suppose the theory is to balance out each industrial chemical with a whiff of something healthy-sounding like “citrus extract.”

BTW, isn’t it ironic to read all of those the benign-sounding names of these products and then compare those names to the long lists of chemicals within?

What is Umbra’s solution to this apparently unhealthy situation? She is encouraging us to make our own shampoo and conditioner (this is the same advice offered by Colin Beavan). For shampoo, she recommends that we mix a tablespoon of baking soda with each cup of water. Shake it each time before using it. For conditioner, mix 1 tablespoon of apple cider vinegar with each cup of water. She says that the vinegar smell goes away after you rinse.

As soon as I publish this post, I’m going to the kitchen to mix up a batch of each. I’m appearing in court tomorrow, and my hair and scalp, for the first time ever, will not be drenched in potentially harmful chemicals.

I promise to report on the experience after I use these home-made hair products for a few days.

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If you want to raise your children right, get them cats

April 29, 2010 | By | 3 Replies More
If you want to raise your children right, get them cats

Parents wonder how their kids will grow up. Will they be kind, smart, generous, or axe murderers? In my experience, the surest way to make sure your children develop compassion, empathy and generosity is to get them a cat.

“Daddy, Daddy!” the kids chorused. “Mommy said we could get a kitty!”

“I told them that if they did chores for 10 days straight,” she said, “each of them could get a kitty.”

We were having difficulty getting the kids to do their chores. My wife had solved both our chores-problem and the kids’ desire to have a pet in one stroke. The kids had wanted another cat since loyal friend Nat King Cat had died.

“Now you guys understand that YOU have to take care of your kitties,” said my wife.

As the result of the “deal,” my kids became chores maniacs. The whole thing smacked of bribery, but the house and kids were cleaner and the kids were happier.

The kittens would stay in the kids’ bedrooms for the first 10 days. After day eight of the chores marathon, we went to find kittens.

[more . . . ]

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People Are Idiots. A Cynical Observation

April 15, 2010 | By | 36 Replies More
People Are Idiots.  A Cynical Observation

The video below from TED is chilling in many ways. Michael Specter touches on observations about the resistance people have toward anything that seems to threaten their hobbit-hole view of the world. A little of this, as he rightly points out, is fine, even agreeable, but when it burgeons into matters that threaten lives and seek to derail all that has made this present era as wonderful as it is—and it must be stressed, in the face of overwhelming negative press, that we are living in a magnificent period of history—then it loses whatever quaint appeal it might otherwise have. We respect the Amish, but they don’t tell the rest of us how to live and try their level best to be apart from the world they disapprove. When you see people filing lawsuits with the intent to halt necessary, beneficial progress because they have bought into some bogeyman horror movie view of science or politics or morality, it behooves us to come to terms with a fundamental reality with which we live today.

First, though, the video. Watch this, then read on.

Okay, what reality? That many people are just idiots. I cannot think of a more tasteful way to phrase it. But when you consider the list, justifications and rationalizations fade.

The Tea Party. The Anti-vaccine Movement. The Birthers. Young Earth Creationists. Medjugorje. Deepak Chopra. PETA. Free Market Capitalism. Global Warming Deniers. Holocaust Deniers. Abstinence-Only. Just Say No. The Shroud of Turin. Astrology. Texas Board of Education. Evolution Deniers. Frankenfood Protesters. Homeopaths. Herbalists. Psychics. Scientology.

I could go on.

[more . . . ]

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Sam Harris on objectively measurable moral progress

April 13, 2010 | By | Reply More
Sam Harris on objectively measurable moral progress

Within a tradition that extends backwards at least to David Hume, many people insist that science is utterly incapable of telling us what we ought to value, and that science is thus unable to weigh in on moral issues. This position has often been referred to as the naturalistic fallacy–the claim that what is “moral” can be defined in terms of natural properties.

In this highly-engaging and wide-ranging TED talk, Sam Harris argues that this is a dangerous illusion, because whether humans are experiencing “well being,” and whether communities “flourish” clearly depend on facts. He argues that questions of values reduce to facts about the brain functions and specific social circumstances of human beings. Science is thus relevant to values, and as we move further into the future this will be ever more obvious.

Harris paused to make it clear that he is not claiming that science will necessarily provide answers to all values questions. He is not claiming that those trying to decide whether to have a second child, for example, will turn to science. On the other hand, meting out corporal punishment on children (which is still allowed by the laws of many southern states) raises a factual question: Whether inflicting pain, violence and embarrassment encourages positive emotional development. He also points to the wearing of burkas under threat of physical punishment as a practice that can can be factually analyzed as not likely to improve well being.

Harris doesn’t offer a single recipe for a “right” or a “correct” way to run a society. Rather, he suggests that the moral state space consists of many peaks and valleys; there might be many right answers, in addition to many wrong answers. This multiplicity of approaches doesn’t mean that there aren’t factual truths about the better and worse ways of achieving social well-being, however.

He repeatedly makes the point that science has a lot to say about morality, and there is no good reason to be non-judgmental when the facts scientifically show that a particular practice leads to social dysfunction. In many human disciplines, some of the people weighing in are so ill-informed that their opinions shouldn’t count at all — not every person has a right to a wide audience on the topic of string theory. The same thing goes for moral expertise. Those who insist that the best thing to do when their young daughter is raped is to kill her out of shame lack moral expertise. Those who would behead their son because he is gay in order to keep him from going to hell do not have moral opinions that should count.

There are right and wrong answers regarding questions of human flourishing (this can increasingly be fleshed out in terms of brain function) and “morality” relates to a specific domain of facts.

It is possible for individuals and even whole culture, to care about the wrong thing. It’s possible for them to have beliefs and desires that lead to needless human suffering. Just admitting this will transform our discussion about morality.

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Comprehensive moral instruction

April 11, 2010 | By | 4 Replies More
Comprehensive moral instruction

We’ve all seen many Internet lists offering suggestions for improving one’s life or state of happiness. This list, by a young man named Henrick Edberg at The Positivity Blog, caught my attention today, perhaps because it includes some of my own favorite bits of productivity reminders and folk wisdom, including the “80/20 rule” and the advice to not beat yourself up for making mistakes. His list also includes a nice twist to the golden rule: Give value to get value, not the other way around. Another item on his list reminds us to express gratitude to others in order to enrich our own lives, reminding us that expressing gratitude is socially contagious.

What also intrigued me was Edberg’s pre-list commentary: He laments that the nuggets of advice in his list aren’t taught as part of the high school curriculum.

But I still think that taking a few hours from all those German language classes and use them for some personal development classes would have been a good idea. Perhaps for just an hour a week in high school. It would probably be useful for many students and on a larger scale quite helpful for society in general.

I think I know why there are no such classes in public schools. Teaching advice on how to navigate through the complexities of life in a positive state of mind would too often trigger discussions regarding “morality,” which too often trigger discussions of specific religious teachings which, in turn, tend to anger at least some parents and students, which would then shut down the course (in public schools, anyway). I suspect that this causal chain is a big reason that so many schools tread lightly on teaching students how to navigate through life, even though there is an immense amount of information that needs to be discussed. Instead of vigorously teaching what the students need to know to be functional and virtuous, most schools ostensibly defer to families and churches (though they actually defer at least as much to pop culture, including magazines, “news” programs, television shows and movies) to fill that “moral” vacuum of students.

In America, however, even “serious” teachers of morality often insist that the way to best live one’s life is by obeying a standardized set of “moral” rules. Is the advice to follow any set of rules really the best approach for instructing us how to get along with each other down here on planet Earth? Is it even possible for any form of obedience to serve as the foundation for a high-functioning society? I think not.

I’m going to digress at this point . . .

[more . . . ]

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China examines human rights record of the United States

March 26, 2010 | By | 5 Replies More
China examines human rights record of the United States

China has issued a detailed report that examines the human rights record of the United States for the year 2009. Plain-spoken. Unvarnished. disturbing.

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More on the complexity of happiness: New TED lecture by Daniel Kahneman

March 22, 2010 | By | 4 Replies More
More on the complexity of happiness:  New TED lecture by Daniel Kahneman

Psychologist Daniel Kahneman is a Nobel laureate who has spent his long life making dozens of startling discoveries regarding judgment and decision-making. More recently, he has done considerable work in hedonic psychology. He recently appeared at TED to discuss the “The riddle of experience vs. memory.”

[caption id="attachment_11875" align="alignright" width="300" caption="Image by Nruboc at Dreamstime.com (with permission)"]Image by Nruboc at Dreamstime.com (with permission)[/caption]

There is no person better qualified than Kahneman to describe how the human psyche is rife with “cognitive traps.” In this TED talk Kahneman explains that these traps “make it difficult to think about happiness.” One foundational problem is that humans tend to resist admitting complexity; happiness is a monolithic term for most of us. Kahneman states, however, that “happiness is no longer a useful word, in that it applies to many things. We need to completely give up the simple word “happiness” in order to effectively communicate. One of the biggest problems is that there is a huge confusion between experience and memory when it comes to determining happiness. The distinction is with A) happiness IN your life versus B) happiness ABOUT your life (or WITH your life). The problem with trying to determine one’s own happiness is exacerbated by the “focusing illusion.” The effect of this illusion is that “we can’t think about any circumstance that affects well-being without distorting its importance.” Kahneman gave an example of a friend who claimed that a scratching sound at the very end of a music recording ruins the entire experience. This is utter nonsense, since the scratching sound occurred only at the end of the recording. It didn’t ruin the entire experience. Rather, it ruined “the memory of the experience.” Human beings consist of two selves: the experiencing self (who lives in the moment) and the remembering self (who keeps score and maintains the story of our lives, selecting and maintaining our memories. For the remembering self, a critical part of any story is how it ends. If it ends badly, the memory of the entire experience is contaminated (In this video, Kahneman describes earlier studies regarding colonoscopies which dramatically illustrated this point). Time is a funny thing for human beings. For our experiencing self, a two-week vacation is twice as good as a one-week vacation. For the remembering self, a two-week vacation might not be any better than a one-week vacation–“time has very little impact on the story” for the remembering self.

[More . . . ]

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Checking out

March 9, 2010 | By | 3 Replies More
Checking out

Sometimes, after a stressful period digging through work, family, and community obligations, I find myself driving past a cemetery and telling myself a private joke. “Lucky bastards,” I utter in a serious voice. “They get to to have endless amounts of deep sleep.” I’m trying to be ironic at those moments (though I always do enjoy my own jokes!).

There is a serious point to this. Many people have had enough, and they do want to end their lives. It turns out that they do have some options other than an often gristly self-inflicted suicide, the type of death that leaves behind families that are horrified, angry and/or guilt-ridden.

Since 2002, Holland has allowed euthanasia to those afflicted with ‘hopeless and unbearable suffering’ certified by two doctors. But now, after 112,500 signatures were collected on the issue, Holland’s legislature is considering pushing the envelope even further. According to World News, the Dutch legislature is considering a measure that provides for this:

Assisted suicide for anyone over 70 who has simply had enough of life is being considered in Holland. Non-doctors would be trained to administer a lethal potion to elderly people who ‘consider their lives complete’. The radical move would be a world first and push the boundaries even further in the country that first legalised euthanasia. Supporters say it would offer a dignified way to die for those over 70 who just want to give up living, without having to resort to difficult or unreliable solitary suicide methods.

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