RSSCategory: Quality of Life

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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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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