RSSCategory: Quality of Life

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.

Share

Read More

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.”

Share

Read More

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.

Share

Read More

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.

Share

Read More

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 . . . ]

Share

Read More

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 . . . ]

Share

Read More

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.

Share

Read More

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 . . . ]

Share

Read More

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.

Share

Read More