Friday, May 29, 2009

The Traps Are Set - We Told You So!

I was listening to Tom Ashbrook's Week in the News from last week and the guests were talking about the recent face-off between President Obama and former Vice President Dick "Dark Side" Cheney. One commenter pointed out that the Republicans, specifically Dick, have set up a very interesting trap for President Obama. They are claiming that by ending the torture of the detainees at Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib, Obama and the Dems are risking the lives of American citizens by increasing the probability of another terrorist attack. This way, in the event that we get attacked, they can point their fingers and say, "HAHAHAAaa we told you so!" 

The other interesting part of the Republicans defense of their tactics and methods for "Making America Safe" is that we were never attacked again after 911. I have never found this to be a compelling argument because they are using a non-event as proof, which is simply ridiculous child logic. Let's see what else I can come up with using this same logic. How about, I've smoked every day, and I haven't died yet, so clearly cigarettes aren't lethal. Or what about, I've had unprotected sex my whole life and I haven't gotten an STD, clearly STDs are something made up by the media. Try on this one, we've been burning fossil fuels for hundreds of years with no consequences, clearly this does nothing to the environm-oh wait.

Finally, I'd like to point out that Dick is putting himself on the same side of the fence as the terrorists by making this argument. He is setting Obama up for a fall in hopes that something horrible like another attack will occur so that he can point his finger and say, Told ya so!

I'd like to point to Ann Coulter's book Treason: Liberal Treachery from the Cold War to the War on Terrorism and ask her, who are the treasonous ones now? Personally, all I see is a bunch of hardcore right wingers rooting for the bad guys to come and blow us all up so that they can dance around the flames singing, We told you, we told you, we told you, hahahaa! (The image is from the Ghostbusters movie.)

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

The Rise of Women and Fall of Their Happiness

Many of you have heard me talk about this, here is an article describing an interesting statistic. According to some polls women's reported happiness has fallen over the last 30 years despite rising rates of salary, education, graduation, employment out of the home, etc. On the flip side, over the same period, men have grown happier. What gives? Any theories? 

More on Pessimism and Optimisim

From this Smarterware blog which is talking about this Atlantic article. Appearantly there is a Harvard medical study that has been going on since the 1930s tracking some male graduates through their entire life with yearly psychological evaluations. The goal of the study is to gain a better understanding of what makes us happy, sad, fufilled, etc. Turns out that optimism and good squishy things like kindness, understanding, empathy and all that fuzzy good stuff is the best for long term happiness, but suprisingly pessimism and negative emotions like anger, fear, and all those dark melancholic things are good for the short term. In the words of the lead researcher, 

"Positive emotions make us more vulnerable than negative ones. One reason is that they’re future-oriented. Fear and sadness have immediate payoffs—protecting us from attack or attracting resources at times of distress. Gratitude and joy, over time, will yield better health and deeper connections—but in the short term actually put us at risk. That’s because, while negative emotions tend to be insulating, positive emotions expose us to the common elements of rejection and heartbreak."

Clearly this connect to the previous post, and I think even more interestingly, to Matt's comment about the direction of time with reguard to the cynical and skeptical viewpoints. How does the past influcence your view of the future? 

Monday, May 18, 2009

BBC: Your Pictures- Tiny

I was published on the BBC's user generated content photoblog. They do a different subject every few weeks, and I submitted this image of a little newt on Anne's hands for their recent subject of "Tiny". Here you can find the slideshow and here you can find the organizer's blog for the "Your Pictures" section, where he chose the same picture to headline his article about the section. 

Pretty cool!

I'd like to point to a new feature on my photoblog- I added a place to buy the pictures if you would like. It starts at $10 for a 6"x9" and goes from there. It is all done through 3rd parties, and will be billed and shipped to you by them. I'm not even sure how much I get per picture, but I jus thought it might be a convenient way to get my stuff out there. Here's the link to the newt picture on my photoblog. Thanks!

Friday, May 15, 2009

Optimism and Pessimism- Skepticism and Cynicism

This is hopefully the start of a series that I have been rolling around in my brain for the past six months. I am curious, what is the difference between skepticism and cynicism using the framework of optimism and pessimism? I think we can all agree that on one end of the spectrum is optimism and on the other end of the spectrum is pessimism. Using this as our basis, where do the various mental view points fall? More to come.

In this entry, I would like to talk about skepticism and cynicism. Here is what Wikipedia has to say about each:

"In ordinary usage, skepticism or scepticism (Greek: 'σκέπτομαι' skeptomai, to look about, to consider; see also spelling differences) refers to:
  • (a) an attitude of doubt or a disposition to incredulity either in general or toward a particular object;
  • (b) the doctrine that true knowledge or knowledge in a particular area is uncertain; or
  • (c) the method of suspended judgment, systematic doubt, or criticism that is characteristic of skeptics (Merriam–Webster)."
Cynicism (Greek: Kυνισμός) originally comprised the various philosophies of a group of ancient Greeks called the Cynics, founded by Antisthenes in about the 4th century BC. The Cynics rejected all conventions, whether of religion, manners, housing, dress, or decency, advocating the pursuit of virtue in a simple and unmaterialistic lifestyle.

By the 19th century, emphasis on the negative aspects of Cynic philosophy led to a new and very different understanding of cynicism to mean an attitude of jaded negativity, and a general distrust of the integrity or professed motives of other people. Modern cynicism, as a product of mass society, is a distrust toward ethical and social values, especially when there are high expectations concerning society, institutions and authorities which are unfulfilled. Cynicism can manifest itself by frustration, disillusionment and distrust in regard to organizations, authorities and other aspects of society, and can result from a negative evaluation of past experiences."

As I read it, skepticism is similar to the classical definition of cynicism, but the modern definition of cynicism has a negative slant to its description. It seems that the skeptic doesn't care about positive/negative viewpoints, but rather is concerned with the truth, and believes that the truth may very well be unattainable. It does not seem to me that the skeptic falls on either side of the optimistic/pessimistic midpoint, but rather skeptics straddle that line with a doubtful eye on all knowledge.

The strange thing is that the cynic was originally framed to be similar to skeptic, except for perhaps being more extreme and throwing away all beliefs in everything. Today it seems that the cynic is a jaded version of the skeptic. I feel that the cynic is skeptical that anything is good or positive, especially with reguard to people and society. I would say that a cynic is a skeptical pessimist. They aren't ready to always throw a negative slant on everything without appropriate consideration, but generally their consideration leads them to a negative viewpoint.

I bring all of this up because I hear people throw all of these words around interchanably and I wanted to know what these viewpoints actually mean. Also, I have learned that I do not want to be cynic. I am (I think) a skeptic, and nothing more.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Homeless Treatment

With homelessness on the rise (I looked for statistics, but doing statistics on the homeless is difficult, and the numbers from the recession haven't come out yet, however, I'd like to point to the number of foreclosures and the tent city in Sacramento as proof), I thought I would write about an interesting and sad feature of the urban landscape. Anywhere there is a flat area of concrete you will find rocks turned on end jutting from the surface of the pad. Here you can see a very small island, barely large enough for a person, had rocks strategically placed to discourage laying down on it. 

This type of discouragement was unknown to me until I moved to San Francisco. Now, I see it all over the Bay Area, anywhere there is a slab of concrete, especially when the concrete is protected from the elements. For example, a new bike/ped overpass was installed in Sunnyvale (near my work), and sure enough where the angle of the ramp leaves the bulk of concrete foundation, they placed big rocks on end, closely spaced and jutting up in an unfriendly way. I wonder, how much did those rocks cost to install? Would it have been enough to house and feed a homeless person? Consider design, materials, and implimentation.

Maybe it is about time for us to treat our homeless like humans. I see so many people on the streets of San Francisco, and I always look them in the eye, nod, and say hello. Most of my fellow San Franciscans look forward, blankly, and act as though the homeless don't exist. Personally, I don't think it would be very hard to fall on bad luck, and end up on the street. I don't think it is a choice for most of these people, who typically have serious mental problems, many of which are caused by our own society (take the homeless veterans who account for 23% of the homeless population (!) as a prime example). 

Urban planners of the world, please stop installing these rocks in concrete, it doesn't fix the problem any more than the war on drugs has ended drug abuse. There is a deeper root to the problem that needs to be fixed first.