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Apr 29, 2012

A friend of mine recently pointed out something very true - that most people who encourage wars are cowardly. I live in a place that has gone to "pre-emptive war". That means that we attacked a country that had not directly harmed us, because we thought they might be dangerous. That was an act of cowardice. We attacked them, because we were too cowardly to let them be, because maybe they might someday be harmful.

Many people are now trying to push for wars with more countries that have not directly harmed us. They claim that they might someday have dangerous weapons. Maybe they are working on them. The evidence isn't that they are, but they could be. And if they aren't now, they might someday. So, people want to go to war with them, because they are afraid that someday they might be powerful and then might someday be dangerous to us. This is cowardice.

I live in a country that has decided that you do not have the right to ride on an airplane without either having a picture of yourself taken naked or being molested. The machines used to take the pictures come in two types and one of the types is a known cancer risk. There is no evidence that these searches make us safer, but they make people feel safer. We have thrown away our right to basic decency. This is cowardice.

If there are other humans in the world, then we do run a risk from them. Humans are dangerous animals. Any human might pose a threat to you. But killing off all possible threats is not acceptable. Just as it is not acceptable to lock people away into prisons just because they might someday commit a crime. We must learn to accept reasonable dangers. Most people manage this every day. If you drive a car, you run a significant risk of being in a car accident. Deaths by car accidents are far higher than deaths by terrorism or murder. Yet most people are not scared of driving a car or having roads with other drivers near them. They understand that in order to have a life worth living, you must accept some degree of reasonable risk.

Yet, if they can decrease the risks to them or even feel like they have while not actually making themselves safer, then they are willing to harm or even kill others. I do not know why so many people are so afraid of other people that they cannot simply accept and live with the risk the way they accept and live with cars. I do not know how to give the people of my country courage. But I refuse to sit by as they try to harm others through their cowardice and not call them out for their true motivation.

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Posted: Apr 29, 2012 3:24pm
Mar 28, 2012

I was just reading an article that said Romney couldn't seem more out of touch if he showed up in a top hat and a monocle lighting a cigar on fire with a hundred dollar bill. I started wondering, just how finnacially feasible is it for him to light things on fire with $100 bills. Now, I know Romney isn't the sort of person who is likely to be smoking cigars, but human brains are very bad at putting large numbers into perspective. This is purely an exercise in understanding how wealthy is Mitt Romney.

I've never smoked a cigar, so I have no idea how much they cost nor how long they take to smoke. So, I just assumed $100 per cigar and five minutes each to smoke. Let's say Romney needs five hours per day for a brief nap, some food, and other basic essentials during which he is not smoking any cigars. If he spent the other 19 hours ceaelessly chain-smoking $100 cigars that he lit with $100 bills, then he would almost use up his daily average after-tax income, as based on his disclosed income tax report and assuming it has stayed fairly similar.

So, lighting one cigar with a $100 bill would have virtually no effect on his daily income. Proportional to most people's income, it'd be like somebody else losing less than a penny. 

I just did this as a fun exercise in math, but maybe it will help a little to put into perspective what it means for most of the nation's wealth to be in the hands of a very few people. It's truly hard to understand the degree of wealth they have, and simple examples that put it into physical terms that one can picture can be useful.

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Posted: Mar 28, 2012 3:17pm
Feb 27, 2012

It is commonly said that the first thing an abuser tends to do is to try to alienate someone from the people close to them. This can be done in numerous ways, but generally includes things like telling someone that someone isn't good for them, keeping a person too busy to connect with others, and acting upset when someone spends time with others. It's an important warning sign that someone is dangerous, and it is vital not to break contacts with one's friends and family just because of someone else's prompting. If you really think breaking contact may be healthy and best, then it is good to get a second, objective opinion first, such as by discussing the matter with a therapist. But the point is abusers alienate people, because once someone is alienated, they don't have outside sources of information to give them perspective on their situation. Once someone is cut off that way, it is easy to manipulate their world view.

The exact same thing can happen on a different level with news sources or social networks. If you get encouraged to only use one source of news or one avenue of connection, then your information about other perspectives is being filtered out. It's easy to have a situation where you are led to believe almost anything, because all of your information comes from one source that can say whatever it wants. This is a classic Fahrenheit 451 or 1984 scenario. 

This is why it is vitally important to actively pursue information about any issue you care about, and make sure that information comes from separate sources. For news that has more of a global impact, it can be particularly enlightening to read articles about the issue from multiple countries. Even if you only speak English, as I do, it is still easy to find articles written in English from many different places. A nice thing about the internet, is that it makes such research easy, and such articles tend to be conveniently available. For smaller issues, it often will not be covered by as many sources, but one can generally try to get a few different sources. If possible, try to check and make sure the sources aren't actually connected, for example, Fox News and Australia's News Limited are both owned by Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation.

The importance of multiple outlets cannot easily be underestimated. A person with two distinct social groups is likely to have better health than a person with only one. And a person with only one source of news can be led to believe anything. For one's own well-being and to be a truly informed person, do not allow others to limit you in your friendships or readings. On its own, it isn't enough to keep you from potentially becoming a victim, but it certainly does help.

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Posted: Feb 27, 2012 7:52pm
Feb 27, 2012

This share is here mainly for my reference, but some others might find it useful. I'm trying to figure out how best to redeem my butterfly points. So, I started going through the organizations you can redeem points with and looking for their charity ratings. For many of them, I cannot find the information. But here is information I found on some of them, and I am thinking of redeeming primarily with the charities I can find good ratings for.

Oxfam America gets a five star rating - http://www.charitynavigator.org/index.cfm?bay=search.summary&orgid=4288

Opportunity International is also five stars - http://www.charitynavigator.org/index.cfm?bay=search.summary&orgid=4270

Kiva gets four stars (although as they do loans rather than direct charity, they are kind of a different thing than most of these organizations) - http://www.charitynavigator.org/index.cfm?bay=search.summary&orgid=12978

Trees for the Future gets three stars - http://www.charitynavigator.org/index.cfm?bay=search.summary&orgid=11443

The Marine Mammal Center gets three stars - http://www.charitynavigator.org/index.cfm?bay=search.summary&orgid=6201

The ASPCA gets three stars - http://www.charitynavigator.org/index.cfm?bay=search.summary&orgid=3286

All I could find on Population Services International is that they aren't BBB accredited - http://www.bbb.org/us/Find-Business-Reviews/name/population+services+international/

All I could find on Austin Pets Alive! is that they are not BBB accredited - http://www.bbb.org/central-texas/charity-reviews/charity-local/austin-pets-alive-in-austin-tx-90006839

Carbonfund.org does not meet the BBB guidelines - http://www.bbb.org/charity-reviews/national/environment/carbonfund-org-foundation-in-silver-spring-md-7605 - mainly it's a bit disorganized and it hasn't shown that what it does is actually what it claims to do, but it does seem to be trying to spend a lot of the money it takes in on what it does. It's also small, which may be part of its disorganization.

I can't find info on Humane Farm Animal Care, International Relief and Development, or climate path ecological fund, 

If you read this and have any information to offer, please do comment. I don't know much about these charities, I just want to figure out the best way to help. And this is just what a little net research could turn up.

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Posted: Feb 27, 2012 3:15pm
Feb 26, 2012

Blaming victims is an incredibly popular pasttime, and it, unfortunately, contributes to a great deal of harm. When we blame victims, we make life harder for them and tend to oppose changes that would help them or prevent more victimization. So, why is it so common to blame victims?

Well, there are several factors that encourage people to do so. First, the world is scary. Lots of bad things happen in the world. And worst of all, you can be pretty certain that eventually you and everyone you love will die. People don't like to think about that. When people see someone who has undergone a terrible hardship - a horrible disease, been the victim of violence, or had a major accident, for example - they want to be reassured that it won't happen to them or anyone they care about. Alas, there are no guarantees in this world. Sure enough, you might end up in one of those situations yourself, if you aren't already. But if people can find something about the victim that is different from themselves, then they can pretend that it won't happen to them because of that difference. So, people think to themselves, oh this person was assaulted because she was walking around alone, but if I don't walk around alone then I'll be safe. This isn't necessarily true, and it certainly doesn't make the victim of the assault to blame, but it does make people feel better. Then it's just a short hop to this person should have known better to do that and shouldhave let her whole life be ruled by fear on the off chance that something bad might have happened if she didn't limit her actions very carefully.

So, we blame victims to make them something different from ourselves. And this means that we tend to dehumanize victims. If the victim isn't like us, then the victim isn't as important as "us" - the victim is one of "them". Dehumanization is at the heart of most cruelty. It is far easier to abuse or kill someone if you don't view them as human. In wars, you regularly see people dehumanizing the enemy, and often even the civilians. In various psychology studies, people have been shown to be more willing to shock a person (even unto death) if the person is in another room than if they have to see the person (the shocks were faked, but the participants didn't know that). The more someone has to interact with a victim and directly harm them, then the easier it is to harm them.

The problem we face is that we can do a lot of harm from a distance, both in wars and with legislation. What we need to do is recognize that someone is still a person if they are poor, ill, of a different race, or so forth. And we need to have the courage to accept that bad things might happen, but if we work as a society to help the people they happen to, then we will all be safer fromt hem. We cannot ever get a guarantee that bad things won't happen to us or our loved ones, but we can create a society that will help us out if they do. We can trade our unhelpful ways of hiding from our fears for true ways of making the world better.

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Posted: Feb 26, 2012 4:08pm
Feb 25, 2012

Like many people, I have often been warned about the dangers of getting too much salt in my diet. While that is a very significant concern for many people, it wasn't until many years later that I was warned about the dangers and symptoms of getting too little salt in my diet. As with so many things, the key is balance - getting the right amount. What you may not realize is that salt is an essential part of hydration and brain functioning. Dehydration is caused by an electrolyte imbalance, which can happen either because you aren't getting enough fluids or you aren't getting enough salt.

When I looked into it, I found out I was chronically not getting enough salt. It may seem weird, but I'm a vegetarian who doesn't eat a lot of junk food and doesn't kike salty snacks. While processed foods tend to be rich in salt (I've seen frozen pizzas or cans of soup that will give you about 2/3 of your salt requirements for the day just from them), natural foods tend to be low in salt, especially vegetarian ones.

The primary warning that you may be low in salt is that you feel thirsty, yet cannot quench your thirst no matter how much water you drink. I found that I would sometimes become so horribly thirsty, but now if that happens and I eat a little bit of salt (it really doesn't take much) and have a small drink, then I stop being thirsty. If you think you may be low in salt, then the first thing to do is to look at the nutrtition information on the foods you eat. They will tell you what percentage of your USRDA the food contains. Try to add it up and see if you're close to the recommended amount. If you are, then you are probably fine, unless it's very hot or you exercise a lot. But you may find, like I did, that you aren't even close to getting the recommended daily allowance. If that's the case, you can try having just a little bit more salt in your diet. It can be good to consult with a doctor before making any significant changes though, and it can be vital if you have any medical issues that may be affected.

Being low in salt can cause you to have less energy, it can cause muscle pains, and it can make it more difficult to think clearly. People who have low blood pressure can be particularly vulnerable to salt deprivation, and can become light-headed. They tend to be more inclined to fainting from dehydration, which can be caused by insufficient salt. At an extreme, being low in salt can be fatal, but people will rarely take it to this extreme. While most people know that they need to replace their salt if it's particularly hot or they are physically exerting themselves a lot, many people don't realize that they also need a basic amount as part of good health. So, while you certainly shouldn't overindulge in salt, do make sure you are getting enough for healthy living.

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Posted: Feb 25, 2012 9:29pm

 

 
 
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