It's all about perspective

Archive for November, 2007

F.A.Q.

This is not really a “frequently asked questions” page, more of a “frequently searched-for topics” page.

I’ve been getting quite a lot of dings from search engines on the term “social context”, much more than I had originally guessed, and the searches are always amended with some other term. I have searches that begin with social context and end with things like “short story,” “sociology,” “setting,” and “labeling.” Similarly, I have searches that look for things like “Illinois shooting social context.”

For a look on the broad topic of what Social Context is, click here, or click the F.A.Q. link at the top of the page.

Wondering

What did I do? For someone who completely believes in Karma, that what we put into the world will be returned to us whether it is good or bad, it has been driving me nuts for the last 2 hours.

I was on my way to take one of my best friends shopping for a birthday present for his wife when someone hit my car. I was driving south down one of the four lane streets in the left lane. On the right shoulder was a wrecker with its red and blue lights twirling, so I knew there had been an accident there recently. I slowed down like everyone else around me, but this maroon toyota slowed down apparently to get in behind me. I couldn’t really tell this because her left turn signal was not on (I later found out it didn’t work at all). The truck in front of me stopped short and swerved slightly, and so I applied my brakes just as rapidly. I looked up in my rearview mirror (as I always do in these situations) and watched as that maroon car I saw a few seconds ago was not slowing as fast as I was. In a futile amount of pleading, I begged her not to hit my car, but alas she either didn’t hear me or couldn’t stop sooner. Her driver’s side headlight met the passenger side corner of my bumper with a weird mix of crunch, creak, and metal being forced into new shapes. This of course caused my head to whip back into the headrest of my chair. I’m only just now feeling the effects of that: a slight headache, my right shoulder is hurting, and my ear is giving me issues for some reason.

I get out of the car and can see that a woman was driving, there is a male passenger, and there are two children in the back seat. I could not tell if the children were in car seats, but I can’t remember seeing them in subsequent passes of the car. I ask if everyone is ok before I check the damage to the car. Physical injury is more important than property damage and I wanted to make sure everyone wasn’t hurt. This woman was near to hysterics. She immediately started talking about how she was a single mom and how she would work with me on paying it off or back. This little diatribe of hers set off the warning sirens in my head. I looked her strait in the eye and asked, “The cop is outside of earshot, I need you to tell me the truth, do you even have insurance?” All she could do was shake her head “no.”

Thankfully the police officer never asked me that question. I gave him my insurance card and she gave him her old card. While we waited I took some pictures of the damage to my car with my phone. They didn’t turn out very well or I would post them here. Nevertheless I can tell by the damage I will have to replace the bumper. There is a crease in my trunk lid as well and by some small miracle my taillight came out unscathed. All of it is expensive and all of it will have to come out of my pocket.

I haven’t gotten mad, and I don’t think I’m going to, but I’m upset. I’m hurt and I just don’t know what I did to deserve this. I certainly hope anyone answering doesn’t use my previous post as an example of what I might have done.

I’m tired now and am giving up on this day. But I am still wondering…

We are NOT born sinners

One of the cornerstones of the temple that is my rejection of organized religion is this: humankind needs to be saved. This is utter rubbish and should be treated as the refuse it is. The idea that we are born with desires and actions and judgments already heaped upon us makes about as much sense as going skinny dipping in the sea of tranquility on the moon.

Also, I have heard and read the arguments stating because evidence within the animal orders most closely related to humans, (namely other primates and dolphins) suggests that they too, have murderers, rapists, and thieves must mean there is a genetic gene for bad behavior. I may brooch this topic in depth at a later date, but for the purposes of this discussion I will say only this on the matter; anyone who believes the above statement about the animal-human connection is saying that anything my fourth cousin twice removed does I am responsible for because we are genetically similar. I obviously can’t agree with that, can you?

Contrary to popular belief, it is not mother church or God that provides us with directions for our moral compass. According to a recent article in Time magazine, What Makes Us Moral, “Moral judgment is pretty consistent from person to person.” We have a genetic compass that has been bred into our genes over hundreds of thousands of years. Humans know when they do something whether that thing is right or wrong. The problem comes when we have no one around to kick start this moral engine. That, says the article, is where society comes in.

If given a community of people who have never been introduced to Christianity, the Bible, or any other moral code based on religion, those people will still have a moral code to live by. With only the most rudimentary of instruction in language, they should be able to grasp the concept of “do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” This is the golden rule. The one that supersedes all others and is one of the defining characteristics of the sympathetic creature. Humans created this rule to put into words what being sympathetic means. It is the ultimate extension of the pack mentality; if you harm the group, you harm yourself.

Humans’ inability to remain completely emotionally stable during long stretches of loneliness spans back to our earliest days as packs of hunter-gatherers. We were around other people every day, all the time, and very rarely did you find yourself alone. So if you caused some kind of harm to the pack, like killing someone, you risked the entire group’s ability to survive. This act could very well have gotten you cast out from the protection of the group. Through selective breeding (why would anyone in the group mate with someone who had been kicked out, let alone had proven to be unstable), packs of humans slowly but surely bred into ourselves the genes for empathy.

Somewhere during human history we were told a lie. We were made to believe our very nature was based in immorality. We are told that the concept of free will, given to us by the gods, has to be given up to live as a moral and decent human. This travesty has been the greatest hoax pulled on the community of humans.

If it is true that we have free will then choose not to be deceived. Choose to remember that we are not born evil. Choose to live within a community of people who do not need the crutch of sin to define them as moral individuals. Choose to believe instead, that we are born moral, that we are born good, and that the only thing we need to keep us that way is other people. Not other good people, not other bad people, not other Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Buddhist, Hindu, Taoist, or religious people, but just people.

I was not born a sinner, and neither were any of you.

/geek on

This is the absolute shit right here.

“Paralysed man’s mind is ‘read'”

I read about it first from /. (slashdot) here -> Major Breakthrough in Direct Neural Interface

If this works the possibilities are astounding. If we can translate speech impulses in the brain, not only will we be able to assist those people with birth defects that prevent them from speaking, but we will be able to help those with physical injuries.

I understand this is a big “if,” but I try to see hope in even the smallest of ifs.

I just want to know when I get my neural jack.

/geek off

Numbing numbers

I wanted to get some numbers out there as a follow-up to my 1 in 4 post. I realized that one in four doesn’t really mean much when you don’t know how large the one in four population comes out of. The report, from the National Alliance to End Homelessness, “Vital Mission: Ending Homelessness Among Veterans”, tells us that almost 200,000 of the homeless population are veterans.

When looked at from the context of the almost 210 million people that veterans can come from, (United States men and women aged 18 and over), it is only 10 percent of the population, and doesn’t seem to be that alarming. But when taken into the context of the homeless population, which is estimated to be 744,000, having 195,827 of your population coming from one very specific sector of the parent population is as astounding as it is alarming.

The United States spends $622.8 billion on national defense. (This includes $481.4 billion for discretionary spending and $141.7 billion specifically for the war in Iraq. You can download the press release here.)

The United States spends $86.7 billion on Veteran Affairs. (You can download their press release here.)

This is disgusting. It is granted that the cost of care for an active member of the military will be higher. But having fully one quarter of the homeless population being none other than the men and women who fought and lost for our country is appalling.

This. Should. Not. Happen.

This section of the homeless population should never have been and should never be homeless in the first place. There is no reason for it. We can end this epidemic in this country. So why don’t we do it?

Do not let the numbers numb you to the fact that we are rapidly approaching one million human beings homeless in the United States.

One million mothers.

One million fathers.

One million sisters.

One million brothers.

One million children.

In a country with an expendable income in the billions, there is no reason for any of this to be happening.

1 in 4

Our veterans. My grandfather, for one. This is him in his Navy blues at his 1982 reunion. When he returned from World War II, the G.I. Bill gave him plenty of opportunities, but from what I could tell he never needed to take advantage of them. He was one of the fortunate ones.

grandpa

Many of his fellow brothers and sisters of the Navy succumbed to the mental ravages of the horrors of war. My grandfather never talked about his time in the pacific theater.

This tradition continued through every war since then. The stresses placed on the mind during times of war is insurmountable by many of the men and women who volunteer to protect this country. We pump billions into the maintenance of the war effort, we pump billions into the recruitment and training of troops, but when it comes to what happens afterwards we largely turn a blind eye to their suffering.

The Associated Press sent out a story today highlighting the startling realization that 1 in 4 of the homeless population is a veteran. This disgusts me in ways that I have been having a hard time quantifying since I read the piece.

This country, this self-righteous, hypocritical, fear-mongering, war profiteering, god blessed country, has hit an all time low for me. We run around demonizing those people brave enough to speak out about the war, (not the men and women fighting it), but turn up our noses in disgust when one of those people from the armed forces pleads for help.

1 in 4 homeless in this country is a war veteran. Not some poor schmuck who washed out of boot camp and is feeling sorry for themselves, but an honest to god war veteran. That guy you saw dragging the plastic bag full of aluminum cans, dirty from head to toe, who hasn’t seen a shave in what seems like 20 years, and has a look of dementia in his eyes, could very well be the guy who ran out of the foxhole and saved your father. Or he could be the one who took an extra minute searching the field and found the land-mine that would have surely taken out your mother. The guy that watched your brother’s back while searching and clearing buildings in Iraq? That could have been him. Do you remember the story your sister told you about the crazy marine who drove the Humvee through a hail of bullets, bombs, and blood to get her out of the crossfire she would have died in? That guy you just venomously told to get a job was him.

We have one day, Veterans Day, set aside to honor and remember those who fought and died for the freedoms we take for granted. It is observed on the 11th of every November. Yet this day is so much an afterthought that we do not treat it nearly as well as the more commercial holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas. God forbid we ever take a day off to spend with the people that fought to protect our nation.

Next time you step over, around, on, or cross the street to avoid a member of the homeless population, stop and wonder whether they might be that one in four.

Fleet Street News

Sweeney Todd has got to be one of my all time favorite musicals. Right behind Willy Wonka and The Wizard of Oz. And as all good things must come to an end, so must all good things become a Hollywood movie. Having read Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and The Wonderful Wizard of Oz when I was a child, seeing them on the screen as a child was a treat that I have only been able to compare to seeing Transformers on the big screen as an adult. Now I get to see a modern day version of a classic tale with a decidedly darker twist.

With the extremely dark and deadly themes of Sweeny Todd, it is fitting that the team who brings it to the grand screen for the second time is none other than the cinematic dynamic duo of the macabre and strange that is Tim Burton and Johnny Depp. Their collaboration; Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, comes to theaters in December. Re-imagined for the big screen from the Broadway play of the same name.

I can’t wait to see this movie, and I hope I am not disappointed.

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