Monday, January 10, 2011

Here We Go Again

I'm not going to get into a big rant about it, but I wanted to say a couple things about the Arizona shooting. This unfortunate situation is not a soapbox for:

-Liberals to denounce crazy conservatives
-Gun-control supporters to reiterate desire for stricter gun laws
-Groups like the WBC to spout more hateful "it was God's will" crap
-Anyone to say universal health care would have stopped this preemptively

I am honestly sick and tired of all the blame that gets passed around every time a horrible tragedy like this takes place.

Guess what? Even if conservatives stopped their fear-mongering, guns were outlawed, and the U.S. had completely free and universal health care (including care for mental illness), there would still be tragic disasters where unbalanced individuals heartlessly murdered as many people as possible.

So everyone needs to get over blaming those they don't agree with for incidents like this. How about we look for some positive way to make our future a little bit safer? How about for right now, until we know more about the shooter, we focus on the innocent who lost their lives? That might be nice for a change.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Placebo is the Medicine of the Masses

I just read a very interesting article on the placebo effect that you can read here if you want. It's not really anything new about placebos other than the fact that they seem to be working to greater effect lately.

But this got me thinking...there's a serious catch-22 with the placebo effect.

On one hand, a placebo that replaces an actual drug will alleviate any possibility of negative side-effects related to whichever drug was replaced. That's obviously a good thing. Plus it shows the power our minds and bodies have to alleviate symptoms without the use of powerful and potentially dangerous chemicals. Plus a placebo hardly costs anything considering that it will usually be made out of sugar and water (along with minor costs from faux-branding and coloring). This means positive results with less risks for less money. It's a win-win situation!

But on the other hand, a placebo doesn't work if the patient knows it is a placebo. Obviously. And a dead giveaway is the cost. If I go in to pick up an anti-depressant and I am handed a bill for $10 with no insurance, I am going to wonder if what I am taking is actually a helpful drug. To our consumer culture, expensive = quality (much like wine drinkers experience a perceived better taste when drinking more expensive wine regardless of actual quality). Solution? Jack up the price! Insurance will cover it! But wait, then we're charging people tons of money for sugar and water and the insurance carriers won't pay for that because it won't be medically necessary.

So we're at a standstill. A working placebo cannot be given in anything but a clinical trial because there is no way to distribute it without breaking the effect. Either the patient is told it is a placebo and it stops working, or the patient is lied to and somebody has to pay much more than sugar and water is actually worth.

And that's not taking into account the possible lawsuits from any patient who harms himself/herself or someone else while on a placebo, the possible lawsuits from patients who were lied to and found out (even if the placebo worked), the fact that the pharmacies would have to be in on it as well as the insurance carriers, and the fact that the Rx world is a big business and they would do everything in their power to stop placebos taking over their drugs.

It seems like the only solution would be to take those patients who responded positively to placebo and send them to therapy to try and convince them that their symptoms are almost all psychological and that they have the power to overcome said symptoms sans-drugs. But that would likely fail.

Basically we have a potentially powerful answer to all the drugs prescribed and all the side-effects those drugs result in and all the cost that people are stuck with because there is no other way to alleviate symptoms...but we can't use it.

Friday, December 10, 2010

A Treadmill World

A Probably Unnecessary Analogy

So imagine, if you will, that the world is actually an infinite plane. This plane is completely unremarkable in that is has no definitive color or texture; it is simply an infinite surface that everything sits on. What we call sky would blend in completely with this plane, resulting in a "floating" sensation if no point of reference is available. In other words, picture the "lots of guns" scene from the first Matrix film where everything is white, no shadows, no horizon.

Now imagine that at a certain point in life you are given a setting partially designated by you, and partially designated by your life decisions up to that point.

Some people would end up with a cubicle, an ancient computer, and lots of motivational posters featuring kittens all dressed up like humans.

Others would be surrounded by gurneys, I.V. stands, hypodermic needles, and thousands of clipboards.

You get the idea.

Now here's where you need to use that wonderful imagination of yours because this might be confusing with just words. Everything that makes up who you are would be within a small radius and everything would move in relation to you.

For a visual, imagine that you are an apple (just go with me here), your connections to things like work are metal rods, and those things that partially define you (like the cubicle) are oranges. Now stick a whole bunch of metal rods into the apple at various angles and lengths. Now stick an orange onto the end of each rod. As you move the apple, each orange moves perfectly in sync with it.

Don't worry, this is going somewhere...I think.

So there you are, on this infinite plane surrounded by tangible pieces that make up your life. As you take a step forward, all your "stuff" moves with you. Whether you walk, run, jump, or spin around in circles your setting would remain constant. In fact, it wouldn't feel like you were moving at all. Sure, your legs might be making the motion you now associate with walking; but how would you know you were moving?

All that...that big, confusing analogy, is how I feel about middle-class working Americans.

And Now an Attempt to Connect Those Two Things!

Let's use a generic office-job and some guy named Joe as an example. Joe gets the lowest qualification, lowest paying job at Generic Office Inc. He has a certain set of skills that he enhances, all the while tacking on new skills to supplement his original ones. Soon, Joe is king of the bottom of the totem-pole workers! His skills far surpass everyone he works with and he begins to feel a real sense of accomplishment.

But what's this? Joe now feels like he is too good for the job he has and the pay he receives. So he uses his newly refined skills to land a new, better job. This new job is much like his old job, only it requires a higher level of competence and more refined skills. But as Joe takes a seat at his desk, his previously growing sense of accomplishment is ripped from him. He realizes that everyone he works with now knows more than him. They are better, faster, and smarter than him. So he does what anyone would do in that situation, he begins honing his skills again.

This would be followed by a growing sense of accomplishment, another similar, yet better job, and another loss of feeling special because he once more knows nothing compared to his co-workers.

In a sense nothing changes for Joe. He might be replacing some of his setting with newer, nicer pieces, but it's still the same setting. And it seems like Joe only has a few options:

1) To forever climb higher and higher in status/wealth/etc without feeling much in the way of accomplishment because it's not like there's an end to this game unless he reaches upper class status (and even that would be unlikely to satiate the desire of a person who lives for climbing higher in class/status).

2) To reach the pinnacle of his trade at some designated level and then choose to stay at that level because he would surely feel some meaningful accomplishment if everyone around him looked up to him. Or would this leave him feeling like he settled and didn't live up to his personal expectations?

3) To make a drastic change and head off in a new direction. To try and find a job that would allow for a real sense of accomplishment without pushing him to move up. But does that job exist?

So What?

I see so many people around me who are surrounded by "defining things." They walk around and go to parties and get married and make friends, but they have no direction (other than "up" for many). And the only reason I'm saying any of this is because it's happening to me. Well, sort of. I'm finding myself looking around to see where I can make another dollar instead of looking for opportunities to do something I love.

So I guess the real question is, "What is it that gives us the ultimate sense of accomplishment?" Hopefully the answer is not "more money" or we'll spend every waking breath chasing infinity. Maybe the answer is, "Doing something you love." To be honest, I'm not exactly sure.

But I do know that in our horizon-less world we need something to help us keep perspective, to give us a focal point, and to force us to leave some of those oranges behind allowing us to step out and define ourselves by something other than "stuff."

::
::

P.S. I changed my site design. You might have noticed.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

TSA vs. The World

So everyone is getting their proverbial undergarments in an unfortunately uncomfortable position over the somewhat new ruling that every person flying into, out of, within, or over the U.S. must submit to either a backscatter (full body x-ray-like scan) or a "pat down" of the entire body (including genital region). Apparently this is completely unacceptable to most Americans.

People always want what they can't have. They want security and assurance that they will not be put in harm's way by choosing to fly on an airplane, yet they want such lax laws that sneaking a bomb onto a plane would hardly require any actual sneaking.

What would you prefer in the most extreme of examples, A) To allow a professional airport employee a clear view of your genitals (and "clear" is hardly the picture the backscatter gives) followed by catching a bomb-toting terrorist who was set to sit next to you on your flight, or B) To secure genital privacy followed by being blown up due to the bomb-toting terrorist not being caught? Is that really a tough question that needs a pros vs. cons list?

I get it...the system isn't perfect. In fact, the TSA is often playing catch-up (e.g. We only have to take our shoes off after a shoe-bomb is used); but that's hardly reason to scoff at a security upgrade like the one recently imposed.

If anything, the complaint should be that despite added security so much still gets through. I was on my way to film a wedding a while back and had a backpack brimming with film equipment. Cables, wires, batteries, chargers, and tons of electronics were practically spilling from every pocket. I was stopped, as I expected, and asked, "Sir, is there anything in this bag that could harm me." I actually laughed a little, which was apparently the wrong response. He repeated his question and I tried to put on a serious face and replied, "Um...no?" He opened my bag and took out a wheeled dolly. He spun one of the wheels in a circle and then called over to the x-ray technician, "It was just a wheel." A few minutes later as I was heading to my gate I couldn't help but wonder why nail clippers aren't allowed through when this TSA agent just sent me by without so much as a glance at my metal, telescoping mono-pod, or my jumble of wires/batteries/electronics.

In the end, this cry of "foul play" is so unnecessary as to be comical and sad at the same time. And as a parting thought, here is an actual quote from a TSA agent who was questioned about whether he/she liked the new regulations:

“Molester, pervert, disgusting, an embarrassment, creep. These are all words I have heard today at work describing me, said in my presence as I patted passengers down. These comments are painful and demoralizing, one day is bad enough, but I have to come back tomorrow, the next day and the day after that to keep hearing these comments. If something doesn’t change in the next two weeks I don’t know how much longer I can withstand this taunting. I go home and I cry. I am serving my country, I should not have to go home and cry after a day of honorably serving my country.”


P.S. If anyone still actually reads this thing, I'd love to hear your opinion. What do you think the uproar is actually about? My only guess is that people are body-conscious and do not want anyone seeing them undressed. Because...um...what else could this be about?

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Go and take a ride to a shop in Grant Park

I have three options at this point. 1) Apologize profusely (to who? I don't know) about not posting enough and follow said apology with pathetic reasons why; 2) Continue on like nothing happened and there was no extreme break in continuity; or 3) Acknowledge a break in time and then do a catch-up post.

I choose 3!

So I've spent the last week or so reading through just about every post I've ever made on this blog. For those who don't know, that's 8 years of intermittent posting. As I read through all the things I had written, some of it made me cringe (I am seriously not a particularly good poet), some of it made me laugh (and in response, I think, why can't I be funny any more?), and some of it nearly made me cry (as in, 'I have to stop reading this now or I will be tearing up in the middle of the office').

In the end, the overarching feeling that possessed me was one of satisfaction. As if I had preserved memories and moments in time that would have otherwise been unsavable (I see my penchant for making up words is still strong as ever). This realization (if you will) gave me a desire to keep writing here.

The odd thing is that I was able to trace my desires for this blog over time. I started out wanting, more than anything, to have a ton of people reading what I wrote. I imagined a roiling stock-exchange style atmosphere of witty banter being thrown back and forth through furious, almost unfollowable tangents.

The next stage was one of self-debasement and self-pity. I threw lack of care out like a lure and hoped that my sad, sad state would draw people in. This was basically the same as the first state, but without the blatant cry for attention.

After that came true lack of concern over reader population. If people read my blog, great, if not, great. But I was also stuck in a phrase where I was being narcissistic and felt the my words were good enough that whoever read them would realize that and that I didn't need to advertise.

Then goes more self pity, more blatant advertising, more not caring, more self pity, and finally actual not caring.

I could sense a freedom in writing for nobody but myself. But I found myself asking why I would write on the internet if I didn't care if anybody else read what I was writing. The only answer I could come up with is honesty. I know, that sounds strange. Let me explain. If I have a piece of paper in front of me and I want to tell a story, I can tell it however I like if I know that only I will be reading it. But if I am going to tell that story online, I know that someone who might know the story as well as I, and could call me on it if I lied. It's almost like an accountability group who will keep me at least semi-honest, most of the time.

And even when there is nobody else who knows the story, I know that I will re-read the story that I told the whole world (enter: narcissism), and I know I will genuinely feel bad if I lied.

So...in the long run, this blog is a personal journal punctuated with occasional pleas for feedback, infinite self-indulgence, occasional moments of clarity, countless moment of unclarity, and, overall, a reminder to myself of specific dreams and desires for any given time in my life.



p.s. I guess I actually chose plan 4: recognize my lack of posting, talk about previous posting, and hint at future posting. Go ambiguity!!!

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

This I believe: I believe there is a God

Penn (from Penn and Teller) recently had a short segment on NPR where he explained his belief that there is no God. It is well written and makes one think, “Yeah, that sounds good!” But at the same time, he words things in such a way that it belittles belief in God without directly attacking it. Just as an exercise in fairness I am going to rebut some of the hidden arguments here.

”I believe that there is no God. I'm beyond atheism. Atheism is not believing in God. Not believing in God is easy -- you can't prove a negative, so there's no work to do. You can't prove that there isn't an elephant inside the trunk of my car. You sure? How about now? Maybe he was just hiding before. Check again. Did I mention that my personal heartfelt definition of the word "elephant" includes mystery, order, goodness, love and a spare tire?”

This all starts out accurate and straightforward.

”So, anyone with a love for truth outside of herself has to start with no belief in God and then look for evidence of God. She needs to search for some objective evidence of a supernatural power. All the people I write e-mails to often are still stuck at this searching stage. The atheism part is easy.”

Agreed.

”But, this "This I Believe" thing seems to demand something more personal, some leap of faith that helps one see life's big picture, some rules to live by. So, I'm saying, "This I believe: I believe there is no God."”

At this point I thought, “My gosh, someone who does not believe in God is actually taking the burden of proof upon himself! This is amazing!” But then things go a little downhill in my opinion.

”Having taken that step, it informs every moment of my life. I'm not greedy. I have love, blue skies, rainbows and Hallmark cards, and that has to be enough. It has to be enough, but it's everything in the world and everything in the world is plenty for me. It seems just rude to beg the invisible for more. Just the love of my family that raised me and the family I'm raising now is enough that I don't need heaven. I won the huge genetic lottery and I get joy every day.”

If God (from here on out “God” will refer to the Christian God for lack of confusion) exists, we are not “begging” this being for more than our physical world. If God exists, and there is more than this physical world, God wants us to have more (e.g. Heaven). And saying, “I don’t need heaven” is perfectly fine…especially if one doesn’t believe in it. That’s like saying, “I don’t need unicorns in order to have a joyous life.” Of course Penn doesn’t need heaven to feel joy. He is ok with this world being all there is and therefore has learned to be happy with it. But if God exists, and so does heaven, then saying, “I don’t need heaven” is akin to saying, “I don’t need ultimate fulfillment.”

”Believing there's no God means I can't really be forgiven except by kindness and faulty memories. That's good; it makes me want to be more thoughtful. I have to try to treat people right the first time around.”

This is a straightforward jab at those who believe in God. Let me restate Penn’s comment, “People who believe in God are ok treating people poorly because they know that God can forgive them later.” Anybody who believes in God and lives a selfish life because forgiveness can be given later has completely misunderstood the entire meaning of Christianity. Maybe he forgot that whole, “Do unto others” thing the Bible espouses.

”Believing there's no God stops me from being solipsistic. I can read ideas from all different people from all different cultures. Without God, we can agree on reality, and I can keep learning where I'm wrong. We can all keep adjusting, so we can really communicate. I don't travel in circles where people say, "I have faith, I believe this in my heart and nothing you can say or do can shake my faith." That's just a long-winded religious way to say, "shut up," or another two words that the FCC likes less. But all obscenity is less insulting than, "How I was brought up and my imaginary friend means more to me than anything you can ever say or do." So, believing there is no God lets me be proven wrong and that's always fun. It means I'm learning something.”

The solipsism remark here confuses me. If I believe in God, that means there is more than just my mind in existence. In fact, there has to be more than just my mind…the entirety of creation and others around us is an integral part of life. If I do not believe in God, reality is up for grabs. I would argue that reality is less easy to agree upon without belief in God. In fact, all non-Christian philosophy is proof of that. And my belief in God in no way stops me from reading different ideas from different cultures. I love reading ideas that radically differ from my own. I hunger for knowledge that is not contained within my cultural norms. Just because I don’t adopt 100% of another’s cultural viewpoint does not mean I have not gained or learned from said viewpoint.

But I wholeheartedly agree that people should never say "I have faith, I believe this in my heart and nothing you can say or do can shake my faith." That comment makes me think that Penn is writing this to a very specific subset of unintelligent Christians. My statement goes something like this, “If you can prove to me that my beliefs (beliefs that I do have evidence for) are wrong, I will drop my Christian faith this very instant.” And believing there is a God does not disallow me from being proven wrong. I am proven wrong all the time, and I cherish the learning experience.

”Believing there is no God means the suffering I've seen in my family, and indeed all the suffering in the world, isn't caused by an omniscient, omnipresent, omnipotent force that isn't bothered to help or is just testing us, but rather something we all may be able to help others with in the future. No God means the possibility of less suffering in the future.”

I’m not going to go into it, but “the problem of pain” is a well documented debate about how awful things can exist in a God-created world. Arguments that say God’s existence makes the bad things that happen even worse are poor arguments in my opinion. And how does lack of God mean we can fix all the bad things that happen? If there is no God, that means many people are just evil and there is no way to change that (if we take the entirety of history into account). Lack of God seems to lead to lack of hope that somehow the world will all just suddenly get along.

”Believing there is no God gives me more room for belief in family, people, love, truth, beauty, sex, Jell-O and all the other things I can prove and that make this life the best life I will ever have.”

Belief in God does not fill up some sort of “belief bag” that only has so much room in it. In fact, belief in God, if God exists, allows one to have a fuller and more meaningful belief in everything from family to sex to Jell-O. Without God, love is just a chemical reaction. With God, love is a deep emotion given to us by a loving being that wants us to experience his perfect love and therefore allows us this great feeling. The same goes for all “good” things in life. Without God, “good things” feel more hallow because they are random and not given to us out of love.

You might be thinking, "Wait, Grant was unhappy that Penn stated his belief in no God and bundled negatives to belief in God in his statements; but then he stated his belief in God and bundled negatives to belief in no God. Isn't that hypocritical?" I don't really see it that way. If Penn had stated what he did and made actual arguments for his points (rather than just saying, "Believing in no God makes the world a better place...just because") I would have no qualms with what he said.

In the end, I think it's great for people to switch from, "I don't believe in God," to, "I believe that God does not exist." It makes for a more thoughtful approach to life. At least this gets people on the right track to have more meaningful discussions rather than hurling, "Just because!" back and forth at each other.

Monday, August 10, 2009

I need a break from reality for a bit. Moving, changing jobs, starting a new company, preparing for a wedding, trying to save a ton of money, giving up friends, and cramming my brain full of info for licensing for a new job is finally taking a toll on me. I just want to get away from it all for a bit.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Working with life insurance is strange...

...the conversation basically goes:
Life Insurance Company: Bet you're not gonna die!
Client: Bet you I will!

So I'm pretty much all moved in to my parent's house in San Jose and am going strong in my new job. It's a little bit strange going from starving waiter with dreams of finding a film production job to benefits consultant and insurance broker with dreams of finding a film production job.

Everything is a bit overwhelming right now as I'm trying to learn customer assistance, how to handle claim issues, how to make quotes, how to explain 401k, and get licensed in life/health/accident insurance...all at the same time.

But the truth is, I'm really enjoying where I'm at right now. I still want to thank all of you who gave me advice on this move. All of it was wonderfully helpful and made my decision that much easier. I also want to publicly thank Megan. I'm not sure I know of any significant others who would say, "Oh, we're getting married in a year and you want to move 450miles away from me? Ok!" I would be a mess if it were not for the support of my friends and family.

Other things that are happening: I'm learning Indian culture pretty quickly; I'm reuniting with some old high school friends; I'm eating better than I have in 8 years; and I'm still not used to having nights and weekends free (*shakes fist angrily at 4 years of working in the restaurant industry*).

I'll try to keep things updated here for anyone who checks the site. Also, if anyone is interested in how the wedding stuff is going, you can check out:
our wedding site

Hope all is well with everyone! Feel free to write or call any time so I can keep updated on you all.