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Litmus Test
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Would you still engage in a experience if you could tell no one about it?

If I Were President...
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Part of collection of opinions on the topic: If I Were President... which appeared in the Sunday Review section. What follows is the unedited version of what was published


The question, “If I were President I’d…” implies that if you swap out one leader, put in another, then all will be well with America—as though our leaders are the cause of all ailments.

That must be why we’ve created a tradition of rampant attacks on our politicians. Are they too conservative for you? Too liberal? Too religious? Too atheist? Too gay? Too anti-gay? Too rich? Too dumb? Too smart? Too ethnic? Too philanderous? Curious behavior, given that we elect 88% of Congress every two years.

A second tradition-in-progress is the expectation that everyone else in our culturally pluralistic land should hold exactly your own outlook, on all issues.

When you’re scientifically literate, the world looks different to you. It’s a particular way of questioning what you see and hear. When empowered by this state of mind, objective realities matter. These are the truths of the world that exist outside of whatever your belief system tells you.

One objective reality is that our government doesn’t work, not because we have dysfunctional politicians, but because we have dysfunctional voters. As a scientist and educator, my goal, then, is not to become President and lead a dysfunctional electorate, but to enlighten the electorate so they might choose the right leaders in the first place.

Neil deGrasse Tyson
New York, Aug. 21, 2011


Case Number: 11-05079.h1
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Handling Protected Information; Personal Conduct
02/21/2012

While on duty conducting threat vulnerability assessments for the United States military in June 2004, Applicant lost a notebook containing sensitive information, which he surmises may have been taken by a Russian woman, with whom he engaged in sexual activities in his hotel room. Applicant did not report the loss of the notebook until after he was administered a polygraph examination in January 2009. His exercise of extremely poor judgment is not fully mitigated despite the passage of time. Clearance denied. CASE NO: 11-05079.h1


Wikileaks Stratfor Intelligence Glossary
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ATF - "Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms. Rednecks with a license to kill. Never, ever, ever ask for their help on anything."
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Buy More Experiences and Less Stuff
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Experiences improve with time, resist unfavourable comparisons and are often mentally revisited (unlike stuff).

Which of these two types of spending do you think makes you happier, purchases that are made with the primary intention of acquiring a:

  • life experience: an event or series of events that one lives through,
  • material good: a tangible object that is kept in one's possession.

When thousands of Americans were asked this question, 57% said experiences make them happier and 34% said things make them happier (Carter & Gilovich, 2010). For once the majority is right.

You can check out the research in these two posts in which I discuss the studies which demonstrate:

Many of the reasons why are discussed in more detail in the articles above, but here's a summary with a couple of extras thrown in:

  • Experiences improve with time because they tend to take on new meanings in our minds, but things just tend to get old.
  • People mentally revisit their experiences more than things they've bought (Van Boven & Gilovich, 2003). So experiences keep providing pleasure long after the event itself.
  • Experiences resist unfavourable comparisons because each is unique. Things, though, are easy to compare unfavourably because they're similar to other things.
  • Also, because experiences tend to be unique, we adapt more slowly to them and adaptation or habituation is the enemy of happiness (Nicolao et al., 2009).
  • Experiences tend to be social and social events (generally) make us happy. Things are often not that social.

The boundary between experiences and things is far from clear-cut. For example houses are things but because we live in them, they are also partly experiences. Still, the general point holds that the more experiential something is, the happier it is likely to make us.

So if you want to cheer yourself up, make sure you spend cash on something more experiential than material. You might not be able to hold the result in your hand, but it will live longer in your mind.


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“When my husband died, because he was so famous & known for not being a believer, many people would come up to me — it still sometimes happens — & ask me if Carl changed at the end & converted to a belief in an afterlife. They also frequently ask me if I think I will see him again. Carl faced his death with unflagging courage & never sought refuge in illusions. The tragedy was that we knew we would never see each other again. I don’t ever expect to be reunited with Carl. But, the great thing is that when we were together, for nearly twenty years, we lived with a vivid appreciation of how brief & precious life is. We never trivialized the meaning of death by pretending it was anything other than a final parting. Every single moment that we were alive & we were together was miraculous — not miraculous in the sense of inexplicable or supernatural. We knew we were beneficiaries of chance… That pure chance could be so generous & so kind… That we could find each other, as Carl wrote so beautifully in Cosmos, you know, in the vastness of space & the immensity of time… That we could be together for twenty years. That is something which sustains me & it’s much more meaningful… The way he treated me & the way I treated him, the way we took care of each other & our family, while he lived. That is so much more important than the idea I will see him someday. I don’t think I’ll ever see Carl again. But I saw him. We saw each other. We found each other in the cosmos, and that was wonderful.“ -Ann Druyan(speaking on the death of her husband, Carl Sagan.

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"If you want to build a ship, don't drum up the men to gather wood, divide the work and give orders. Instead, teach them to yearn for the vast and endless sea." -Antoine de Saint-Exupery

"Never interrupt your enemy when he is making a mistake." ~ Napoleon Bonaparte

“Have you ever been in love? Horrible isn't it? It makes you so vulnerable. It opens your chest and it opens up your heart and it means that someone can get inside you and mess you up. You build up all these defenses, you build up a whole suit of armor, so that nothing can hurt you, then one stupid person, no different from any other stupid person, wanders into your stupid life...You give them a piece of you. They didn't ask for it. They did something dumb one day, like kiss you or smile at you, and then your life isn't your own anymore. Love takes hostages. It gets inside you. It eats you out and leaves you crying in the darkness, so simple a phrase like 'maybe we should be just friends' turns into a glass splinter working its way into your heart. It hurts. Not just in the imagination. Not just in the mind. It's a soul-hurt, a real gets-inside-you-and-rips-you-apart pain. I hate love.” - Neil Gaiman

We judge our self by our intentions, we judge others by their actions.

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“You have to remind yourself of the big picture. We are specs of dust riding on a mote, hurtling through a vacuum so vast it's incomprehensible. Right now, a star several magnitudes the size of our own is exploding in a flash of light visible across galaxies. In another moment an entire species will go extinct because someone stepped on the last survivor. In the next few decades you will meet tens of thousands of new people, any of them could end up being your best friends… some may become your bitter rivals. All of them will die a few decades later. And so will you. A few decades more and no one will remember any of it. In a few thousand years there may be no living memory of humanity, let alone the fool you made of yourself in front of that cute barista.”

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That's why Tyler burned down my apartment. He said it wasn't until we'd lost everything that we were free to do anything. Turns out, he was right.

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