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Yet another major auto manufacturer has announced its intention to get serious about driverless car technology. This time its German behemoth Continental AG. According to a Reuters report, they will be partnering with both Google and IBM.

I wonder which automaker will be the first to roll out consumer-ready driverless cars en masse? And in which country?

If I had to make an educated guess I’d say that we will likely have our answer to both of these questions within the next few years, which is a good thing when you consider the number of lives that will be saved each year by more or less eliminating car accidents. Not to mention the increase in productivity once commuters are freed up to tend to their affairs as opposed to focusing on the rush hour commute.

Oh, and there will be boardgames. Boardgames galore!

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A lot of people in the United States think that homelessness is all about a bunch of old alcoholics, drunks, and mentally ill individuals who either choose to be on the streets or simply don’t have the initiative or wherewithal to get off the street.

 

In other words, they think that there’s no reason to subsidize government programs or community centers devoted to addressing the homeless population. More often than not, these folks cannot be bothered to volunteer at their local homeless shelters or donate money or goods to local families that are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless.

Here’s to hoping that this graphic will help some of these folks rethink this position.

 

source: National Coalition for the Homeless

 

To put this in further perspective, close to 2 out of every 50 children in the United States are already homeless or at risk of being homeless in the near future. Children like the two kids I saw outside the homeless shelter in the town I live in. Children just like my young son.

Six million children.

These kids are at a significant disadvantage in terms of education as well as general intellectual and emotional development. And some of them will grow up to be a burden to themselves, their families, and the nation as a whole.

Please take some time to look for local programs in your neighborhood that are geared towards helping these kids, so that we can gradually end this vicious cycle.

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Many moons from now, our descendants will look back and wonder why it took us so long to come together and address the undercurrent of mental illness that pervades society and the neurological basis for said illness. And the culprits that prevented the necessary scientific research and medical applications from manifesting themselves will be the same ones that have stunted human progress for centuries; superstitious thinking and parochialism.

I feel very sad for the parents and loved ones that are grieving in Connecticut today, and I’m even more resolved to help promote companies and non-profits pushing for progressive approaches to nipping things like this in the bud.

It’s not enough to just throw up your hands at these horrific events and say things like “what is the world coming to!?!” or “that guy is pure evil.”

Mental illnesses like psychosis are real things based on physical processes that we can measure, detect, and treat. But until people are as comfortable getting regular mental checkups for themselves and their children the same way they get physical checkups – and until we have the healthcare infrastructure to make such neurological and genetic checkups affordable and easily accessible – these tragedies will continue to go on.

And perhaps most importantly, until people are driven to do something about it (e.g. push for additional science funding, education, and general advocacy) as opposed to just sitting back with a “this is just the way it is” or “it’s sad, but doesn’t effect me” attitude we’ll continue to progress at a snails pace.

And more little kids will die horrific deaths for no reason.

That thought literally made my blood boil as I wrote it. Let’s all chip in in everyday ways. It’s time for a change.

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Every so often, I see someone post a complaint about all of the political banter on their Facebook or Twitter profiles in the months and weeks leading up to the Presidential election. I get how that can be construed as annoying in a certain sense, but at the same time, it makes me really happy because it suggests that the United States is not the mindless, reality-TV numbed society that many make it out to be.

And while some will say (and rightfully so to a certain extent) that the Presidential election is little more than a dog and pony show on par with weekend NFL game that’s designed to give US citizens a false sense of being involved in a truly democratic process, I believe that it’s still better to have folks debate and discuss a very flawed political process than to have them become completely apathetic and uninvolved.

Besides, with the plethora of legitimate, non-partisan political fact-checking resources available via the internet, we’re actually living in an age where the average US voter can make a truly informed voting decision if they really want to.

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Come to think of it, this is a cautionary tale against illiteracy in all its forms.

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Don’t pay government contracts —————   Spend $150MM on race track

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Gabe shared a TV clip of Jim Holt’s discussing his book “Why Does the World Exist? An Existential Detective Story” and it is the basis for our latest conversation on the role that science, physical evidence, and inductive reason play in understanding the nature of the universe and ultimately ourselves:

https://www.facebook.com/logicspeaksblog/posts/287889697984155

Swing by and chime in if you have a moment.

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Don’t get me wrong. My heart goes out to the families and loved ones of those that were killed and injured in the recent mass shooting in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Nobody should have to go through something like this.

But rather than point out some of the more obvious story lines, I wanted to focus on a specific statement I heard from a Sikh spokesman shortly after the tragedy occurred:

“We must submit to the will of God and destiny,” Mago said. “That does not mean you are not going to make efforts to make the situation better and to have peace. But you must move forward. Forgive.”

Most of the statement resonates, but the part about submitting to the will of God and destiny bothers me for several reasons. For starters, which one is it? God or destiny? If God and destiny are one and the same, why not save a step and narrow things down to just one word?

And if it’s God – which I’m assuming refers to some form of conscious being since as far as I can tell only conscious beings are capable of “will” – how can you simply submit to a being that willingly allows innocent people to suffer and die needlessly on a daily basis (the people injured and killed at the temple are just the tip of the iceberg when you consider the full course of human history)?

Now if you’re a deist – one who believes in a God that does not interact with the physical universe in any tangible way – I have questions for you to but at least I can see how senseless tragedies like this fit into your world view. And if you have a more naturalistic, evidence-based explanation for these occurrences I’m even more on your level.

But the whole, “I guess it’s God’s will/plan/etc.” has no explanatory power and is therefore an ultimately flaccid perspective on reality.

Would love to get your thoughts on this, Gabe.

Gabe:
Hey Hugo, I think the response seems like the expected response from a Holy Man trying to rationalize a senseless act. The closest thing I get to destiny is the concept of entropy. But it’s not exactly the same. Meaning, once a course of events begin, they cannot really be reversed. Like the simple idea that time is linear from moment to moment into the future, but never the past. Thus, it’s almost like the idea of Karma in that every action has a consequence/reaction. In theory, it really couldn’t have been any different. All the previous event that occurred in the universe have brought us to this exact moment whether it be great and meaningful, or tragic and senseless. I guess from there, people can take that to mean that God wanted it that way, or to believe as Forest Gump put it, that “Shit Happens.” Please do comment…

Good take, Gabe. The only things I would add are that a) The best physical models we have for explaining the universe do not position time as a linear construct. In fact, time and space are like hearts and bones, therefore, in theory, time goes in all directions just as the three dimensions of space do. We just and perhaps can’t experience that in our four-dimensional state of existence b) Most people think of god as a being or agent responsible for, among other things, the creation and definition of morality and that simply does not mesh well with statements like “this is god’s plan” etc. (e.g. what this holy man tried to assert).

That said, I think you’re on the right track. Shit happens. All that we can do is try to continue refining our society so that senseless, tragic shit happens less and less often.

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I’ve heard a lot of scary stuff in my day but the following excerpt is right up there at the top of “scared straight” list:

Far more openings are available at smaller, less prestigious religious schools, including some that are just a few years old and others that have struggled to attract tuition-paying students.

The school willing to accept the most voucher students — 314 — is New Living Word in Ruston, which has a top-ranked basketball team but no library. Students spend most of the day watching TVs in bare-bones classrooms. Each lesson consists of an instructional DVD that intersperses Biblical verses with subjects such chemistry or composition.

The Upperroom Bible Church Academy in New Orleans, a bunker-like building with no windows or playground, also has plenty of slots open. It seeks to bring in 214 voucher students, worth up to $1.8 million in state funding.

At Eternity Christian Academy in Westlake, pastor-turned-principal Marie Carrier hopes to secure extra space to enroll 135 voucher students, though she now has room for just a few dozen. Her first- through eighth-grade students sit in cubicles for much of the day and move at their own pace through Christian workbooks, such as a beginning science text that explains “what God made” on each of the six days of creation. They are not exposed to the theory of evolution.

“We try to stay away from all those things that might confuse our children,” Carrier said.

This is an excerpt from an article discussing Louisiana’s plan to privatize their public education system, which is already one of the worst in the United States.

I used to think that privatization of the prison system was the most dangerous of all privatization schemes (closely followed by privatization of national defense) but this story has quickly pushed privatization of education to the top of the list. Why? Because when you fund private entities that have little or no educational resources coupled with little or no interest in providing true academic rigor the poor (literally poor) kids that end up at these schools have virtually no shot of developing the crucial critical thinking skills (like skeptical thinking & scientific inquiry ) or technological proficiency needed to excel in today’s quickly evolving and tech-heavy world.

And that doesn’t bode well for the US economy or society as a whole.

Wonder what your thoughts are, Gabe.

Gabe:
Hey Hugo, actually I am not that shocked, but let me explain why. For quite some time now, many of us who are very close to the teachers that work in the public school system have known what the ultimate chess move of charter schools would be, and beside the ridiculous notions they initially put forth of essentially privatizing public schools, the part that is way worse is their overall lack of regulation because they are outside the domain of the public school system. Within the charter school system, essentially, parents get a voucher worth a dollar value (mind you, those dollars are actually our collective tax dollars), which they can apply to the school of their choice. And of course, there is no rule that says a religiously-driven, private schools can’t be included. Even though it clearly seems to undermine the separation of church and state in my opinion.

Nonetheless, the conservatives are getting exactly what they aimed to do from the beginning: 1) find yet another way to put public tax dollars into private corporations; 2) indoctrinate the youth with core religious values that will ensure they grow up to be good old conservative voters.

It truthfully makes me sick every time I hear about the charter school scam. They’ve been trying to sell it as a better educational system, with more accountability from teachers, and all because it can be ran as an efficient business, without the bureaucracy of unions. But to me, it is a cop out and a load of shit. Anytime people stand to profit from such endeavors, it makes it really hard for me to believe that it’s being done for my own good. Much the same way that all these new voter fraud laws in Florida are to my supposed benefit, all the while they also conveniently benefit conservative politicians at the same time by disenfranchising many ethnic, minority voters who would vote against them.

And more importantly, why have we given up on the Public School System that is currently in place? If we invested the same money that’s funding charter schools back into the original system, I’m sure it would make a difference. In the end of the day, it has pretty much been proven that class sizes and exceptionally great teachers don’t play the biggest roles in education; as a matter of fact, it’s the amount of hours kids spend in the classroom which makes the biggest difference. But to be able to compete with the same amount of hours other developed nations are providing their children, who are out ranking our kids across the board on scholastic tests, we’d have to hire more teachers. And that will never happen in a state where conservatives are in charge. It goes completely against their philosophy and agenda.

Based on their track record, it seems that when it comes to cutting spending, education is where it always seems to be taken. Rather than raising taxes to previous levels in the US by getting rid of all kinds of loop holes that only benefit the top 5% of earners, they would prefer to keep taxes where they are and zap funds from education. Thus, Public Schools can’t hire more teachers, can’t offer kids and improved education with more hours, and also can’t compete in Math and Science globally like we used to. Instead, they’ll convince us we’re better off with a voucher system that anyone can take down to the school of their choice. In this case, a religious school, since that’s what the people who voted them into power prefer any way. And so, those people can provide their children with the same traditional religious education they grew up with on our (the tax payers) dime.

To me, it is essentially publicly funded discrimination. Our tax payer dollars go into private religious schools, under the charter school system, those schools then with all the new incoming money, reinvests in their school (couldn’t decide if “business” was the more appropriate word there); thus, test scores improve, those schools get better ratings and recognition, and as a result, more parents enroll their children into those schools and overlook the religious indoctrination by justifying the education their kids will get. But what about the Muslim kid whose parents prefer not to send him to one of those “top” Christian schools? It goes back to that convo I told you I had earlier where the opposing parties logic was: “well, you don’t have to participate if you don’t want to. No one is forcing you.”

Hugo:
I try to avoid generalizations, so I’m not sure that I can paint charter schools with such a broad brush. There are some tremendously solid, secular charter schools all over the country. That said, I do agree that there are currently too many loopholes that allow theocratic institutions to thrive despite their lack of academic rigor and inability to provide students with the resources needed to open young minds.

When charter schools are used a back-door way to skirt separation of church and state everyone in the United States loses, because kids will ultimately come out of school less educated, more close-minded, and less capable of helping the US compete in the new technical, digital economy.

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The Problem with Conservatism in the US

Hey Hugo, I recently came across this NPR article on Conservatism in the US, as part of a 2-part segment they did about both sides. It ‘s fascinating because I feel it so blatantly points out the obvious problem at the heart of the issue with Conservatism. Mainly, basing it’s suppositions on culture and not facts. The lady interviewed in the article, albeit she could use government assistance, refuses to take it because she believes it’s the root of the poverty problem. Her logic follows that people are getting $1,000 a month in food assistance from the government which allows them to have Iphones and eat filet mignon even though they don’t work. And she refuses to be one of those people. She thinks by the government giving federal aid, instead turning its back on those who need assistance in a gesture of tough love, they are perpetuating the poverty problem. In other words, the logic follows: give nothing to those who are in need, that way they will learn to be more resourceful. As the article points out, the reality is people are getting on average government assistance in the form of $140 a month, not a $1,000 a month.

Comparatively speaking, the US ranks the highest of developed nations in terms of  severe poverty (homelessness, etc). It’s 60 times that of the UK, 30-10 times that of Japan, and 4 times that of Canada. To put it in simple terms, we have in the 650,000 people range, while most European countries average 10,000. Not to mention, the US government gives more than any country to fight poverty abroad. And while the US does spend about as much money as other developed nations in terms of GDP vs government spending, how much of the US budget is going towards thing like defense, instead of nationalized health care, welfare, unemployment, food stamps and educational aid? We all know the reason many other developed nations can afford to give so much back in terms of assistance to their citizens is because they aren’t cutting that piece of the spending pie out for defense, etc. I think we can all see the idea I’m putting forth here: logic follows, in countries where more money is spent on assistance, the quality of living is higher and sever poverty is much lower.

Which bring me to my final point. We all heard recently about the random attack on a homeless man in Miami. But interestingly enough, the sensationalism hasn’t afforded much room for the facts on the people involved. That is, until the Tampa Bay Times posted on the personal lives of Rudy Eugene and Ronald Poppo. Turns out Eugene was a fairly normal, church going man. And that Poppo was what most people picture as the stereotypical homeless guy. But if you read through the article, what I found most interesting was the fact that in the 30 years Poppo lived on the streets of Miami, he was offered some form of minimal government aid via services a total of 3 times. The last of which ended up losing him a comfortable and safe spot where he was squatting and ultimately left him wandering about a bridge in downtown Miami where he would eventually cross paths with Eugene. I honestly feel like the city failed him, and that we don’t do enough in the US to help out those who need it most. And in a 2-party system, where you need both sides to compromise to pass legislation, it seems like conservatives will always prevent the kind of progressive policy needed to resolve the poverty problem.

What do you think…

Hugo:
Great topic, Gabe. I’m probably slightly more fiscally conservative than you, but only because I think that there is a balance between social welfare and “The American Way.” I’m also a bit more fiscally conservative because I’ve seen the data that suggests are government’s budget problems have more to do with medicare/medicaid than even defense.

That said, I definitely agree, that the United States is a bit of an embarrassment in terms of how it compares with other first-world countries in terms of providing for the less fortunate in society. Hell, I’d extend this out to animals. The fact that we have literally millions of homeless and euthanized animals speaks volumes about some of the imbalances, governmental and otherwise,  that afflict our country.

I also think it’s worth pointing how woefully inept this nation is at identifying and addressing mental illness before it results in unmitigated tragedy.

In the end, I agree that conservatism in the US in tragic in that many of the folks professing to have a conservative stance are actually doing themselves and their loved ones a disservice. And of course, their is a religious element worth discussing, in that many of the people that vote to keep conservatives in office do so based on said conservative candidate’s religious stance and/or because their religious leaders explicitly tell them who and what to vote for.

Yet another reason to actively push for a more secular approach to education and public policy.

 

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