Brain Knots

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    This is a blog where I deal with things that tie my brain up in knots. Why are things the way they are? Why did he or she or they do or say that? What is the purpose of life? How does that work? Questions big and small, serious and trivial will be the sources of my confusion and curiosity that is accumulating faster and faster the more I experience this world.
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Hunger is Closer than you Think

Posted by krosinsky on April 1, 2008

Swollen bellies. Emaciated figures. Outstretched hands. These are the images we see when we think of people starving. And usually these bellies, figures and hands belong to people we don’t know who are from far away lands, making hunger and the overriding issue of poverty seem very far away for us. We grow immune to these images and stories and learn to think of hunger in these dramatized terms. But hunger isn’t a dramatization. It happens to real people and doesn’t always stand out to you like a swollen belly, emaciated figure or outstretched hand does. And it is closer than you think.

My friend’s friend is starving right now. She lives in Cambodia, a country where 35 percent of the population is malnourished. She is a single mother with three children, all of whom are school age. My friend and her friend met years ago and continue to keep in touch through email, the most recent one revealing that she has been going without food since she cannot afford to buy any for herself.

I can’t imagine what her hunger must be like. I’ve never gone without food for even one day…I get grumpy if I just skip one meal. And just imagine what it is like when you have three children to support in addition to yourself.

She was embarrassed to tell my friend that she is going hungry, but her hunger isn’t something that has resulted due to her mistakes, but is instead a product of her environment. Due to recent food and fuel price increases, the world is experiencing a food crisis . This video on You Tube from Al Jazeera gives you an idea of how severe it is.

According to the report, food prices have risen 55 percent since June of 2007, so it is simply becoming too expensive to buy food. And this is happening everywhere – even in the United States. But while we are feeling the pinch and therefore may cut brand name foods or our snacks, the poor are going without the necessary nutrients to keep them healthy.

What’s more is that when there is no money for food, that means there is no money for education and none for health care. It also means you do not have the nutrients to concentrate on studying or fight off disease. Therefore, the fact that so many people are going hungry points to a much larger issue, one of inescapable poverty. One out of every seven people in the world don’t get enough to eat so just imagine how large this issue actually is.

I would say that I can’t believe that this kind of injustice reigns in our world, but I can believe it. I bet you can too. However, hopefully we aren’t so jaded to accept this inequality and injustice but instead do what we can to work against it. My friend sends her friend money whenever she can so if you want to help this woman and her family, send me an email at krosinsky [at] gmail and your donation will be part of the next money transfer. If this is too sketchy for you, I encourage you to inform yourself about the issue and demand that our representatives do more to help the people going hungry in this world. Maybe if we all do something about it today, we can prevent people from suffering from hunger and all that is associated with it in the future.

**Update: Here is another good video describing the food crisis and how violence has started to become part of the equation: Global Food Prices Crisis.

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Happiness

Posted by krosinsky on March 25, 2008

Last week I was waiting for my evening train thinking “I hope I get a seat” and expecting that I get a seat. When the train pulled up and I saw there were a lot of seats open, I was happy. Now I bet you don’t think that I could pull some philosophic meaning from that, but you’d be wrong.

What defines what makes us happy? When I was hoping for a seat on my evening train, I knew that on most days I get a seat in the evening. I was expecting a seat. When the trained appeared in the station and I saw there were seats, I was happy. But I am also happy on days when I go to the other metro station and there is simply room in the train for me to physically fit my body on the car without getting squished by the doors. I’m not as happy as I would be if I got a seat, but I’m also not as pissed as I would be if the same thing happened to me at my normal metro station.

I’ve thought about this and have concluded that when our expectations are met or exceeded, we are happy. It is not the actual event that makes us happy but rather how closely the event correlates to or surpasses our perception of what it will be like.

Let’s say I am going to see a movie tonight. I expect it to be a groundbreaking movie that will shake me to my core. It ends up being lame so when I walk out of the movie theater I am not happy. On the other hand, let’s say that I go in to the movie thinking that it will be the worst film I will ever see and am just going because I am forced to go by some friend. When I leave, I might not be floating on cloud nine but I would not be disappointed and might even be happier leaving the movie than I was going in. The actual movie did not change in these two scenarios, only my expectations going in.

So I wonder whether we should always expect the worst and then always have our expectations met or exceeded, or if we should have high expectations and sometimes be let down and other times be happy. Would those times we aren’t let down be worth more and thus contain more happiness? If we keep expecting the worst, would we eventually become immune to the little rush we get when our expectations are met or exceeded?

I know I have high expectations sometimes. And obviously I get happy from little things in life. So maybe you have to be let down every once in a while to really appreciate the jolts of happiness you get other times. Maybe I am happier expecting to have a seat everyday and being let down some days than if I thought I would never have a seat and always had my expectation met or exceeded. I guess being let down lets you really appreciate when you are not.

I’m glad I came to this conclusion because I doubt the human mind would let us truly lower our expectations on command. I could pretend to think I won’t get a seat, but experience would tell me that that is illogical. I am programmed to expect what most often happens, not what I want to expect. It’s nice to know the function of my brain is cooperating in helping me get the most out of happy moments, not allowing me to become immune to them. I could always turn this around and say that my brain is evil for setting me up for disappointment every once in a while, but today I feel optimistic.

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Our Lives Exposed

Posted by krosinsky on February 28, 2008

At work I am doing research about how to be anonymous online. Basically I have found out that it is impossible to hide your identity on the Internet – all you can really do is make it more difficult for people to track you. Needless to say, I wasn’t comforted.

I was researching in the context of human rights workers abroad who want to blog online without getting arrested by oppressive regimes. But what about average citizens in democratic countries? I learned that Google has a horrible privacy reputation in part because its ad system scrolls all your email, pulling out key words to show you ads related to your email. Also, I learned that all email (not just Gmail) is never really gone. You can delete it, but you can’t annihilate it. It lives somewhere else. It’s like your email has Horcruxes (for those Harry Potter fans).

And it’s not just email. Any nosy person out there can find out where I am blogging from, what websites I visit, and even intercept my online communications without me knowing. And yes, I can take precautions, but they aren’t absolute. No matter what, the government could summons my personal online diary or a clever hacker could find a loophole.

Alright, so nothing is private online. But nothing is every completely private offline either. If I write love letters to someone, I bet someone in the postal service, or even a snoop going through my mailbox could wind up reading them without much trouble. If I write a journal, it could be confiscated as evidence if I am ever accused of a crime.

Someone could argue that if you have nothing to hide then it doesn’t much matter whether your personal emails or diaries are read. That’s not the point. The fact that I know that Gmail is reading my email to choose ads and cooperates with the government when required makes me less inclined to write personal, controversial things. The fact that one day government worker X could read my deepest thoughts in my diary makes me not want to write a diary at all.

Of course, I would not advocate for the protection of personal records when it comes to an attempt to convict criminals, so I guess I make no sense and am completely confused on the matter of privacy. It just came as a shock to me that nothing – NOTHING – is ever 100% private and I am not sure how to deal with it.

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What a Depressing World

Posted by krosinsky on February 7, 2008

Today I was walking to work and was behind this man who was talking to himself. There were two dogs ahead on the sidewalk, one very large and one tiny prissy dog who were playfully sniffing and chasing each other. The man was just talking to himself about how cute they were and how the little one better watch out. He seemed so carefree and happy, albeit a little insane.

Then at the crosswalk a block up I saw a homeless man struggling to push his cart. Saw a man with a cup of take out coffee rubbing his eyes. Saw a dog with its tail between its legs. Then on my metro ride back home tonight I saw a man on the train crying as if he just lost someone he cared about. Then there are all these hidden emotions that people carry around with them all day that can’t be detected by nosy strangers like me.

Think about all the events going on in our lives and then multiply that by six billion (or more if you count what dogs feel like the one with the tail between its legs this morning). Think about all the sadness, pain, heartache, and struggles people you encounter on your commute experience. It’s a really depressing world if you look at it that way. So I am glad that I walked behind the man talking to himself about the two dogs this morning…he seemed to be experiencing nothing but joy. I wonder how many people like him there are.

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My Vote isn’t Mine

Posted by krosinsky on January 30, 2008

John Edwards dropped out of the Democratic primary today. And I am angry.

I’m not so angry because I wanted to vote for him, because I am most likely voting for Obama. What I am more angry about is the fact that other Americans are determining who I get to vote for before I get to vote.

Democrats in Iowa had many choices. They could have voted for Clinton, Obama, Edwards, Richardson, Kucinich, Gravel, Biden, or Dodd. Now when I get to vote, I can only choose between Clinton, Obama and Gravel. How is this a democracy? It is outrageously unfair that I get fewer choices of who to pick for President just because I live in a different state.

It makes me livid to think that my choices for President are being whittled away because the candidates have performed badly in Iowa, New Hampshire or South Carolina. What else gets to me is the fact that candidates are running out of money and can’t continue their bids because of the length of the campaigning season. Now I can only choose between two people that others have decided are the front runners and one other dude who will probably drop out soon too.

This is definitely not “one man, one vote.” Who wants to write letters to Congress with me?

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Today I Felt what Empowerment Feels Like

Posted by krosinsky on January 28, 2008

Today it sunk in that I’ve graduated from college and I’ve never felt so liberated before in my life. I was reading people’s away messages on AIM and saw that nearly all of them said something along the lines of “class” or “homework already.” I don’t have class. I don’t have homework. I can sit and watch movies all night, start writing a book or get on a plane to Paris. This is wonderful.

Being me, I miss school. I’ve always enjoyed learning, studying, researching but it is so wonderful to learn, study and research whatever my heart desires, not what my professors tell me to. Like when I read that book about outer space or all the books I hope to read in the future.

And how empowering is it to know that my future is completely open. Tomorrow I could quit my job and fly to Australia and go snorkeling. I could send in my application for Peace Corps and be out of the country within months. I can pursue the career I have long considered unrealistic for me – photojournalism. I could sell my soul and bring in six figures for some big corporation. Anything is a possibility and nothing is holding me back.

Ever since I was a little girl, my mom told me I could be whatever I wanted. For some reason I have always viewed this in terms of the normal progression of life – college, graduate school, job, marriage, kids, retirement with me being able to choose the specifics of each and become whatever I wanted within those terms. I would be happy if that is how my life turns out and I can pick exactly what I study, exactly what I do, exactly who I marry and how I spend my retirement. But it doesn’t have to be like that.  Only today, at age 21, I fully understand what my mother meant years ago.

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Colbert at the National Portrait Gallery

Posted by krosinsky on January 26, 2008

Today, a friend of mine and I went to the National Portrait Gallery to see Stephen Colbert’s portrait. He did some shows where he went around asking museums to display his picture and the National Portrait Gallery accepted and agreed to hang the picture on the second floor in between the bathrooms and above the water fountains – and right next to the portraits of American presidents.

While hilarious in itself, what was even funnier was the fact that there were security guards standing next to the portrait regulating the line that formed and telling people that the line was only for Stephen Col-bert (with an emphasis on the T). Oh–forgot that part…there was a line to see Colbert…

I totally stood in this line so that my friend and I could get pictures with the portrait (see my Flickr page if you want to see those pics). There was no line for any other portrait in the rest of the museum– and this is a museum dedicated to portraits of influential Americans. So I guess people care more about seeing Colbert than George Washington or Abraham Lincoln. Unfortunately, I am included in “people.”

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Fundraising Woes

Posted by krosinsky on January 23, 2008

This summer I am going to Kenya as an AP Peace Fellow with the Undugu Society. I’ve known this for a while now but it didn’t sink in until last week. What else sunk in last week was that I need to get my butt moving on raising money to finance my time there or else find some credit cards to apply to.

So I have written a begging letter meant for airlines to give me a free or discounted flight, but the letter can be tailored to basically any company. I’ve never had to beg for money from people outside my immediate family (alright…my Mom), so I’m not feeling so hot about my fundraising abilities. But that’s not what’s getting to me though.

I wonder how many begging letters companies get from people around the world. Who are these people? How do the companies choose who to give money to? Is it to the people who need it most? Is it the “sexiest” cause? Is it the people who are strategically placed to advertise the contribution they received?

I think I am relatively well placed to advertise whatever a donor decides to give me. So let’s say that I get some contributions. Am I getting the money because of that? As a result, is someone else not getting the money because they can’t advertise?

It would be incredibly naïve of me to say that the best cause will be chosen. I mean it is corporations we are talking about. So should I feel bad about possibly getting money that someone else might need more?

I need the money so I don’t think I can just not ask even though I feel a little weird about it. Let me tell you though that if I do get contributions, I will work that much harder in Kenya since the thought of other worthy people not getting the money will torment me.

Now watch me not fundraise one penny…

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Your breath stinks. Wanna piece of gum?

Posted by krosinsky on January 17, 2008

So the other day on the metro I got irritated. Which is pretty easy when you are listening to other people’s conversations. Or when people think they are the only two people on the train and talk so loud you can’t concentrate on the Harry Potter book you are reading.

So there was this woman…professional…about 28ish with a man…about the same age, also professional…and possibly gay. They seem to be acting like they are close friends. They get on at Farragut North. They sit down directly behind me and they start talking. The women then tells her friend, in the rudest, most obnoxious way possible “Your breath stinks. Let me give you a piece of gum.”

I can tell that the guy is obviously insulted, embarrassed, angry, etc. and I’m not even facing him. He refuses the gum, stops talking to his friend and an awkward silence falls over them. Then the woman keeps asking what’s wrong, why he isn’t talking, how he has been awkward all evening, that he doesn’t care about how her day was, blah, blah, BLAH.

Then she asks him what he had for lunch that made his breath smell so bad. Insists on another piece of gum. He refuses again. Then back to her whining about him not talking to her. Then she asks if he had garlic for lunch!!

How can people be so unaware of their effect on other people…no…wait…their effect on their friends? Sometimes people can truly not anticipate other’s reactions to certain situations but I would not expect an upbeat response from anyone, not even my closest friend, to me telling them that I find their breath revolting and then dwell upon the subject and act as if what I said was nothing less than a common compliment. Did this woman really think her friend would not take offense to her comment? What did she expect? “Oh, my breath stinks? I didn’t know, thank you so much for offering me that stick of gum so that I can cover up the putrid smell my mouth is emitting.”

They got off at Union Station. I wish I knew if he ever took the piece of gum…or if she ever shut up. And I wonder if her insensitivity cast an air of awkwardness over their relationship that he no longer calls and she is left confused thinking “I wonder what’s the matter with him?”

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Is Voting Choosing or Hoping?

Posted by krosinsky on January 3, 2008

Just minutes before the Iowa caucuses and I still have no idea who I’m voting for. My goal was to decide before the Iowa results come in so I’m not swayed and that I wholeheartedly support my man…or woman.

I’ve narrowed it down to three…Obama, Edwards and Clinton. Beyond that I’m absolutely lost. Yes, there is a logical person for me to vote for who on paper has the most in common with me in terms of ideology. Then there is the person with the experience who knows the ropes and will have no problem hitting the ground running. And then there is the person who speaks from their heart and who I truly trust. (I tried to keep my views about each particular candidate somewhat hidden but I fear I have miserably failed…)

Some people say vote your heart. Others say vote for who will beat the Republican nominee in November. Or vote for who you trust. Or who you agree the most with. Or who you’d most likely want to have a drink with. Ok ok…all good points.

I can say I know how Hillary voted on something, or what Obama did before winning the Senate seat, or Edwards’ obsession with poverty reduction, but I can’t “know” the candidates. I do trust some candidates more than others, but why? I’ve never met them, and even if I got the chance to ask them a question and shake their hand what would that show? Trust is something built over time and its ridiculous that the electorate (including myself) can claim to trust some politicians over others. I bet the politicians perceived as trustworthy and likely to beat a Republican have speech writers and PR people who are sleeping contently at night.

So what’s my decision based off? I’d like to think that the research I do to check candidate’s voting records and public statements is what shapes my perception of the person, but how much does press coverage and biased reports have to do with it? How easily misled are we? How can I vote for someone to lead my country if my ultimate decision is based off the success of his or her campaign?

I guess this whole question stems from the fact that I have worked on a campaign before and got to know my candidate pretty well. I learned that candidates, at least the honest ones like the one I worked for, will try as hard as possible to portray themselves publicly as they are in real life. But without knowing the person personally you will never know who they really are. And since my candidate failed to win, the electorate obviously wasn’t able to see the honest, passionate person with a great record that my candidate was and had. Am I missing something now, in this election?

So does it even matter who I pick? Each of the candidates carries with them a possibility of surprise once they get in office since I truly don’t know who they are as people. So I guess I’ll just go with my heart…and cross my fingers.

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