360DTG: Predictions of doom

I had to get up early yesterday so I couldn’t stay up late the night before and see the blood moon, but apparently the religinuts have declared a fairly routine astronomical event (the tetrad of blood moons) to be a sign of the return of their mythical figure. Since the range of their prediction (exactly when this return will happen) extends beyond my DTG I actually hope I’m wrong in my prediction so I can live long enough to see their prediction fail, as it has repeatedly over the past 2000 years.

What I should take from this is how stupid it is to make predictions on some “gut feel” or myth rather than real facts well fitted by an accurate model. So how about my own predictions (or really just feeling now) that isn’t based on facts. Perhaps in about 12 days I’ll have some new facts and perhaps can make a more informed prediction.

What nonsense am I talking about – well, it’s my own sense of doom that got started about 8 months ago and hasn’t completely left me, which is that I have a fatal disease myelodysplastic syndrome. First I got the oncologist’s diagnosis that seemed rather definitive and thus went through all the reactions when you hear you have cancer, but then I also got this, “just kidding”, wasn’t really a diagnosis after all. Oh great, what is the story? But that placebo reassurance from the oncologist worked, for a few months I was able to dismiss this.

But lately I’ve been seeing “signs” too. And most likely misreading them the way the religinuts are misreading a simple alignment of celestial bodies. But I can’t entirely dismiss the signs so naturally I’m back to a more pessimistic mood.

On my last visit, where the diagnosis of my condition was revised to a simple vitamin deficiency there was a lingering doubt I couldn’t shake. Due to the vagaries of scheduling at a medical office my oncologist made that declaration WITHOUT the latest blood tests. I subsequently received those results a week later and plotted them (just show one):

2014Jan-Plate

That’s right, the latest test had the lowest value ever for my platelets, a value of 133 where the bottom of the normal range is conventionally put at 130, IOW, I was almost at the very bottom of the normal range, but still above (there is a gap) the abnormal range. So not to worry, right?

I did put my worries (mostly) behind me, but after all, I’ve been following Nate Silver’s Bayesian approach for other statistical analysis so here my Bayesian prior (in anticipation of my next tests and oncologist visit) can’t be p=0.0, and in fact, a reasonable estimate would probably be p=0.3. As recently as a month ago I said that in my own mind (again uninformed, just feeling) was it was 50-50 whether the original MDS diagnosis was in fact still true.

Since there is no treatment (at least curative, there are supportive treatments to just keep you breathing) it’s entirely reasonable that an oncologist, who seems to have reached the conclusion that I had the “simmering” version, meaning a potential lifespan of 15 years (which isn’t much different than my statistical expectation from all causes, except that, at the moment, I’m in good shape (for my age) and don’t have any of those other causes). So it’s easy to speculate that the vitamin treatment is merely a placebo treatment to deal with the psychological (anxiety) side of cancer, not the medical side. IOW, is my oncologist just giving me feel-good happy talk?

But, OTOH, what reason, other than just unfounded worrying do I have to not accept this optimistic POV. That’s where the signs come in, which I readily admit: a) could be purely coincidental, and, b) may have other causes, but at the same time, when it’s possible I might have a disease it would also be stupid to ignore any signs. So what signs do I have?

  1. multiple times I have awoken with large patches of red spots, of varying sizes, on my forearms (mostly dissipated now). The largest of these spots look like routine blood blisters, except: a) they’re fat (no swelling), and, b) blood blisters usually result from friction on that spot and I don’t recall any friction, plus there are at least 30-50 spots, not just a single large one. This “symptom” alone changed my guestimate of probability of MDS up in the 50-50 range since I’ve never had anything like this before any other time in my life and this is clearly subcutaneous bleeding (presumably micro-break in vessels). I suspect all of us routinely get episodes (for some cause) of these micro-breaks, but with normal platelet levels they probably are quickly sealed before any blood, of noticeable quantity, can leak in to form the “blood blisters”.
  2. then yesterday I had a fairly routine dental visit which went slower than usual as after the actual drilling and filling the dentist needed to take the impression (in order to make the crown) and apparently (as he later told me) the bleeding wouldn’t stop. The dental procedure was small enough I’m sure there was only a tiny bit of gum tissue disruption which would usually have some bleeding that always in my past experience quickly stopped. But this time it didn’t. And in fact I need to return to vertical posture and wait a while before the bleeding finally stopped. Again, no big deal in itself, could be coincidence, but in the context of my last blood test showing my lowest ever platelet count it could also be a symptom.
  3. and finally, and more vaguely (since there are a ton of possible causes for this) I’ve been more tired of late (the early rising for dentist visit is the most likely cause of that) and of course that too is a typical symptom of low RBC, which in my last tests was not too bad, but still fairly low.

2014Jan-RBC

4.45 for latest test where 4.70 is the minimum value (for males) of the normal range, IOW, I was somewhat (but not severely) anemic, and anemia definitely impacts fatigue (but also shortness of breath, which I didn’t experience, so again ambiguous symptoms, but simultaneously all my exercise for weight loss has my cardiovascular efficiency near athletic levels so maybe that compensates).

So all this reading of tea leaves and entrails of pigeons could mean anything, as mystical signs usually do, but it could also be consistent with medical condition. So I can’t shake off my feeling of doom, that my MDS has progressed and the placebo treatments are just that, useless treatments to reassure me. Or I may be being my usual self and way too pessimistic, but given multiple blood tests with low counts and multiple visits to oncologist I can’t believe this is all my invention, just sick in my head, not in body.

So I decided to record all this (knowing Dr. Reader, you don’t like this set of posts since who wants to hear about dying) so to make a marker and perhaps in a couple of weeks all these “signs” will prove to be unfounded speculation.

That said, if the next set of blood tests does contain bad news what are my reactions:

  1. my estimate of life expectancy, as expressed in the title line of DTG, is very likely to be too pessimistic. Even if I have MDS it’s almost certainly not the most severe (fastest progression) version so estimating life expectancy under a year without a solid diagnosis is almost certainly too pessimistic. In fact, given the partial efficacy of supportive treatments with the information I have no (and its most pessimistic analysis) life expectancy is more likely to be a couple of years, not < 1.
  2. If it turns out the original diagnosis was correct and the more favorable diagnosis wrong (or possibly the placebo treatment by oncologist) then I’m going to be pissed that I may have missed my opportunity for some “fun” before the dying process starts. While supportive treatments for MDS might extend life for a year or two I’d definitely be sick where any kinds of risks (of injury, thus bleeding; of infection) should be avoided (unless, of course, I want to accelerate my demise). So while I might live for another few years my activity will be limited. IOW, no long European trip which we deferred.

If I have a fatal disease, other than the unpleasantness of the dying process itself, that doesn’t particularly bother me. I have this overwhelming negative view of my future anyway and MDS is not worst case outcome (although now that I know what the end game is I’m more unhappy about it now than I was when I first heard I could have it and die from it). My conventional end-game fear is that I will live a long time (as my parents) did and thus go broke (or face severe financial hardship) instead. With a short life expectancy I can dismiss that fear and in fact even do some wild and crazy treating myself to a few unaffordable (in the long life expectancy scenario) “treats”. But there may be a small window of opportunity for that depending exactly on what my end stage of this possible disease will be. But at least a couple of things that I thought I’d do (as my final “fun”) back last November have now come and gone and by the next window of opportunity for those it may be too late.

IOW, this part of the game is a pain. If I let myself think I’m dying and thus go on a spending spree to blow my retirement assets quickly then my traditional fear of living too long could happen. But if I don’t do the spending soon I may never get to and thus all that denial (of treats) in my past to attempt to have retirement assets may be a waste. Sheesh, risk management when it applies to me is very tricky, damned-if-I-do, damned-if-I-don’t. I’m simply not the kind of person who can live in the moment and do wild and stupid things that could have adverse consequences in the future. That’s why I would prefer my oncologist tell me the brutal truth, not try to make it easier for me with happy talk.

So I guess the next couple of weeks will be a period of anxiety, plus it’s unlikely that the next visit will remove all the uncertainty. I’m not going to obsess about this, but simultaneously I can’t just put it out of my mind. Oh bother.

btw: As with the religinuts I saw yet another sign. Partly due to the current Cosmos show I chose to get Carl Sagan’s book, Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark. I’ll comment on this another time, but the “sign” that book provides me is that Sagan died of MDS (then called myelodisplasia) at age 62 and in this book he uses as an example, would you treat pernicious anemia with B12 injections or prayer. Of course, his earliest diagnosis (before MDS) would have been pernicious anemia (the most common symptom that brings patients to hematologist/oncologists), so was Carl sending me a sign? If I were a nutjob of course I’d interpret it that way, but even as a rational empiricist I find it hard (just as Carl is discussing in that book) to 100% dismiss myth and superstition as we humans are probably programmed by evolution to see signs and interpret them negatively as an adaptive response to potential threats (better safe than sorry). Reading that man’s words, now gone from this disease, did send a bit of chill into me, but at the same time, if I read all the rest of his words I see really use scientific thinking as my candle in the dark rather than submit to stupidity we humans (and those preachers seeing blood moons) share.

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Finished a few long virtual hikes

I’ve posted before about how I’m transferring miles on a basement treadmill to maps to create virtual hikes as a method of encouraging me to continue my exercise. So here’s an update on my progress.

When I first started my exercise kick (now over three years ago) I had a fairly detailed set of GPS waypoints for the Pacific Crest Trail. It was fun, each day, to transfer treadmill miles to that route (with Delorme Topo doing the calculations, converting distance into location) and then view my progress in Google Earth, especially as I have actually hiked portions of that trail. But eventually my interest in that waned and so I developed other routes, plus once I got stationary bike began to set up virtual biking trips.

So after reaching Oregon on the PCT I dropped routine updates along that route, but developed a couple of other routes, several of which I just finished when doing my quarterly update:

  1. from my house in Omaha via Custer State Park in South Dakota, then across Wyoming and over the Bighorns, then back up to Billings, MT, and on to Many Glacier Hotel in Glacier National Park. I’ve actually been to all these locations via car so I thought it would be fun to simulate them and now I’ve made it (1465.26 miles)
  2. not long after setting up that first route I create another route to Many Glacier from my previous home in Los Altos, California, up the Pacific coast, then cutting across Oregon, Washington and Idaho to approach Glacier from the west. That contrived route was about the same length so I finished it too, on this update (1479.76 miles).
  3. knowing these two routes were headed the same direction I also created a route from Omaha to Big Bend National Park, via my family’s ancestral homes of El Reno, OK and my birthplace in Amarillo, TX. I reached Big Bend (Chisos Basin) a while back so today’s update placed me southeast of El Paso. That route I duplicated in last fall’s vacation so again familiar territory.
  4. in those other routes I avoided following Interstates, but I also decided to reach out for the coasts, following two other directions my life has taken. So with this update I reached 33 Bay State Rd in Boston (where I lived during college) via I-80 (1437.55 miles). That route has some significance for me as I once drove that entire route in a single trip, at Christmas time, in a single day (rather exhausting even for my youthful self)
  5. going in the opposite direction and to the other pole of my life I set out from Omaha to Los Altos, California, also along I-80. That’s a bit further so today’s update has me on the Donner Pass portion of I-80 in the Sierra (not far from where I crossed the road on the PCT). So there is some strange geographical pull for me, living in the middle of the U.S., in Omaha, off to college in Boston, then off the Silicon Valley for adult working life. How little I could have predicted life would bring me back to Omaha given I went about as far away as possible when I got to chose my own directions and locations.
  6. The only route I haven’t finished is from Omaha to Miami via Nashville, Atlanta, and Jacksonville). This is the least traveled route for me as the south, or Florida which is only sorta the “south” has never had much appeal to me. But just a few years ago fate presented Nashville and Atlanta and Savannah as a vacation opportunity so I know this route as well.

In short, at least by car I’ve been just about everywhere in the U.S. Due to my more recent interest in geodashing (now about 1/5th of my life) I’ve actually explored a lot of places I might never have gone.

The idea of walking a long distance, for real, is appealing to me. As I’ve mentioned before I’ve watched The Way many times so the idea of walking the Camino de Santiago is very attractive, but the logistics of doing the actual walk makes it unlikely I’d ever do this.

Doing virtual walks has been a good way to keep me active on the treadmill and I’m actually amazed that I’ve now doing 818 sessions, requiring 577.8 hours (72 typical days) and 1490.11 miles over a duration now of 3.75 years expending 292,991 calories in the process (83lbs of fat burned which is actually close to the amount of weight loss I’ve had, although exercise only played a partial role in that and now my stationary bicycle is my main method of burning calories). Since getting intrigued by walking the Camino I’ve pushed up my daily mileage, a lot, but still anything over about 9 miles gets me fairly fatigued and yet that is only a fraction of the daily distance I’d need to cover to do a real pilgrimage walk.

During various times of my life I’ve walked (or run, training for triathlon) a fair amount but my daily distances have not been that high. My body structure isn’t particularly conducive to doing long walks. During my active years of backpacking I typically went only 6-8 miles a day, of course that was with a heavy pack but a younger body to support it. So it’s been rare I’ve ever done >10 miles/day on foot. I still remember (and can feel the fatigue) of the first time I probably ever went >10 miles, a backpack (woefully unequipped) up the Great Gulf to the Mt. Washington summit and back to a high camping spot – I was exhausted and so tired it was dangerous to be hiking on rough terrain. Only once on a backpack did I exceed 10 miles in a day, on a bad day in the Canadian Rockies, where caught by a storm on the summit we had to retreat to lower elevations to avoid the storm. Altogether I doubt I’ve done as many as 10 walks of >10 miles.

Recently, as part of my sense I’m training for some walking adventure, I did do 11.1 real miles on the local MoPac Trail (just east of Lincoln, NE, into the outskirts of Lincoln, and back). I recall, during high school here in the 60s the enthusiasm RFK generated for physical activity and a whole bunch of people tried to do a 50 mile hike from Omaha to Lincoln. That seemed crazy to me at the time and seems even crazier now.

But sometimes these crazy ideas get to me. I still can vividly remember the time where I’d struggled a few miles up into the foothills on Arastradero Rd (where I once lived). I met an avid cyclist who was resting. I asked where he was going and he said he was on a century ride. I had no idea what that meant and so he told me it was a 100 mile ride. Insane, I thought and impossible for me, but somehow the idea was planted. It was a few years (and much better bicycling) before I finally did that for myself. And I remember seeing the Iron Man on TV and thinking that was insane. Well, for me it still was, but at least I could dream of doing a Tin Man and eventually did. So over the years I’ve encountered others (often easily) doing strenuous physical challenges and being infected by the notion I could do it too and thus doing it. I remember so well, as I was very tired on the last 10 mile stretch of my first century ride, how, as a kid I’d nearly collapsed riding a short distance from Amarillo to a YMCA camp outside of town and the other kids ridiculing me. As I was completing a 100 hundred mile ride I let the idea of how many of those kids who could do such a thing (at 40) as I was doing – a little bit of oneupsmanship to keep going the last few miles.

But in my search for escorted treks (a completely independent trek is out for me, no point in having achievable goals) most require at least 12+ miles/day and usually 15+. Given a single day of that exceeds any of my training days it’s hard to believe I can do that. Now in cycling I found that if I were all charged up to do some challenge, even though it exceeded my usual training duration, I could do it (no, I never consider the Davis Double Century, I’m a little crazy, but not that insane). But when I did a two week escorted cycle trip in Germany I did find that doing what was an almost routine training ride (about 60 miles) day after day, had its own kind of longer term fatigue. So while I’m sure I could now do a 15 mile day in Wales or Scotland, I’d be tired and sore after doing it and the idea that I had to try to rest and then do it for another 8 straight days sounds to me impossible.

So I’m still looking. It’s irrelevant, in the big picture of life, to try to do these physical challenges, but I’ve had a record of doing them and remember (most of ) them fondly, my first crew race (a victory fortunately), my first long bike ride, my first week long backpack, etc. I also remember getting lost (with my dad) in Montana and being so exhausted I could hardly move (not to mention all the blisters) or getting stuck in a poorly planned backpack trip in a hurricane, so I know even enthusiasm, even real guts and determination, has limits on what I can do physically. And I’m certainly not 20, or 30, or even 40 any more, so the prospect of a 200 mile trek is definitely intimidating (not to mention the 800km of the Camino). So I’m still looking. I figure, this late in life, that if I can still do something, that for me (relatively not an athletic type) and at this age, the prospect of that keeps me going. It’s hard to think to someday, like my 99YO mother, just walking out the door and to a car would be the challenge I’d tackle,  so I’m not at that stage (yet) and so I still want something, while not totally crazy, that I can apply all this training and virtual hikes.

 

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80.5 miles and 24 hours of silence

Yesterday was an interesting day in my staycation. As I’ve mentioned I’m here alone for a few days and so yesterday I never left the house nor exchanged in any interaction with any person. So other than a bit of talking to my cat who is complaining bitterly that I don’t get up early enough to feed her on her usual schedule I’ve been silent. Now I suppose I can’t refer to the entire period as ‘silence’ since I did a marathon of watching old West Wings as well as some music, but passive listening is certainly not the same as interactive communication. Nonetheless it also isn’t quite the cell as a monastic cell with total silence.

Without any distractions this allowed me to spend much of the day on stationary bicycle thus blowing away my previous daily ride record (68.0 miles) with a new record of 80.5 miles. That was accomplished over much of the day (about 13 hours elapsed but only about 5 hours of peddling time). I have previously done a century (as well as many metric centuries) ride on a real bike and certainly 80.5 miles on a stationary bike is easier (and more boring). But I’ve only previously done a couple of rides in the 80+ distance: a) the completed century in Marin County, b) the failed century (a collision leading to bike damage and thus needing sag ride back) in the California delta (about 90 miles before the collision), and, c) a out-and-back ride to Golden Gate Park from Los Altos, about 85 miles. But, of course, those rides were about 20 years ago so I figure it’s not too bad to be able to tick over 80.5 miles, even if easier on a stationary bike, at my age. Despite my legs having the oomph to go that distance real riding and the hard saddle (plus all the vibration from road) would toughen my gluteus maximus a lot more than the soft seat (and recumbent position) of the stationary bike so I seriously doubt I could do an actual road ride of 80.5 miles. So no long real biking trips for me.

An actual bike ride is better for getting my head into a more “empty mind” state. Road riding requires some concentration on the mechanics of riding but not much else. And if you’re doing that alone, especially then also without any real destination (just boring road itself) I do find myself in a completely different mental state than I achieved yesterday. It’s a bit too convenient and easy to just be peddling in my only house, meanwhile having all the usual conveniences.

The reason I mention all this is that I actually have a strong interest in the altered mental state that a vigorous physical event, especially alone triggers. Concentrating most of my mind’s energy (and physical energy) just on the event itself, plus requiring the long period of time without any ordinary interpersonal contact is a state of mind I have achieved before and wish to achieve again. After watching multiple West Wing episodes naturally I was pulled back to Martin Sheen and so watched The Way again (probably for about the 10th time). That idea of pilgrimage where the physical ordeal of it plays a role in mental state is interesting. However, The Way is all about the relationships of Martin’s walking companions not the solitary pursuit. Last year’s camping trip to Wyoming left me disappointed that I spent too much, although enjoyable, time with other campers – the solitude I sought never happened, at least in big doses. So yesterday’s 24 hours of solitary activity is the first for quite some time (previously only achieved on other camping trips, but now some years ago).

The idea of doing a long trip, either hiking or biking, has strong appeal to me, but the logistics discourage me. I have done weeklong backpack trips, thus requiring no other support and I’ve done one weeklong bike camping trip. But those trips are not entirely solitary (in fact the bike camping had enjoyable casual contact every night with other touring cyclists since the California campgrounds pile all the cyclists into a single spot). My days of physically carrying enough for a week+ solitary trip are over, so any trip I’d take today would have to be “supported”. Plus with more joint pain, especially knees, and a few other limitations of age the creature comforts I require these days effectively eliminate the possibility of self-support (i.e. I now need a much bigger tent than I’d want to move my muscle power alone). So despite getting into relatively good shape (sans gluteal toughness) I still don’t have any plan for any solitary trip. So peddling away in the basement may be the best I can do.

I can’t say yesterday was all that special but I’m glad I had the opportunity but less distractions would have been better for the altered mental state one can achieve on a pilgrimage.

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Elites and SCOTUS wants more money in politics

I’m combining two seemingly unrelated topics but bear with me as my thesis will become clear.

Just yesterday I was watching an old video on climate change denialism (couldn’t stand it for more than a few minutes) and heard the term “bicoastal elites” (in contrast, of course, to “real Americans”, in the heartland, naturally). Well, guilty as charged. Yep, college in Boston, working life in California, brand-name college, multiple degrees – can’t get much more bicoastal elite than that. And the video contrasted these elites with those real Americans who “make stuff”, not like me who only created bits that got distributed on installer disks. Yep, next time you see someone in the heartland making stuff ask them how all their computer, GPS, communication technology means nothing to them.

Anyway ragging on “elites” is just a favorite tactic of another elite, naturally not that they’d admit that is what they are. IOW, the rich. Nah, the 1% isn’t an elite, it’s real Americans too, who make stuff like toxic securities and high-frequency trading. But with the money they throw around they do a good job of pretending they’re not an elite and then needing a bogeyman to attack which anyone with a brain and a bit of education is labeled. Those elites only deal in facts and truth whereas real Americans, including the Kochs naturally, deal in “stuff”.

So what’s the connection with SCOTUS? Today they handed down another decision to let those faux real Americans, i.e. the 1%, spend even more money in politics with even less restrictions or transparency. I guess since corporations are actually people they need a lot of free speech. This decision, by nominally intelligent folks with their own collection of degrees from prestigious institutions, well, of course, they’re not elites either, just real Americans in black robes.

In fact, let’s be serious. The elites, in all fields (when was the last time you didn’t think about a professional athlete as also “elite), do run the show. And the scientific and intellectual elite is, of course, the mortal enemy of the money elite, since the thinking elites see more than greed as the purpose of life and see the greed of the 1% elite as bringing upon the earth disasters like global climate change and predatory financial systems. So this fight is really just among the elites with different agendas and those real Americans are just pawns in the whole thing. Who, of these elites, really looks down on the American people? The liberals who fight for them, or the 1% who think some bucks and clever spin can hoodwink them into voting against their own interests? Yes, exactly which elite is it that has contempt for the “ordinary” Americans.

But then, I think, actually the U.S. has been run by elites since its founding. Sure, tell me all those founders who cranked up a revolution were just folks, or perhaps they were the property owners and most educated of their time. And why, when they created the Constitution were they so afraid of direct democracy that they created the Senate which was not chosen by popular vote but by the backrooms. In fact, there wasn’t much “democracy” in the early days of this country, but definitely control by the elites. And of course, women didn’t count (and in most states neither did even white men without property) and we don’t even have to point out how Africans or Native Americans were treated. In fact, the property restriction took a very long time to get rid of. In short, the elites were always terrified of the “people”.

Now since we live in more complex times the elites that earn their keep with their minds and create knowledge and bits, instead of stuff, have multiplied a lot since the time when Jefferson was both an intellectual elite and a moneyed elite. And those nasty educated people, a goal for much of the U.S. history, now held is contempt, fueled the economy to push the U.S. to the greatest wealth creation in the planet’s history. But now some of those elites, those labeled as the bicoastal elites by Fox, have the audacity to challenge the real masters of the universe, i.e. money. Pesky folks like Krugman who debunk their silly economics, or Lewis who point out (again) the corruption on Wall Street, or Dawkins for denouncing religious stupidity in science, and especially all those climate scientists that think more carbon release might just kill all of us. No, those are the elites that must be denounced, so now SCOTUS is going to let even more money be spent selling that message to “real Americans”.

I think the money elites may be making a mistake (of course they are, they’re wrong about everything, but in this case I’m referring to their political tactics). The rabble they’re stirring up, as with the astroturf tea baggers, may just be the junkyard dog that turns on their masters. Once the Kochs and SCOTUS have succeeded in dismantled the fact-based elites the 1% elites will have to create a new bogeyman (of course, they have an endless supply of those), but the real problem will be: a) capitalism, without boundaries, has only one outcome, the concentration of wealth in the smallest number of hands and everyone else as poor servants of the 1%, b) as economics get worse, since making stuff has little to do with U.S. competitiveness and the bicoastal elites are all that is holding this country in first-world league, our race to the bottom, soon joining Haiti will eventually be so obvious that even the tea baggers will get it, and, c) as global climate change, plus unsustainable practices, deliver the coup de grace against much of the “heartland”,  the sleeping giant of all those people conned by the money SCOTUS is allowed may just get aroused.

So in addition to all their spending to buy the political system the real elites in this country had better save a bit for their refuges in some other country and their planes for a quick getaway. But of course, without the U.S. as the world’s cop keeping the world safe for the greedy, they also had better make peace with Putin and/or the Chinese, since I don’t think their safe haven in Dubai is going to be much good without American military to protect it.

Ah, yes – the elites, they think they can fool everyone.

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Have time to blog but nothing to say

As my loyal readers know this blog is SECRET. Not from my readers, of course, as this is a public posting, but from almost everyone who actually knows me. As a consequence of my keeping this blog secret often I cannot make posts. The computer I’m using is in a public place and others around me can easily see it so I have to sneak off to some private place to make these posts. This week, however, I am alone and thus free to do as I wish. That’s fun, at least for a short time until I get lonely and of course the perfect opportunity to write lots of posts.

But as I stare at the empty screen I find myself almost speechless. Many of my posts are some sort of rant about the times we live in and the stupidity of much of my world, esp. the religinuts and rightwingnuts and nutrition scolds and such. But frankly they’re overwhelming me. Facing the likelihood of a Repug takeover of the Senate and thus endless votes to repeal ObamaCare and yet more attempts to sneak creationism and prayer into schools and simultaneously deny global climate change it’s just too damned depressing. The prospect of an even higher level of stupidity is almost too much to bear and ranting about it doesn’t make it any better.

So without the motivation to rant what is there left to say. At the moment I’m not making bread and in my week off I’ve decided to ignore my weight (and it is soaring with my discipline gone) and while I continue my virtual rides and hikes I haven’t hit any interesting milestones. So that pretty much exhausts my topics for blogging.

I started this blog so I could just talk about whatever I felt like talking about without having to worry about whether I was boring or irritating any listener. Also I thought it would be interesting to use the blog almost like a journal so that years from now, assuming WordPress.com continues to exist and doesn’t get bought out by Facebook, I could look back at these times. Actually in a cleaning process my SO insisted on doing recently an old hand-written journal of mine was discovered and it’s pretty much gibberish to read so only a little bit interesting to think of the much younger me. So probably this blog will be equally uninteresting in 10 more years. But I do regret, in the past, not doing a better job of writing things down as my memory is fallible and so there are memories that are now lost to me, for whatever that really means. So despite being out of things to write, at this moment, I think I should try to at least make some sort of posts as I’m sure there will be new outrages to rant about as well as, hopefully, some interesting and positive things to note.

We’ll see if a couple of days of almost complete isolation trigger any new ideas for posts but at the moment my normal source of “inspiration”, i.e. news, is devoid of anything that tickles my fancy. In my solitary boredom maybe I’ll comb through some of the URLs I’ve bookmarked and find something.

I like these periods of being alone as it is a chance to get outside the normal day-to-day activities, especially being involved with others (my cat only sorta counts, she’s complaining loudly I get up too late in the morning and she’s missing her breakfast). My camping trips used to serve to create that solitude but, as some of my posts have explained, for some reason now camping has become socializing with strangers and so missing that isolation I used to have. I think it’s good for us (at least for me) to have these solitary times as there is little to distract and so being introspective (selfishly) is about the only option.

So stick with me, Dr. Reader, as maybe I can find something to say.

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What does “linked” mean in an alarmist headline?

There it is, in black and white, the word “linked” in a headline. It screams for your attention but what does it really mean? What will a casual reader extract from this?

I’ve seen this so often before but I’ll rant about it again. In my Google News sidebar, there it is:

Diet drinks linked with heart disease, death

Pretty scary, eh? If you just read this much what would you think. Any headline that includes “death” and “linked” sounds really bad. There’s probably no point in ranting about journalism that has always lived by the “if it bleeds it leads” motto to get attention. But how many people follow the link at Google to the article to actually learn something. I did and here the article repeats the screaming headline:

Diet Drinks Linked With Heart Disease, Death

Maggie Fox of NBC News might as well write this in red ink with blood dripping off it, just to get a little journalistic sensationalism, but what good/harm is this doing to the public. Does it matter that the article itself says:

“We only found an association, so we can’t say that diet drinks cause these problems,” Vyas said.

buried below the fold in the 9th paragraph!

When dealing with life and death I think the press has an obligation not to be alarmist and to present “news” (brief report of a study) with some caution and circumspection. But no, alarmist headlines sell, even if these days it’s not papers and just ad clicks.

NO!

Diet drinks don’t kill. Somehow the press will repeat the gunnuts assertion that “guns don’t kill” but they don’t show that caution when it comes to a soft drink.

Now among the geeks the phrase “association is not causation” is oft repeated but probably rarely really understood. But the headline didn’t even say association, it said “linked”. Now what is a casual reader expected to think about the word “linked”. A link in a chain is certainly a serious thing (the chain breaks without the “link”). A link in an online article is certainly a real thing with a definite action. It is entirely reasonable that the causal reader associates the word ‘linked’ was ’causes’ given that is what it usually means. But of course, that is false, that’s not what the study says.

In an era of widespread ignorance about science and even greater ignorance about statistical inference the ordinary words used matter because they will be interpreted from the reader’s POV, not some statistics textbook that only a few people understand.

So this article, like many others of its kind, do a serious disservice and feed the frenzy of the nutrition nuts and scolds and scare the public. I’m sure Pepsico and CocaCola hate these headlines too, but of course they’ll be dismissed since they’re part of the evil food conspiracy to kill us all. So how does “truth” get to the public with this kind of nonsense.

Now this article is one of zillions I’ve read, all with the same message, now even known as the “Big Mac and Diet Coke” phenomenon. Yep, people who are overweight and possibly also unhealthy tend to try to make up for excess calorie consumption by diet drinks. OTOH, what should they do – drink sugared drinks, I’m sure that would help. Of course the scolds probably demand they drink water (undoubtedly some trendy and expensive bottled type, what about all those plastic bottles, folks; or maybe green tea, or some other alleged “healthy” alternative).

In short, this article (and the underlying study it reports) show absolutely no causation between diet drinks and DEATH. But of course you have to read a bit to get that and few people have the patience. But then, so what – most diet drink drinkers could care less about this and the non drinkers wouldn’t consider diet drinks anyway, so who cares, who changes their behavior with stories/studies like this. Unfortunately, some people do, plus this just contributes to the steady drip-drip of nutrition nonsense that does get implanted in many people.

I recently read (no citation available) a report of how the required diet compares to the actual diet in the U.S. It is bad: everything you should eat, people do, and what they should eat, they don’t. So much for dietary advice. But that’s what alarmism does, it contributes to a general cynicism that the “experts” have no idea what they’re talking about and/or that all advice is just part of some agenda, usually a nefarious plot of the food companies to kill its paying customers (instead of just rip them off, which is more credible).

I’ve said (and a few of the sensible nutrition “experts” say), eat less and move more. Calories do matter and they’re aren’t good or bad calories, just calories. And yes, too much fat is bad for you and can actually cause DEATH. But to combat this we need sensible, correct, and helpful information, not sensationalism. There is so much noise and uninformed junk info about nutrition and diet that the public just tunes it all out and that’s bad. The public does need a kick in the butt, but with good and helpful information, not sensationalist propaganda.

Full disclosure: I drink diet drinks and have since they were first invented (I actually prefer the taste). And yes, I was over-weight and taking meds. And yes, finally I did something about it, so I lost 60lbs (while drinking diet drinks) and I’m glad I did. But what losing weight took was way less calories and way more exercise, not switching from diet drinks to green tea (or even water, which would, of course, accomplish absolutely nothing in terms of weight). So if I actually believed and paid attention to articles like this I’d still be way too fat. So much for any “study” and its popular press misinformation actually helping me with a health concern.

So if any of you nutrition scolds actually want to help people (which thus far you have miserably failed to do), why don’t you try serious and useful information instead of alarmist misinformation or stupid dietary fads. Oh I guess you could never do that since it wouldn’t sell papers or blog posts or diet books, so are you nutrition scolds any different than Coke or Pepsi. Give me a break!

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This generations sees its “flower power” dream end to.

For most of you who are too young to remember the summer of love and flower power, you just witnessed a repeat when Facebook bought Oculus VR and thus has destroyed Kickstarter. Every generation has to have its crazy idealism, that somehow money isn’t everything and this time it will be different.

You should read history (or listen to your parents) because those that don’t are doomed to repeat it. The Woodstock generation saw reality in the Chicago Democratic Convention and the Vietnam War. Now you’ve seen it too, just a tiny bit of it, but perhaps what will start the ball rolling.

Did you think you had repealed greed? Didn’t you watch The Social Network or are you so in love (or want to emulate) your hero Zuck that you don’t realize what greed does to people. Money is totally 100% always toxic to idealism and now you just got your lesson in that – are you listening? Did you buy stock in King and now realize you fell for the hype, like you did with Zygna? Or how about Twitter – do you really think it’s going to change the world and even exist five years from now? And will you cheer on Box and Foursquare and all the other startup cons because somehow you think your generation is different, that you’re smarter, that you’re not as corrupt.

If there is anything FB should have taught you, already before even this new evidence, is that greed always corrupts. Zuck was probably already a sociopath, but wave a few billion in front of his noise and he becomes positively evil. Do you really think such a trivial thing as Facebook should even be mentioned in the same breath as the real innovation that once existed in Silicon Valley?

So now you’ve learned Kickstarter is a Ponzi scam. You gave people money with some vague notion that somehow they were one of you and would give you back something you wanted. You made Steve Jobs into a hero when those who actually knew him knew he was a tyrant and ruthlessly burned people out. How long do you think it will be that Kickstarter is talking about going public now that they’re a one-hit wonder like King?

Yep, ignore the past and you’ll reinvent it. Not the way you were hoping, but the way it has always been reinvented in generation after generation.

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