12 Rules For Life:  Return of the Jordan (Final Part of the Review Trilogy), Charles Atlas, The Simpsons . . . and Being a Man, The Definitive Review

“No. Not yet. One thing remains. Vader. You must confront Vader. Then, only then, a Jedi will you be. And confront him you will.” – Star Wars:  Return of the Jedi

DSC01497

The Boy in full Vader get up.  He looked at me and said, “You are my Father, John Wilder.  Can I have more cake?” and then force-choked me when I said no, three pieces was enough.  So I cut off his hand.  That’s good parenting where I come from . . .

As promised, this is the final part of my book review for Dr. Jordan Peterson’s new bestseller, “12 Rules for Life.”  You can find the first part here (LINK) and the second part here (LINK).  Quotes, if not otherwise noted, are Peterson from the book.  Sorry for the delay – the flu was busy attempting to eat my lungs.  I’m better now.

 

I strongly recommend this book – and get no money if you buy it at this time – in the future, who knows?

Rule 9:  Assume That The Person You’re Listening To Knows Something You Don’t

If you listen, most people are really not boring.  Okay, some are.  But they are mainly parents of children who haven’t graduated from high school and anyone from Iowa.  Everybody else is interesting.  Dr. Peterson talks about how he sat down with a woman, and within minutes she was telling him she was a witch.  And not only that, a witch whose coven regularly got together and prayed for global peace – a world peace witch.  By day?  She was a minor bureaucrat; I imagined a driver’s license lady.  Not who you’d size up to be a witch.  Oh, wait.  EXACTLY who you’d size up to be a witch.

As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve interviewed lots and lots of people for my job.  I was never bored once.  But I had people blurt out amazing things in the interview.  “I got fired for stealing.”  I was hiring for a position that had lots of financial responsibility, and maybe kinda lax oversight.  No job there.  “I hated my co-workers.”  Yup.  Big points for working well with others.  Again, people will tell you amazing things if you just shut up and listen.  Dates were interesting, too.  Had one date where the girl’s plan was to go off and find herself in the Peace Corps after she’d just gotten out of a relationship with her husband who had buried a bus so he could grow illegal weed.  Yeah, that night was an early exit.

But few enough actually listen (I’ve been guilty of that myself, lots of times) without responding – i.e., defining the problem for the speaker.  Even worse is defining the situation for the speaker – Peterson discussed a woman who was unsure if she had been raped after continually getting drunk and going home with guys.  He could have defined it as “yes” or “no” for her but that would have prevented her from sorting it out herself, which was crucial to helping her.  He used this example to point out that being too intrusive in a conversation often warps it in a manner that changes the framework for the other person . . . and prevents them from getting better.

Peterson listens, because his theory is that people talk to simulate their reality.  Humans are the only critters that do that – simulate entire worlds with our words and model the results of present actions into the future.  When we run these simulations, we often simulate the words and behavior of others – I know I have a pretty accurate simulation of The Mrs. running.  It’s over 98% accurate.  The Mrs. likewise has one of me, too.  We have tons of conversations with each other without even speaking to each other, because the other just our simulation.

Honest listening – turning off the simulator – is required for real conversation.  Our filters and feedback contaminate the discussion.  Once we get to that honest listening stage, we can have Real Conversations – Conversations where we truly hear each other and can create new knowledge, and sometimes solve our own problem.

Rule 10:  Be Precise In Your Speech

Dr. Peterson begins with a discussion of the coming obsolescence of laptops.  Most of our laptop experience is located outside of the laptop – it’s only a “single leaf, on a tree, in a forest . . .”  Our laptops feed from all of the other computers out there – from the Facebook© servers to the wonderful servers that bring you Wilder, Wealthy and Wise and that Japanese cooking site you don’t want your wife to see that you’ve been to visit after she goes to bed so you can dream about sushi.  Those exist outside of your laptop – and your laptop only pulls information from them.

But we don’t inhabit that forest.  We inhabit a simplification of that world.  In our world where we give objects purpose and meaning – we don’t let them simply exist – we give a car purpose – it must take us from one place to another.  A light switch ceases to just exist – it gives us light, and in a blackout part of us is shocked (pun intended) when the switch doesn’t bring us light.  Peterson feels that precision is required so we down drown in the vast amount of detail that surrounds us.

Our model gums up when violated.  I used a light switch – Peterson uses a cheating spouse – inviting Chaos in.  Peterson then pops some Yeats in the CD player for good measure:

The Second Coming, by W.B. Yeats

 

Turning and turning in the widening gyre

The falcon cannot hear the falconer;

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;

Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,

The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere

The ceremony of innocence is drowned;

The best lack all conviction, while the worst

Are full of passionate intensity.

Surely some revelation is at hand;

Surely the Second Coming is at hand.

The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out

When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi

Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert

A shape with lion body and the head of a man,

A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,

Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it

Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.

The darkness drops again; but now I know

That twenty centuries of stony sleep

Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,

And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,

Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

Speech is required to sort this chaos out, to make sense of it, to dispel it.  A night light might also be nice to scare the rough beast away?

“Say what you mean so you can find out what you mean.  Act out what you say so you can find out what happens.”

Rule 11:  Do Not Bother Children When They Are Skateboarding

Skateboarders are pretty talented, and Peterson spends some time discussing their skill, and the methods by which they optimize risks, which is crucial, Peterson felt, to growing as a man.  Unfortunately (in Peterson’s opinion) there are adults who what to spoil all the fun by putting in features that make skateboarding impossible while also looking ugly at the same time.

Those adults are then (at least by proximity in the chapter) compared to a friend that Peterson had.  Peterson’s friend (also discussed in earlier chapters) had a problem:  he hated mankind.  He came to no good, making himself a victim at every turn, and learning to hate beautiful, successful people.  They seemed to make him even madder.  Dr. Peterson then followed up with a description of a TEDx talk by a professor . . . who also hated the human race.  These self-appointed judges spoil the fun . . . and the risk.

And the result?  Boys are being pushed out.  25% of college degrees granted are in the fields of healthcare, psychology, education, and public administration.  80% of these degrees go to women.  Peterson feels that this is Not Good.  If projections hold, there will be very few men in non-STEM fields in the next few years.  And this is bad for women.

Huh?

How many college-educated women consider, say, a plumber a great catch?  Some, to be sure, but not many.  When it comes to marriage, women tend to marry someone either at the same social/economic status or of a higher status.  As those guys disappear?

Marriage becomes something for the rich.  The rest of the girls get hookups in their twenties, and a basket of cats when they hit 33.  If they have kids, the results are similarly grim – because single parent families are statistically inferior in every way to dual parent families.  So those rich kids?  Yeah, life will be better for them.  Because they have two parents.

Maybe patriarchy isn’t so bad?  Feminism is a creation of Marxism (per Jordan), and between that and post-modernist thought – we’re trying to fundamentally remake civilization in ways that may not be as stable as civilization created over the last 11,000 years or so.  And Marxism led to Stalin, Mao, and Pol Pot.  And that idea became the most deadly idea of the entire 20th century – killing more people, primarily their own citizens than any other idea.

Peterson REALLY doesn’t like Post Modernism, either, since it’s a philosophy that says there’s no truth and makes the claim “that logic itself is a merely a part of the oppressive patriarchal system.”

Boys are boys, but society is trying to force them to be girls, per Peterson.  Which is really, really wrong.  Biology is a huge part of what makes a boy act like a boy, and a girl act like a girl.  Then, a large amount of (enjoyable) discussion about ancient gods and Disney© animated movies.

Then we get back to Peterson, talking about when he worked on a railway crew.  Peterson uses these (amusing) stories about men and how they want particular behavior from other men:  Do your job.  Don’t whine.  Don’t be a suck up.  What to men want and value from other men?  “Be tough, entertaining, competent and reliable.”

atlas

The above ad is from comic books, literally all comics books, of the 1950’s and 1960’s.  I sent away for as similar set of books.  You, too can learn Karate for only $19.95.  If you can learn karate by yourself from a book.  With a poor work ethic.

Peterson (really) feels that the Charles Atlas ad captures a lot of human sexuality in seven panels.  Women want tough men.  It’s here that he combines The Simpsons and Fifty Shades of Grey in the same hilarious paragraph.  Lisa Simpson doesn’t want Milhouse, dude, she wants a kinky billionaire.  Or that bad kid from Springfield Elementary.  Or a dude that will keep you safe on the beach.

Because women want men.  Tough men.  And you get men through risk.  Through . . . skateboarding.

Rule 12:  Pet A Cat When You Encounter One On The Street

Peterson baits and switches here – starting with a discussion on dogs.  But he brings back to cats, and also to the theme of the chapter – human suffering.  It will literally suck to be a human.  People die.  People suffer, sometimes horribly and inexplicably.  But, somehow, Superman™ needs Kryptonite© – this suffering makes life, well, not interesting, but certainly not fake.

It’s a worthy chapter, and my summary is short because I’m not one to use Peterson’s tough times, and I rarely write about my own.  I’ll give you my bullet point summary:

  • Dogs are Happy
  • Cats have Terms and Conditions for Love
  • Enjoy Both Dogs and Cats – They Have Purity of Being
  • Because Life Sucks

CODA:  Not The Led Zeppelin Album

Peterson caps it off – again, buy the book.  I’ll just ask you – what do you want for yourself tomorrow?  What about next year?  Who could you be if you really tried?

So, that’s it.  It’s a pretty long review, and I’m glad you stuck it out this far.

Pluses of the book?  Amazing philosophical content.  Easy read.  Original thoughts.

Downside?  Chapters could be more evenly edited to tie the content together, and follow the old rule – tell ‘em what you’re gonna tell ‘em, tell ‘em, tell ‘em what you told ‘em.  There are several chapters that I read a second time after about a week to write this review, and being prepped with the previous read and knowing what to look for, I enjoyed the chapters much more.  Maybe this review will act as a guide you can use when you go through it to look for more content that sparks your interest.

I have a sneaking suspicion that Peterson also dictated this book – many of the passages sound like speech turned into text, though I might be wrong since I’ve heard a LOT of Peterson speaking but very little of his written stuff.

Overall verdict:  totally recommend it.  Best way ever to confront Vader.  And then the Ewoks burned my copy – because they stopped making Star Wars® in 1983.  Wonder what would have happened if they had made a sequel or two?  I’m glad they never did.

The Flu, Fred Hoyle, Creation of all the Elements in the Universe, Panspermia, and You

“You’re from Pittsfield.  Know what happens to scholarship students caught cheating on exams?  You had the flu that day, didn’t you, David?  You didn’t take the exam?  You missed the test. And since you were ill, why not write me an essay instead?  Go get started.” – Dreamcatcher (Flu obsessed Stephen King)

DSC03018

Pictured – Cosmic Background Radiation left over from the Big Bang.  Maybe.

Winter is flu season.

I know, I’m being so topical.  I promise I’ll get off being topical in two minutes and take you someplace you’ve never been before.  Promise.

First, let’s get to basics:

What exactly is the flu?  The flu is a virus, from the Latin word . . . virus.  It literally means “Poison” – but it’s been a long time since Poison had a viral video . . .

Hmm, that was way, way cooler in 1988 before Bret Michaels discovered carbs.

Anyway, the flu virus isn’t poison – it’s a cellular invader.  A virus can’t reproduce by itself, it can only reproduce inside a cell.  And since it doesn’t have any cells, it needs a host critter that does have cells.  The flu picks . . . you.

Once it gets inside of you, it spreads as fast as it can, by attaching to a cell wall like a stripper on a billionaire.  After injecting part of itself into the cell, the cell cooks up millions of copies of the virus.  So, the virus uses your cell as a copy machine.  But it’s really awfully hard on the machine.  It’s like you sent a copy of your taxes to your printer and it exploded, but left you two million copies of your taxes splattered all across your basement.  Because the virus, in order to reproduce, makes the cell explode.  Thankfully, you don’t have to drink toner to get better.  (Although I’ve heard that toner solves the problem so quickly life insurance companies will not pay off – they don’t like tonercides.)  But still?  The cells explode.

In this case the cells are located in your respiratory tract.  You know, the place that provides life-giving oxygen so your Twinkie® and ice-cream eating body can live another three minutes?  Yeah, that place.

Your body has groups of virus hunter cells who look and dress exactly like mid-level late 1990’s programmers.  These virus hunters isolate the virus, and, once isolated, they extrude flagella that look exactly like baseball bats and destroy the invading virus.

Yes, I know that’s not the original song.  The Boy subscribes to this blog.

That’s how you get better, really, from any sickness this planet tosses at you – programmers attack it with baseball bats.  And your immune system keeps those geeky programmer guys around – so you don’t get the same virus again.  But the flu comes in all sorts of strains and mutates every year so the geeks don’t recognize the next virus.

How is the flu deadly?

Two ways.  The first and most psycho way is a cytokine storm.  A cytokine is a chemical signal that brings the cells with the baseball bats to destroy the copier.  (I apologize if this is getting too technical).  But let’s just say that your body releases too much cytokine?  In a really bad design flaw, all of the guys with baseball bats come from everywhere in your body and start trashing the place, even when they’ve run out of copiers.

In a cytokine storm your immune system trashes everything.  And can kill you.  So when you hear that a 205 pound (that’s 650 kilograms for you in Canada, or, as I like to call it, America’s hat) 22 year old bodybuilder with 4% body fat died two days after getting the flu?  Cytokine storm.

Medical hint:  If a medical science describes something as a “storm” it’s generally not a good sign, unless it happens to a really rich relative that liked you.

So far, I haven’t had at cytokine storm.  Since I’m breathing and all.  But the second reason flu kills people is the one that gets me in trouble:

All of the cells (copiers) that explode?  Well, all of their parts are everywhere in your respiratory system.  Your respiratory system is beyond inflamed – it’s covered in cell debris.  Which looks just like food to normally harmless bacteria that live, well, everywhere in your throat.  They sense the food?  Yeah.  Bacteria food fest.  And they don’t necessarily stop at the cell debris.  And then your already psycho baseball bat wielding immune system comes along, and . . . pneumonia.  Nothing fun about that.

That’s the one that gets me to get on the phone to my Internet doctor and pretend I have strep throat to get some amoxicillin.  It only happens every 11 years or so (this is important for later) so it’s livable, and also defines then interval between doctor visits for me.

But let’s get to the REAL point of this post, the one I’ve been teasing.

Flu, or “Influenza” comes from the Italian word . . . wait for it . . . “Influenza.”  Yay!  It’s easy when English just coopts the whole word.  But in Italian, influenza means, literally, influence.  Influence of what?

Influence of the stars.

So, you and I would just chalk this up to fate, karma, or some random encounter with some grimy plague covered dude.

But not Fred Hoyle.

Fred Hoyle, excuse me, Sir Fred Hoyle was a British dude.  And not only was he a British dude, he was a British dude who was smarter than Stephen Hawking.  Yeah.  I’ll stand by that.  He was (essentially) cheated out of a Nobel® Prize™ for the discovery (solo discovery) of how heavier elements are formed in stars and supernovas.

Yeah.  That smart.

Why was he cheated out of the Nobel©?  I’m thinking it was one of two things:  first, he berated the Nobel® committee for not giving the award one year to the grad student who actually did the work and made the discovery.  Hopefully she appreciated that.

Second?  He wasn’t shy about giving his opinion.  On anything.

Ever hear of the “Big Bang”?

Sir Fred was the guy who came up with the phrase.  He came up with the phrase while describing a theory that competed with the leading theory of the day – steady state.  That means the Universe didn’t start with a singularity – it has always existed.  Sure, we need more matter.  Hoyle speculated that the matter itself was being continuously created – he postulated that was no crazier that the idea that the Universe came from nothing.  His point when the background radiation was found by Arno Penzias and Robert Wilson was that the radiation they found, if it were 10 times more or 10 times less would still have been proclaimed the background radiation from the Big Bang.  The conclusion was fixed – the evidence could change.

Other crazy things.  Carbon.  Hoyle looked at carbon and the physics for carbon formation in stars and supernovae.  He found that it was crazy unlikely that carbon would be present in the quantities that it is.  (HINT:  we are made of carbon.  And if there were less of it?  No us.  There are literally millions of carbon compounds – it’s a crazy versatile atom.)  He felt that the physical constants that governed carbon atom formation were so unlikely, that they were tweaked to make carbon since it is so important to  . . . us.

Did I mention Hoyle was an atheist?

Yeah.

He also felt that life was so unlikely (the analogy of life being as likely as a “747 being assembled by a tornado throwing parts together in a junkyard” was his) that he was a major proponent of panspermia – the idea that life was seeded here from interstellar space.  Because the idea that even single celled life occurs . . . is amazing.

Hoyle was also a fan of the concept of abiotic oil.  Abiotic is just a word that means “no dinosaurs died in making your gasoline” – the petroleum is a result of natural forces bringing it together.  If I didn’t have my next 18 blog posts planned out?  I could just start with Hoyle and get a dozen.  The man had ideas.

Yeah.  He wrote novels, too.  The one I read (The Incandescent Ones) was not particularly memorable.  I read the synopsis and . . . oh, yeah, I guess I remember that.

But the biggie for this post has already been alluded to:  Hoyle, in 1989 and in 2000 brought up . . . the flu.

Hoyle’s thesis was that the flu was not from Earth.  The flu came from outer space, and incidents of significant flu outbreaks were tied to the Sun.  See my link here (LINK) for other Sun linked things, and there will be (it’s currently scheduled for sometime in the next six weeks) another Sunspot linked post.

Did you catch that?  Hoyle felt that the flu came from space (queue echoey space music) and the solar cycle correlated to when we would have flu outbreaks.  The previous times Hoyle brought this up were at solar cycle peaks, in 1990 and 2000.  And the Spanish flu that killed 50,000,000 and infected 500,000,000.  (500,000,000 of a total population of 1,800,000,000.  25% of everyone on Earth got the flu.  The same flu.)  Yeah, that happened at a solar cycle peak.  Going back to the origin of the word “flu” or “Influenza” or “influence of the stars”?  Yeah.  Most scientists thought he was wrong.  Which is how every scientist feels about a new idea until they die.

solar cycle

Did I mention that Hoyle felt that life outside of Earth, began in space?  Yeah.  I did.

The Universe as depicted by 1978.  Note:  No Cylons were injured in the creation of this film.

The flu is dangerous.  A minor modification could make that cytokine storm much more likely.  Another minor modification?  Near universal death.  Call it a full flu.  But that’s a sad thought.  Not one that anyone has ever had.

Yeah, The Stand was an awesome book by Stephen King.  Read it!  It’s what a full flu would do to you!  (Note, not an instruction manual for the Anti-Christ.)

So I’m struggling for the moral to the story this week.  Don’t allow the flu to turn your immune system into baseball bat wielding dudes who will kill you?  Avoid crazy ideas since you won’t get the Nobel™ Prize®?

So an atheist that knew more about science than you or I ever will was convinced that not only the Universe was rigged in favor of life (carbon atom formation) and that life was so improbable that he speculated it came from space . . . .

Yeah, that’s the moral.  The flu can be more than a virus.  It can make you flat-out think.

Be like Hoyle.  Allow one crazy idea a day to enter your brain.  Figure out where it leads.  And take vitamin C (LINK) if you get the flu.

Believe me, you don’t want the one the aliens came up with this year.

 

Did I mention that my buddy John Apollo has a birthday this weekend?  Yeah, he does.  Happy Birthday!  Leave a comment and let him know that you care.  Or don’t and make him wallow in horrible sadness.

Obamacare, Health Insurance, Ear Hair, and Looking at Breast Implants

“No, Steve, the guard, accidentally looked at Medusa’s head.  Turned to stone.  Who covers that? Is that health insurance or Workman’s Comp?” – The Librarian: Return to King Solomon’s Mines

DSC00042

A picture of Fairbanks Memorial the day Pugsley was hatched born.  I had good insurance then.  Too bad it’s gotta go . . .

Almost everything in the world (almost!) has gotten better since I was a kid.  Well, the music isn’t as good.  And the movies are gloomier.  And my hair has migrated from my scalp to . . . everywhere else.  For heaven’s sake, why did it have to go INTO the ears???

As I look to things that have gotten much worse in my lifetime, the number one is . . . health care costs, which is even worse than ear hair.  Obamacare (or the Affordable Care Act for those of my readers that regularly appear on CNN®) was supposed to fix that.  In my case, my premiums nearly doubled while my deductible went up by a factor of eight.  If my math is right, that means my health insurance is worth, on a dollar basis, one sixteenth what it was before Obamacare.

When Pugsley attempted to self-amputate a finger on a camping trip, The Mrs. took him to the emergency room.  He came back with two stitches.  My bill?  Over $1000.  And I had to pay it, in cash.  Did he really need all of his fingers?  Nine is a good number, right?

I’d love to blame Obamacare – but it’s really just part of the system that’s vaulted health care costs upwards.  We’ve all experienced it – we’re paying unconscionable rates for care that’s not (in some cases) as good as it was in the past.  I know we have fancy equipment and machines that go “ping,” but the idea of a family doctor that knew you family from your birth until his death is over.

Now doctors have to see as many patients as possible to pay for their rent, BMW® and the loans they took out for college, their divorces, their small airplanes, and their portion of the partnership.  And they practice defensive medicine.  They run tests that you have to pay for to protect their medical license.  And if your insurance doesn’t pay for the test because it’s unnecessary?  You pay for the test.

I love capitalism.  It’s awesome.  But our health care system doesn’t even remotely resemble capitalism.

Let’s start with theft.

Our current health care system was changed in the 1980’s.  If you showed up to an emergency room in 1979 and had no ability to pay for care . . . they had no obligation to provide care.  None.  As a matter of principle they’d stabilize you, but a life changing surgery involving 20 heroic doctors?  Not so much.

I heard a story about a woman who lost her health insurance.  And then got cancer.  She couldn’t afford the $80,000 or so in costs for chemotherapy and treatment.

She died rather than bankrupt her family.

And, sadly, that’s the right outcome.

The economist Thomas Sowell said (more or less), “If an economist was designing a car, instead of an airbag in the steering wheel, there would be a knife pointed at the driver.  Good economists believe in in consequences for actions.”

There needs to be an incentive for people to pony up and get insurance.  And in the 1980’s they removed that.  Now, regardless of my ability to pay, if I show up at the hospital, they have to treat me.  Can’t turn me away.

Now I’m all for compassion.  But in this system, the person who is compassionate (the politician) forces the provider (doctor/hospital) to treat someone for “free” – but in reality passes on the costs to the responsible idiot with insurance and money (me and you).

Why does a Tylenol® cost $11 each in a hospital?

Yeah.  You’re paying for the freeloaders.  For the lawsuits.  For the administration costs.

One hospital (Duke) had 900 beds.  It had 1500 billing administrators.  Why?  They have to navigate through Medicare rules, as well as rules and correspondence from hundreds of different insurance companies.  You spend a night in the hospital?  You have 1.7 people there with you just counting the costs.

Yikes!

Of the things that determine a capitalist system, it’s all missing.

  • You don’t see those until weeks or months after the event.  How can you make a decision?
  • They don’t have the choice to refuse to serve you.
  • You don’t have one if you’re bleeding out.  You go where the ambulance is taking you.  You don’t haggle when you’re unconscious.
  • The system is so regulated that the American Medical Association determines the number of doctors in the country.  Think that they’ll increase competition?  Hospital regulations (mainly Federal) are extensive.
  • Lipitor®, which treats something or other, was making Pfizer $5billion a year.  After it went generic?  Less than a $1million a year.  Protections for drugs are routinely extended and live longer than the original patent period.  Apparently Viagra™ also keeps the patent system going for a long time, too.
  • LOL, whut?

What does a free market look like for medicine?

We actually have great examples.  Laser eye surgery costs have plummeted over time.  And, it’s never been cheaper for ladies to become . . . ahem . . . enhanced.

Why?

People have choices.  They don’t need the surgery.  They want it.  So they shop around, and will only get it if the price meets expectations.  $10,000 to not need $200 glasses?  Not on this planet.  And even the girl who wants bigger boobs is budget conscious, even though her boyfriend now has had laser eye surgery and can see them.

Recently several doctors have cut the cord.  No insurance.  None.  Come see the doc?  Cash.  But the prices . . . are much lower.  Much.  Many are less than the copay for your insurance.  Here’s a link (LINK).

The Mrs. and I were discussing this problem last year.  I outlined the issues.  The Mrs. leaned back and contemplated.  She swirled the Johnny Walker Blue Label™ in her glass and said . . .

“Make it illegal.”

John Wilder:  “Make what illegal.”

The Mrs.:  “Insurance.”

When she said that, I immediately pushed back in my mind.  The costs were so high . . . how could anyone ever consider that?

But then I realized that she was right.

Health insurance as a concept really took off during World War II.  The government had frozen the wages of the workers so we didn’t have runaway inflation as the tank factory tried to steal workers from the bomber factory.  But . . . you could add benefits.  Life insurance.  Pensions.  And?  Health insurance.

This began an 80 year distortion of the health market.  The person taking the action (you) was not paying the bills (insurance company) or writing the prescriptions (doctor).  How could costs NOT explode under such a twisted system?

So, The Mrs. is right.  We have to burn this village to save it.  And we will – because otherwise it will torch the whole country as I’ve previously predicted (LINK).

Until then?  We can stare with perfect vision at augmented . . . attributes.

If only there was a cure for ear hair.

Simple Way to Avoid a Heart Attack, Roman Style

“Read Marcus Aurelius. Of each particular thing, ask what is it in itself?  What is its nature?” – Silence of the Lambs

 DSC03736

So, if I’m reading this right, I’m not supposed to stress out the alligators?  I’m not supposed to stress out the 400 pound armored killing machine?  Okay, getting right on that.

I ran across a health article about heart disease the other day by an actual medical doctor, not an amateur Civil War surgeon like me (Motto:  Splinter in your toe?  Amputate.).  Dr. Mercola’s theory was simple, that stress causes inflammation which causes the damage that kills you.  Here’s a link to his article (LINK).  Now this article was on a political site, so it wasn’t even related to the main focus of the site, but I read the article and immediately thought of you Internet.  And also me, since I was looking for something to write about today.

It just might be that stress is a problem for you that actually might kill you.  It also just so happens that I have a 2000 year old solution for you – all bright and shiny since I dug it up in my backyard last night:

“Your present opinion founded in understanding, your present conduct directed to good, and your present contentment with everything that results.  That’s enough.” – Marcus Aurelius, Mediations 9.6

Okay, okay, you say, it’s John Wilder Talking About Dead Romans Again.  And you’re right.  Because they were ever so much more like us than you might imagine.  Marcus Aurelius was a Stoic.  And he was also Emperor.  The book he wrote, Meditations, was just that.  His thoughts that he meditated on.  He wasn’t writing it for us, he was writing it to sort out his own thoughts and feelings.

Yeah, a Roman Emperor, able to command power few before or since ever had – King, President, Pope, and General all rolled up into one – had to work out his thoughts.  This makes sense, because Marcus was the last of the Five Good Emperors (spoiler alert) and thought himself something of a philosopher.  It’s like Vladimir Putin took time out of his busy schedule of wrestling bears while shirtless and dating Olympic gymnasts to attempt to deeply study and understand a philosophy of living that directly worked towards the quote from Marcus, up above.

But the quote above encapsulates in just a simple two sentences the core of the Stoic philosophy.  Let’s look at how it can help you reduce stress.

“Your present opinion founded in understanding . . .”

If I were to take liberties, I would re-write that one, “Your present opinion founded in truth.”

Dealing with reality was the core of the philosophy – that’s why it came first.  And if you are dealing with truth, you’re dealing in certainty.  You’re not lying to yourself.

“your present conduct directed to good . . .”

So, you’ve studied and know the truth.  Now you have the opportunity to turn your work towards the good.  You’re doing the right thing, the right way.

“and your present contentment with everything that results.”

You did the right thing for the right reasons.  You have purpose, clarity, and are taking positive action.  And, the best part?  You don’t have to win to win.  Whatever happens, happens.  If it didn’t work?  You tried.  Be content.  If it did work?  Great!  This is a formula for a low stress life.  The Stoics got to the core of it – things have meaning because we place meaning on them.  We think that the world should be a series of results, instead of a series of truthful opinions and actions directed toward good outcomes.

What happens, happens.

I know this is hard, because every day when I try to divorce myself mentally from the outcome of an action that I’ve taken, and just be cool when it didn’t work out the way I wanted it to work out.  The worst part?  When I get upset about something that didn’t go my way . . . that didn’t even matter.

Perspective that I need to remember.  Most things don’t matter – at all.

Back to Marcus:

Marcus Aurelius had a really, really awful son.  Commodus.  So bad Commodus’ wife poisoned him.  So bad that Commodus’ best friend strangled him.  So bad that they had Joaquin Phoenix play Commodus in Gladiator.  Did Marcus have a clue that Commodus would be so awful?  Probably.  But he did everything he could.  And his book has reached across centuries to us.

So, he did the right thing for the right reasons.  And it worked.

After a fashion.  To quote Marcus again:  “That’s enough.”

John Wilder is not a doctor.  Go see your doctor before you take medical advice from a blog written in a basement . . . .

What Stresses You, and Why That’s Stupid

“We’re doing him a huge favor!  And do you realize how extreme this is to go from no debt to good old fashioned American debt?  That’s the way to do it.  Plus, I’ve been envisioning someone else paying for this thing the entire time.” – It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia

 DSC00320

Yes, that’s stress.  And you didn’t have to spend 8 hours in the car with it.

Stress.  It will kill you.  That’s what I heard on a commercial once.  Or maybe it was the voices in my head.  I forget.  Anyway, probably it’s a good time to ask, “What causes stress?”

The American Psychic Psycho Psychiatric Association (APA) did a survey in 2010 that I found with a quick Google® search.  In it, they found a consistent pattern of stresses over a four year period, so I’ll generalize – the numbers are probably pretty similar today.  And I’m too lazy to look that up, so, if you’re real interested . . . you know how to drive Google©.  (Though, seriously, when the Internets were new, my boss thought I was a WIZARD for knowing how to find stuff with the search engines and directories of the day.)

Money – Yes.  Not having enough money is amazingly stressful.  At one point in my life after my ex-wife (PBUH) left (which made both of us happy) she handed me a plastic bag that represented my financial life.  It took three months to sort out and at least be paying everyone something each month.  And I realize how fortunate that makes me – some people go for decades like that.  And it is the single most common stress – up to 75% of people are stressed out about money.

I feel really fortunate – I’ve not stressed out about money since (really) 2005.  I paid off my last car in 2000.  There just might be a connection.

If money is a stress – change your situation.  The sheer discipline and communication required for a family to climb out of a debt pit might take years.  But the day you write the final check to pay off the car.  To pay off your credit card?  It’s worth all the time you spent.  And you won.

Lots of people have awesome plans, so there’s bound to be one that fits you.  If you’d like my comments on a particular plan, email me or hit a comment.  The plans all look the same on the basics:

  1. Stop spending now.   Necessities only.  Steak?  That’s for future you.  Current you gets rice, and Hamburger Helper® when you’ve had a really good week.  Eating at a restaurant?  That’s for rich people.
  2. Get extra income. Work a second job.
  3. Minimize transportation costs. Used cars you can buy with cash.  Bikes if you can.  Buy no new cars unless you have a million dollars in net worth (hint, when you get there, you won’t want a new car).
  4. Get cheap, healthy hobbies, like hiking. Or hobbies that create income, like crafts you can sell.

Work – A little over two thirds of people stress about work.  Sure.  We’ve all been there.  As a guy, for much of my life I’ve taken a significant amount of personal meaning from work, sometimes letting it be the thing that defines me.  I go there, and I want to do something important.  I want to go chasing dragons.  I want to do meaningful things.  I want to walk into a burning petroleum tank accompanied by two Chicago firefighters (spoiler, I’ve done that) and walk into stuff that’s just exploded to figure out how to fix it (spoiler, I’ve done that, too).  But a significant amount of work we do today isn’t meaningful.  And, based on observation?  60% of most people’s workday (assuming you’re in an office and not doing physical work) is wasted.  Outside construction work, for example?  I’m thinking about 40%.

TPS reports?  Yeah, we’re doing a new cover sheet.  Feel like your job has meaning now? 

I’m not sure how girls feel, or even if girls have actual feelings (beyond light/dark or salty/sweet, I mean) but I get the sense that the meaning they get from work is most often secondary to the meaning they get from “being mom” or their social circle and social interactions.

So, if you’re not getting meaning from work, get it somewhere else.  Be a kid’s sports coach.  Brew craft beer.  Find a passion to your life.  Heck, if you’re really boring, you could even blog.

Economy – A little under two-thirds of people stress about the economy.  This is borrowing future potential problems so you can worry about them today!  With no interest charge!  This was the most variable, but seemed stuck in third place.  What would a stoic say?  “Keep in mind you’re going to die, possibly in a painful and embarrassing situation involving a poodle, so the future economic indicators and the current price of bitcoin shouldn’t bother you.”

If you’re stuck worried about what might happen?  I can’t help you.  You will have problems.  They will get better.  The economy will tank again, hard, during your life.  The economy will grow again, massively, during your life.

Spend your energy improving you.  And, be like me.  When the stock market drops, microwave some popcorn and pull up a chair!  It’s always fun to watch New York people panic.

Family Responsibilities – About six in ten get tied up about this.  And at the point where I am in life, these take up about 50% of my free time.  The Mrs. does more, but she also has more free time.  But it really does seem like a vacation when you’ve had eight weeks in a row taken up by sports, Scouts or other kid activities and the ninth week you have NO PLANS FOR THE WEEKEND.  Sometimes I don’t get out of bed until 1pm on Saturday.  Delicious.  I love having kids around.  I also love time everlasting – time to play b-sides . . . and Blue Oyster Cult.

Okay, let me be the first to say, it looks like Blue Oyster Cult was right . . . according to our own Department of Defense.  No, not about their beautiful 1980’s beards, but about not being alone.  A future post on that, probably next month.

Relationships – More than half of people are upset about (romantic) relationships.  Blah blah blah . . . people.  I know.  I’ve been in a stable marriage for 20 years, so I don’t have as much as a foundation for discussing this.  For half the people to be stressed about relationships?  Yeah, sadly, that seems about right.  Choose your mate well – and for the right reasons.  Best case?  PEZ® heiress.  Worse?  Johnny Depp’s ex-anything.  Worst case?  Johnny Depp.

The biggest driver of this has been a group of societal changes that have really messed up the way that men and women relate to each other, and not for the better.  This will be a series of posts in the future, but I’m still working out the best presentation and point of view format.

Personal Health Concerns – A little over half of people are stressed about this.  And not that many people are really sick.  So, buck up, you hypochondriacs and stop worrying.  The rest of you who are really ill?  I’m with you, in spirit.  Get better.  I’m praying for you.

Housing Costs – Less than half are worried about this.  Much less than half would worry if you just moved out of expensive places to live.  Seriously.  Don’t live there.  Here’s a post on why your choice of location sucks (LINK).  Never spend more than 15% of your income on housing costs.

Family Health – Less than half are worried about this.  Math says that you’re worried about far more people than are worried about you.  So, pick some family members to care just a little less about.  Problem solved.

Personal Safety – This is pretty far down on the list of worries, but 30% get stress from this.  About (0.4%) of the people in the United States are the victims of violent crime each year.  If you’re that scared, I’d suggest you move from New York City if it bothers you that much.  Move to an area that’s high in Republicans – since gun crime is lowest there.  Oh, wait, stay in New York City.  I’m sure it’ll get better.  It’s not like you’d bring the same attitudes and values that made your location unsafe when you moved here, is it?

Washington: Musk, Patton, and Jack Daniels all Rolled into . . . the ONE

“I, George Washington, born in 1492, freer of the slaves, and the first president of this, our country, though savagely impeached for the shooting of Abe Lincoln, I will lead us into the demise of all humans!” – Home Movies

Washington

General George Washington, 1776, when he was about 44 years old.  44 years old, a billionaire, a war hero from the French and Indian War, and now commanding a rebel group fighting the largest superpower in the world.  Hmmm.  Maybe that’s why all that stuff is named for him?

There is a time for fighting valiantly and dieting.  Then there exists the Thanksgiving/Christmas nexus.  I’ve been generally trying to minimize the carb content of what I eat, but Thanksgiving?  Yeah, I’m having pumpkin pie.  And stuffing.  And mashed potatoes.  And might drink a bit of gravy.  Just a quart or two.  Not from the gravy boat – I have standards.  I have standards . . . and a mug.  A great gravy mug.

Yes, I have willpower, but Thanksgiving and Christmas are more difficult times to stick to diets.  So, I don’t.  And I don’t spend a lot of time feeling guilty about it, but it’s also a good time to reflect that eating different things changes my mood.

If I’ve had enough potatoes to feed the Soviet Army, I know that I’ll feel differently both physically and mentally.  Sugar is similar. Ditto with bread.

So, how do I feel different physically?  For me, when I eat carbs I tend to retain a LOT more water.  It’s my theory that it’s used to think out my blood so it flows better than maple syrup.  When I jump back into the low carb regimen, I know that for the first few days I will dump water faster than the democrats dumped Al Franken.

I’m pretty sure that the extra water does NOT do anything really good for me.

How do I feel different mentally?  Again, for me the low carb (very low, like none) zaps me into a state of clarity and stability.  Stuff just doesn’t bother me as much.  And I seem to get better sleep.

But one thing that’s wonderful about the Holidays is . . . George Washington.

George was really tall for his time and place, and strong enough that he could crush walnuts in his bare hand.  British walnuts.  And he was known to party (from teachingamericanhistory.org):

First Troop Philadelphia City
Cavalry Archives, 1774
City Tavern
George Washington
Entertainment of
15 Sept., 1787

Light Troop of Horse, September the 14th 1787

To Edwd Moyston .. Dr.
To 55 Gentlemans Dinners & Fruit
Rellishes, Olives etc………………………………………..  20  12   6
54 Bottles of Madera……………………………………….  20   5
60 of Claret ditto……………………………………………  21
8 ditto of Old Stock…………………………………………   3   6   8
22 Bottles of Porter ditto………………………………….   2  15
8 of Cyder ditto……………………………………………..  16
12 ditto Beer…………………………………………………  12
7 Large Bowels of Punch………………………………….   4   4
Segars Spermacity candles etc………………………….   2   5
To Decantors Wine Glass [e]s & Tumblers Broken etc..   1   2   6
To 16 Servants and Musicians Dinners……………………   2
16 Bottles of Claret…………………………………………   5  12
5 ditto Madera……………………………………………….   1  17   6
7 Bouls of Punch…………………………………………….   2  16   
£89   4   2

 

If you study the above, you’ll see that George Washington and 54 of his best buddies had 114 bottles of wine, plus cider, beer, and 8 bottles of hard alcohol.  I’m thinking our Founding Fathers were knee-walking drunk at this point – you can see that they got well into the “smashing the bottles and glasses” part of the party.  And it was the equivalent of something between $15,000 and $20,000 that he spent on the party.

George liked to party.

And he liked to party at Christmas, which brings us to eggnog.

Now, I must tell you that I really, really hate eggnog.  Hate it with a passion.

Or I did, until I had George’s eggnog.  And it just so happens I’ll share his recipe with you (this will be the 306,001st place on the Internet that you can get it):

“One quart ye cream, one quart of ye milk, one dozen tablespoons of ye sugar, one pint of ye brandy, ½ pint of ye rye whiskey, ½ pint of ye Jamaica rum, ¼ pint of ye sherry—mix liquor first, then separate yolks and whites of 12 eggs, add sugar to beaten yolks, mix well. Add milk and cream, slowly beating. Beat whites of eggs until stiff and fold slowly into mixture. Let set in cool place for several days. Taste frequently.”

And it’s amazing.  It tastes just like Christmas.  And George was right – making this stuff and drinking it on day one is NOT advised.  It tastes . . . strong.  But after three days in the fridge?  Amazingly smooth.

So, not only was George a billionaire president general that defeated the world’s largest and best trained armed forces?  He knew how to party.

Here’s to you, George!

Soviet Genetics, Mangoes, Your Momma, and Swedish Weight Gain

“The only difference between Señor Chang and Stalin is that I know who Señor Chang is.” – Community

DSC03817

This duckbilled dinosaur could have been a kitten, if only it had been loved.

When I start a blog topic, most of the time I know where I’m going, and, generally where I’m going to end up.  Most of the time.  Sometimes I end up learning something completely unexpected that changes my conclusion.  Sometimes I learn that we, as humans, are only scratching the surface of how really, deeply weird the world around us is.  This post is deeply weird.  Hang, on, buckle up and enjoy my favorite health post ever . . . .

Trofim Lysenko was born in Ukraine in 1898.  Apparently the baby name books in Russia includes the name “Trofim” even though to me it sounds like a fitness product advertised on an infomercial at 3AM on The Discovery Channel® – get fit with new Trofim™!  Frankly, Lysenko sounds like a bathroom cleanser – so poor Trofim was destined for failure, right?

ilysenk001p1

Would you buy a used economic theory from this man? – photo of Lysenko, public domain, via Wikimedia

Trofim studied agriculture, and, apparently came up with a bunch of ideas about how plants could better grow around the time the Soviet Union was starting up.  His theories included the idea that cows that were treated well would give more milk, and that plants could cooperate somehow to make more wheat.

Joseph Stalin LOVED Lysenko.  His theories dovetailed exactly with Stalin’s Communism – the importance of genetics went to zero.  With proper nurture, you could create a True Soviet Man – people weren’t just created with equal rights – they were BORN equal.  If you could create the right conditions, everyone would BE equal, just like George Clooney, Brad Pitt, and me.  Oh, wait, that’s observably false.  Brad Pitt could never get my SAT score, even if he studied.  Clooney?  Let’s see him go bald, huh?

stalin

Unrecorded in the West is the fact that Stalin’s giant head was carried in local parades by men in white suits up until 2003, when it was retired to a farm outside of Minsk where it now lives with gently treated cows and monkeys. – photo of MegaStalin, Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-R78376 / CC-BY-SA 3.0

Lysenko singlehandedly destroyed genetic research in the Soviet Union for forty years, as well as being responsible for the jailing (and sometimes execution) of everyone who disagreed with him.  Certainly no one in the West would do that about people who dissent scientifically . . . right?  Anyway, Lysenko set the standards for political correctness in research, and yes, the Soviet Union is where the term Politically Correct came from – the idea that ideas themselves couldn’t be discussed unless their politics were in vogue at the moment.  And if you brought up politically incorrect ideas?  Gulag for you, comrade.

Mao Zedong proved that this point could be taken to extremes when the Pakistani ambassador gave him a case of mangoes.  Mao didn’t like mangoes.  So  . . .

In the afternoon of the fifth, when the great happy news of Chairman Mao giving mangoes to the Capital Worker and Peasant Mao Zedong Thought Propaganda Team reached the Tsinghua University campus, people immediately gathered around the gift given by the Great Leader Chairman Mao. They cried out enthusiastically and sang with wild abandonment. Tears swelled up in their eyes, and they again and again sincerely wished that our most beloved Great Leader lived then thousand years without bounds … They all made phone calls to their own work units to spread this happy news; and they also organized all kinds of celebratory activities all night long, and arrived at [the national leadership compound] Zhongnanhai despite the rain to report the good news, and to express their loyalty to the Great Leader Chairman Mao.

August 7, 1968 People’s Daily

Yes.  The Chinese people worshiped (for 18 months) mangoes so they didn’t disappoint Chairman Mao.  And it had lasting consequences for some.   A dentist was executed for saying the mango touring his village looked like a sweet potato.

Don’t believe me? A lot more about it here (LINK).

But, we were talking about Lysenko.

He killed genetic science because of the laughable idea that everything was nurture, not nature.  We do know that there are lots of things that are totally genetic:  intelligence, likelihood of being criminal, eye color, hair color, blood type, et cetera.  For example, you can stunt a smart person’s intelligence through poor nutrition.  But their overall capacity to be intelligent is about 70%-80% genetic.

So Trofim (snicker) Lysenko was entirely wrong?

No.

We’re learning a lot more about something called epigenetics now.  Epi in this case means “over” or “over-genetics.”  If you remember, DNA is a double helix molecule that stores all of the information about how to make a copy of you.  One gram of DNA can, according to folks at Harvard, store 700 terabytes of data, or about as much information as 14,000 Blu-Ray® discs of Geostorm© when it comes out.  Which will also be 13,720 more discs than Geostorm© sells.

DNA stores lots of information, but at a cost.  DNA is information dense, but it is looooooooooong.  Each cell has about 2 meters of DNA if you stretched it out.  Take all of the DNA in your body and lay it end to end?  (Do NOT try this at home, it’s kinda messy – if you’re going to do this, at least use the garage.)  There’s enough DNA, laid end to end, which would be roughly diameter of all of the planets in our Solar System.  That includes Pluto – we’re gonna take it back.

DNA is long.  And since our cells aren’t 2 meters long, something happens to the DNA in your cells.  Rather than tossing the DNA into the cell like The Boy and Pugsley throw extension cords onto the garage floor, the cell has little cord winders that wind up the DNA so it’s not all tangled up like Johnny Depp’s finances.  So, the DNA is tightly wound around the cord winders.  In my garage.  In your cell.

But it turns out that the cord winders themselves (I know this analogy is getting a bit stretched) are very much impacted by your behavior.  And, the scary part?  Potentially your mother’s behavior.  Scarier?  Even your grandmother, and we all know what a tramp she was.

I recall reading a story about a Native American tribe in Arizona that experienced famine that killed off a significant portion of the tribe.  The result?  A bunch of really, really fat Native Americans two generations later.  My theory had been that the people with the skinny genes had all died out, and that the remaining Native Americans had all had genes that were really, really efficient with calories.  And liked Twinkies®.  Makes sense?  Sure.

But then?  Epigenetics.  Turns out that this phenomenon was repeated in Sweden, where in some really northern town, named “Rejëllyfaarnøørthernplåcedüde” there was a periodic starvation, because they didn’t live where any food was, except seals.

All the kids from Rejëllyfaarnøørthernplåcedüde got fat.  Really fat.  Turns out the operative theory is that the environment that the mothers grew up in changed not the DNA but the cord winders and how the DNA was wound up.  Because of the changes to the cord winders (which are really enzymes) certain parts of the DNA were exposed that changed the way the cells work.  This is entirely necessary, because when you’re a baby, your eye cell needs to know that it’s an eye cell and not a lung cell, otherwise you could see your guts and have to remove your glasses to breathe, which would make dating . . . complicated.

The end result of this epigenetic change was it made the kids more likely to burn off energy slowly – which is a great adaptation if you’re starving.

But it looks like there are a whole host of other adaptations that may be driven by epigenetics:  addiction, depression, anxiety, fear conditioning, and that’s just the bits we’re beginning to understand.  Yes.  What scares you might be related to what scared great grandma.  One experiment with mice shocked the feet of the mice when a cherry blossom smell was introduced.  The mice babies from the mothers . . . who had never been shocked . . . were scared when they smelled cherry blossoms.  The impact on the baby mice from the experience of their mothers was transmitted . . . without genetic change.

So, Lysenko was not totally wrong.

The health implications are stunning.  Can there be a pill that you take that switches “on” a weight loss enzyme?  Maybe.  What other conditions can we change?  Can we make Kardashians attractive?  Sadly, no.

But beyond that, it may go to explain weird things . . . motherly love?  The baby’s DNA is floating around inside the mother (you can determine a baby’s sex through a blood test of the mother, so, the DNA is there).  How does this impact the way a mother bonds with a baby?

What about surrogate moms?

What about all of the things that we can change?  We can’t make ourselves smarter through epigenetics, but . . . can we make ourselves better?

Like I said – this is weird territory, and we have a LOT more questions than answers.  And, fortunately, we have plenty of mangos to worship.  Just don’t compare epigenetics to Johnny Depp’s sweet potato.