Wearing a Mask Could Be a Lot Worse

I posted the following image to a veteran's forum with the following caption: "Whenever I hear people whining and moaning about having to wear a mask, I remember days like this, and realize why I have zero F's to give them."

Army-in-MOPP4

Believe me, there's nothing like putting on a full chemical protective suit over your regular uniform, complete with gas mask, rubber booties and gloves, and then working outside in the deserts of Fort Huachuca (in southern Arizona) to make you realize that the human body wasn't designed to work in 100+ temperatures while wearing multiple layers of non-breathable clothing.

At-Least-Youre-Not-in-MOPP4

With that in mind, I would like to reiterate to all of the people who still complain about having to wear a simple mask for 15 minutes or so while they're shopping in a supermarket: "Just Shut Up and Wear the Darn Mask." In other words, get over yourself. Think about someone else for a change. Wearing a mask is a small price to pay for keeping the people around you healthy, and things could be a lot worse.

September 22nd is National Veteran and Military Suicide Prevention Day

At the risk of Too Much Information (TMI), I'd like to share something that I've never talked about with anyone other than my wife.

Here's the backstory: a few years ago I was diagnosed with Essential Tremors, which is a disorder with hand & feet tremors that resembles a non-fatal form of Parkinson's Disease. I had hoped to retire one day and be able to tinker with electronics or play my array of musical instruments, but now I suddenly found myself in my mid-50s and facing the very real possibility that I might not be able to hold a pencil or a fork in a few years.

I went through all of the stages of grief; at first I was in denial, and then I was viciously angry at God. I kept asking Him, "Why me?" and "Why couldn't you just kill me?" It was humiliating each time I had to ask my wife to help me eat, or when I had to pull off the road and ask my wife to drive because my feet wouldn't do what they were supposed to. It was even more embarrassing when I was at a restaurant with family or friends and I kept missing when I tried to feed myself.

I eventually launched into a major depression, and all of this happened at a time when my job took a major nosedive; I was overworked and had a boss who had no idea who I was or what I did. As each day grew worse than the last, I finally reached the breaking point, and I want no sympathy for this - but I had my note written, I had all my accounts in order, I had all my passwords printed out so my wife wouldn't have to look for anything, and I had a noose all set to go. I'm great at tying nooses; I learned how to tie an ultra-secure noose as a Boy Scout, so I had everything tested and ready in our garage where I knew that nothing was going to fail on me.

I was literally within minutes of stepping into that noose when I was somehow distracted by something; to this day I don't recall what it was, but I stepped away and never stepped back.

I eventually found a doctor who put me on the right medications to manage my tremors, and I found a counselor to help me pass through the final stages of grief - from depression into acceptance. Now I look back at what almost happened and think, "Holy crap - what was I thinking?" But the truth is, when you're that depressed, you can't think. And you don't WANT to think. You just want it to end. In hindsight, I should have sought help sooner: I should have seen the doctor sooner, I should have seen the counselor sooner, and I should have told my wife that despite my day to day appearance, I really wasn't handling my situation.

When I think back on my time in the military, I realize that soldiers are taught to be completely self-sufficient, and I think that makes it hard for veterans to ask for help. But if we veterans are honest with ourselves, we were never completely self-sufficient. In every duty station where I served, I was surrounded by awesome folks who knew exactly where I was at, and we all helped each other. Oh sure, there was the occasional jerk or two in each unit that we couldn't trust, but for the most part - we were surrounded by people who understood all the ups and downs that we were facing.

Now that my situation has changed for the better, I've found a support group for my tremors where I can hear from other people that have gone through what I'm going through, and it really helps. To be honest, that's also why I love a veterans group that I belong to. There are parts of my life that no one outside the fraternity of the Armed Forces will understand, like why I laugh out loud every time I see a yellow bird lying dead outside a window. But all of my fellow veterans get it.

To finish off this post, I'm doing great now - and I've learned to take each day one at a time. I don't mean to make light of anyone's burden, but I look at the following images all the time. The image on the right reminds me that I shouldn't try to do everything alone, and the image on the left reminds me that the same drive and determination that enabled me to endure and do amazing things in my youth is still there, and I can tap into that drive and determination in order to help me make it through the stupid things I face today.

Never-Quit-and-Seek-Help

Numbers Never Lie...

There is an old adage that says, "Numbers never lie, but liars always use numbers." Over the years I have seen this adage reinforced and demonstrated countless times, which brings me to the recently-released video titled Viral Issue Crucial Update Sept 8th: the Science, Logic and Data Explained. I've seen that video a few times (because people keep sharing it on social media), and there are several glaring issues with it. But before I continue, let me be very clear about something: I think the pandemic lockdown was unnecessary, at least as far as the United States is concerned. Please keep that in mind as you read everything else I say below.

The First Major Issue with that Video

First of all - and this is most important - the numbers of infections and deaths from the COVID-19 pandemic should be lower than for other viral outbreaks because we closed businesses and made everyone maintain social distancing and wear masks!!! It should be readily apparent to anyone who is capable of reasonable thought that the extreme measures we took to combat this pandemic were directly responsible for this pandemic not being nearly as catastrophic as it could have been. THAT. WAS. THE. WHOLE. POINT. I personally think we collectively overreacted, and the long-term damages to our economy will be felt for years to come. But that being said, our overreaction had the exact effect for which it was instituted: less people got sick and/or died. So the very same people who keep saying, "Well, the pandemic wasn't that bad after all..." are affirming that the drastic measures we took were extremely effective. For this single reason alone, the entire argument in that video evaporates. The lockdown did what it was designed to do. End of story. (As a reminder, I think the lockdown wasn't necessary; but that doesn't mean it wasn't effective - because it was.)

The Second Major Issue with that Video

The presenter in that video makes no secret about ignoring comorbidities, which is when someone has an existing condition and dies after contracting COVID-19. However, ignoring comorbidities is a cheap way to manipulate the data to skew the numbers and make them seem to indicate what you want them to say, rather than what they actually say. Let me give you a hypothetical example: if I'm living with cancer, but I get shot by a gun - it is the gunshot that killed me, not my cancer. That's blatantly obvious to everyone with a brain. It's the same thing if I'm living with heart disease or lung disease and I am shot - it's the bullet that killed me, etc. Now substitute the coronavirus for the gunshot. If I'm living with cancer, but I contract the coronavirus and die - it is the coronavirus that killed me, not my cancer. It's the same if I'm living with heart disease or lung disease and contract the coronavirus and die. In each of those scenarios, I was managing my illness until I contracted the coronavirus, which is what actually killed me. What the presenter in that video is attempting to do is to discount all of the deaths where something else was present in the pathology, which artificially (and dishonestly) deflates the numbers of actual deaths. That is wrong from a scientific perspective, and it's wrong from a data perspective, and ultimately it's wrong from an ethical perspective - because for all intents and purposes he is lying. Period.

The Third Major Issue with that Video

Because of the presenter's immoral manipulation of the data, you're not getting a full picture of what's going on. In several areas of the planet - like India for example - the numbers of infections and deaths are both continuing to rise. The 'bump' that the presenter keeps showing over and over is only true for a few regions of the planet, but it's grossly inaccurate for much of the rest of the planet. Also, the presenter made the claim several times that the pandemic was largely over by the beginning of Summer 2020, and that is patently false for many areas of the globe. Once again, if you look at India alone, their outbreak started at the beginning of Summer 2020. Brazil's struggle with this pandemic started about a month before India. New cases in the United States peaked around mid-July and have slowly been decreasing since then, but still - the United States is just one country. From a global perspective, we're still in the thick of it.

The Fourth Major Issue with that Video

It is absolutely hilarious that this presenter keeps reinforcing almost all of his talking points based on an analysis of... Sweden. That's right - this dweeb is basing the majority of his arguments on observations for a tiny slice of the world that few people visit unless absolutely necessary, which is a country that has less than one tenth of one percent of the global population. The coronavirus was largely managed in Sweden BECAUSE IT'S @#$% SWEDEN!!! You CANNOT compare the United States, or Russia, or India, or pretty much any large, industrialized nation in the world with Sweden. North Carolina may have the same population as Sweden, but it's surrounded by other states; interstate commerce is constantly bringing a fresh influx of people through its borders, and at the end of the day - PEOPLE ACTUALLY WANT TO VISIT NORTH CAROLINA. North Carolina has actual BEACHES that bring people from all over the country, not a bunch of unpronounceable fjords that are only popular with retirees on cruise ships.

Conclusion

Returning to my opening statement, there is an old adage that says, "Numbers never lie, but liars always use numbers," and that concept nicely summarizes the entire video.

In closing, let me reiterate - I think the lockdown was unnecessary. And if I felt so inclined, I could probably back that up with empirical evidence, and I'll bet that I could pull it off without having to manipulate the data and lying to the world about it, too.


POSTSCRIPT:

If you're interested in learning more about the subject of manipulating data dishonestly, there's a book called Proofiness: The Dark Arts of Mathematical Deception that I stumbled across recently. I have only read the synopsis, but after seeing so many people try to manipulate public opinion by manipulating the numbers that they use to reinforce their arguments, I've added it to my reading list.

To sleep, perchance to dream...

I have never had a time in my life where I lived with a schedule that resulted in a traditional, eight hours of sleep. For starters, I am what most people would call a "Night Person." I love staying up late working on this project or that. Adding insult to injury, I am also a workaholic; I have no concept of what a decent work/life balance should look like. (I never have; even when I served in the military I overdid everything.)

However, once I finish my career-oriented tasks for the day, that's when I work on my hobbies. Late nights are my "Me Time," and I love getting involved in something that might take me days or weeks to complete. That being said, I also have Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD), so I rarely finish most of the hobby projects that I begin. (But that's another story for another day.)

Anyway, as someone who has spent their entire life routinely abusing themselves where sleep is concerned, I thought that my life could serve as a warning to others of what they might have in store for their futures if they follow my example of habitual late night activities and poor work/life decisions.

Insomnia

This might seem counter-intuitive, but sometimes I work so much that I am too exhausted to sleep. I drag my sorry self around the house and eventually collapse into bed, but sleep never comes. I am genuinely tired, but I cannot bring myself to fall asleep. After an hour or so, I give up and drag myself back to my desk to continue working.

Another type of insomnia that I battle is caused by a combination of stress, workaholism, and ADD. When these three factors intersect each other in my life, they create a perfect storm of sleepless days and nights. I might lie down now and again, but my brain is constantly racing - I'm thinking of this detail or that, or this deadline or that... I think of a thousand things that I should be doing, and I cannot force my brain to rest.

I once participated in a sleep study (at the request of my doctor). The testing facility had several rooms, and I am convinced that everyone else in the facility was asleep by 10pm at the latest. In my room, however, 2am rolled around and I was still working on my laptop, reading reports from work, and watching a series of documentaries on the TV in my room. I was still wide awake and easily could have been up for a few more hours. The technicians from the sleep study eventually had to come to my room and inform me that if I didn't go to sleep, my entire test would be voided. I regretfully packed up all my things and climbed under the covers, but I still didn't fall asleep until 4am or so.

Sleep Paralysis

This is one of the most-terrifying experiences that you can imagine: you wake up, but you cannot breathe, you cannot speak, and none of your muscles will work. This scenario has happened to me on more occasions than I can remember, and based on what I have read about it, this condition is caused by a combination of stress and sleep deprivation. (Both of which are constant fixtures in my life.) What causes this condition is that our human bodies are paralyzed when we sleep, and this happens in order to prevent us from physically acting out during our dreams. (e.g. Sleepwalking, etc.) However, if you constantly impede your body's attempts to sleep naturally, you can run into a situation where the paralysis does not go away as you awaken, which quickly leads to panic.

As I mentioned earlier, I have lived through this experience more times than I can recall, and my method of breaking out of the situation feels like it takes a great deal of effort - both mentally and physically. When I wake up paralyzed and unbreathing, I immediately feel as though I am suffocating, and I panic. However, I cannot call for help, nor can I move any of my limbs. I have to force myself to think through the panic and concentrate on moving just one finger, and when I am able to do that, I work on a second finger, then a hand, then an arm, and eventually the paralysis begins to fade. All of this takes place in a matter of seconds, but it is a horribly agonizing period of time that seems like several minutes of intense suffering.

Thankfully, my sleep paralysis is not accompanied by hallucinations, but that appears to be a common problem. (See 15 People On Their Experience With The Sleep Paralysis Demon.)

Nightmares/Night Terrors

A direct result of terrible sleep patterns and living with constant stress is that your brain will inevitably take out its frustrations on your sleep time. Sometimes this will simply result in less sleep or poor quality sleep, while at other times you will be tortured by nightmares or night terrors. People with PTSD tend to experience these same sleep disorders, and in my experience - living with constant stress and constantly changing sleep patterns eventually leads to a form of low-scale PTSD.

I used to be plagued with nightmares of falling, or drowning, or being the victim of a heinous crime, or being attacked my monsters. Thankfully, I learned to master Lucid Dreaming, wherein a person who is dreaming becomes aware that they are in a dream, and then learns how to control their dreams. It might sound like make-believe or a hokey fantasy, but Lucid Dreaming has helped me put an end to all of my nightmares. I can now fly in my dreams, I can breathe underwater, and I can pick and choose what gets to stay and what has to leave when I'm dreaming. (I wish I could teach others how to dream lucidly, but the truth is - I'm not sure how I learned to do it myself; all I know is that Lucid Dreaming forever changed my life for the better.)

Narcoleptic Behavior

I do not have actual narcolepsy, and I genuinely feel sorry for those who suffer from that disorder. However, I have - on occasion - experienced some of its symptoms.

For example, I was working on a project a few years ago, wherein someone had promised someone else far too much work for me to complete in far too short a time period. As a result, I was working around the clock for a whole week. I would work for hours until I would suddenly lose consciousness, then I would sleep uncomfortably for a few minutes wherever I was located and in whichever position I collapsed. When I awoke, I would continue to work for several hours until I lost consciousness again, and then I would repeat the whole process. When the project was over, it took me weeks to recover from the abuse, and I had to drop out of a Master's Degree program that I was attending outside of work. (As of today, I have yet to return to that degree program.)

Trust me - that was a horrible way to live.

Inverted Circadian Rhythms

After several intense work projects that have required me to put in a lot of long hours, I have eventually realized that my body clock was completely upside down. I wanted to head off to sleep around 6am, wake up around noon, and work until 6am the next day. Believe it or not, I can thrive and be extremely productive with that work schedule. The trouble with this scenario is that people keep scheduling meetings at 9am (or earlier), so even if I head off to bed around 6am, I'm still getting up in a couple hours to go back to work.

Sleep-Deprived Hallucinations

Thankfully I have not experienced this situation recently, but when I stay up for three days or more, I begin to hallucinate.

A story that I occasionally tell dates back to a time in the military when I was required to be awake for more than four days. After I had been up for around 90-100 hours, I was driving a HMMWV down the German autobahn with a friend in the passenger seat. As I looked at the road in front of me, I asked my friend, "Do you see dogs all over the road?" He replied, "No... maybe you should let me drive." We pulled over and changed seats, then we got back on the road. When we arrived at our destination, I managed to get two hours of sleep, then I went back to work.

There have been a few other times that I have suffered from sleep-deprived hallucinations, but that story was the worst.

All Of The Above

When working on a few intense projects, I have sometimes experienced all of the conditions that I listed earlier at the same time. Needless to say, this is awful when it happens. I quickly feel out of control, and utterly helpless to rectify the situation. On occasion I have gone to see my doctor, who prescribes something that will knock me out at night and force my body back onto a 'normal' sleep schedule, but I hate it. I feel as though I am losing half my life unless I can stay up until 2am or 4am. When I fall asleep at 10pm, I have no time for hobbies; I lose my precious "Me Time," and I sink into depression. So even though I can be forced through medication into a traditional sleep pattern, I will quickly fall back into a "Night Owl" schedule as soon as I am done with my medication.

In Closing

It's after 4am. I should probably head off to bed soon.

Winking smile


ADDITIONAL THOUGHT: I have written in other blogs that I suffer with a disorder called Essential Tremor, which is exacerbated by both stress and a lack of sleep. In other words, my chosen lifestyle contributes to my unwelcome tremors. However, one question has recently occurred to me: my lifestyle currently contributes to my condition, but did my lifestyle originally cause my condition? I may never know the answer to that question, but it's something to think about.

Just Shut Up and Wear the Darn Mask

I've been trying to refute a great deal of bogus information that I've been seeing in social media about wearing masks in public, and I'd like to consolidate some of my responses from a few different posts into a single, standalone narrative.

I see a lot of people complaining about having to wear a mask, which is actually a pretty easy thing for people to do. But the point of wearing a mask these days has less to do with preventing people from catching the disease if they don't wear a mask; it's more about preventing people who are asymptomatic from spreading diseases to others. Quite often people with COVID-19 do not show any symptoms until long after they have acquired the disease, but they are still highly contagious. With that in mind, wearing a mask demonstrates your concern for other people's health, rather than a concern for your personal health. (And conversely, failing to wear a mask demonstrates your lack of concern for other people's health, rather than a lack of concern for your personal health.)

Think of it this way: when surgeons put on masks before entering an operating room, it's not because they're afraid of catching something from the patient - it's because they're afraid of of passing something to the patient. It's the same thing when you wear a mask; you may not be protecting yourself, but you're protecting everyone around you. Since most people do not show symptoms for over a week, you could infect an untold number of people before you even realize that you're the problem. So, out of courtesy for your fellow humans, you should wear a mask when you're around other people.

If you don't want to take my word for it, here's the CDC's latest verbiage from their website at https://bit.ly/3fAp0Jo:

"CDC continues to study the spread and effects of the novel coronavirus across the United States. We now know from recent studies that a significant portion of individuals with coronavirus lack symptoms ('asymptomatic') and that even those who eventually develop symptoms ('pre-symptomatic') can transmit the virus to others before showing symptoms. This means that the virus can spread between people interacting in close proximity - for example, speaking, coughing, or sneezing - even if those people are not exhibiting symptoms. In light of this new evidence, CDC recommends wearing cloth face coverings in public settings where other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain (e.g., grocery stores and pharmacies) especially in areas of significant community-based transmission."

And one more thing: people tend to post images they find that reinforce their personal opinions without checking for accuracy. But don't be so quick to believe an image that fits a narrative that you want to hear; you should treat everything with skepticism and always check for accuracy before posting. For example, one of the following images was posted to social media, and all it took was five minutes in Photoshop to completely alter the meaning and create the counterfeit image.

FAUX-MASK-WARNING

It's not perfect, of course, but the results would convince most people. If I bothered to spend another ten minutes editing, I could have made the alterations fool-proof. So don't believe something you see just because you want it to be true, because it's far too easy to create a false 'reality' these days.

Yeah, well, that’s just like your opinion, man

I have mentioned in several previous blogs that I love conspiracy theories; and as I have said before, I do not believe any of them. But still - it is a never-ending source of amusement for me to see what others are gullible enough to believe.

However, I should explain how I typically respond to conspiracy-related information that I know is bogus when it is posted to public forums:

  • If I see that someone has posted something inaccurate that is based on their mistaken beliefs and is clearly harmless to anyone, I usually have a quick laugh and move on.
  • If I see that someone has posted something inaccurate that is an urban legend or a hoax, I often point them to a fact-checking website like www.factcheck.org in order to stop the spread of false information.
  • If I see that someone is posting information that is deliberately misleading and harmful to society, I will also point them to a fact-checking website like www.factcheck.org, but I will also ask them to stop posting information that will harm others.

I freely admit that I am not the "Internet Police." It is not my job to point out every instance where someone has posted bogus information. And - to be honest - that job would take far too much time. However, people's reactions to correction vary widely; some people are thankful to discover that they were posting something that wasn't true, while others are deeply offended that anyone would question their judgment. This latter group of people has recently become very, very dangerous. The world is struggling with the mounting death toll of a global pandemic, and the last thing that we need is people posting bogus information about it.

I have made it abundantly clear in previous blogs how I feel about anti-vaxxers. Several of the anti-vaxxers that I know are well-meaning people, even though they mistakenly believe something that is fundamentally wrong. What many of these anti-vaxxers believe has been refuted time and again, but they ignore all of the evidence to the contrary, and they cling to their inaccuracies with a passion that resembles radical religious zealotry. I continuously see incorrect information strewn about by these anti-vaxxers, which stirs up a great deal of unnecessary fear of science. As a direct result of that fear, other people have been avoiding medical treatment that will save lives. (Even though people in developing nations are crying out to receive that same medical treatment.)

As I have pointed out in the past, our nation - the United States - has been blessed with amazing health care. Decades of successful vaccination programs have eradicated some diseases, and rendered others nearly moot - at least within our shores. This has resulted in domestic complacency with regard to immunology, while countries around the world are still grappling with infectious diseases and clamoring for treatments that we take for granted.

All of this discussion leads me to a conversation that I had earlier today with an anti-vaxxer who was claiming that the USA's Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) was a corrupt company that was only in the business of selling vaccinations for profit. If you'll refer to my second point above, you'll see how I initially reacted. I pointed out the errors that the ill-informed anti-vaxxer was posting, (for example the fact that the CDC is actually a government agency that is funded by tax dollars), and I referred this anti-vaxxer to the www.factcheck.org website to correct the other misleading information that was posted.

As you might imagine, this did not sit well with the anti-vaxxer. As I mentioned earlier, this person was deeply offended that anyone would question their judgment. And in reply to the facts that were presented to refute the inaccuracies that this anti-vaxxer had posted, I was told something to the effect that I was entitled to my own opinion.

yeah-well-thats-just-like-your-opinion-man

The problem with that argument is that people are entitled to their 'opinions' when they are discussing something trivial, like whether the Pittsburgh Steelers are more important in the history of football than the Patriots. (Hint: they are.) But when it comes to actual science, opinions do not matter - facts matter. And facts do not care about your opinions.

When this anti-vaxxer continued to push the issue and post messages that were ultimately going to lead people astray, I shifted from the second point in my list of responses to conspiracy theorists to the third point. At our current stage in world history, the fear of life-saving immunology that anti-vaxxers continue to promote is intolerable; it is anti-science, anti-reason, and anti-facts.

As far as the CDC is concerned, a basic study of its duties and responsibilities show that its collection of scientists are fully-employed in trying to investigate and find treatments for thousands of diseases; such as HIV/AIDS, Cancer, Tuberculosis, Alzheimer's, Hepatitis, Diabetes, etc. They are also responsible for researching and preventing a host of occupational and public health issues. Their workforce of more than 15,000 employees has over 50% with advanced degrees; many of them doctors who are specialists in their respective fields of virology, pathology, microbiology, immunology, epidemiology, etc. These specialists will often have at least a decade of formal education in their fields, then another 10 to 30 years of experience within their chosen specialty.

With all of that in mind, it takes a special kind of hubris for an anti-vaxxer to assume that they know more than these thousands of well-educated and brilliant minds because he or she read a blog that agreed with their pre-existing opinion, even though their pre-existing opinion is baseless and easily-refutable nonsense.

The following video sums this up nicely.

In the end, of course, nothing that I said could convince this anti-vaxxer that he or she was wrong. This person continued to cling to the mistaken opinion that vaccines are the evil by-products of a world-wide plot involving the CDC, the WHO, and a host of other organizations and individuals. I realized that there was nothing that I could do, so I left this anti-vaxxer to his or her delusions, although I wished that neither this pandemic nor the next would claim the life of someone in his or her family.

But, you know, that's just like my opinion, man.


UPDATE: I had originally meant to add the following video from PBS to this post. It's from a few years ago, yet it explains some of what is happening in today's world quite well.

It's all about Perspective - Part II

Several people that I know have been posting and reposting images like the following, which cite the fatality current numbers from www.worldometers.info. More often than not, people are posting these images in an effort to downplay the fatality rate of COVID-19 by comparing it to other causes of death.

Worldwide-Deaths

First of all, I think it's foolish to compare diseases in this manner. I'm not sure why so many people are intentionally trying to deny that COVID-19 is a highly contagious disease that has a pretty decent chance of killing people.

Let me be clear, I fully admit that many people have overestimated the spread of this pandemic, and it seems that both the academic and scientific worlds are making up the numbers for their projections based on some sort of randomization algorithm. In addition, the press seems to have nothing better to do than to drag the country through thousands of hours of reporting, wherein the common denominator seems to be, "We have no idea what we're saying, but please listen to us anyway - because we desperately need the ratings."

However, there is another problem that I often see throughout the Western Hemisphere, which bothers me more than these numbers: we see everything from the perspective of what impacts us, so we tend to ignore things that affect the rest of the world. If you were to step outside the safety bubble of the Western Hemisphere, you would see that diseases like Measles, Polio, and Tuberculosis still run rampant.

In North America, we don't care about any of those diseases, because we haven't had to deal with them for several decades. As I have pointed out in other blogs, this has led to the unscientific Antivaxxer movement, and a completely illogical public distrust of our medical establishment, which is best health care available in the history of humanity.

With all of that in mind, I would say that the following lists illustrates what a lot of the people in this country are thinking when they see lists like those in the images:

COVID-19 "OMG!!! WE'RE ALL GONNA DIE!!!" -or- "IT'S JUST A HOAX!!! WAKE UP, SHEEPLE!!!"
Seasonal Flu "Meh, those pro-vaxxer idiots get their flu shots, so I have herd immunity."
Malaria "Meh, not in America. We have screen doors and fly swatters."
Suicide "Meh, those people were unhappy. They just needed to cheer up."
Traffic Fatalities "Meh, those are acceptable losses. I gotta have my wheels, dude."
HIV/AIDS "Hey! That's a privacy issue! You can't ask me about that! So leave me alone! Or leave them alone! Or, whatever...!"
Alcohol "Meh, Prohibition was sooooooo bad for the country. Besides, I'm not an alcoholic. I can quit drinking anytime."
Cancer "Meh, not gonna happen to me. Got any cigarettes?"
Hunger "Meh, there's like a McDonald's or Starbucks on every corner. So what's the deal?"
Abortion "MY BODY!!! MY CHOICE!!!"

More often than not, people in the Western Hemisphere or North America ignore the lists in those images for two reasons: complacency and denial.

  • The cause of the complacency is: decades of successful vaccination programs and our excellent health care system, both of which are still the best medical services that the world has ever seen.
  • The cause of the denial is: selfishness. People want what they want, and they don't want anyone telling them that they can't have what they want, whether that is harmful to themselves or others or the environment. (We live in a free society, and one of the downsides to freedom is: it teaches people to be irresponsible.)

In short, many people living in the Western Hemisphere believe that they have the right to selectively care only about what they feel might impact them adversely, and to ignore everything else; whether that means the suffering of others, or their poor lifestyle choices.

Annoyed

It's all about Perspective

One of my former colleagues recently posted a link to the following blog, which I thought does a great job of putting a lot of our current situation into a better perspective:

However, that blogger cites the source as unknown, so he wasn't the original author. With that in mind, I think it's fair to reprint the contents here:

For a small amount of perspective at this moment, imagine you were born in 1900. When you are 14, World War I starts and ends on your 18th birthday with 22 million people killed. Later in the year, a Spanish Flu epidemic hits the planet and runs until you are 20. Fifty million people die from it in those two years. Yes, 50 million.

When you're 29, the Great Depression begins. Unemployment hits 25%, global GDP drops 27%. That runs until you are 33. The country nearly collapses along with the world economy.

When you turn 39, World War II starts. You aren't even over the hill yet. When you're 41, the United States is fully pulled into WWII. Between your 39th and 45th birthday, 75 million people perish in the war and the Holocaust kills six million.

At 50, the Korean War starts, and five million perish.

At 55 the Vietnam War begins, and it doesn't end for 20 years. Four million people die in that conflict. Approaching your 62nd birthday you have the Cuban Missile Crisis, a tipping point in the Cold War. Life on our planet, as we know it, could well have ended. Great leaders prevented that from happening. As you turn 75, the Vietnam War finally ends.

Think of everyone on the planet born in 1900.

How do you survive all of that?

A kid in 1985 didn't think their 85-year-old grandparent understood how hard school was. Yet those grandparents (and now great grandparents) survived through everything listed above. Perspective is an amazing art. Let's try and keep things in perspective. Let's be smart, help each other out, and we will get through all of this.

That article, in summary, lists all the ways that the 20th century would have tried to kill you if you had been born in the year 1900. Between world wars and devastating diseases, the previous century was a terrible time to live.

And yet, I cannot help but think that the fatality numbers in that blog mostly reflect only the situations where the Western Hemisphere was somehow involved; they fail to address other mass repressions and genocides like:

  • The Stalinist Purges in Russia (approximately 30 million deaths)
  • The Chinese Cultural Revolution (approximately 30 million deaths)
  • The Cambodian Genocide (approximately 2 million deaths)
  • The Khmer Rouge repressions (approximately 2 million deaths)
  • The Armenian Genocide (approximately 1.5 million deaths)
  • The Rape of Nanking (approximately 500 thousand deaths)
  • And I have no accurate sources to estimate the number of deaths in South America and Africa due to famines, diseases, genocides, and civil wars

In other words, if you had been born in the 1900, but you had lived somewhere other than North America during the 20th century, your chances of meeting with a violent death would have increased even more dramatically than the original article would suggest. I mention that because I met several people when I was stationed overseas who had survived many of those devastations; I knew Germans and Britons who had survived World Wars, depressions, repressions, famines, diseases, etc., yet today's over-privileged youths act like the world is ending if their Internet is too slow. As the writer of that blog suggested, it's all about perspective.

Anyway, it's food for thought.

Thinking smile

Antivaxxers versus Bill Gates

Several years ago, Bill Gates delivered a great TED talk that he called "The next outbreak? We’re not ready." In his presentation, Gates described how the world would not be prepared for the next global pandemic, and you can watch the video his full, 8-minute talk below.

Of course, our planet is now gripped by a global pandemic, and we can now see how few people bothered to pay attention to what Gates was saying. As of today, more than 3 million people have been infected world wide, with around a quarter of a million deaths. (See https://www.bing.com/covid/ for details.)

Because of the relevance of Gates' TED talk to today's situation, there are many people who believe that Gates has the power to see the future. That is, of course, ludicrous; as Gates said in his presentation, a global pandemic was a statistical certain certainty. Then there are a lot of people who ignore Gates, because they believe that he is not an expert in the field; those people have no idea what they're talking about. Gates has spent the past couple decades spending billions of dollars of his personal wealth on a quest to rid the world of disease, and he has actually evolved into something of an expert the field. (Which I will discuss later.)

However, there have also been a great number of conspiracy theorists who believe that Gates is somehow behind all of this, and he is using this situation to either get richer, or to have everyone implanted with microchips. (e.g. People seem to think that Gates is the antichrist.) Even though such rumors have been debunked several times, there are people who still cling to the false belief that Bill Gates is evil and should be killed.

After another round of what seemed to be an endless stream of fools spewing hatred against Gates on various social media platforms, I grew tired of all the paranoia and stupidity, and I posted the following message:

Smallpox used to be one of the most devastating threats to humanity, taking the lives of untold millions of people over several millennia (see https://bit.ly/2SNANeD). Yet when a vaccine was invented that would prevent the spread of the disease, (thereby saving millions of lives), the uneducated and ignorant masses fought it for decades, until widespread adoption of vaccinations finally brought an end to that infestation in the 1980s.

Now we have Bill Gates, whom many people love to hate simply because his business acumen allowed him to amass a personal fortune. Rather than sitting back and keeping his money to himself (like Jeff Bezos and Steve Jobs), Gates and his wife have poured billions of dollars into trying to rid the world of several devastating diseases: polio, measles, malaria, tuberculosis, etc. (see https://bit.ly/2VXIFMs).

I would have loved to think that our society had moved beyond the superstitious naysayers who preferred death by smallpox over its cure, but it seems that I was far too optimistic in my expectations. Every day I seem to see a never-ending stream of vitriol emanating from the uneducated and ignorant who seem to think that ridding the world of infectious disease has some sort of nefarious motivation.

Let me be blunt - if you hate Bill Gates because you think that Windows 8 was a clunker of an operating system, then so be it. If you hate Bill Gates because you hate rich people, then you're probably just jealous that your life never amounted to anything, and it's easier to blame others than to accept the fact that your current situation is the sum total of all your life's bad decisions. However, if you hate ANYONE who is giving away billions of dollars of their personal wealth to fight disease, promote education, and provide clean water for developing nations, etc., then I'm afraid that you're little more than a small-minded, superstitious Luddite.

Food for Thought During this Pandemic - Part II

In the wake of yesterday's post about the COVID-19 pandemic, several believers of various conspiracy theories crawled out of the woodwork, and they have proposed all sorts of silly ideas about why this pandemic is happening. As I have mentioned in other blogs, I love a good conspiracy theory. I don't believe any of the conspiracies that I read, but I am ceaselessly amazed to learn what others are willing to believe.

One of the hallmarks of a great conspiracy theory is the way that it harkens back to the days of the Gnostic Cults, where people believed that there was a dark mystery that was hiding behind everything. And if you searched hard enough in obscure places, you would eventually discover "The Truth." Today's conspiracy theorists are no different; they scour the Internet looking for tidbits of information that they can cobble together in the name of "truth." Of course, the "truth" varies widely depending on which conspiracy theorist you're speaking to. Nevertheless, they believe that "Knowledge Is Power," and that somehow, if they read enough blogs and ignore everything that is said by academics, scientists, and subject matter experts, they will finally discover that dark mystery that is hiding behind everything.

With that in mind, I grew tired of the utter ridiculousness of some of the theories that I was reading, so I wrote the following response.

Knowledge Is Power

The conspiracy theorists are correct - knowledge is power. However, there is a great deal of misinformation circulating around the Internet these days, which is what led to yesterday's post. As you might have noticed, I only used CDC data for what I reported, and I did my best to avoid any editorializing on what the data represented; I simply expressed the numbers as they exist.

And the conspiracy theorists are also correct that official "news" outlets have unfortunately proven themselves as unreliable sources of information, which is - once again - why I only used data from the CDC. Not all of the reporting from mainstream news sources is unreliable, of course - you just have to be careful what you read. For example, I get a lot of my news from the Associated Press (AP) these days; they tend to be a little more accurate and less sensational. The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) is often a good source, too.

The trouble with most people's "investigations" is that they are not in search of the "truth," they are in search of information that supports an existing opinion. For example, if hospitals are misreporting their numbers, there are a couple of possible causes:

  • Option #1: As some people have alluded to, hospitals might be over-reporting or under-reporting the numbers of COVID-19 deaths because these hospitals have COVID-19 patients who die because of complications due to pre-existing conditions like heart disease, COPD, cancer, etc. With that in mind, it is a judgment call as to whether that is counted as a COVID-19 death. For example: perhaps a COPD patient might not have died had it not been for their COVID-19 infection, so is the cause of death COVID-19 or COPD?
  • Option #2: Hospitals are lining their pockets with cash from greedy corporate cabals and evil pharmaceutical companies who are demanding fatality numbers to support their cash cow cures.

Of those two options, I whole-heartedly believe the first option, while the second option is a paranoid delusion that is easily refuted by facts, common sense, and very little research. However, there are a great number of people who believe the second option, which warrants a brief discussion of why you should not be one of them.

Misinformation and Echo Chambers

Mark Twain once said, "If you don't read the newspaper, you're uninformed. If you read the newspaper, you're misinformed." That holds true for today as well. If you ignore all of the mainstream news sources and only believe what you find from unreliable and/or unconfirmed sources, then as I said earlier - you are only reinforcing your existing position. If you want to believe in conspiracies, there are plenty of them to be found.

I recently posted a blog that was titled Secret Origins of the COVID-19 Coronavirus. Here's the spoiler - I proposed a plausible theory that was backed up by actual facts, but I made up everything that existed beyond the facts that I presented. The point of my blog was that people want so much to believe that there is something underhanded, heinous, and evil going on, so they're willing to find pieces of information that support their point of view, while ignoring everything else, and that is dangerous. Especially in times such as these.

Here is a perfect example: many people have been posting videos of Dr. V.A. Shiva Ayyadurai as he "exposes the truth" behind what is going on in the world. But as I have said elsewhere, Shiva is an opportunistic fraud with delusions of grandeur, with a long history of deceit going back several years. Shiva's intellectual dishonesty is so pervasive that I am surprised his credentials have not been revoked. I have been familiar with this imposter for many years, and Shiva recently found himself on the wrong side of academia when he claimed that he could cure COVID-19 with a hair dryer and other ridiculous proposals, all of which have also been debunked as complete nonsense. (I'm surprised that MIT didn't rescind his credentials after that debacle alone.) To show you an additional example of his depravity, Shiva has fraudulently claimed to have invented email when he was in High School - a claim which has been debunked time and again. (The military and a host of other academics created email years before he came along.)

All of that being said, Shiva is a complete fraud who is out for profit by deceiving as many people as he can. And despite the fact that his ridiculous theories are likely to get a lot of people killed, he has become the darling of conspiracy theorists who continue to debate vaccines and big phrama and the deep state and pandemic profiteering. However, I highly recommend that you should not be one of the sheep that follows this false shepherd into the slaughterhouse.

Conspiracies and Common Sense

Circling back to my opening statements, yes - knowledge is power. But so is common sense. Most of the conspiracy theories that are circulating are simply not plausible. We live in a society where there is too much information, which is both a blessing and a curse.

  • Our connected society is a blessing because if any of the conspiracies had any truth to them, then there would be thousands of places to find legitimate pieces of information to condemn the perpetrators.
  • However, our connected society is a curse because there are also thousands of places to find unreliable pieces of information that have no basis in reality.

Here is a case in point: I recently saw that someone had posted a picture of tanks being shipped on railroad cars through Tucson. This photo was immediately pounced on by conspiracy theorists who believe that our government is evil and is going to use the military to take over all of our lives. I found all of the paranoid drivel by these conspiracy theorists endlessly amusing, but at the end of the day, a little common sense would dispel these rumors. For example:

  • First of all, why were the tanks on that train?

    The tanks were being shipped by railroad car because: tanks eat up the highways, tanks don't travel fast enough on an Interstate to keep up with traffic, and it costs a fortune to drive tanks cross country.

  • Second, where were the tanks going?

    I don't know for sure, but if I had to guess, I would say Fort Irwin, California. There is a military base there where the military trains personnel for desert warfare, and here's the way the process worked when I was in the Army: each month a unit is sent to Fort Irwin for training, and they bring all of their equipment with them. They train for a month, and then they go home. So tanks will be on rail cars getting there, and will be on rail cars going home. (PS - I spent a month training in Fort Irwin, and I hated it. But that's another story.)

  • Third, do you want to know why the military is NOT going to take over the country?

    BECAUSE. THEY'RE. AMERICANS.

    I served in the US Army for 8 years, and if the orders came down that we were going to take over the country, NO ONE WOULD HAVE OBEYED THOSE ORDERS. We do not live in Communist China, nor do we live in the former Soviet Union. Our military is staffed by 100% volunteers, who have wives, husbands, kids, parents, siblings, cousins, friends, acquaintances, etc., scattered all over the country. No one in the military would want to bring harm to anyone in America because - as I said earlier - our military is made up of Americans. Who love other Americans. And America itself. Our military undoubtedly loves our country more than anyone else on the planet.

So the whole idea that the military is going to take over the country is ludicrous, and yet there are tens of thousands of people who likely believe that the military is evil and cannot be trusted. You may not fall into that category, but take this general message to heart: people will tend to believe what they want to believe, despite an abundance of information to the contrary.

Summary

In closing, you need to be aware that misinformation is happening all around you, so you need to be objective when you are considering your sources. If something seems too good to be true, it probably isn't. If something seems too sensational, it's probably false. And just because something seems to support what you already believe, that doesn't make it true, either.