Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Why I Don't Believe A Damn Thing I Hear

Yes, I'm really that skeptical. I distrust everything by default.

Why did I get this way? Well, let's look at a few examples.

Take health recommendations. Don't eat butter, because it has too much saturated fat, which is bad and clogs up your arteries; use margarine instead. Oh, wait, don't use margarine - it has trans-fats, which are weird and unnatural - use olive oil instead. Oh, hold on, one more - don't use olive oil for cooking (just dipping) because the polyunsaturated fats morph into something inflammatory when you heat them - use something with nice stable saturated fat, like... butter. Oh, yeah, and saturated fat isn't actually bad for you; in some cases it's good for you and cleans out your arteries.

It's worse than politics. Bash this, defend that, change your mind a day later. But, I'll be the first to bash the people who bash "flip-flopping" or "waffling." Hmm, changing your mind in the face of new information - we used to call that "learning," and it was a good thing.

Aren't the medical people just "learning," then? Sure. Fine. That's all well and good. What bothers me is that they're always so sure of themselves, like a ten year old saying "I won't spill that."

The other problem is that too many people stand to make money off the problem. Are statins wonderful life-saving inventions that lots of people should take? Or, as I've heard a good case made, were they recommended by a panel of doctors who were paid off by the drug companies to ignore the research against them showing they don't actually reduce heart attacks or mortality, and in a lot of cases do cause debilitating memory loss?

I have no freakin clue who to trust here. Everybody's got their own agenda, and most of them (besides obvious profit motives) are completely obscure and may include things like, "Don't get flu shots because apes in the wild never got flu shots!" I wonder sometimes if the nutcases aren't much different in their motives from the masses; they just actually tell you what their motives are.

Thus, I'm down to relying on my own observations. I'm no expert; I took one biology class in 9th grade, a massage anatomy class a few years ago, and I read a bunch of random articles and books. I'm also easily influenced by people making statements they claim are true, because deep down, the idealist part of me can't see why anybody would think it's okay to make a false statement.

In short, I have no good answers. I don't have a lot of info about, say, the potential automaker bailout, besides a few articles I've read, but that doesn't stop me from having an opinion - do I have any chance of making a better guess at the correct thing to do than somebody in DC? Maybe not, but I sure as heck don't trust the reasons the politicians give for things, or that they know much about what will really happen, or that they have the right goals.

Hmm, not very helpful, am I? I'm halfway through The Omnivore's Dilemma, which is a really excellent book, and it seems to present an honest view of where food comes from (hint: it's only gotten marginally better since The Jungle - just now we have atrazine instead of rat droppings). Apparently many people reported getting through the first 100 pages and stopping because they thought they wouldn't be able to eat anything by the time they finished. In response, the author wrote In Defense of Food, which has the subtitle, "Eat Food. Not Too Much. Mostly Plants." I haven't read the book yet, but it seems like a good mentality.

Thus, my policy and recommendation: make an effort to find what's good, and try not to worry too much about it, or what's beyond your control, even if that's lack of knowledge. It's the worrying that gets you.


Monday, November 17, 2008

A Disturbing Realization About Politics

Okay, like that narrows the range of things one could realize about politics....

Like so many, I'd found it troubling how much of political advertising is focused on bashing one's opponent. Then it occurred to me: everybody's been saying for a while that it's all about turnout, which seems only natural since only half of people turn out to vote even on a good (i.e., presidential election) year. The point of a lot of political campaigning or advertising isn't to convince a voter of your own value, but to convince them that it's not worth getting off their couch for your opponent.

In this case, I think McCain did a lot of the work to convince his people he wasn't worth getting off the couch for.

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Sunday, November 16, 2008

Bacon Wrapped Twinkie Stonehenge

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Reflections on a Quarter Century

I'd clearly been meaning to write this post for a while, since it's nigh on 2 years now since I've stopped being 25 - and that is part of what reminded me; my birthday is coming up soon. Thus, late being often better than never, I still wanted to record what I still remember wanting to say about the remarkable amount of life change I had at the quarter-century mark:
  • Graduated from college (grad school, to be precise)
  • Visited a bunch of family I either hadn't seen for a long time, or, in a couple of cases, never met before
  • Moved to a new state (not that I hadn't moved to very different states a few times in the past)
  • Got a real job at a large, fast-moving company, having never done anything besides tutor/TA and sometimes help my dad work on houses - huge contrast to any previous experiences (only similar thing previously was my Google internship)
  • Bought a real car (not that I didn't love my Mazda in its own way)
  • Bought a townhouse - boy, was that a big one
    • Corollary: first time being a real landlord (and not just the tenant who happened to remain longer)
  • Got my first grownup boyfriend (anybody want to comment that as soon as I got out of school and had a range of ages to choose from, I started dating much older guys? I think that was just luck, really, though, and certainly shouldn't reflect badly on anyone before that...)
It's not like there weren't plenty of substantial things before that (24: First real-job-type internship (Google), first time to Burning Man; numerous moves between states and even countries in the 5 years before that) or after (26: First involvement in a legal action - I tried to take a guy to small claims for not paying rent - wound up not being able to serve him because I couldn't find any valid contact for him; first promotion at my real job), but... the sheer number of things that happened while 25 is rather striking. Maybe that's why car insurance changes at 25 - does this statistically work out to be a turning point age for a lot of people? Are there so many people who aren't out of school until 25? It was, in many ways, really entering the real world - growing up, even - to the extent I think that's a good thing ;-)

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Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Great pics

This link is from a forward from my aunt. It's worth spending a little while looking at each one - they're really excellent. The mail about it said, "Nice collection of photos. Except that they’re in color, the style reminds me a lot of David Douglas Duncan. Notice especially the body language in the photo of Obama with the mother in Iowa whose son had been killed in Iraq. They’re the only people in the room."

Callie Shell pictures of Obama


Monday, November 10, 2008

Oh, and I should probably add...

It was a black bear, not a grizzly. I.e., a bear that's not generally trying to eat people - unlike, say, a polar bear, which will attack a human just for the heck of it.


Sunday, November 09, 2008

Threatdown Threat #1: BEARS!

Okay, just one bear. But it was large. Really large. Like, probably 400 lbs, and about John's height. And it was on our back deck. Eating pumpkin seeds out of the squirrel feeder. At about 2:30 in the morning.

But still... BEARS!

Yeah, we live in the woods.


Low-Glycemic-Index, Probiotic Fudge

After years of dealing with sugar sensitivity of varying degrees of severity, I'm currently at a point where I figure I should probably just stay off things that change my blood sugar too quickly, whether I have any obvious bad reactions or not, because bad reactions keep popping up that are not immediately obvious.

This does nothing to stop my cravings for sweets, particularly fudge lately. After half a dozen experiments with various odd ingredients, this was the best recipe I could come up with for my tastes. Note that this isn't intended for diabetes (I have no idea what the actual glycemic load of this is, just that it doesn't seem to mess with me), just for others who have weird effects when their blood sugar varies too much. These are the ingredients I used; how much you want to do substitutions is up to you. I figured I would include them to a pretty high resolution of exact product, so you could do exactly the same thing if you wanted.

2T Earth Balance buttery spread
1/4c Wholesome Sweeteners Organic Zero (erythritol)
2t light agave syrup (have used several brands and haven't noticed much difference)
1 bar dark chocolate (3 oz, 70%+) (have used the Unique Origin bars from Trader Joe's and a couple of others from Whole Foods or PCC)
1T Fage 2% Strained Greek Yogurt (also worked with Tillamook cultured sour cream)

Heat the first three items over medium-high heat while stirring in a small sauce pan, just until it comes to a boil (bubbles rising in the middle of the pan, not just around the edges), then turn the heat off. If you heat it too much, the sugar will burn; not enough, and there will still be crystals. The residual heat will be enough to melt the chocolate. Once it's melted, add the yogurt (or sour cream). If you use regular yogurt (instead of strained), it'll put in too much water and the fudge won't harden properly; ditto for milk and cream. I don't know how hot is hot enough to kill probiotics, but I figure if I can stick my finger in it and not burn myself, I can't be getting rid of all the beneficial stuff. I'm impatient, so I put it in an open container right in the ice compartment of the freezer, which gets it solid in about one episode of The Simpsons (20-25 minutes).

The erythritol claims to be fermented from normal sugar, have zero calories, zero glycemic index, and have no bad digestive side effects. So far it's the closest to sugar of any artificial sweetener I've tasted - a little weird, but very much like sugar in both taste and cooking properties. Who knows what side effects sugar alcohols might have (besides awful digestive effects on fructose malabsorbers), so maybe it's best not to consume it in huge quantities. For now, it's a good way to satisfy my fudge cravings without being exausted or insane the next few days.


Saturday, November 08, 2008

A Response To Piaw

My long-time political rant buddy (and bike buddy) Piaw wrote an excellent article on why universal health care makes sense not just from a warm-fuzzy-take-care-of-everybody perspective, but also makes good sound economic sense and will make the whole health care system more effective and efficient. But there was one part I wanted to respond to in more than just a comment:
No mandate. Now this is a problem. It creates a moral hazard, in that if you're healthy, you have no incentive to join the insurance pool and help subsidize all the unhealthy people like me. This is even more true if (as anticipated) you can sign up for health insurance after you got hit by a bus or some other health catastrophe, and still get the same cheap coverage that you could have gotten if you signed up while healthy.
Now, yes, this is a problem - why would you ever buy insurance (unless you were planning to have non-emergency procedures done or needed ongoing care or medication) if you could do it after something bad happened?

So, if you assume no mandate, there are two obvious choices: allow retroactive signup, or don't. The former, and you get people not paying in, and then sometimes suddenly sucking up bunches of taxpayer money. The latter, and you get people declaring bankruptcy, sucking up a bunch of health care provider money, since they're probably only going to get paid a few thousand (average American has almost no savings) before the poor soul gives up and stops trying to pay any of it.

Neither of these sounds very good. Either way, you get losses to the group as a whole, and you're choosing between not incenting healthy people to opt in and driving people into the ground. So, what other option do you have? Well, what if you said that you can retroactively sign up - after you've been hit by a bus or found out you have cancer or whatever - but you still have to pay a large sum. The question then becomes, how much? It needs to be more than the insurance would have been; otherwise, you're still not providing an incentive to opt-in. It also needs to be a low enough amount not to drive somebody into bankrupcy - ideally, you want to make the person pay as much as possible of their medical bills without destroying their life. Make it easy to get a loan to cover such expenses, too, even with features like income-sensitive repayment, so that the person does pay it off over time, rather than trying to get out of it. That way, you get the best of both worlds: incent people to pay while they're healthy, get the maximum repayment possible if they don't, and avoid driving people into bankruptcy.

Why am I defending the no-mandate portion of the plan? Well, for one, I think it'll be far easier to sell to Americans if they can opt out - if it doesn't have that valve, it sounds a lot like the "European socialism" that many Americans have vague, high-unemployment ideas about and are afraid, or at least suspicious, of. For another, I believe both in letting stupid people shoot themselves in the foot (so long as they don't substantially take others down with them), and in letting people who think they can beat the odds give it a try. Heck, if it were up to me, I'd make it possible to opt out of Social Security, at least the retirement part of it - but then, I'm the generation that isn't expecting to get any money out of it.


Tuesday, November 04, 2008


That's all for now ;-)