Saturday, October 31, 2015

Pass the Twinkies, Please

Oh you're American?  Please don't tell us about your diet.

It's a sentiment you'll hear in many places in the world. We're seen as narcissistic and hypochondriacal, and when it comes to diet and health, we're rather evangelistic too. It happens all the time. You'll meet someone and in the first few minutes they'll assault you with how they eat this and not that, which things are filled with this toxin and that, and how this causes cancer and that will make you impotent.  Of course it's pretty safe to say that none of it's true, because nearly everything you read about health and nutrition is produced by scare mongers: diet book doctors, supplement pushers and others with mysterious agendas. Real science: valid conclusions from valid studies? They're often surrounded by as impenetrable a husk of gullibility as  a coconut -- and besides, very, very few of us are trained to derive much from the edited data we're given.  I read "studies show" and I can be sure there wasn't really a study that showed anything conclusive at all, but just a  a stew of anecdote, speculation and salesmanship.

We seem to enjoy bogus information of all sorts and to inflict it on innocent victims ad libitum, without regard to how badly and long ago it's been debunked.  Why else would we persist in our Low fat Vs. Low Carbohydrate, Vs. Low calorie feuds?  Talk calorie consumption to an Atkins Man?  Forget it, even if he weighs 400 pounds, he's sticking to the faith.

A few years ago I went on a severely calorie restricted but balanced diet and lost about 50 pounds in a few months. Many annoying ailments seemed to disappear but wouldn't you know it, I couldn't show up slender at any old haunts without being lectured by one overweight person or another about how I should have gone on their diet instead. What else can it be but religion and you know how well religion and fact go together. Somehow the Atkins devotees annoy me the most with their carbcarbcarb and calories-don't-count cackling. It's pointless to point out the Twinkie diet in which a professor of Human Nutrition at KSU went on a reduced calorie diet of Twinkies and doughnuts and lost a lot of weight.

I ate a bit more sensibly but eating 900 calories a day of anything will produce results and I'm here to tell you. It's not the 5 calories of breadcrumbs on that fried chicken putting the pounds on you and eating the triple bacon chili cheeseburger without a bun isn't going to help much either. But listen to me lecture - it's like I've learned nothing.  It's the calories, dummy. It's not the mysterious properties of grain or gluten or corn syrup or " processed" foods or any of  "the seven foods you should never eat" or anything else on Fox News for that matter.

So says the medical profession and no I'm not talking about Dr. Atkins or Doctor Oz or Doctor Bonker for that matter.  A recent meta-study published in The lancet Diabetes and Endocrinology  says the data indicates that: whether it's  high fat, low fat; high carbohydrate, low carbohydrate: there's no statistically significant difference.  It's the calories, dummy.  Will information like that ever get past the hucksters, the pill pushers, the hustlers wearing Dollar Store lab coats or gyrating in Yoga pants to pounding music?  Hell no.  They love to tell you information is being suppressed by evil giant corporation, but you know the Diet Guru industry is a huge one too and there's nobody holding them to any standards at all.  Pills kill.

Eat half of  what you do now and feel the difference -- and don't worry, be happy,  Eat well but eat less.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

On the Road

Headlines on the Bloomberg Web site today include the Blockbuster:

Can Detroit Beat Google to the Self-Driving Car?
Inside GM's fight to get to the future first.

Apparently this isn't the world it used to be. It's definitely a world where millions will wait outside in the snow to buy the latest i-Gadget even when last weeks model is in their pocket, but we're keeping cars far, far longer than once we did. You can drive home in a 700+ horsepower car, in a car that does 230 or more miles per hour and gets mileage equal to my old /68 VW.  In fact we're in a golden age of American performance and engineering and we don't know.   No sir, your 200 HP Nissan isn't a race car.

Some people still like to drive. Some people grew up when the number one aspiration was a car and the number two goal was something cool enough to turn heads at the drive in:  the Drive In everything that was, from theaters to restaurants to, believe it or not, liquor stores. We didn't hang out at WiFi hotspots in malls. It was at Henry's Hot Dogs or Big Daddy's Drive in with car hops and looking to impress the girls and an occasional contest of acceleration.  Real girls that is and in person, not on line. Tinder was still something you started a fire with.
The worst thing anyone could show up in was an "economy car."  Sure, I remember buying and pumping gas at 26.9 and the price of fuel didn't matter but guys like me studied cars the way the nerds did homework and the jocks memorized sports statistics. My friends and I built go-karts with lawnmower parts in 8th grade and went on to customize cars, swap and rebuild engines  and the best thing anyone could wish for was to hear someone who knew say "hey, that guy can drive!"

What kind of people want a car that drives itself, controlled by satellites and computers and government regulations in soulless safety and always in constant contact and a play list?  Sorry, you'll take away the steering wheel, the handlebars, the shift lever from my cold dead fingers  but you'll have to catch me first.

Is this a case of industry spending a fortune on something that won't sell?  Or is this a case of a country that's lost it's soul?  Will my grandchildren read "On The Road" and wonder why Kerouac didn't take the bus or dream about a little electric Japanese cliche on wheels that drives itself while you stare at a little screen texting your "friends?"  Indeed why go on the road at all when there's Google Earth?

Sorry, that's not "the future" to me any more than today is the future once envisioned in generations of Science Fiction.  If it's a country of driverless, cubicle dwelling, commuting urban virtual reality, Facebooking hipsters with "devices" it's not my country and that's a warning, not a prediction. Look for it. Listen for it somewhere off that regulated futureroad road packed with little electric safety bubbles shaped like running shoes or backwards hats whispering along, bumper to bumper at 25 MPH. Do you hear that rumble, way out on the highway?  That long, lonesome highway?

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Fantasy Outrage

With a host of furious fancies
Whereof I am commander,
With a burning spear and a horse of air,
To the wilderness I wander.
By a knight of ghosts and shadows
I summoned am to tourney
Ten leagues beyond the wide world's end:
Methinks it is no journey.

-Tom O'Bedlam-

America's already tenuous grasp on reality is constantly being tested and we are constantly failing that test while moving ever closer to hysterical fugue.  Hark, hark, the Trump does bark and the outrage peddlers have driven us mad

Modern awareness contains a galaxy of causes: some real, some imaginary and most are struggling for attention over all the others by ginning up outrage and pulling us into one dark circus tent or another.  Reality makes us fear, but the game is in fantasy outrage and a thousand pipers whistle their tune for us all to follow -- and so we do.

The NRA is a very skilled user of outrage, having convinced millions of people that the major objective of ever politician who doesn't march to their piper is a demon out to get your guns.  They have little to do with having created America's traditional love affair with weapons, but they have made firearms into a fetish, a flag, a symbol of all our dreams of liberty.  Some simply can't conceive of being a free country without unlimited access to firearms.  It's a religion of sorts and nothing fires up the imbecile like threatening his religion. It works.

What politician doesn't wish he could enlist the outrage of the masses to make himself  the hero, the Hercules, the Sampson, the Gilgamesh who can lead us to vote for him and protect us from every enemy his imagination can conceive of?

Enter Donald Trump, or adventavit Asinus if you prefer.  Obama is going to grab your guns he says - the same thing his party's bilge rats have been squeaking since he first ran for office. Some of us watch aghast as he says  things designed to attract the confused and angry and focus their power with his daily outrages.  In fact he can predict things that never happen, he can demonstrate total ignorance of things that are all important for an American president but none of it matters to those all in a perpetual rage against all those who seek to grab their guns.  It doesn't matter that no one has yet tried, just as it doesn't matter than prophets have warned us of impending apocalypse since the dawn of politics. Every tomorrow is the end of days and any Democrat is the end of your guns and you can certainly fool enough of those good folks all the time.  It doesn't matter than there was no secret hidden in Obama's birth certificate or that any of his claims to secrets have come to nothing.  It's all about the guns. No one ever went broke predicting the Gungrabber Apocalypse.

So are you surprised that that immigrant-bashing grandson son of immigrants is warning us of an imminent executive order by the Devil Obama to grab your guns?  Illegal, can't be done, won't be done, but it's not about reality and never was.  No politician has a good chance of winning anything if he's seen as a gungrabber and any accusation is as good as a death sentence to anyone challenging the Dark Knight, the NRA..

I wonder if Hillary has grown so arrogant as to ignore this, with suggestions of Federal buybacks, the kind of program that's been a waste of time up until now, or a promise to "go after" manufacturers whose legal products are used illegally - something she should know has no legal grounds.

But of course there's that outrage addiction on the other side too and perhaps she thinks she will be seen as a savior for the real phobics and magic thinkers who somehow claim they're liberals and aren't interested in compromise or in restricting legislation to the possible and rational.

So does this last gungrabber plot prediction suggest Trump is running out of  fake outrages and is now at the bottom of the barrell?  Could be, but do we want to bet on it?  Are you feeling lucky?

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Of Cops and Kindergarteners

There's a reason we will never have that "discussion" about gun control and other hot topics in America: we're not allowed to.  There are so many entities whose job it is to grab out attention, to sell us on their products, to agitate us into fear and outrage and to enlist our support -- and in that pursuit of power,  truth, fact and objectivity are impediments. Any thoughts, proposals, arguments or  even unadorned facts are going to be drowned out or ignored. Swallow or be swept aside and damned.

Indeed it's often possible that someone who sees a bigger picture might be beyond the reach of the captious arguments and emotional smokescreens that typify American politics.  And of course everything in America is politics -- even the weather. Hardly anyone here is trained or experienced in noticing bad or weak or deceptive arguments.  We see numbers we like and we accept them and we like them only because they flatter our principles -- by which we mean our prejudices.  So what if you, as I did, got this in your in-box?

If you're a "Eeeew guns, get them away, get them away" person, there's little doubt that you'll see a stone tablet given us by Moses calling for immediate elimination of a threat. If  you're an NRA paranoid zonbie, you'll look for a way to debunk it or simply deny it in a frenzy of denunciation and because there are so many disparate and unrelated "gun cultures" there will be as many rationalizations, affirmations and denials as there are "gun cultures" and anti-gun cultures.  So what does the rational man do with yet another outrage bomb?

Perhaps if you've been taking your vitamin Cynic pills, you'll wonder whether those figures, if they are true, apply to more than one year, whether there's a trend, upward or downward or whether an unusual period is being used deceptively to look like a rule.  Can one really look at 2013 and say "each year" without blushing?

 Well a somewhat cursory look at the CDC figures shows that the numbers for age 4 and under  shootings, they've at least been in the same area since 2010 and although we don't yet have a number for this year, let's, for now assume they're true even if it's obvious that the purpose of the NY Times article was to scare you and enlist your support for as yet unspecified measures.  Snopes, one of my go-to sources when someone hands me an emotional argument seems to think the numbers are good enough for the purposes of argument, but points out what most of us won't pay attention to: These are absolute numbers not relative numbers.  Yes, it's not more dangerous to be 4 than to be a cop. There are more than 23 million kids 5 and under.  There are about 760,000 full time sworn officers.

So Mr. Rational will likely say "that's too many shootings" but might just be a little less friendly toward an article trying to make it seem worse, which is how I feel about virtually all I'm subjected to when it comes to many matters of safety and sociology. It's more dangerous to be a cop than a kid. Why would an honest person make the reverse seem true? Does a good cause sanctify a bad argument? Why do you need to do the Twist if the facts are on your side?  Why are you mumbling about unspecified gun controls when someone needs to start teaching people not to leave guns around - loaded or otherwise and do it today!. Now ask yourself who is actually attempting that and who isn't even though they all claim to be all about safety?

I got a "survey" from with a predictable rant about the NRA and steering me toward the desired answer "Yes I'm a gun owner and I support gun control"  The other possibilities would suggest that I was a lunatic or a monster or worse.  Although I am and I do, I'm not replying since there's no possibility of asking "what do you mean by gun control and how would it be enforced?"   Surveys such as this one, and they're used by opposing sides with much success, allow the big players to claim support they don't actually have.  How many claims to have the majority on some side are based on false-choice questions, false dilemmas and vague language?  Many, I suspect.

It's insulting because it presumes I'm unaware that there is a whole mountain of existing gun law, that I'm in such a state of panic that I'll vote for anything and that all that matters is passing laws and there's no need to look closely at what they say and whether they can be enforced fairly and equally..

No, there's no discussion, no conversation, only a lot of  manipulation and deceit  - and the packaging of selected facts and shady arguments: a lot of dimly lit agendas and lots of statements of broad principle. which liars do I listen to?  I'm left only with the option of  blogging to the four winds or ceasing to give a damn, which is not an option.  You can't be heard over the howling and the hate. You can't hope to inform people whose personalities are anchored to falsehoods because you'll readily be identified as a puppet of the "Liberals" the NRA, the NAACP, the Illuminati, the Zionist conspiracy and the Devil himself.

You have a hard time really knowing whether mass shootings are on the rise or whether there's a pattern for all the groups trying to tailor the data.  More shootings of 4 or more people are family related, but all the energy is being spent proving school shootings are on the rise and have only to do with the ease of buying weapons and the proliferation of them.  Can we ever know what the truth is. Some graphs make mass shootings look sporadic with isolated clusters, others try to make it look like a steady increase.  Like Procrustes' bed, reality gets stretched or trimmed to fit into it.  From all sides we're told to be afraid of the other side: afraid of guns and government and minorities and racists, of Christians and Muslims and Obama and the list is long. Outrage is everywhere and you're only choice is to listen to us!

Monday, October 12, 2015


It is the consistency of the information that matters for a good story, not its completeness. Indeed, you will often find that knowing little makes it easier to fit everything you know into a coherent pattern.
-Daniel Kahneman-

When I stop writing about American culture,  and it will be soon, it will come from being tired of the hot and cold running outrage that passes for discussion and social criticism and news reportage.  No more do we hear rational and dispassionate discussions, everything is outrageous, everything is about how outrageous the actions and inactions of the "enemy" are and there's always an enemy:  the Liberals, the Tea Party, the NRA, the ACLU, the "politically Correct, the Secular Humanist -- there's always an enemy to inspire actions whether or not they're appropriate, effective, moral or legal. Some of the worst outrages never happened yet they inspire wars, riots, lynchings and civil disobedience.

Whether you're Republican or Democrat or Libertarian or Bullmoose or Whig, everything our opponents do is an outrage and it's easier to fabricate the appearance of outrage now than it ever has been.  Outrage -- it's what's on the news.  It's how we manipulate opinion and inspire action and suppress thought.

Modern life is the battle among activists and activist organizations, and it's all about winning, about success and not much about reason.  A girl hears a song in a club that makes her feel uncomfortable?  OUTRAGE!  Something must be done! Don't think, ACT NOW! Someone claims to be the victim of racism?  It's an outrage and will be portrayed as such if it requires fiction and libel and lying.  It's about furthering the cause and the cause is just winning.

Hear a story that supports "our side" and you'll believe it, you'll forward it, you'll write a passionate blog entry and you'll blame it on the bogeyman of reference long before you'll check the facts, analyze the plausibility of your response or of the accusation.  Is that radio station in Alaska a plot to change the weather or sniff out underground things on the other side of the planet? Will you bother to ask the experts on radio or the weather or those in the know about ELF communication with submerged submarines? Do you know the D layer from the Nightime F2?  Have you some data on connections btween them and weather?  Hell no, we just know there's a secret agenda despite what we know about the subject and you'll forward the story to everyone and they will pass it along like a virus.  Give me a bogus outrage upon which to stand and I will move the Earth.  

In his book Contagious, Jonah Berger explains how outrage sells, how it inspires people to share it, pass it along, promote it and use it to sell us beliefs.that have little or no factual support while valid information just sits there like leftovers in your refrigerator.

Want to create an outrage?  First pick a "Goliath" says the American Council on Science and Health.  

"If you examine the most popular activist groups, they all operate according to this formula: they pick an enemy they can depict as the arrogant “Goliath”,  a corporation that cares only about profits, then they find an issue or product simple enough to be understood by the people who read sites like Natural Resources Defense Council or Environmental Working Group (ideally something people eat or use daily, so there is first-hand experience with it) and then they ‘reveal’ an outrageous fact about it."

And "fact" of course hardly has to be one to let us play to the popular fancy - food faddists for instance.  You feed their fear that we're eating poison and you blame the bogeyman.  Alar on apples -- they're trying to kill you! -- "studies show!"  only they actually didn't.  Milk causes phlegm, vaccinations don't work, wheat gives you "grain Brain" and gluten is poison only none of it is true. Nearly anything you'll read in the popular press or see on Dr Oz or in those ads that pop up on line is false. Who bothers to question it when it's too damned much fun to be outraged?

As Daniel Kahneman said of  raising false fears: all you need is something plausible to the non-expert and an anecdote. Very few will ever bother to investigate, calculate odds or learn anything about chemistry, biology, statistics or any kind of science. What we believe is what we want to and that's that.  None of us are immune to the power of outrage and all of us, from brilliant to dull are lazy when it comes to what we believe.  Outrage is addictive.  Outrage is fun and if the outrage monger offers a way to "solve" what may not be a problem we will take it.  We'll make noise in the street, sign petitions, burn neighborhoods, write passionate letters of outrage long before we'll look at valid statistics with a keen eye for deception.

Rile them up, feed the righteous indignation and give them the way to the egress and they will do your bidding, whether it's to libel a candidate, see insignificant things or non existent things as outrageous and you will prevail.

And I'm tired of it. I'm tired of the emotional tail wagging the rational dog, tired of the outrage and the percieved need for action being confused with a solution. I weary of the same old truth by assertion and repetition, the outrage of the day and the hortatory calls to be afraid.  In fact I fear the fear mongers and outrage shouters far more than anything they warn us of and prophets always lie, even when the prediction comes true.

Friday, October 02, 2015

Nehil Novum Sub Solis

How many times have I said "here we go again"  in the last year?  I suppose everything else said about this latest school shooting will be as predictable, as overused and as useless.  Here we go again.

Will we hear more statistical gymnastics arguing that rampage shooting is on the increase because of this factor or that factor alone and has nothing to do with the successful promotion of the genre as a way to go out in a blaze of "glory?" Is there something about our society that produces a generation of  existentially challenged young males? Is it really all about a fictional increase in gun ownership or a fictional increase in the deadliness of modern guns and ammunition?   Ask at your own risk, you're either a gun-grabbing Communist or  a crazed gun nut to anyone who disagrees.  Here we go again in hopelessly polarized America, demanding that we "have a conversation" where I shout and you shut up.

Will anyone stop to ask why, if violence is exploding, is it so concentrated in the schools? With everyone shouting and yelling has something gone wrong with American culture? Will anyone ask if there are other factors other than that modern guns look more threatening than equally deadly older guns?  Will we look at handguns in general or press the repeat button and replay the "semi-automatic" recording?  Will we do anything different at all?

Why aren't we asking about the apparent increase in drive-by and gang related shootings in certain areas and the apparent decrease in other areas?  Is it that we don't want answers but only a stage on which to act out our our little dramas?  Children are being shot on the streets in West Palm Beach but peace reigns in my nearby community.  Why?

This is horrible, of course but I have to ask whether the response is more about sloganeering, wishful thinking and hysteria than anything helpful.  Everyone wants answers, or so they say, but I suspect they only want answers that support their prejudices and opinions.  I want more questions. I want that conversation many people pretend they want.  I want someone to ask why the flurry of post office shootings started and then stopped rather than continued along the trend line people were drawing.  I want to know why no one is showing us graphic representations which, from what I see argue that over the last century there are many peaks and many troughs in school shootings.  In no case does any extrapolation prove long lived.  Regression to the mean seems to be the law. Can we talk?  Can we look at the numbers?

I'd like to know why we never seem to get past the "something must be done"  and "something must be done by the Federal Government" and rarely ever propose something that's legal and possible and doesn't rest on the fatuous presumption that laws stop lunatics, that bans make a difference? Can we propose that life in Manhattan has different needs than life in Kodiac Station?   Suggest that crime and violence have multiple and complex etiologies demanding  complex and multiple approaches which may take a long time to work and you're a pariah.  "when do we want it - now!"  Some things never change.

Will this story be hijacked by the "War on Christianity?"   Will we have to endure weeks of self-pitying, neo-Babylonian lamentations?, with tired and vague demands?  Of course. There's nothing new.

We continue and we continue with jibber-jabber about types of ammunition and the devices that hold it, we rattle on about "style" and we continue to frame everything in the most extreme, hyperbolic, inflammatory, fear inspiring and inaccurate  terms.  As with so many emotionally driven and emotionally rationalized themes in America today, no one is interested in working with any one else.  Taxation, public debt, Racism, addiction, disease and vaccination, Secularism versus the Christian State.  Laissez faire Vs regulation -- it's all Hobbes' universal war: me against you, my action committee against yours, it's the struggle for primacy, not for a solution.

" I will not name the shooter,”  

said  Douglas County Sheriff John Hanlin and I share his feelings.  We've made folk-anti-heroes of  some deadly and deranged misfits who have problems with schools and students and teachers and can't think of any other way to air their grievances, but to kill themselves and take others with them just like all those sad miscreants around the world who shoot up public places or blow themselves and others up with home-made bombs or fly airplanes into buildings.  Everyone has a straw man to punish - mad bombers, mad shooters, arsonists as well as all those who demand that something be done, but my thing and my way, of course.

Banning booze didn't reduce alcoholism, banning needles and banning drugs made it worse, reducing highway speed limits didn't save lives or slow anyone down nor did the fraudulent "assault weapons" ban have any affect on anything.  I suspect that nothing we'll hear in the coming days about how this or that changes everything will be different.  Ban this, ban that. Take polls with forced choice questions, loaded questions, false dilemmas and  loaded terminology: extrapolate trends and think most magically about gun control.

Thursday, October 01, 2015

Showcase this!

Oh great, it's not enough that privacy in America is dead, here's a chance for an even greater level of exposure.  It's called PEEPLE and it allows you to rate and berate people the way you can post ratings of businesses on Yelp.  Of course you have to sign up for the public laughing stock but to my horror it seems someone can do that for you without your knowledge and consent.  If you've looked at Yelp, you may share my opinion that it attracts cranks and trolls and I've read the most outrageously spurious and unfair ratings of places I have first hand knowledge of.  Will these same creeps be rating someone in your family?  If you're on Facebook, ll they need is your cell phone number and judging from the calls I get, everyone knows mine, including Facebook.

How many suicides, how many murders will ensue?  How many mortified teenagers will take dad's gun to school?  How many adults for that matter, will take the notion to hunt down and kill some drooling dirtbag who spends his afternoons posting spurious libel about people he doesn't know. Imagine waking up one morning to find that 4962 posters insist that your mother does Dallas?

And of course as the lawsuits begin to pile up by the millions, won't there be a cry against the assault on "Freedom of speech?"  The founders of this abomination have raised a mountain of cash and apparently are exited that we can all now "showcase your character” online.  Really?  Well here's a good reason to get the hell off Facebook, if that's even possible, to toss the phone overboard and make sure I have plenty of  5.65 X 39 available.

Showcase this!