Wednesday, May 16, 2018

"I don't need a flu shot; I'm strengthening my immune system!"

One of the most common bleats from antivaxxers (well, apart from crap about "autism," "big pharma," or "mercury!") is that they don't need vaccines, usually flu shots, because "I strengthen my immune system" and they are thereby able to fight off things that mere mortals like the rest of us aren't capable of.

Make no mistake: there are levels of strength in one's immune response. People on chemo, people with diabetes (waves hand), people suffering nutritional/vitamin/mineral deficiencies, older people, babies and children, and the ever-popular category, people who are sleep-deprived, and many others all have a reduced immune response that can make them more susceptible to bacterial/viral infections in the first place and more likely to suffer serious complications if they do. And to an extent, raising your ability to fight off an infection is generally a good thing.

But saying that the immune system needs to get "stronger" or that a "natural" or "healthy" immune system is all you need is a very popular non-vax/anti-vax attitude, but it's one that can
 and WILL kill you. Here's why: 

What kills people in strong epidemics and pandemics is not that the old and the weak and the immunocompromised are culled from the herd while the young, strong people with strapping immune systems mock us as we croak; no, it's the young, strong people with strapping immune systems die horribly simply because they DO have strapping immune systems. 

(And ha ha ha ha ha ha HA! That'll learn 'em, we say!) 

What actually happens when you've got an immune system that's capable of biting through 1/4" plywood is that a flu virus comes in that the system doesn't recognize--such as a pandemic version of H1N1, which actually is a real possibility for pandemic versions, along with H5N1 and maybe H3N2--that doesn't trigger the normal antibody responses and the body says "Holy shit, I have NO idea what this is! Let's mobilize EVERYTHING!" And because 
your body has an immune system that can eat nails and crap corkscrews, it does just that.

And alllllllllllllllllll the defenses are mustered....

...and a really unpleasant condition happens called a "cytokine storm." That's what tends to kill you in the nasty, pandemic varieties of influenza: it's not the flu itself; it's the bodily equivalent of scorched earth warfare. Your body is going to fight off whatever's happening to the last cell.

There are a lot of really unpleasant things that happen in a cytokine storm: 

  • multiple organ failures
  • fevers that go off the end of the thermometer (literally; 106, 107 and *poof* you're dead) 
  • brain damage (usually from the fever)
  • massive pneumonia caused by your lungs filling up
  • everything choking, gasping, and shutting down
and, very often
  • death, death, death, and not at all pleasant--takes 24-36 hours of this: massive pain, the feeling of slowly drowning in your own fluids (which is literally what's happening), kidneys giving up and your urine backing up and you get toxic... It's a really bad way to go. Downright nasty, in fact. There are lots better ways to go. Certainly lots better ways to go that are years and years later, definitely. 
For more severe cytokine storms, you need to be ventilated, which is usually done in a hospital with equipment, along with constant monitoring of your vitals to make sure that they stay vital. You can slip off the edge and die just like that. 

(Exercise for the reader: look up "cytokine storm" and keep an eye out for what it says about the Spanish Flu pandemic. They happen with other really strong immunological responses, including SARS, hantavirus, and other things, certain types of transplant response, and other things where the body is being called on to fight off an extraordinary "invasion.") 

So, yes, all of us older folks, particularly those of us who are also immunocompromised, will not fare particularly well, and some of us will indeed buy the farm, too, but it's the people who've been "training" their immune systems to be strong--on the "What doesn't kill me makes me stronger" basis, apparently--who are going to die from massive organ failure, 106-degree fevers, and having their lungs fill up with fluid over a day or two. (And when it's all over, if this didn't kill 'em, it certainly left them a lot weaker. They'll have months of recovery, large hospital bills like as not, and very possibly a seriously damaged body with many new medical conditions they didn't have before. Even if they recover quickly with no lasting effects, being sick unto death for 3 weeks is hardly my idea of a good time.)

So, for those people who want to train their immune systems: yes,  eat right, exercise some, and get enough sleep and your bodies will do what they have evolved to do. For specific diseases, you can build up some resistance by exposing yourself to as many disease variants as possible, particularly every flu you can find each year... which won't help you a lot because the flu virus is amazingly good at evolving and changing to fool the body's immune responses. Or, as a better idea, you could get a fuckin' flu shot and not risk being sick for a couple weeks and even possibly dying during flu season. I mean, it's up to you how you wanna spend your time, but I really might suggest that the latter course would be a lot more fun.


Sunday, March 04, 2018

How I got my wish

Back when I was 20-21, I was going through the typical "But I don't know what I want to do in my life!" angst. I talked for a while to a wonderful therapist in Sacramento named Steve Cotta--who, I am sad to say, died just a few years ago--and he put me through a lot of exercises to help me discover what I wanted to be. I did all kinds of tests and homework and came up with some goals.

I thought I'd lost all the paperwork when I got divorced, but I just found some of it. I remember that there was a complex questionnaire that Steve sent off and had evaluated for various classic jobs. I'm pretty sure the paperwork for that one's gone, but I remember that it said my desire to be a life insurance salesman was a -4.

But the one thing that stuck with me most was an exercise on a dittoed sheet (most of these were dittos) entitled "The Ideal Job." This one just turned up again. The instructions were simple: "Write 10 criteria for your ideal job. What components you would like that job to have. (money, benefits, etc.)" There were ten numbered blank lines. I filled it out then. There were no "right" answers; this was just marking what I wanted.

I remember finding this in 1986, 10 years after I'd done it, and thinking how wonderful it was that I'd called my shots. I was making a lot of money as a freelance technical writer and pretty much everything on that list had come true. Looking at it again, it's still pretty much true.

Here are the ten things I wrote:
  1. Work that can be done at home
  2. Flexibility of schedule
  3. Well Paid
  4. Career options
  5. Advancement possibilities
  6. Intelligence counts
  7. Situation where one can socialize and work at same time
  8. Work that I like
  9. Moderate work load
  10. Occasional peak loads
(I do note, with some chagrin, how childlike my handwriting was then and, truth be told, it's really no better now. Oh, well....) 


"But if we get rid of Trump, we're stuck with Pence!"

For over a year now, people have been saying "But if we get rid of Trump, we'll have Pence. And he's worse." I have a few thoughts on that that have only recently gelled I'd like to share with you.

First of all, Trump is a buffoon, a man with no soul, no brain, a grotesque toadlike fart with no morals whose only allegiances are to his belly, his dick, and his wallet. There is nothing about him that can be effectively said to describe his character and his life for which the addition of profanity cannot but make more vivid. (His adult crotchfruit are really no better, being equally horrible people who remind one of family members in the classic Twilight Zone episode, "The Masks.")

Trump's ignorance, bigotry, misogyny, and racism are as profound as anyone has probably ever met in this country. He is a walking turd who disgraces this country every second he's in office. When he dies, probably of a massive stroke, he will be mocked and derided for being the colossal failure that he was and the world will be a better place on average for his passing.

And despite all this, Pence is worse.

Pence is actually smart. He has a fair understanding of the political system (Trump takes cluelessness to a real level on this one) and he did get to be Governor of the state of Indiana more-or-less on his own.

But Pence is completely evil. He's vastly homophobic. He believes in conversion therapy for gays. He doesn't care about women's rights, women's health, or women. He thinks his brand of Christianity is the One Right True and Only religion for all and he will inflict that on us. He doesn't care about the planet, other animals, the Great Melting Pot of America, or anything but the warped, small, twisted view of the world that he has. Pence reminds me of a sneaky little shit who never really grew up but always resented that nobody liked him (with really good reason). But now he's going to make us all pay!

That's really what I've realized and why there may be less of a problem than we think. Yes, Trump is a flatulent jackass who doesn't know how things are done. Raising the stresses on him from Mueller and everyone else will do truly wonderful things for the blood pressure of a 71yo man who believes exercise is bad and who eats fast food regularly. He could keel over at any moment. And then we'd have Pence, who is smart and probably believes all that weird fundie bullshit he's passing off as "Christianity."

But there's an odd difference: people seem to like what Trump stands for. Oh, yeah, his followers are willing to double down on pretty much any bullshit he says, but Trump has the charisma of a narcissist and it takes self-confidence and having been through the mill with a narcissist at least once before to really inoculate yourself against the blandishments of other narcissists. People still like him (mostly those who haven't met him in person).

Pence is not likeable. I don't think he makes deals well because people automatically don't trust him. He's still got "sneaky little shit" stamped all over him. As a result, when Trump's gone, I don't think Pence is going to be a lot more effective. He'll still be evil, sure, but I think he's not going to get even the support Trump does in Congress. And that would all be a lovely thought.

Friday, February 02, 2018

Trump is a narcissist and why that makes a difference

(Note: I wrote this January 11, 2017, on FB, but seeing how many times it's been reposted since then, I think I'd like to save it. Trump's still around, so this is still relevant.)

People have been saying that, when dealing with Trump (and the GOP), we have to maintain our civility, our dignity, our sense of discourse. And it occurs to me that there's something they don't know about the situation that's key.

Trump is a narcissist. (Is there anyone other than a Trump supporter that doesn't know this by now?) But what a lot of these let's-stay-civil types don't know is how narcissists work. (Chances are they've never had to deal with one up close and personal before.)

Narcissists don't see anyone else as real. We're not important. What's important to them is winning. There is no honor, no civility, nothing; it's all about them. This is why there's all the lying that we've already seen, much of which takes the "who are you going to believe, me or your lying eyes" form of gaslighting. ("No, I didn't make fun of a disabled reporter," for example.) And when caught in one lie, they'll lie again, frequently within seconds of the first lie. I've experienced this personally and you can watch the orange shitgibbon do the same thing.

The problem is that the let's-be-civil types are working on the idea that "Well, Trump is a human being, there's some place where we can work with him, some deal we can make, some contract of behavior/interaction that we can spell out minutely enough that will nail him down to something we can depend on," and the short answer is "No." You simply cannot do this. (Want proof? How many times has he fucked over contractors/business partners? Look at the list of 5000+ lawsuits against him that the NY Times compiled shortly before the election. Wouldn't you think that's a record for someone so... successful?) You need to go back to the basic concept: we don't exist except as a backdrop to the narcissist's beliefs that it's All About Them.

Keep this in mind: There isn't anything you can do to deal with a narcissist.




You can offer them the moon and they'll take it, but you can't depend on them to do what they agreed to, even for the moon. In fact, many of them will make a POINT of screwing you on the deal if only to prove that they can and you're not as important as them. Therefore, any attempt to deal with them is automatically doomed to failure.

Even worse, narcissists count on you being civil, being nice, not being ready for them. They're lying in wait for you and they will immediately start the games as soon as you show up.

So, what does work when dealing with narcissists?

Ignoring them when possible. (We can't in this case, alas.)



Public humiliation on as big a scale as can be managed.

You cannot "reach" a narcissist--they are completely unfixable--and anything based on the idea of "Oh, but they're human, there's some good in them, we should be nice because WE are people and should be nicer than them" is going to get you fucked over. And fucked over again. And again. Until you damn well sane up and get to the idea that there is Only One Thing that will stop a narcissist, you're going to have "Victim" on your forehead. And the narcissist will always take advantage of that.

One of the helpful things is that narcissists really don't have a lot of game. Oh, they're clever enough at the gaslighting they do, but they're not really inventive nor, usually, terribly bright, either. They'll copy and steal whatever gag works, but they aren't original. Honestly, they rarely need to be. All those hotel deals gone bad are always the same, have you noticed? There's nothing new about them except the latest crop of victims. Other than that, they're the same old tired gag each time. Watch them and make mental notes. The first narcissist I knew tipped his hand by telling me the same story from his past in four slightly different versions over the course of maybe a year. Each time it was supposedly an exact recollection. And I started watching very, very closely at that point.

I've known two narcissists in my life of Trump's caliber. One's dead--yay!--and one's still alive. I've seen all the behaviors that Trump is exhibiting up close and personal and I know exactly what needs to be done with narcissists. I no longer waste time in thinking that there may be some way to reach them, some way to deal with them, some way to accept them as a person, because they're unreachable, untrustworthy, and not really "people." And the sooner you all get to this level of understanding and stop being "nice" and start mocking and scorning the orange shitgibbon at every possible turn, the better off you'll be, too.

You may say "But we'll be no better than he is, then!" Actually, yes, you will, always. You're automatically better because you care about other people. What you're doing is isolating a major disease vector and squeezing it out of existence in the only way possible. It's impervious to anything else. It's okay to be unhappy that you have to do this, but you're simply not allowed to kill people like this, so mockery, scorn, and laughing and pointing are the tools you have. Use them.

Saturday, September 09, 2017

Started back at the gym this week

I've started back at the gym this week.

As I expected, after 4 months away from the gym, I'm only at 50-60% of the weight I was up to May 1st. I'm hoping I can convince things to get back up there fairly quickly; I'd hate to think that I'm going to lose 2-3 months to getting back to where I was. :(

I'm still doing the 12-week Lee Hayward program. This is my second iteration and I may go for a third iteration before dramatically changing it. But I've already been adding a number of exercises to the program this iteration, such as wrist curls and reverse wrist curls and a little upper body cable stuff. Oddly enough, the program didn't have pec flies, either, which struck me as odd; they're there now, too.

Yesterday, I did my normal program for the day. It had 60 squats as one of the exercises. I used to do this regularly and I did it again yesterday. Mind ewe, I haven't done squats since the accident, the more so since my ankle and leg bones were restricted by all the hardware and bending my ankle that much would've shattered the pins holding everything in place. ~shudder~

And because I've not done anything like that for four months, both my quads and that little muscle on the inside of the thigh slightly toward the back that runs down toward the knee and is anchored right around the hip crease are SCREAMING at me today. And I think they'll hurt worse tomorrow, too. :(

Oh, well....

Monday, August 21, 2017

Tree of Heaven, aka "stinking sumac"

We rediscovered the name of the obnoxious weed tree in our yard. (We'd been told but we'd forgotten.) It's Tree-of-Heaven, ailanthus altissima, and it's also known as stinking sumac, Chinese sumac, or stink tree. We're doing what we can to make it feel extraordinarily unwelcome--involving holes drilled in root balls and concentrated Roundup poured directly into the holes--but it's going to be a long battle, I fear.

Monday, August 14, 2017

How to choose a good apple (even Red Delicious!)

Choosing good apples when you're shopping is a challenge. Just from looking at an apple, you don't know if it's going to be crisp, crunchy, juicy, and flavorful, or if it's going to be mealy, dry, and flavorless. This post is about how you can choose good apples easily. You can even use this trick to find Red Delicious apples you'd wanna eat! (Yeah, I know; they're usually fit for applesauce at best, but really!)

What you do: You're going to use your middle finger and your thumb and make a flicking motion like you're flicking a large crumb off a table. Holding the apple between the thumb and middle finger of your other hand, gently flick the apple with your fingernail. (There's no need to do it hard; you'll bruise the apple. Just enough to make the apple ping a little.) The apple's going to make a noise, a musical note if you like. The riper and juicier and crisper the apple is, the higher and clearer the note. If the apple makes a sort of dull "thwock" or "thunk," it's going to be mealy.

You want to select apples that are of a roughly equal ripeness (based on how they look): apples that are unripe are going to make a substantially different noise compared to apples that are ripe. Also consider that some apples that are getting a little older, ones where the skin may even be a bit loose or wizened, may still be very edible indeed, even though they don't make the same high note. (You may notice a difference in clarity of the note they make, though.)

This will take a little experimenting to get the rhythm, but it's not Big Science, so it won't take you long at all. When I am selecting apples at the store, I usually have two or three in hand that have the highest notes, replacing with apples with higher notes as I go, until I get the feeling for what the highest note I'm going to get from that bin is, then I start bagging them. And yes, I get very good apples this way.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Relationship improvements

A couple months ago, The Babe said that she wanted me to change a behavior: whenever she'd say "Do you wanna do X," I'd invariably reply "I don't know." This made her feel devalued and unimportant and we didn't end up doing a lot. She said that she wanted me to instead say "Yes" or "No" but not leave her hanging. Well, that was a clear request and a good one and I understood why she'd feel that way and she was RIGHT; she deserved better... so I have started giving her clear answers, which have almost always been "Yes" as it happens. As a result, we've been doing a TON of things together and having a really good time! I feel invigorated. She does too. We're much more together doing this. I'm sorry I didn't learn this much, much sooner. She also made a request that we talk without technology on for 15 minutes a day at least, which has been very good for similar reasons.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

How I acquired Sanchez the cat

From 2011 to early 2014, I was living during the week in an apartment in Beaverton, OR, working a contract. Sanchez--known then to one and all simply as "El Gato Negro"--was a large black cat who lived in the apartment complex. His owners had been there for a number of years but for some reason one of the flatmates didn't like cats, so they left him outside. They fed him, but he lived outside.

El Gato Negro made the rounds of the apartments and maybe as many as half a dozen apartments left out food for him. I understand that when he felt he wasn't getting enough, he'd hunt (successfully) ducklings and goslings in the creek behind the apartment. When I met him, he was friendly and let me pet him and pick him up. He was actually a little scrawny at that point and his fur was a little dull, but he was very active and in good health.

Around 2013, the apartment manager told me that his owners had skipped and had left him behind. She knew I'd been looking for a cat to keep me company, so would I like to take care of him? That sounded like a great idea, so the next time El Gato Negro came by, I picked him up and carried him up to my apartment. He took to living indoors just fine and the first night he was there, I went to bed and he joined me about 10 minutes later and snuggled into me, something he's tended to do every night since then.

In about a month of regular feeding, he got to a proper weight where he didn't look scrawny anymore and his fur was glossy. In his case, "proper weight" means 17, 18 pounds, which is the size of a small bobcat. He's about that big, too.

He picked up the name Sanchez when The Babe and I were at Worldcon and heard John Scalzi read a very funny short story he'd written entitled "The Other Large Thing," in which the name "Sanchez" figured prominently. (It's a fast read; if you've not read/heard it before, please take a couple minutes and do so now.)

Sanchez, as far as I can tell, is 13, possibly 14 years old. He's all black save for a little line of white on his chest. And he still tends to snuggle into me at night.


Monday, July 10, 2017

A banjo story from my past

Back in the early 90s, I was doing a concert in Portland about 25 years ago and that thing we always worry about happening in concerts happened: I broke a string. Damn damn damn! I reached into my shoulder bag and pulled out the packet of strings we all carry for just this emergency and start changing the string.

But I've got to fill time while I'm doing it, so I start telling banjo jokes. I run through a lot of the old standards:

What's the difference between a banjo and an onion? (You cry when you cut up an onion.) accordion? (The banjo takes longer to burn.)
...a Harley? (You can tune a Harley.)
...a chainsaw? (The chainsaw has a wider dynamic range.)
...a banjo player and a large pizza? (The large pizza can feed a family of four.)

What do you say to a banjo player in a three-piece suit? ("Will the defendant please rise?")

How do you tell the stage is level? (The banjo player drools out of both sides of his mouth.)

...and a bunch more, including my all-time favorite:

Q: What's the first thing every banjo player knows?
A: That Jed's a millionaire.

Okay, so I'm about done with changing the string and I say "What's the difference between a banjo and an Uzi?" But before I can get out my answer of "The Uzi only repeats 40 times," some guy in the third row called out "The banjo clears the room faster!"

Aaaaargh! Upstaged! I mimed getting stabbed in the heart, tuned up the new string, and played the next song in the concert.

Wednesday, December 04, 2013

Let's try this again....

Good heavens, life just ROLLS along! I think I'll just say one thing here: Don't assume the unexpected will be what you expect. Things are okay.

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Joke du jour

Q: How do you make a pirate angry?
A. Knock the P out of him.