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Tuesday, November 30, 2010

I Married Sarah Palin...

The "faux" Sarah Palin and Todd
Yes... I married the real Sarah Palin.  No, not the one you see on TV these days with her own reality show, the honest-to-God real Sarah Palin.

I met her at the local country fair in 1975 - hanging around with one of my geeky high school buddies.  Her then boyfriend had not bothered to take her along with him to the fair so my friend had given her a ride (more than likely hoping for a subsequent date).  I ended up giving her a ride home that night and, as they say, the rest is history.

We fell in love.  I left her for months upon months to do what I needed to do to make a living.  We lived, in love, far apart left with writing letters because calling on the phone cost too much money in those days.  She wrote in French with X's and O's.  Unfortunately the letters are long lost to time.

We still have a picture taken when I took her to her high school prom in 1976.  It looks a lot like the one at the top of this post except we stand proudly in front of my father's bright blue Pacer.  Sure, our hair is longer, but then it was probably almost ten years before the picture you see here.  Our picture still lies somewhere in the living room at the bottom of a family album.

My Sarah Palin does everything the one you see on TV does and more: chops wood, skins and guts fish and game, hikes, climbs mountains, camps, cooks over an open fire, canoes, kayaks, rafts big white water, shoots, goes fishing, pitches a tent, you name it.  She can do it alone or dragging along some or all of our four children.  She's not big on hunting and cold though...  so moose hunting is out.  She doesn't jog and run either - that's my job.

We didn't have a reality show, though, like the fake (or maybe faux Sarah Palin) you see on TV.  No, we did it with grit and guts because we loved doing it and each other.  And, it was kind of funny, that there were others like us - out with their kids as well.  So perhaps my Sarah Palin isn't the only real one.

Like the faux Sarah Palin my Sarah Palin belives in Faith, Family and Flag.  We both do.  Like the faux Palin we have endured years of chiding and ridicule for these beliefs.  My Sarah called a "traitor to the sisterhood" for staying home with our children to raise them.

We spent many happy years camping, canoeing, and kayaking in the back woods of Pennsylvania and West Virgina with our children.  We didn't have a big RV like the faux Sarah Palin.  Instead we had a Dodge Colt Vista and later a large blue Dodge Caravan.  We hauled camping gear, dogs, kayaks, canoes, supplies, and tents to the remote wilderness.  We camped and hiked and swam in the wildwater (and no, the children were not washed away over the falls).  When we out grew one vehicle we had to take two.

Unlike the faux Sarah Palin no one cared about what we did - even though it was exactly the same thing as the reality TV show.  Of course, we didn't live in Alaska, but besides that. not much was different.  I suppose our yuppie neighbors were glad we were gone - no happy screaming children disrupting their drunken, naked hot tub nights.

What's so remarkable is that anyone cares about all of this, and in particular the faux Palin.  I suppose if they'd lived same life they'd have no interest...

I've been watching the TV show and I find it quite interesting - more for what is not said mostly.

I suppose most glaringly the women on the faux Sarah program actually respect the old man Todd.  You don't see much arguing or backtalk with him on the show.  After all this first dude won the Tesoro Iron Dog race four times, fishes commercially and drills oil and gas wells for a living.  My guess is is that he delivers as the "man" in the family - on all levels - for which the women respect him.  So, other than the the faux Palin talking about him here and there he's just a background fixture, kind of like Mt. McKinely.

I was interested to see how she handled her weaponry.  This link is probably the most telling though she shoots an over-under shot gun instead of a rifle on the TV show.  The link show her shooting what appears to be an M-16 style semi-automatic.  No flinching.  No whining.  Steady aim.  Ditto for the shot gun.  You can also see her casually ejecting shells between pulls.  Husband Todd can shoot and easily demonstrates his skill on the program - just like the real one.

My Sarah is somewhat less of a hunter so other than occasionally shooting and make sure ours our in good shape you won't find much interest in guns on her part - but don't confuse that with inability.

All in all I would say the faux Palin does a pretty good job of demonstrating what the real Sarah Palin is like...

Good thing no one cares about the real one.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Debtors Prison: Your Child's Legacy

Debtor's Prison is alive today - click on this picture.
I read an article in USA Today last week that described how retirement debt will be a problem for the next generation.  Basically it says that people in retirement are going into debt for a variety of reasons and simply don't care about the consequences.   After all, they will be dead soon, so why pay their bills?  After they die their estates, if there are any, will be liquidated to pay off the consequences of their debts leaving the kiddies who plan to make it big with their inheritance nothing.

Sadly this seems to be an overwhelming common occurrence these days - leaving children the legacy of debt.

I started to wonder about this model when the first of my children wanted to go to college.  It was expensive - probably about $5K a semester where she wanted to go.  Figuring five years of college, depending on the major and screw ups, times $10K a year times five years leaves about $50K - not counting books, food, and other ancillaries.

Plugging these numbers into this website yields a monthly payment of around $600.00 US paying about $19K in interest over ten years.  My child would be left with this debt.  How you she get buy on this?  You can't work at Wendy's and afford that payment...

But wait, you say, she won't need to work at Wendy's - she'll have a college degree!

You're a fool if you believe this - particularly in today's economy.  Though my child graduated into the go-go economy of the post 9/11 housing boom finding a job was still not easy because education doesn't really count for all that much when compared to experience, credit worthiness, demonstrated work-based responsibility, and other similar things.

Fast forward to today - this particular child has a degree in biotechnology from a well recognized state university.  After a couple of years of scratching around she finally got work making something like $40 - 50K a year all told in her field of study.  A $600/month payment is nothing to sneeze at - especially if you are just a 22 year old kid without a job and without experience. 

Where I live now that's at least a house payment.

Most end up refinancing these loans at least once, rolling them into housing loans and so forth; and these loans take over your life.  I know many people in their 40's still saddled with these debts.

Now why, you might ask, would this be "my debt" my child is being left and not my child's debt?

There are several of reasons.  First mom and dad are often involved in signing for a loan like this.  Second, my generation (and my parents generation) created the expectation that to be successful in life you must have a college education (see this).  Prior to the last 60-70 years most male children followed in their father's footsteps: construction, plumber, farming, etc.

I trained another child in one of my professions.  (This one spent a little time in school - long enough to realize they were not really interested in it.)  My cost for this training was negative, i.e., I made money on the deal.  The child learned a trade and I benefited from that because though I paid them I paid them less than the prevailing wage.   Today that child probably makes more money than me.  No debt was involved - no government - no tax dollars.  This child was able to follow thier passion and pursue their dream career.

The child I trained continually relates interesting stories to me about his peers graduated from college.  How little they know, how little experience they have, how bad their work ethic is, how narrow their knowledge base is, how childish and inexperienced they are, and how much more experienced and qualified he is.  Its fascinating to me because I did not set out to do this - I merely attempted to teach him a trade.  However, its now apparent that giving him real customer responsibility at a young age taught him to be be a real grown up person long before his peers.

College today teaches less than high school did in my day (though it teaches much more about irresponsibility).  And not just in the technical area - with one year of high school biology my wife was able to easily follow, understand and even critique everything my other child learned on her way to a biotechnology degree.

So why do many people pass the "debtor lifestyle" on to their children - credit cards, loans, houses and cars they cannot afford?

Personally I think its an "entitlement" mentality.  People believe that they are entitled to an education, a car, a house, whatever they can borrow money to acquire.   I suppose its the same legacy of debt passed on to our country by the many baby boomers.  (The "ends" justifies "means", as it were - debt is okay for education).

But if you really are entitled to something why is borrowing money involved?

And worse, at least from the perspective of education, what's being sold is less than a 1975 rural high school education.   Worse still, its become a lifestyle.

Placing my children into debt does not give them a better life than I had.  While "giving their children a better life than they had" was the mantra of my parents generation it does not work in the world of today or with the baby boomer mentality.  My parents did not suggest I should go into debt to have a better life than them - but apparently that's not the case today for the most part.

The problem we now all face is that we have "front loaded" our future with debt - probably 60-70 trillion dollars counting it all.  Debt we cannot afford.  Not just for our country as with unfunded social security and medical liability, but with personal debt (loans, credit cards, all the rest) as well.  We have destroyed our the future of our children. 

I have not done this but far to many others have based on misguided thoughts of entitlement and education and my children will be saddled with this burden.

I have also written here about retirement.  Starting your child in a world were they are free from debt to pursue their dreams and interests is an investment in a future as an old man.  Government and social security will not care about me in my twilight years - but my children will - especially if they have not been encumbered with the burden unnecessary debt for most of their lives.

Debtors prison is making a comeback... 

I just hope you aren't planning to send you child there.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving...

We will be on vacation until Monday, November 29th.

Monday, November 22, 2010

The Winds of Healthcare Change..

Recently Texas Governor Rick Perry said "we feel very comfortable that we could come up with a more equitable, a more efficient, and obviously a more cost-effective way to deliver health care" with respect to Medicaid.

So why is our "entitlement health care system" driving states toward bankruptcy?

The answer is both simple and complex. 

One the simple side:
  • Medicare and Medicaid each cover at least 50 million people each - that's a total of 100 million people or so.
  • Medicare covers people over 65 - typically these people require more services than younger, healthier people.
  • Medicaid covers poor people who typically use hospital emergency rooms for primary coverage.
The complex side is that most or all of government run healthcare is full of "mandates".  To understand mandates you first need to understand how the federal and state governments work together under the laws providing funding. 

Medicaid is a program created and funded by the Federal government.  The Federal government gives the states (like Pennsylvania) matching money for every Medicaid dollar spent as long as the dollars spent by the state match the program requirements.  The part in the italics is the catch, as it were.  The Federal government requires the states to do certain things under the "program".

The states only get the money after they have spent it, i.e., the Federal government reimburses the state after the state has spent its money on health care for people enrolled in its programs.

Medicare works differently.  Institutions get payments in block amounts of money for specific things, like a doctors visit or a stay in a nursing home.

In the case of both systems there are many issues related to billing and payments.  Fraud is easy because there is so much billing.  Doctors usher patients through at the maximum rate allowed, i.e., there is no financial incentive to cure someone.  The only financial incentive is to bill for services rendered - so as long as someone keeps coming back for the same problem you, as a doctor, do better, than if you cure them in one visit.

Then there are mandates.  If your hospital or practice wishes to be paid by these programs (directly or indirectly) you must meet certain federal guidelines.  For example, Medicaid is changing the "visitation rights" for hospital patients.  Mandates can be simple things or complex and can cost the states nothing or a lot.

And here in lies the problem.

The federal government is coercing the states to behave in specific ways.  The carrot and stick are reimbursements.  If you want to see patients covered by these program you must follow the guidelines.  If you don't follow the guidelines you cannot see eligible patients.

What's happening in Texas is that the state believes it can do better without the Federal government involved.

Right now this is just talk.

But serious talk. 

My guess is that in a few years these federal systems for health care will start to fail because they are overly complex financially and medically.  Those of use facing retirement in ten years will be left holding the bag as it were.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Flu Shots and Magical Thinking

No, this is not me...  (my hair isn't that gray)
Around 1976, when Gerald Ford was president, I was at the University of Wisconsin, Madison.

Word came down from the press that we were all going to die of the Swine Flu so we had better all line up for our free vaccination.  I was away at my first year of college.  I remember being the student union and seeing a long line of folks lined up for their free flu shot that would save their lives.

To this day I can still see the line.  It was long, it was slow moving.  It reminded me of cattle lining up for slaughter.  And, as it turned out my chances of harm from Swine Flu versus the flu shot itself were far less, zero in fact, because the only person to die in 1976 of Swine Flu was 19-year-old Pvt. David Lewis of Ashley Falls, Mass.

Each year my mother calls me and worries about getting a flu shot.

"What should I do" she asks.

We always talk about it though she always makes up her own mind.

"I'm not going to get it..." she tells me.  She sees the long lines, the same as I saw 35 years ago, at the local drug store or in the lobby of the building where she lives.  I think it scares her.

So what's the deal with flu anyway?  Like 1976, 2009 was the year that H1N1 was going to wipe humanity off the face of the earth, just like the 1918 flu pandemic.

But is it true?

The first thing I did was track down the CDC (here in the US) and try to figure out what the hell it is that they do to track flu.  The best I could come up with is this website: http://www.cdc.gov/flu/weekly/.  Its sort of like a death-star command bridge of CDC flu data collection.

Its very interesting.  They divide the year up into 52 weeks and publish a kind of run-on chart that shows types of flues and reports about numbers of cases.  The most interesting char off the top was this one:


The basic idea here is this.  The top black line is the "epidemic threshold".  If the red line, representing the percent of all deaths due to pneumonia and influenza, crosses over the top black line one presumes there in an epidemic.  The bottom black line is the baseline of flu deaths.

So around you see a big spike around the 10th week of 2008 - presumably a big epidemic - at least according to the chart.

Hold on... 2008?  I don't recall anything about that.  Do you?

Sure there was SARS - a dud - and that was 2005.  Then there was H1N1 - but that was late 2009 (which you can see as a bump around the end of 2009).

Some Googling yields the CDC's report on the 2007-2008 flu season through May, 2008.  It can be found here

My, my.  There is some interesting data here, er, well, the lack of data.  No discussion of the epidemic listed on the chart.  Nothing.  There is some discussion on how all this flu stuff is not as exact as it might be and there is a discussion of the effectiveness of the vaccine.

Quoted from the link in part: "Interim results from a study carried out this season with the Marshfield Clinic in Wisconsin found overall vaccine effectiveness (VE) of 44% for the 2007-08 flu shot. This included VE of 58% effectiveness against the predominant influenza A (H3N2) viruses, but no effectiveness against influenza B viruses. No influenza A (H1N1) viruses were seen in the study population, so VE against these viruses could not be assessed. A higher VE against H3N2 viruses than against influenza B viruses was likely because the circulating H3N2 strains and H3N2 strain in the vaccine were closely related while the circulating B viruses were antigenically and genetically much different from the influenza B virus in the vaccine and there was little to no cross-reactivity. "

Seems like the data and charts don't match the conclusions here.

Now, I'm a reasonably smart guy.  This stuff is a jumble of nonsense.  None of it matches.  And, of particular interest here, it seems like each year all the prior years web pages on results are replaced by the next years results, i.e., there is no year-to-year comparison of what's going on.

So an effectiveness rate of 44%, eh - whatever that means, and attempting to find this calculation on the CDC so far has left me empty handed.  After some surfing I came up with this site.

This paints a somewhat (or, perhaps significantly) troubling picture of the macro case of "vaccine effectiveness".   Results seem to range from cutting influenza-like symptoms 35% to a 50% reduction in all-cause mortality for the elderly to another study that "found no link between flu vaccination and a reduced risk of this illness."  The author of the first study, not surprisingly, was none other than the CDC.

A bit later in this same article we learn that "Influenza only causes 5% of winter deaths at most" so a flue shot is unlikely to produce a 50% reduction in all-cause mortality.  Further it claims that, for the elderly, a true epidemiological study would be unethical for various reasons (I wonder if its as unethical as sending them out to get a vaccine with, at best, a dubious benefit).

And finally, there's this comment "The seniors who are healthy and are able to go get a flu shot are less likely to get pneumonia or die. The benefits [of the influenza vaccine] are probably real but rather small..."

Seems to me that at best the effectiveness rate for this vaccine is about that of a placebo, at least for elderly patients.  If you haven't heard of it the placebo effect is what happens when you give someone a pill and tell them the pill does something even though the pill is actually just a dummy.  It turns out that in many cases up to about one third of the people experience the effect they were told about - even though the pill does nothing. 

So effectively is the shot, at least for the elderly, just a placebo...?

(I am not so sure magical thinking, at least in the context of one's health, is not so far off the placebo effect.)

On the other hand, people experience real vaccine side effects - they are well documented.  Any my mother is right to fear them.

So which is more dangerous?

A vaccine of dubious effectiveness or doing nothing at all?

Mother still apparently knows best...

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Wherefore Art Thou, Oh Iodine?

I am posting today to report on our progress at home related to the use of iodine supplements.

Recently my wife purchased a commercial Lugol's iodine solution: 5% of elemental iodine in a 10% solution of potassium iodide.  This is a chemical preparation that has been made for a couple of hundred years.   My guess is that each drop of a commercial 2.2% solution represents about 12.5 mg of iodine.

(I still need to do more research on this because too much iodine can cause thyrotoxicosis.  It seems as though the symptoms of this are sort of "opposite" those of iodine deficiency so I think its unlikely the two could be confused.)

Commercial solutions must be less than 2.2% iodine lest they run afoul of government rules that limit certain substances that might be used in methamphetamine production.  From what I can see this limit on iodine (at least iodine solutions) is nonsense as it relates to methamphetamine - supposedly its used to create HCl (using phosphorus, no less).

The Japanese consume iodine on the level of grams due to their seafood diets so it seems likely a few milligrams is not a concern.

This solution has changed her life dramatically in terms of energy, clearness of thought, and so on.  This transformation was one I went through over the last five years or so (see "Five Years Ago...").  Again I am in "Flowers for Algernon".

So this transformation has left a question.   Where has all the iodine that used to be added to our diets gone?

It turns out to be an interesting question with some interesting answers.

Prior to the early 1970's iodine supplementation in our diets had been in place since about 1924 or so when the Morton Salt Company introduced iodized salt.  Similarly iodized salt was used in commercial baking.

I researching this I came upon a couple of articles.  The first is a PDF here:  "Bread Iodine Content and Thyroid Radioiodine Uptake: a Tale of Two Cities"  This is an article written in a British NIH (National Institute of Health) publication in 1972.  It seems to indicate that there is a problem with administering radioactive iodine thyroid tests if a patient is consuming iodine supplementation via baked goods.

Radioactive iodine tests are used to evaluate thyroid function.  The patient ingests radioactive iodine and a scanner measures the radiation emitted by the thyroid in order to attempt to diagnose any problem (this is typically done if blood tests indicate a problem with thyroid hormones).

The second article "Normal Thyrodial Update of Iodine" (PDF here)  talks about the regional variation in thyroid function as it relates to radio iodine uptake.

These articles seem to indicate two things:  A) iodine absorption varies significantly by geographic location and B) too much iodine interferes with certain thyroid tests.  Some internet posters claim this is the reason it was removed from baked goods as a supplement, but I don't think so.

Another article here indicates that "In 1948, Drs. Wolff and Chaikoff led a landmark study that determined that iodine can be harmful to the thyroid. While this is partially true, they were using only one part of the iodine element and not the whole mineral. If used correctly, iodine is very safe."  The result of this was the reduction in the USDA daily Recommend Daily Allowance (RDA) of iodine to 150mcg.

This article indicates that 25mg (two drops of a lugol's solution - though no percentage is given) is good for two to three months to repair the bodies iodine deficiency and that, beyond that, 12.5 mg (one drop) is sufficient for maintenance).

Another article here shows that Australia, in 2008, believed that iodine deficiency was such a problem (though it does not indicate whether there ever was iodization or if there was why it was stopped and when) iodization of salt and/or other products should be introduced.  Subsequent information seems to indirectly indicate that such a program has been implemented.

Then there is bromide.  Bromide has been put into various food products as a replacement for iodine - bread in particular as well as flour.

Bromides affect some of the same receptors in the body that iodine affects.  Bromide is not good for you.  There is a long list of problems listed here - among them, not surprisingly, thyroid.  A related theory is that if there is more bromide than iodine the bromide will "dominate" and cause problems.  Related discussion revolves around detoxing from bromide before iodine will have its full effect as a supplement - but I am not certain I believe this.

Brazil has outlawed bromides.

So, why the banishment of iodine after all this?

My guess is cost and/or past medical incompetence.

I am think that not eating bread containing bromides would be good as well.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Cholesterol, Heart Disease and Magical Thinking

We see the ads on TV all the time: your high cholesterol might be the cause of heart disease, heart attack, and, worst upon worst (at least if you're a guy), even erectile dysfunction.

Pretty scary stuff, isn't it?

But are the ads true?

There was a big study of CHD (Coronary Heart Disease) AMI events (heart attacks or Acute Myocardial Infarction (AMI)) called INTERHEART.  It followed some tens of thousands of cases and people over many years.  The results identify risks associated with activities and tests.

Now this is where things become interesting.

The study identifies risk factors - now its very important to understand that a risk factor is not a predictor of something and not cause something.  A prediction says that if I hold a hammer over my foot that it will hit my foot if I let go - I predict the result based on some information.  A cause is different.  For example, if I jump off the roof and break my leg the jump from the roof caused the broken leg (you can argue that the impact of my body on the ground  and the fact that my leg took up all the force was really the cause, but at a macro level my leg broke because of the jump).

A risk factor merely represents the numerical chance something might happen based on examination of a large group.  (Chance here is a number between zero and one, commonly shown as a percentage, i.e., .1 = 10%.)  Sort of like saying 10% of the people at a baseball game buy hot dogs.  We don't know which people will buy hot dogs but we can generally assume that for any given baseball game about 10% will buy hot dogs - everything else being equal (for example, there are no sales of hamburgers that day).  This is why stadium vendors can buy just about the right amount of food so none is wasted and they don't run out.

In epidemiology risk factors are calculated as follows:

We take a statistically significant group of people (you can use common sense here - for something like heart disease you wouldn't study just five people - you'd study a large number).  Just how large a number is not really important here, all we need to know is the number is large enough for statistical purposes.

We'll pretend in this post that 100 people are subjects in the study because math with 100 is relatively easy.

So let's say (we are making this up) that 20 people have AMI events of our 100 subjects.  That's 20 / 100 = .20 = 20%.  So we say that in general you have a 20% risk of an AMI event - based on our population (more on this in a bit).

Let's also say that 25 people in our example smoke (about like the percentage in the real world) and we'll pretend that 15 people in this smoking group have AMI events.

So the number of people that smoke and have an AMI event is 15, or 15 / 100 or .15 or 15% of the population.

If we divide the 15% (people who smoke and have an AMI event) by the 20% that just have an AMI event we get .75 or 75% risk factor that if I smoke I will have an AMI event.

Now, based on this, the billion (or trillion) dollar questions is this:  Does our study show that smoking causes an AMI event?

The answer is clearly no.  Our study does not determine the cause of anything.  It merely multiplies some observed numbers together and computes something we call a risk factor.

And, in this case, was does that mean?

Actually nothing.  I could now tell you, for example, that our 100 subjects all were born with serious congenital heart problems known to cause AMI events.

What would you think of my study example now?

What you are seeing is correlation.  Correlation means, in this case, that when one thing happens there is an observed relationship with some other thing happening.  A correlation is an observation

Dogs make correlations: If I walk to the container holding the dog food they think I am going to feed them - so they stick close by.  The dog mind predicts that I will feed them when I do this.  But walking to the dog food container does not cause me to feed them.  Similarly if I walk by the dog food container all the time and don't feed them the dogs will soon realize that their correlation is not useful and abandon it.

The INTERHEART study shows cholesterol is a risk factor in AMI events.  (The ratio of HDL/LDL is used as well as another kind of cholesterol ratio - both provide about the same risk factor.)

Does this mean that cholesterol causes AMI events?

No, it does not.  In fact, emphatically NO.

For all we know based on this study bad cholesterol ratios may also be a symptom of the same thing that actually causes AMI events.

And that's the problem.

Unfortunately, big pharma latches on to things like this study and makes the assumption that reducing the risk factor will make you healthier.  Actually, they probably know its not true, but since making you think its true is not a crime...

That's why things like Lipitor make your good cholesterol go up and you bad cholesterol go down.  The thinking is that reducing a risk factor for an AMI event makes your chance of having an AMI event smaller.

But that's nonsense because there is no causal relationship between the cholesterol ratios and AMI events.

And since there is no causal relationship its just what we might call "magical thinking" on your part, the part of your doctor, the part of big pharma.  Magical thinking (according to the link) is "causal reasoning that looks for correlation between acts or utterances and certain events. In religion, folk religion and superstition, the correlation posited is between religious ritual, such as prayer, sacrifice or the observance of a taboo, and an expected benefit or recompense. "

Wikipedia associates magical thinking with witch doctors and voodoo - but isn't it apropo here?

So there you are.  Taking a medication linked to a problem you probably don't already have.  Linked by magical thinking, and magical thinking alone to a drug that makes them big money.

And to top it all off - things like Liptor has nasty side effects!

Now one imagines that the maker of Liptor does not like to see things on this list in general nor does it like to see a long list.  So my guess is that the manufacturer worked very hard to remove everything that's on the list due to magical thinking on the part of the consumer taking the drug.

Sadly the list is too long to put into this post - look here to see it.

So, at least as far as I can see, there is a real cause and effect related to these side effects: If you don't take Lipitor you wouldn't report them - just like if I didn't jump off the roof I wouldn't have a broken leg.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Sharks on Birth Control?

In a recent post I linked to an article in National Geographic about significant concentrations estrogen in our waterways.  (I came upon it researching what I thought was an "urban legend" on birth control hormones being found in open sea sharks...)

This is a phenomena that has been reliably measured for probably at least the last seven or eight years.  It is considered by many to be a new and significant source of dangerous pollution in our waterways.

Some articles trumpet that this pollution is the result of modern birth control medications being excreted into sewers by the women who use them.  But this may not be true.  Other articles claim that birth control pill-related estrogen can only account for something on the order of 1% of the amount of estrogen currently being measured.

Digging deeper is seems clear that there are probably a small number of primary sources for this estrogen: farm run off, birth control pills, soy-related compounds, natural mammalian estrogen production, and natural sources.

Farm run off typically occurs when untreated animal waste makes its way into waterways.  Animals such as cows naturally excrete estrogen - both males and females.  However, concentrated feed can increase the amount of estrogen (as well as other hormones) excreted.

The amount of estrogen is also affected by how the run off is processed.  Typically animal waste is not placed directly into waterways but instead makes its way there through ground water.  Manure and waste is often spread on fields, for example, as fertilizer.

Soy-related compounds also involve estrogen.  There is a lot of debate about this.  Some say the soy products for humans are healthy (low saturated fats, positive effects on heart disease) and that soy is widely consumed in Asia.  However, other argue that soy is only fit for human consumption after extensive fermenting and processing and that Asian eat very little.  Some argue soy has a positive benefit for breast cancer, others a negative.  In any case there seems a clear estrogen element in the human processing of soy.  Perhaps this is also true for animals - soy is often a component in animal feed.

The question here is what is the impact of soy processing and consumption on the estrogen levels in waterways - on this I cannot find an answer.  Fortunately its seems clear there is growing scientific interest in the over all problem so hopefully someone will address this aspect.

Animals naturally excrete estrogen - even male animals (and humans).  Human males taking testosterone supplements can have elevated estrogen levels (see this).  Female can have increased estrogen by taking birth control pills or estrogen supplements.  Consumption of soy may also increase estrogen.

So certainly there are any number of sources for estrogen.  But this does not help us much pinning down what sources are a problem.

We can, however, look back at the original article.  It discusses various human activities related to food consumption, drug and pharmaceuticals which can be traced to waterways via sewage.  For example, vanilla, sage and thyme all have seasonal cycles where their presence in Puget Sound varies according to the season.  Similarly illegal drugs, perfumes, scents, and various pharmaceuticals all can be measured.

I would imagine it should be possible to compare the relative measurements of these non-estrogen compounds in sewage plants and extrapolate from that how much estrogen is being injected into waterways directly by humans versus what is occurring from animal and natural sources.

In any case estrogen in waterways is bad - which is why I am posting this.

To date there is direct evidence that even very minute concentrations (nanograms per liter) can cause problems with fish (or humans):

Feminization of fish and also here.

It is unclear what affects these compounds, whether spices, pain relievers, anti-psychotics, antibiotics or hormones have on fish or people.  Since these compounds are typically found mixed together there may also be side effects.

Water filtration and the use of chlorine do not remove these compounds either.  So, if you live downstream from a city its likely you're consuming their treasure trove of chemical compounds.

It seems like this problem is finally getting the attention of the EPA, but I would not hold my breath for them to take action. Fixes appear to be involved and expensive - either on the intake or outflow end - because traditional treatment systems are not designed to handle these compounds.

Though we are talking here about minute levels here: something like 12.5 mg per olympic size-pool their affects are still potentially significant.

There is also the issue that chemicals used to make plastic bottles can induce hormonal changes in those that consume the water - but more on this in another post.

Time to buy a good water filter I think.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Twilight: Youth in the Dark

I found this article at the WSJ - its from last week: "Desire in the Twilight of Life".

How sad it is that people are so confused about life and love: "We prefer to think that older people are asexual, resigned to a certain loss of desire and vitality."

What do young people know about growing older?  Not very much, I'm afraid, because, as should be totally obvious, they haven't had time experienced real life yet.

First and foremost I find it remarkably short sighted on the part of the author to imagine that people accustomed to engaging in any artistic activity, typically for decades, would be "resigned to a certain loss of desire".   Its pretty clear this guy is around 40 from reading the article.  Yet he is apparently an expert in the sex lives of geezers mature adults. (BTW, WSJ author, if you have any doubt whatsoever about what I am implying here I dare you see what fascinating results Google might bring...)

But don't worry, rather than making everyone squirm with discomfort at the mere thought of uncomfortable or titillating specifics I think its far more important instead to address the follies of this article with mature, metaphoric prose.  You won't find any detailed, titillating imagery or descriptions below (so the kiddies can surf on to the next article - there won't be any jollies found here).

Picasso and Wright

Imagine Chicago without the "Chicago Picasso" - created in 1967 by the then 86 year old Pablo Picasso.  From Wikipedia regarding his later years: "Devoting his full energies to his work, Picasso became more daring, his works more colorful and expressive, and from 1968 through 1971 he produced a torrent of paintings and hundreds of copperplate etchings."

Similarly, Frank Lloyd Wright, the prolific architect, designed the Guggenheim Museum of Modern art in his 90's. 

While not everyone lives into their 90's its clear that great works are still possible at that age as these examples clearly exhibit.  Perhaps these artists did not create as frequently as they did in their youth but the results of their later-life activities live on today, decades after their respective death as epic, even iconic, works.

Romeo and Juliet

Youthful love always captures hearts and minds - whether its Romeo and Juliet or Lancelot and Guinevere - because of its struggle for the ideal of love as well as for its purity. 

But, as most mature adults come to realize, real life happens after the young lovers are together: either through tragic death, or through simply growing up.  Imagine if Romeo and Juliet actually had lived - who would read about Juliet struggling to change diapers or pouting because Romeo was off at the bar late in the evening.  No, I think the ideal of love best not address the all too often reality of these types of unions.

Certainly Juliet or Lancelot had parents and clearly the young lovers are the product of their union.  But no one finds their parents lives romantic, ideal, pure or, for that matter, even remotely interesting.  Yet without their parents, grandparents and great grandparents none of the young lovers would exist at all; and of course these not-so-famous ancestors presumably continued on with their lives well beyond the follies and errant tragedies of their offspring.

McCarney and Watts

Then there is the question of the artistry itself.  Are the Picasso's or buildings of Wrights' later life any less remarkable than those created in their youth?

No.

And we need look no further than the realm of music for guidance. 

Paul McCartney, the former Beatles member, recently performed at the local arena where I live.  He's in his late 60's now - my friend saw him play - for some three hours without a break.  And, of course, the arena was sold out - jammed with screaming fans for the entire show.  But McCarney delivered.

Though I doubt he still practices and plays as much as he did in his youth he was, according to my friend, still able to "quite effectively close the deal" when he needed to.  Does this mean he has less desire?  Or merely more non-musical things to do (especially given wife #3)?

Similarly there's Charlie Watts of the Rolling Stones - pushing 70 and still on stage with the rest of the boys for a good hour and half show at least.

The point of all this is the skill for art, musical performance and otherwise, obviously continues on well into late life, and, as any true artist will tell you, they can always still deliver.

The results are all around you if you just open your eyes.

So why are old mature folks and their perfectly normal lives look upon with such trepidation?  Today's youth, Madison avenue and modern culture all share the blame I think.  Kids think that Viagra is required for sex, and not just because you're old, either. 

Things like the modern Viagra culture with its negative impact on men are merely products of this same modern marketing nonsense.  And who could forget these ridiculous old geezers singing about Viagra (link here if you've got a strong stomach) or those idiots sitting at the beach in their bathtub's contemplating Cialis.

The negative impact of this culture on women is a story in and of itself: negative body images, weight and dieting, lotions and potions, plastic surgery, unrealistic bedroom expectations.  Females smitten with internet imagery are now driving cosmentic vaginoplasty into position as one of the faster-growing elective female surgeries - even for teenage girls.

Fortunately for me, I am too old for all this.

Real art is lifelong and a commitment to art is just that, commitment. 

Chemically and mechanically enhanced frauds need not apply (I mean no disrespect to my fallen comrades and those truly afflicted - my scorn is cast only at the imposters).

And to the WSJ article.  It concludes "Changing our approach to the romantic lives of older Americans will not be easy."

Older Americans know something the article's author doesn't: how to live life outside the Madison Avenue marketing culture.  (At 53 I escaped the bubble but I fear most of those a few years behind will not be so lucky.)

The only approach that needs to change is that of fools who don't understand the concept of maturity and aging.

No, the only twilight here is that of common sense.

We old farts have no need to explain ourselves to anyone.

Death by Conventional Medical Wisdom

Conventional medicine is about labeling things: you have a sinus infection, you have cancer, you have Crohn's disease.  Of lot of time is spent on classifying and labeling things. 

Did you know that its often the cases that though two people might both have "breast cancer" the diseases and treatments that work for that disease might be totally different?  In fact, businesses exist that apply an array of oncology drugs to a specific cancer just to see which ones have the most effect.

If two people with "breast cancer" don't react to the same drugs in the same way is their disease the same?

Some companies, such as Precision Therapeutics, test your cancer to specifically determine what drugs the cancer does react to.  If "breast cancer" were a single disease or problem, this would not be necessary - the same treatment would work reliably all the time (think about putting iodine on an infected cut or splinting a broken bone).

Now consider this fact: The lifetime risk of breast cancer of those with the "breast cancer gene" or BRCA1 or 2 is presently 82 percent and increasing every year. Before 1940, the risk of getting cancer for those with the cancer gene was 24 percent. What changed? Our diet, lifestyle, and environment--both physically and emotionally. Might these factors be a better place to look for answers on how to address our cancer epidemic?

Think about this.

Diet, lifestyle, and environment are very broad subjects.  Apparently responsible for increasing the chances of getting cancer three-fold over a proven base risk.

So what has changed in our lives over the last decades?

Diet - I have written about this before.  I believe that we have become malnourished.  We eat almost exclusively "manufactured" foods - food prepared in a factory as opposed to something we made ourselves from basic ingredients.  I do not believe anyone knows or cares about whats in these foods nutritionally - as I described in "Are You Iodine Deficient?"  I think the FDA is so consumed by approving the next blockbuster drug for big pharma they have forgotten about food - basic, simple food.

I think we eat a diet designed to do the wrong thing.  "The 30-Day Low-Carb Diet Solution" By Michael R. Eades, Mary Dan Eade suggest that the USDA food pyramid is (or was, at least) identical to the nutritional program used to fatten hogs.

From this I found that it would appear they are correct: you have to find the various parts which is tricky but I basically believe this (thanks Tim!).  So you diet, at least as far as the USDA guidelines are concerned, is going to fatten you up like a pig.

Lifestyle: Our lives are full of stress today.  We take an enormous amount of drugs to make supposedly our lives better.  We are inert.

Environment - Our environment is polluted at every level - inside our homes, our air, our water.  If you do nothing else, read this about how polluted our water is.  Forget air pollution, forget land fills.  We are poising ourselves with our own personal pollution.

So what effect do these things have on cancer?  The TEDMED conference, discussed here, suggests that most of what doctors do - classifying and labeling disease - is not effective.  Further, the treatment models are not effective - we treat symptoms.

No one says, "Gee, I wonder why you got that cancer in the first place?" - at least the big pharma, Medicare, government complex doesn't.

Further, if you consider your body as a metaphor for a garden:  For our garden to grow we need to make sure the weeds do not choke the plants.  We can pull the weeds but they continue to come back.  Without understanding why the weed appear in the first place or doing anything for the root cause of weeds we will always struggle with our garden.

The modern US medical process is equivalent to dumping gallons of weed-be-gone into the garden.  While it eliminates the symptom of weeds, what does it do to the garden?

From the TEDMED link: "scientific literature іѕ abundant wіth evidence thаt diet, exercise, thουghtѕ, feelings, аnd environmental toxins аll influence thе initiation, growth аnd progression οf cancer. If a nutrient-poor diet full οf sugar, lack οf exercise, chronic stress, persistent pollutants, аnd heavy metals саn cause cancer, сουld іt bе thаt a nutrient-dense, plant-based diet, physical activity, changing thουghtѕ аnd reactions tο stress, аnd detoxification mіght treat thе garden іn whісh cancer grows?"

Our modern lives are doing everything wrong with regard to making us healthy.  Treating symptoms.  Creating too much stress.  Poisoning ourselves.

I found some of this information at http://drhyman.com.  I like this site and its well worth paying attention to (there is a link to it on the right-column of the blog).

In the next posts I plan to explore what our water is doing to us, more about the epidemic of iodine deficiency, more about treating your body as a system and cancer as a symptom.

I know that quite a few people read this blog and hopefully you will tell your friends about it.

Hopefully you are waking up to what's happening to you.

Our society and lifestyles are killing us.

We need to tell the FDA and the government that, rather than worry about whether Rodger Clemens using HGH, we should be worrying about why our sewage treatment systems are putting cocaine, heroin, estrogen, and God-knows-what-else into our drinking water.

We need to tell the FDA that our nutritional health should take priority over Lipitor.

We need to tell the FDA that there are links between ADHD and things like iodine deficiency.

We're not getting what we're paying for...

Friday, November 12, 2010

Are You Iodine Deficient...?

About a month ago I wrote this about iodine.

The last thing I said in that post was that I would try the iodine painting on my self.  So far its had no effect but I'll probably continue with it for the reasons I list below.

But that's not why I am posting again about iodine.

A friend of the family was talking to us about this and give the iodine painting a try.  Low and behold many of the symptoms I had listed went away.  But that's not all that went away: so did a serious case of snoring.

Snoring?

Yes, snoring.  It turns out that a significant iodine deficiency causes your thyroid to swell.  Swell to the point where it makes it difficult to breath while sleeping and simulates sleep apnea.  A swollen thyroid (seen in the image at the top of this post) is symptom of a much more serious problem: goiter.

Based on this we've done some additional research on Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) and iodine.

First off, in the US at least, the primary delivery system for iodine is table salt.  Table salt, or sodium chloride, is found in almost everyone's home.  In the 1920's goiter was common in the US is areas without access to seafood in their diet, e.g., the great lakes region.  The Morton Salt Company started to sell iodized salt in 1924 in the US.

Today we don't see anyone with goiter.  But that doesn't mean we're getting enough iodine.

Again we could be talking about sub-clinical cases of diseases such goiter, e.g., the swollen thyroid and snoring.  Sub-clinical means that its not enough of a disease to register in a standard medical test - but you still might have a problem.  For example, if you need a score of 100 to have the problem but you only score 95.  You may still suffer some symptoms even though technically you don't have the problem.

The United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommends 150 micrograms of iodine per day for both men and women.

A typical US diet might involve 3.5 grams (g) of salt per day (according to WebMD).  I think this amount of salt is low.  So for our purposes here we will generously say we get 5g of salt per day.

A single serving of iodized table salt (1g), according to this table (at bottom), contains 77mcg of iodine.

A table spoon of salt, or 5g, would contain about 385 micro grams (mcg) of iodine. More than the 150 mcg the FDA suggests.

(Note: 1 gram (g) = 1,000 milligrams (mg) = 1,000,000 micrograms (mcg).)

However, only 20% (one fifth) of all salt consumed is iodized so eating a tablespoon of iodized salt will still leave you iodine deficient (77 mcg is less than the 150mcg suggested by the FDA).

Now couple this with the fact that you should only eat something like 1.5g of salt for health reasons, e.g., high blood pressure, etc. and you get massive iodine deficiency within the population.

Now apparently some people need much more iodine than the 150 mcg per day, i.e., the relieving of various problems by taking iodine supplements.  There is a detailed article here on the subject.

I have done a lot of reading and have found that probably 12mg is reasonable dose if you are deficient.  This is a common dosage in some supplements that I have found.  Some cultures, like the Japanese, consume much more iodine than this - up to several grams per day - because of their seafood-based diets.

In any case do your own research before taking any supplements.

Iodine deficiency is linked to many bad things: cancer of the breast and stomach, for pregnant woman lack of iodine can cause mental retardation, and of course goiter.

I think that table salt is a bad idea for iodine supplementation - too much table salt is bad for your heart and blood pressure and the amount they say you should consume, 1.5g per day, leaves you with under 20mcg of iodine - given that all of that salt was iodized.

There are also many discussions as to why this is not an issue at the FDA or drug companies.

This is very simple: iodine supplements are simple and cheap and they work.

No huge markups, no regulations, no requirements.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

The Wonder of Modern Childhood

When I was in grade school there were three recesses per day - this was in the late 1960's.  There were two 20-minute recess periods in the morning and afternoon and one long one as part of lunch.  Lunch and recess were combined so if you ate quickly you had more time outside.  We had a long-running baseball game that lasted literally for years.

In addition to recess there was also gym class - which often continued the same baseball game or involved other things like basketball.  (This was in the days before soccer became a prevalent school sport.)

All-in-all you probably had about 70 minutes of recess each day.  All the younger children also had recess - though on the playground on the other side of the building.

If you caused problems for a teacher you lost your privilege to go out - which meant that your baseball position would be lost to someone of lesser competence than you - and you would look stupid.  Everyone behaved.

Today there's only 15 minutes or so of recess, if that.

Schools have taken recess away to make room for prepping children for state mandated achievement tests and increasing test scores - punishing children for their failure to deliver educationally.  So if the door to door school experience, with transportation, takes up 8 hours of the day, that would be 45 minutes of recess per 24 hour day (3 x 15 minutes for 3 x 8 hour days).

Now it would seem that inmates at jails and prisons have more rights to exercise than this - an hour or two if they are well behaved.  From what little I can find prisoners have specific rights to exercise and, if your not in a supermax prison lockdown or solitary confinement, rights to be outside for that exercise.

Even dogs, at least in Pennsylvania, have more rights to exercise outdoors than this.

Then there's the issue of lockdown.

And we're not talking about a prison here.  We're talking about grade school - kids in kindergarten.  An entire culture has developed to deal with this phenomena including issues on how to behave, how to plan for lockdown, how to drill for lockdown and now to have daycare lockdown.  Does this make kids safer?  Only if you don't properly punish societies bad elements.  Seems like another adult failure here as well.

So, no recess and lockdown coupled with the 5-6 hours a day of TV and video game time kids have each day pretty much leaves their lives in the same a worse state as a prisoner.  That's right, a life worse than a common criminal.

If that's not bad enough, let's now mix in forced prescription drug (ab)use.  ADHD medications being the prime example.  If little Johnny is fidgety after being bolted down in his chair 12-15 hours a day there must be a problem, right?

Prisoners cannot be medicated unless its to kill them or there is a court order.

So now we start prescribing speed, er, ADHD medications to keep little Johnny quiet (boys receive this medication anywhere from 2 - 4.5 times more than girls).

Now you'll say how necessary these drugs are for little Johnny.  I say bullshit.  Little Johnny is probably suffering from merely being a child, from eating a remarkable amount of food that's not only really bad for him nutritionally but also known to trigger ADHD/ADD type reactions (white flour, dyes, various food additives), and from the fact that he lives in an environment where most other children are over-medicated.

Thirty years ago we were given the "your child needs ADD medication" stream of crap from a school.  Fixing their diet does wonders.  But, no one, including the school psychologist, makes any money off this.

In the 1960's no one was on these drugs.  Discipline was used - sometimes harshly - to keep miss-behavers in line.  The nuns where I went to grade school used to borrow my belt to take my classmates to the "janitors closet".   Everyone learned respect and behaved and actual learning occurred.  Discipline causes wonders: spare the rod, spoil the child.  No one uses discipline these days - it makes them feel bad.

I wonder how bad they will feel when little Johnny grows up to be a meth addicted?

Do these ADHD drugs make little Johnny actually feel better or sit still?  Perhaps.  But they also can cause him all of these side effects (the complete list is too long for this post so I am providing a summary from this link): vomiting, nausea, pain, headache, weight loss and anorexia, and psychosis.

If you consider things like Prozac as a necessary medication for behavior as well you always have suicide as well to consider.  (Or perhaps little Johnny has good reason to be depressed because of the crappy life the adults around him have provided... I wonder?)

Little Johnny is smarter than you think and he realizes that he can catch a buzz off these drugs as well just taking them for school.  A buzz being more fun than sitting like a zombie.  And, since a doctor has prescribed them, why they must be safe as well as fun, right?

So in summary we have little Johnny being treated far worse than many prisoners or dogs: locked down, no exercise or physical activity to relieve his stress, drugged up the ass to keep him quiet.

There should be no surprised, then, that little Johnny is
  • overweight or obese, 
  • okay with living in "lockdown",
  • okay with being treated worse than a prisoner or dog,
  • cannot think clearly or make decisions for himself, 
  • thinks drugs are the solution to his problems, 
  • cannot function without being "on something", and
  • thinking this is how life is supposed to be.
This is today's modern childhood, right?

Well, at least there aren't any more nuns taking kiddies to the janitors closet.  No more kiddies thinking for themselves...  Getting to leave grade school hooked on serious drugs...  Being treated worse than a dog or prisoner...

Modern mom and dad think this is fine because they can do thier job each day without little Johnny's behavior interfering - no school calling, no visits to the office.

No, sorry to say, the problem is not with the children.  Its with the ADULTS. 

Are you COMPLETELY INSANE?

Little Johnny will be fine if you let him alone and remain a child until its time for him to grow up.

This may not fit your busy adult schedule.

When you force little Johnny to be an adult when he's 2 or 3 so you can selfishly run your life your way you want to you'll have no end of trouble from little Johnny in later life.

Mark my words.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

姥捨て: Anthropological Retirement

Ubasute - Carrying the elderly off to die on the mountain.
 As I mentioned in "Modern Motherhood: A Prison?" humanity has been around in a way we can identify for nearly two hundred thousand years.

In that time the elderly have always been the minority in terms of numbers.  Subsistence societies require members that are able to hunt, gather, find resources, rear children and so forth.  Elderly are not necessarily able to do any of these things, yet they were revered in many cultures.  (Though there are some instances, such as ancient Japan, where 姥捨て (Ubasute) caused the elderly that could not be supported to be carried off to die of exposure.)

Going forward from today in the US we will have the population of the elderly as the largest segment in society by number with 20% of society being in this category by 2030.  This is in part because the total fertility rate (TFR) needed to maintain the populate, 2.1 children per family, has not been maintained in the US and, for that matter, the world.

If the TFR were above 2.1 then the population as a whole would be expanding with an ever increasing number of children.  This type of society can be thought of as a pyramid, representing the age distribution within the population, with a large base of younger people at the bottom and an every decreasing number of older people reaching toward the top of the pyramid. However, with a TFR below 2.1 the pyramid becomes inverted with a large base of elderly at the top and the pyramid diminishing down to a small number of younger people at the bottom.

The later case, with the large elderly population at the top of the inverted pyramid, represent a very dangerous new frontier for the US, and perhaps the world.

If you google "societal collapse" you will find a large collection of resource-based discussions on how societies collapse - typically from over-consumption of resources, natural disasters, social problems, and so forth.

What interests me is the growing elderly population and how it impacts the distribution of resources within the US economy.  For example, the "unfunded Medicare and Social Security" debt is approximately 46 trillion dollars.  This amount is the amount funds the government will be required to pay out to those who become eligible to receive it going forward from today.  That is, as more people reach retirement age and the elderly become the largest single segment of society the government will need to find 46 trillion dollars to meet its obligations under Medicare and Social Security.

The federal government is not required to track this number, nor even be concerned with it, because the federal budgeting process only considers current obligations, i.e., things its required to pay for in any given fiscal year.  Future obligations, such as borrowing money for anything whether its a highway or Medicare, are only represented as current debt obligations.  So, unlike you and I the federal government basically can borrow whatever it needs with no thought about the future debt so long as its able to pay its current debt obligations, i.e., make the payments on the debt it already has.

From a financial perspective this is certainly a wonderful way to go.  Imagine a perfect credit score that allowed you to borrow money at will.  Further, imagine that no bank would ever look at the money you had already borrowed but instead just looked to see if you've been making your payments.

This means that you can borrow money to make payments on existing debt.

This means that you can literally borrow money until there is no more.

This means you are a criminal.

This is a modern day version of what's called Ponzi scheme - basically the same system except that instead of borrowing money from banks the process is represented as an investment, much like Bernie Madoff, where early "investors" are paid with the capital (as opposed to the inventments earnings) of future investors.

In the case of the federal government taxation is effectively substituted for borrowing (though technically the government "borrows" money by selling treasury bills the bills are backed by the good faith of the government which intern collects needed revenue from taxes).

So lets compare my future as a retiree today with an anthropological man who lived before 1930 (I chose this date because before this time there was no concept of "social security" or "medicare" and the government was not engaging in the same criminal activities as it is now).

In the past the only financial investment I could make to support myself in retirement would be some sort of financial annuity.  This is a program where, during my productive years, I would essentially put money into a fund (like a 401(k)) that I would draw from during retirement.  I could also be a veteran and receive payments from the government.

Today as a retiree the US government promises to pay me based on my past payments into the social security system.  Periodically I get a mailing that says how much I paid and what I might expect my benefit to be at retirement.  (I say might because its carefully worded not to promise to pay me anything.)

Unfortunately it seems that with debt obligations in social security of trillions of dollars and the segment of society collecting social security expanding to the point of being a largest as compared with those that might pay into the system there is virtually no chance the obligations can be met.

Be this as it may I could also make payments in to a private retirement account in an attempt to secure my retirement future.  However, I believe that its very likely the government of the US will next focus on taking over these 401(k) type savings accounts. 

Whether you believe this or not is up to you - but you might want to think carefully about who's going to be ahead of you (literally and figuratively) grabbing for money before your retirement (say government union members) and now much of that retirement pie is going to actually be left before its your turn.

So if you are a prudent investor like me what are you to do?  You must pay your taxes (though some have successfully argued no - specific arguments here as PDF).  You're not going to see much, if anything from the already bankrupt social security system.  Medicare, if it continues to exist, will not be able to afford to treat anyone, and, if they do, it will be with the lowest possible cost treatments.

Without the resources to pay as implicitly promised in your retirement the government will essentially be committing Ubasute.  (From WikiPedia) "the custom allegedly performed in Japan in the distant past, whereby an infirm or elderly relative was carried to a mountain, or some other remote, desolate place, and left there to die, either by dehydration, starvation, or exposure. It "is the subject of legend, but [...] does not seem ever to have been a common custom". The practice was most common during times of drought and famine, and was sometimes mandated by feudal officials."

That's right.  The government has taken your resources and left you an obligation that it will never fulfill.  Your treatment in old age will be like that of the legends of ancient Japan - you will left to die.  Of course it won't be called that, but others, who are more deserving to live, will be ahead of you in the line for resources and, of course, you won't want to make any trouble.

So what way is there for you to escape this otherwise certain death?

In the past you basically worked until either you couldn't due to some physical illness or other infirmity or you died.  Beyond that there was not "social safety network" to support you save for one: your family.

In the past a family was large and those members that did survive to old age where respected and taken care of by the younger family members.

These are things that, so far, the government cannot take from you.  While they can take things and money, they cannot take your family.

This is why I believe it is important to make, as Anthropological Man did, the ultimate investment in family - because any other investment, particularly as times get more difficult, will be seized by the government in the name of the common good.

So what is the ultimate save retirement model: Anthropological Retirement.

1) Work hard until you die.

2) Make your real investment your offspring.

This is also one reason why I rail against Modern Mom in my previous posts - because the familial results of Modern Mom are a bankrupt familial investment.  Modern Daughter will not have the resources or time to invest in Modern Mom once she becomes aged.

Modern Mom will be the victim of Ubasute.

If Modern Mom has money, the modern daughter will survive, but Modern Mom will not unless the daughter has been taught the value of a familial investment.  If not, the money will go to drugs, parties, toys, and other things of no value to Modern Mom.

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Anthropological Mom

I married one thirty-something years ago - little did I know.

I chased her until she caught me - I was 19, she 18 - old by historical standards.

She married someone who was responsible and could support her and her children: she was a clever girl.

She wanted children: I was clueless on the matter (except for how they might be created).

She never worked outside the home unless absolutely necessary.

She always had her finger on the pulse of the whole family: kids, parents, life.

She bore the laughter, ridicule and chiding of the modern moms for being so foolish.

We were poor so she couldn't dress like the modern moms or have what they had.

But our kids had all the love and support they wanted when they needed it - and still do.

They watch how we did it... they saw the process.  It wasn't always pretty.

My liberal family clucked over the misery I would suffer for being so stupid as to marry so young.

Did we struggle?  Did we cry?  Was it hard?  Did it hurt?  Did we give up ourselves for us?

What do you think?

Times have changed... decades passed - but we're still here.

Modern mom no longer zips by in that fancy work car.

Our modern mom friends are divorced a time or two: lost to time.

The drugs, parties and alcohol have taken their toll.

Their children are lost too - on their own in the wilderness - its so hard to be modern.

All their modern daughters have their own babies now.

Modern means you don't need a man for anything but fun.

But that's okay, the daughters are free.  Their mommies told them they would be.

Free to live at home with modern mom so modern mom can watch the baby while they go to bars.

Are they really free?

The daddies are lost to drugs, to self, to their children - they are cast off.

The daddies are free too - it would seem.  From responsibility, and love, and caring.

We find the lost children along the side of the road now; we help them if we can.

And our own children have children of their own now.

Some are modern, some are not... 

Tears fill our eyes as hundreds of thousands years of humanity and true freedom are cast off...

For a few modern slogans.

Modern Motherhood: A Prsion?

The consequences of retirement with Modern Mom.

The Soul of a New Disease

The Soul of a New Machine Disease
I read this article today in the morning WSJ.  (BTW - I really like this publication because its well sourced and for the most part accurate.  Of course the downside is it is about "evil capitalism" of which big Pharma is a large, unsavory part.)  Its about hypertension - no, not the kind than can break your starship's hyperdrive - the kind that means you have high blood pressure.

You probably know what blood pressure is - its the thing they measure when they put that contraption around your arm at the doctors office and pump up the air until your arm feels like its going to fall off.  You can think of blood pressure like the pressure in your garden hose - except its inside your arteries instead of the hose.  If the water pressure gets too high the hose can fail - rupturing, leaking or ballooning out.  These types of hose failure correspond to arterial diseases caused by hypertension like strokes and aneurysms.

Up until about 10-15 years ago or so 120/80 was considered the gold standard of "normal" blood pressure.  However, that's been changing during the last decade.  These days 120/80 is now considered prehypertensive.  This means that if this is your blood pressure then its likely your blood pressure will start to increase over time - especially if you have risk factors: smoking, obesity, etc.

But I don't like how these sorts of measurements change - there's some troubling aspects to it.

First of all reading these accounts of what's going on with hypertension is like reading this articles namesake: "The Soul of a New Machine" - a book about how a new computer was born, including all the trials and tribulations.  Some one creating something out of nothing...

Second, and even more subjectively, if my blood pressure was always 120/80, even in childhood as a non-obese, highly active athlete, was I still prehypertensive? 

On the other hand you can argue that its just medical science getting better and better at making you healthy, or is it?

Let's see what the article claims.  First off there's this: "About a third of U.S. adults have hypertension, which leads to one in six deaths in the U.S.  But at least the same number, and possibly as many as 37%, are prehypertensive."  What this is saying is that 1/3 of adults in the US have hypertension and another 1/3 or more have prehypertension, i.e., are likely to develop hypertension.  The 1 in 6 deaths figure is designed scare you and to show us we're all on the highway to hell - 1/3 ok, 1/3 in the queue for hypertension, 1/3 about to croak - implying 1/2 of the 1/3 of hypertension suffers will die (of course, in truth everyone will die - but more on that later).

A quick check of the CDC 2007 statistics on death in the US (found here, page 5) cast some doubt on these numbers.  You will see about 1/4 of all deaths are heart related and about 1/12 or so are strokes.  Further down on page 22 you will see that more 1/2 of all deaths occur after age 70 and that your probability of dying is remains under 10% until age 70 (page 26).

Page #9

Interestingly on page 9 you see that cardiovascular and stroke deaths are steadily decreasing and have been since 1958.  The only types of death increasing are Alzhiemers, Parkinsons, kidney failure, and hypertension.  But hypertension deaths are about 100 times less likely the heart disease or stroke.  (Note that this chart is logarithmic and hence increase by times 10 (10x) for each major tick on the left.)

Hypertension is its own cause of death, at least according to the CDC.  Yet somehow its entwined with heart disease and stroke in the original article and study.  How one type of actual death leads to another is unclear here.  Particularly since hypertension death has been its own category for some time.  I think this study need more study (see "Does my Medication Really Work").

The article claims that lifestyle changes are key for treating hypertension.  This is no surprise based on this and other articles I have written here.  Yet no one at the federal government bothers to include exercise or nutrition in their guidelines for treating people of all ages: vitamins are not even part of food stamps.

The other issue here is that most people die in their elder years and often suffer from multiple diseases - yet there is only one check box on the death certificate for "cause of death".

Digging a bit deeper we find a WSJ blog article that discusses this in more detail (written by Katherine Hobson).  Now we start to see what's going on...

Hypertension was designated as its own separate "disease" classification in 2003 - its unclear exactly what that means in this context, but no matter.  Later on, about 2006, it was shown that specific existing heart drugs can be used to treat the hypertension. This history goes back much further than 2006 - all the way to here (1999).

And then we get to the money shot:

"In August of this year, an article in the British Medical Journal noted that in the wake of the new classification, prehypertension is emerging as a potential goldmine for drug companies, and pointed out that many physicians who were members of the committee have disclosed financial relationships to industry.

One of the committee members named in the article is George Bakris, director of the Hypertension Center at the University of Chicago, who has disclosed consulting arrangements with several drug companies. Bakris, for his part, tells the Health Blog that the committee’s decision had nothing to do with drug-company interests, and was meant to educate and empower patients.
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I suspect this is just in time, too.  The big pharma gravy train of cholesterol drugs is winding down.  Drugs are patented for specific things and the patents on treating cholesterol with drugs are running out.  So its probably no surprise that a new, related use appears conveniently on the horizon just in time to save big Pharma from financial ruin.

But hold on one minute.  Everyone dies.  And everyone gets to die of exactly one cause as we saw in the link to death certificates.

So lets consider this point.  Everyone dies and gets to die of one thing.  Hence I will argue there will always be one or two major causes of death because bureaucrats like forms with a small number of choices that are easy to fill out - similarly for the CDC that analyzes the data.  So we can always write articles about "the major cause of death".

Your heart and pulmonary system works continuously throughout your life - wouldn't you expect something like this to fail first?  Sure bad behavior and risk factors can cause early failure - but that's also true of anything else, like a car.  Drive your car down along the rocky creek-bed for a few miles and it too will fail prematurely.

Then there's the profit motive.  No one makes any money getting people to move around and eat right.  You make money selling people drugs that they can take for a long time that have some marginal benefit that do not produce nasty or fatal side effects.

I will also posit a new motive: the societal bandwagon phenomena.  With such emphasis on "heart disease" and its friends like cholesterol (or like global warming) pretty soon everything looks like the same kind of problem because research and funding follow the government money and produce results to, not surprisingly, produce even more studies and more funding.  Its the same as the police treating everyone like a drug dealing criminal (hands on the steering wheel) even if you're not - so much of the same thing year in and out colors the perspective.

There is clear and undisputed evidence that proper nutrition and exercise get you the most bang for the buck - but as I said, no one makes money from that.

Bottom line - hold on to your wallet because the drum beat of hypertension as the new big "killer" will start to wind up.