For much of my life, chocolate meant either Nestlé or Hershey. Nestlé tasted better, but Hershey gained points after I moved to Pennsylvania.
Eventually, Nestlé fell out of favor because of the way they push their infant formula, especially in third-world countries. Not to mention the fact that they suck massive amounts of water out of our Floridan Aquifer for their bottled water.
Hershey fell out of favor because, well, because Swiss chocolate is just better, period. And my chocolate budget grew bigger.
Now Hershey has given me more reasons to stick with my Toblerone, Ovomaltine (NOT the Americanized junk of similar name), and other amazing Swiss brands. I've also grown fond of Ghirardelli, though it doesn't pay to look too closely at their corporate values, either. I try to judge products by their quality rather than their politics, as long as the company's political views aren't shoved in my face.
Annoyed as I am with Hershey, which is doing just that, they've also, albeit indirectly, given me this comedy sketch, so I thank them. (And it's not even the Babylon Bee this time.)
However, I'm not going to be shopping at ihatehersheys.com. My chocolate budget isn't that big.
If you're not a Babylon Bee fan, feel free to skip. If you are, enjoy! The clip will look as if it's ending before the punch line, so watch till they start the ads.
I think the Bee produces the best comedic commentary on current events since That Was the Week that Was from the old Smothers Brothers show (for which, sadly, I did not find a representative clip).
(There are times when I could think the situation is the other way around: the earth has been taken over by space aliens, and we didn't even notice.)
Here's an interesting article about a New Haven, Connecticut company called Protein Evolution, and why they may have an approach that could finally make recycling plastic economically viable: Protein Evolution Recycles Plastics Quickly — “1 Million Years Of Evolution In 1 Day.” That would be fantastic, if it pans out, and its own technology doesn't contain worse side effects.
Protein Evolution [announced] it has created a process that can break down plastic waste into its component parts, which can then be reused to make new plastics. Until now, it has been cheaper (assuming no cost is assigned to the damage done to the environment by plastic waste) to make new plastic than to recycle existing plastic. Protein Evolution says its technology may be able to break that economic imbalance and help the chemical industry transition to a lower carbon, circular economy.
Leveraging recent breakthroughs in natural science and artificial intelligence, the company designs enzymes to break down end-of-life textile and plastic waste into the building blocks that make up new textile and plastic products. This proprietary process is the first of its kind designed to scale up into volume production. It creates a cost effective solution with immediate applications for the petrochemical industry, global consumer goods companies, textile manufacturers, and others that are looking to significantly reduce their reliance on fossil fuels.
“Nature has already produced a bacteria [sic] that can break down plastic for emission free recycling, but it’s extremely slow. If we had a few million years to wait for evolution to run its course, we’d have something much more efficient,” says co-founder Scott Stankey. “Our technology condenses a million year evolutionary process into a single day — helping us create an affordable, scalable and effective solution to revolutionize the plastic waste industry.”
On the other hand, I hate the article's snide political attitude:
Since we as humans are incapable of devising an economic system that is not based exclusively on profits or which includes environmental harm as one of the factors in calculating profitability, the only solution is to devise a process that recycles plastics more cheaply than making new plastic products.
Devising a process that makes recycling plastics economical is NOT a last-ditch, second-rate solution; it is the BEST solution. An economic system based on profits is not bad, it's what you want: If this process makes recycling plastic more profitable than pulling oil out of the ground, that profit motive will have people voluntarily cleaning up beaches, and companies eagerly pulling plastic waste out of the ocean.
And it would mean local governments could stop evading the question (or straight-out lying) about what actually happens to the materials we think are being recycled.
I liked the AmazonSmile program, in which Amazon.com would donate a percentage of a customer's purchase to the charity of that customer's choice. In general, I'm suspicious of corporate philanthropy, but at least in the case of AmazonSmile, the customer was assured that his money was going to an organization of which he approved.
Earlier this month I received an e-mail from Amazon, which announced the demise of the program, as of February 20, for the following reason:
In 2013, we launched AmazonSmile to make it easier for customers to support their favorite charities. However, after almost a decade, the program has not grown to create the impact that we had originally hoped. With so many eligible organizations—more than 1 million globally—our ability to have an impact was often spread too thin.
What does this say? What do they mean by "spread too thin"? On its face, it is nonsense: As Amazon itself states, on my AmazonSmile Impact page, "Every little bit counts. When millions of supporters shop at AmazonSmile, charitable donations quickly add up." Charities are not in the habit of rejecting donations of any size, much less those which are bundled into larger amounts for more efficiency, which I'm sure Amazon did. My own chosen charity, the International Justice Mission, received over $204,000 as of November of last year, and I'm sure they were grateful for it. How rich do you have to be to think of that kind of money as insignificant?
Thus I can only interpret this paragraph as, "Amazon is not getting enough recognition, credit, and power over the programs to justify the expense." Especially the power, I suspect.
But Amazon is not giving up on corporate philanthropy. Instead,
We will continue to pursue and invest in other areas where we’ve seen we can make meaningful change—from building affordable housing to providing access to computer science education for students in underserved communities to using our logistics infrastructure and technology to assist broad communities impacted by natural disasters.
In other words, "instead of directing a portion of the money you spend toward the charity of your choice, we will be sending it to the charities of our choice."
As I've said before, if a corporation wants to use company profits to support causes they believe in, or even to buy the CEO a new yacht, that's their business. But Amazon is fooling itself if it thinks this change shows its virtue. Rather, I would think, the opposite.
On a positive note, "using our logistics infrastructure and technology to assist broad communities impacted by natural disasters" seems to me exactly the kind of help Amazon is well-positioned to give, more than many corporations. Companies should think about how they can use their unique strengths and resources in a socially responsible way, rather than simply doling out dollars. That's much more likely to be helpful in the long run.
I didn't expect to like this Wall Street Journal article about the board game, Risk. Unlike nearly all the rest of my extended family, I am not a fan of most board games, especially if they involve intricate strategy and take a long time to complete. It's even worse if I'm playing with people who care whether they win or lose. If I ever played Risk, it wasn't more than once.
But I enjoyed the article, and I understood most of it because of having been surrounded by so many people who love to play the game. The author makes a good case that playing the game taught many of us "everything we know about geography and politics."
A certain kind of brainy kid will reach adulthood with a few general rules for foreign policy: Don’t mass your troops in Asia, stay out of New Guinea, never base an empire in Ukraine. It is the wisdom of Metternich condensed to a few phrases and taught by the game Risk.
The game could be played with up to six players, each representing their own would-be empire, and could last hours. The competition could turn ugly, stressing friendships, but we all came away with the same few lessons. ... In the end, no matter who you call an ally, there can only be one winner, meaning that every partnership is one of convenience. If you are not betraying someone, you are being betrayed. Also: No matter what the numbers suggest, you never know what will happen when the dice are rolled. ... Regardless of technological advances, America will always be protected by its oceans. It is a hard place to invade. What they say about avoiding a land war in Asia is true. It is too big and desolate to control. Ukraine is a riddle ... stupid to invade and tough to subdue because it can be attacked from so many directions, making it seem, to the player of Risk, like nothing but border.
Here's my favorite:
The best players ask themselves what they really want, which means seeing beyond the board. I learned this from my father in the course of an epic game that started on a Friday night and was still going when dawn broke on Saturday. His troops surrounded the last of my armies, crowded in Ukraine. I begged for a reprieve.
“What can I give you?” I asked.
He looked at the board, then at me, then said, “Your Snickers bar.”
“My Snickers bar? But that’s not part of the game.”
“Lesson one,” he said, reaching for the dice. “Everything is part of the game.”
And finally, one amazing side note. The man who invented Risk, French filmmaker Albert Lamorisse, also created the award-winning short film, The Red Balloon.
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Back in the 1970's, I worked at the University of Rochester Medical Center in Rochester, New York. One of my favorite things to do on my lunch break was to wander over to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit of the associated Strong Memorial Hospital, and watch in admiration as the tiny children fought for their lives. Actually, there were some pretty big infants, too—babies born to diabetic mothers, weighing in at 14 or 15 pounds at birth, but with dangerous complications. My favorites were always the twins, which were commonly born early, and extra small. Not every family had a happy ending, but the best days were when our small "charges" disappeared from view because they had graduated out of the NICU.
I was thinking about this recently because of this story, out of Canada: Doctor Said Mom's Efforts to Save Her Babies Were a "Waste of Time," Now they're 3 and Thriving.
A mom from Canada who went into labor with twins at just shy of 22 weeks gestation was told by her doctor that they would die the day they were born. However, she refused to give up on her babies, and against the odds, her baby girls pulled through, heading home after 115 days in the NICU.
“When I went into labor, the doctor told me, 'The twins will be born today and they will die,'" she said. "I said, 'Excuse me?' and she said, 'Babies this gestation simply do not survive. It’s impossible.' ... She told me she wouldn’t let me see the twins, or hear their heartbeats, because it was a 'waste of time.'"
After four painful days of abysmal care at the unnamed Canadian hospital,
A new doctor entered the room and informed the couple that they could transfer to a London, Ontario, hospital to deliver the twins. ... Luna and Ema were born in London at 9:12 and 9:29 p.m., respectively. Luna weighed just over 14 ounces (approx. 0.39 kg) and measured 11 inches long; Ema weighed 1 pound (0.45 kg) and measured 12 inches long.
The twins were in the NICU for a total of 115 days and were discharged even before their due date. ... Today, the twins are thriving at 3 years old [and] are developmentally caught up to their full-term peers.
Forty years ago, the staff at "our" NICU had told us that they had saved babies born as early as 20 weeks and weighing less than a pound, and expected to continue to improve outcomes and to push the boundaries back. Forty years! I know there has been a lot of progress made in the care of preterm babies since then, primarily from the story of friends-of-friends quintuplets born ten years ago in Dallas.
So how is it that doctors and hospitals are condemning little ones like this to death, and consider 22 weeks' gestation a minimum for survival—and even then only at a few, specialized hospitals. What has hindered the progress Strong Hospital's doctors had so eagerly anticipated?
I can think of a few roadblocks. Number one, perhaps, is that we like to think that progress is inevitable. But there's no little hubris in that. Progress is not guaranteed over time, nor is it consistent.
Then there are funding priorities. Adequate financing may not be a sufficient condition for making progress, but it's a necessary one. Has improvement in preterm baby care been a funding priority over the last 40 years?
And of course there's the most difficult problem of all. Do we, as a society, as a country, as the medical profession in general—do we really want to save these babies? They cost a lot of money: for research, for facilities, for high-tech care, for months in the hospital, and often for special education and care throughout their lives, since babies on the leading edge of the survival curve are at higher risk for lifelong difficulties.
Most of all, does the idea of saving the lives of earlier and earlier preterm babies force us to consider the elephant in the room? How long can a society endure in which we try desperately to save the life of one child of a certain age, while casually snuffing out the life of another child of the same age, based solely on personal choice?
The supporting documentation is long and complex and I don't expect anyone to read it all. But I include the link anyway.
Some professors from the Johns Hopkins Institute for Applied Economics, Global Health, and the Study of Business Enterprise did a meta-analysis of the effectiveness of "compulsory, non-pharmaceutical interventions" (e.g. lockdowns) on COVID-19 mortality.
The short version:
Lockdowns have had little to no effect on COVID-19 mortality.
The longer, but more detailed, policy implications:
In the early stages of a pandemic, before the arrival of vaccines and new treatments, a society can respond in two ways: mandated behavioral changes or voluntary behavioral changes. Our study fails to demonstrate significant positive effects of mandated behavioral changes (lockdowns). This should draw our focus to the role of voluntary behavioral changes. Here, more research is needed to determine how voluntary behavioral changes can be supported. But it should be clear that one important role for government authorities is to provide information so that citizens can voluntarily respond to the pandemic in a way that mitigates their exposure.
Finally, allow us to broaden our perspective after presenting our meta-analysis that focuses on the following question: “What does the evidence tell us about the effects of lockdowns on mortality?” We provide a firm answer to this question: The evidence fails to confirm that lockdowns have a significant effect in reducing COVID-19 mortality. The effect is little to none.
The use of lockdowns is a unique feature of the COVID-19 pandemic. Lockdowns have not been used to such a large extent during any of the pandemics of the past century. However, lockdowns during the initial phase of the COVID-19 pandemic have had devastating effects. They have contributed to reducing economic activity, raising unemployment, reducing schooling, causing political unrest, contributing to domestic violence, and undermining liberal democracy. These costs to society must be compared to the benefits of lockdowns, which our meta-analysis has shown are marginal at best. Such a standard benefit-cost calculation leads to a strong conclusion: lockdowns should be rejected out of hand as a pandemic policy instrument.
I agree wholeheartedly that "one important role for government authorities is to provide information so that citizens can voluntarily respond to the pandemic in a way that mitigates their exposure." I would add that this must include clear, non-alarmist information based on the truth, not on "what we think the public deserves to know"; it must include sufficient information for citizens to make intelligent risk-benefit analyses; and it must not include the stifling of public information-sharing and debate, even at the risk of some of the information being wrong.
WARNING: If you have a particular fondness for President Biden's policies, or for the Christmas song, "Mary, Did You Know?" — then skip this post. It's impossible to write a blog, let alone comedy, without offending people, so I have to trust my readers to take what works for them and ignore the rest.
But if you like song paradies, this Babylon Bee offering is a great one. Especially if, like me, you are a fan of neither the song nor the policies. As with most paradies, you'll appreciate it more if you know the original song.
A long time ago, Pontius Pilate famously asked, "What is truth?"
More recently, Elon Musk questioned, "What is the value of truth?"
Maybe you smoked some pot when you were young. Or know that your parents did. I did not, except second-hand and co-mingled with tobacco smoke, back in the days when our college movie theater—along with nearly everywhere else—put no restrictions on polluting the indoor air. I saw no reason to foul my lungs and risk fouling my brain. Maybe you think you survived your experiences unscathed. Maybe you did—though you will never know.
So maybe you think marijuana is harmless, remembering the fuss and scare-mongering from your youth. Maybe you are thrilled that in many places marijuana has "gone legit." But this is not your father's weed. Perhaps you thought that legalizing marijuana would take it out of the hands of the drug dealers, that it would be purer and safer.
Truly, the love of money is a root of all sorts of evil. It seems we have not supplanted the illegal drug dealers and dishonest suppliers, but rather supplemented them with equally greedy mega-businesses, and replaced the lone marijuana plant or two growing in someone's apartment with chemical factories producing ultra-high-potency products that can maim and kill.
Here are two links to one family's story, the tragedy that alerted me to the problem.
Mila's Story, on Heather Heying's Natural Selections substack, and What Happened to Our Daughter; the latter is from the family's Slowdown Farmstead substack and tells the same story slightly differently, with more details about the drug problem (and lots of references). Be sure to notice how quickly Mila's mind disintegrated after her first encounter with the drug.
It wasn't just the marijuana that killed Mila. Suicide is always a complex event, with more than one contributing factor.
When you read Mila's story, you'll see that there's no shortage of guilty parties: the school drug counsellor to whom Mila went for help against the addiction that she knew was destroying her, whose response was merely to advise her to "moderate her use"; the First Nations reservation that supplied the dangerous drug "pens" to children, against which the Canadian government was apparently powerless; and most of all, the Canadian governments (federal and provincial) whose draconian COVID-19 restrictions left vulnerable high school students with literally nothing to do and no place to go. The Devil had a field day with those idle hands and minds.
We are just beginning to recognize what is certain eventually to be acknowledged as the truth: that the COVID closures, lockdowns, and travel restrictions, along with masking, social distancing, and vaccine mandates, have destroyed more individuals, families, and relationships than the COVID virus ever did.
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I found this meme on a Viva Frei video. (The link is to give credit; I'm not asking anyone to watch the video, which is an hour and 40 minutes long.)
I'm leaving it as it is for now, for those who enjoy puzzles. What's going on here? (I'll explain later.)
I'll admit I'm astonished that Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.'s shocking book, The Real Anthony Fauci: Bill Gates, Big Pharma, and the Global War on Democracy and Public Health has not generated more interest, especially since at the time I first wrote about it, the Kindle version was only $3. It's $15 now, and the hardcover close to $20, but I'd say it's still worth it at that price, especially if you can't get it from your local library. Or you can do what I do: put it on a watch list at eReaderIQ; for a brief time yesterday it was only 99 cents. At that price I would have bought copies for a few friends—if I hadn't been away from home for the whole day. I find the eReaderIQ service worth supporting, by the way: it really helps with playing Amazon's little games.
I understand that people might be skeptical, whether, as in my case, from distrust of the Kennedys in general, or from a reluctance to question authority—especially when questioning authority can get you shoved into a "right-wing extremist conspiracy theorist" bucket. If you have the courage to look around outside of your comfort zone, however, I predict you will find this book worth your while.
Here are two short (about 5 minute) videos from my current favorite Left Coast liberal academic scientists, whose genuinely liberal credentials I don't doubt, albeit they also sometimes find themselves flung into the above-mentioned bucket when their search for truth leads them in certain directions. Both videos contain Bret's and Heather's evaluations of the book, and more importantly, their evaluation of its documentation. The videos do well at double speed if you want to save time. Spoiler alert: Bret and Heather are even more concerned than I am, with better reason and authority.
As I said in my review of the book, if what Kennedy claims, with such extensive documentation, is true, why are Dr. Fauci and a whole lot of other people not in jail? If it's not true, why isn't Fauci suing Kennedy for libel? I expected outrage on all sides, refutation, corroboration, investigation.
I did not expect ... silence. That silence on the part of investigative journalists, academic researchers, and medical professionals almost scares me more than the book.
I understand that people's lives are too busy for them to want to tackle a long, dense non-fiction book, so I don't urge you lightly to read The Real Anthony Fauci. But for your own health, and especially for your children, if you can make time to read this book, or listen to it in audiobook format, it has my strongest recommendation. The story is as riveting as it is frightening, and I was surprised at how quickly I finished it. I do recommend the Kindle version; the primary reason I also bought the hardcover was the knowledge that Amazon can make a Kindle book "disappear" at any moment, even from my physical e-reader. Most of the time I'm more comfortable with physical books, but in this case I actually find the digital version friendlier to the eyes. Don't be put off by the fact that the e-book format appears to double the page count (934 vs. 480).
Those who know me know that I do not like horror stories. Even during my Girl Scout days I was not a fan of ghost stories around the campfire. The Real Anthony Fauci is a horror story par excellence, because most of the others are about situations we are very unlikely to experience, and this one has already happened to us—we just didn't recognize it. Nonetheless, I am, as Bret suggests, hopeful: Information is power, and this book has answered questions that have troubled me for decades.
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What do you think explains the current political climate?
- Half the country is made up of f-ing idiots.
- The elections were stolen.
- People are helpless sheep, easily manipulated by dangerous, dark forces.
- All of the above.
Sorry, all of those answers are unacceptable, no matter how tempting they might be.
Even if they were 100% true, none of them would be an answer we can work with.
Suppose you are right in your take on the issues. Half the country see them differently. You're not really so egotistical as to believe them all to be less intelligent, less educated, and less wise than you, let alone less kind, generous, thoughtful, and loving. There are reasons these people believe the way they do. It's important to understand them.
Suppose any given election was won by nefarious means, cheating, gaming the system, or error? Some of them have been, guaranteed. And it's nothing new; what's novel is that the effects are so nationally important. Our COVID response ushered in radical changes to our voting system, and faith in its integrity is understandably very low. It will take everyone on board to restore that; we must get beyond the elementary school playground level of "I lost, therefore you cheated" and "I won, therefore the elections were fair."
Are we being manipulated by outside forces? By conspiracies, cabals, demons, extraterrestrial aliens, or self-important elites with unprecedented wealth and power? I'm inclined to think the chances are well above zero. But mostly I think we are just too busy, too tired, and too stressed to be able to resist the currents that push us.
I believe our only hope is to think small. We can't fix the world. But we can be good neighbors.
Get to know people whose opinions you despise. Work with them. Eat with them. Find something in common that you like to do and do it together. Serve together for a common cause.
In being good neighbors, we might learn how to take the next step.
This is a general announcement to the Political World:
I have voted.
This means there is no point at all in calling me on the phone (mobile or home), texting me, sending me e-mails, waving signs in my face, or wasting our trees and your money, trying to influence my vote. It's done. It can't be changed.
The only thing I can do at this point is to continue to pray for the best outcome of the election.
So stop already.
There are a number of people—I certainly am one of them—who strenuously object to being unwilling medical guinea pigs in the matter of the COVID-19 vaccines.
I'm all for medical research, worked as part of a medical research team, and have been a willing human guinea pig in a few experiments myself. This work, when done carefully, knowledgeably, and ethically, is an essential part of scientific and medical advancement. But the ethically part is essential, and I don't think it's ethical to "enroll" masses of people in experiments for which there cannot possibly be adequate knowledge of the risks, and thus they cannot possibly give "informed consent." Plus, when there is no documented, adequate control group, not to mention that the experimenters have done their best to make sure there cannot be an adequate control group—well, then you've lost good science as well as ethics.
You're thinking I'm talking about the COVID-19 vaccines here, and I am—but that's not all. I don't know how many times we've been unknowingly subjected to these unethical experiments, but I do know that it has happened at least two other times in my lifetime.
Aspirin used to be the standard, go-to medication for children, even babies, with fevers or discomfort. I vividly remember the doctor recommending alternating doses of aspirin and acetaminophen when my infant daughter had a stubborn high fever. This was in the early 1980's, and for most people it worked just great. However, there appeared to be a possible correlation between aspirin use in children and young teens, in combination with a viral illness (often chicken pox), and a rare but sometimes fatal condition called Reye Syndrome. We had many doctors among our coworkers, and had no reason not to believe what they told us at the time: The decision to tell doctors and parents to avoid giving aspirin to children was a deliberate, national experiment: They thought aspirin caused Reye's Syndrome in children, but they couldn't prove it, so they hoped that if aspirin use went down dramatically, and so did the incidence of Reye, their point would be made. The disorder did, indeed, retreat significantly, whether through causation or merely correlation is still unknown. The cynic in me insists on pointing out that, whatever the stated reasons for this massive non-laboratory experiment, and whatever good might or might not come of it, one clear result was that a cheap, readily-available, and highly effective drug was massively replaced by one still under patent. The patent for acetaminophen (Tylenol) did not expire until 2007, and Tylenol was still reeling from the 1982 poisoned-Tylenol-capsules scare. Practically overnight, and with timing highly favorable to the pharmaceutical industry, Tylenol became the drug of choice for a large segment of the population.
The next example I remember of such a huge, non-controlled experiment happened in the early 1990's, and was not a drug but a parenting practice: the insistence by the medical profession that all babies never be allowed to sleep on their stomachs. Sleep position recommendations have flip-flopped several times over the years. The professionals never think it safe to leave that decision up to the babies and their parents, they just keep changing what it is that is "the only safe way for a baby to sleep." Personally, I think "whatever helps the baby sleep best" is almost always the right choice. (But I am not a doctor, nor any other medical professional, so make your own choices and don't sue me.)
Early in the 1990's the thought was that back-sleeping might reduce the incidence of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). Indeed, there was a decline after the "Back to Sleep" push went into effect, though once again the experiment was unscientific with no significant control group. Certainly there were still parents who put their babies to sleep on their stomachs, but if there was any widespread study of them I never heard of it, and indeed the data was necessarily corrupted because the pressure was so great not to do so that few parents talked openly about it. And doctors, even if they were well aware of the advantages of stomach-sleeping, could not risk mentioning them to their patients. I remember vividly the one young mother who, months later, confessed to the pediatrician that her son had always slept on his stomach. The doctor laughed, saying, "Of course I knew that! Look at how advanced he is, and look at the perfect shape of his head!" But stomach-sleeping is still very much a "don't ask, don't tell" situation.
These massive, uncontrolled, and to my mind unethical experiments on the human population are justified in the minds of many because, after all, they "did their job." Deaths from Reye Syndrome, SIDS, and COVID-19 have all fallen, so who cares how we got there?
Well, I care—and so should anyone who believes in the scientific method, the Hippocratic Oath, and open, honest, and ethical research.
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