You Know You Are Suffering from a Mental Disorder When…

Dear Senderos,

This week’s posting is going to be something of a “speed round.” In addition to being buried in work, I am also trying to work through the main quest of Witcher III, one of the better video games to hit the screen. Ever.

My passion for video games runs deep. So much so that once I get to be, I don’t know, 90, I plan on setting myself up with a video gaming rig as close as possible to that described in Ready Player One and spending my final years on the planet as a virtual Viking King. Or maybe a Witcher. Thereafter, I will muster myself out only long enough to attend to the basic requirements to sustain life.

What do I like about video games? The better games—and there are some amazing games out there—suck you into the story line and force you to use a combination of wits and skill to conquer progressively more difficult challenges.

I figured out years ago that the secret to the happiness is to do things that boost your energy. And few things boost your energy more than setting a challenge just out of your reach and then accomplishing it. Which is something video games excel at.

Why, just the other day a really tough Rock Troll was blocking me from some sweet treasure… that is, until I figured out how to lure him far enough out of his cave to loop around and snag the booty, then hightail it out of there before he could lumber back and smash in my Witcher brains.

Of course, there are a host of old adages one may want to refer to when it comes to activities like video gaming. Off the top of my head:

  • Everything in moderation, including your excesses. (Actually, that’s not an old adage, as I came up with it, but I think it works.)

  • Too much of a good thing might not be so good.

  • Move your fat butt, or it will get fatter.

So, between now and my 90th birthday I’ll continue to curb my enthusiasm and limit my game play to a few hours a week.

But it won’t be easy as the temptations of the virtual world will only get more tempting. With the pending launch of true 3-D gaming and the increasing sophistication of haptic accessories, the real advances in gaming are still ahead.

There’s an excellent sci-fi book called The Unincorporated Man, in which video games were outlawed after they got so good that people stopped being able to tell the difference between virtual reality and real reality. They stopped working and taking care of their families and, in time, even bothering to eat. Millions died.

(Hint: if you see Rock Trolls, odds are good you’re in the virtual world.)

In any event, though I can be a man of strong passions, even I know to keep things moderate… because if I didn’t, it would mean I was manic or maybe just crazy. Right?

Which conveniently brings me to the theme of today’s post.

You Know You Are Suffering from a Mental Disorder When…

This week’s theme leaped to mind after I heard about a former friend who, though endowed with pretty much everything this bountiful world has to offer, immerses herself in bad science, cultish leaps of faith, and self-absorption to the point of delusion.

And she puts it all out there in a blog so the world can share her every painful step to keep from being pulled low by greedy capitalist corporations that put their profits before people’s health by foisting GMO, non-organic foods, vaccinations, and other forms of dangerous medicines on the unwitting public.

Keep in mind, this is an attractive, physically healthy, otherwise intelligent young woman who, if it weren’t for her self-imagined daemons could, I suspect, be a success in any enterprise in any corner of the world.

Instead, she has cooked up a large pot of pity stew with extra measures of pure nonsense and a double dose of fear, turned the heat on high… and jumped in.

As you may have noticed—I certainly have—there’s a lot of that going around these days.

Yet, if these people could manage to pull their misery-laden heads out of their... of their… oversized hats!... and look at the bigger picture, here’s what they’d see:

GMO Is a Net Plus for Humanity

Mass starvation no longer plagues the world.

Didn’t use to be that way. When I was growing up, the lack of food cut down populations in China and Africa like there was no tomorrow. Which, for people without food, there isn’t.

In China, between 1959 and 1962, somewhere between 20 million and 40 million people died after having been left with little more than dirt to eat.

And this wasn’t an outlier back in the day… Pearl S. Buck’s excellent book, The Good Earth, written in 1930, tells a similar story about the mass starvation in China in the early 1900s.

Of course, many of the mass starvations were caused or exacerbated by governments, but there’s no question the introduction of GMO foods has weighed positively on the supply and demand balance.


Refuting the Malthusian argument that we are all DOOMED, David Lam of the University of Michigan’s Population Center put together a presentation that you can watch here.



In it, he includes the above slide, which he explains as thus:

"The world is producing three times as much food today as in 1960; the population is two times what it was in 1960, so there's 41% higher food production per capita."

Now, before the knives come out, I am not particularly interested in the whole GMO debate. I do recognize certain concerns may have some merit—for example those about monoculture—but it seems to me that those concerns invariably involve the end of life as we know it, which always triggers a strongly skeptical response in me.

Rather, I am trying to make a fairly simple point.

And that is that you can choose to spend time and energy worrying about things like GMO and their (non-scientifically supported) negative effects on your body… or you can look around at all the healthy, well-fed people and decide not to give the matter a second thought.

I promise you, not dwelling on GMOs will only be a positive as it will free up all sorts of time for more pleasant activities than checking labels in grocery stores, writing letters no one will read to your congressman and to businesses, or going about with petitions that ultimately end up in a drawer or a shredder.

Coincidentally, after having written the above, I received a note from dear friend and fellow Sendero Pete Kofod containing a related link to an excellent article from the archives of wattsupwiththat.com, a good website for doing independent research (more on such sites later).

The article, titled “The Simon-Ehrlich Wager at Seven Billion People,” provides abundant data supporting free-market economist Julian Simon in his 1980 bet against Paul Ehrlich on the matter of resource depletion due to overpopulation.

The article, which you can access by clicking here, should be required reading for every student in the world. Make that everyone in the world. Only then might we begin turning back the sheer ignorance that dominates global policy discussions and Internet comment sections on matters related to population and the resources needed to support that population.

Vaccines Are Good… and Don’t Cause Autism

Of all the currently popular delusions and madness, this is one of the most disturbing.

Based on extremely poor science, a whole “anti-vax” movement has arisen that advocates doing away with vaccines against childhood diseases.

In the minds of these people, it’s time to say goodbye to autism and hello again to polio, measles, whooping cough, and all the other wonderful child killers of yesterday.

For a glance at the future, look no further than Afghanistan and corners of Pakistan and Nigeria where forward-looking imams have denounced vaccinations as a Western conspiracy and unleashed new epidemics.

But the Anti-Vax movement is making inroads in the United States as well where there were more cases of measles in the first month of 2015 than in all of 2014. Well done!

Rather than getting too deep into this topic, I’ll just share a link to a pretty good summary report on the indisputable benefits of vaccines from the World Health Organization, which you can read here.

As far as the correlation between vaccines and autism, that contention is usually supported by charts showing the increase in autism and the use of the MMR vaccine—charts such as this:

However, the chart below (which is from an excellent article on the topic on Steve Novella’s blog) points to a far tighter correlation. Which, as we all know, means causation. Right? Here’s the chart:

Speaking of Organic Food

The same mental disorder that causes people to become preoccupied with GMOs and vaccines invariably manifests itself in the belief that if it’s not organic, it’s poison.

I thought this quote from a recent article on the Science-based Medicine site sums it up pretty well:

   “There once was a time when all food was organic and no pesticides were used. Health problems were treated with folk wisdom and natural remedies. There was no obesity, and people got lots of exercise. And in that time gone by, the average life expectancy was… 35!”

Now, I have nothing against organic food, but per the discussion of food supply a minute ago, eliminating pesticides would be to invite pestilence back into the global village.

Could the industrial farmers be smarter about their use of pesticides? Of course. And guess what? It is entirely in their best interest to do so. That’s because pesticides and herbicides are the most expensive inputs into growing a crop.

The more fertile the land, the fewer chemicals have to be applied and the bigger the profit margin. Thus, they really don’t need to be beaten over the head by governments to continually look for ways to reduce the use of chemicals.

For example, instead of spraying an entire crop with herbicides, farmers are now using pattern-recognizing laser technology to deliver tiny drops of herbicides to individual weeds as the equipment passes through a crop.

Regardless, the link between the use of pesticides and herbicides and cancer is tenuous at best. After reviewing a long list of purported research studies on the connection between various widely used chemicals and cancer, a Sweden-based research team concluded:

     “Few, if any, of these associations can be considered established and causal. Hence, further epidemiologic studies are needed with detailed exposure assessment for individual pesticides, taking into consideration work practices, use of protective equipment, and other measures to reduce risk.”

And again, when you look at the broader cancer data for industrialized countries, you see that rather than the much-talked-about “cancer epidemic” that is so often pinned on the tail of GMO, pesticides, herbicides, etc., death by cancer has been in a steady decline.

Of course, behind the data are many variables, not the least of which are the improvements in medical technology that helps explain the reduction in deaths. However, some of those variables, including the fact we now live a lot longer and therefore have more time for cancers to develop, would seemingly be negatives.

Yet, taken as a whole, the odds of you or anyone you know of dying of cancer are steadily falling.

In other words, don’t worry about it.

Of course, anyone—myself included—will reflexively support their bias by cherry picking data. Should even that fail to make their case, some researchers are not opposed to fudging the data, which has been the case with recently retracted papers linking vaccines to autism and another linking herbicides to cancer that loaded the proverbial dice by using a strain of mice specifically bred to develop cancers.

In the quest for a more reliable source of information, we turn to the actuarial tables used by insurance and pension companies to predict health outcomes in the population. You can trust these tables to be generally correct because if they were substantially wrong, both of those very large industries (and a number of others) would quickly fail.

Well, in 2014 the “static mortality table” was updated from the previous version last published in 2000 and revealed a shocking outbreak of good health. In one analysis, the impact on pension liability funding was summed up as follows:

 SIGNIFICANTLY IMPROVED MORTALITY 

The most significant piece of RP-2014 is the new set of generational mortality tables. These tables reflect significant improvement in mortality relative to the rates in the current regulatory framework (RP-2000 plus Mortality Improvement Scale AA). To put that in English: the conclusion of the SOA is that the current rules significantly understate how long DB plan participants will live because they do not reflect changes (improvements) in life expectancy that have happened since Scale AA was published.

Click here for the full article.

While we all know people who have cancer or some other dread disease and are naturally sad about it, it’s important to keep these and other afflictions in perspective. In time, medical advances will keep chipping away at these largely gene-triggered conditions, either outright solving them or at least mitigating them to the point of insignificance.

In reality, tackling these diseases will prove far easier than doing away with the widespread affliction of bad science—an affliction with serious societal consequences, including a steady stream of bad government policy and a massive waste of resources.

As for the aforementioned young woman and the millions like her… seriously, don’t be so serious.

No one gets out alive, so enjoy your (longer) life to the fullest.

Good Resource Sites

In a recent posting entitled Media Rats, I was a bit unkind to the world’s popular media outlets, comparing them to the producers of “snuff films.”

However, I failed to propose alternative information sources you might want to visit instead of the news fabrication sites.

Wine business partner Bill Knuttel asked for ideas for good sites, a partial list of which I present below. If any of you have resources to add to the list, drop them into the comments section below and I’ll keep a record and periodically post an update.

(As an aside, if you live in California or a state that doesn’t make sending wine across borders expensive and difficult and you can get your hands on some of Bill’s wine, I urge you to do so. After a great deal of personal testing, I can attest that Bill is among the best vintners out there. Visit his website at www.williamknuttel.com.)

Giving credit where credit is due, many (most?) of these sites were originally brought to my attention by my wife, the chief science officer of the SS Sendero. As such, the sites tend to be fact based and not of the fluffy-headed Pablum pawned off as news these days.

  • Matt Ridley’s Rational Optimist. Here’s a recent edition where he talks about the government’s about-face on e-cigarettes. Read the article here. While I personally think using e-cigarettes is unaesthetic, to lump them into the same category as sucking burning leaves into your lungs is ridiculous.

  • Science-Based Medicine. A useful site in exploring and debunking the latest health memes. https://www.sciencebasedmedicine.org/

  • New England Skeptical Society. These days, it pays to be skeptical, the focus of this site. http://theness.com/

  • Dr. Steven Novella’s Neurologicablog. A sub-blog that hangs on the New England Skeptical Society site. http://www.theness.com/neurologicablog/

  • The Incidental Economist. That’s where I took the following cartoon from, but it also covers a lot of interesting topics. http://theincidentaleconomist.com

  • Climate Depot. Head writer/researcher Mark Morano is probably Enemy #1 for the enviro-Nazis, which means he must be doing something right. http://www.climatedepot.com/

  • Heartland Institute. A bit more on the advocacy side of things, their publications can be counted on to cover topics you’ll never find covered—at least not intelligently—in the mainstream media. https://www.heartland.org/

I’ll have other sites to share down the road, but time has up and left the room and so must I.

Until next time… happy trails!

David

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