My problem with hope.


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I have a problem with the word hope because it is usually associated with unrealistic aspirations, and because the goals are so often unattainable the routes to those goals must also be liable to lead the hope-filled person to failure. Thus the unrealistic goal soon brings the believer to a life filled with despair. Probably most people realize their otherworldly aspirations are unrealistic, but they grasp after them anyway, because their current life is overloaded with things that are not working very well. For example, betting on the lottery in the hope of winning a great reward almost always ends up with losing some amount of money, and if the person is already desperately lacking in money, that money gambled away comes from essentials like food and a modicum of economic security.

Perhaps even worse than eating poorly until the next dribble of money comes their way is the continued creation and feeding of a habit that is destroying their relationship with reality. Habits are what make our lives function, but poor habits lead us to failure. Then comes the unrealistic belief that numbing one’s pain with a few drinks will cure the problem, and everything will be okay tomorrow. Unfortunately, one drink is not quite enough to ease the pain and after a couple of years it takes quite a few drinks to feel numb enough not to care about the pain. Perhaps a cigarette will help, after all if one feels good why not have another? A little ciggee doesn’t cost much.

A realistic goal with a realistic way to get there isn’t based on hope, it’s based on doing the right things.

Two billion years of evolution wasted on modern humans.


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I keep encountering people who to my view are violating the prime directive of all life forms; that is – 1) survive, 1a) don’t get killed by stupid behavior, 1b) eat appropriate food, 1c) don’t get eaten, 1d) avoid disease, 2) reproduce, 2a) find the healthiest reproductive unit, 2b) help the reproductive unit survive, 3) help offspring survive, 3a) have a superabundance of offspring, or 3b) have a few offspring and nurture them carefully.

The encounters with humans that bewilder me the most are those who do appallingly dangerous things for entertainment. I could make a long list here, but if you think it’s probably dangerous it would be accepted on my list. These people’s stated reasons for their dangerous behaviors are that it makes them feel more alive to be risking their life. Close calls with danger and death give them an adrenaline rush, and that makes life meaningful. Also, there are bragging rights that accrue to those who survive stupid acts; at least they get kudos from others who get a contact rush from hearing about danger even though it is secondhand. And, hearing the fanciful tales of why they were successful and therefore still alive  clears the way for copycat risk taking.

The only reason any individual of any species is alive is because their ancestors survived the dangers and rigors of living, and their ancestors did that by avoiding getting killed, at least up to reproductive age. The natural condition of all living things is to be risk averse — it is built into their DNA — and if for some reason there was a genetic flaw that made some fail to be risk-averse then those genes soon vanished from the gene pool. Strangely there seem to be too many humans with this risk-taking trait for it to be genetic, or perhaps our modern civilization is so safe that risky behavior doesn’t result in death often enough for their line to be exterminated by natural selection.

For most people taking risks is naturally avoided, and the reasons for doing it must be culturally learned from other people who somehow become emotionally charged by being around others who are reinforcing the lifestyle. They get together and do dangerous things and this gives them an intense feeling of group identity, personal bonding, and mutual trust. Having risked their lives together they believe the other person to be more concerned with their general welfare.

My general rule is not to take any chances at all unless there is a payoff that far outweighs the risk, and even then never take a risk that will take you out of the game. There are so many little things that can be done that have real payoffs with no risk, and there are many things that are hugely dangerous that have no tangible reward.

If you think you are about to do something stupid, you certainly are, so don’t. 

Squamous cell carcinoma electrodessication, curettage removal.


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The squamous cell carcinoma on my right shin looked like this before the surgery.

Diagnosis of possible squamous cell carcinoma

Squamous Cell Carcinoma February 10, 2016 , when I first showed it to the VA doctors.

This first photo was taken of my right shin 20 hours after the surgery.

Electrodessication and curettage

May 8, 2016 20 hours after electrodessication and curettage.

The curettage cut marks are clearly visible as strips across the wound area. Around the wound are needle marks were the numbing agents were injected. These pinpricks were the only pain felt before, during and for two weeks after the operation.

Squamous Cell Carcinoam surgery

Squamous Cell Carcinoma May 12, 2016 , 5 days after the surgery.

Squamous Cell Carcinoma

Squamous cell carcinoma on May 18, 12 days after the surgery.

Squamous Cell Carcinoma 14 days after operation

Squamous Cell Carcinoma May 20, 2016, 14 days after the operation.

These photos make this procedure look a lot worse than it felt. The only discomfort I have felt is in bed when my legs get crossed over the wound. The wound is slow to heal, but the doctors were confident that there would be no trouble, because this type of carcinoma is confined to the surface of the skin, and all of that has been removed.

I have been cleaning the wound every day as instructed. Immediately after removing the old bandage I get into the shower, which has been preheated to mouth temperature, and soap the wound and rub it gently for a few seconds, and then rinse and repeat three times. Within seconds, even before drying anywhere I smoothly smear a conveniently placed bean size gob of petroleum jelly over the wound, and immediately put a bandage over the whole mess.

That procedure is supposed to prevent infection because everything is kept very clean, and the natural moisture beneath the jelly is ideal for healing. When using this procedure a scab doesn’t form because the healing skin is kept moist, and they told me the new flesh forms more smoothly.

The doctors say that squamous cell carcinoma is the least dangerous form of cancer; all the same it is probably best to have it removed before it grows larger.

The Botox cure for depression.


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Warning – This post is speculative and not to be experimented with!

In 1987 I had a severe cold, and a secondary effect was that the left side of my face developed Bell’s palsy. The trigeminal nerve was apparently inflamed and not working properly and the left side of my face had no muscle control. It was necessary to hold that side of my mouth closed with my hand while eating to prevent drooling. The condition lasted about two weeks and then totally vanished. About that time I was attending some lectures by Paul Ekman, who is the expert on facial expressions, and mentioned that I was unable to feel the emotions that required me to flex my facial muscles symmetrically. That when I smiled only half of my mouth lifted into the upward position, and because of that I was forming a hypocritical smile and feeling a hypocritical emotion. I never thought much about that until today when I saw an article in Science Daily.

Emotions in the age of Botox

Date: May 12, 2016

Source: Sissa Medialab

Summary: Aesthetic treatments based on botulin toxin affect the perception of emotions, new research shows. The consequence of having Botox injected, scientists explain, depends on a temporary block of proprioceptive feedback, a process that helps us understand other people’s emotions by reproducing them on our own bodies.

My speculation links my observation and theirs and suggests intentionally controlling emotions, such as chronic depression. If I could not express or feel some emotions because I couldn’t flex the muscles associated with the expressions of those emotions, might it be possible that people with chronic depression could ease their symptoms by blocking the nerves to the muscles associated with those emotions?
If that is possible it would be a wonderful advancement in treating depression, because the usual treatments for disorders such as depression and bi-polar disorder suppress all emotions and leave the person feeling just as miserable, but in a different way. Also long-term use of some drugs, lithium for example, eventually destroys vital organs and the victim dies. Perhaps only tiny amounts of Botox put into exactly the right place would eliminate some chronic problems and not cause any long-term effects.
If Botox were injected into the specific location where the problem arose it would block the problem without affecting the rest of the body.

A Dictionary of New Epigrams – Enlightenment


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Dictionary of New Epigrams


Can we can upgrade the Zen saying, about chopping wood and carrying water? Sometimes chopping wood and carrying water is part of life, because that is what needs to be done at the moment. Sometimes even the Prophet needs to chop wood and carry water.

There are many tasks that can be explored, compelled, shown off, taught,  demonstrated, revealed, and enlightened.

Enlightenment is a momentary flash of understanding, and a great number of these flashes well-contemplated can bring increasing wisdom.

Anyone who is paying close attention to what’s happening must experience a multitude of enlightenments every day.

Converting well-considered enlightenments into functioning habits propels one along the paths of wisdom.

If you are content you are enlightened enough and won’t feel the need to go further.

There is no need to own light bulbs if you don’t have access to electricity.

To be enlightened is to see what needs to be done, wisdom knows the way to get it done, and vital energy is needed to do it. We need to cultivate them all.

There is a time and place for every action, and some of them require forethought, ability and practice to do it right.

The sage said, “All is vanity.” Okay, so be it. Choose to live it to the full.

Sometimes it’s time to laugh, sometimes to cry, but it is always time to live in the moment.

Live, participate, let go.

“Leave me the resources to live as long as you.”


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Something happened some ten years ago at the University of California Berkeley, that has disturbed me ever since. An older major executive of a major oil corporation, British Oil I think, was lecturing in exuberant terms about the glorious future of oil. He was discounting the worries that the world was running out of oil  and that atmospheric pollution was a serious problem. It wasn’t a large audience, maybe fifty people, and the after-lecture questions were serious, polite, when it happened.

A girl, about age ten, went to the microphone and politely asked if all the wonderful things that he was talking about would still be available when she was as old as he. The speaker had been talking in a ten-year time frame, and projecting out to twenty years as possibly sustainable at the current rate of consumption and pollution. The problem for the girl was that he was seventy years old, and she ten, and that meant there was a sixty-year gap, and that meant that his maximum projection of twenty years of sustainable oil production only got her to age thirty, and left her with fifty years of no fuel to run cars for transportation or tractors for cultivating farms. It meant that for more than half of her life expectancy it would be impossible to create enough food for the people of the world even at the present population, and population is currently doubling every forty years. By her simple observation it was obvious that the august speaker was oblivious to the long-term facts, and that the world would obviously come to catastrophe long before she was as old as he if things continued the way he was promoting. What he was promoting was going to bring her to a life of misery watching the world collapse around her.

His answer was wonderful and smarmy, “Excellent question young lady! But as you can see we of my generation must solve our problems, and we leave it to the bright young people such as yourself to solve the problems of the future.” She didn’t argue the point, and returned to her seat, but his answer was the ultimate of cruelty, because by destroying the very resources that are needed to create the energy of tomorrow it makes it impossible for her to succeed in the long run or even to live. This smiling millionaire was condemning this intelligent young woman to probable famine and early death. That sounds hysterically harsh, but there are obviously limits to the usable resources that the Earth can supply, and a twenty-year supply leaves most people alive soon living lives of acute desperation.

Children of the world demand that your elders not destroy the resources you need to live as long as they have.

What is enlightenment?


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Eighteen older people kicked around the concept of enlightenment for a couple of hours, and I didn’t say much, which some thought a bit unusual, but it seemed better to let everyone explore to their depths before I interrupted. This is being kind on my part because what I say almost always creates a problem for someone, and I have no intention of giving anyone problems; rather I want to reveal their options by opening the doors that are preventing them from seeing what they might choose to do.

Most people present have experienced quite a lot of guided spiritual exploration; a few are ex-ministers, some are presently practicing psychologists, there are some world traveling gurus … in other words, most of these people have thought and meditated on these spiritual subjects for years, and they all can hold forth with considerable eloquence. They had a lot to say on enlightenment, and I approach most of these types of subjects with a lot of head baggage and not much faith, or hope, or money. I say money because to and from this crowd there has been a lot of money flow, both seeking and revealing answers to these esoteric questions. There is a willingness to hear many sides to the questions that arise, and some are direct contradictions to what others have said, and yet we are very friendly, and everyone leaves feeling much closer to humanity and the human condition.

Most of us are willing to leave the uncertainties of the world in a soft state of verbal blurriness, and let the mysteries remain comfortably outside the rigid strictures of religious certainty. How will you know when you have moments of enlightenment; is it just that ah-ha feeling? Aren’t we all just on our personal path, following a trail of crumbs, each of which is a little ah-ha, and thus our journey through life is a continual on-going enlightenment? Enlightenment springs constantly into our everyday consciousness. Usually it’s just seeing what was there all along to be seen, but with a different view it reveals itself and we get our ongoing ah-ha.

Do we ever know where are we going? Can we see the trail of crumbs strung out before us, or is it just one crumb after another without any coherent trail or goal? Those are each moments of enlightenment, according to some, but others assert that this doesn’t lead to wisdom and the ability to consistently choose behaviors that bring about what we want, and thus wisdom is a more useful goal than enlightenment. By that view enlightenment is a transient feeling that is dependent upon external contingencies; wisdom brings about a sustained, controllable and comfortable relationship with one’s personal reality. Enlightenment is just the shortest path to the next bread crumb, whereas wisdom is the map to future abundance.

Seeking enlightenment sets you up for failure; “Get wisdom, and with all thy getting, get understanding!”

The Life Project by Helen Pearson – book review


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My favorite go-to cohort studies have been the Grant Study of the Harvard class of 1938-44, and the Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) test, because the ideas are well-tested and condensed into instantly employable actions. This new book, The Life Project: The Extraordinary Story of 70,000 Ordinary Lives by Helen Pearson is based on a series of very large sample size cohorts in England starting in March 1946 when 17,515 babies born that week have been interviewed periodically up to the present.

Other cohort studies have followed in 1958, 1970, 1991, and 2000. There are other longitudinal cohort studies that have been attempted both in England and in the United States that are larger and more comprehensive, but they failed through complications and lack of sufficient financial support. One thing this book makes clear is that with these huge studies it is absolutely essential to have the wholehearted support of the subjects and steady support by the financial backers. This is huge science which needs money to make any progress, and as it is socially invasive into the privacy of the subjects it is necessary to maintain perfect confidentiality with the data and delicate propriety in the social relationships. The outcomes from these studies have improved English society in a way that positively impacts all of its citizens and the people of the whole world too. Because of these longitudinal studies we all, policy makers included, have a better idea of the causes and effects of the way people’s lives unfold, and thus how to treat other people in better ways.

With so much they have discovered it was with shock and chagrin that I read on page 304, “There are currently about 3,000 study members left … and there will be just 1,400 left by the time they are eighty-four and just 300 around to celebrate their hundredth birthday in 2046 … at some point it won’t make scientific sense to keep collecting the data any more. There will be too few surviving members for the study to have any statistical power and therefore to produce meaningful results.”  That is just plain wrong in my view; the 300 who survive to age 100 from the original 17,515 are the ones who have clearly done everything right and almost nothing wrong, or they wouldn’t have survived. They are the most valuable people of in all the world, and should be studied in the greatest detail. What kinds of things did they do, and what kinds of things did they avoid, and what were their motivations to stop doing dangerous things and start doing the right things? Is skiing a good sport? Is hiking in remote places a good idea? How about swimming and diving? What modes of transportation did they choose: bus, car, trolley, bicycle, motorcycle? How much did they smoke, drink alcohol, tea, coffee?

The studies probed into questions like that, but the final answers won’t be in until all of them have died. Also, the various types of treatments they are getting at age seventy may greatly affect how well they are doing at one hundred. Only longitudinal cohort studies can give definitive answers to those kinds of questions. One thing is obvious from these studies: to live a long healthy life it is best to live modestly and to be around kind, loving people from beginning to end. And as much as you can:

Live long and participate.

Stay by Jennifer Hecht – book review


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The certain thing about your physical life is that it will come to an end. Some aspects of your financial life may last a while before being absorbed into the general fund, and some tiny specks of your personality may survive for a while, if you have the skills and the ability for sustained hard work, like Shakespeare. Unfortunately for the seven point five billion people presently inhabiting the Earth there probably won’t be more than a hundred remembered in a thousand years, and no more than a handful in ten thousand years; and that’s if the world civilization survives. The implication of that simple projection is that for nearly all living people their best option is to make the most of the satisfactions available to them while they live.

That is the general thrust of Jennifer Hecht‘s book Stay: A History of Suicide and the Philosophies Against ItThis book is a popular-scholarly book; that is, it is easy to read and filled with well-documented information. Perhaps the most potent philosophical quote in the book is from the greatest philosopher of the 20th Century Ludwig Wittgenstein (1889-1951):

If suicide is allowed then everything is allowed. If anything is not allowed then suicide is not allowed. This throws a light on the nature of ethics, for suicide is, so to speak, the elementary sin.

The ancient philosophers such as Epictetus (55-135) considered lying to be the ultimate sin because if someone lied about anything then everything they said thereafter would be corrupted by that lie being built into everything they said or did. One can argue that suicide is the ultimate form of lie that a person can tell to themselves, because it doesn’t give them the freedom to seek their best interests, but instead deprives them of all possibility of personal freedom forevermore. They enslave themselves to oblivion with a single act.

There is a wonderful story of the Roman woman Lucretia (died c. 510 BC) who committed a morality-based suicide, after she had been raped, to protect her matronly honor as chaste. Before she stabbed herself she made her royal kinsman swear to avenge her having being violated. This act brought about the war that founded the Roman republic. St. Augustine condemned her act as a murder, writing, “This crime was committed by Lucretia; that Lucretia so celebrated and lauded slew the innocent, chaste, outraged Lucretia.”

The philosopher Michael de Montaigne (1533-1592) wrote that suicide was wrong, claiming that “virtue, if energetic, never turns its back under any circumstances; it seeks out evils and pain for nourishment.” Pain tempers a person’s character, leaving one wiser and often happier for having endured it.

Part of the human social contract is to help your friends and not to injure them, and committing suicide is certainly hurting those friends, because it is murdering someone dear to them. How bad would you feel if some unknown robber murdered your friend? It leaves you no recourse but to suffer. The way we are good to our friends is by helping them to live more abundantly, and murdering one of their friends is the worst possible violation of that friendship. My living goal, and I recommend it to you:

Live long and participate.



Pandemic by Sonia Shah – book review


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Why don’t people join together to fight against infectious disease more vigorously? This book was written by a woman who, for reasons incomprehensible to me, has sought out some of the most disease-generating places on Earth to find out why. She ends the book by swimming in Vibrio bacteria-laden water … “Still, while the water was warm, the air was warmer, and it felt lovely to slip off the side of the boat into its fluid embrace. The bay is not deep, but it took a while before I reached the soft silt blanketing its floor. Above, the cholera-rich waters displaced by my dive whirled around, glittering darkly.”

It makes more sense to me personally to avoid infectious diseases, but Sonia Shah in her new book Pandemic, primarily about cholera, seeks them out and as the quote above illustrates, swims in them. Here is Sonia’s TED talk on her previous book about Malaria. In this new book she discusses at some length the downside of her seeking out a more intimate relationship with Vibrio cholerae, and some undiagnosed, and perhaps undiagnosable diseases that brought a year-long diarrhea to her personally.

She visits the remote fishing village of Belle-Anse, on the southwestern coast of Haiti, which takes eight hours to get to, via a questionable bus, a ride on a motorcycle, then on a tiny motor boat. She was reporting on a Twitter-based tracking method set up as an exploratory system for predicting epidemic progress, that might be used in coping with worldwide epidemics. On the way out of town her boat passed the floating corpse of a child whose parents had been trying to escape the cholera-infected town when their boat capsized.

Early in the book we are back in 1835 in the Wall Street area of Manhattan where the city water supply is so polluted, because it is being pumped directly from under the latrines, that a cholera epidemic kills many and terrifies New York. It was many years before it was understood that it was polluted water rather than foul-smelling air that caused cholera, even though the water tasted and smelled horrible. Reasonable people drank tea, not knowing that it was boiling that made it safe, and not the tea extract.

Cholera was chosen as the central disease for this book, but it covers many others such as flu, Ebola, AIDS, MERSA, SARS.

Sonia Shah is a boots-on-the-ground, feet-in-the-muck investigative reporter who goes where it’s dangerous to go in search of the truth.



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