Asking for health advice is a slippery slope

Diet Dr Pepper has been my poison of choice for decades. I drink the stuff by the tanker-load. In fact, if I could do this, I probably would:

Dr Pepper Do It Right

The other day, I posted this on Facebook:

facebook

I elaborated:

I know I’d be healthier without sugar, aspartame, caffeine, or carbonation. Plain water gives me terrible heartburn. It’s a puzzlement. (Note: I’m already on an H2 blocker for the GERD, which keeps the fire mostly put out, but it tends to flare up during the day on occasion.)

There are reasons for wanting to make a change.

    1. Sugar: Sugary drinks contain about 10 teaspoons of sugar per 12 ounces, or about 150 calories. If I were to drink four or five of those each day, that’s an additional 600 to 750 calories a day on top of my normal caloric intake – and that adds up fast. I’m already about 30 pounds heavier than I would like to be, and I’d hate to tip the scales at over 300. Not only does it pack on the pounds, but it contributes to the development of insulin resistance via blood sugar spike and crash, and most of it comes in the form of High Fructose Corn Syrup, which is well-known for its deleterious health effects.
    2. Artificial sweeteners: My wife wants me to give up diet soda and switch to regular, claiming that Aspartame is worse for me than sugar. Scientifically, the jury is still out on that. The health-food world will tell you that it accumulates in your liver and takes six months to purge, or that it turns into formaldehyde above 86 degrees, or that it stimulates your appetite and makes you want to eat more, or a host of other very scary things. The FDA says its perfectly safe. Some of those claims have been soundly debunked, others are not so clear. Thus far, I’ve noticed no adverse effects [twitch twitch] other than those stubborn 30 pounds that don’t want to come off, so there may be something to that last one; the only two times I ever successfully released weight in my life, I had sworn off soda altogether.
    3. Caffeine: as a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, tea, coffee, alcohol, and tobacco are proscribed. But there’s an old joke that goes,

      “What’s the difference between an active Mormon and a lapsed Mormon? The temperature of their caffeine.”

      Caffeinated sodas are not officially taboo, although there are some in the Church who will tell you that you’re going to Hell if you enjoy the occasional Coke – these are the “Nazi Mormons.” But as much as I like that energy buzz, caffeine does tend to flog the adrenal glands, which can lead to adrenal fatigue syndrome. I know that I’d be better off without it.

    4. Carbonationbelch I love fizz. I find it refreshing. I was really hoping that YO₂ would become a commercial success, but apparently the rest of the nation didn’t resonate with the idea. 😢 The health buzz tells you that carbonation will leach calcium from your bones as it acidifies your bloodstream, but that claim has been largely debunked. If anything, it probably contributes some to my heartburn and some increased flatulence pfrrt. So if I were going to be 100% committed, carbonation would be off the menu as well.

Many people responded, and before anything I need to state that I’m grateful for their taking the time to share advice and suggestions. They did so (mostly) because they care – and I appreciate those sentiments. On the other hand, the value of some of those suggestions is questionable.

Three people took the opportunity to flog their multilevel products (and, concomitantly, business opportunities). One was iGalen’s “Emulin E”, made of skin of the grape, skin of the onion and green coffee, and gallic acid – claimed to be a “carbohydrate manager,” and very expensive. Two others recommended Prüvit, a costly ketogenic diet system. Both of these, in my assessment, are pure pseudoscientific woo, as are most multilevel health products. Also, in the MLM world, any time you can get someone to buy your products, you’re opening the door to recruiting them as a new distributor. I will give my friends credit for being truly concerned for my health, and for a firm belief that their products are God’s answer to everything that ails me, but there’s always that little bell ringing in the back of an independent distributor’s head that says 鴨が葱を背負って来る (kamo ga negi wo shotte kuru), a Japanese proverb that means “Here comes a duck bearing onions,” or rather, “Here comes a sucker ready to be parted from his money.” I drank that Kool Aid for far too long, which is the subject of another essay altogether.

Two people, despite my clarification, suggested switching to plain water. Either they didn’t read my comment, or ignored it. Yes, it’s really the healthiest solution, but clearly the most boring.

One suggested taking a cod liver oil pill or two for the heartburn, based on anecdotal evidence and personal experience. I’ve done that in the past, and it didn’t seem to help much.

One suggested a less sugar-intense cherry drink, since cherry (according to him) is an essential element of the Dr Pepper flavor. But even “soda light” will probably have more sugar than I want.

One suggested the new flavors of Diet Coke appearing on the market. I tried these and found them an improvement over plain Diet Coke, which tastes like panther piss. Another suggested Coke Zero, which I have drunk in the past and which is better than Diet Coke. But these are still diet soda with artificial sweeteners and caffeine.

A friend of mine who is a longtime resident of Japan suggested mugicha, or barley tea. According to him, it’s easy enough to make yourself if you have the ingredients. Lots of flavor, no sugar, caffeine, or carbonation. My first wife lived in Japan for a year and a half, and her endorsement of mugicha was less than ringing if I remember correctly. But it sounds like a good option to add to a repertoire of more healthful drinks, and I will definitely look into this one.

A cousin said, “A glass of wine cures everything!!! Oh I forgot you don’t drink!!!” I’d get some of Uncle Carlo’s fat black home-made wine as a kid (cut with water, of course) at my Italian grandmother’s home, and I definitely developed a taste for it. Darnit. I wish I could take her advice.

One long-time friend suggested Sprite Zero or Diet Sunkist. I’m sure they are tasty, but still diet sodas.

Two people suggested San Pellegrino, Perrier, or LaCroix. Things of this nature may be my ultimate solution, or at least an intermediate step.

One friend of long standing suggested lime juice in cold water, which helped him through soda withdrawal, and another suggested water with a dash of lemon juice as a less-boring alternative to plain water. Maybe. I’ve thought along these lines, but I’ve noticed that citrus tends to increase the heartburn.

Another colleague suggested rooibos tea, either hot or cold. No caffeine, many flavored varieties available. Definitely worth a look.

Two friends suggested a healthy soda that uses stevia. Not a bad idea, but in my experience stevia is just not very good tasting. I’m looking for something that makes me want more of it.

One friend suggested Dry Soda. Looked at their web page – it looks like it has potential, but does not seem available anywhere close to where I live.

Another colleague suggested kombucha. I have reservations about this one. A physician at the poison control center wrote, “There are no scientific studies to support the many health claims made for kombucha tea. There are many reasons to be concerned about the safety of kombucha tea, despite its long history of traditional use.” Probably a pass, especially because kombucha can be mildly alcoholic and is often combined with green or black tea.

A knitting colleague suggested iced herbal teas. A good possibility, since there are so many flavors that I already enjoy, including peppermint, chamomile, and numerous blends.

The last suggestion was chai. Sadly, this one is out for me because of the Word of Wisdom.

Trying to find something that has neither lots of sugar, artificial sweetener, caffeine, or carbonation – something that tastes good – has proven to be a challenge. Right now, I’ve found some nice flavored seltzers at Hannaford that are refreshing and tasty. I’ll live with the carbonation issue for now. I might even consider getting a spritz bottle like I had in Austria in the 70s with those little CO₂ cartridges, but those aren’t cheap. Whatever I drink has got to be cold – that’s part of the deal. So at work, a thermos full of something good will hopefully help me stay away from the vending machines.

I’ll report back as time goes on if I find something really spiffy.

The Old Wolf has spoken.

No, I didn’t ask to cancel my Gmail account

Scammers

Subject: Request to Terminate Your account has been accepted
From: AccountUpdate qAvmWq4@zbikfv.uk via physics.metu.edu.tr
Date: Apr 26 (10 days ago)
to _To: millions of people

Dear Gmail Customer,

You submitted a request to terminate your Gmail mail account and the process has started by our Gmail mail Team, Please give us 3 working days to close your mail account.

To cancel the termination request reply to this mail.

All files on your Gmail mail including (Inbox, Sent, Spam, Trash, Draft) will be deleted and access to your Gmail mail account will be Denied.

If you wish to Terminate your Email Address, you can Sign Up for a new Gmail mail account.

For further help please contact by replying to this mail.

Regards,
Gmail! Account Services

Please watch out for emails like this. No, I didn’t ask for my Gmail account to be terminated, and neither did you.

If you respond to the email, you will be confirming that you are a live sucker to these people:

reply@positndor.net,
replyme@pinewbrokers.net,
reply@raintrature.com,
hello@cestaticket.com.ve,
peru@minedu.gob.pe,
marco@geturoffrsnw.win,
admin@betterwithfn.com,
comm@edukouvola.fi,
notice@myegy.com

And it’s a penny to a quid that every one of them is a scammer who will do their best to get your personal information or your money.

How do you know this message is not from Gmail? It was sent from The Gmail! account team (Gmail doesn’t use a “!” in their name like “Yahoo!” does. In addition to that, the return address is:

AccountUpdate qAvmWq4@zbikfv.uk via physics.metu.edu.tr

A double redirect, one from the UK and one from Turkey. No, Virginia, that’s not Gmail.

Be careful out there.

The Old Wolf has spoken.

#MeToo: The Court of Public Opinion

#MeToo is a powerful movement. Like #BlackLivesMatter, it’s not wrong about shining the harsh light of reason on social ills, be they sexual harassment or ongoing racial discrimination or anything similar. If there is misconduct, current or past and un-accounted for, it should be exposed and dealt with.

But there’s another side.

It’s important to remember that there are unrighteous people in the world, those who will do what they can to game the system for personal gain or attention.

I’m reminded of something I learned in my association with Klemmer and Associates: “If one person calls you a jackass, it’s just feedback. If six people call you a jackass, it may be time to buy a saddle.”

The recent events surrounding a popular long-time comedian and rôle model are a perfect example: There was a a huge body of evidence and a long line of accusers. From everything I could see, the conviction was justified.

In Tom Brokaw’s case, you have an accuser on one side and a whole line of defenders (note: female) who are bearing witness to high ethics and character: “MSNBC’s Mika Brzezinski’s has added her name to the more than 60 women who signed a letter supporting NBC News veteran Tom Brokaw after sexual harassment allegations against him were published by Washington Post and Variety.” (Deadline Hollywood)

The media, in its frenzy to be first-to-publish for the sake of clicks and eyeballs on ads, is happy to embody the fictional persona of Rita Skeeter, who reminded us that “The Prophet exists to sell itself, you silly girl.” Accusations become front-page news without the most ephemeral shred of investigative journalism, and instantly – in less than 0.68 seconds – a segment of the public has convicted someone, and a career can be ruined or eternally tainted, whether there was any truth to the allegations or not.

It’s possible for people to live dual lives, as we have seen. And if there’s a devil hiding in angel’s clothing, there’s nothing more appropriate than exposing that duplicity. But in today’s world, an accusation can leave lasting effects that are impervious to reason or fact (just look at the vaccine/autism nonsense that persists in the minds of so many).

I have long admired Mr. Brokaw’s journalism, integrity, and philanthropic efforts. I’m sorry this has blindsided him. And if, as I suspect, these allegations prove to be turn out to be the machinations of an unbalanced and vindictive individual, I hope he is able to get it sorted quickly and get on with his life.

The Old Wolf has spoken.

The Moment – by Jaspreet Kaur

“The moment that you realize that true contentment can be found when we serve others, all other desires will seem so small.
And the moment you see joy in another being eyes, because of your own selfless actions, life starts to make a lot more sense.
And the moment you begin to act as the reflection of the visions that you have a of a better world, things will begin to change.
And the moment that you recognize your own responsibility for the betterment of others, you’ll see such beauty in life.
And the moment that you recognize that you’ll make more of an impact by being righteous than always being right, rewards will come and fall into your lap.
And the moment that you are more concerned about learning to love, then to be loved, positive emotions of oceanic depths will engulf you.
And the moment that you are more concerned about understanding others than to always be understood, that’s when your mind will truly begin to learn.
And the moment that we realize that our enemies are not physical flesh and blood, yet they are our own thoughts, peace will begin to conquer.
And the moment that we overcome those inner enemies, rather than deflecting them onto others, merriment will come find you.
And the moment that you are more concerned about learning to listen, rather than to always be heard, you will hear languages you thought your mind could never fathom.
And the moment that you realize that life will always be about mastering and relearning, hunkering and climbing your journey will begin to feel so smooth.
And the moment that we all believe that we can change this world for the better, we will do it. Where we learn, change, grow and give, so go live your moments.”

– Spoken-word artist Jaspreet Kaur, at the 2018 Commonwealth Day Celebration

Happy International Women’s Day to all the “nasty women” out there. All of them.

Now, put away your pitchforks and torches and listen to this amazing video by Aya Korem (it’s in Hebrew with English subtitles, but you’ll have to read fast because she does the equality run in less than 12 parsecs¹:

I asked this question over on Facebook:

Answer me this: why should more than 50% of the earth’s population be given a single day of celebration? Just sayin’.

Listening to Ms. Korem, I was reminded of the following exchange Morgan Freeman had with Mike Wallace on 60 Minutes:

WALLACE: Black History Month, you find …
FREEMAN: Ridiculous.
WALLACE: Why?
FREEMAN: You’re going to relegate my history to a month?
WALLACE: Come on.
FREEMAN: What do you do with yours? Which month is White History Month? Come on, tell me.
WALLACE: I’m Jewish.
FREEMAN: OK. Which month is Jewish History Month?
WALLACE: There isn’t one.
FREEMAN: Why not? Do you want one?
WALLACE: No, no.
FREEMAN: I don’t either. I don’t want a Black History Month. Black history is American history.
WALLACE: How are we going to get rid of racism until …?
FREEMAN: Stop talking about it. I’m going to stop calling you a white man. And I’m going to ask you to stop calling me a black man. I know you as Mike Wallace. You know me as Morgan Freeman. You’re not going to say, “I know this white guy named Mike Wallace.” Hear what I’m saying?

So yes, I get it. Happy International Women’s Day. It’s never inappropriate to celebrate the accomplishments of anyone. But in today’s world of #MeToo and #TimesUp, it seems jejune to celebrate half (more than half, statistically) of humanity by giving them a single day.

When we achieve the kind of gender equality that people of humanity strive for, the kind of equality that Morgan Freeman was alluding to, then we can truly celebrate.


¹ Any respectable Star Wars fan knows that a parsec is a measure of distance, not speed. It’s a joke.

Guns are in America’s DNA

Australia

After the Port Arthur massacre in Australia, former Australian Prime Minister John Howard said, “We have an opportunity in this country not to go down the American path.” And they took that opportunity: Australia banned semi-automatic rifles and shotguns – weapons that can kill many people quickly – and implemented a 28-day waiting period, thorough background checks, and a requirement to present a “justifiable reason” to own a gun.

Guns were not banned outright, and while gun violence did not end in Australia, it was cut by roughly half since 1996 – and there has never been another Port Arthur since.

United Kingdom

In 1987, a single gunman killed 16 people in what came to be known as the Hungerford Massacre. As a result, made registration mandatory for owning shotguns and banning semi-automatic and pump-action weapons.

Despite this action, in 1996 an unspeakable, cowardly bastard burst into the gymnasium of a primary school in Dunblane, Scotland, and killed 15 children aged five and six along with their teacher before turning one of his handguns on himself. By 18 months later, UK lawmakers had passed a ban on the private ownership of all handguns in mainland Britain, resulting in some of the toughest anti-gun legislation in the world.

The United States

In the first month and a half of 2018, there had been 17 shooting incidents at schools in our country. Some were accidental, some were intentional, one was suicide, and some resulted in no injury or death – but 22 people died, and many more were injured. As of this writing, there have been 290 school shootings since 2013.

Even one is too many.

But the odds that the United States will ever ban firearms outright approach my odds of winning the lottery – that is to say, virtually nonexistent.

From where I sit, there are two dominant reasons for this, reasons which have the weight of history behind them.

1. The right to bear arms is guaranteed by the Second Amendment to our Constitution:

“A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”

The interpretation of the scope of that statement, in the absence of the people who framed it, is being examined in courts on a continual basis. More about this in a bit.

2. Firearms are an integral part of our nation’s history

For better or for worse, our nation’s history depended on firearms. The expanding frontier and the uncertainties of life in a lawless country made owning a firearm (or an armory) often meant the difference between survival and becoming a nameless skeleton on the prairie.

write

“Why don’t she write?”

But after surviving the hostile elements, there was still the matter of putting food on the table. Hunting in American has morphed from a matter of daily bread to a wildly popular sport; in Utah, for example, teachers expect classrooms to be oddly empty during the deer hunt.

When I was growing up, guns were everywhere. It may be why “A Christmas Story” is such a popular movie with a certain generation:

Image result for Red Ryder BB Gun

Ads for air rifles and BB guns were seen in just about every comic book:

daisy.JPG

At summer camp, we had a BB range and a rifle range. I loved riflery, and in 1964 I attained the Junior NRA rank of “Sharpshooter 2nd Bar.” I would have certainly gone farther had I been able to attend camp more frequently – target shooting was a lot of fun, and I was proud to have earned these.

medals

I owned many toy guns and weapons of mass destruction when I was a kid – and playing “cops and robbers” and “cowboys and Indians” was just what was done.

cowboy.jpg

davenport.gif

In our games, when you got shot dead you always just got up again… even if they got you right behind the davenport. While our riflery instructor was impeccably serious about safety on the range, there was never any training given on how to handle a gun safely in the real world, or education around the fact that guns were designed to kill things instead of hit targets at 50 feet, or that when you’re dead, that’s it – there’s no coming back for a second chance.

The fact that guns are written into America’s DNA has allowed the NRA to morph from an organization for sports enthusiasts into a powerful political entity – one which seems determined to preserve and expand its influence at all costs. And their “cold dead hands,” any weapon, any time, any caliber, any size, any magazine, any bump-stock philosophy has been adopted by a significant portion of our citizenry, including a significant number of our legislators who take obscene amounts of money from the NRA, all the while sending their “thoughts and prayers” to the victims without being willing to do anything about the carnage.

The recent shooting at Parkland left 17 people dead. I haven’t even mentioned other gun-related deaths, such as the one in Las Vegas that killed 58 people and injured 851.

It’s time for a change.

Yes, the 2nd Amendment still guarantees our citizenry the right to bear arms, but I do not believe – I will not believe – that the writers of that amendment  ever meant for a single individual to own something like this, unless the zombie apocalypse were a real possibility:

awesome-arms-cache-gun-room-with-blue-walls

Justice Antonin Scalia, a conservative voice on the Supreme Court, wrote:

“Like most rights, the right secured by the Second Amendment is not unlimited…”. It is “…not a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose.”

I personally believe that the writers of the 2nd Amendment would be shocked if they saw how that little bit of the Constitution was being interpreted and argued and implemented today, especially if they viewed the daily carnage in a nation with between 270 million to 310 million firearms, depending on whose estimate you believe.

As long as the 2nd Amendment remains in force, we as citizens of this country must balance a right to bear arms with an end to the daily death toll which has reached untenable proportions – indeed, has been unbearable for decades.

If you want to own a gun, this is how it should go:

  1. You take “Firearm Education,” a government-approved class on firearm operation and safety. (Note that many states mandate a driver’s ed class of at least 30 hours.)
  2. You take a written and practical test on the type of firearm for which you wish an endorsement.
  3. You submit to a background check. The current Brady Law mandates use of the NICS, but as we have seen with the Florida and Las Vegas shootings, past actions are not always an indicator of future ones. Too many red flags were missed in the case of the perpetrators; more needs to be done to keep weapons out of the hands of unstable individuals.
  4. Your guns are registered, licensed, and taxed, just like your cars are. Nobody tells you how many cars you can own, or of what kind, as long as you’re licensed to drive them and pay all relevant taxes and fees.
  5. You have liability insurance on each weapon.
  6. Your weapons are inspected and re-registered at yearly intervals, just like your car. Aside from the die-hard sovereign-nation groups, nobody complains about having to re-register cars, or pay excise taxes, or have them inspected for safety, or maintain current insurance. It’s for everyone’s safety, owner and public alike.

In addition to this, I call for a total ban on semiautomatic weapons in the hands of private individuals. They are weapons of war; nobody needs one of these killing machines for hunting, or for any other purpose short of the above-mentioned zombie apocalypse. Bump stocks are a no-brainer – they make no sense.

I have many gun-toting, sharpshooting, hunting, and reloading friends who will disagree with my opinions, but that’s how America works. This is such a highly-charged issue that I debated about disabling comments on this post, but I have always supported civil discourse on difficult issues. Ignorant and trollish comments will be ignored and deleted without ceremony.

The Old Wolf has spoken.

The Drug Pricing Maze

I’m grateful to have health insurance. Many, many people don’t, and that’s an ongoing debate in our society right now. That said, I absolutely don’t understand what’s going on with drug prices.

I get my long-term scripts filled by Magellan, a mail-order pharmacy. When my last batch of prescriptions was delivered, the printed circulars that came with them had some interesting information that got me thinking.

These are all very common drugs, not rare ones. Actual drug names have been replaced with ℞ A, ℞ B, and ℞ C.


℞ A: The lowest GoodRx price for the most common version of ℞ A is around $4.00, 90% off the average retail price of $43.29 (30-day supply)

OTC versions, for comparison:

Amazon: $27.96
Walmart: $8.00
Kroger: $17.06
Costco: $19.26

Magellan states that the ℞ price for a 90-day supply is $187.20
With Insurance: $10.00
Cash discount: $10.00
Net price: 0

So I ended up getting this one for free.


℞ B: (GoodRx) The cost for ℞ B is around $13 for a supply of 90 capsules, depending on the pharmacy you visit. Prices are for cash paying customers only and are not valid with insurance plans.

This drug is not available over the counter.

Magellan states that the ℞ price for a 90-day supply is $397.22
With Insurance: $10.00


℞ C: The lowest GoodRx price for the most common version of ℞ C is around $10.54, 92% off the average retail price of $134.99 (30-day supply)

Not available OTC.

Magellan states that the ℞ price for a 90-day supply is $450.00
With Insurance: $10.00


So I’ve paid $20.00 for scripts that should have cost me $1034.42

These numbers from Magellan just don’t add up. Are these “self-pay” prices, or just randomly inflated numbers to make me think I’m getting a killer deal? What is the “average retail price” anyway, if nobody pays that?

I found this article at Lifehacker, and it addresses the issue that I mention here – but even after reading the article, to me it is still a mass of confusion. And I realize that in terms of the complexity of the entire situation, what I’ve outlined is just the frost on the surface of the Antarctic ice sheet.

The situation is untenable, and I can clearly not choose the drugs in front of me.

The Old Wolf has spoken.