Category Archives: health

How Much Sympathy Should We Have For Anti-Vaxxers Who Get COVID-19?

Vietnam companies agree COVID-19 vaccine tech transfer with Japan's  Shionogi - media | Reuters

In general, I try to be a compassionate, understanding person. That’s how my parents raised me. That’s how most decent human beings are brought up in this world. It’s how we, as a species, learn to cooperate, co-exist, and work together to survive and thrive. It’s a beautiful thing, indeed.

However, it has limits.

Lately, the anti-vaxx crowd who refuse to get the COVID-19 vaccine are really testing it.

I’ve gone on my share of rants about the anti-vaxx crowd whose idiocy is bound to get people killed. With each passing day, those who resist or protest the vaccines become less and less sympathetic. We’re getting to a point where there’s no real excuse for concern or hesitation.

Not getting this vaccine to end this deadly plague is no longer a product of politics or protest. It’s just people being assholes.

With all that in mind, I’m honestly not sure how to feel about vocal anti-vaxx people who get seriously sick with COVID-19. These stories are becoming increasingly common. A few have even died because they refused to get the vaccine. Reckless behavior aside, they’re human beings. Their lives mattered and their death will be felt by family and loved ones.

At the same time, these people were fucking idiots. This is not a mild case of Chicken Pox. COVID-19 is a deadly pandemic. Before the vaccines came along, it was killing people by the thousands. It didn’t care about borders, ethnicity, political affiliation, or religion. People were suffering and dying. We all had to drastically change our lives just to contain it.

Then, a vaccine comes along and it works. It works incredibly well and promises to end this pandemic once and for all. We can have our lives back and save countless more.

Somehow, that’s not enough for these people. They still refuse to subject themselves to a simple shot, which could save their lives and the lives of those around them. We have the cure, but they refuse to take it.

How can we have sympathy for that?

Moreover, how can we be compassionate when these same people get horribly sick?

I honestly don’t have an answer. It’s an open question that I find myself struggling with each passing day. I tend to have a lot of faith in humanity. Even for people I despise, I try to be understanding and compassionate.

This time, however, I have a hard time mustering much sympathy. These people lived through the same horrors we all did. They saw all the death and suffering that this virus was causing. Then, when a vaccine comes along to stop all that, they choose not to take it.

At that point, they’re not victims anymore. They’re responsible for this state. They willingly jumped off a cliff without a parachute because they didn’t trust the parachute. I can sympathize with a lot of things, but I can’t sympathize with this.

Maybe I’ll feel differently as things play out. For now, I just don’t know.

I’ll pose this question to anyone who reads this. How much sympathy should we have for these people at this stage of the pandemic? Please share your thoughts in the comments.

Also, and I know this might be a futile effort, please get vaccinated.

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Filed under Current Events, health, politics, rants, real stories

Dear Professional Sports Leagues: Marijuana Is NOT A Performance Enhancing Drug

Senate marijuana draft bill: Chuck Schumer, Democrats unveil proposal to  end federal prohibition on pot - ABC7 Chicago

I love sports. I love watching people push their bodies, minds, and skills to the limits of what they can achieve. It’s a testament to what hard work and dedication can achieve. I find that inspiring and worth cheering for.

I also understand that sports, like any major endeavor, has cheating in it. There are no shortage of cases in which athletes cheated to gain an edge. When money and glory are at stake, some will be tempted to cheat. That’s just human nature.

While I wholly support efforts to clamp down on cheaters, there is one area that I think is completely counterproductive and utterly absurd. It has to do with drugs in sports, one of the most time-tested forms of cheating in history.

Now, I know there are certain drugs in sports that really do confer a major edge. If you use steroids, stimulants, or pain killers, you’re going to have a distinct edge over those who don’t. That’s just science and chemistry. That also constitutes cheating and should be treated as such.

However, when it to marijuana, the science is just as clear. It is NOT a performance enhancing drug.

This is one area of sports and science that isn’t just outdated. It’s flat out absurd. I get that, until very recently, marijuana was illegal in most parts of the United States and the world. A lot has changed in the past 10 years. However, even before that change, we knew what the effects of marijuana were. Most of us know people who have used it before.

Even if you’re not a doctor or an athlete, you’ve probably noticed that one thing is clear. When it comes to strenuous activities, it does not enhance performance. People who are stoned are not usually inclined to compete at the highest level. Unless that activity involves eating chips and laughing, it’s not going to enhance much of anything.

Despite this very common knowledge, athletes are still being disciplined from sports because of marijuana use. For once, there is no bigger picture or broader perspective. This rule is just plain dumb.

Even if you don’t believe in the anecdotal reports about marijuana, at least believe the science. In this case, the data is pretty damn clear. Marijuana is not a performance enhancing drug. If anything, marijuana makes it more difficult to compete professionally because it’s likely to make you eat cookies and lounge on your couch rather than train.

As for why athletes smoke it in the first place, that’s also quite clear. In addition to all those other side-effects that come with smoking weed, it does a great job of relieving pain. For athletes who subject their bodies to immense strain and conditioning, pain is unavoidable. Dealing with it comes with the territory. How they manage it varies, but marijuana become increasingly popular, especially compared to dangerous opioids.

More and more, the stupidity of this policy on marijuana is becoming clear. Calling it a performance enhancing drug is akin to calling sleeping pills study aids. It’s not just absurd. It’s completely ass backwards. You can call marijuana a lot of things, but a performance enhancing drug in the realm of professional sports isn’t one of them.

I know I have little credibility on the subject. I’m just an aspiring erotica romance writer. Ifyou don’t trust my expertise, then please consider the argument by the late great Robin Williams on the subject. If he doesn’t convince you on this issue and make you laugh, then I don’t know what will.

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ANOTHER COVID-19 Surge Among Unvaccinated: A Product Of Math, Science, Politics, And No More Excuses

More vaccinated than unvaccinated Britons are now dying from the coronavirus

I do not want to keep talking about the COVID-19 pandemic. I really don’t.

I don’t want to keep urging people to get vaccinated. I’ve already provided tools. I proudly announced when I got my dose of the vaccine. I even went so far as to tell the anti-vaxx crowd that they’re actively killing people. I even cited a video to help debunk the most common anti-vaxx claims.

Now, I understand that I am not a very influential figure. My audience is very small, compared to other voices on the internet. I’m completely aware of my limitations with respect to getting my message out there. At the same time, I can’t keep hiding my frustrations.

This pandemic should be over. We have multiple vaccines. They’re free, they’re widely available, and they work. Most of the restrictions that we lived under for over a year have been lifted. We are in a better place now compared to last year and we have these vaccines to thank for that.

Unfortunately, it’s still a problem. The crisis is not over yet, but it’s not because we lack the tools to resolve it. It’s because people are refusing to do what’s necessary to save lives and end this madness.

I still like to have faith in humanity, as a whole. I really do believe that most people are good. However, the people currently prolonging this pandemic are really challenging that faith. These are people who, for reasons that range from politics to ignorance to completely insane conspiracy theories, refuse to take this vaccine.

As a result, there’s another surge of COVID-19 cases across the country, including my area. However, this surge is different. This surge isn’t as widespread and indiscriminate as previous surges. This time around, the surge in cases is among the unvaccinated. That’s not too surprising, but it’s also a perfect manifestation of the current political land social divide.

NPR: U.S. COVID Deaths Are Rising Again. Experts Call It A ‘Pandemic Of The Unvaccinated’

The death rate from COVID-19 in the U.S. is rising steadily for the first time in months as the nation grapples with a renewed burst of cases in what’s become “a pandemic of the unvaccinated,” the head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Friday.

The seven-day average of new cases has increased by nearly 70% to almost 30,000 per day; hospitalizations are up 36%. And deaths from the virus have risen steadily in recent days, reversing a months-long downward trend that began in mid-January.

“There is a clear message that is coming through: This is becoming a pandemic of the unvaccinated,” Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the CDC’s director, said at a Friday briefing of the White House COVID-19 Response Team. “Our biggest concern is we are going to continue to see preventable cases, hospitalizations and sadly deaths among the unvaccinated.”

The upward trend in national statistics is being driven almost entirely by outbreaks in places with low vaccination rates, such as the Ozarks, Florida and parts of the Mountain West. Some counties, especially in Missouri and Arkansas, are recording more cases now than they did during the winter.

“Unvaccinated Americans account for virtually all recent COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths,” said Jeff Zients, the White House COVID-19 response coordinator. “Each COVID-19 death is tragic, and those happening now are even more tragic because they are preventable.”

More than 99% of recent deaths were among the unvaccinated, infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci said earlier this month on NBC’s Meet the Press, while Walensky noted on Friday that unvaccinated people accounted for over 97% of hospitalizations.

That bolded text is my doing because it makes an important point that I haven’t been able to make until now. A reasonable can have reasonable concerns about a vaccine that was approved in record time. A reasonable person can even be forgiven for waiting until a certain amount of the population took it before getting it themselves.

I understand that.

I really do.

Nobody likes getting shots. They’re uncomfortable, stressful, and leave your arm feeling sore for days.

However, there comes a point where reluctance becomes absurdity and that absurdity is causing more suffering. It doesn’t help that these vaccines have also become politically charged. There is a clear, but distressing correlation between how you identify politically and whether or not you’re getting vaccinated.

If you’re liberal or left leaning, chances are you already got vaccinated and this surge isn’t affecting you.

If you’re conservative or right leaning, chances are you haven’t been vaccinated and you’ll eagerly cite less-than-reputable sources to justify those choices.

While I don’t want to get into the politics of those pushing anti-vaccine messages, I do want to point one thing out to those who take them seriously. Please note that this is not a personal attack. This is not me talking down to you as someone who has been vaccinated and who probably gets his news from very different sources. This is just me making a sincere, honest observation.

At this point, we’re beyond politics and science. You can have different politics. You can even have certain attitudes towards science. At the very least, though, you have to undestand that simple, basic math cannot have an agenda.

I’ll restate what the NPR article said. This latest spike in COVID-19 cases is affecting the unvaccinated at a rate of 99 percent in terms of deaths and 97 percent in terms of hospitalizations.

That is not a trivial difference in terms of margin.

When something is 99 percent, it’s as close to definitive as you can get without god-like aliens coming down to Earth and affirming the results. Think of it in terms like this.

If a pill had a 99 percent chance of curing cancer, would you take it?

If a fruit had a 99 percent chance of killing you, would you eat it?

If a car had a 99 percent chance of exploding every time you turned the key, would you drive it?

If a slot machine had a 99 percent chance of winning the jackpot, would you play it?

I could go on, but I honestly don’t know how much more I can belabor this point. These vaccines work. They prevent COVID-19 from infecting and spreading. If enough people get it, the pandemic will end. The suffering will stop. That’s all there is to it.

The science says they work.

The doctors, experts, and medical authorities throughout the world who dedicate their lives to this sort of thing says they work.

Now, even the math says they work.

At this point, if you’re still skeptical or hesitant, you’re not just being unreasonable. You’re not just being absurd. You’re just being an asshole. We all want this pandemic to end and you’re preventing that. As a result, more people will suffer and die. Face it. You’re out of excuses and the damage this surge does is on you.

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When (And Why) NOT To Be An Optimist

In general, I’m a pretty optimistic person. I have an overall positive outlook on life and the future. I’d even go so far as to say I’m excited about what the future will bring. My posts about sex robots should be proof enough of that.

However, I wasn’t always optimistic. In fact, anyone who knew me in high school or middle school probably saw me as the antithesis of optimism. I was always so dire and bleak with my outlook. I rarely had anything good or positive to say. I put myself down all the time and tried to bring the rest of the world with it.

It was not a healthy mindset, to say the least. I’m very glad I got out of it.

At the same time, it has given me some perspective. Having been on both extremes, I know what fuels that kind of thinking. I know and understand, to some extent, what leads someone to have that mindset.

Overall, I feel like having a positive outlook is more beneficial. That’s to be expected. When you’re more hopeful and optimistic, it tends to bleed into other aspects of your life. Optimism tends to attract optimistic people and those people are generally good for you. I certainly wouldn’t have the friends I have now if I’d remained so negative.

At the same time, there is a limit to optimism. There does come a point where being optimistic can be damaging, in the long run. I’m not talking about the kind of optimism that’s outright delusional, either. I’m more referring to the kind of mindset that makes someone too oblivious to the world.

I think that’s something people do struggle with. That might be a hard thing to say in wake of a global pandemic, but even before that dampened everyone’s spirits, it was easy to get caught up in that mindset. It often goes like this.

If everything seems to be going well, then why bother changing anything?

If things stop going well, then you try to get back to that particular mentality.

If what you do doesn’t work, then you double down and try even harder.

What made you happy and hopeful worked before. Why wouldn’t it work again?

This is a mindset I can attest to. When I was in college, my overall outlook improved. I got a lot less negative about the world. I got better at making friends. I even dared to be hopeful about the future.

Then, I faced some challenges. It was often small or minor. A girl I liked didn’t like me back. A class I took didn’t go well. My favorite team starts losing or I get into a fight with my roommate. It was very stressful, but I thought just maintaining a positive outlook would help work things out.

It didn’t. I won’t say it didn’t help at all. It just didn’t help as much as I’d hoped.

The same thing happened when I got anxious about my health and body image. As I’ve noted before, I did not have good health habits in my youth. I didn’t start regularly going to the gym until I was almost 30. Before then, I thought I just needed to rebuild my confidence and remain hopeful. I now know that was incredibly short-sighted.

Just having the right mindset is barely the first step. At some point, I had to make a more concerted effort. I had to work, grind, and struggle to get to where I wanted to go. If I had just stayed entirely within this positive mindset, I probably wouldn’t have gotten to where I am now, health wise. In that sense, being too positive worked against me.

This is the trap of overly positive thinking. Sometimes, if you’re too positive, you’re less inclined to put in the extra effort and make a meaningful change. Whether it’s about your health, your social life, or your politics, too much positive thinking can become an excuse to not change or do anything different.

That’s rarely healthy. That’s also why a little regular introspection can be a good thing. It’s something that’s encouraged by professionals who are far smarter than me on matters of psychology. If you need further details, check out this piece I found from Psychology Today.

Psychology Today: Positive Thinking Isn’t Always the Best Way to Go

When we suffer pain, rejection, disappointment, loss, disease, or another catastrophe, happy talk, whistling in the dark, or putting on a happy face do not work. Every cloud does not have a silver lining nor is there a pot of gold at the end of every rainbow.

Because the world is filled with all sorts of unhappy events, from not getting that dream job to losing a best friend to cancer, thinking only positive thoughts is delusional. Trying to maintain a happy face while tragedy engulfs us is unnatural, akin to trying to laugh when our hearts are breaking. Like Pagliacci, the clown who was intent upon making others laugh while tears streamed down his cheeks, we shortchange ourselves when we fail to deal with negative events and emotions.

I’ll sum this up by offering one last bit of insight.

Life isn’t easy, but it’s worth the effort. Things do generally get better and assuming the worst tends to be a self-fulfilling prophecy. However, just being positive is never enough. At some point, you have to make the effort. It’s often strenuous and frustrating, but it’s wroth doing.

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Filed under health, human nature, Jack Fisher's Insights, psychology

Dear Vaccine Conspiracy Theorists: You’re Killing People (And Making A Fool Of Yourself)

Wednesday, March 17th 2021: JJ McCartney LIVE on St. Patrick's Day 3-5pmET  – JJMcCartney 24/7 – The Re-Union Station

In general, I try to respect the sincerely held beliefs of others. It’s something I hope most decent human beings can agree upon. Mocking, belittling, or denigrating someone else’s beliefs isn’t just bound to cause conflict. It’s just a dick move.

I say that as someone who has criticized organized religion many times before. Within those criticism, though, I make it a point to say that I try to respect those who are sincere in their beliefs. I’ve no desire to mock them or make them feel lesser for believing what they belief.

All that being said, I draw a clear line when those beliefs get people killed.

This brings me to vaccines and the conspiracy theorists who love whining about them. These are people whose beliefs are hard to respect in any context. They’re not just skeptical about the efficacy of vaccines. They go out of their way to protest their use, even during a global pandemic that has killed millions.

I’m sorry, but I just can’t respect that. I don’t care if it’s for religious or non-religious reasons. This sort of thing is killing people. That’s objectively bad.

Now, I predicted last year that religious zealots would be among those who refuse to take vaccines and go out of their way to denigrate scientists. Unfortunately, that prediction proved distressingly accurate.

However, what I didn’t predict was how many self-professed “skeptics” would protest vaccines for non-religious reasons. I knew it was going to get absurd. I just didn’t know it was going to get “vaccines are making people magnets” absurd.

Seriously, I wish I were making that up. That’s a real testimony from a registered nurse, of all people, during an Ohio public hearing. Here’s the story from the Huffington Post. Be warned, though. Your faith in humanity will be shaken.

Huff Post: Nurse’s Attempt To Prove Vaccines Make People Magnetic Hilariously Backfires

An anti-vaccine Ohio nurse attempted on Tuesday to prove that COVID-19 vaccines make people magnetic, but ― to use a gymnastics term ― she failed to stick the landing.

Registered nurse Joanna Overholt, testifying before the Ohio House health committee about what she said were potential coronavirus vaccine dangers, tried to use her own body as proof.

Overholt said she heard during lunch that vaccines cause magnetism in humans, so she decided to prove her point on herself by attempting to show how a bobby pin and a key would stick to her exposed skin.

Spoiler alert: It didn’t go well.

Now, I don’t know this woman’s full story. I have no idea what’s going on in her life or what led her to belief something this absurd. I’m fairly certain she didn’t just wake up one day and decide to believe bullshit conspiracy theories about vaccines.

Whatever her story, it doesn’t change the implications or the consequences. What she’s promoting isn’t just wrong or absurd. It’s legitimately harmful. On top of that, we’re still dealing with a pandemic and rhetoric like this is going to get people killed.

That’s the main takeaway I glean every time I see stories like this. That’s what sets them apart from other absurd conspiracy theories. Believing there are alien bodies in Area 51 or that the moon is made of cheese doesn’t directly harm anyone. Just being ignorant of certain facts is also forgivable. The internet is full of dumb falsehoods these days.

However, there are some facts that just aren’t in dispute. Chief among them is the demonstrable fact that vaccines save lives. The fact that nobody has died from smallpox in five decades is proof enough of that. In fact, few advances have ever saved as many lives as vaccines. The vaccines for COVID-19 are only adding to that total.

Unfortunately, these anti-vaxx conspiracy theorists are only fueling a sense of vaccine hesitancy that was always going to be an issue. Even before the age of the internet or modern religion, there has always been a skepticism about scientific advancements. This is just making it worse and getting people killed.

It’s one thing to make yourself look foolish in public in a manner that’s recorded and spread throughout the internet. That usually doesn’t have major consequences beyond making certain people internet celebrities for all the wrong reasons. It’s quite another to be foolish in a manner that undermines public health and leads to undue suffering.

There’s just no getting around it. Lower vaccination rates mean more disease. More disease means more suffering. In this case, it’s not a minor inconvenience. It’s potentially fatal. I feel like that last detail is worth emphasizing.

The problem is that those pushing anti-vaccine conspiracies don’t see that detail, either by ignorance or by choice. They may, in their heart of hearts, believe they’re saving lives by preventing people from getting vaccines. However, basic biology and math say otherwise. The data is not in dispute.

These beliefs are killing people.

The people who push these beliefs are responsible for propagating that suffering.

These beliefs do not deserve respect.

Consider this both a plea and an angry rant of sorts. If you are pushing these conspiracy theories, you’re not just a misguided fool. You’re going to get people killed. After last year, we dealt with enough death. Please don’t add to it.

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Filed under Current Events, health, human nature, Uncategorized

Rethinking Homework For The Post-Pandemic World

Homework sucks. Nobody likes doing it. I think that’s an uncontroversial opinion, even in these contentious times. I may no longer be in school, but I vividly remember how much I hated it. From grade school to college, it was often the worst part of any class, course, or subject. I doubt I’m alone in that sentiment.

That said, I understand why it exists. Like taxes or colonoscopies, it’s a necessary evil. It’s a means by which we test and reinforce the knowledge we teach to young, curious minds. At the very least, it’s a mechanism for determining who is actually learning and who is not.

I bring this topic up not to start a crusade against homework, as some already have in the past. I’m not looking to uphold or expand it, either. I’m raising the issue because the current state of public education is in a precarious state, especially in America.

It’s already well-documented that America’s ranking in the world of education leaves a lot to be desired. There are many systematic issues for that, some of which I’ve ranted about before. Changing that system doesn’t come easy, but if ever there was a time to re-think our approach, it’s now.

A global pandemic has caused huge disruptions to a lot of things, our schooling system being just one of them. In the span of a year, we’ve upended decades of entrenched educational traditions. The whole ritual of getting on a bus, going to a big building, and shuffling kids through multiple classes every day has been tabled.

Yes, it’s distressing for students, parents, and teachers alike.

At the same time, it presents an opportunity. This is a chance to rethink how we go about education. Why not start with homework? Nobody likes it. If we’re going to change anything, let’s start with that.

As tempting as it is to claim homework doesn’t have a single benefit, I can’t overlook the research that has been done on this topic. People have actually studied it. While the conclusions aren’t clear-cut, the current body of evidence suggests some amount of homework is beneficial in terms of student achievement.

How much constitutes “some?” That depends on a lot, both in terms of the students and the subject matter. Some students can handle more homework than others. For others, it’s genuinely detrimental to a student’s achievement. When you look at the data, the only consistent result is inconsistency.

To me, a guy who despised homework as much as any other school-age kid, its impact varied. There were some subjects that I was naturally more interested in than others. Subjects like history, biology, and writing were already something I did in my free time. Homework in those subjects wasn’t too much of a burden.

In other subjects, like English, Spanish, and certain math classes, it was little more than a test in frustration. I never learned anything from it. I just did it to get it done so that I wouldn’t have to worry about it. I honestly can’t think of anything I actually learned from that kind of homework.

I know that’s just anecdotal on my part, but the research seems to bear that sentiment out. If a kid is interested in something, their natural curiosity will lead them to explore it. Homework can actually help with that effort. I can attest to that.

Back in high school, I took a world history course in my sophomore year. Around that same time, I developed a fondness for watching the History Channel, especially its many World War II documentaries. I wasn’t assigned to do it. I just did it because I was curious. It ended up paying off.

Later that year, we took an exam on the World War II period. I did not study at all for it, but I still got a perfect score. I just knew the material that well. The teacher even singled me out for my score, which was a nice bonus.

The same thing happened whenever I had to do an essay question for a test. I liked writing, so that was easy for me. I’m mediocre to awful at every other form of testing. I knew plenty of others who were the opposite. That’s kind of the point. Not everyone learns or tests the same way.

The same logic applies to homework. Since not everyone learns the same way, assigning the same kind of homework for everyone is bound to have mixed to negative results. It’s a blanket solution to a complex problem, which may ultimately hurt more students than it helps. It’s a reason why some jurisdictions have already experimented with eliminating it completely for certain grade levels.

I don’t think that solution is feasible, given how entrenched homework is within the current system. While I’m sure many students would celebrate its abolition, those same students may miss out on the benefits of learning outside school hours.

I know if there were no homework when I was going to school, I probably would’ve been more inclined to slack off. There’s a critical balance to strike when it comes to after-school learning. If school becomes too easy to brush off, then nobody benefits in the long run.

That’s why I’m more in favor of reforming it. One potential alternative is to switch from homework to retrieval practices. That practice emphasizes recalling what you learned rather than doing pre-made assignments. That may actually be easier in the current situation, given the growing prevalence of online schools and distance learning.

There are other alternatives that include a greater emphasis on projects, exploring basic life skills, or assigning certain educational games. Some may or may not be as effective, but like I said earlier. This might be the best possible time to consider those alternatives.

It has been year since I’ve been in school, but I remember enough to know that the system I went through had plenty of room for improvement. I also realize I was lucky. I went to public school in a relatively affluent area. I realize that my school had resources that others didn’t.

The current system for schooling hadn’t changed much since I graduated. Up until this year, public schools had clung to their tried and true traditions, which included their approach to homework. I think the time is right to rethink those traditions.

This past year has completely disrupted the schooling for an entire generation of kids. We don’t yet know the extent of that impact, but there’s still time to guide it. Reforming how we approach homework won’t fix everything, but it’ll definitely help the overall experience for the students. School is hard enough, even without a global pandemic. At the very least, let’s make this one arduous aspect of it a bit more bearable.

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COVID-19 Restrictions Lifted: Thoughts, Feelings, And (Unexpected) Implications

Mayo Expert: Fla. Will Suffer 'Unnecessary Deaths' As COVID-19 Restrictions  Are Lifted | WJCT NEWS

This past week marked a huge milestone for my home state. Like so many others, the COVID-19 restrictions that have pretty much defined our lives since late March of 2020 were finally lifted. At this very moment, we are no longer in a State of Emergency.

There are no more capacity restrictions on restaurants, bars, gyms, and movie theaters.

There are no more mask requirements that are enforced by the state.

There are no more social distancing requirements for outdoor or indoor events.

Just typing that out put a smile on my face. It also fills me with this strange array of emotions that I don’t quite know how to articulate. Like so many other fellow Americans, I watched this year-long horror show that was the COVID-19 pandemic unfold before my eyes.

I felt it affect me, my friends, my community, and my family in profound ways. I know people who got the disease. Some of them still don’t have their sense of taste and smell back entirely. I know people who have died from this disease. I also was unable to attend major family events, including a wedding, because of this damned disease.

I could go on, but I won’t. It’s just impossible to overstate how big an impact this disease had on our world. It’s going to leave scars that will last years. It’s going to define an entire generation and beyond. If I ever have kids, I’m going to struggle to explain to them what it was like, navigating this pandemic.

For a time, it felt truly apocalyptic. There was a long stretch last year where my dad and I were constantly making up dates for when things would get back to “normal.” At one point, it was May 15th, 2020. At another, we thought the 4th of July would be the end of it. Then, we started looking towards Labor Day.

At some point, we just came to realize that there was no use hoping anymore. We had no idea when this would end. For all we knew, this pandemic would draw out for years. Even after news about a vaccine emerged, we were still skeptical. A life without COVID-19 restrictions still seemed so far away.

Now, that day has come.

However, the effects are still there.

Recently, I went out to have breakfast with my parents at one of our favorite diners. There were no capacity restrictions. There were no mask requirements either. However, a number of people were still wearing masks, including most of the staff. My parents even wore masks when they first entered, even though they’re both fully vaccinated. I didn’t wear one, but I had one with me, just in case.

To some extent, it was downright jarring, not having to wear a mask. Yes, it was liberating in some ways, but it still felt so unusual after having spent over a year under these restrictions. You almost feel more vulnerable not wearing one, especially in an enclosed space like a crowded diner. I’m sure that’s a feeling we’ll have to get used to again, but it doesn’t change one inescapable truth.

This “normal” that we’ve been waiting for doesn’t feel “normal” to us anymore.

I don’t know if that’s temporary or if that’s something that will linger on for years to come. I know people who have stated outright that they’re going to keep wearing masks, even if the number of COVID-19 cases drops to zero. To them, the mask has become just another part of their lives. The see it like a seatbelt or hand soap. It’s not about avoiding a disease anymore. It’s about staying healthy.

That’s an implication that I don’t know that we’ve collectively processed. I certainly haven’t. I’ve no inclination to throw away my masks. I also have no plans to stop the frequent handwashing that I’ve come to embrace since last March. That does lead me to wonder whether this is truly our new “normal.”

I put that in quotes because, now that the state mandated restrictions are lifted, it’s on us to determine what form that normal takes. Will that mean always wearing a mask in certain settings? Just the other day, I went to the grocery store and I still wore a mask. The signs on the front doors saying they were required were still there. Until they come down, I’ll keep doing so.

At the same time, a part of me feels like I’m still adjusting. I’m almost reluctant to embrace a post-pandemic world because I saw how bad it got last year. Maybe that feeling will fade with time. Maybe within a few months, mask wearing will become a rarity and everyone will be eager to put the memories of the pandemic behind them.

I don’t claim to know what will happen. I just know that it’s going to take a while to get out of this mindset that a year of pandemic restrictions has wrought.

That’s just my experience, though. How do you feel? Have the restrictions in your state been lifted? If so, how have you and your family reacted? Please feel free to share your thoughts and experiences in the comments.

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Why We Should Embrace Synthetic Meat (As Soon As Possible)

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If you’re reading this, then there’s a good chance you drank milk at some point this year. You probably drank a lot more of it when you were a kid. The fact that you’re reading this proves that you didn’t die, as a result. That may not seem like a big deal, but compared to 100 years ago, it counts as a noteworthy feat.

Between 1850 and 1950, approximately a half-million infants died due to diseases contracted by drinking milk. If you do the math, that’s about 5,000 deaths a year, just from drinking milk. Keep in mind, these are children. That’s a lot of death and suffering for drinking one of the most basic substances the animal kingdom.

These days, death by drinking milk is exceedingly rare. Thanks to processes like pasteurization, milk is one of the safest substances you can drink. If anyone does get sick, it’s usually from drinking raw or unpasteurized milk. However, it’s so rare that most people don’t think about it. It’s just a normal part of how we manage our food and nourish ourselves.

I bring up milk because it nicely demonstrates what happens when we apply technology to improve the quality, safety, and abundance of our food. Despite what certain misguided critics may say, many of which probably haven’t experienced extreme starvation, this has been an objective good for humanity, civilization, and the world, as a whole.

Modern medicine and the Green Revolution, championed by the likes of Norman Borlaug, helped give us more efficient ways of producing massive quantities of food. Now, there’s another technological advancement brewing that might end up being more impactful. You’ve probably seen commercials for it already. It has many names, but for now, I’m just going to call it synthetic meat.

It’s almost exactly what it sounds like. It’s the process of producing meat through artificial processes, none of which involve the slaughtering of animals. For those concerned about animal welfare and environmental impacts, it’s the ultimate solution. At most, the animals contribute a few cells. The rest is grown in a laboratory. Nobody has to get hurt. Nobody has to go vegan, either.

It seems too good to be true and there are certainly aspects of synthetic meats that are overhyped. However, unlike other advancements like Neuralink or nanobots, this is already an evolving market. The first synthetic burger was made and consumed in 2013. It was the culmination of a long, laborious effort that cost upwards of $300,000.

Those costs soon came down and they came down considerably. By 2017, the cost of that same meat patty was around $11. People have paid much more for expensive caviar. That’s impressive progress for something that’s still a maturing technology with many unresolved challenges. With major fast food companies getting in on the game, the technology is likely to progress even more.

It’s here where I want to make an important point about this technology. Regardless of how you feel about it or why it’s being developed, there’s one aspect to it that’s worth belaboring.

We should embrace synthetic meat.

In fact, we should embrace this technology faster than others because the benefits of doing so will only compound.

I say this as someone who has tried an impossible meat burger. It’s not terrible. I wouldn’t mind eating them regularly if they were the only option available. That said, you can still tell it’s not traditional beef. That’s because this meat isn’t exactly the kind of cultured meat that’s grown in a lab. It’s assembled from plant proteins and various other well-known substances.

Ideally, synthetic meat wouldn’t just be indistinguishable from traditional beef. It would actually be safer than anything you could get naturally. Meat grown in a lab under controlled conditions can ensure it’s free of food-born illnesses, which are still a problem with meat production. It can also more effectively remove harmful byproducts, like trans fats.

In theory, it might also be possible to produce meat with more nutrients. Imagine a burger that’s as healthy as a bowl of kale. Picture a T-bone steak that has the same amount of nutrients as a plate of fresh vegetables. That’s not possible to do through natural means, but in a lab where the meat is cultured at the cellular level, it’s simply a matter of chemistry and palatability.

Meat like that wouldn’t just be good for our collective health. It would be good for both the environment and the economy, two issues that are rarely aligned. Even if you don’t care at all about animal welfare, synthetic meats has the potential to produce more product with less resources. On a planet of over 7.6 billion, that’s not just beneficial. It’s critical.

At the moment, approximately 70 percent of the agricultural land in the world is dedicated to the meat production. In terms of raw energy requirements, meat requires considerably more energy than plants. That includes water consumption, as well. Making meat in its current form requires a lot of resources and with a growing population, the math is working against us.

Say what you want about vegetarians and vegans when they rant about the meat industry. From a math and resources standpoint, they have a point. However, getting rid of meat altogether just isn’t feasible. It tastes too good and it has too many benefits. We can’t make people hate the taste of burgers, but we can improve the processes on how those burgers are made.

Instead of industrial farms where animals are raised in cramped quarters, pumped full of hormones, and raised to be slaughtered, we could have factories that produce only the best quality meat from the best animal cells. It wouldn’t require vast fields or huge quantities of feed. It would just need electricity, cells, and the assorted cellular nutrients.

Perhaps 3D printing advances to a point where specific cuts of meat could be produced the same way we produce specific parts for a car. Aside from producing meat without having to care for than slaughter animals, such a system would be able to increase the overall supply with a smaller overall footprint.

Needing less land to produce meat means more land for environmental preservation or economic development. Farming, both for crops and for meat, is a major contributor to deforestation. Being able to do more with less helps improve how we utilize resources, in general. Even greedy corporations, of which the food industry has plenty, will improve their margins by utilizing this technology.

Increased supply also means cheaper prices and if the taste is indistinguishable from traditional meat, then most people are going to go with it, regardless of how they feel about it. There will still be a market for traditional, farm-raised meats from animals, just as there’s a market for non-GMO foods. However, as we saw with the Green Revolution in the early 20th century, economics tends to win out in the long run.

It’s a promising future for many reasons. There are many more I could list relating to helping the environment, combating starvation, and improving nutrition. Alone, they’re all valid reasons to embrace this technology and seek greater improvements. If I had to pick only one, though, it’s this.

If we don’t develop this technology, then these delicious meats that we love could be exceedingly scarce or prohibitively expensive in the future.

Like I said earlier, the way we currently produce meat is grossly inefficient. At some point, the demand for meat is going to exceed the current system’s capacity to produce it in an economical way. At that point, this delicious food that we take for granted might not be so readily available and the substitutes might not be nearly as appetizing.

The issue becomes even more pressing if we wish to become a space-faring civilization, which will be necessary at some point. If we still want to enjoy burgers, chicken wings, and bacon at that point, we’ll need to know how to make it without the vast fields and facilities we currently use. Otherwise, we might be stuck dining on potatoes like Matt Damon in “The Martian.”

While the situation isn’t currently that urgent, this is one instance where a new technology is the extra push. You don’t have to be a major investor in companies like Beyond Meat or Impossible Foods. Just go out of your way to try one of these new synthetic meat products. Let the market know that there’s demand for it and the machinations of capitalism will do the rest.

I understand that our inner Ron Swanson will always have a craving for old fashioned burgers, steaks, and bacon. Those things don’t have to go away completely, just as traditional farming hasn’t gone away completely. However, when a particular technology already exists and has so many potential benefits, it’s worth pursuing with extra vigor.

The planet will benefit.

The people will benefit.

The animals will benefit.

Our society, as a whole, will benefit.

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Filed under biotechnology, CRISPR, Current Events, Environment, futurism, health, technology

Suicides (Surprisingly) Went Down During 2020: Possible Reasons And Insights

Every now and then, I go out of my way to highlight good or uplifting news. From brave priests who do defy the Vatican to wholesome comic strips involving Mr. Rogers, I try to use these stories to lift everyone’s spirits during difficult times.

Let’s face it. We’ve had a lot of that lately. Last year gave us plenty of difficulties, to say the least. It certainly doesn’t help that good stories rarely make the news, mostly because it doesn’t garner ratings or shock value. I tried to do my part, but I admit it wasn’t easy.

I managed to find some silver linings, by they hardly made up for all the soul-crushing hardship that year wrought. My spirit is still not fully intact after being so broken by last year.

Even so, I still want to make that effort to highlight good news, especially when it’s unexpected or surprising. One such story involves the less-than-uplifting topic of suicide, something that is both emotionally charged and incredibly devastating for a great many people and their families.

If ever there was a year during which people could be forgiven for thinking such morbid thoughts, it’s 2020. If a story came out that indicated suicides went up during 2020 as the pandemic raged, then I doubt anyone would be surprised. It probably wouldn’t even be news.

However, according to a story from CBS, that’s not what happened. In fact, the opposite occurred. Against all dire assumptions and understandable cynicism, the number of suicides in the US declined significantly during 2020. I’ll give everyone a minute to wrap their heads around that.

CBS News: U.S. suicides dropped last year, defying pandemic expectations

The number of U.S. suicides fell nearly 6% last year amid the coronavirus pandemic — the largest annual decline in at least four decades, according to preliminary government data.

Death certificates are still coming in and the count could rise. But officials expect a substantial decline will endure, despite worries that COVID-19 could lead to more suicides.

It is hard to say exactly why suicide deaths dropped so much, but one factor may be a phenomenon seen in the early stages of wars and national disasters, some experts suggested.

“There’s a heroism phase in every disaster period, where we’re banding together and expressing lots of messages of support that we’re in this together,” said Dr. Christine Moutier, chief medical officer of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. “You saw that, at least in the early months of the pandemic.”

An increase in the availability of telehealth services and other efforts to turn around the nation’s suicide problem may have also contributed, she said.

I want to make one thing clear again before proceeding. Suicide is a serious issue that affects a lot of people. If at all you’re struggling with suicidal thoughts, please consider calling a help line or reaching out to someone. There are people out there who will listen.

Having said that, I also want to note that this news genuinely surprised me. Even as someone who tries to have more faith in humanity than most, this is pretty much the opposite of what I would’ve assumed and in the best possible way.

During a crisis, people tend to panic. We all saw that last year. Anyone who fought someone for access to toilet paper remembers that. When people panic, they get stressed out. When they get stressed, they tend to get depressed. How else are you supposed to feel when you see the death toll climbing every day?

Despite all that, fewer people fell beyond that darkest of dark points. More chose to endure. That bold part is something I highlighted because that is a real effect. Whenever a disaster strikes, people tend to come together. Things like political divisions, racial strife, and what not tend to fall to the wayside when we’re all at the mercy of something we can’t control.

It’s one of humanity’s greatest strengths. Our tribalism may divide us a lot during times of peace, but when the going gets tough, we come together for the sake of survival. That’s powerful sentiment and one that can bring out the best in people. During a global pandemic, we all have to come together to some extent to make it through.

In addition, some cite the rise of telemedicine and the ability to treat people with mental illness remotely as a contributing factor. I certainly think that played a part, but I suspect that the shared struggle and solidarity that often comes during a disaster was a larger factor.

That same shared sense of community and commonality directly counter some of the most powerful risk factors for suicide. Those who make that dire choice often feel alone and isolated. They feel they lack that core sense of community that’s so critical to any social species.

The fact it was strong enough to reduce suicide during a once-in-a-century pandemic is both revealing and encouraging. It shows that this shared sense of community has tangible benefits to large swaths of people. It also hints that the world we had prior to the pandemic wasn’t given enough people this sense of connection.

You can blame that on any number of things, from smartphones to outrage culture to politics. I certainly have my theories, but I’m not smart enough or informed enough to make them credible. I highlight this story because I think it offers and important perspective.

When things get really bad, people will come together. It’s only when they get bad enough that we realize how much more we can do as a community than we can as individuals. We shouldn’t forget that. Even after this pandemic is over and things revert to some semblance of normalcy, we can’t forget that we’re a social species.

We need each other.

We need friends, family, and neighbors. It doesn’t just make us all stronger during a crisis. It’s an integral part of being human.

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Filed under Current Events, health, human nature, politics, psychology

Why I’m Still Going To Wear A Mask (For Now)

Australia's about-face on masks and Covid-19: why our health advice was  late to the party | Health | The Guardian

The past few months have been full of objectively great news in terms of ending the COVID-19 pandemic. Given how, at this time last year, the entire world was shutting down and the news kept getting worse with each passing day, I welcome that news. Hell, I’m willing to celebrate it.

It’s now safe to say with a straight face that we’re almost through this once-in-a-century pandemic. The trend line, both in terms of new cases and deaths, is going down. It’s still terrible in some parts of the world, but unlike last year, we have multiple vaccines with which to fight it.

Again, this is a good thing. I got my vaccination and I cannot overstate the relief I felt when it was all said and done. I still take precautions when I go out in public, mostly because there are still some restrictions in place and I understand that not everyone has gotten their vaccine. That includes wearing a mask.

Then, last week, a big announcement from the Centers for Disease Control brought more good news to those who have been vaccinated. Apparently, if we get the vaccine, then there’s no reason to keep wearing a mask. Here’s the story from NPR.

NPR: Fully Vaccinated People Can Stop Wearing Masks Indoors And Outdoors, CDC Says

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that fully vaccinated adults can safely resume activities indoors or outdoors without masks or distancing, in gatherings large or small. The announcement marks a major milestone in the effort to emerge from the coronavirus pandemic in the United States.

CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky announced the new guidance Thursday.

“You can do things you stopped doing because of the pandemic,” Walensky said.

The new policy is based on recent real-world studies from Israel and the U.S. on people who’ve been vaccinated, she said.

Once again, I welcome this news. Like everyone else, I’m sick of having to wear a mask, just to go and get groceries. I also don’t like wearing a mask when I work out. That’s just one other piece of cloth that gets all sweaty and stinky. I’m as eager as everyone else to discard them.

However, despite this welcome news, I’ve already made a choice. I will continue wearing a mask in public, at least for now.

My reason for doing so has nothing to do with my trust in the science. I believe it’s legitimate. This is the Center for Disease Control. They’re not some wannabe guru trying to sell vitamins as a cure all. These brave men and women have been on the front lines since this crisis began. They’ve earned that credibility.

For that same reason, I choose to wear a mask because I understand that not everyone trusts the news and policies that public officials have given. That includes those who refuse to get the vaccine and refuse to wear masks. As a result, these people, who are a sizable chunk of the population, are still vulnerable. They’ll remain vulnerable until the infection rate is at a point where it’s easy to track, treat, and contain.

We’re not quite at that place yet. As of this writing, only about half the population has been vaccinated by at least one of the available vaccines. Just this past week, most clinics and pharmacies in my area started offering walk-in vaccinations without an appointment. That’s a great thing and people now have no excuse not to get one.

However, until that vaccination rate gets to a point where the virus can’t easily spread, I’m still wearing a mask. Even though the vaccine does prevent me from getting ill or showing symptoms, there’s still the possibility of breakthrough infections. While those vaccinated may never feel ill at all, they may still spread it and they could spread it to someone who is not vaccinated.

I do not want to be one of those people.

I do not want to be someone who spreads this terrible disease to someone, even if I never feel sick.

Yes, wearing a mask is uncomfortable and I look forward to discarding them.

No, I’m not willing to risk hurting other people for my own personal comfort.

That’s not just an informed choice. It’s the right thing to do and it’ll get us out of this crisis that much sooner.

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