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Intermittent Fasting

Back in late September, I changed the way I eat and also what I eat. The changes those changes wrought have been both smaller and larger than I expected. What follows here are my brief notes on what I’ve learned the last 2.5 months or so.

First, here is what I did.

  1. I eliminated (more or less) all added sugars and artificial sweeteners. Every so often something slips by me; I still eat out and have no idea the added sugar quantity, and I have indulged a few times on dessert–normally only a bite or two of what the Special Lady Friend has ordered, but occasionally I have just straight up drunk an entire Oreo Blizzard with the caramel core.
  2. I eliminated, more or less, refined wheat flour. Again, this is not absolute. I have had spaghetti once, squid ink linguini once, chicken soup with egg noodles once, and probably few other things I’m not remembering. But it is a testament to my attempt that I can list, after 10 weeks, most of my violations.
  3. I have added a fiber supplement.
  4. I stopped snacking entirely.
  5. I began fasting intermittently. At least once, but normally about 3 times per week or more, I go at least 16 hours without any food at all. I start at the completion of dinner on one day and eat again 16 hours or longer later. So yes, I am sleeping for about half the time I am fasting. Every two weeks or so, I fast for a full 24 hours. Typically for this fast I start at the completion of dinner on Day 1 and then eat a late dinner on Day 2. So, for example, I may end dinner on Monday at 7pm which allows me to eat dinner at 7pm on Tuesday. As of right now I am 41 hours into a 48 hour fast that began Sunday evening and will be broken tonight–as I get better at fasting, this quarterly fast will be 72 hours long. Drinking counts as eating. So when the SLF and I have gone out to pub quiz (for example) and had a few pints, I count the end of the last drink (around 9:30p or so) as my last “food.” So I can eat again at 1:30p the next day.

41bYvpQLByL._SX332_BO1,204,203,200_This change in my eating habits was largely inspired and guided by the book The Obesity Code by Dr. Jason Fung. However, it deserves to be pointed out that several aspects of it have been nagging at my brain for several years. The nutritional science surrounding the consequences of added sugar is nearing what I consider a confident scientific consensus. Sugar is poison. The conclusion that it’s a “drug” that can cause “addiction,” is, for the moment at least, pretty shoddy science whose strongest argument is one of by way of analogy (i.e., “consuming sugar causes a release of dopamine, just like heroin does!”). I don’t find this argument at all convincing on its own.

Just from observation and some light critical thinking, it has become clear to me that if you live long enough, your heart will give out, your brain will rot, or you will get diabetes. More than likely, you will get two or more of these if the first one you get (and the second) don’t kill you first. It just seemed to be the case that you really can’t avoid causing your insulin to spike so long as you continue to consume food and drink. And persistent insulin spikes would, over time, inevitably lead to tolerance and resistance, i.e., diabetes. We’re humans. We’re finite. Our bodies get used up and stop repairing themselves. I don’t believe that intermittent fasting (IF) is the cure for diabetes or any of the other problems. But there is ample evidence that if we can avoid or postpone developing insulin resistance we can also delay our bodies natural aging process.

The changes to my eating habits were adopted (including the addition of the fiber supplement) specifically to address the production of insulin, to keep it as low as possible all the time and to occasionally get it to zero and, over time, to restore my body’s sensitivity to insulin.

To that end, getting rid of added sugars and refined grains is intended to keep the insulin levels low and fasting (and not snacking) to help insulin drop as low as possible in between meals. The sort of random, haphazard way I fast, dropping a 24- or 48- (or 72-)hour fast into the mix at the spur of the moment is to keep my body from adjusting to a new pattern.

I read The Obesity Code for work. I found the author’s argument persuasive enough to give it a try, but his enthusiasm for the power of fasting seemed to fall into evangelical levels. This always makes me uncomfortable. I have spent some time reading about why diet fads persist and how it is that people become evangelicals for a diet regimen. I’m trying not to do that myself. After reading the book I began accessing the scientific literature on the topic of IF, concentrating my attention, as I do for work, on systematic reviews and meta-analyses.

Here are the key takeaways:

In head to head studies with basic calorie restriction diets, IF performs about as well as measured in weight loss over time. On the one hand, this is a significant tempering of The Obesity Code’s enthusiasm as the author spend a great deal of time countering the notion that calorie restriction is a good dietary choice.

However, the author’s main criticism of calorie restriction is that, over time, the body adapts to the consistent low calorie food environment, permanently adjusting the body’s metabolic rate lower–burning fewer and fewer calories over time. Weight loss eventually plateaus, and maddeningly often reverses. Dieters who reduce their calories to say 1200 a day (as I have done frequently in the past) at first lose weight at that level and then eventually start to gain weight without eating any additional calories. Returning to their normal calorie intake (in my case, around 2200) causes weight to gain back to some other plateau (oftentimes higher than the dieter’s original steady weight). The author, an endocrinologist has a theory why this is the case.

According to Fung, the body has an established tolerance to insulin. This tolerance level in and individual corresponds to an ideal weight for that individual. The higher that tolerance level, the higher their weight. Moving their tolerance lower (by reducing the intensity, frequency, and duration of insulin exposure) sets the tolerance lower and lower, allowing for weight loss and allowing for that weight loss to be, if not permanent, steady. IF, according to the author, unlike calorie restriction does not permanently adjust the metabolism lower. So while both IF and CR both lower weight, the mechanisms are different and thus have different potential long-term results.

These potential long-term differences between IF and CR do not have any scientific evidence in the strictest sense. But there are some indicators that Fung’s hypothesis may yet turn out to be true. While the weight loss results between the two, IF does seem to have a greater impact on fasting insulin levels. Straightforwardly, if this is true, it should result in a slower development of insulin resistance. And, other studies indicate that both fasting and exercise can reverse insulin resistance that has already developed. Fung makes a strong case that insulin resistance is a major, if not the major factor causing weight gain (at least in contemporary advanced economies, like the US). So it is possible that long term head-to-head comparisons will find that the the weight lost by means of IF will be more sustainable than weight lost by means of CR. We shall see.

Having been a frequent partaker of CR-type diets, I felt that the science, at the very least, showed that IF was no more harmful and was at least as effective as what I have done in the past. For the last two years, I have held steady at 225 pounds. This has been frustrating because during that time I trained for and raced in a triathlon (as well as several smaller races and walks along the way. During that time, my wife and I had a baby. Technically speaking, she gave birth to the baby, but I definitely stopped exercising and began eating thrice weekly Blizzards. Regardless if I was training for a triathlon or an eating contest, my weight held steady at roughly 225. During that time I also intermittently tried calorie restriction. This would result in the immediate loss of a few pounds, but my sporadic eating habits and my disappointment in the results would conspire to end those attempts at capturing a sub-Clydesdale race weight (they call men who race triathlons above 200 pounds “Clydesdales”; women are “Athenas.”) Where I was holding those 225 pounds while training for a triathlon or eating pint after pint of ice cream was very different. But the poundage remained tenacious. Pretty strong evidence that (1) exercise contributes very little to overall weight loss/gain and (2) calories in/calories out isn’t a great model for metabolic function (two arguments effectively destroyed in The Obesity Code).

So here is what has happened so far and what I have learned.

  1. I am down 20 pounds since September 25. That’s just over 1.6 pounds a week. A pretty good rate, nothing spectacular. The current weight loss literature puts that squarely in the middle of the “1-2 pounds per week” range that is considered “healthy” and “sustainable.” I have been injured consistently since September (actually since June) and so I have exercised almost not at all in that time. I have done the most exercise in the last two weeks since I had the knee surgery that hopefully corrected that injury–but that exercise is (1) mostly confined to my legs (2) and is very light–it’s physical therapy, not performance enhancing.
  2. I don’t mind fasting very much. I fasted sporadically in high school, mostly for spiritual reasons. I would fast for three days at a time and then gorge myself afterward. I don’t gorge myself after fasts now (although I haven’t done a three-day fast yet. The literature warns clinicians that many dieters, especially “obese” individuals, might find fasting psychologically hard to do. That may be true. But I find that occasional fasts (and especially the near-daily 16-hour fast) to be way less imposing than a permanent reduction to 1200 calories per day.
  3. I find fasting easier to execute than CR. That is, when you do CR, you have to count your calories. You get better at that over time, but you never really stop. In contrast, with IF, you simply do not eat at certain times (or on certain days) of your own choosing to fit around your own schedule. And when you’re not fasting, you can eat (basically) whatever you want. Obviously, you should still try to eat “healthy” as defined above (e.g., low added sugars/refined grains) but you don’t have to count anything.
  4. I get full faster. Following the above, as time has gone on, smaller meals are actually more filling than they used to be. For me, this never happened on calorie restriction. On “cheat days” I would really cheat. My appetite was never reduced no matter how much weight I’d lost. On CR diets, I’ve twice nearly regained my college weight of 185, but I was always hungry like a 225 pound person (I topped out at 245 in 2000-01) and I always wanted to eat like one. On net, I am eating about as many calories as I would on calorie restriction over the course of the week. But I feel sated more often than I ever did on CR.
  5. Following the above, the hunger isn’t so bad. Again, I repeat that in the literature researchers have found that some individuals really find IF displeasurable, especially as it regards cravings and hunger. For the most part, I experience almost no hunger, and when I do experience hunger it isn’t ramped up above what I would normally feel in the immediate moments before a meal. That is, if breakfast filled me up at 7a, right around 11a, I would start getting hungry. If lunch wasn’t until 12p, then right around 11:50a, I would experience hunger at around a 6 out 10. For the most part, my hunger never really surpasses 6 out of 10, and it occurs at that level at predictable times…say right around 11:50. One would suppose that if it hits 6/10 at 11:50 on lunch days and on fast days, the hunger would continue growing as I continued not eating lunch on fast days. But it doesn’t. It holds pretty steady and then right around 12:30 or 1 (when I would normally be done with lunch) it begins to dissipate. It doesn’t show up again until whenever I would start getting hungry for dinner on a normal day.The big exception to that is if I eat poorly on one day and fast the next. If I eat pizza on Sunday (as I did this past Sunday) and fast on Monday (as I did this past Monday) the hunger pangs on Monday are pretty bad. They’re pretty bad right now too. If part of the benefit of fasting comes from the net calorie restriction, then it is far better to fast before the hedonistic event to come rather than after it. But I also think that we need to keep the level of hunger pangs in perspective. Even on days when I am not fasting, I will occasionally be inexplicably very hungry sometimes well before meal time. This could be caused by any number of factors, eating poorly the day before (especially overeating), being dehydrated, being triggered, being stressed, and on and on. It is unfair to assess the occasional intense hunger pang on fasting when the real culprit may be something else entirely. It is certainly the case that fasting causes one to be a lot more mindful of such things; but, being mindful does not make one immune to our psychological states. Right before my surgery I had to refrain from food from midnight one day until after my surgery the next. I had to skip breakfast the morning of my surgery….and I was pissed. And hungry. More hungry than I’d been for breakfast in months. I literally skip breakfast 3 days a week or more. I would say of the 12 weeks I’ve done this, there have been at least 2 weeks where I only ate breakfast one day out of seven. Skipping breakfast is easy and normal. But being told I could not eat breakfast that morning was a dire imposition. Such is the way our brains work. Fasting doesn’t cure that. But it also doesn’t cause it. It’s the way we’re wired. I suspect that those individuals in the research that found fasting hard to do, found it to be so because they felt it was something being imposed on them rather than something they could choose freely and execute whenever they wanted.
  6. Another thing I learned about fasting is that, for me, skipping dinner is harder than skipping any other meal. I described above how I have arranged it so that even on during a 24-hour fast I get dinners on Days 1 and 2. This is by design. I hate missing dinner. That said, when I want to do a 36-hour or greater fast, I begin at lunch on Day 1. If I finish my lunch at 12:00p, by the time I wake up the next morning, I’m already 18 hours into my fast. Breakfast is really easy to skip (even though I love breakfast) so by the time lunch rolls around, I’m 24 hours in. The accomplishment provides a lot of motivation to keep going through that next dinner.

There are things I’ve experience or learned that I’m skipping. I’m learning that the more I fast, the better I get at it. I tried a 72-hour fast last month that I had to cut short because of a small headache and some dizziness. This time, I’m well past my failure point from the last time, and I still feel strong enough that I could do a light workout. I’m learning about the importance of hydration in all of this. I’ve learned a few things about me and fiber (in addition to its insulin-lowering abilities). But I’ll stop here and maybe talk about those things and more after the holidays.

 

 

Reading Science, Redux

I once had a series of posts I put on here that I offered as corrective to the multitude of “How to Be Scientifically Literate” posts, articles, and infographics that flood my feed every so often. I ended up pulling them because I found them to be clunky and overlong–the exact opposite thing they needed to be to achieve what I had hoped for them.

So, if I am to offer a primer on how to be scientifically literate, it would start here:

  1. All individual scientific experiments have flaws that limit the size, scope, or generalizability of their finding. This is true regardless of the statistical or probabalistic model used to demonstrate the relationship or its strength, magnitude, and direction. This is even more true in our current scientific climate that rewards findings that reject the null hypothesis and other issues in the “publication bias” world. If you cannot accurately describe the limitations of the study you are citing, then you should not be confident in its findings.
  2. All findings are subject to statistical noise. That is, even if we know and understand the limitations (and maybe flaws) of the study in question, there is always the chance that this finding is an anomaly. And if the study you are using is the only such one with the finding you need to support your argument (or in the general minority), you probably should be cautious in deploying it.

Knowing these limitations, this is how you should approach a scientific article.

  1. Ask yourself, “What do I already know about this subject?” and “What do I think is the answer to the question the authors are attempting to answer?” And ask yourself, how confident you are in this conclusion. Don’t allow yourself to give yourself a 100% confident score.
  2. Ask yourself next, “What is the most direct way to answer that question; what data would I need?” Go ahead and think big, act like you have magic powers that can compel individuals to join your study for free and forever. Act like you have all the money in the world and can buy whatever equipment or hire whatever staff you need to answer the question. (Note: Your powers are limited, you cannot just wish the answer into existence.)
  3. Then compare your dream study to the real one. How do they differ?
  4. Finally, are these differences so vast, or the experiment so indirect that they do not even answer the question in any real way? (e.g., are they only really measuring proxy variables?)

If, at this point, you agree (with yourself) that the study in question, though limited, does point a finger toward the answer they seek, compare their findings to what you already thought the answer might be. Does it agree with what you thought they’d find? Disagree?

The study should move your prior opinion one way or the other–make you more confident it’s true (but not entirely) or less confident that it is. How much and in which direction depends on, among other things, your assessment of the relative strengths of this study (compared to the ones that helped  you form your original opinion) and its flaws relative to the scientific gold standard.

Note: If the findings agree with what you already believe, you should re-assess the article with the specific intent of trying to see its limitations through the eyes of someone who disagrees with you. You are more likely to reduce the importance of limitations of an argument whose conclusions reinforce previously held beliefs.

Elevation and Suicide

The other day, I got into a somewhat protracted battle on Facebook with a fellow who I charitably describe as “absolutely fine with confirmation bias.” The nature of that conversation inspired me to look a bit deeper into this story when someone else posted it as a link in another subthread of the same conversation. You don’t have to read it. The gist of it is this: there’s a Utah neurologist who thinks that living at altitude effects the mood altering/controlling neurotransmitters serotonin and dopamine, and that this is why Utah (and the other mountain west states) have such high rates of suicide. How good is this theory?

There is no questions that these states have high rates of suicide. Pictured to the left is 2012 data from the CDC. You can see that the “mountain west” states are 7 of the top 10m6345qsf, and all mountain west states are in the top 12. If you assume that Oregon’s and Alaska’s high rates are connected to those that live in or near the mountains those states have, then altitude explains 11 of the top 12 highest rates.

It’s starting off as a pretty strong case. So I set off in search of some data. I’ll skip what I found first. I ultimately decided on getting county-level suicide data from here, and county-level elevation data from the here.

So far, so good. Both datasets required a bit of cleaning (I used R) and then I joined the two datasets using a combined State FIPS + County FIPS variable. I ran a simple linear regression using “Average Elevation of the County” as the input and “Crude Suicide Rates per 100,000” as the output. And here it is.suicide_elevation

And the theory looks pretty good. There’s seems to be a strong correlation between elevation and suicide. In fact, this model shows this correlation is statistically significant at p<.001. And I can say I used two good, trustworthy data sources: the CDC for mortality data and USGIS for elevation data. I didn’t do anything sneaky statistics-wise. the Q-Q residuals look good and confirm that no major assumptions of the linear model were violated. The only thing you might want for a more robust finding is to control for other variables (like poverty).

And that’s why I thought this was worthy of a post. It isn’t that this data analysis is “bad” per se, but it’s woefully incomplete. Stopping here would be a bad thing to do, not just because I didn’t control for other variables (that are likely more important than elevation, R-squared for this model is only 0.1663).

No, the real problem with this data shows up in the data I found first, from the WISQARS interactive database the CDC recently launched. On there I was able to make a query and generate a map..and theoretically…download the data that generated the map. But alas, this functionality seems to be broken at the moment. So if I wanted to run my own regression (and I did) I had to go get my data elsewhere. Here is the map I generated.output-m7723388

Notice that big white band running north – south in the middle of the country? And all those giant white islands in the sea of brown further west? Those are really important. That’s missing data. And that data is “missing” because the CDC considered it “unreliable” and “suppressed” it. That data is “unreliable” primarily because those counties are either really sparsely populated (so a single suicide would generate an incredibly high rate/100,000 or those counties had too few suicides in the five-year time span to calculate a genuine rate).

That’s really important because that means that the missing data is not random and the reason it’s missing is directly related to the hypothesis under investigation.

What that means is, for the most part, these counties had very few suicides. And (and this is important) most of those counties exist at elevations higher than the 0ft – 1000ft area where the suicides cluster on the left-hand side of the scatterplot.

When I got rid of counties with no data, I went from the +3000 counties the US has down to 483, a loss of around 85% of total counties. In the remaining dataset the lowest suicide rate was 4.7 suicides per 100,000 people. So I ran a simulation where all missing rates were replaced with this number. And what happened? The correlation vanished.

Now this is not an entirely fair way to test this data. But it’s not entirely unfair either, 4.7 suicides per 100,000 is a pretty low rate, but it’s also a much higher rate than any of these counties actually experience (which is why the data is missing). Consistent variations within these ~2500 counties might still lead to a detectable correlation with altitude. But I doubt it.

And I doubt it because what appears to a Utah-based neurologist to be an issue with elevation is probably much more strongly correlated with other features that also correlate with elevation: poverty, rurality, machismo, gun culture, high levels of drug and alcohol abuse–and all of these things, in turn, correlate with suicide in general and can help explain the rise in rates that these states have seen in the last few years. That is, elevation may effect dopamine and serotonin levels, but they were doing that in 2005, 2000, 1995, … and on and on. So we can’t use elevation to explain the rise in rates even if it helped explain the high base rate (which it probably doesn’t.)

10 Tips to being a better advocate

 
1. Do it. That’s the first thing. Just like voting, you have a voice and you should use it. Nothing I say here should act as discouragement in any way. You want to write the president? Write the president! You want to contact Speaker Ryan? Contact Speaker Ryan. No one can listen to what you don’t say, no one can read what you don’t write.
 
That being said, the following 9 tips are to help you make the most of your limited time.
 
2. National policy is important. You should follow it and encourage the representatives of your districts to vote your way. But local elections are won and lost by very small margins and one voice makes a much larger difference at that level. Follow municipal policy and try to influence local decisions. If a city ordinance cannot be passed (because of county or state sovereignty issues or for political reasons) then move up the scope of your campaign.
 
3. If national is the way to go, remember your state senators and representatives maintain local offices. Some people will tell you to contact these offices instead. I say contact them in addition to. More precisely, the local office is your default contact. CC the national office.
 
4. Know who your representatives are. That’s a no-brainer, so let me take this advice up a notch. Know which committees your rep serves on. Are any of these committees important to the cause you’re advocating for?
 
5. Connected to the above: know which committees are the gatekeepers for the policies you care about. Who chairs them? Who is the lead opposition? You should be contacting them as well. It is a double-win if your local rep is either of these two people. You should be writing them all the time.
 
6. You can write leading national figures if you would like, but if Speaker Ryan is not your elected official, you’re probably wasting your time writing him. Ryan isn’t going after your vote, so he doesn’t really need to care about your opinion. At the national level, Speaker Ryan does need to gauge the feelings of his fellow Republicans. So change their minds.
 
7. Following the above, when you write your reps, let them know you’re a voter and that you’re active in your community. Then share with them the story of why you care about this issue; bonus point if you are personally and directly affected by the issue at hand. They have thousands of people shouting statistics and ideology at them all the time. Personal stories matter. This is true…and maybe even more true if your rep agrees with your position. They are always looking for local, personal stories to hold up to justify positions they already hold for mathematical or ideological reasons. Be their pathos.
 
8. Don’t forget the CC field. It’s sort of a lost art, but if you’re writing an actual letter and not an email, then remember to add a cc: after your sig (like in olden days!) and include other pro- and/or con- groups that are involved in the fight. Not like a snotty “And I’m going to the press. Nyah!” sort of thing. But rather in a “I’m an informed person on this issue and I’m not alone.” Obviously do this is you are writing an email. (But don’t overdo it. If you have a personal contact at these organizations, then it’s good to name drop. Don’t litter your CC field with a bunch of “info@…” emails. You’ll just look like a crazy person.)
 
9. Following on the above, join organizations that are fighting your fight and don’t forget to join any professional groups that pertain to you. Those groups hire lobbyists, they organize Hill Days, they follow legislation and will update you on a bill’s progress. You’ll learn a lot and you’ll be part of an organized effort. Your voice matters, but so does your $$$. Besides, getting personally in front of a rep is often more impactful than a series of letters. (Although letters are awesome, keep writing).
 
10. Finally, get in front of your rep, following on the above. If they are holding town halls, get out to them. Join the local party that most closely aligns with your views and attend their fundraisers. BE A PRECINCT COMMITTEEPERSON. Seriously. It may be crass or sad or whatever, but politicians pay attention to people more when they are both more active and more effective at their advocacy. That’s part of their job.
 
Criticism, corrections, or additions welcome in the comments.

Republicans and Democrats are Different

One of the recurring sentiments in the discussion of US politics is the notion of the “Republicrat,” this idea that there is no difference between Republicans and Democrats. I’ve hated this idea for a very, very long time. We can score this thing and every time we do, we find pretty stark differences between Republican and Democrat public statements and Republican and Democrat votes.

Trump proposes a new challenge. He is not a Republican. He’s a conservative nationalist. For the most part, those with conservative nationalist tendencies have been in the Republican party, have voted Republican, run as Republicans etc. But they are not particularly well-aligned with the party’s leadership. So it remains an open question where Trump’s coalition will be found.

538 tackles this question with some quick back of the envelope scoring. Good article. Simple methodology. It’s got issues. One major problem is that one thing is pretty clear, even from this read and that’s that it matters which issue is under discussion to really determine the for- and against coalitions. Silver is aware of this issue. He makes it clear he’s looking for aggregate affinities. This just gives us a general picture of the possible coalition-building space.

I want to focus on the partisan divide. Even with this index score, it becomes clear that most Republican senators are closer to Trump than almost all of the Democrats. There is a space where 5 Republicans and 6 Democrats share a space near the middle. The remaining 89% of Senators fall on different sides of the spectrum. And Trump’s coalition is squarely among Republicans.

screen-shot-2016-11-21-at-9-34-37-am

In traditional measure of partisanship using votes, Collins (ME) and McCain (AZ) regularly fall to the left of the median Republican. And I don’t think McCaskill (MO), Warner (VA), and Donnelly (IN) will surprise anyone as being to the right of the median Democrat. The others? Maybe?

I’ve already assumed that McCain will be a loud voice against Trump and this confirms that his discontent with the president elect exists in more areas than just torture and Russia. I also thought Paul since he’s already been pretty outspoken on some of Trump’s picks (Bolton). So it seems clear to me that those two represent the definite end of his coalition space and it could extend deeper into the Republican party.

So There is a question of which Democrats might jump ship to join him. If Paul-McCain is the actual boundary (4.8), that only leaves Campbell as a potential frequent cross-party-lines Trump voter. (538 thinks Campbell will lose to his run-off challenger Kennedy anyway–both Kennedy and Campbell were scored by 538). Depending on the issue, Warner, Donnelly and Manchin are possible, but unlikely supporters that will need extra convincing–especially Donnelly since he won’t be doing himself any favors in Indiana voting with in-state rival ex-governor and now VP-elect Mike Pence. Collins is running pretty deep into blue team territory (the northeast is weird).

Hashtag slatepitch: In the Star Wars Universe Good is Good and Evil is Bad

Another confused political reading of the Star Wars universe, this time trying to prove that the Star Wars universe is a “neoconservative” one. The author has three main points of comparison:

  1. A believe in stark contrasts between Good and Evil
  2. Only force can be used to defeat Evil (compromise is disaster)
  3. Mixed feelings about democracy

The author is an expert on neoconservatism, so I tread here cautiously. The question I would have is, provided these are three characteristics of neoconservatism, are they the three most critical? That is, are there *other* -isms to which any or all of these three apply?

Take # 1 and #2 for example.Naive binary thinking (is an essential starting point of all analytical thinking–only after recognizing there are at least two groups can we begin to think there might be more than two. Only in recognizing there are two groups can we begin both contrast –and comparison.) The idea of Ego vs Alter is a flawed but standard way of discussing hypothetical first civilizations). So the idea that there is a stark contrast between good and evil predates neoconservatism. The idea that only force can defeat Evil (and that force is the only true source of morality at all) goes back at least as far as Plato (an certainly predates him). The “neo-” part of neoconservative is anachronistic at best. Philosophies or ideologies that share these characteristics are not all neoconservatism. In fact, philosophies/ideologies that do not share some form of this view are the minority.

On #3 in all cases where total war is present, democracy can be said to be treated ambivalently. This is true even during such times when the democraticness of warring states is unquestioned. Militaries are not democratic. The process of war is not democratic. When countries are fighting wars they are, by definition, not practicing democracy. They have, by definition, set democracy aside for the moment –in their dealings with the enemy. However, it sounds like the Republic (previously the Rebellion and prior to the that The Republic) made it a priority to re-establish democracy in all reclaimed territory after the fall of the Empire. It also seems that the decision to continue to support the Resistance is being made democratically in the newly re-established Republican Senate. It may be true that in the Star Wars universe compromise has been disastrous but that also was true in the real world. The famous example of course is the famous appeasement of Hitler in the run-up to WWII–which happened well before “neoconservatism” was a thing. Point being, the war here is just further evidence that democracies do not fight each other. Had the First Order been a democratic state, it’s possible that the idea of diplomacy would have been appealing to them. They were not and it was not. War was inevitable.

To say that “The Star Wars universe is a neoconservative one” is to claim that the laws that govern (political) action and reaction are the laws that are derived from a neoconservative interpretation of history. The point in restating that is this: “neoconservatism” isn’t derived from nothing. The appeasement of Hitler really did happen. World War II really did happen. So it is possible to derive neoconservative principles from the events in Star Wars–because it isn’t what happens, but how one interprets what happens.

Let me see if I can say it a different way. Neocons would have predicted that the First Order would back out of the compromise and use the Republic’s compassion against it. And then that’s what happened! Neoconservatism!

There are already plenty of real world examples where compromise did not lead to the rise of a Hitler like creature. And yet, neoconservatism came into existence and persists. That’s because neoconservatism espouses general laws, not absolute ones.

It is also true that if Star Wars were built on neoconservative principles, the Republic would never have offered a compromise–much as real neocons are always warning policymakers of the dangers of appeasement.

Bah!

It’s gotten so bad, that the superficial reading of Star Wars is the contrarian view. For the love of the Force, people, stop trying to reread a fairy tale. It’s Good vs Evil; and, the Good is Good and the Evil is Evil. That’s how it works and that’s why it works.

 

GlitterBeard Me!

glitter-beards_1As you may have heard, I’m actively fundraising to find a cure for blood cancers and you can help out. And here’s my first fundraising “event.” Glitterbeard Me.

The goal is raise TWO-HUNDRED AMERICAN DOLLARS between now and December 31. If I do, I will make a mess of my beard and likely mine or someone else’s house by traipsing around on New Years Day with a Glitter Beard.

I can hear you asking, “How can I make a shiny mess of some random Denver bar/One of Jim’s Friend’s Houses?” And the answer is “It’s EASY!!!”

  1. Go to THIS LINK and hit the Donate Now button on the right.
  2. Pick an amount.
  3. In the Comments section, please reference “glitter” or “glitterbeard” in some way. I plan on having several fundraising things happening at once and to make sure your funds go to the appropriate thing, I’ll need *some* way of knowing where you want your funds to go.
  4. Funds raised between today (11-23) and December 30th and labeled with any reference to glitter, will be applied to the $200 goal.

First to donate $50 or more gets to pick the color. (After that, larger donations can outbid for color. For example, first $50 bidder calls “gold,” a later bidder at $51 can choose “red” instead and, if not outbid, red it stays.) Put the color in the comments as well.

To get a taste of what this entail, check out the video below.

I’m a Bad Swimmer

michaelphelps2
This expressionist painting of M. Phelps makes him look like he swims about as well as I do.

Can I share something with you? I am bad swimmer. I mean really bad. Full disclosure: for someone who works out as much as I do, rides my bike and hikes as much as I do, and runs as much as I do, I am a miserable athlete altogether. But I am the most miserable of all the miserable swimmers out there.

Let me prove it to you.

Some of you have heard this story, but it’s a good one and everyone likes a story that makes a pompous, intellectual dilettante like myself look foolish. So heal yourself with laughter at my expense.

My very first triathlon—in fact my very first “competitive” event of any sort was in 2010. I had just recently started dating the wonderful human who is now my wife. She is an anxious sort who likes running for its therapeutic effects (sort of, I’ll leave her to define her relationship with running). I don’t remember what possessed her to do a triathlon, but I do know that I like to think of myself as the kind of person that runs triathlons. I was 35 years old.

Thirty-five, for those of you who are math deficient, is one year younger than 36…which is the beginning of the second age bracket in the Mighty Mississinewa Sprint Triathlon. So when I showed up on race day I was pleased to find out I would be a member of the first wave:  18-35 year olds and those competing at the “elite” level.

Oh. I should mention that I worked out extremely hard so they I would not qualify for “Clydesdale” status. What is a “Clydesdale?” you ask. That’s the name for somebody who is racing at over 200 pounds. You can put “Clydesdale” on your race status so that those who see your abysmal ranking will know to convert their snorts of derision into sympathetic sighs. I weighed 198 on race day.

The way the waves work is that one cadre of, in my case, extremely fit young men and seasoned racers (and me) enter the Mississinewa Reservoir at the sound of a starting pistol. Every few minutes, the starting pistol cracks again and a new wave of progressively less competitive swimmers enters the reservoir. A sprint triathlon is not very long. The swim is 500 yards (for MMS), or .4k if you’re metric. Point Four K. The average swimmer should be able to complete POINT EIGHT K in less than 14 minutes. So that means, worse case scenario, I should have heard my own wave’s pistol, the pistol for the wave behind, and the wave behind them just as I was about to exit the lake. Which makes that silver capped matron who swam over my sinking body an 20 minutes later…disconcerting.

I don’t know how many waves there were. But I know there were at least 2 waves of men behind me and at least 3 waves of women. I know that the last wave of women were women over 50, denoted by (and I am not making this up) silver swim caps.

That’s right, readers. The average swimmer…not the elite crowd with which my nearly horse-sized body entered the lake …should swim that length in, at most, 14 minutes. But I was nearly drowned by the forceful strokes of a woman who entered the lake no less than 10 minutes later and who caught up with me, presumably no earlier than 9 minutes after that. Indeed, later records show that I finished the race in a staggering 21:54. Which is a score so miserable that I came in last, not only in my own group of the elite and young, but also in the group of all males 30-44. In fact, dear readers, in a field of 197 racers, men and women of all ages, I was 192nd. The only people too come in behind me were a 43 year old, a 49 year old, two 53 year olds, and a 55 year old. The guy (or gal) in 191st place was 60.

I also want to take a moment to reiterate. Some woman in a silver cap swam over my body. I had gone into a backstroke because, basically, after 21 minutes in the pool at 490 yards (give or take) my body just couldn’t take it anymore. I needed to rest and another human being swam over me like I was …jeez…I don’t really know…you don’t really swim on top of anything the way she swam on top of me.

I went under. I literally thought that this was how I was going to die: 10 yards from shore, in a reservoir in northern Indiana, during a race I clearly had no business in.

I’m not sure if I fully appreciate the distance between “humbling” and “humiliating,” but I got closer to understanding that day.

Ladies and Gentlemen, dear readers, I need what Team-in-Training is offering. No joke. And Team-in-Training needs your support. How about following this here hyperlink and helping me raise money to end blood cancers (and also not ruin an otherwise beautiful bay with my drowned body in April).

What’s with the Countdown Timer?

 

I will be asking for your help.

Left-Wing Media Bias?

I have been following the science of determining (or disproving) the “left wing bias” of the media for a long time. I have seen lots and lots articles on the subject with many many charts and graphs in them. And they all basically look like the one here [PDF]. I’m linking to this one because it’s new and…if you’re following this whole “Lying Liar Political Scientist Published an Article with Lies” story, it has the benefit of being relevant to that discussion as well.

If you are following the whole LaCour fiaso read the whole thing. Basically, LaCour probably faked data on a 2nd article as well (and this essay is written by the guy that LaCour jocked the data from). If you’re only interested in the “media’s left wing bias” angle, then direct your gaze to page 5. What that chart is telling you is that, while there does seem to be an apparent “leftish slant” this is far from certain and could actually be flat wrong.

  1. Most of the studied channels appear to be inbetween the moderate left hump and non-partisan 0.
  2. There are two channels to the left of moderate left and no channels to the right of moderate right.

However, and this is critical, with the exception of Lou Dobbs’s show, all the confidence intervals (Bayesian credible intervals) overlap 0…which means they aren’t statistically different from “centrist”…and some of them could be “conservative.” Those CIs are huuuuuugggeeee. They basically run the entire gamut of the base dataset. I’ll also mention that most of the CIs (all but three) run most of their difference to the right. I think that’s difficult to interpret, but the consistency of this right skew across channels implies meaningfulness.

Some of this is a limitation to the types of methodologies available to this kind of research. But some of this is likely due to the fact that…well….most channels aren’t interested in 100% alienating 50% of their potential audience and thus…at the very least…attempt to appear neutral if not being, in fact, neutral. In the words of the author:

In the replication, only one show, Lou Dobbs Tonight, has a credible interval that does not overlap zero. Applying LaCour’s criterion, Lou Dobbs Tonight would be classified as “conservative news,” while all the remaining shows would be classified as “centrist news.