Echo Chambers

I used to believe social media was a good thing, it could bring together families with significant distance between them and unite like minded people. In the last 2 years, I’ve changed my mind… Social media is an echo chamber affirming our beliefs and allowing us to force anyone with a different belief away from us and this is very bad.

For example if you believe the Earth is flat, you can discover other people who believe the same thing and ideas are generated by discussion so during your discussions of the Earth being flat who knows what great ideas might be generated. Yet we have taken this to the extreme and if you believe the Earth is flat, discussions within the group reinforce that belief, but we have begun excluding all other information. And as someone who doesn’t believe the Earth is flat, if I ask for the details that inform your belief that the Earth is flat it becomes viewed as a personal attack, not a request for information. Eventually, the person who believes the Earth is flat fills their friends list with like minded individuals to the exclusion of everyone else creating an echo chamber for their personal beliefs and history has shown us this is a dangerous thing.

I don’t know when it was decided being exposed to different beliefs was a bad thing, but social media has determined it so. But the best ideas come from exposure to other beliefs and ideas, because people have different experiences and different ways to view things. For example, I don’t believe aliens built the Great Pyramid at Giza, but I understand why some people do. It is an engineering feat, particularly for a society that supposedly hadn’t invented the wheel yet. I feel conventional wisdom is incorrect and we have underestimated our Egyptian ancestors… but I can definitely see why someone looking at the available data would decide the pyramid must have been built by aliens, which stimulates me to think the Egyptians had carts with wheels on them for moving those massive stone blocks and we just don’t have evidence of it because the wheel is not exactly a thing of greatness like a pyramid and so it wasn’t significant enough to be written about and we need to continue to do research on this matter. Or hell, as ridiculous as it seems maybe it was aliens, we will only know by continuing to learn about it.

By shouting into our echo chambers, we shut down our ability to learn, because our ideas are always being parroted back to us which requires no thinking on our parts. Yesterday I read a news article about round worm infections increasing in both frequency and intensity. Uh, that’s weird. We know how to prevent round worms and it’s a basic hygiene thing, so why would they be making a comeback? I also read about a hepatitis infection that is leaving children with damaged livers, the suspected cause is an adenovirus. Wait, adenoviruses are not rare… they are one of the viruses responsible for the “common cold,” definitely prolific. Why has this particular adenovirus mutated to cause liver damage (and in some cases failure) in children? Or have we done something to our immune systems to make them less effective against adenoviruses? And as a 41 year old woman who has experienced the immune system damage caused by the measles virus, my perspective is slightly different than the 41 year old woman who has never had measles because they were successfully vaccinated against it, because my thought upon reading it was “is there another virus we haven’t identified damaging the immune systems of children that then makes adenoviruses more dangerous?” Could a rhinovirus (another virus responsible for the “common cold”) have mutated in such a way that it doesn’t just cause the common cold but also compromises the immune system in some children that makes it more likely that a later adenovirus could then cause liver damage or failure? I admit this scenario is unlikely, but as someone who understands a virus can cause lifelong damage to the immune system, it’s one of the things I think about when I hear a virus has become more dangerous. The chances are someone without the personal experience, would consider a secondary virus might actually be the problem and not the adenovirus.

However, if you are shouting into your echo chamber (and ignoring me because we disagree on something like the Earth being flat), you will not be exposed to my ideas, and my ideas though contrary to yours might stimulate an idea that changes the world. Furthermore, if I’m only listening to people who agree with me, then I may miss something that is life altering. I’ll provide a more “down to Earth” scenario; someone in my life believes chronic pain is caused by demonic possession and has asked me if I would be willing to undergo an exorcism to try to cure CRPS. I do not believe in demons and by extension demonic possession. But if I did… an exorcism to alleviate my pain would be an idea worth exploring because even if I am not possessed by demonic forces, the placebo effect could result in exorcism curing my chronic pain. I have been researching whether the placebo effect works in non-believers because if it does, than an exorcism to treat my CRPS could be worth it. However, if I ignored everyone who had beliefs contrary to my own, I would not even know about the possibility that an exorcism may alleviate my pain, even though I have read a great deal about the placebo effect.

I think we should all evaluate our social media circles and see if we are shouting into our own echo chambers and preventing us from seeing the forest for the trees.

Kelly & Other Updates

Our pooch Kelly is having some health problem. We thought it was probably a UTI, but that is not the case. She does next week for more tests. It could be bladder stones (which would require surgery) or a handful of other things that my mom couldn’t totally remember after she spoke with the vet. So we wait.

My niece’s mother who disappeared December 28,2021 was discovered deceased on March 20, 2022.

I hope to start going through the second round of edits on Summoning Trouble soon.

Editing Summoning Trouble Update

So the first editor returned Summoning Trouble to me over a week ago and I have slowly been struggling to get it edited. So Microsoft defaults comments text to 8 point font and it can’t be enlarged… and I can’t read 8 point font anymore. I attempted to zoom my Word document until the 8 point font was readable, but that means I can only see half a page of text… the right half (where the comment boxes are). And that is a problem. To effectively make changes to clarify an idea, I have to see both the comment and the text it’s referencing.

I am starting to think this eyesight issue is why I suddenly started to hate editing in 2020. I have always loved the editing process until then, which is why I was surprised when I suddenly started hating it.

Today and this week, I am addressing the comments where all the referenced text is on the right side of the page near the comment box. Last week I ordered a magnifier screen for my laptop. It’s not set to be delivered until the 18th of March once it arrives I will go through and address the comments I skipped because I couldn’t see all the text and the comment at the same time. This sounds super confusing describing it, so I have included a few pictures to illustrate the problem. I am hoping by March 22nd I will have it ready to send to the second round of editors. The comments are the stuff on the side of the screenshot that says Kris Smith above them. The text it references is the stuff highlighted in red in the main text body (to the left of the comment).

These two comments are easily addressed. Comment 1 on this page is in reference to a Proper Name which is entirely visible on the right side of the page along with the comment and since the capitalization is correct, it can be ignored. The second comment can also be ignored because BCE (Before Common Era) is correct and I dislike the use of BC and AD because I have a history degree.

This comment is more difficult. Since I can’t see the entire sentence along with the comment on the page, I can’t tell what she wants me to do. This means this comment will need to wait until I can bring my zoom back down to 100% and see the entire page along with the comment to fix it. And sadly, without being able to see the sentence, I’m not actually sure what she thinks needs to be done here. I find if I read the comment and then scroll over to read the entire sentence, removing the comment from view, I still struggle to understand what she wants done. I need to see both in their entirety to understand what needs to be done.

I continue to work on Summoning Trouble. I am still hopeful I can publish it in May, especially since I have an exquisite cover for it.

The Prediction Everyone Ignored

In high school in the 1990s, I was required to take a class in general economics. It was “fun” in the same way watching algae grow is exciting… to enjoy it, you had to be excited by economics and economic theory. I was not excited by economics, I was interested in science so I would have preferred to watch algae grow (but I digress). However, recent events has brought one of those economics lessons back to the forefront of my mind. I paid attention to this particular lecture not because of economics, but because it involved history and it’s the only reason I remember it to be honest.

In the 15 years after WWII there was a population boom in the US and UK everyone has no doubt heard of “baby boomers” (1946-1964) and I have no doubt some of you either are baby boomers yourself or your parents are. My parents were both members of the baby boomer generation. As a class full of 15-18 year olds who were only taking the class because it was required, we didn’t come up with many solutions and of those few, probably none would work. However, it was required, so we spent multiple days brainstorming as a class. My teacher predicted the crisis would peak in 2016, when all those baby boomers born in 1949 (which I guess was the most prolific birth year of the fifteen years according to him – I’ve tried to figure out why he thought this and I’ve never found any data to back it up, but that’s fine) hit 65 and retired. Of course he made us account for the hundreds of thousands that would either retire early or retire late, but the general idea was sound.

Now fast forward to 2020. By now the majority of those born in 1949 have retired as have those born in 1950, 1951, and 1952. However, the majority is not all and some percentage of these baby boomers are still working because Americans tend to be very dedicated to our careers. But now it’s March 2020 and this virus poses a serious risk to older people.

Millions of baby boomers begin to rethink their work life and retirement is a serious consideration, not just for those born before 1952, but millions of baby boomers born between 1952 and 1957. Now for the bulk of this group, they aren’t quite retirement age, but Americans have gotten better at planning and saving for retirement, so it might be tight, but they can make early retirement work. Also, it’s better to retire now and enjoy life, as opposed to continuing the time clock check in every day where they might get exposed to this disease and die.

And so, millions begin retiring. As they leave the office jobs they’ve held for decades, new people are hired to take their place. Now all those people with degrees who were working at restaurants or gas stations because they couldn’t get a job in their preferred career field, can suddenly get those jobs and they begin leaving their “only working here because I need to pay rent” jobs. And viola! We have a labor crisis!

It is this and not the temporary increase in unemployment benefits or the hike in minimum wage that has created the labor crisis and we know this because it’s a global crisis and not just a US problem. Guess what, it’s going to get worse. As more and more members of the baby boomer generation reach retirement age, it will get worse. Complicating this issue further is that millions of people globally have become permanently disabled due to COVID… and not just the elderly or sick, but healthy people in the 20-50 year old range, which covers a huge part of the global workforce, is struggling with things like COVID lung and Long Haul COVID.

Realistically, there is no way to compensate for more than 100 million people retiring or becoming disabled in the space of two years. My teacher did not predict a pandemic, but he did predict a labor crisis that we would struggle to recover from, just based on standard population movement in and out of the workforce.

Glasses

I have complained off and on since 2021 about my glasses not being the correct prescription. I cursed the chain eye clinic I visited to get them and I learned yesterday I shouldn’t have, because it’s not their fault that my prescription isn’t exactly correct. It is apparently going to become a recurring theme in my life. Yesterday, I saw my husband ophthalmologist and learned I did need new lenses. What I wasn’t told by the chain eye care clinic is that I have progressive astigmatism. By itself, progressive astigmatism isn’t a big deal. However, the scans and tests revealed I have an issue with my optical nerve…

The doctor asked me if I had epilepsy. I do not and told him so, but mentioned I did have migraines and he said “nah, migraines rarely cause what we’re seeing, it’s usually related to a chronic and intense neurological disease.” Huh… “Well, I do have CRPS.” He didn’t give me a blank look or even ask what CRPS was, he said “Yes, that would explain it, but I’ve never seen a patient with CRPS in my practice only learned about it in school. Most likely, you will need new lenses every year because your eye sight is going to get slowly get worse and about every year, you’ll need to go up a step. Including this year.”

My first thought was “No.” I do not want to pay for brand new lenses every freaking year, especially knowing that as the year passes they are going to slowly stop working as well as they did when I first got them. Wait…. My vision is going to get a little worse every year until what? I’m 41, average life span in my mother’s family is 80s (it’s lower on my dad’s side, but I don’t overly consume alcohol (most of them die from alcohol related diseases), so we’ll split the difference and say my life expectancy is 72-75. That means I have another 30 years of my eyesight degenerating. Now, it did take 40 years for me to get to this point, but I’m now middle aged with degenerating eyesight, so what are we talking about here?

“By the time your in your mid-60s, you’ll be legally blind, but you won’t actually lose your sight entirely, it will just be too bad to drive a car and walk the edge of the Grand Canyon or other tall places, narrow ledges.”

In other words, I’m going to need to come up with the money to buy new lenses every year (ouch) and in my twilight years, I’ll be legally blind even with the expensive and brand new lenses. That sounds fan-fucking-tabulous. Now, let’s talk realistically about how much improvement I’ll experience if I buy new lenses this week or next? Because if it’s only a slight improvement, I’ll wait until next year. The doctor was nice enough to put me back in the machine with the flippy thingies that acts like glasses lenses and he flipped a few buttons and held the car at about 24 inches away: “This is your current prescription.” I tell him, “I see okay at 18-24 inches away, I notice the “not strong enough effect” greater at distances.” So he flipped the buttons and held the card back up at comfortable computing distance and holy hell. “This is the strength you need.” Oh man, even at comfortable computing distances, I can read five more lines of that stupid tiny text than I could with the prescription I am currently using. I tell him this and he backs the card up to let me experience “more distance.” Wow, also significantly better.

Shit.

We head out to the vision store part of the office and I sit down with a specialist and we start talking about insurance coverages. My insurance will pay for new frames every two years, but I like my frames, except for the nose piece problem (which they solved today while I was there). This person tells me progressives are the best option for my condition as opposed to the cheaper option of bifocals or trifocals. I like my current progressive lenses, but honestly if I’m going to need to do this every year from now until I die, let’s talk about the cheaper option. Her and I discuss bifocals vs. progressives for about ten minutes and she goes to get the nurse, who takes me to another room and puts me in another machine. Apparently, this mimics bifocals or progressive lenses. Yeah, I definitely want the progressive lenses. I could adapt to the bifocals, but I don’t think they would be as comfortable for my eyes. Back out to the desk…

Now, I’ve noticed in the last 13 months, I’ve had more migraines. Light is sadly a migraine trigger for me, but I need tons of it to see well. My prescription sunglasses are not progressive lenses and they trigger migraines as well as vertigo when I wear them and I have yet to find a comfortable hang over shade for my glasses to turn them into sunglasses which means progressive transitions lenses are probably a good idea… I spent several moments debating this even before she told me my copay on transitions lenses (which were cheaper than I expected, which was a nice surprise). Now, we need stuff on the lenses too. UV coating? Yes. Anti-Reflective coating? That’s almost a must have, so yes. Blue light filter coating? Well I do use the computer a great deal, so that would be good too. I can save $50 by not getting transitions and another $10 by skipping the blue light thing. But I do wear my glasses all the time… and I do hate having headaches and migraines because I went to the store… So do I save that $50 and get regular lenses instead of transitions, especially since next spring there’s a 90% chance I will need new lenses?

Do I bite the bullet and spend the money today to order the new lenses? Or should I wait a couple of weeks and then order them? That’s a hard choice. I wasn’t sure I would see a significant difference with new lenses after just 13 months of having these glasses, but man, I really did. And as I type this, with my glasses and vision on my mind, I am cognizant of the fact that the font on the screen could stand to be bigger. It isn’t as blurry as it was January 2021, but some of the letters are questionable and I realize I am identifying them by context of the word more than actually seeing every bit of the individual letters.

Decisions, decisions…. And at the moment, I’m still more bothered by the fact that I’m going to have to shell out money for new lenses every year than I am by the prospect that I will eventually be legally blind. I probably won’t be able to play video games anymore, but at least the audiobook market is going strong, so I’ll still have plenty of books to enjoy. I will definitely need to get better at writing novels via dictation than I am now and I may have to hire someone to accept/reject editorial changes for me.

The Line in the Sand

I have been working on this blog post for over a week and each time I’ve worked on it, I’ve developed a pounding headache, possibly because of how angry I get when I try to write it.

The American public is divided on Russian’s invasion of Ukraine with some people thinking Putin is a genius and people like me wondering what the hell has happened to Americans.

I was born in 1980. For nearly all of my elementary school education, we had missile launch drills. The bells would ring and we were instructed to move under their desks. Why would an American kid in the Great Plains states be subject to missile launch drills? Because even in 1990, Americans were still concerned about the Soviet Union launching nuclear weapons at the US. As an adult, I think back and realize these drills were terrifying and pointless. If the Soviet Union had launched nuclear intercontinental missiles against the US, everyone in my school was going to end up as a nuclear explosion shadow, our desks were not going to protect us from them. This was made worse by the fact that the majority of the US B-2 stealth bomber arsenal is stationed at Whiteman Air Force Base in Missouri. Now it’s 70 miles or so from my hometown, but in the event the Soviet Union decided to take out our stealth squadron, my city would suffer from nuclear fallout. Worse yet, it only takes a small mistake for my city to be slammed full on by accident.

I was not afraid of Mikhail Gorbachev (this is an important distinction to make, so I’m making it). I was afraid of the Soviet Union as a political entity and world power who disliked America and Americans. My mother grew up afraid not just of the Soviet Union, but of Nikita Khrushchev. Khrushchev would be broadcast on US television in the 1950s and 1960s to talk about all the bombs he intended to drop on the US and the invasion and conversion of the US to a Soviet satellite state. In other words, my mom was not only afraid of the Soviet Union, she was afraid of the head of the Soviet Union, which is surprisingly much different than my own experiences with the Soviet Union and its leadership.

In 1991, we had our last missile launch drill because the Soviet Union imploded. Within months, we were being given crash courses in world geography because countries that hadn’t existed for nearly a century existed again. Countries such as Azerbaijan, Armenia, Ukraine, and Czechoslovakia. Countries I couldn’t identify on a map, spell, or sometimes even pronounce. Needless to say, I had to know about these places and I became fascinated by Russian and Slavic history.

When Boris Yeltsin was elected president of the Russian Federation in 1991, I was not worried bout Yeltsin or the Russian Federation. The boogeyman of my childhood had been slain.

As a lover of history, particularly socio-political history, I remained entranced by Russian history and politics in my teens after the Russian people elected Boris Yeltsin president. Yes, he’d been a communist and significant within the Soviet Union’s government, but Yeltsin wasn’t scary, and the Cold War had ended. I now understand why Gorbachev and Yeltsin were not boogeymen like Nikita Khrushchev, they were not die-hard true believers in the Soviet Union. Khrushchev as a zealot, convinced of Soviet supremacy (both as a way of life and a political entity).

And then a boogeyman appeared as Premier of the Russian Federation. This guy wasn’t like Gorbachev or Yeltsin and even a teenager could tell. He had spent the majority of his adult life in one of the most important posts in the Soviet Union, a post he would not have achieved without being a die-hard true believer in Soviet supremacy. Anyone who studied Soviet history or politics knew that being assigned the prestigious position of head of the KGB, required dedication and belief to the Soviet way.

I remember in the 1990s intelligence agencies issued a bulletin, the Premier of the Russian Federation had asked his top military men the best way to annex Alaska and when they informed him it would require an invasion he was fine with that, invasion was probably the best way to go anyway. Besides, ethnically speaking, a large portion of the population of Alaska is Russian. When I heard this, I thought there is no way this guy is that insane… and then he was elected President of the Russian Federation in 1999 and began his term January 1, 2000. It only took a few years for me to realize, that guy really was that insane.

That true believer was of course, none other than Vladimir Putin who has served as president of Russia for the last 21 years. We need to take a moment here to clarify two things. 1) Vladimir Putin is terrifying, and we should be terrified of him and 2) Putin does not like America or Americans.

In 2014 when Putin decided to annex the Crimea (which belonged to Ukraine at the time), I thought “it has begun.” And because Crimea had been part of the Russian empire off and on for the last several hundred years, most of Europe and North America decided that imposing sanctions as punishment was enough. What an absolutely ridiculous punishment. Sanctions really won’t hurt Vladimir Putin, it will make him more popular because sanctions hurt the common man, not the ultra-rich Russian Oligarchy.

Fast forward to 2018 and cyber-attacks on American companies are becoming the norm. By the end of 2018 the American public had been informed the majority of these cyber-attacks were not random, the perpetrators were Russian government funded hacker collectives and groups. I have considered 2018 the start of the new “cold war” with Russia… a cold digital war. Let us be real, Putin accumulated his massive fortunes because of the Cold War. Is it any wonder he would want to re-institute it?

Along comes 2019 and the digital war with Russia ratchets up a few more notches and then we find the SolarWinds hack and tons of American companies as well as our government have been infiltrated by Russian hackers paid by the Russian government. There’s proof of it all over the place. Every major cyber security person, including the head of Homeland Defense’s cyber security division tells the world, all of this chaos has one source: Russia.

Russia. And if you think Russian hackers pulled it off without the support of the Russian President, I have a teleporter for sale. 2020 comes around and Putin declares himself “President for Life” which means “Dictator of the Russian Federation.”

I don’t have room to discuss the plethora of assassinations ordered by the President of Russia before the start of the digital cold war… adding those in, would require seven or eight more 5,000 word blog posts and I just don’t have that sort of energy or time.

In the last two weeks, I’ve seen and heard a lot of Americans expressing opinions of support for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Putin’s justification for this invasion is that awful and strange phrase I used above… “The areas of invasion are ‘ethnically Russian’ so it’s okay.”

Here’s the problem at some point, the US is going to have a draw a line in the sand with Russia and Putin. Because at some point, he will get bored of the “ethnically Russian” neighbors on the western side of Russia and he’s going to turn his attention to the “ethnically Russian people” beyond the western coast of Russia. Hello Alaska and beyond that Canada…

If the US draws that line in the sand now in Ukraine with our European allies, we keep the majority of the war off US soil. If we wait, Putin has more time to ally with US enemies on his west such as North Korea and China. Europe is as incapable of fighting a war across the Pacific as we do of mounting an army in Antarctica…. And the distance is roughly the same. This creates a tactical nightmare for European support, unless we can convince them to attack Russia on the western side forcing Putin to split his forces into two fronts; an eastern front and a western front. But why would Europe do that for us at this point?