As a public speaker in Toastmaster clubs for over 25 years, I understand and appreciate the impact of a well-crafted phrase. Words have the immense power to inspire, educate, persuade and entertain.
Now certain ideas, phrases and books are deemed inappropriate and unacceptable. Entertainment in the form of humor and satire is slowly being extinguished. The creative spark of many minds is being snuffed out.
In the name of “compliance” and “correctness” we have limited and constrained our ability to share and discuss ideas. Only the government-approved ideas are allowed on the most powerful and prolific platforms. Those in power control the narrative and are now limiting the free exchange and expression of thought.
Like the lockdowns of the past year, this is not a healthy trend. The impact of the current silencing is devastatingly sad.
Some say that laughter is the best medicine. Entertainment and light-hearted comedy can help heal our lonely and wounded souls.
Humor is a uniquely human superpower that is being taken away when we need it most.
I do not condone angry, hurtful speech but the recent crack down on “violations of community standards” is a bit harsh and extreme in my view.
Why do some powerful entities want to keep everyone so sad, anxious and upset? Do they want people do remain lonely, isolated and frustrated?
More and more I am witnessing creative creators being suppressed. These creators have been a shining light of entertaining wordplay and comic relief through out this year of dark fear and despair. These fun and joyful voices are now stifled and suppressed.
The fear of the virus is now being replaced with the fear of words. The wide, rich and expressive vocabulary of the English language is being brutally pruned by oppressive control freaks.
At the rate things are going, I soon won’t be able to write or speak the words “oppressive control freaks” without being banned or punished.
As I continue on my creative journey of expression, I hope that my courage and resolve remain steady and strong in the face of increasing pressure to conform and be quiet.
Word phobia is a sad new condition that I hope will be treated by an infusion of ingenious humor and reasonable common sense.
As the world begins to heal and open up, freedom will beget happiness. Happiness is sustained by fun entertainment.
Words have the power to entertain, let’s not take that potential away.
The Silence of the Lambs is a thrilling book, but I don’t want a world of the Quieting of the Sheep.
The shift in energy has been swift and dramatic. This thought has been on my mind for months prior to the great Texas blackout of February 2021. Having lived in Austin for short time, I empathize with the plight of millions of people who were at the mercy of mother nature, unreliable technology and incompetent business and government leaders.
My original idea for this article started with these three lines:
Energy is Currency
Currency is Money
Follow the Energy
I was planning to address the main patterns and trends I have observed since the US Elections in November 2020, namely the shifts in:
Social energy and influence- communication and persuasion
Distribution of energy- wealth and power
Suppression or enhancement of energy- fossil fuels and renewables
Now, as I reflect on the physics book definition of energy and power, I have chosen to take a different angle. More on the three points above will come in Part 2 of this Energy blog.
While energy is the capacity for doing work and the ability to create change, power is energy per unit of time. These technical definitions can be applied to people, communities and governments.
I have been drawn to the concept of energy for weeks. Call it the Law of Attraction but my increased attention on the idea caused a sharp increase in energy related experiences in my life. Everywhere I look, I see energy analogies and references.
The word energy is a noun with 9 meanings (like my cat) while the word power has 20 meanings as a noun and 5 has a verb.
Power and energy are hot topics in the news and I can’t help but draw some parallels between what is happening with shifts in physical energy (potential and kinetic) with the dramatic changes in human energy (social and spiritual).
As world leaders create pacts and sign accords in an effort to reduce the impact of climate change on the planet, major changes in our fuel sources are being proposed. Renewable energy is all the rage as fossil fuels and nuclear energy are vilified. Wind and solar power are being elevated and pushed to replace coal, oil and natural gas. Our fuel mix is changing as painfully displayed during the Texas/ERCOT energy crisis of this month.
Our social fuel mix has also been dramatically altered. As an extrovert, I used to derive a good amount of energy from real, live interactions with others. Now, after 11 months of relative isolation, my energy levels are low. My ability to do work is diminished. My public speaking skills are stalling out and running on fumes.
As millions of Texans huddled in their homes for days without electricity or running water, I kept thinking, why didn’t ERCOT and the government plan ahead more for these situations. What were the contingencies plans if multiple lines of energy sources fail?
Taken to the human and social energy level, what have we done to replenish our emotional fuel sources that have been so abruptly and drastically reduced?
While Zoom meetings and online happy hours are trying to fill the gaps and maintain social connections, they are about as energizing as a Texas wind turbine on a 25 degree day.
Humans are social creatures by nature and need personal interactions to maintain healthy relationships and strong immune systems.
So as I enter an empty office building each day, I long for the in-person collaboration meetings and hallway greetings and interactions. Giving a speech in front of a live audience is something I crave more than chocolate. My Toastmaster clubs’ membership levels are anemic as we wait patiently for an infusion of energy. More than ever, I appreciate the power of human interaction and communication.
Like coming out of a freeze-induced power outage, I hope that the COVID-19 isolation impacts will thaw soon and allow us to recharge with the amazing energy of smiles, hugs and personal interactions.
When my Mom entered it room, it lit up with her smile. I miss her dearly and know that many people are craving that form of warmth and love.
A positive shift in energy and focus is needed to maintain the crucial connections that keep our communities strong.
The power of human interactions is sustainable and renewable and should not be neglected during times of crisis.
So much can be solved by identifying the underlying cause of a problem.
Treating or masking the symptoms does not help prevention or long term recovery.
Whether your challenges are medical, financial, technical or personal relationship related, getting to the root cause is critical to resolving them.
My team at work spends the majority of their time conducting Incident Reviews and Root Cause Analysis sessions where we investigate and discover what went wrong, why did the IT system fail and what can be done to prevent reoccurrence. The most important part of the process is the peeling back of the onion by asking multiple Why questions. The Five Whys is an effective methodology that can be applied to all aspects of our lives.
Top of mind for the majority of the planet’s population is the concern and fear of COVID-19. How can we best treat it? How do we prevent it?
While I am hopeful that the new vaccines will stem the spread of the virus, I wish that more attention would be given to the underlying health conditions that are severely hurting (and killing) certain populations in a disproportionate manner. Instead of obsessing over masks and lockdown effectiveness, why aren’t the WHO, the CDC and our government officials screaming from tops of the trees that a healthy weight and lifestyle are the best weapons against this disease. The word comorbidity seems like a polite, PC way to say unhealthy. The underlying cause of the most prevalent health risks are a poor diet and exercise habits and unfortunately, being in lockdown does not make it easy to eat well and work out.
If the root is not known, the cure won’t be shown.
Oh how I wish we would spend more time and energy to identify the underlying reasons of why a problem or bad condition has occurred.
Remember, the cause is the key to protect you and me!
In this time of Covid-19, the mission of the American Legion is more critical than ever. As the nation’s largest veterans service organization, the wide reaching programs should be increasingly mobilized to meet the members’ needs.
Two pillars of the American Legion’s mission statement stand out to me as being the most important during these challenging times:
Devotion to fellow service members and veterans
Advocating patriotism and honor
In this time of lockdowns, loneliness and isolation, we need the continued devotion to our fellow members to keep everyone’s spirits up. The health and wellbeing of millions of veterans is the focus and our selfless service to others will keep our communities strong.
In this time of disunion and polarization, we need to be advocating positive patriotism and honor. By rallying around a common objective we can strengthen America in its battle against the coronavirus.
Now is the time to unite around our shared values and binding symbols, the stars and stripes of the US flag. Now is the time to set aside political differences and take care of each other.
The headwinds we face as a nation are great but I remain confident that we will overcome and rise to the occasion. The United States has faced countless challenges in our 245-year history and the patriotic, generous and giving spirit of Americans won’t be shaken.
I’ll leave you with words from Johnny Cash’s song “Ragged Old Flag”:
“In her own good land here she’s been abused She’s been burned, dishonored, denied, and refused
And the government for which she stands Is scandalized throughout the land
And she’s getting threadbare and wearing thin But she’s in good shape for the shape she’s in
‘Cause she’s been through the fire before And I believe she can take a whole lot more
So we raise her up every morning We take her down every night We don’t let her touch the ground and we fold her up right
On second thought, I do like to brag ‘Cause I’m mighty proud of that ragged old flag.”
Each day we make hundreds of choices and decisions regarding our health and safety.
If there’s one thing I learned in the year 2020 it is that every human being has a different risk tolerance. Everyone on this planet has a unique set of personal scales and internal measurements when it comes to assessing the risk of any given action versus the benefit or reward of it. Each person has their own fears, neurotic tendencies and defense mechanisms. Every individual is as distinct as a snowflake when it comes to Risk Management.
Welcome to Risk Management where in the real world there is little conformity among billions of inquiring minds!
Looking back, I realize that my first lesson in risk management (risk vs. reward) occurred when I was 10 years old. While riding my shiny new Huffy ten-speed bicycle, I took a turn too quickly and hit a patch of sand. This resulted in my crashing to the asphalt and receiving my first, full arm road rash. I suddenly understood that risky actions can sometimes lead to unpleasant consequences. I soon realized that I had to improve my bike handling skills and look out for hazards in the road in order to be safe and prevent bodily injury.
The risk of crashing aside, my passion and love of bike riding has continued throughout my adult life as I pursued numerous criterium, cyclocross, track, road and mountain bike races. All of these events had a high of level of risk for injury but my desire to have the thrilling reward outweighed my concerns. I was willing to take my chances knowing that I had prepared, trained and did what I could to mitigate bodily harm. I always wore a high quality helmet to protect my head but that didn’t help when I faceplanted onto a rock in the mountains of southern California. The helmet didn’t do much when I crashed in the final turn of a road races and got run over by the rider behind me. If you race bikes enough, you will crash but that is the risk that many people take for the reward of the experience.
The importance of the rewards and/or benefits of an activity also varies greatly among people. No one has the exact same set of values.
I, like many cyclists, have modified my bike riding patterns to account for the increased risk of getting hit by a vehicle on the road. To save my skin and bones, I primarily ride on dirt paths on my mountain bike, far away from distracted drivers. At least the rocks and cacti are stationary and don’t come up behind me at 80 mph!
At this point you may be asking, what does Brenda’s story about biking riding have to do with the decision to take the COVID-19 vaccine?
Why am I comfortable with the decision to take a newly developed vaccine that only has Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) from the FDA?
It’s simple. It’s Risk Management.
Based on my experience and background in Biochemistry studies in college, jobs in clinical research/pharmaceutical companies and recent investigation and inquiry on the messenger RNA (mRNA) vaccine, I am making the best-informed decision for myself.
In a nutshell, below are the main reasons why I plan to take the new vaccine once available to me:
I want to be able to travel and visit my family without worrying about contracting and spreading the virus.
Messenger RNA has been studied and worked on for many decades and holds the potential to revolutionize vaccination.
The delivery mechanism of the mRNA using a Lipid Nano Particle (LNP) is way cool.
The immune response that is being enhanced is targeted for the specific spike protein on the “business end” of the SARS-CoV-2 (COVID-19) virus.
The COVID-19 virus is unpredictable and contracting the disease can result in unknown and longer-term effects that are not fully understood at this point.
The effects of revving up my immune system to defend against this novel virus is controlled and short lived. I’ll take 24 hours of unpleasant discomfort over 5-10 days of uncertain outcomes.
The FDA clinical research phases that were accelerated were primarily bureaucratic waste/red tape and the extended times it normally takes to enroll people into the clinical trial (phases 1 and 2).
The Pfizer and Moderna phase 3 trials were controlled, randomized and double-blinded studies with over 41.000 and 30,000 participants respectively.
So whether it’s the decision to ride a bicycle on the road, go to the holiday party, wear a mask or take the newly developed COVID-19 vaccine, we all need to weigh the risks and the benefits of our choices.
How much risk you are willing to take is a very personal calculation based on your unique circumstances, fears and desires. Only you can make the determination regarding what is most important to you.
I encourage you to actively research and study on as many neutral, science-based sites and publications as you can find in order to fully understand the biology, the history and the implications of taking the new vaccine.
Listen to a wide range of medical, clinical research and industry professionals to get all sides of the story before you run the information through your personal Risk Management filter.
And lastly, follow your gut. I have found that the little voice inside your head that instinctively tells you what is safe and good is usually right.
Let me tell you a little about how I developed my keen interest in the study of the human immune system.
In sixth grade, I fell in love with reading science fiction books. My teacher, Mr. Gary Muschla, read the class Ray Bradbury’s “The Illustrated Man” and I was hooked. My passion for science fiction continued throughout middle school and high school as I devoured books by Ray Bradbury, Frank Herbert, and Piers Anthony.
In eighth grade, I decided that I would major in biochemistry when I went to college, which is rather unusual for a middle schooler. By ninth grade I set my sites on becoming a medical doctor. I remember the thrill of researching and writing a thirty-page term paper on cancer treatments for my advanced placement biology class. I concluded that immunotherapy held the greatest promise for a cure. In my mind, science fiction was swiftly becoming science fact.
At Rutgers University, I majored in biochemistry. Then, after four years serving in the army, I took jobs with pharmaceutical and Clinical Research staffing firms and worked with pharmaceutical giants such as Glaxo, Amgen, Genentech and Celgene. I truly was living my dream as I became a subject matter expert in antibiotic, allergy and asthma treatment protocols and the FDA approval process.
Then, in 2000, my life was upended when I was diagnosed with the auto-immune disorder known as Graves Disease. Over the next three years, I lost my mother, my father, and my eldest brother to complications from cancer, tragedies that transformed my passion into an obsessive need to understand the immune system that can either save or destroy us.
Every year, new immunotherapy breakthroughs are happening all around us. My desire to research, learn, and experiment is aimed at understanding the true root cause of disease and the ways we can recover from or prevent illness. We may not yet have nano-machines (nanites) traveling through our bloodstreams, helping our immune systems combat deadly illnesses, but science is getting ever closer to these science fiction dreams.
So while I love science and I love science fiction, I don’t want scientific facts to become fictions. But scientific facts and data are created and interpreted by humans and in these hyper-partisan times, control and politics have invaded what I thought was a methodical, logical and neutral world.
In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, we have been told to “follow the science” and “listen to the experts” but many have become disillusioned by the contradictory information being shared and disseminated by our government and health organization leaders.
It’s December 2020 and most of the world’s population has been living in a bizarre state of pandemic fear, stress and uncertainty for 10 months. A legion of medical, scientific and biotechnology professionals have been hyper-focused on understanding the unpredictable new virus (SARS- CoV-2) and how it can be eradicated. We have witnessed very significant progress and worldwide cooperation which has led to epic innovations in vaccine development.
It’s the end of 2020 and although we don’t have nano-machine enabled immune systems like the ones depicted in the best selling science fiction series “The Rho Agenda” by Richard Phillips, two pharmaceutical companies have requested emergency use approval in the US for messenger RNA (mRNA) vaccines to protect against the novel coronavirus. This breakthrough has me thrilled and excited for the future of immunotherapy.
This year’s flurry of research and activity on the virus vaccine front brought back memories of the intense focus and effort in the 1980s and 90s on the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) which caused the AIDS epidemic. I remember learning about the important role of T Cells in the immune system and how remarkably adaptive and fragile these human defense mechanisms can be.
While I am hopeful and excited to watch the private/public collaboration of numerous biotech companies and governments across the world, my positive mood sours as I watch cable news, read newspapers, Facebook and Twitter with sensationalized stories to exaggerate the numbers, trends and statistics and exploit people’s fears.
The scientific method and my understanding of the immune system was turned on its head as I listened to the countless world experts and health leaders give their press conferences and statements.
What I was hearing didn’t always make sense and I soon came to realize that the world health organization (WHO) and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) were political bodies more than they were health advocates.
I was dismayed at the politicization of the COVID 19 response in the United States and wish that our government officials would focus more on common sense approaches and the basics of good health and strong immune systems. Instead, many have weaponized the data and the science to support the agreed upon narratives.
I couldn’t believe it when I saw some US medical doctors being censored and threatened for speaking about certain therapeutic treatments.
As the distrust of the federal and state governments and centralized health organizations increased, the public began to question the validity of the statistics and metrics. There is continued uncertainty about the risk and the best prevention strategies for containing and combatting the virus.
So this all brings me back to my passion and interest in the human immune system and how it can help us cope and survive the madness that is 2020 and the COVID 19 pandemic.
Now more than ever, I marvel at the amazingly adaptive and effective human immune system. If we nurture and support our bodies with proper nutrition, exercise and healthy lifestyle habits, our innate and acquired immune systems can protect us well from most pathogens.
Knowing that the human immune system is a robust and multi-level system with two main types of cells can help us understand, appreciate and support their functions.
Innate immune cells are the 1st line and include macrophages and other pac-man-like cells including neutrophils and basophils ( see image below). If this first response doesn’t neutralize the invading bacteria or virus, the special ops cells are activated. B and T cells are lymphocytes and use past behavior and exposure to identify and eliminate foreign threats in the body. This is our acquired or adaptive immune system.
B-cells fight bacteria and viruses by making Y-shaped proteins called antibodies, which are specific to each pathogen and are able to lock onto the surface of an invading cell and mark it for destruction by other immune cells.
There are two types of T-cells: helper T-cells and killer T-cells. Helper T-cells stimulate B-cells to make antibodies and help killer cells develop. Killer T-cells directly kill cells that have already been infected by a foreign invader. T-cells also use cytokines as messenger molecules to send chemical instructions to the rest of the immune system to ramp up its response.
Knowledge of our amazing immune systems can help us understand why the vast majority of people have mild symptoms when they are exposed to coronaviruses. Many peoples’ adaptive immune systems have naturally responded to the foreign invaders. Unfortunately, there are millions of people around the world whose immune systems did not respond in a positive or productive way, and this has resulted in far too many deaths. This is where medical and health officials can do a better job to educate people on the importance of maintaining a strong immune system and the risk of having a comorbidity.
So as we listen to and follow the science, remember that Science is not an Oracle and he doesn’t write blogs or do podcast interviews. Science is not an all powerful, all knowing entity. “Rather we have a mountain of research and data that is correlated, extrapolated and interpreted by a multitude of flawed and biased human, each with their own personal and political perspective.”
Human biases aside, I am still optimistic that sci-fi dreams of nano-machine enabled immune systems may one day become a science reality. Until that day, I will continue to share the important message about our body’s amazingly adaptive defensive system and how we can help improve and shore up our internal protections.
To the world’s health, medical and political leaders, I implore them to set aside their control based and non-common-sense policies and let scientific research and experimentation be the methodical, logical and neutral world where it can best thrive, discover and innovate to save lives.
Before the pandemic, I was planning on writing an article about Truth. I was inspired by Johnny Cash and his song “What is Truth?”. There was a interesting documentary about this song and when it was rebelliously performed in 1970 by the Man in Black for the President at the White House. The story of Nixon’s music requests and Johnny’s defiance struck a chord in me.
After 5 months of COVID-19 devastating health and economic impact on the entire globe, there is great attention and a need to know what the facts are so our leaders can make informed decisions about response, mitigation and reopening plans.
Knowledge is Power and Data is King but I continue to ask “What is Truth?”.
Everyone wants our local, state and federal officials to “follow science” and make data-driven decisions but not everyone agrees on the numbers, patterns and trends. Not everyone agrees on what “settled science” is.
One expert proclaims one set of conclusions while another presents a compelling argument discounting it and supporting an opposite view.
Who is right?
Which set of data is the truth?
These profound, global questions are now front and center at my job where I am on a committee tasked with Improving Data Quality. The main objective of this key 2020 initiative at my workplace is to ensure that the underlying information and data in our system of record (Remedy) is consistent and accurate.
As with the global heads of state, this quality data is crucial for the company’s leaders to identify gaps, patterns and trends so that they can make the best decisions for prevention and improved outcomes.
As I reflect upon my work team’s new mantra: Restore, Prevent and Protect, I can’t help but think and reflect upon the world’s current challenge with COVID-19.
At my company, my role is to manage a team of Incident Commanders. We are like digital firefighters and paramedics and work to restore service for our clients. When a software or hardware system goes down, we mobilize support teams on a recovery call and facilitate the fixing of the problem. We strive to “put out the fire” and revive the “patient” as quickly as possible.
Recently my team expanded its role of Incident Management into the Problem Management space. Once we resolve the issue, we help find out the Root Cause and focus on ways to prevent the outage from happening again. We restore, we prevent and we protect the production environment. Production means live and customer facing systems (websites, stock trading platforms, etc).
To enable us to do the Prevention and Protection piece, we need to capture all of the information and data about what happened. What caused the problem to occur? Was it a result of a recent change? All of this root cause analysis is captured in a centralized system of record that drives a crazy number of dashboards, charts and graphs. The underlying quality of the data is so important because so many long reaching decisions are based on them.
Every day for the past 4 months, I have been logging into my state’s Department of Health Dashboard to see what the current COVID numbers are. I look at the percentages and the rates per 100,000. I look at the total deaths and the demographic breakdowns.
Most of all I care about the trends because I know that this is what my Governor is looking at when making decisions and executive orders about what businesses can be opened and when students will be permitted to have in-person instruction.
I was a bit confused and concerned the other day when I saw that the COVID dashboard had a -1 value in the daily death count box. How could this be? What is a negative death? What was the quality check on the data? What this an automation mistake or a human error?
So many people are questioning the accuracy and validity of the numbers as it relates to the COVID-19 pandemic and I am afraid that the hyper-polarization in this US election year will only continue to make the situation difficult.
In the end, all that I can do is focus on and improve what’s in my control.
At work, I can help my team improve the data quality of our incidents and problems by providing clear guidance, standards and training. We can enhance our processes to conduct frequency reviews and quality checks of the information we capture. With an Agile mindset, we can focus on continuous improvement through experimenting inspecting and adapting. We can work to have better accuracy and hit our targets.
I wish I could have an influence on the quality of the health statistics at a local, state and federal levels but that is above my pay grade. All I will continue to do is make the best personal decisions I can for myself and my family based on what I believe to be true.
But again, What is Truth?
Is there a way to guarantee the accuracy and consistency of the test results and confirmed causal deaths across 50 states and over 150 countries?
I’m not so sure that this is even possible, so why should I worry and fret about it?
In light of this, I’ll leave you with some quotes on statistics.
It is my hope that you are safe and well and are making the best possible decisions you can based on the data and information that our medical experts and government leaders are providing us.
“Facts are stubborn things, but statistics are pliable.”
– Mark Twain
“We must be careful
not to confuse data
with the abstractions
we use to analyse them.”
In an effort to be more aware of my thoughts and be “more positive”, I increased my focus, followed a new trail and ended up expanding my understanding of reality.
What started out as what I thought was a simple Toastmasters Pathways Level 3 project morphed into a complete reevaluation of my worldview.
I feel like we are living in a multidimensional matrix where there are countless numbers of people plugged into a multitude of different “systems”. Could it be that if you are connected to one system then you completely unaware of and can’t even communicate with people attached to other systems?
Is a shared view of humanity an illusion? Are shared values possible? Can there be positive national identities?
Is anyone truly aware of the genuine nature of the world or do we all have our own unique perceptions and lens with which to comprehend and experience it?
As author and heavyweight boxer Ed Latimore wrote in his book, Not Caring What Other People Think Is a Superpower, “Many people have no desire to wake up. They enjoy the lie and the comfort it brings. As Morpheus said in “The Matrix”, “The matrix is a system. The very minds of the people we are trying to save. You have to understand, most of these people are not ready to be unplugged. And many of them are so inured, so hopelessly dependent on the system, that they will fight to keep it”.
As I pay attention to my thoughts and focus on trying keeping a positive outlook, I can’t help but wonder- is that even possible?
Is it realistic to be optimistic in the world today given the various limitations (blind spots) on our view of reality? Or will our connection to the “system” provide us with the ability to stay content in a comfortably numb but happy bubble?
What about people who seem to be plugged into a system that keeps them perpetually upset, negative and anxious? How will they become aware of a different and more productive matrix?
I dislike the binary choice of a “blue pill” or a “red pill” and it is my hope that humans can wake up and take a “clear pill” so that they can see things in a perspicuous and unimpeded way.