Category: Health

Build || Rebuild

Build || Rebuild

Among my favorite stories about Gandhi may or may not be apocryphal, but it goes something like this:

A woman walked many miles for hours with her young son to see Gandhi and ask him to tell her son to stop eating sugar. He told her to come back in two weeks. She did, and upon arriving, asked, “Why did you send us away after we traveled so far?”
 
“I had to stop eating sugar myself,” he told her, “before I could tell your boy to stop eating sugar.”

Take care of your own house, first.

I let the chaos of 2020 get me, these past few months. In September, I was down 20 pounds. I was running double-digit miles. I caught some bug, which turned out not to be COVID. It knocked me out for a few days. While I was out, both races I had been training for were canceled.

I never got back. I sat by and let the year hit me.

As I write this, I’ve just finished a round of antibiotics after a bronchial infection (also not COVID). I put all the weight back on. I feel like garbage. I’m drinking kombucha and eating an Asian pear. I guess those are steps in the right direction.

If you listened to the kicking off 2021 episode of JKWD, you heard me say I’ll post less here, and try to write more elsewhere. I’m doing that, and I’m doing other stuff to build, or rebuild, my own house.

This is not a Baldessarian effort; it’s more of a Gandhi dump the sugar effort. It feels wrong to tell you to dominate your day when I’m barely dominating a few hours of my week, it feels like.

I’ve submitted to a couple of writing contests, got some training programs set up, with accountability partners. JKWD is doing well; if you haven’t listened, please do. We’re having some great guests during the first quarter of the year.

In an effort to give myself some grace and get through 2021 healthy and happy and leading my family to greatness, I’m going to put this here: expect not much in public spaces from me this year. Most of those who know me have my phone number or can connect on WhatsApp; you can also go over to the contact page and fill out the form to be in touch by email.

Be well. Win your day.

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Get a damn flu shot

Get a damn flu shot

It’s coming on flu season, and that probably means something much different this year, thanks to COVID-19, than it does most years.

The four identified influenza (flu) viruses — A, B, C and D, the first three of which typically infect humans — have been around in some form for a long time. Data on annual epidemics and pandemics really starts in the 16th century, but may have been the cause of an epidemic in China some eight thousand years ago. Hippocrates, the “father of modern medicine,” described flu symptoms about 2,400 years ago.

In an average year, flu kills about 290,000 people worldwide and 36,000 people in the U.S.; the 1918 Spanish Flu (about 500 million worldwide infections and 50 million deaths) was among the worst.

It wasn’t until 1933 that the virus itself was isolated, and a live vaccine quickly followed. We now have a dead vaccine (meaning the flu shot doesn’t actually give you a live infection to fight off anymore) that covers up to four strains — the originally identified A and B strains and a mutation of each.

My child was born during flu season, and the CDC doesn’t recommend anyone under six months old get a vaccine. The people most susceptible to flu, as you might imagine, are the very young and the very old. About a third of people who catch the flu virus are asymptomatic, and asymptomatic carriers can pass it along. So when she was born, we told anybody who wanted to have contact with her to get a flu shot or wait until she could.

The list of people who shouldn’t get a flu shot is pretty short.

If you think you might come into contact with people who could reasonably die from the flu — and again, that’s an average of 36,000 people in the U.S. every year, most of them grandparents and babies — get a flu shot. You can get one at your doctor’s office, at most grocery store pharmacies, and at most national chain pharmacies like CVS and Walgreen’s.

Just like masks with COVID-19, it’s as much, or more, for other people as it is for yourself.

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Coronavirus: Personal responsibility, public responsibility, truth and vetting

Coronavirus: Personal responsibility, public responsibility, truth and vetting

It’s been a crazy couple of months, right?

It’s so difficult to vet information about something as confusing and fast-moving as a new virus — that’s what this new coronavirus, COVID-19, is — and knowing what to do and when to do it is tough.

The most level-headed discussion I’ve heard so far is Joe Rogan’s podcast with Michael Osterholm, head of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy (CIDRAP) at the University of Minnesota. Keep in mind that the up-to-the-minute facts will be outdated, but you can’t avoid that when you’re just having an off-the-cuff conversation.

There are a few things we should consider, and some things that will be interesting in retrospect.

We talked about vetting good information on JKWD a bit ago, so let’s start there.

I will admit that I have no concept of what the “average” person is getting for news about coronavirus. I work closely with 10 newspaper-affiliated websites for 40 hours a week. I probably see 100 coronavirus-related stories per shift, in addition to the items I seek out in my preferred local, state and national media outlets, my Twitter feed (including the governor of Georgia, the CDC and WHO) and whatever else happens to cross my eyes and ears while I’m not working.

Most of you probably aren’t getting 750-plus pieces of information a week unless you’re sitting there glued to it at all times, and if you are, you should probably stop that immediately. It’s exhausting, and it’s going to be around for a while.

But I did talk to someone at a local business recently, who had no idea that Italy was entirely shut down and had thousands of deaths.

If you want to be informed about this — and I think you should be; I’ll address that when I discuss personal responsibility — don’t go overboard, but choose wisely. Read your local newspaper website, and maybe a couple local TV websites. Check the website of the biggest newspaper in your state, and, if it doesn’t have good capital coverage, the site of the paper in the capital area (in many states, the biggest market is the capital, but that’s not true across the board — Illinois and Pennsylvania are two examples). Check traditionally reliable sources like the New York Times and Wall Street Journal.

If you want international coverage, the BBC is always a good place to turn.

Find places that report the facts. If they make recommendations and/or criticisms, make sure they’re backed up with reported facts, not viewpoints from politicians. For example, “three people died in such-and-such city” is a fact. “Only a few people died in such-and-such city” is a viewpoint. Tell the families of those three people that it was “only a few people.” Now extrapolate that to the hundreds that are dying a day in some places.

It’s easy to get people to freak out too much or not enough by putting a viewpoint on our facts. But people are smarter than we give them credit for — let’s give them the facts and let them make informed decisions.


Let’s talk responsibility, and two types, which I’ll call personal and public.

Personal responsibility pertains to the things you owe yourself — information gathering, self-reflection, good habits, etc.

Pubic responsibility pertains to the things you owe to others — to not infect your neighbors and family, to tell people the truth as you understand it, etc.

Most adults will probably get this virus, even if they show mild or no symptoms (that’s important because you can have no symptoms and pass it along to people you come in contact with). Flu pandemics seem the model we can learn from (long read: a NIH workshop summary on Spanish flu of the early 20th century). Some 1.4 billion people tested positive the H1N1 flu (about 20% of the population of the world, including minors) a little over a decade ago, and at the high end of estimates, killed about 575,000 people (about .04%).

If you figure that you didn’t get tested if you had no symptoms or only had mild cold-like symptoms, a lot more people had it.

With COVID-19, we’re also having a problem with getting enough tests, so our current numbers are underreported because technically, if you can’t get tested, you don’t have it.

As I’m writing this, Georgia’s (USA, not the country) reported cases are increasing between 40 and 50 percent per day. I know of one person who said she couldn’t get tested at a local health center despite being immunocompromised and showing symptoms because they didn’t have any tests. The local health department said they were waiting on tests, and the local office of the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) was also waiting on tests. So if some high-risk people aren’t able to get tests, you can see how most people who are asymptomatic or only get mild cases (which is about 80 percent of people who test positive, by the way) won’t get tested.

No matter how high the numbers climb, we won’t be reporting all cases.


Centers for Disease Control info & guidelines | World Health Organization information


Even health professionals don’t seem to be able to predict how the virus will hit any one individual. We know that the respiratory repercussions seem to be really bad, so people with COPD or asthma or who are smokers are likely to get hit pretty hard, but sometimes they’ll get a mild case.

Which means that no matter how health you are, you can’t predict how it will actually hit you if you get it. So try not to get it.

And in case you are asymptomatic, you can’t predict how it will affect other people if you pass it along, so try not to. You’re probably going to pass it along to people you live with. But there are some easy steps you can take to make sure you don’t give it to anyone else — steps like stay the heck away from them.

We have an elderly neighbor. She has adult children who stop by and check in on her, and I imagine they call her, too. When we go to the grocery store, we call her to see if she needs anything.

Our responsibility to her in delivering things to her should be to wash our hands, wipe down the goods we’re bringing her, put them in a separate bag, place them outside her door, and ring her bell or call her to let her know they’re there.

Our responsibility to ourselves in that case would also be to wash our hands again after touching her bell.

It’s not that difficult, but it’s important.

We also owe it to ourselves, if we wish to stay healthy, to only go do important things, like getting food and medicines. Yeah, it stinks staying home. But think about things like going out to eat. Do employees at your favorite restaurants have paid sick leave? Are they likely to stay home if they’re mildly symptomatic — say a little sore throat and a sniffle, like if they had a cold? Probably not, if they don’t have much in the way of sick days.

Our trusted officials (such as elected and appointed members of government, but also the heads of organizations like hospitals and urgent cares and shopping malls and the sorts of places people gather) also have a responsibility to us. We’ve asked them to lead in times of crisis, and this is most certainly one. Give us facts. When you give us directives and/or suggestions, back them up with facts, because people will be more compliant if they understand why.

Viruses aren’t partisan — they don’t stop outside your mouth and ask who you voted for before deciding whether to infect you — so neither should the directives handed down by particularly government.


When this pandemic ends, there will be some interesting things to study, from a social science perspective (we know that biologists and virologists and geneticists will do their thing).

• What traits of leaders did the best and worst at containing the virus? China, where the virus started, was slow to admit its existence. The US, fairly far away from the epicenter of the pandemic, didn’t take it seriously at the start.

• What cultural traits did the best and worst at containing the virus? Did people stay home when told more in collectivist cultures than in individualist cultures?

• What cultural and leadership traits correlated with the least economic interruption and quickest recovery? What measures had the highest impact, both positive and negative?

• From a media perspective, how does this new era of reader-driven content selection and bottomless news hole affect coverage, especially deep reporting?


Stay healthy and safe, folks, and don’t overwhelm yourself with too much information.

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Getting in your head

Getting in your head

Toward the end of his appearance on Duncan Trussell’s podcast, Dr. Drew notes that he needs to spend more time in his head.

It got me thinking about silence.

Meditation has been an on-again, off-again habit for me (it’s on-again right now; if you’re curious, I use the Oak app (for iPhone).

One of my favorite things to do is to visit my friends at Remedy Float and climb in a float tank. Also called “sensory deprivation chambers,” these are light-less, soundless rooms about 4 feet across, 8 feet long and 7 feet high with 13 inches of water heated to 94 degrees (roughly skin temperature) and 1,000 pounds or so of Epsom salts, so you’re definitely going to float, no matter who you are.

It’s 60-90 minutes of about as quiet as you can get.

That’s just a starting point, apparently. Much longer in silence than that, you might actually start growing new neurons.

Crazy, right? New brain cells for being quiet for a couple of hours! Some people think that means silence might be a viable treatment for Alzheimer’s and other neuro-degenerative diseases.

In a study testing music in both musicians and non-musicians, rate of breathing, heart rate and blood pressure all went down when there was a pause in the music. Musicians more easily synced their breathing to the rhythm of the music, but otherwise, pauses in the music — the silent parts, in other words — were the bits that people were calmer during.

It’s not just for calm, though. During silence, we work things out. A couple of Australian scientists discovered that our brains are actually more active when not dealing with stimulus than when they are. The space between the stimuli is when we figure out what the stimuli mean.

We’re just starting, over the past couple of years, to understand the groupings of which neurons handle which stimuli.

Working things out during periods without stimulus, by the way, is the same reason we need to dream: we process what happened during the day and learn from it.


Silence can be so hard to come by that over the past decade, Finland has made solitude a central piece of its marketing to attract tourists.

Now, not everyone meditates in silence, but meditation can, in fact, quiet our brains. We discussed the benefits of meditation as it relates to increasing both happiness and patience.

We also know that meditation can make for better sleep, can help with self-relational feelings like personal empowerment and staying in love and help improve learning.

Silence leads to better focus. And there are a host of other benefits.


One of those benefits I want to discuss specifically is creativity. We’re going to have a series on creativity later this year, probably as fall approaches. Creativity isn’t just about art, or writing, or comedy or podcasting. It’s also about scientific innovation. Creativity allows us to see where we can combine fields or jump a gap.

Peter Gasca puts it simply:

If we are always focused on information input, it becomes even more difficult to force your brain to produce any output.

In other words, if you have to process noise (sounds, words, music, etc.) coming in, it’s hard for your brain to create some output.

If you’ve ever heard the term “content zombie,” you know what I mean. These are people who read a lot, listen to a lot of podcasts, squeeze in some audiobooks, take online courses, watch videos, and then … they can just spit back what they read or heard or watched but never put any of the knowledge or wisdom they absorb into practice.

There’s just so much input, they can’t seem to create any output.

Don’t get me wrong. There’s a ton of great content out there. We’re producing a ton more every day. It’s easier than ever to publish content, in text, audio, video or even a combination of those.

Thomas Oppong notes that collaboration can be important for creatives (where would a lot of musicians be without Quincy Jones as a collaborator?), but, at the same time, it’s solitude that allows is to get into flow (we’ve written about flow before, and there will be much more coming on it in the coming months), and, he notes, Einstein and Newton, among others, worked almost entirely alone.

Oppong also offers an important reminder: you can choose solitude. While you may be forced into collaborative situations at work, there are plenty of ways to get some silence in your day. Get in early, he writes, or find time before your family wakes up or after they go to sleep. Turn off your phone. Get away from anything that can give you notifications.


Let me offer up three action items, if you’re looking for a place to start.

1. Download and start with a meditation app. You can use Oak (my app of choice), Calm, Headspace, Omvana or any of the dozens of other apps available. Just pick one and do 10 minutes, every day for a week. If you find trouble finding the time and space in your house, grab some headphones and lock yourself in the bathroom for 10 minutes (not kidding).

2. Ditch your phone. Even for five minutes. Just turn it off, tuck it under your pillow, and go sit on the deck or the porch or the balcony or, again, the toilet. Just shush and don’t scroll through anything.

3. Block stuff out. I’m not saying get in float tank for an hour (though I’m definitely not not recommending that), but get yourself a nice sleep mask and some ear plugs (total under $25, if you didn’t click on them). Wear them for five to ten minutes, and don’t be scared of what runs through your mind.

Now, go do something awesome.

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Fuck busy; remember what’s important

Fuck busy; remember what’s important

If I’m honest with myself, I’m feeling a little roots-less this week.

In mid-June, we took a final trip to the house I grew up in, and brought some furniture and family keepsakes back to Syracuse. My parents have, by now, made it to Charleston, SC, where they bought a house a couple of years ago. My dad has retired, and my mom will probably find 14 adjunct and distance positions so she can teach college students how to teach young kids until she’s in her 90s.

On Saturday, we spent several hours packing up a moving truck in Minoa, because Frank, Nicole and their Small Man were moving to Ohio. This is the same Frank who wrote this piece about home a little over a year ago. [You should really take a few minutes to read that. You don’t need to know him to feel it.]

After packing up on Saturday, they drove the 7-plus hours to Ohio on Sunday, only to turn around on Monday and drive all the way back to see Frank’s dad before he passed Monday night. I stopped in at calling hours last night. There were smiles and friends and people and that sort of thing, the way it should be. Small Man, by the way, has been a fucking Buddha about the whole thing. I shared that story with my staff this week and got tears.

» Read This From Ashley. Seriously.

There’s a reason the author of the Jewish mourner’s prayer didn’t include death. We need to remember to celebrate life.

I’m of a generation that has been taught that being busy is important in life. And I’ve fallen into that trap. I took on an extra role at work that added about 3 hours in front of a computer to my workday. I’ve said yes to a lot of organizations in my nine years in Syracuse. I’ve worked with 40 Below, Alchemical Nursery, Future Fund, Tapestry, several different recreational sports leagues, a poetry reading and a bunch of other stuff.

I’m paring back.

When the current seasons are up, I’m going down to one night of rec sports a week. I’ll volunteer heavily with one organization at a time and give them a lot of my attention, rather than just squeezing them in (and I’ll probably do some on-going thing, too, that requires a check-in here and there). I shed the extra role at work. Sure, it’s less money, but now I’m working 8 hours a day instead of 11, and I don’t feel the need to be attached when I leave the office. I’m going to start training and work on overcoming some fears (heights and such).

You can already see I’m writing more. I’m also reading more. I’m getting time at home and with friends. My calendar has more white space in a week now than it used to have in a month. I actually spend time each morning sitting out on the deck with a newspaper, a cup of coffee and the dog, leaving the technology inside.

And that’s where I’m headed right now. Later, gators.

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Taking the hippie out of permaculture

Taking the hippie out of permaculture

Call a person a “futurist,” and everybody crowds around to hear a tale of doom – and maybe what we can do to avoid it. Call a person a “hippie,” and everybody runs for cover.

I think the difference really is in the language each uses. When someone talks about thinking seven generations, or 20 generations, or 100 generations into the future with our decisions about energy consumption and food consumption, that person is a hippie, and therefore crazy. When someone talks about running out of food and oil in 300 years, and describes what the world will look like if we don’t start doing x, y, and z, that person is a futurist, and therefore a visionary.

Let’s talk permaculture for a moment. If you ran that through spell-check, you got squiggly red lines. Outstanding. So the word is an invented one, which means we’re still on the hippie or futurist path. Let’s look at one definition:

Permaculture is an approach to designing human settlements and perennial agricultural systems that mimic the relationships found in the natural ecologies. It was first developed by Australians Bill Mollison and David Holmgren and their associates during the 1970s in a series of publications. The word permaculture is a portmanteau of permanent agriculture, as well as permanent culture.

OK, so now you know I’m heading in the “let’s think 7 generations into the future” direction.

Now let me tell you about my Saturday afternoon.

I joined some of the Alchemical Nursery folks in one of those $1 undeveloped houses on the Near West Side of Syracuse to build a permacultured spiral herb garden, with an urbanite construction.

Right, OK, so what the heck does that mean?

Basically, we made a multi-level garden out of broken-up sidewalk that had been discarded at a construction site. It will become semi-permanent (it can always be moved or removed) structure in the owner’s back yard that he’ll be able to plant things in every year, and with a vertical construction, it allows for more things to be planted.

And from a gardening standpoint, he can plant things that need more moisture on the bottom, since water will drain downward, and he can plant things that need more sunlight on the south side of the structure (the sun’s east-west path is in the southern sky, so there will be more shade on the north side of the garden).

How we did it:

We started by laying flattened cardboard boxes on the ground, so that grass wouldn’t grow into the garden. We then laid broken sidewalk in the first level of the spiral on the ground.

We mixed sticks and compost on the bottom layer, then began spiraling the concrete up the mounded compost. We added more compost, and continued the spiral upward.

With eight of us there to help out and learn from the experience, from introductions to planting some starters (oregano, chives), it took less than two hours.

Hopefully our host will post some photos soon and I’ll be able to share. But basically he has a decorative concrete garden base in his back yard, and he’ll be growing some of his own food – nothing weird about that, right? But it’s permaculture, so let’s learn to embrace it, cool?

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