Funny about Money

The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing. ―Edmund Burke

March 22, 2018
by funny

Six Good Things?

Over at Surviving and Thriving, Donna Freedman passed along a meme picked up from Jana Says:  listing six good things in counterpoint to the 87 berjillion horrors, annoyances, and minor headaches we all can bellyache about.

Well, thought I: could I even dream up Six Good Things today????


  1. Another rat jumped Trump’s sinking White House ship today…oh, wait….

Okay, okay. Trying again:

  1. Some kid was thrown out of a college course on Christianity for the crime of stating that there are only two biological genders…. Uhmmm…

Not getting far with this, are we? Surely there must be SOMETHING good out there?

  1. The ancient alien mummy discovered in a Chilean desert isn’t an alien after all. It isn’t even ancient.

Drat! Fourth try’s a charm:

  1. My wonderful son is still kicking. He invited me over to dinner tonight. So the corgis and I will descend on him and the retriever a little later today.
  2. Choir is magnificent. Our former choir director was wondrous and beloved, and to everyone’s delight, the new choir director and also the new associate director/organist are wondrous and beloved. Holy week is coming up and we’re learning a slew of spectacular musical pieces for the occasion.
  3. Spring has sprung in Arizona. The citrus trees are perfuming the air with a new season’s blossoms. The orchid trees are a-blast in color. Soon it will be warm enough to swim in the pool!
  4. Yesterday I saw one of the handsomest men I’ve ever had the pleasure of viewing, along with his fairly adorable son, over in the North Mountain preserve. Scenic.
  5. Today I encountered a man with the sweetest smile and the cutest chocolate lab I’ve ever seen, also over in the North Mountain preserve. When men are attractive, they are very, very attractive.
  6. God is great, beer is good, and people are crazy.

Okay. There you go. The Professional Skeptic’s Guide to the Good Things in Today’s Ridiculous World. What can one say? Other than thank God for Rachel Maddow.

Jeez. Six good things indeed…

March 21, 2018
by funny
1 Comment

Up the Hill Again…and back

Ugh. Doing this little climb every morning for the next eight days is going to be a challenge. Not because I can’t do it but because, as usual, I don’t wanna do it. 😀 And because as also usual there are a zillion other things I’d rather be doing. Loafing, for example.

Got a late start yesterday, having foolishly turned on the computer to check email and take a “quick” look at the Internet: always a mistake. By the time I got out of the house, the sun was fully risen, rush-hour traffic was in progress, and I could not find a place to park at the trailhead. So to my intense annoyance I had to turn around, head back down annoying 7th Street to the “Visitor Center,” which because of its entrance off a high-speed major thoroughfare is tricky to get into and tricky to get out of. A boondoggle of recent construction, this fine facility at least has enough parking, most days.

But it’s about 3/4 of a mile from the trailhead — maybe more than that, given that that the trail there winds a little. So that added about a mile and a half to the hike. Pile on the mini-heat wave we were supposed to have on Tuesday, and I was not a happy camperette.

I started out in hummingbird mode — hummingbirds being creatures given to constant rage — and continued pretty much in the same vein. That did not help my attitude about this project, which is, shall we say, jaundiced.

Women who hike for fitness like to bring a friend, and they like to yak. Apparently most women have no clue how far the female voice carries across the desert. Two women babbling at each other can be heard a good half-mile away.

Which might be OK if they had anything interesting to say. They don’t. Hiking, slenderizing women talk about three subjects and only three subjects: their diets, their friends (or roommates), and the office. That’s it. Apparently they think of nothing else. So not only is the chatter of their voices annoying, the fact that they have fuckin’ nothing to say is equally irritating.

Then we have the manners characteristic of the hordes that run up and down the Phoenix Mountains.

You know… A hiker coming downhill customarily has the right of way on a trail. This is because momentum makes it harder for a person walking downhill to stop, especially if — as in the Phoenix Mountain parks — the trails are rocky and littered with roller-bearing stones. If you meet someone coming down as you’re going up a narrow trail, you’re supposed to step to one side to let that person get by. The reason is obvious, if you have ever walked either up or down a rocky mountain trail.

But bear in mind that the trail in question is not narrow. It’s a good fifteen or twenty feet wide — it used to be a road for automobiles, and still bears some of the asphalt laid, decades ago, for that purpose.

The  broad thoroughfare that goes all the way up Shaw Butte is so heavily thumped with daily hiking and mountain-bike traffic that there are two traces cleared of roller-bearing scree all the way from the trailhead to the top. In many places, there are three of them. So, if you see someone coming down at you or if you come up behind someone walking slower than you’re going, the logical (polite…) thing to do is to step one or two paces to the left or the right and go around them on the adjacent trace.

But that’s not what these bitches do.

They come up behind you, yakking blithely all the way, and they tailgate you! They come right up your ass and tromp along at your heels. So you have to step aside, stop, and let them pass.

Or, if they see you coming downhill and they’re climbing up below you, they step into the trace you’re using and dare you to keep walking.

You understand: there’s no point in this. With two and sometimes three traces of beaten path — relatively free of loose stones and small outcroppings — there’s no reason to insist on getting in someone else’s way.

Yesterday morning, I took one pair of them up on the dare. Admittedly, one of them was a guy. But he also was an airhead. These trails are populated with airheads. Believe me.

So I’m headed downhill on one of two parallel traces on this wide trail. This guy and his woman are coming up. I see them. They see me. It is obvious that they see me, from a fair distance away. So they march into the trace that I’m coming down on and proceed uphill straight at me.

I think, f*ck you, and just keep on walking.

We are practically bellybutton-to-bellybutton before the oaf steps aside.

Meanwhile, because I’ve made a late start, the sun is well up over the nearby mountains, and so it quickly gets passing warm on the trail. Fortunately I’ve brought plenty of water and dressed in layers. But that notwithstanding, by the time I got about 2/3 of the way to the top, I was damned hot.

I do not like being damned hot. That is why I usually have enough sense to leave the house before sunrise…

Then we have the view. The trail up North Mountain is best described in one word: boring. It is a boring trail devoid of most wildlife, which has been scared off by the hordes of device-connected, “music”-jangling, yammering humanity. The view off the side of the trail is just plain ugly.

Phoenix sprawls to the north — way to the north now — of the Mountain Preserves. What spreads out below you is mile on mile on mile of elbow-to-elbow ticky-tacky developments, commercial strips, and industrial slum. A huge high school looms in the near distance: it looks exactly like a prison. Even on a clear, relatively low-smog day, it is a dreary view.

Just below the top, I paused to swig a swallow of water. An older man also paused on the point and said hello. I said I sure was glad I was born 50 years too soon to go to a school that looks like a jail. He laughed and said, “Me, too!”

So I need to find some other hiking venues. This morning I probably will go to the flats behind North Mountain. Absent the rather precarious climb I’ve described before, the area really doesn’t have a good place to trot up and down hills. But you can walk from Peoria Ave. to Thunderbird, which is about 1.8 miles. Trails allow for a wandering path, and two of them will take you up low rises. So if a person walks at a fast clip, she presumably can get at least a little bit of a workout. Better than sitting in front of a computer, anyway.

Today I have to meet some friends for lunch at 11:30, so will need to get in some pass at exercising and still have time to get home, get cleaned up, paint my face, and get dressed. Since I didn’t get home from yesterday’s junket until almost 10 a.m., I need to go someplace closer, easier to park, and faster to walk.

Enough is enough…and I’ve barely begun!


March 20, 2018
by funny

How to Read a Research Paper: It’s Easier Than You’d Think

So in response to Catseye’s question about going straight to the Academic Horse’s Mouth when researching one’s ailments and one’s doctors’ schemes — “can the average Joe understand what they’re reading? It sounds intimidating, to say the least” — I said I’d write a post on how to read a piece of medical (or any other scientific) research.

The answer to that question is YES! Most people can understand enough of a research paper to pick up on the important points. And it only sounds intimidating. It is surprisingly, weirdly easy to understand most published technical research papers.


To understand what the researchers are trying to do and what they’ve found out (if anything), you really only need to read about a third of their paper — and that is the most accessible third. What you should know is that scientific papers follow a standard format. They’re always divided into these sections:

  • Abstract: A brief summary of the project & findings — very brief.
  • Introduction: Description of the background, purposes, and design of the project. Usually contains a Statement of the Problem: an explicit, carefully worded explanation of the issue, in short. Sometimes this section will also contain what is called a “review of the literature,” in which the authors reprise the high points of previous work.
  • Methods: Explanation of their approach to the study and the tools or strategies they used in going about the research.
  • Results: Description of what happened when they applied the Methods to the research problem. This section may contain graphs and tables that summarize the study’s findings.
  • Discussion: Addresses the results and their implications in light of what is already known. This section may also contain any caveats about what remains to be found, drawbacks to the research, and what further research needs to be done.
  • Conclusion: Sometimes suggestions for further research appear in a separate section, usually called “Conclusion.” The conclusion is often presented together with the Discussion section.
  • References/Bibliography: A list of the published sources used in the paper. This is useful to you because if it contains a lot of flakey sources, you’ll know the paper itself is probably flakey. If it contains substantial sources from established researchers and credible institutions, you can base your assessment of the authors’ credibility partially on their sources.

Before you even begin to read the paper, first determine the value and credibility of the journal or book publisher that has issued the thing. Ideally, you would like a paper to have appeared in what is called a tier-1 journal — i.e., at the top of the profession. But that is not always possible — some excellent work appears in lesser publications. Look at the title of the journal. If it is well known or obviously the emanation of a highly ranked university or research organization, then you can feel some confidence in it. Examples: New England Journal of Medicine. Journal of the American Medical Association. The Lancet. The British Medical Journal. The Centers for Disease Control. Johns Hopkins University. Stanford University Medical Center.

And so on.

Here is a list of journal rankings in medicine. Bookmark this page and check your sources against it.

Be aware that the woods are full of fake academic journals. These are called predatory journals: phony or extremely low-ranking journals that charge academic researchers for the privilege of publishing third-rate (or less) work in their shoddy pages. They exist because young scholars must publish to obtain promotions in academia; often they must already have published even to get a job. Usually these frauds have convincing, official-sounding titles. Here is a more or less up to date list, based on the late, great Beall’s List.

A legitimate journal is peer-reviewed. This means everything it publishes is read, critiqued, and assessed by experts in the subjects the journal addresses. To be published in such a journal, an article must pass peer-review. In other words, it must have at least some semblance of quality, credibility, and accuracy.

Beall’s list used to keep tabs on predatory journals. One day it was yanked off the air. Gossip has it that the proprietor was threatened with a lawsuit by a combine of the crooked journals he listed. So, this valuable resource no longer exists in its full glory. For a hint at the ridiculous scamminess of fake journals, take a look at this highly entertaining article on their practices in hiring “editors.”

Sometimes if you look up a journal title in Wikipedia, the article will mention, in a mealy-mouthed way, if the publisher has ever been accused of predatory practices. But that is not 100%. Try to stick to the old standards, which you can find in the list in paragraph 5.

Okay. So once you’ve found an article in a journal you think is credible, here’s what you’re going to read, in this order:

  1. Abstract
  2. Results
  3. Discussion/Conclusion
  4. Tables/graphs (if any)

That’s pretty much it. If you feel inclined to plow through other sections, you can. But the information you really need appears in the sections above. Often the results are summarized well enough that there’s no reason to pore over the data in the tables and graphs.

Where can you go to find these publications?

A Google search will bring up some of them, if you enter the right key terms.

Google Scholar will bring up a greater percentage of true scientific papers. Google Scholar, however, tends to be out of date.

A college or university library has databases that contain subscriptions to journals, and so the contents are wider, deeper, and timely. Some major metropolitan libraries also provide access to these resources. You don’t have to be a student or employee of an academic institution to get access to its library’s databases. Most college and public university libraries will provide a library card — for a fee — to members of the public.

What about all those plain-English websites, the ones that often come up at the top of a Google search?

Well, for basic needs, they can suffice. The best of them are published by hospitals and medical centers. But…caveat emptor…

  • Sometimes they’re very much dumbed down.
  • Sometimes they support an agenda.
  • Sometimes they’re published by associations and nonprofits supported by Big Pharma or other self-interested parties.
  • Usually they present the received wisdom — they echo what your doctor will tell you, which may or may not be at the cutting edge.
  • Sometimes they’re…well…bullshit.

Always take “alternative medicine” websites with a very large grain of salt. If you’re gonna go in for alternative medicine, there’s really no point in wasting your time trying to understand hard science — you’re taking a leap of faith, and you might as well accept that for what it is. Faith, not science.

That’s OK, if it suits your temperament. My mother’s family were Christian Scientists. Two of them lived into their mid-90s and never saw a doctor in their lives. If that works for you, then it works for you. But…don’t imagine “alternative medicine” is based on scientific research. It is not.

Watch out for any site peddling the advice and opinions of “Dr. [Firstname].” Anyone who addresses you in this way, pretends to be a celebrity, or presents information in talk-show, folksy, People-Magazine style format is a showperson, not a scientist. Advice appearing at these sites is usually cursory, dumbed-down, and incomplete.

There ya go: that’s about all you need to know.

March 19, 2018
by funny

Gaming the Mountain: YAHOO!

In pursuit of a fine score on next week’s proposed stress test, it was off at the crack of dawn to climb Shaw Butte, a small “mountain” just to the north of the ‘hood. In most parts of the country, people would call these little mounds “hills.” But here, we think of them as key parts of the Phoenix Mountain Park.


Well, the trail is billed as 4.4 miles, but I’m pretty sure that means the entire loop, from one end off Thunderbird Road, over the top of Shaw Butte and down the back of neighboring North Mountain; then out at Peoria Avenue or else back around the base of the hills to return to Thunderbird. The typical walk, though, is from the parking lot to the top and back. I’d guess this is about two miles.

Parts of the trail are somewhat steep — not as much so as the scrabbly uphill in behind North Mountain, but enough to provide a workout. Some guy’s dog had collapsed with exhaustion as I passed by — probably because the human had been too stupid to bring enough water for the animal. Most people don’t realize how much water domestic dogs need in this climate, or how vulnerable they are to heat exhaustion.

No heat today, though: at dawn it was fairly crisp up there.

Okay, now: here’s the amazing thing.

Bear in mind, it’s been years since I’ve walked on that trail.

I got all the way to the freaking top without stopping!!!!!!!

The last time I tried to hike to the top of Shaw Butte when I was out of shape, I had to stop three times to gasp for air.

How, you ask, did an old bat like me pull that off?

By gaming the mountain…

Actually, I used two techniques.

1) Diaphragmatic, deep breathing. You learn it in choir. And this is the device used to make blood pressure readings drop, too. Starting on the flat right off the parking lot, I started breathing steadily and deeply from the diaphragm. Continued all the way up the side of the hill.

2) On the steepest parts: the rest-step. Actually, I call this the rest-trudge… It’s something I learned while hiking in the bottom of the Grand Canyon with an Arizona Highways photographer, who was toting 50 pounds of large-format camera equipment. The rest-trudge entails stepping up-hill and then locking your knee and putting all your weight on that leg as you swing your other leg forward and upward. It creates a brief rest for each leg as you move up the hill, allowing you to go practically forever without feeling tired.

In the past, the rest-step alone was not enough to get me all the way to the top of that pile of rocks without having to stop, unless I was in pretty good shape. But combining it with the deep breathing, at no point did I feel I needed to stop. Nor at any point was I ever panting.

And when you consider how magnificently out of shape I happen to be just now, that’s pretty amazing.

It took about an hour and a half to get up there and back down. I wasn’t trying to beat any speed records…on the flat, it would take me about 25 minutes to walk two miles. Dog-free, that is.

Heh heh heh…. If it works on a mountain, it surely will work on a treadmill. You may be sure I’ll be using the deep breathing technique during that supposed stress test.


Shaw Butte with paraglider: By Sonoradocent – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,
Banner image: North Mountain as seen from Shaw Butte trail: By Aznaturalist (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

March 18, 2018
by funny

How to Get Fit in Phoenix

North Mountain in the springtime

So since I’ve been moping around thinking I was on the verge of a stroke ( 😉 ) — or more to the point, zombified by the meds the two cardiodocs prescribed — I’ve gone totally out of shape. This last drug they put me on knocked me so far into the middle of next week I could barely stir myself to crawl out to the kitchen and snare a meal out of the fridge.

Of course, I’m now a mound of Jell-O. The Mayo PA wants me to do a stress test a week from tomorrow.

{chortle!} Just imagine what the result of that is likely to be!

So I decided I’d better do a crash course in getting back in shape. The scheduling left me with exactly 8 days to restore my former glory.

Counted Friday’s traipsing around the Mayo Clinic’s spacious campus and running up and down the car park’s stairwells as Day 1, mostly because by the time I got home I was too tired and too psychologically dazed to do much else. Yesterday: one mile dog-free walk with stretches of running.

Now, though, it’s time to get back on the mountain. North Mountain’s back side is about a two-mile drive from the Funny Farm. If you go up the south side, you connect with the Shaw Butte trail, which runs about 4.4 miles. It’s convenient, relatively fast, and moderately challenging.

This stub of the North Mountain trail is pretty steep, so if you go up that, connect with the main trail, and then go all the way to the top of Shaw Butte, you get a very nice uphill walk. The problem is the steep access via this little trail is rocky and difficult to get down: it’s strewn with roller-bearing rock. For reasons that escape me, the City and the County maintain their trails by dumping loose scree all over them — apparently this is thought to reduce erosion. The stuff will slide right out from under your boots, especially when you’re traveling downhill.

Three times this afternoon I almost fell coming down from the junction with the Shaw Butte trail. So that was annoying. It looks like I’ll have to drive all the way into Moon Valley and access the trail from the north side — which is a huge PITA, because the parking lot is a) in a residential neighborhood; b) highly unwelcome amongst the people who live there; and c) way too small to accommodate the number of hikers who want to use the trail. I do have a crip space hanger, but it’s illegal to use it unless you’re visibly crippled up…and…heh…if you bounce out of your car and charge up a mountain trail, you make yourself pretty suspect.

At any rate, the plan for the next seven days is to take off at the crack of dawn, shoot into Moon Valley, steal the crip space, and fly onto the 4.4-mile paved pathway up the north side of Shaw Butte.

By the time the stress test comes around, I should be in halfway decent shape to trudge on a treadmill for 15 0r 20 minutes. In years past when I’ve let myself get completely out of shape, it has taken about four days (i.e, four consecutive trips up the mountain) to be able to get all the way to the top without stopping. Since I’m older now, I expect it’ll take a little longer…but seven days should be plenty of time to begin to revive some.

Naturally, this throws a monkey wrench in the other self-improvement plan I’d dreamed up. Since I’m not making much progress on the Ella story — because I put off doing that kind of writing until all the day’s other activities are done, by which time not a helluva lot is left of the day — I was going to opt the early-morning wake-me-up news reading and blog scribbling and sit down, first thing out of the barrel, to write the story. But…well…that ain’t a-gunna happen. Doubtful that I’ll get any writing of any kind done on this schedule.

Oh well.

March 18, 2018
by funny

5 Reasons you may not Have Enough Life Insurance Coverage

Hopefully, you have life insurance. Having a proper policy in place is an excellent way to protect your loved ones against the unknown. Life has a way of throwing some crazy things at you.

Unless you can predict the future (and if you do, let us know), then you should have a life insurance to protect your family’s finances.

If you already have a plan, you need to take a long look at your insurance coverage. Sadly, you may realize you don’t have nearly enough insurance. Let’s look at some of the reasons why you might not have enough insurance.

Even if you don’t like math or thinking about your passing (and who wants to?), don’t worry, it’s not going to be complex math. Looking at these categories is one of the most important things you can do.


Having children is one of the most common reasons people get life insurance coverage. When a couple has their first child, they tend to purchase a term life insurance policy, but they don’t let their policy grow as their family does. If you bought your life insurance many years ago, you might have had more children since you purchased it.

The more children you have, the more life insurance coverage you need. If you’ve had more children, look at your life insurance to ensure they will have the coverage they need.

Job Promotion

One goal of your policy is to replace your paycheck if you were to die. If you have people who need your paycheck, like a spouse or a child, then make sure they have the money they need to replace the income.

If it’s been several years, you may have gotten several pay increases or job promotions. The more money you make, the larger your life insurance you should buy to replace your stream of money.

Your plan should be big enough to replace your paycheck for at least 5 years. Preferably, it will be able to give your family seven to ten times your annual income.

New House

Your mortgage is your biggest expense. If you have a mortgage loan, it’s probably the biggest bill you have and will ever have.

You don’t want to think about passing away, but if you did, your spouse is still going to have to pay for your mortgage bill. They would only have one income, but if they have your life insurance money, they can pay off your mortgage bill.

You might have owned a smaller home when you originally purchased your life insurance plan. If you’ve moved into a larger home, you have a larger mortgage. Make sure your plan is still big enough to cover those expenses.