Random Thoughts – Randocity!

Reopening: The best laid plans

Posted in analysis, economy, history, virus by commorancy on April 29, 2020

motivational quote

As the United States sees the COVID-19 infection rate reach 1 million (a milestone as some are calling it), that’s not a milestone to cheer. In fact, it’s a milestone to jeer. Why? Let’s examine how our leaders have entirely failed us.

Donald Trump

Let’s start with our President. While the President has taken the pulpit regularly to spout all sorts of seeming nonsense unrelated to the virus and which has incited some people to take rash and sometimes suicidal actions, our leaders are lost amid this pandemic. Our political leaders have never been trained to handle such the medical reality our society now faces.

It’s clear our current country leadership is still and was, when the virus arrived, not in any way prepared to handle this medical crisis. Even though those in the medical community and many outside of it have long predicted another pandemic, our political leadership team took no action to prepare, stock up, or in any way plan for such an eventuality. Instead, the US government was so busy trying to kowtow to the constant rhetoric from large businesses and make sure they were happy (so they could get large political contributions), they were blinded by these now unnecessary, never ending and futile actions.

In fact, the largest businesses of the world, including Wall Street, effectively drove us to the present dire and unprecedented medical situation that we all must now face. By diverting government attention and money away from a brewing medical crisis, they were constantly being distracted by unnecessary business demands.

DPA

Sure, the economy is important, but not at the expense of what is now taking place. The President is negligent in his handling of this crisis, make no mistake. He took no immediate action on January 1, after COVID became known to the world. He failed to invoke the Defense Production Act (DPA) timely, which could have diverted necessary industry resources towards producing more PPE for hospital workers and other critical industries (including supply lines). Instead, he did nothing. It took weeks before he actually invoked it in a limited fashion, but only after the PPE shortage was already at the breaking point. Even then, our hospitals are still critically short on supplies.

This means that the general public now has no access to these supplies to protect themselves because literally all of it is now being diverted to hospitals. Even with those diverted supplies, the hospitals are still short on supplies. Many are requiring their workers to reuse masks for days that were designed to be used for an hour or two. It’s no wonder why some of these critical care workers are dying from COVID.

Economic Disaster Looming

While attempting to avert other economic disasters (or at least perceived disasters) prior to the outbreak, this left a huge hole in our preparedness for such a pandemic, like COVID. Yet, we now see exactly how much of an economic disaster that being at this level of unprepared means to the United States.

The President may claim to be “doing good things”, but the reality is, he and other past administrations did nothing to prepare for this eventuality, nor have they been effective at the leadership needed to drive this virus from US soil. Instead, they chose to ignore the warnings and focus on other unrelated tasks that vied for their immediate attention. Tasks that, while extremely diversionary, shouldn’t necessarily be minimized. They were, of course, important at the time. However, they shouldn’t have ignored the warnings. We’d already had two previous tastes of what was to come with COVID including the H1N1 (2009 Pandemic) and SARS (2003 Pandemic). These two weren’t that long ago.

Those warning shots should have been the necessary wake up call to get the government to mobilize a pandemic plan. Between 2009 and the present, the government could have been granting hospitals the necessary money they’ve needed to stock up on supplies. They could have had the hospital industry stocked and ready with medical supplies should the need arise.

In fact, the government could have been building ready-made hospital structures out of FEMA buildings, ready and waiting for the time when such a pandemic might occur. I realize that at the time of non-crisis it can be difficult to justify such preparedness dollars. However, it is crystal clear that the United States leadership failed us on this one.

What that means is that where we are today, the United States is in an amazingly fragile position economically. We simply don’t know where our economy may head in the next 6-12 months. There’s no way to even know if the upcoming Presidential election is even possible due to the outbreak. A second larger and deadlier wave is still looming and will likely hit sometime around September or October, just prior to the election. It may hit even before then based on reopening plans of many cities and states.

1% Infection Rate of the US Population

Let’s dive right into this topic as there’s no way to sugarcoat this. To date, the United States has confirmed less than 1% of the population infected. This means that approximately 99% of the population is still susceptible to COVID. Considering that we’ve had 60,000+ deaths and counting for just over 1 million people infected, it’s not hard to extrapolate these numbers.

There are around 330 million people living in the United States. If 50% of those 330 million people become infected, that’s 165 million people infected. Extrapolating up the death rate, let’s do the math. 60,000 people dead for 1 million infected is a 6% mortality rate. Of course, some could argue that the 1 million could be under reported. That the infection rate is much higher. This could be true. However, we have no way to confirm the number that have been infected. Let’s assume that this 6% number is, in fact, accurate.

That 6% is much higher than the reported 1.25% death rate from this virus. Partly, this may be due to the overcrowding situation in New York City where the vast majority of these deaths have occurred. New York City isn’t, unfortunately, an anomaly. It is a reality. It is a reality that will be seen played out all over the nation should the nation reach a 50% infection rate at the same moment in time.

When hospital overcrowding becomes a major issue (and it will), hospitals will be forced to turn away patients. Hospitals will have no choice. This is where that 1.25% number goes up, perhaps even over the 6% that we’re currently seeing. For the sake of argument, I’ll present death numbers for both 6% and 1.25%. Keep in mind that 1.25% is a number that can only be achieved WITH the help of hospital care. Without hospital care, that number will soar much higher… just as it has with the present situation.

At 165 million people infected (50% of the US population) and at 1.25% mortality rate, that’s 2,062,500 people (2 million) dead. At a 6% death rate (more likely what we’ll observe if we reach 165 million people infected at once), that 6% number means 9.9 million people dead. Those 9.9 million dead bodies have to go somewhere, perhaps lining the streets in body bags in some locales. Even 2 million bodies have to go somewhere. There might not even be enough body bags to handle 2 million, let alone 9.9 million people dead. Crematoriums will be working overtime just to keep up with this dead body count.

This whole situation will turn into a literal nightmare scenario for leaders and citizens alike. Where people are chanting to open cities back up today, this scenario is what’s driving leaders to consider reopening way too early. In fact you can’t reopen anything while the virus is still being spread. You simply can’t do it. We already know this virus spreads exponentially over time. It takes ONE person to spread the virus to others who will then spread theirs infection to others. Reopening the economy will lead us down the road to a much, much higher infection rate than the 1% of the population we have today.

As a result, the somewhat overcrowded situation at hospitals will turn into a situation of hospitals turning away patients. There will be no place for the sick to go. They’ll have to head home and take their chances at home. Without access to immediate medical care, many will die. This raises the mortality rate tremendously and it will go way beyond the 1.25% mortality rate.

Low Numbers and Infection

I see a lot of ignorant people downplaying the present COVID situation. I see a lot of people claiming that it’s not that serious, the numbers are low or there’s nothing to fear or spouting other such nonsensical rhetoric. They’re making these statements without claim to how they arrived at that thought rationale (other than the numbers appear to be low). Make no mistake, the low numbers we are seeing for infection have nothing to do with the virus’s severity level or its ability to kill. The low numbers have everything to do with the present distancing and staying-at-home orders. Lifting that and the virus will take hold in much, much larger numbers.

Should the world re-open as it was, the death rate will soar way beyond the 1 million infected so far. We will see a second wave of death and infection rates that far exceed anything the world has seen to date. Yes, it’s coming.

Ignorant People

There are many people who feel that the government is lying and this is all a ruse by the government to erode human and constitutional rights. That’s actually the irrational view. If you value your own life so little as to not understand the ramifications of this virus, then perhaps you need become infected and take your chances. While my view might be considered a rather callous view, some people need to learn life’s (or death’s) lesson’s the hard way. It’s Social Darwinism.

If you choose to venture out by defying stay-at-home orders, become infected and then become a death statistic, that’s your choice. You made that choice. I won’t feel any sympathy for anyone making such stupid choices. That was your choice to make, as stupid as it may have been. You made that decision and you died.

As with Darwinian ideals, the point is to rid the world’s population of people who are simply unwilling to grasp certain realities. If you are unwilling or unable to grasp life and death concepts, then perhaps the world’s gene pool is a better place without you in it. If you want to venture out and become infected, the door’s right over there.

This is why I show no sympathy towards any anti stay-at-home protesters. If you’re out and about attempting to get infected, you may also be the ones spreading the infection. For these folks, I’ll let the virus run its course on them. If they succumb at home, then so be it. If they survive, and some will, then so be it. At least some of these folks with dumb ideas won’t survive. But, that’s on them and there’s no sympathy here. I’ll just point to the Darwin Awards, of which there will be many issued this year. From the Darwin Awards web site:

Darwin Award winners eliminate themselves in an extraordinarily idiotic manner, thereby improving our species’ chances of long-term survival.

While the Darwin Awards may not recognize those COVID-19 anti stay-at-home protesters as “extraordinarily idiotic”, I personally think this situation qualifies. Of course, if the Darwin Awards were to qualify every COVIDiot, they’d be updating that web site for years to come. I can understand why this site might want to disqualify all COVIDiots of the world to avoid this problem… allowing them focus on those deaths that don’t apply to COVID-19.

Personally, I think the Darwin Awards needs to create a special site devoted to the COVIDiots who off themselves by contracting the virus and die by thinking it doesn’t exist or that it is some conspiratorial government rights erosion scheme.

Likewise, for parents who want to send their kids out to the playground and who then contract COVID-19 from another child on the playground, I have no sympathy. You sent your child out there, that was your choice. If your family perishes, that was also your choice.

Population Control

While COVID-19 is a virus and it does have a fairly grim death statistic, perhaps it is also intended to be an equalizer of sorts. It could be used as a way to “thin the herd”, so to speak. It doesn’t matter the age, race, color or gender, this virus is non-judgemental. It will infect a 1 year old as easily as any other age. Whether it ends up killing is entirely based on that person’s immune system and health. People with asthma or other lung diseases or conditions may be at higher risk.

The point is, COVID-19 is now quickly becoming a population equalizer. That means that while it started out as a viral problem, it is quickly beginning to thin the herd. For those COVIDiots who choose to run around claiming that it’s fake or that “God will protect them”, you’re living in a fantasy world. Nothing will protect you from COVID-19 except staying away from other people. Latching onto a fantasy that “God” or any other outside influence will protect you is delusional. The virus will just as easily invade your system as it will anyone else’s. Whether it will kill you, you’ll have to take your chances. You may survive, you may not. Once you’re infected, it’s yours until you win or lose.

If COVID-19 thins the herd, then so be it. That’s how the chips fall and that’s how they will remain. If the United States loses 10% of its population to COVID-19, then that’s where it ends up. I won’t say that a loss of 10% of the population won’t be devastating to the economy, but it will recover in time. Eventually, enough babies being born will make up for this loss. The population will again grow after COVID-19 is over and done. Until then, COVID-19 will become the most modern version of a great equalizer, just as the 1918 Pandemic was.

Doomed to Repeat

If the 1918 H1N1 Pandemic taught us anything, it was that you can’t let your guard down even for a moment. When everyone thought that the 1918 pandemic was subsiding by late summer, restrictions were relaxed. That’s when the second even more deadly wave hit the country. The reason for this second wave was attributed to soldiers bringing it home and spreading an even deadlier version around.

Today, we have a very high possibility of this situation repeating itself. It won’t repeat because of soldiers, however. History will repeat due to worldwide travel, loosened social restrictions, people thinking it’s over and because businesses are itching to open back up.

Once movie theaters, concert venues, sporting events and any other large crowd gatherings are allowed to exist, this is where the second wave will begin. Worse, if we end up with a different mutated strain ending up on US soil, one that hasn’t yet been passed around, it could reinfect survivors of the earlier strain. It might even kill those survivors due to the body’s already weakened state from the last infection. In other words, a second wave is almost inevitable.

As some states are poised to reopen due to “dropping numbers of infection”, this false sense of security will be their undoing. By states and leaders opening it all up, people WILL venture out thinking that the situation is over. It’s no where near over. 1% of the US infected? No, we’ve barely just scratched the surface. There’s still 99% of the population left to infect… and infect many of these people the virus will. As restrictions relax, people will start doing the things they have been desperately craving while stuck inside. They’ll be doing all of these things with even more careless abandon than usual, only to find that 14 days later they, their friends and their families are now infected. Yet, there won’t be hospital space for the throngs more who are now infected.

This is where and how the much more serious second wave begins.

Election Day

Depending on when this second wave begins, election day may or may not be possible. If enough people become infected before election day, the sick won’t be able to head to the polls. Those uninfected will also be scared to turn out. How will the government entice people out of their homes when, within 1 to 2 months, 100,000 or more people are dead? Yeah, that’s a major challenge.

The government needs to begin planning for an alternative election polling system now. If they don’t begin this process today, come November 3rd, few may actually turn out to vote. If fewer than 10% of the population show up to vote, is that fair representation of the populous?

Let’s consider if some of the current candidates end up succumbing to COVID-19 in this second wave and, for obvious reasons, are no longer on the ballot. How does that work? Yeah, some contingency planning is in order here. Perhaps they can plan for voting from your car (using NFC) or some other similar hands-off voting system with a phone app. For the candidate infections, that’s a whole different bag.

Phone apps have proven their safety, effectiveness and security if properly built. A vote-in-car system could be used by holding your phone up to the window to be read by an external NFC device. It could even be done by connecting to a local WiFi service at the voting center which automatically forces a login page which is used to both verify identity, then collect votes right from the car. No need to leave the car. There are plenty of hands-off approaches that don’t require leaving the confines of your vehicle to vote, yet still allow you to vote in person. These are contingencies that the government needs to consider now. If they aren’t considering such countermeasures, come November 3rd, we could see a huge problem with voter turnout.

The Second Wave IS Coming

A second even larger wave is looming on the horizon. It’s only a matter of time. Once state leaders realize they can’t keep their states closed forever, they will begin to open without realizing that that action is a ticking time bomb. The second wave will be born from each governor’s loosening of restrictions. It will be these very actions around the US that leads to a second larger and potentially even more deadly wave.

When the second wave arrives, this will spur an even bigger panic, not only in the economy, but by people across the globe.

Is there a better way? Personally, I don’t see it. I think we have to let the leaders have their folly. It’s the only way for them to wake up to the realities of this tragic situation. There’s really no way around it. I’m not intending to be a “Debbie Downer” more than a realist. Sometimes you have to look at a scenario and understand that people will do what they do, regardless of how smart that choice is. The pressures from business (and the looming economic failure) is tremendous. It’s exactly what’s driving the leaders to reopen. It is also this exact driving force that will lead us to a second wave of COVID-19. It’s an inevitable outcome.

We’ve tied our society so heavily to the economy that one can’t survive without the other. When you have a virus invading this space, it’s a damned-if-you-do-damned-if-you-don’t scenario. There is no correct choice here. Stay closed, the economy crashes. Open up, the economy crashes because of the second wave.

The economy will crash either way. There’s no way around it. Leaders think that opening up is the road that leads us to recovery. For a short amount of time it will appear that way while we are lulled into a false sense of security. That is until the virus latches onto yet even more people and drags them down into death’s spiral. Then, the whole situation starts ALL over, but this time it will infect unchecked because it’ll be too late.

Being a realist, a lot of people see us as “wet blankets”. We always bring up the one thing that people never want to hear. Everyone wants to see the rosy side of all situations. The problem is, the rosy side almost never exists. It’s a fantasy in someone’s mind. The realist sees the situation as it is (and can predict how it will play out). It’s like truth. People don’t always want to hear the truth. It’s too brutal and too realistic. People want to be told lies so they can feel better about themselves.

In the case of that dress or those shoes, these are harmless lies that don’t hurt people. Lying that the virus is subsiding will only serve to get people dead. Being a realist has its place and can help prevent the deaths of so many. Yet, our leaders are so gung-ho to get the economy restarted, they’re willing to sacrifice many people to that end. Yes, there are still more sacrifices yet to come.

The difficulty is that, as realism dictates, the downside of opening up into a second wave is an even bigger economic disaster. There’s no way to prepare for or prevent this event. We just have to wait it out. The economy will recover, eventually. Just not today. Not tomorrow. In fact, the economy won’t recover until COVID-19 is either eradicated or there’s a vaccine to protect the entire world’s population. After COVID is gone, the economy can begin to recover and those who survive can bring back the world into a new prosperous era. Perhaps we can even learn a thing or two about the value in pandemic preparedness. Considering that we really learned nothing from 1918’s pandemic, then again perhaps not.

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Is loosening Social Distancing a good thing?

Posted in economy, Health, history by commorancy on April 26, 2020

an empty street under cloudy sky

I know a lot of people are going stir-crazy being stuck in without much to do. Movie theaters are closed. Beaches are closed. Concerts are canceled. Work is performed at home. Kids are home schooled. All of the normal social things we do every day, like shopping and restaurants are not really available (other than grocery shopping, of course). Let’s explore what it means to loosen social distancing.

Viruses

Like the Flu or Colds, a virus is a virus. No, we don’t yet have inoculation for even the common cold or the flu. For the flu, we have the once a year flu shot. This shot is formulated to contain a very specific set of inactive flu strains that “someone” deems as the “most likely” to hit the population. When you get a flu shot, the body acts on these inactive flu strains like they would live flu, which teaches the body how to fight off each specific strain.

Unfortunately, the flu mutates regularly and often. This means that it’s easy for the flu shot formulation to miss one or two or many strains that might hit during a given flu season. This is why taking a flu shot can be hit-or-miss. It means that even if you do take a flu shot, you can still get the flu. Why is that?

It’s because flu strains are not all alike. The body can only recognize specific flu strains to combat. If a new flu strain comes along, the body won’t recognize it as something it has fought before. This allows that flu strain to get a foothold and make the body sick before the immune system response learns and kicks in against this invader.

Enter COVID-19 / SARS-CoV-2

Two names for the same virus. SARS-CoV-2 is actually the virus strain name. The difficulty with SARS-CoV-2 is mutation. Like the flu, a mutation could be ignored by the immune system as a past infection. Meaning, if you have had SARS-CoV-2 and SARS-CoV-3 comes along, the antibodies created for SARS-CoV-2 may not be recognized or used against this new virus. This means you could get COVID again. If you’ve recovered the last time, this time it might result in death. Even the strain on the lungs from a previous infection might damage the lungs enough to cause a new infection to kill. This virus is difficult to handle and even more difficult to know exactly how it might mutate.

Yes, it could mutate into an even more virulent and deadly strain. This is why a vaccine against SARS-CoV-2 might be an impossible task. What I mean is that it may be next to impossible to create a vaccine that covers not only SARS-CoV-2, but every possible strain that could follow. If the medical community hasn’t been able to create a flu vaccine that functions against ALL flu virus strains, how are they going to create a COVID vaccine that covers all current and future COVID virus strains?

The answer to this question is uncertain. What does this have to do with relaxing social distancing requirements? Everything.

Herd Immunity

Considering the above regarding the flu, there is no such thing as herd immunity against the flu or even the seasonal cold virus. We regularly get these viruses even after having had previous flu or colds in the past. It’s inevitable and we understand how this works. Some of us are more lucky than others and rarely get these. Some people get colds and flu frequently, like every single virus that rolls around. Logically, we must apply this same behavior to COVID.

Opening the World

Eventually, the world must reopen. That’s a given. The question is, when is the best time to do that? Given the realities of how viruses operate, there’s no “best” time to do it. This virus is here to stay. It will continue to infect the world. At least SARS-CoV-2 will. Unfortunately, herd immunity isn’t likely to work with this virus. It might for a short time, but we all know that any immunity we may have for past colds and flu last, at most, one season. When the next season rolls around again just a few months later, we’re again susceptible, perhaps even to a strain we’ve previously had. We’re never tested for the exact strains of colds and viruses that we get to know for sure if we’re being reinfected by the same strain.

With COVID following the same patterns as the cold and flu viruses, it’s inevitable that the world must reopen. Yes, perhaps to a new more cautious reality. Perhaps we can’t ever go back to the throngs of people crowding together into a mosh pit, club or similar body-to-body crowds. Even large sporting events which formerly drew large crowds, like football and the Olympics, may find it hard to operate in this new reality.

One thing to realize is that simply because the world reopens doesn’t mean people will venture out in it. Just because parks or beaches or concert halls or Broadway have reopened, doesn’t mean the crowds will come.

COVID is still dangerous

Simply because the world has reopened doesn’t mean that COVID has magically disappeared. It is still very much being passed from person to person. Worse, not even 1% of the US population has been infected as of the numbers being released today in late April. The population would have to see at least 3.3 million infected before we’ve even reached 1% of the population. Consider that we must see at least 80-90% of the rest of the population infected before this virus may ever be considered “over”.

Second Larger Wave is Coming

Considering these above grim statistics, relaxing social distancing requirements WILL lead to a second even larger wave of infection. It’s inevitable. If at least 90% of the population is still uninfected, that means this virus has a lot more work to do before this situation can be called “over”…. let alone consider relaxing shelter-at-home requirements.

These states which are relaxing social distancing are doing so at their own peril and without any reason for doing so. They’re relaxing requirements because of social and economic pressure, not because it’s prudent or in the interest of public safety.

This is where things get grim… very, very grim. As I said, since 90% of the United States population has not been infected, relaxing shelter-at-home is only likely to “stir the pot” causing an even larger second wave.

Depending on how much gets relaxed, it could get much worse much, much faster this second time around. Why? Because any relaxing of requirements indicates to many people that the situation is over… that they’re now safe… that the virus has been contained… and such similar thought rationales. These are all false assumptions made based solely in irrational actions by local government leaders. Basically, these leaders are leading many to their deaths by these reckless actions.

Milestones

The only two ways we can ever be safe from COVID is to know that 99% of the world’s population has had this strain or that it has been eradicated 100% from the population. Unfortunately, the former assumes there are no other strains out there. The latter is almost impossible to achieve at this time. With any virus, we know there are other strains. In fact, with COVID, there were, at the time of the Wuhan outbreak, 2 strains. An earlier strain and a newer strain. It was this newer strain that jumped into humans and began its deadly trek around the world.

It will again be a new strain that jumps around the world. How many strains will there be? No one knows. Will those new strains be as deadly, more deadly or less deadly than the current strain? Again, we don’t know.

We also don’t know that someone who has survived one strain of COVID has any protection from any future strains… and this is the problem with relaxing any social distancing or, indeed, reopening the world.

How can we proceed?

This is the basic problem to solve. So, how exactly do we proceed? As much as it pains me to write this, we may have to open the world and let the chips fall where they may. Whomever dies, dies. Whomever doesn’t, doesn’t. The Herbert Spencer adage (usually attributed to Darwin) of “Survival of the Fittest” may have to win this situation in the end.

Whomever is left after COVID-19 does its dirty deed may be the only outcome available to the world. It’s not an outcome without major ramifications, however. If we can’t eradicate the virus from the world in another way, then letting it play out in the population as a whole is the only other way to handle it. There are two choices here:

  1. Find a reliable and quick testing methodology. Require everyone to be tested, then force isolate anyone who is found infected until either they die or they recover. Isolate any recovered persons for another 30 days to ensure they are no longer contagious. Rinse and repeat until no one else left in the world has it. Difficulty level: 10
  2. Allow the virus to run its course through the entire world’s population infecting everyone it can and let the chips fall where they may. This is the “Survival of the Fittest” approach. Whomever lives, lives. Whomever dies, dies. Difficulty level: 1

While scenario 2 is the easiest, it’s also the most costly to the world’s population, and indeed the economy. All told, if everyone in the world becomes infected and 1.25% is the average death rate holds steady (hint: it won’t), that means up to 96 million people dead across the globe or up to 4.13 million dead in the United States.

This assumes status quo and that the virus doesn’t mutate into a second deadly strain with an even higher death rate. If the virus mutates into a single deadlier strain, scenario 2 will lead to even more millions dead. If it mutates into multiple deadlier strains, then it could end up with a billion or more dead.

Yes, scenario 2 might be the least difficult, but it is the scenario that leads to an untold number of dead not only in the US, but around the globe.

Scenario 1, on the other hand, has a high difficulty factor. It will lead to not only a high economic toll, but it could change the world economy forever. Though, with scenario 1, we may be able to contain COVID-19. We may even put the genie back into the bottle (i.e., eradicate it from the population). Attempting this one could could save many, but at a huge economic cost.

Economic Impact

Either scenario affords major economic impact across the board. Billions of dead means much lower tax base for all countries. The US had been relying on 330 million people in tax revenue (the estimated population of the US). If 10 million die, that’s 320 million in a new tax base. Assuming any of those 10 million who died were high contributors to the tax base, that revenue has dried up. That’s a lot of money to lose and a lot of economic impact.

If under Scenario 2, multiple mutations sweep the world and kill 10x more than expected, that’s 100 million dead in the US. The new reality could see the United States at 230 million… the same population that the US saw in 1981. If the population gets to 200 million, that’s the number the US saw in 1968. The more who die, the worse the economic impact for the United States and the farther back in time we go. Millions dead means many empty houses, a huge mortgage crisis and the list of economic problem goes on and on.

Flattening the Curve

This concept is important for one specific reason. What does it mean, though? By attempting to slow the infection rate through stay-at-home measures, this keeps hospitals above water for patient load. Relaxing the stay-at-home orders means more people out and about and more people getting infected. More infections means more people sick at once.

This is the exact opposite of flattening the curve. Relaxing social distancing will have an inverse impact of flattening the curve for an already overtaxed hospital system. What that means is that those who become infected during a higher demand hospital period are more likely to die at home. Hospitals have limited numbers of beds, limited staff and limited means to treat very limited numbers of people in a given area.

In densely populated urban areas, hospitals will become overloaded quicker. This means densely populated urban areas like Los Angeles, San Francisco, Houston, New York City, New Orleans, Atlanta, St. Louis, Detroit and so on will see significantly higher death rates under scenario 2. The death rate will climb and never stop if stay-at-home orders are lifted AND people venture out in the expected droves that they always have.

Ultimately, scenario 2 will likely lead to a much higher death rate than the currently estimated 1.25% simply due to the saturation of patients with not enough hospitals to cover the load. This scenario playing out is inevitable with an early relaxing of distancing requirements by reopening of social areas, shops and businesses.

What can I do?

You can say, no. Basically, if the United States (and the world) adopts a “Survival of the Fittest” approach to handling this crisis, then your health is left up to you. If you want to believe that everything is safe and you can venture out into the world without a care, then that’s your choice. If you get COVID-19, expect that you may end up trapped at home in your own bed without any means or access to medical care. Hospitals will likely be over-saturated with patients. You’ll be left to fend off the virus yourself. If your body can survive, it will. If it can’t, you’ll die.

This also means you can end up bringing the virus home to your children, your parents, your friends and your partner. You could end up infecting them as well. They, like you, will take their chances with the virus… at home… and very likely not in hospital care.

“Survival of the Fittest”

This may end up being the approach that governments are forced to adopt in the end. The world economy can’t survive without a population to operate it. Unfortunate, this catch-22 situation of opening up the population also means a much higher death rate once the dust settles. It’s effectively a no-win scenario for any government leader. Scenario 1 is almost impossible to achieve without some severe military measures enacted (see China’s handling). Scenario 2 is the easiest to achieve as it takes little to enact. Scenario 1 likely leads to death from people starving and unable to live due to economic impact. Scenario 2 leads to death from an overburdened hospital system while the economy flounders along at a snail’s pace, along with exponential growth in infections.

Unfortunately, death is an entirely inevitable as an outcome under either scenario. Unless the government leaders step up and halt the concept of money and the transfer of money between businesses as a metric of success and instead ask businesses to operate their businesses without quid-pro-quo for an extended period of time, this no-win situation will see to the deaths of millions of people in time no matter which path is chosen. Money flow must halt while society heals and the virus is eradicated from the population. This is the only way scenario 1 works.

Money and its Continued Necessity

The root of this situation is money. In fact, it is the single thing that’s leading our entire situation. If our economy was founded on something other than money, we might have had a chance to survive this situation with a minimal death toll.

Unfortunately, money is driving the need to reopen the economy which is driving the “Survival of the Fittest” scenario. No one can predict how the world will look in 2 years. We simply can’t foresee the number of deaths that might result. The higher the number of deaths, the worse the economies will fare. It’s a vicious cycle being driven by the insatiable need for ever more money… a silly metric when world survival in at stake.

Instead, survival in this world should never have been about money. It should have been about the positive benefits that humans can offer to one another without the driving need for acquisition of a piece of paper.

We are put on this earth to learn, grow and understand our universe. That’s the driving need why we are here. Knowledge is the currency. It’s what keeps our society functioning. It’s the scientists, architects, mathematicians, engineers and thinkers who keep our society flowing, growing, moving and functioning. It’s not money. Money is a means to an end, but is not the end itself. The end goal is the acquisition of knowledge, not money.

That’s where society needs to rethink money’s place in this world. Does money help acquire knowledge? No. It helps acquire sustenance and material possessions. Do we need jets or fast cars or million dollar houses? No. That’s unnecessary luxury. What helps humanity is the acquisition of knowledge and using that knowledge to progress society and humanity further. In that goal, computers are important, but only from the need for access to and for acquiring knowledge.

Money, on the other hand, doesn’t have anything to do with the acquisition of knowledge. Sure, higher learning institutions take money and, in quid-pro-quo form, teach you something. Though, technically, you could learn that something on your own. You don’t need to pay an institution to learn. You can read the books for yourself.

Sounds like Communism

I’m not advocating communism here. I’m actually advocating something beyond communism. I’m advocating that we need to learn to rebuild a society based on the currency of knowledge and the acquisition of knowledge rather than of money. The more “wise” you are, the more you contribute to the world’s betterment, the more you are afforded and the more you are revered. That’s what the world needs to achieve. This is the ideal a prosperous world needs to grow well into the future. Those who do and learn and give back are afforded the riches of the world. Those who choose not to learn are afforded much less.

Money, at this point, is an antiquated measure of success that COVID has clearly shown is the world’s Achilles heel. Success should not be measured by how much you have in the bank, it should be measured how much you’ve contributed to the world in problem solving. Let’s use the brains we have been given to solve societal problems and better our world condition, instead of trying to acquire and throw silly printed pieces of paper at it.

How would a new society work?

This is where this article must diverge. Such a new society would need a fully realized manifest across all sectors describing how to accomplish such a transition away from money. That’s way beyond the scope of a few paragraphs. Perhaps I could write this manifest in a book entitled, “How to transition society away from money”. I might even write such a manifest. Unfortunately, that goes way beyond the scope of this article. I’ll leave that manifest for another day. Suffice it to say that it is possible for society to exist in a new state without money as its primary motivation. Let’s get back to the topic of relaxing social distancing.

The World’s Ills

Unfortunately, our leaders are very much constrained by the ills of our economy revolving around pieces of paper. As such, our leaders are now constrained to look for solutions based on this ill conceived narrow situation of our own making. None of these leaders are attempting to think outside of the box. They are firmly rigid in their thought processes regarding how to restart our economy “as it once was”.

Our economy as it formerly existed is over. It will take full eradication of this virus from every person in the world, coupled with about a decade for this situation to recover the world back to where we were just a few months ago. A decade. Yes, I said a decade… and that’s a conservative estimate. It could take several decades.

Consider that if we lose 10% of the United States population, we’ve taken our economy back to the point where we were 38 years ago, in 1981. 20% of the population lost and we’re back over 50 years ago, in 1968. 50% of the population lost and we’re back to an economy that ended 64 years ago, in 1955. Don’t think that losing even 10% of the population is enough to cause major widespread problems in the United States, let alone throughout the world.

Losing a vast number of people in a short period is enough to send ANY economy into a tailspin. Because this virus is not at all selective towards whom it targets, it will kill anyone indiscriminately in any age group and in any economic status from young to old to male to female to rich to poor. It may even kill animals. Granted, poor people may fare worse living in closer proximity to one another, but this virus doesn’t care about age groups, race, gender, economic status or, indeed, anything else. It only seeks a host to survive and that’s exactly what it is doing.

Reopening

At a less than 1% infection rate while planning to reopen the world, Wall Street, main street or any other street is a guarantee for a second even deadlier wave. It’s a fool’s errand and foolhardy. These reckless actions will trick many people into believing that they are safe, when in fact our leaders are setting themselves (and the population) up to be a death statistic.

This article serves as both a cautionary tale and as a solemn warning to world leaders. Opening up the world at this point is effectively looking down the barrel of a gun while playing Russian Roulette.

When the second COVID wave hits, and it will, it will leave hospitals with zero space while the death toll catastrophically soars well beyond that of the statistically averaged 1.25%. Perhaps this hard lesson is what the world leaders need as a wake up call? Unfortunately, this lesson learned will be on the backs of so many who died.

If you’re reading this article, don’t fall for this reopening trick. Stay at home and urge your workplace to remain closed. If you value your health and, indeed, your own survival and your family’s survival, stay at home even after reopening. We’re still only at the beginning of this… there is still a much, much longer and deadlier road ahead.

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How does Twitter Philanthropy work?

Posted in advice, philanthropy, scams by commorancy on April 23, 2020

blur cash close up dollars

How does all of this Twitter philanthropy actually work? Let’s explore the seedier side of it.

Twitter Philanthropy Exposed

I won’t name any specific accounts simply because there are too many of these accounts preying on people’s needs, but let me expose how these accounts REALLY work. There is one on top of this pile, but I will let you find it yourself. If you search Google for the key words “Twitter Philanthropy“, you will find this specific Twitter account within the first 10 search results. But, don’t go run over there just yet to follow it before reading this article.

Twitter Impersonation

Let’s start this out by explaining how these accounts operate. While some of these large Twitter philanthropy accounts purport to be operated by a single individual, they are not. Instead, they are operated by a team of individuals who have access to this single Twitter account so named for a single person. In fact, this situation is in violation of Twitter’s Terms of Service rules of impersonation.

Impersonation is a violation of the Twitter Rules. Twitter accounts that pose as another person, brand, or organization in a confusing or deceptive manner may be permanently suspended under Twitter’s impersonation policy.

By operating an account as a team, rather than by the single individual named on the account, this is definitely impersonation… regardless of whether the single individual has authorized that “team” for that purpose.

If you are interacting with a Twitter account who appears to be a single person, but unbeknownst to you there are actually multiple people who are not the named individual operating that account, this is entirely deceptive and misleading… and the very definition of impersonation. You are not dealing with the person you think you are. This is in violation of Twitter’s rules. Whether Twitter sees it that way is entirely subjective and based on Twitter’s whims, unfortunately.

Team Accounts

There are many team operated accounts on Twitter. Many celebrities operate such accounts. Since the celeb can’t be at the account 24/7 to answer responses, they hire staff to manage these tweets. Most times, these celebrities are represented fairly and appropriately by their hired staff, mostly because the staffers remain in close contact with the celebrity to make sure the tweets are appropriate to the celebrity’s brand.

With these philanthropy accounts, it seems these are much more loosely operated. The team is made up of people around Twitter who manage this account and have Twitter accounts of their own. They don’t always seem to have direct approval of the account owner. If you read through some of these philanthropic account tweets, they seem to show random and incoherent tweet-to-tweet messaging, espousing differing and hypocritical ideals. Why? Because different people are posting these tweets to that single account under the guise of impersonating a single person.

Philanthropy Exposed

While these accounts may have started out as genuine philanthropy, they have degraded into an odd scam that takes advantage of people’s needs… and mostly exist as ways of gaining followers. Worse, these accounts breed even more scam artists. Scam artists who WILL take advantage of you and scam you in the process. I’ll talk about the scammers at the end and how those work. Let’s focus on the actual purported philanthropy accounts first.

Why a team?

Good question and one that you’ll understand once I explain it. Basically, it that more people looking for money through contributions means more money to share under the guise of philanthropy. Looking for contributions isn’t the problem here. It’s the WAY this team goes about looking for contribution money. If this single aspect doesn’t leave a bad taste in your mouth, keep following along as it gets so much worse.

The team that makes up the single top Twitter philanthropy account uses Twitter (and sites like GoFundMe) to gain money first. Instead of actually giving out money from the purported account owner, the team actually solicits money contributions from random people using dubious methods including begging, groveling and outright scamming using sites like GoFundMe. These team members are then adding their ill-gotten money into that Twitter account’s philanthropy fund for giveaways.

Here’s where the deceptive part comes in. This team of people collect these monies using their own personal accounts, accounts not associated with that Twitter philanthropy account. This makes it difficult to trace where that philanthropy money actually came from. Deceptive and a form of money laundering. Dirty. When other people contribute their money to one of these outside accounts for some possibly even fake purported need, this is a huge problem for these larger philanthropist accounts. Any money given out by a philanthropist shouldn’t have been obtained by using a scam. Yet, here we are.

Yes, this means this team is not actually giving out the philanthropy account owner’s money, as is implied by the account owner’s statements. Instead, that team is raising funds using outside means, possibly using deceptive means (claiming to be raising money on behalf of a veteran or claiming to have a high electric bill). Then, they take that money that has been raised and give it out on Twitter. Do they give out 100% of that contributed money? Do they use the money towards the claimed need? My guess to both of these questions is no. These philanthropy accounts might be keeping as much as 50% or more of the money they collect and, in turn, only give out 50% or less of those ill-gotten contributed funds.

It’s one thing to solicit money for an intended purpose and use it for that purpose. It’s entirely another to solicit money for a purpose, not use it for that purpose and give it away to someone on Twitter. Full disclosure here? Yeah, no. Not to mention the tax ramifications of such a setup.

Giving Money Away

While giving away money might seem a good thing, this action actually preys on people in need. Worse, the way these accounts are being managed is dubious at best. Yes, it gets even worse. These accounts have so many followers that they can’t possibly manage what gets written into their Tweets. What you’ll find in most of the Tweet replies consist of people claiming to also give away money. I’d bet that at least 99.9% of these people dropping in Tweet replies are scammers looking to part you from your money. It might even be some of the team running that same philanthropy account looking for money for their next “giveaway”.

This is why this situation is a double whammy for those in need. Not only is there so little money given away from these top Twitter philanthropy accounts (they can only raise a couple hundred dollars at a time usually), the Tweet replies are chock full of scam artists willing to take advantage of you.

The act of giving away this money on Twitter might seem altruistic, but I guarantee you that it is not. There is no altruism going on here. It’s all about gaining followers on Twitter and making it SEEM like the account is altruistic. It’s just a show. The reality is, it’s a business that follows the following formula:

  • Team hides behind Philanthropy account (unbeknownst to Twitter followers)
  • Team is tasked to raise money (using whatever dubious means necessary) from random individuals, each team member raising money separately using their own individual accounts
  • Team places raised money into Twitter account fund for “giveaways”
  • Team likely keeps much of that money for themselves as “payment”
  • Twitter Philanthropy occasionally awards random folks for random reasons

What if I win?

If you are one of the very few who manage to get picked to receive money from a philanthropic Twitter account, don’t think it’s all roses. To receive any money, you are required to jump through legal hoops before that money is deposited into your account.

“What legal hoops?”, you ask. Good question. You are required to agree to a long, stringent set of terms and conditions before you are awarded any money. These conditions allow this Twitter philanthropy account to do whatever they want with your win while restricting you. What document would I sign? You will need to read and sign a Non-Disclosure Agreement (NDA) and return it to the team operating the philanthropic account before you can take possession of that $20 or whatever small amount they are willing to give you. This is the very definition of victimizing someone in need. Someone in desperate need of money would be willing to sign just about ANYTHING to get that “free” money.

Once you agree to their restrictive terms and conditions, they will send you that money via CashApp or whatever other agreed upon payment system. If you violate these terms, they will sue you.

This is not a no-strings-attached way to get money. In fact, it wouldn’t surprise me to find that some of these “charity acts” might actually be loans which must be repaid at some point in the future. In other words, be very, very careful if you choose to attempt to get money out of these philanthropic accounts. They may screw you on the way in and on the way out… and perhaps even later in the future.

Twitter’s Response

Unfortunately, Twitter (the company) doesn’t monitor or manage any of these philanthropy accounts. They allow them to operate with impunity. Because it seems that these philanthropic accounts “appear” (it’s all about appearances) to be doing good for the community, Twitter (the company run by Jack Dorsey) turns a blind eye and allows this bad situation to continue and fester. Few people actually get anything good out of these accounts. Even more are getting scammed from the tweet replies claiming to also give away money for following and retweeting. Don’t fall for any tweet replies. They’re almost certainly a scam.

Essentially, Twitter is turning a blind eye to these accounts which, in fact, do not perform a “good service” for Twitter. In fact, there are likely more people being scammed out of their money than ever receive money from any Twitter philanthropy. On Twitter, it’s not okay to write about certain controversial topics, but it’s perfectly acceptable to take advantage of people in need and scam them out of even more money? Thanks for looking out for us, Jack!

Scams and Philanthropy

bollinger wine bottle on boat

As I stated earlier about Tweet replies in the article, let’s now understand how you can get scammed through fake philanthropy on Twitter. There’s actually more fake philanthropy going on Twitter than there is genuine philanthropy.

In fact, it’s very easy to get scammed out of money on Twitter. This specific scam isn’t what the top philanthropy accounts are using, however. Instead, they use the model described above, which is nearly as seedy. With that, let’s look at how fake philanthropy accounts on Twitter attempt to part you from your money so they can sip champagne on a beach.

This next philanthropy scam is bait and switch and it’s the primary way they scam you. How this one works is that you’ll see someone Tweet replying they’re willing to give you money and all they need is your CashApp tag sent to them over a direct message (DM). You then give it to them. Seems harmless enough, right?

The Scam Begins

Over the DM area, they’ll start by asking you a lot of seemingly personal questions. If you pass all of these probing questions, they’ll explain to you that their CashApp app is broken and that they can’t use it. They’ll tell you they need to switch to using PayPal. Here’s where the scam actually begins. Any philanthropy person who switches the payment method sets up a HUGE RED 🚩. Don’t fall for this. If the person can’t use CashApp, which enticed you in, to send you the money, walk away. CashApp can be used by anyone and it can be set up quickly. Any excuse someone gives for not using CashApp is fake.

When they switch to using PayPal, they can then claim to need you to send them money to cover fees or other such nonsense to complete the PayPal cash transfer. In that goal, they’ll issue you an invoice to pay. This is the scam. First, PayPal doesn’t need money to complete a cash transfer. Anyone making this claim is scamming you. Second, you shouldn’t need to pay any money to get money. If they can legitimately pay you, they will pay you no strings attached. Third, remember that they roped you in by offering the use of CashApp, then inexplicably switched to PayPal (bait and switch).

Anyone who can legitimately pay you money can do so using CashApp. There is no need to switch to another service. You can read more about PayPal scams here, and there are plenty more just like this one.

Screenshots

To attempt to trick you further by making themselves seem legit, they will send over a screenshot showing that they paid someone else money. A screen shot is EASILY faked, let alone found on the Internet. There’s no way to verify that any screenshot they send you is in any way linked to them (or even legitimate). In other words, screenshots are not proof of anything, let alone of being charitable.

If the person is legitimate, they will send you the money without asking you for anything in return. If they ask for anything in return, it’s a scam.

Uncomfortable Questions

Other behaviors they might exhibit is asking a series of deep probing questions you might not feel comfortable answering. Specifically, question like what bank you are using, what credit card companies you have, and so on. That’s none of their business. If they’re willing to send you money under philanthropy, they don’t need any of this information. If they begin asking probing questions like social security numbers, birth dates, actual account numbers or any other deep personal information, this has the hallmark of scam all over it. Remind them that the CashApp tag is all they need to send over money. If they can’t do this simple one thing, then they’re not legitimate.

Philanthropy should be about the good in giving, not finding out as many personal details about a person as possible. If someone begins asking very deep diving personal questions about you, your location and your finances, walk away. Explain to them that they don’t need that information to be charitable. If their charity relies on this information, they can find someone else.

Chances are, the reason they are asking these personal questions is to not only scam you, but take the rest of your accounts for a ride.

The Dark Side of Twitter Philanthropy

photo of guy fawkes mask with red flower on top on hand

Yes, there is actually an extremely dark side to Twitter philanthropy which has now been exposed showing just how dark it can get. No, Twitter philanthropy is not all roses, as some adamantly claim.

For a moment, let’s suppose you do win the philanthropy lottery. Let me ask you this simple question. As a recipient of that supposed good will money, do you really want to accept that money not really knowing if someone behind that philanthropy account scammed another to give you that money?

Yeah, I wouldn’t want to either. Money can be helpful, but not at the cost of someone else being scammed out of it. Be careful and tread lightly when following any Twitter philanthropy accounts. Keep your guard up and watch out for people on Twitter claiming to be altrustic do-gooders. In these especially hard times, don’t fall for fake altruism. If you are really in need of money, head over to GoFundMe and plead your own case with your money raising efforts. The money you raise at GoFundMe will be yours without such underlying strings. If you’re putting your hand out towards someone else’s wallet, particularly on Twitter, expect the worst in people.

In fact, let me point you to this exposé article describing one particular philanthropy account on Twitter. This article is a bit disjointed of a read, but if you can follow it, you will better understand this very dark and seedy side of Twitter Philanthropy in excruciating detail.

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Fallout 76: Let’s review Wastelanders

Posted in entertainment, video game design, video gaming by commorancy on April 19, 2020

NPCsNPCs are now in the game and so are duping exploits. Let’s review.

[Update for 5/4/2020] It seems that Bethesda has released a hotfix to prevent losing your weapon to an NPC if that NPC kills your character and loots the body. However, all other vending bugs have not yet been patched. We’re still waiting, Bethesda.

[Update for 4/27/2020] Serious Bugs! Bethesda appears to have introduced several new very serious bugs related to player vending in Wastelanders! These bugs can see you lose not only your weapons and armor, they will be taken directly from your stash! You may want to reconsider playing the game until they’ve fixed these showstopper issues. If you need more details or examples, please visit this Reddit thread. Bethesda is aware of these and are in the process of a hotfix for at least Bug 2, but there’s no date set when these fixes may arrive.

Bug 1: Player vending machines appear to be selling random unlisted items from your stash at random prices. This means any legendary weapon, rare armor, ammo or outfit in your Stashbox could be up for grabs for as little as 0 caps. Some buyers report having purchased extremely rare outfits and legendary weapons for 50 caps. Players hadn’t listed these items in their vendor. There is no rhyme or reason why this one is occurring.

Bug 2: Players report having their equipped weapon looted from their dead body by an NPC after character death. This bug seems to occur both in and out of events. If you’re fighting NPCs anywhere in the game and they kill your character, that NPC can apparently loot your body for your equipped weapon before you respawn. This one is a showstopper.

Workaround for bug #1 — Store ALL of your player vending machines in your workshop until this one is resolved. I also suggest storing ALL other player vending items such as Nuka-Cola vending machines, beer kegs, punch bowls or any other vendors that allow players to interact with items from your stash. Display cases should be safe from looting by players, but to be safe it might be worth storing them too.

Alternatively, play in a Private World where no other players can buy from your vendors until this issue is resolved. If you invite friends into your Private World with your vendors out, make sure you trust them fully and explain not to buy anything from your machines.

Workaround for bug #2 — Other than not playing the game, I don’t know of any way to avoid this situation other than making sure your characters don’t die around NPCs.

[Update for 4/22/2020] Bethesda has re-enabled vending and displays after rolling out a hot fix designed to solve the duping problem. However, knowing Bethesda’s track record at performing updates around duping exploits, they likely didn’t solve this problem. I fully expect these items to be disabled again within a week after duping resumes… with yet another patch forthcoming.

Bethesda’s Bad Coding

We all know that Bethesda’s ability to code a great game isn’t the best. Bethesda’s games are always chock full of bugs, particularly day one releases. Well, Wastelanders has arrived (on April 14th) and like all new releases, it is once again chock full of bugs… some fairly severe, like duping.

Before you run out and attempt to dupe your items, let’s talk about the ramifications of these actions first. I’d also recommend that if you don’t own Fallout 76 that you hold off running out to buy a copy before reading this article.

Duping, Exploits and Consequences

Before I get into the meat of this article, which are my actual thoughts about the Wastelanders addition and general review of the new content, I need to talk about duping and exploits first. This is something that some gamers seem to live for in Bethesda’s games, particularly it seems, when they are playing Fallout 76.

But, “Hold your horses there, Mac”. Don’t run out and begin looking for the duping exploits lest you get your account permanently banned from Bethesda.net. Many players see in-game exploitation as some kind of game within a game. To be fair, I see their point. However, Bethesda doesn’t agree with it.

In fact, Bethesda has made their stance on venturing outside of the bounds of the game to be very much a ban-worthy offense. Not only is it ban-worthy, it’s permaban worthy. What I mean is that if you choose to exploit the in-game world by doing things not intended by Bethesda, expect to see your account banned. I don’t mean a few days of ban here either. These bans are likely to be so severe, you may never get your account back… and, you will lose all Atom you carry, all items you’ve bought in the Atomic shop and lose any remaining portion of Fallout 1st you may have left, in addition to never being able to play the game again.

If Bethesda finds what you’ve done severe enough, they may even contact Sony to have your PSN account banned at the console level. Yes, Bethesda can do this.

This section should be seen as a warning to those of you gamers who wish to tread on the very tenuous ground of duping and exploitation in the Fallout 76 world. If you wish to play a Bethesda online game, you need to keep your character’s feet firmly on the ground and away from all in-game exploits. Anything that feels like cheating in the game world is very likely to get your Bethesda.net account banned!

How Will Bethesda Know?

I know this game is played by a lot of naïve minors under the age of 18. Many may even be under the age of 12. Being of this younger age, it’s easy to fail to understand that there are such things as logs. Bethesda has been logging and monitoring Fallout 76 on their servers for months. They began this monitoring process when the last duping flare-up occurred early in 2019.

Since then, all of this monitoring has improved and, in fact, is likely being actively reviewed and monitored daily through reports and other condensed information. This means that someone at Bethesda has the job of actively looking for players using suspect behavior and/or carrying suspect stacks of items.

If you carry a stack of 1 million pieces of ammo, or a 100k stimpaks or 50k Large Holiday Presents or any unnecessarily large stack of items, your account is likely to be found and flagged for duping. The numbers of items you can reasonably carry range from 1-10000 depending on item. Even then, the 10k amount only applies to ammo where it is feasible you can find that much in the game world. While Bethesda will overlook 10k in ammo, they will NOT overlook 10k or 100k in Large Handmade Holiday Gifts or a million pieces of ammo… particularly if they all have the same object ID.

Once they see a large stack of suspect items, they will begin investigating the account for how it obtained this many of the item. The Bethesda staff person will then find if the account performed duping to obtain that item. Bethesda’s duping detection system isn’t perfect. Even if you didn’t dupe the items, but carry them on your account, your account may still be flagged. If your friend hands you 10k Holiday Gifts, be cautious and open them up quick or drop them. Don’t leave them lying around in your stash or in your character’s inventory. Simply holding onto a large suspect stack of items is enough to have your account banned… even if YOU didn’t dupe them.

I can’t stress the above enough. If you value all of the work you’ve put into Fallout 76 and your Bethesda.net account, then don’t dupe and don’t accept large duped stacks of items.

This is why we can’t have nice things!

When push comes to shove, Bethesda is king at punishing (and retaliating against) exploiters and, by extension, all other users of their games in general. Bethesda has continually proven, at least with Fallout 76, that they don’t really care whose toes they step on to solve gamer exploits in their games. If that means deleting game world items from every Stashbox, regardless of whether it was legitimately obtained or not, so be it.

That means that a small minority of gamers can run amok within Fallout 76 exploiting duping bugs which forces Bethesda to take their ire out on the entire Fallout 76 gaming community as whole. Bethesda will willfully modify their game in negative ways, regardless of whom it affects.

Additionally, with exploiters who Bethesda can identify were specifically participating in the exploits, they will outright ban these gamers from Fallout 76 and, potentially, Bethesda.net on the whole. What this means to exploiters is not only the loss of access to Fallout 76, but it also means loss of access to every game you’ve ever purchased from Bethesda’s store. Yes, this punishment is hard. But, some people need to learn lessons the hard way. Life’s lessons aren’t always wrapped in pretty bows… which is a life lesson in and of itself.

Though, I’m not at all saying that being banned from the game isn’t the right choice to make for Bethesda. If gamers choose not to play the game as written and instead insist on playing outside of those boundaries by exploiting bugs, then you take what’s coming to you. Bethesda’s Terms of Service are crystal clear as follows:

You agree not to access, receive, play or use any Service to:

  • Promote, upload, transmit, encourage or take part in any activity involving hacking, cracking, phishing, taking advantage of exploits or cheats and/or distribution of counterfeit software and/or Virtual Currency or virtual items. In an effort to continuously improve the Services, You and other players discovering exploits, cheats, cracks or other inconsistencies are required to report them to ZeniMax;

If you participate in this or any other activity listed in Bethesda’s Terms of Service, Bethesda’s remedies are clearly defined here:

In response to a violation of these Terms of Service, ZeniMax may issue You a warning, suspend or restrict certain features of Your Account (including, but not limited to, user names), selectively modify or remove or revoke Downloadable Content at an Account and/or device level, immediately terminate any and all Accounts that You have established and/or temporarily or permanently ban Your Account, device, and/or machine from accessing, receiving, playing or using all or certain Services.

ZeniMax may terminate Your access to and/or receipt, play or use of the Services (i) for violating these Terms of Service; (ii) if ZeniMax, in its sole discretion, deems that Your information is untrue, inaccurate, not complete or incomplete; (iii) if Your access to or receipt, play or use of such Services infringes on or is suspected of infringing on another’s rights or any intellectual property; or (iv) if You or Your Account reflects inappropriate Content and/or violates these Terms of Service. Any and all Content (including, but not limited to, Software, Content, and Downloadable Content) will be considered forfeit immediately in the event of any cancellation, closure, or termination of Your Account by ZeniMax.

This means that, yes, you can lose access to a portion or all of your content for the game involved or, indeed, you can lose your entire account at Bethesda. Basically, you will forfeit your access to the software involved and potentially everything else you own from Bethesda. When you exploit Bethesda’s software, eventually you will pay the price and that price is fairly steep.

One additional problem that can arise is that Bethesda can also report your account to PlayStation or Xbox if you have also violated those service’s terms and conditions. Bethesda’s report can see your entire PlayStation or Xbox blocked entirely from online services. Not only can you not use any Bethesda games you own, you could lose your entire Xbox Live or PlayStation Network access for all other games. It all depends on how Bethesda plays it against you. Bethesda can most certainly play hardball if you press the point.

With all of that behind us, let’s move into the meat and potatoes of this review…

Wastelanders Add-On

With the addition of Wastelanders, the Appalachia wasteland has changed. How has it changed? It now has NPCs all over the place. This addition is a mixed bag, however.

While some of the portions of the game have been somewhat rewritten, the fundamental original game is still under there. The NPCs will help you get a handle a bit quicker because they can aid you in getting your character to where it needs to go. When you first exited Vault 76 before this update, you had to fend for yourself alone without much of any help.

Now there are NPCs to greet you just outside the vault who not only give you various information, they help you get a handle on what’s going on in Appalachia. That’s not to say these helpers outside of the vault are necessary, but now Appalachia doesn’t feel so barren.

The question is, does this addition really help the game out? As I said, that’s mixed bag. Nearly all of the original underlying quests are still in the game including the boring holotapes and terminal text lore. Some quests are somewhat altered with the presence of the new walking, talking NPCs.

Allies

Also with the Wastelanders addition, Bethesda has added on the concept of an ally. Think of this as effectively a named settler. If you’ve played Fallout 4, it’s similar to a companion with the exception that these allies don’t follow you around and aid you in combat. They live at your C.A.M.P. and help protect your camp. They also issue you quests that lead to a final 3 star legendary drop at the end.

Two of these allies include Beckett and Sofia. To entice them to come to your base, you must place down something that they need. Beckett wants a bar stand. Sofia needs a computer console. Once you plop down their requirement in your camp, they will join you there.

However, you can only have 1 ally present in your camp at a time. This also means you can only run one ally quest line at a time. These allies don’t leave your camp. They stay there and interact with whatever you place around them, such as musical instruments. Be careful with musical instruments, though. Sofia can, for example, sit and play the guitar for 20 minutes or longer constantly. That would be okay if they had given Sofia some actual guitar music to play. Instead, just like a player character, the guitar plays snippets and chopped together riffs that, after a while, become annoying as all get out. It’s fun to know that NPCs will play the instruments, but it’s torture to listen to them playing the same thing over and over for 20-30 minutes continuously.

Dialog Choices

With NPCs, comes dialog. Here’s a screenshot of how that looks:

Dialog

Much of the dialog, as one would expect, is pointless. But, some of it does lead to adding map markers or other interesting actions. With some dialog choices, you can use your S.P.E.C.I.A.L. points which will lead to unlocking other dialog.

New Main Quests

WaywardIn addition to the long ally quest lines, there are new main quests. This main quest begins at The Wayward, just across from the Overseer’s camp. Pretty much it seems the Overseer’s camp has now been discarded in lieu of beginning the game at The Wayward. The Wayward is a house that doubles as a bar. It’s a new addition to the world, along with many other new locations. Some original locations have also been converted into NPC communities.

If you’re used to how the wasteland looked before Wastelanders, many of the locations have changed. For example, the Isolated Cabin which was inhabited by mongrels has been converted into a settler settlement. These NPCs are generically named ‘Settler’. The dogs may or may not appear with the addition of the settlers. The settlers can be killed, however.

New Bosses

Of course, the addition of Wastelanders wouldn’t be complete without a new boss location to nuke. Instead of nuking Fissure Prime to get the Scorchbeast Queen to appear, there is a new location which now spawns the Wendigo Colossus. Don’t think that this boss looks anything like the long slender Wendigo, however. The Colossus looks like a Grafton Monster with tall skinny legs. This particular monster design was, in fact, far too lazily designed. It seems Bethesda did as little as possible to make a functional workable monster.

This boss also has a new attack. It throws goop at you that sees you literally run away screaming. There’s no way to counter, stop or in any way halt this animation effect. You are forced to let it play out. It’s a stupid effect and it completely gets in the way. I’m sure someone at Bethesda thought it was hilarious, but I find it extremely frustrating and stupid. You fight bosses to fight, not run away screaming. If Bethesda had given us a new perk card, food stuff or chem (i.e., Calmex) to negate this attack for a period of time, I’d be less harsh on Bethesda for this addition. This attack needs to disappear or we need to be given a way to negate the attack. It’s frustrating when you’re attempting to kill this beast and you’re constantly being forced to run away.

Updated Locations

Some locations have been updated and rebuilt to support NPC settlers. One of these is the crashed space station. Here’s a picture:

SpaceStation

I’ve included the border because the original space station as it was is seen in the upper left corner. Compare this to the reworked and updated Wastelanders image. I realize the image is kind of drab, but the in-game world had a rainstorm going at the time. I also thought it would be important to Factions-smshow the rain storm look in this review.

This location introduces one of two new factions: Raiders. The other faction is the Settlers. You can view your acceptance level in these factions by checking your social menu.

Negating the Scorchbeast Queen

With the newly added Wendigo Colossus, few people are going to run over and start up the Queen event anymore. Because this is a type of Wendigo, all of the Zealots, Ultracite and Prime perks are useless against this boss. In fact, there really isn’t a Legendary effect that actually works against a Wendigo. You just have to be long and steady with your weapons. This usually means using heavy automatic weapons. Weapons that don’t necessarily do lots of damage per hit, but that cumulatively add up to lots of damage over time.

This is where Bethesda didn’t really plan ahead much. If you’re planning to add an entirely new boss into the game, you also need to add in perk cards and legendary effects to help defeat this boss, just like we had with Zealots and Prime against the Scorched. We have half of the equation with this boss addition, but we don’t have the other half of this in the weapons to help defeat or armor to protect against this boss.

This is where Wastelanders becomes a mixed bag. Yes, we do get a new boss in Wastelanders. No, we don’t get any new legendary effects, perk cards or chems that help us kill that new boss. Don’t think that you can grab your Zealots and have these legendary weapons be more effective against the Wendigo Colossus, like they were against the Scorchbeast Queen. It doesn’t work that way. You’re better off using basic legendary effects like Bloodied or Berzerker’s with a proper character build.

Perk Card Changes and New Weapon

ArcherWith Wastelanders, a new set of perk cards has been added in support of the new bow and arrow weapon. The perk cards are standard 3 damage multiplier Archer cards in addition to Bow Before Me, an anti-armor card which applies to bows and crossbows. The bow itself is a decently powered weapon at level 50, offering up to 350 damage when sneaking. That’s not bad all things considered. However, it’s an exceedingly slow loading and slow firing weapon. Once a horde of enemies finds you, you better switch to a different weapon or you’ll want to pair it with the Sneak card and hope the enemies don’t find you.

New Power Armor

The newest power armor set is the T-65 power armor. This armor requires collecting gold bullion (yet another new currency). To get this bullion, you’ll need to complete as many of the new main and faction quests as you can. One you complete the main and faction quests, you will be able to visit Regs (another new NPC) who is located at Vault 79 (a new vault) where you can spend your bullion to buy the plans to build this armor.

Whether this armor is effective against the Colossus is as yet unknown. Though, I will say that power armor in Fallout 76 has been, in general, a joke. For example, 5.56 equipped Colonel Gutsy robots can shred your HP in just a few shots in or out of power armor. In fact, I haven’t seen any difference between being in or out of power armor when facing a 5.56 equipped Gutsy or Super Mutant.

Worse, while Fallout 4 offered legendary effects on power armor, these PA legendary pieces have never made it into Fallout 76. Even though regular armor regularly drops with legendary effects, power armor has never had any legendary effects in Fallout 76. This drastically reduces the effectiveness of power armor in Fallout 76. Why am I bringing this up here? Because Wastelanders didn’t fix this problem. It still exists just as it did before Wastelanders.

New Challenges?

Actually, no. Even though the Wastelanders update has added NPCs, no additional combat challenges have been added… such as Kill Blood Eagles with a Combat Rifle (0/1000). While NPCs have been added, Bethesda just didn’t work out these small details that would have added much more value to the game.

Lighting System Changes

WhitespringStationPrior to Wastelanders, the lighting in the game was brighter and more dynamic. With the introduction of Wastelanders, the game has taken a questionable backward step toward darker lighting levels (see Whitespring Station image), including the elimination of many areas of ambient lighting. Walking into some buildings which were formerly well lit, we now see portions of the room exceedingly dark with a single bright light in the middle of the room.

CharlestonStationThe Charleston station, left, is exceedingly dark where before the interior was very bright. This is in the middle of the day in-game time. Even the daylight outdoors lighting model has changed seeing shadows on the ground as much darker. This lighting model change is unusual and unnecessary. The original lighting system actually looked better, particularly inside of buildings. This absence of ambient lighting thus makes many rooms, like the interior of Charleston Station, overly dark.

BeforeAfter

As you can see above, the before is brighter, lighter and more vibrant. The shadows are less intense. The before was taken about a month ago, perhaps. The After image is darker, less colorful, drab and is more difficult to read the signs. The whites were easier to see in the before.

…. Where does Wastelanders not work so well?

Changes, Not Changes

This is where I find Wastelanders to be basically a facelift, primarily on the surface. The underlying problems from Fallout 76 all remain. The bugs, the problems, the glitching, the crashing, the difficulties, the getting hung up on rocks while running, the getting stuck in a hole, the broken texture maps, the lack of responsiveness from button presses on down to the whole less than stellar way the interface is built and works. None of these basic day-one problems have been addressed. We’re still working on game foundation that wasn’t perfected from the beginning. So now we have NPCs plopped right on top of all of these still existing bugs.

Many people say that Fallout 76 has greatly improved since its launch. I’ve yet to see that. The game is still just as glitchy and broken as it was on release day. Sure, some problems have been addressed, but the majority of the underlying bugs are all still there. Wastelanders did little to solve these fundamental game engine problems. The problem here is that these bugs and glitches are mainly inconvenient. They are typically not showstoppers. However, some are more inconvenient than others.

For example, dead enemies can sometimes despawn moments after death. If you aren’t super quick to grab the loot from the body, you won’t get it. This includes legendary enemies. This is a bug that has existed from launch day.

Another bug is when you fast travel. You can land inside of rocks, under a building wedged, wedged between two walls or in other places that don’t allow you to move. You are forced to travel again.

You can still find enemies sliding around on the ground either standing up in a T position or in a lying or seated position. This glitch has been in the game since day one.

This next one I’ve seen so many times is one I can’t believe hasn’t yet been fixed. When you’re fighting a boss and your character dies, the game forces you to choose a respawn point. The problem here is that on character death, the game immediately recalculates your carry weight far below your in-game carry weight. This forces you to become severely overencumbered immediately after your character dies. This then forces you to respawn back at Vault 76 (all the way across the map).

Once your character has respawned fully and the game has recalculated your carry weight back to normal, you can then travel back to that death location and pick up your dropped loot. In my case, the game wouldn’t even let me respawn back at my Fallout 1st tent! I was forced to fast travel twice. Once to Vault 76, then once again back to my tent. It’s like, shit, just let me travel to my tent first. If I hadn’t had my tent there, I’d have had to pay caps to get back across the map. This problem has existed since day one.

Bugs, bugs and more bugs

These above are but a few examples. There are plenty of others that still plague this mediocre game. That doesn’t mean there aren’t new bugs. Oh, no no no. There are plenty of new bugs in this update. Duping is, as I mentioned above, back with a vengeance. It seems that many gamers were just waiting to pounce all over duping again, and dupe they have. In response, Bethesda has stopped display cases from functioning and halted player vending.

It’s clear that unless you (as a company) are absolutely stellar at programming, you shouldn’t attempt to have an in-game economy. This shows exactly how amateur Bethesda is at producing online games with any semblance of an economy. If you can’t lock down such basic things as duping, you can’t have an in-game economy.

At this point, it’s probably best were Bethesda to dismantle player vending entirely, disable dropping any items from inventory, stop player trading and halt all ability to transfer items from one player to another. If the devs can’t handle keeping these bugs from surfacing and resurfacing, then they must stop the underlying reason why duping continues to exist. If players can’t sell, trade or transfer items from one player to another, there’s little reason to dupe items. Items like Holiday Gifts should be removed from the game entirely and never see a return. Nothing should produce caps upon consuming the item, not even Nuka-Cola drinks. The only things that should give caps are in-game vending bots, cap stashes, dead enemies, containers and quests. Basically, items that cannot possibly be duplicated.

Additionally, vending bots should mark an object ID which has been previously sold as unsellable. This means that should another player show up with that same object ID attempting to sell it, the vendor bot will not only refuse to buy it, it will then confiscate it from the player’s inventory. Vendor bots that buy items never relist an already used ID. Instead, they will always relist the item with a new ID. This means that a duped item can’t be sold by a bot. If you can’t sell a dupe with an added double whammy of losing it, players will think twice not only about duping, but attempting to sell those dupes to vendors. It also means they can’t sell them to players either. This means duping is a dead end.

This is tough way to handle duping, but we’re at the crossroads with this game. If Bethesda can’t prevent duping, then it needs to be stopped using another more permanent method… and that way is to halt all further player-to-player sales and trading. Halting the ability for players to trade goods with one another is the only way to stop duping.

Player Vending is Broken

I’m singling out duping here because it keeps coming back over and over and over. Duping has not gone away and it is, once again, back. It will also keep coming back so long as player-to-player trading remains in the game. Instead of Bethesda playing this never ending game of “catch the duping mouse”, the answer is to simply halt player trading entirely. Only allow players to interact and trade with game controlled vendor bots. It’s long past time for Bethesda to have solved this problem and this is the ONLY solution.

Changing this fundamental aspect of this multiplayer game will have some ramifications. Yes, it will make traders exceedingly angry. At the same time, it will also stop all real money eBay listings, it will halt scammers and it will halt the third party trading marketplaces. This will force players to legitimately earn caps in the game through normal in-game means.

If Bethesda wants to better control these exploits and continue to allow selling, they need to do away with vending machines at each camp and place a vending machine at each train station (see next section for additional thoughts). A vending machine will always re-ID every object it receives to sell. This means there is no possibility a player could receive a dupe from a vendor bot. When a player lists an item, the item is checked for a duped ID. If this object’s ID has already been purchased by a vendor bot once before, the weapon is confiscated and the player is then notified the duped item has been confiscated. A notification should also be sent to someone at Bethesda that a vendor bot has confiscated a duped item and which account presented it.

Player to player vending can be implemented in the following way and should be limited to a centralized system. This system will list the item along with the player’s name. The item (after being validated as not duped) will go up for sale at the player’s specified price. The item remains listed for a period of time (i.e., 3 days) and will remain listed regardless of whether the player is online. After 3 days without purchase, the item is returned to the player’s inventory. If purchased, the caps will be placed into a centralized bank to which the player can withdraw those caps via the vending machine. Players should be limited to no more than 5-10 listings at a time and a max amount of caps in the bank.

Other bugs which were recently added include the rogue turret bug. If one turret is damaged in a workshop, the other turrets in the area begin shooting at friendly camp or workshop items. This is such a stupid bug. I can’t believe it has been allowed to persist across multiple releases in a row. Bethesda is well aware of this issue, yet they choose to do nothing to fix it. In fact, it seems that now a rogue turret in a camp can actually damage other workshop equipment. I shake my head that Bethesda can’t even fix what should be simple bugs, yet they spend massive amounts of time working on add-ons that really don’t add that much value to the game.

End of Player Trading?

At this point and strictly due to duping, I’d personally like to see player-to-player trading end. This won’t be a popular opinion among traders, but it’s definitely needed to stop all of these duplication problems. Trading is not really very useful, it causes bad behavior among players, it invites duping and it doesn’t really solve a problem for the game. Since Fallout 76 is pretty much a single player game with a multiplayer component, there’s no need for player vending at all. It simply gets in the way of the enjoyment of the game. With the advent of Purveyor Murmrgh and the ability to buy 1, 2 and 3 star legendary weapons and armor, player-to-player trading is now unnecessary.

I’m sure a lot of traders will disagree. Were Bethesda to make this change, it would stop the need for most duping. The primary reason most players dupe is to sell weapons to other players for high amounts of caps. The secondary reason is to dupe items that instantly produce caps for the player. Both of these problems need to be stopped. The way to handle it is to stop player-to-player trading and implement a duped ID checking + confiscation system when attempting to sell duped items to vendors. Further, stop giving away items that instantly produce caps upon consuming it. Instead, drop only objects into the player’s inventory. They can then sell the item to a vendor for caps. Keep caps issuance only from vendor bots, from world containers and at the end of quests.

Additionally, items can no longer be dropped into the world. This should also include stopping the drop of junk items upon character death. Further, like many of the newer items, if you attempt to drop any item, you’re then notified the item will be destroyed. With this change, you won’t be able to drop loot bags any more… which of course negates the idea of custom loot bags sold in the Atomic Shop. A small price to pay to get rid of player trading.

Halting all player trading means the player must rely on the game to produce caps and provide the player with weapons and armor. This change is actually in keeping with the way that Fallout 4 worked in single player campaign. Because Fallout 4 doesn’t allow multiplayer, the player had to rely solely on themselves to obtain caps and obtain the best weapons in the game. Moving Fallout 76 to this more stringent and similar model would actually heighten the gameplay, make it more challenging and more in keeping with Fallout 4’s model. No longer can gamers rely on others to give them “the best weapon”, a form of cheating. Instead, they must grind in the normal way, earn their keep individually and spend the money they legitimately earned to buy weapons from the Purveyor or, alternatively, find a legendary enemy and take their chances to get a better weapon or armor.

Moving Fallout 76 to a more-or-less closed single player system with limited multiplayer support, this stops players from wanting to exploit the game in an attempt to gain more caps, better weapons and better armor via cheating. Yes, I do consider player-to-player trading a form of cheating. You didn’t earn that weapon, you bought it. You didn’t earn that armor, you bought it. There’s no difference between pay-to-play with Atomic shop items and player-to-player for-pay trading. It’s all a form of pay-to-win. I’m most definitely for ending all forms of pay-to-win whether by Bethesda or via player trading.

Overall

The addition of NPCs to Fallout 76 is a long time coming. Unfortunately, it’s probably too little, too late. This should have been the way the game was released on day one, not a year and a half later. Will this make Fallout 76 a great game? With NPCs added, it’s better in some ways, but it’s worse in others. This is why it’s a mixed bag.

Can I recommend this update? For curiosity sake, sure. Download it and explore. If you’ve already played Fallout 76 through to completion, it doesn’t change the original game so much that it makes a huge difference. The changes to the original quests are relatively minor… just enough to introduce NPCs so they make sense.

The best part of Wastelanders is the addition of allies. This C.A.M.P. addition is probably the single best part of Wastelanders. You can now have an NPC at your base permanently. Your character can even have a relationship with them. While they cannot become companions that follow you around, they can help defend your base while you’re not there.

On the flip side, because this is a fluid multiplayer game without the ability to create saved game files, your character’s choices are permanent. If you wish to redo a portion of an NPC’s quest, you can’t do that. If you make a mistake which has specific unknown consequences, your only choice is to start a new character and try again on that new character. I might even suggest starting a new character so you can use this character to determine where these quest pitfalls are. You can then play the quests through a second time on your primary character and know the best choices possible while avoiding such pitfalls.

Is Wastelanders a great game? Hardly. Is it better than it was? In some ways, yes. In other ways, it’s much the same as it was. If you’ve already played the game through to completion, it does add on a few quest lines that you can explore. Unfortunately, the quests mostly consist of fetch this thing, kill this person or do this thing for me. For the allies, there are many of these before you get to the end. Though, I’d say that the game’s Wastelanders addition probably adds, at most, a month’s worth of additional play value if you play it through slowly.

↩︎

Causes of Obesity in the US

Posted in food and dining, Health, obesity by commorancy on April 10, 2020

buffetThere have been many people espousing different ideas around the obesity problem within the US. One I’ve recently come across is Dr. V, otherwise known as Duc C Vuong. He has a YouTube channel and attempts to impart the reason for obesity. I have other thoughts. Let’s explore.

Medical Doctor Credentials

One of the problems I have with MDs espousing their opinions, particularly on platforms like YouTube is that far too many viewers believe this advice wholeheartedly simply because this person has a degree. They don’t rationally think for themselves and use their own critical thinking skills to understand which parts of his extolling are valid and which parts are fallacy. Opinions are always opinions no matter from whom they originate.

When it comes to obesity, there are many thought rationales. One just needs to peruse the virtual book shelves at Amazon to see how many weight loss books there are, each with differing opinions on the topic. Let me dissect his special brand of thought and then talk about what I believe to be the actual reason for obesity.

In all of this, let’s keep in mind one tenet: KISS or Keep It Simple Stupid. It’s a phrase that means don’t go looking for complex answers when there’s a much simpler explanation staring you in the face.

Dr. V’s explanations are too long winded, complex and give too much credit to psychological pressures. Psychological pressures do play a part in the role of obesity, but not so substantially that you can’t get around it.

Psychology and Weight Loss

Dr. V explains that “Circle of Influence” is a big factor in obesity. What does he mean by “Circle of Influence”. These friendships are all psychological. The circle encompasses whom you choose to befriend and hang around with socially. These people can influence your social interactions and, more specifically, your eating behaviors.

This is true, but to a point. Unfortunately, Dr. V tends to give way too much credit to this aspect of peer pressure than is due. You don’t just bumble your way through life being towed along by your friends. Everyone wants to be known as a unique individual with individual likes and tastes. Yes, we are influenced by what our friends like, dislike and sometimes eat. However, we do also have our own tastes, including taste in food. Just because a friend likes sushi doesn’t mean I must also like it.

If peer pressure were the complete answer to obesity, then cutting off your friends should cause weight loss. Does it? No. Your eating habits are your own and you are responsible for how you eat. You may be influenced in some small way by what your friends are eating or the peer pressure they apply to you, but even when you are alone you’re still going to eat at your favorite restaurants in the same quantities. Is that psychological pressure? No, that’s personal habit.

In other words, blaming your obesity on your “circle of influence” is like blaming your friends for all of your problems. You can’t do this. Everyone must take responsibility for their own actions, including what they put in their mouths. No one forces you to shove food in your mouth. You do that all on your own. You can make smart choices or you can make not-so-smart choices.

Restaurant Influence on Obesity

With that said, there is one level of influence that does matter and is much larger than “circle of influence”… and it definitely matters a great deal. This influence is a restaurant menu. When you sit down to eat at a restaurant, we tend to assume the plates are mostly “set in stone”. What I mean by that is that the entrée comes to you as-is. A big part of this issue is that you have to buy the entrée sight-unseen. This means that you won’t really know how much food that plate holds is until the plate arrives from the kitchen.

This also means that it’s difficult to know how much food you will be consuming until you see the plate. Additionally, the pressure to send perfectly good plates of food back to the kitchen is also almost never considered. Most people won’t do this because they realize it will probably be thrown away and no one wants to see that happen to perfectly good food. Anyway, who would send a plate back to the kitchen because the portion size is “too big”? No one.

This is a ultimately a psychological pressure that goes back to our parents. Parents chide us for not eating all of the food on our plates. We continue to live with this stigma into adulthood. It stays with us every time we sit down to eat a meal. Restaurants prey on that. They give us excessively large plates of food knowing that patrons will typically eat every bite. This leads to obesity.

On the flip side, though, restaurants also do this because of cost to enjoyment ratio. Restaurants want to get maximum bank out of every plate served. Offering up larger portion sizes equates to a happier customer and larger per plate fees. Restaurants have no desire to decrease portion sizes to be inline with the recommended daily intake. Instead, they wish to line their banks with lots of greenbacks. To do that, they have to provide a good “bang for the buck”, so to speak. That’s exactly what restaurants do, but at the cost of serving way too much food and contributing to obesity.

This means that restaurant goers need to wise up to this ploy. When you eat at a restaurant, it’s important to understand that the restaurant is planning to serve you way too much food. Way, way too much food. This is something everyone needs to understand. It doesn’t matter if it’s McDonald’s, Chili’s or Olive Garden. All restaurants do it (except one type which I’ll talk about in a moment). McDonald’s (and other fast food) does it through its “meal deals”. Chili’s and Olive Garden play this game through oversized sized plates and sometimes all-you-can-eat breadsticks or salad.

In recent years, some states have forced restaurants to fork over the estimated calorie content of its meals, sides and drinks. This has helped some, but some restaurants have realized the need to pull this information off of the main menu and instead offer a separate calorie menu that you must ask to see. They don’t leave this calorie version on the table. Though some restaurants do have it on the menu (particularly restaurants that have a “health conscious” bent and some fast food places), many choose not to do this and instead begrudgingly offer up a separate menu… a menu that, unfortunately, can be exceedingly difficult to read with extremely small text. Worse, in these separate menu restaurants, if you ask for one, you may be greeted with “Sorry, I can’t find one”… leaving you high and dry to know how much food you’re actually eating.

Five Star Restaurants

The exception to the above for portion sizes can be five star rated restaurants. Instead, of serving you excessive sized meals, they tend to serve much smaller portion sizes. This occurs for a number reasons. The first reason is cost. Most five star restaurants purchase their foods fresh almost every day. The second reason keeps their quality high. What at you consume at a five star restaurant is almost assuredly the highest quality ingredients possible. These ingredients are usually hand selected by the chef. Though, sometimes they are delivered from higher quality grocers. The third reason is variety. You can find more exotic type meats on the menu, such as pheasant, quail and even Japanese Wagyu.

When you order a meal at a five star restaurant, you’ll receieve a smaller portion size more inline with the calorie levels you might find on the government’s daily intake requirements. This isn’t always true, however. Many five star restaurants utilize heavy cream, wine and other ingredients to flavor the meal. This can add hidden calories. As for presentation, you can usually find your five star meal stacked as layers in the center of an excessively large plate or bowl. Potatoes on bottom, then veggies and then protein on top with some kind of fresh garnish. It’s neatly stacked on the plate to make it presentable and pretty. Some chefs plate their meals with other layouts, but this is a common chef presentation. It looks good and it keeps the rest of the plate neat and tidy.

That’s not to say that all five star restaurant portions are small, but many are. The unfortunate problem with these restaurants is that you’re likely to pay at least $100 per plate or more for your meal. While in some cases these expensive meals may offer a more healthy food choice, it’s way too pricey to eat every day for most people. It’s also not a feasible meal choice option. Even here, you have to be careful because hidden calories can still have more calories than you might expect.

Bars and Drinks

Here’s a second area where there is zero nutritional oversight by the government. Alcoholic beverage creators are not under ANY obligation to add nutrition labeling. In this day and age where the “Nutrition Facts” label is extremely important in understanding what we are eating, it is incredibly disheartening to find that wine, beer and spirit manufacturers STILL aren’t required to place a “Nutrition Facts” panel onto their products.

How is it that the alcohol industry has remained so unregulated for nutrition when it is one of the biggest sources of unlabeled calories? Let’s explore to better understand these unlabeled calories.

Red Wine

A standard bottle of Red Wine contains 750ml or a little over 25oz. You can get five standard glasses of wine from a 750ml bottle of wine. We’re talking a standard sized pour here, which is approximately 5 ounces. A 5 ounce glass of red wine has between 120 and 130 calories per glass. If you consume 2 glasses, you’ve consumed 240-260 extra calories on top of anything else you’ve consumed.

White Wine

White wines fare a little better at around 115 calories per 5 ounces.

Beer

A 12 ounce beer can contains 154 calories. A pint glass of draft ale (the standard size served in bars) is 16oz (473ml) and contains 196 calories. Drinking two, three or four of these adds up fast.

Liquor

A shot of alcohol, about 1.5oz (44ml), ranges between 96 and 115 calories depending on the specific hard spirit. This category doesn’t include specialty liqueurs like Bailey’s Irish Creme, any flavor of Schnapps, Kalúha, Midori or any other sweetened alcoholic liqueurs. That’s next.

Liqueur

A shot of Bailey’s Irish Creme (44ml) contains around 147 calories approaching the number of calories in a 12oz (355ml) can of beer. A shot of Midori, however, contains only 80 calories (less than a shot of many liquors). The range for liqueur is somewhere between 80 and well over 147 calories per shot! These sweet alcoholic beverages can really land on the waistline fast.

Whiskey (or Whisky depending on your part of the world)

One shot of whiskey (86 proof) contains around 105 calories. From livestrong.com:

If your whiskey or vodka is 40 percent alcohol, or labeled as 80 proof, you’ll get less than 100 calories from the 14 grams of alcohol in a 1.5-ounce shot. Having the same amount of 45 percent whiskey or vodka, which is known as 90 proof, will give you 110 calories from the nearly 16 grams of alcohol. A 50 percent whiskey or vodka liquor, or 100 proof, has closer to 125 calories from nearly 18 grams of alcohol, in that same 1.5-ounce shot.

As the proof increases, so too do the calories. If you’re unsure of the proof of what you’re drinking at a bar, ask the bartender to allow you read the bottle or ask them for the proof.

Alcohol’s Double Whammy

Unfortunately, alcoholic beverages are also a double-whammy food. If you consume fat along side your wine, that fat (and some of the alcohol) will be taken up much easier (and faster) into adipose tissue due to the presence of the alcohol itself. From vice.com:

First, less than five percent of the alcohol you drink is converted into fat. However, that doesn’t mean it has no effect on weight gain. Rather, alcohol reduces the amount of fat your body burns for energy. Just two drinks of vodka and diet lemonade has been shown to cut whole body lipid oxidation—a measure of how much fat your body is burning—by more than 70 percent.

This means that the consumption of alcohol while on a diet can not only lead to halting your fat loss progress, it can actually lead to a net gain in fat with regular binging. This goes with the consumption of any alcohol, not just wine.

Alcohol changes the metabolism due to the alcohol itself and how alcohol is metabolized within the body. You’ll want to carefully consider ingesting alcohol with your meals (or even in general) if you’re concerned about controlling your weight. Overindulgence with alcohol can halt weight loss and actually put on pounds.

Restaurants and Bars

These two institutions in every day life are primarily what’s leading to obesity within America. Eating out and heading to bars are definitely everyday conveniences. One nourishes us (sometimes too much) and the other lets us blot out our everyday pains with the warm and fuzzy of alcohol, making us happy (and loopy).

Both together are what’s leading America to obesity. It’s not brain surgery or rocket science to understand this American dilemma. No one wants to blame restaurants or bars for this, but that’s exactly what we must do. They are leading American’s down the primrose path to obesity.

Psychology of Obesity

Let’s swing back around to psychology and peer pressure. It’s easy to succumb to your friend’s pressures to knock back Jello shots or chug some beer. However, you can say, “No”. If these people are truly your friends, they’ll let it slide. If they won’t, then maybe it’s time to consider new friends.

You don’t have to listen to your friends. You don’t have to chug beer, do shots or do anything you don’t want to do. Eating at restaurants isn’t always necessary and even when you do you can still make smart choices. When at the drive-thru, you don’t need to buy meal deals. If you’re at Olive Garden, ask them not to bring bread or even their bottomless salad. When you order your meal, buy from a menu that lists calories. Choose portion sizes that make sense for what you need to eat to live… keeping firmly in mind the 2000-2200 calorie recommended daily intake.

Home Cooking

Better, create and eat your meals at home. Instead of having to navigate those not-so-great menu choices and attempt to request custom meals from restaurants, eat at home. You can then make choices that fit with your body’s needs. You don’t need to make meals the size of Olive Garden. You can half (or less) the portion size and make smaller meals. This saves on your home food costs and it also means you’re eating healthier, smaller meals.

On the flip side, if you’re consuming a whole chicken in one meal, that’s way too much food. A whole cooked chicken contains between 1190 and 1400 calories for an entire single chicken. If you add onto that bread, mac and cheese, green beans and mashed potatoes, you can easily exceed 2000 calories in a single meal! That doesn’t even take into account the calories in a desert or drinks.

That’s not to say that rotisserie chicken is an unhealthy food, but it IS when eaten to excess. The key to health and maintaining a healthy body weight is eating in moderation… or, more specifically, within the US Government’s daily intake guidelines of around 2000 calories per day.

Isn’t Chinese Food Healthier?

Unfortunately, no. Many Americanized Chinese foods are breaded and fried, making them even less healthy food choices than rotisserie chicken. Breading and frying adds unnecessary calories that you should avoid. However, it is fine to indulge occasionally with these kinds of foods as a treat. Just don’t make them your everyday staple meals.

With Chinese food cooked using mostly veggies and some protein, you’ll need to determine the health of this food for yourself. If it appears to be mostly veggies with limited fat and a reasonable serving of protein, it might be an okay choice. If you want to wok cook at home yourself, you can choose your own oils, veggies and proteins in whatever quantities you are comfortable.

However, even Chinese restaurants fall into the trap of overly large portion sizes when serving to the table. Many Chinese food places even have buffets. Let’s jump right into this one…

Buffets

Chinese restaurants aren’t the only places that choose to offer large food buffet bars. You can find these in many different styles of food. For your weight and your health, you’ll want to completely avoid buffet restaurants. Not only are they not a great deal, they will most definitely inflate your waistline and they can also make you sick.

Buffet restaurants encourage overeating in all of the wrong ways. For consumers to feel that they’ve gotten their money’s worth for a $22 per person fee, you’re going to have to eat what you feel is $22 worth of food. That’s the wrong motivation for eating. You eat to satisfy hunger, not to satisfy your wallet or your guilt for spending.

Buyers remorse is heavy at buffet restaurants. Avoid this guilt entirely. If you must eat out, eat at a restaurant that hands you a menu and makes your food fresh in a kitchen.

There are other more serious health reasons for avoiding buffets to which I discuss in this past Randocity article. Suffice it to say that during winter months, avoiding buffet restaurants is your smartest and healthiest choice. Far too many people touch the serving spoons used to dish up the foods. Unless you plan to wash your hands immediately after plating your food, you’re simply asking to contract the Flu or a Cold virus or even COVID-19.

Restaurant Cleanliness

Ignoring the sanitary issues with buffets mentioned above, it’s way too easy when eating out to contract seasonal viruses even by just sitting at a restaurant table and ordering from a menu. After all, many restaurants barely even clean tables between patrons. When they do wipe down a table, they use a towel that has likely not been sanitized between uses. Think about this for a moment. Worse, when they do choose to wipe down a table, it’s just enough to get the crumbs and sticky off of it. That cloth simply moves the viruses around that were already there (or on the towel). They rarely, if ever, wipe down the seating or other surfaces around the table. Menus fare even worse. Menus are almost never sanitized.

Worse, restaurants with bars have different cleaning routines when it comes to bar glasses. While restaurants do have commercial dishwashers in the kitchen, they take way too long to run a cycle. When bars become low on glassware, the bartenders use a three water bath wash on glasses (soapy water, bleach water, rinse water). The theory is that germs can’t live through this. However, this relies on proper ratios of soap to water and bleach to water. Many restaurants don’t adhere to proper ratios in their zeal to get glasses washed quickly.

This means that your glassware can be contaminated with colds or viruses from a previous use when washed by a bartender. Why is this a problem if you’re not ordering from a bar? Because restaurants which have a bar usually have waitstaff order all drinks from the bartender for speed. This means that even though you didn’t order anything from the bar, you are likely being served in glassware cleaned by the bartender rather than from glassware washed by the dishwasher in the kitchen. This is particularly true of a restaurant during peak hours. If you’ve ever gotten a glass with lipstick on it, this is why. Nasty, right?

While getting sick at a restaurant doesn’t necessarily contribute to obesity directly, it calls out why restaurants aren’t the healthiest places to eat… even above their overly large portion sizes.

Psychology Revisited

Choosing to make your own food at home is really the only choice to reduce obesity. Of course, you also have to make the smart choice. You need to also understand the US Government’s daily recommended guidelines. From the health.gov’s What it is and What it is not information about the Dietary Guidelines:

The main purpose of the Dietary Guidelines is to inform the development of Federal food, nutrition, and health policies and programs. The primary audiences are policymakers, as well as nutrition and health professionals, not the general public.

The difficulty with this “not the general public” statement is that while the USDA and other government institutions try to enforce these guidelines on businesses by setting up such mechanisms as the Nutrition Facts panel on most food products, it has failed to impress the value of these guidelines on actual American consumers. Policymakers don’t care if their constituents become obese. They’re not going to even make obesity a talking point. That leaves only nutrition and health professionals covered. These people are typically only consulted on an ‘as needed’ basis and usually for pay. That leaves the American people in a substantial vacuum for general nutrition advice. Indeed, without this information, there is no advice at all.

Yet, if you read the guidelines, they do offer solid, constructive advice, but they have chosen not to target the general public with this information? How insane is this? Because of this, restaurants, bars and even grocery providers can run amok providing little, if any actual food guidance. It is this policy that leads all other industries by the hand. Yet, this leading hand doesn’t actually lead. It just throws the information out there without anything or anyone on the other side listening.

You can’t teach people how to eat when this information isn’t targeted towards the correct audience.

Schools

This situation get worse before it gets better. Schools simply don’t teach children proper food and nutrition choices. Some schools have limited student access to poorer food choices such as candy bars, soda, chips and deserts. That’s more about preventing those food choices than explaining how these foods can be used in a proper diet. It’s easier to withhold the foods rather than explain proper food choices.

Worse, many public schools don’t even offer nutrition programs as part of the curriculum. Sure, they offer home economics, but these classes don’t impart nutrition. They impart the knowledge of how to operate a home, including cooking.

Schools, in fact, also play a large part in America’s obesity. This is partly because of the lack of curriculum, but also because of bad cafeteria food choices during lunch. School lunches can be some of the worst teachers of food choices. Instead of teaching children the proper way to consume food and teach a child the proper relationship with food, they teach children to eat their poorly conceived cafeteria food choices in 15 minutes or less, by feeding them poor quality nutrition. Pizza and Salisbury Steak aren’t great nutritional choices.

If schools aren’t there to teach a children a proper relationship with food, then who is? Clearly, the parents won’t do this at home because they naturally assume the school is doing this. Yet, schools don’t do this either. So, in effect, no one teaches children the value of nutrition and proper food choices.

Even when attending college, this situation doesn’t improve. I don’t know of many universities that require nutrition classes as part of a generalized degree program. Certain health degrees (kinesiology) may require such nutrition classes as part of that degree, but degrees outside of health programs almost never require this. This further contributes to obesity.

Compounded Information Creates Obesity

All of the above compounds to create a situation where people become obese without understanding why. We’re not taught by our parents or by any schools about how to handle our diets. We’re left to fend for ourselves. This firmly allows psychological peer pressure to take hold and influence bad food choices, but more than that, restaurants and bars are also to blame. People are led astray by restaurants because of their large portion sizes. Many of us begin to believe that the portion sizes served by restaurants are actually the correct food sizes. Instead, we are being taught improperly.

Still, we must all assume the consequences of our own decisions. Only we can feed ourselves. Only we can stop the insanity, as Susan Powter once said. While her delivery of this nutrition information was way over the top, her message was no less valid. We must choose to change ourselves. We must choose to change our relationship with food. We must choose to say, “No” when an 1800 calorie plate is dropped in front of us. We must read food packages with a critical eye. We must understand when manufacturers are trying to pull the wool over our eyes with their silly portion sizes on “Nutrition Facts”.

This doesn’t mean you can’t eat a candy bar, eat a piece of cake or drink a beer occasionally. But, these should be only occasional treats eaten no more often than once a week. Less, if possible.

Food Lifestyle Changes

More than this, we must learn how to change our relationship with food. We must eat to satisfy, not until stuffed. There is a difference. We’re not turkeys being prepped for Thanksgiving meals. We’re people who need nutrition to sustain our energy levels.

To that end, to lose the weight and gain a healthy waistline, this must start in the kitchen, not in the gym. You can’t lose weight by running on a treadmill if you eat more calories than you burn from running. Exercise improves the body’s circulatory system, but it cannot lose weight unless you have a calorie deficit in the body.

This only occurs when you have the proper intake of food. In fact, you can restrict your food intake and still lose weight without entering a gym. The body still burns calories by sitting in a chair typing on a computer. However, the body burns less calories than when running on a treadmill.

Here’s a chron.com article that illustrates how exercise can fail weight loss efforts:

In one hour a 160-pound person can burn 204 calories walking at 2 mph and 314 calories with walking at 3.5 mph. … A 160-pound person can burn 606 calories by running at a 5 mph pace or 861 calories by running at an 8 mph pace for one hour.

Let’s examine the above closely. While this information describes a 160 pound person example, this weight isn’t the norm in today’s world. Even thought this article chooses to ignore the obesity issue and further illustrates its point with an impossibly low weight for most people, this information is no less important to understand. An hour of jogging at 5 mph burns ONLY 606 calories. That’s approximately HALF of the amount of calories in Chili’s Molten Chocolate Cake desert which has a whopping 1160 calories. Even if you increase the exertion to an 8 mph pace, at the increased 861 calories burned, you still burn way less than Chili’s chocolate cake desert!

If you visit Chili’s and eat a meal including that cake desert, you’re still taking in more calories than you’ve burned in exercise. This example is exactly why you can’t rely on cardio exercises to make up for those extra calories you consumed at a restaurant. You would have to double or even triple the amount of gym effort to come close to burning enough calories to justify eating that desert. This is why so many people become disenchanted with gyms and why gym workouts don’t seem to work. It’s because people assume exercise burns way more calories per hour than it actually does. This is why the next section is more important… and it also shows you how you can skip this gym fallacy.

Weight Loss Begins in the Kitchen

Randocity has already written an extensive article on this very topic. I urge you to read this article if you’re interested in this one. What I will say here, in short, is that your relationship to food begins in the kitchen, not in the gym. You can’t lose weight at the gym unless you’ve gotten your food intake under control.

Even fitness centers themselves do not impress the importance of this when looking to sign up new members. They want to teach you the importance of supplements, pills and their equipment… basically, everything that they sell in their store. They want you to buy their junk, not to learn how to manage your weight. Even personal trainers are not versed in this. They will teach you how to do cardio, run you through quick condensed workouts and utilize other techniques, but they will not at all examine your food intake. In fact, none of them really want to talk about this when at the gym. You are firmly left to your own food devices.

Not once when I had a personal trainer did they ask me to supply them with what I was eating regularly. It’s more about making you buy new supplements and gear, but they offer nothing to ensure you’re meeting your weight goals through proper food choices.

The point here is that you can’t rely on fitness businesses that rely on taking your money. You must, instead, rely on yourself and your own accumulated knowledge. You must be curious to learn how the body works, how it burns food and how it gains weight. Once you understand these body functions can you make the proper association with food, understand food choices and buy and consume the proper amounts of food to lose weight and/or maintain your current weight.

Until you make the choice to invest time into understanding your health, you can’t make this choice. No one is going to do this for you. No, not even the government (see above). The government seeks to regulate business and income, not make sure its citizens are healthy. That’s crystal clear. You must help you to succeed. You must choose not to put that fried chicken in your mouth. You must choose to eat foods in the proper amounts. What you choose to eat daily is really up to you as long as you keep the caloric intake at the proper level. You don’t want to eat 2000 calories of nothing but Oreo cookies. This is where you need to be more smart about consuming foods in moderation.

Bariatric Surgery

No, you don’t need a lap band. You don’t need to have your intestines shortened. You don’t need your stomach stapled. You can lose weight by eating properly. The only thing that bariatric surgery does is FORCE you to eat less. The entire point to these procedures is to force you to reduce the amounts of food to be consumed and processed at a single meal. This is exactly the same as eating less. You don’t need a procedure to force you to eat less. You can do this on your own.

You just need to make up your mind towards this goal. In fact, making the choice without surgery means you can maintain it. Surgery means that you will eventually slip back to your old ways. These surgical techniques are temporary until you stretch out the stomach or intestines and which allows you to go back to eating large quantities again. Your body will work around the procedure eventually making it impossible to remain being forced to eat less forever.

If you make the concerted choice to stop eating as much and begin making healthier food choices on your own, you can keep the weight off on a permanent basis. Surgery is a temporary fix unless you also make the choice to also eat less even when that surgery’s temporary nature wears off (and it will). Many people don’t understand the temporary aspect of bariatric surgery.

Overall

In life, we have choices. That’s really all we have in life. The ability to make choices for ourselves. That’s the freedom we own. We can buy and wear the clothes we want. We can eat the foods we want. We can drive the car we like. These are some of the choices that we get in life.

Food choices only seem complicated because everyone makes it appear hard. It’s not hard at all once you have the goal number in your head. That goal number is 2000-2200 calories. Stick to that number and you can maintain your weight. Below this number and you can lose weight. It’s actually one of the simplest things to understand about the body.

Sure, you can blame your friends, you can blame restaurants and you can even blame the government for your weight. And yes, they do play a part in it. However, it is you and your food choices that matter. You can choose to lose the weight. You can choose to do the right thing for your body. It all starts in the kitchen… not in the gym. The gym makes you the body more fit, the kitchen helps you lose weight.

COVID-19 and Stay-At-Home

Now that we’re all stuck at home eating food we must make ourselves, this is the perfect opportunity to jump into making smart choices for yourself (and maybe even your family). It’s time to rethink your food choices and food lifestyle. If anything, this time teaches us that restaurant food isn’t truly necessary. We can eat at home from foods we make ourselves and we can consume the proper amount of food that can help us lose excess weight.

Now it’s up to you!

Good Luck!

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