Sunday, May 22, 2011

Bringing the Discussion to Light*

A Mr. Dave Johnson of New Hampshire, who is commenting as "anonymous", has voiced some concerns regarding some of the information I write about in Surviving the Apocalypse in the Suburbs. He left a review of my book (which he gave three stars) on in which he expresses his concerns regarding things I say specifically about solar energy and health care. After he posted his review, he posted a comment here on my blog to let me know that he'd posted a review.

So, I went to and read the review, and then, I commented here on my blog, to thank Mr. Johnson for his comments and his review. I liked the review, overall, because he says my book is "useful" and "well-written."

About the solar energy question, he says that my nervousness about becoming dependent upon solar energy technology does not appear ... to be well-founded. His criticism is that I only discuss solar photo-voltaic technology, and in fact, this is not true. There is a chapter in which I discuss different options for generating electricity. One of the options I mention is solar PV systems, but I say that solar power generation may not be the best option for everyone, and that there are, perhaps, some better options. He accuses me of ignoring solar thermal technology, like cooking and passive heating using the sun, but that's not true, either. I mention solar ovens in the cooking chapter, and on page forty, I say solar passive heating ... should be considered and add that the Internet is rife with DIY plans for solar window heaters. I don't mention them in the chapter in which I discuss solar PV systems, because solar thermal collection for heating and cooking is not relevant to a discussion of different ways to make electricity.

The chapter that really seems to bother Mr. Johnson, however, is the chapter on health care, and he makes some pretty harsh accusations.

For the record, I do not provide medical advice in my book. I list ten common herbs (jewel weed, garlic, lavendar, sage, comfrey, dill, peppermint, tarragon, thyme, and chives) and some health conditions they might be used for. What I say in my book, at worst, falls into the category of "medical information" *which is the relation of facts* and is considered a fundamental free speech right and is not considered medical advice.

The real problem, though, is that Mr. Johnson seemed to miss the point of the book, which is that it's a HYPOTHETICAL scenario based on the premise that we have twenty-one days until some catastrophic event happens, which will completely change the world as we know it.

He states: "all through your book you talk about The End Of The World As We Know It as though you expect it to happen at any moment, but now you say the book is just an exercise in hypothetical thinking. So which is it? Thought experiment or serious preparation for TEOTWAWKI?"

The Preface of my book says: ... our survival is dependent on an incredibly unreliable and fragile system [but] most of us do not think there is anything we can do. But there is. And the first step is to pretend that we know the event that changes our modern lives forever is going to happen in 21 days. (11)

The book is a thought-exercise on the kinds of things we could be doing right now to simplify our lives and become more self-sufficient so that we are not dependent on the systems that routinely fail us. So, in answer to the question, it’s both.

The point of my book is to empower people to take control of their lives – including their own health.

I think it's important that we have these discussions. What's not helpful, however, is what has been happening. From the very beginning, Mr. Johnson's comments were argumentative and provocative. I understood from his Amazon review where he was coming from, and I recognized - from the beginning - that no matter what I said, he would hold fast to his belief that in my book I am:
  • irresponsibly dispensing medical advice, which I’m not;
  • and unqualified to provide easily verifiable information about some common herbs.
I chose not to engage in my first reply, which he decided was proof of the veracity of his arguments against me, and so I tried to give him the answers he wanted, knowing that nothing I said would satisfy him, which has proven to be the case.

The information in the health care section of my book is not "medical advice". It is information. That's all.

The premise of my book is that we have twenty-one days to prepare for some catastrophic event. The situation is hypothetical, and the book is a thought-exercise on the kinds of things we could be doing right now to simplify our lives, and as Mr. Johnson wisely observes, if we adopted this thrifty, environment-friendly lifestyle, we might well avoid the sort of wholesale collapse of the industrial economy that is being foretold in many peak everything circles.

I'm hopeful that we can avoid the scenario of total collapse, but I'm not terribly confident, without some real changes in our lifestyles and behaviors, that we will.

The question is if we don't avoid the scenario, then, what? That's what my book attempts to answer - the "then, what?"

Maybe nothing happens ....

But maybe something does, and on that issue, at least, Mr. Johnson and I agree that it is wise to plan [and prepare] for such a possibility.

*Post edited by author


  1. Wendy, My bible is probably A New Earth by Eckert Tolle (not sure of the spelling)...It mainly speaks of people talking just to hear themself talk...for their own satisfaction of their own ego. Most people don't even hear what you are saying let alone try to understand...they are only thinking of what they are going to say next to try to impress...

  2. He gave you a nitpicky three-star review. If thats your worst review

    A lot of his language was rather over assertive and overly derogatory.

    Given some of your recent rants about modern medicine here (on the blog), I am also suspicious of anything you would have to say about modern medicine. LOL.

  3. Russell1200 - *grin* I don't say anything bad about "modern medicine" in my book :). I only express the same feelings I've expressed here about vaccinations ;).

    Ain't for city gals - I just think that's very sad, because I think we could learn a lot from each other, if we just ... listen.

  4. Hey, I would've earned your first Amazon Troll. You must be doing something right ;-)

  5. Orange Jeep Dad - Amazon Troll?? That doesn't sound like a good thing ;).

  6. So, evidently I have your attention, which is good.

    And suddenly, with a little prodding, you come up with all sorts of additional information about your use of herbal medicine that you left out of your book. Maybe you would have done better to put it in the book in the first place.

    I am well aware of the long use of herbal medicine, and I know perfectly well that many modern drugs were originally used in that form. Digitalis, aspirin, morphine, reserpine, and several hundred more.

    However, there is a reason that modern pharmacies normally dispense carefully derived and processed compounds, instead of the raw herbs. It's called dosage control.

    My original point remains, however. You list no credentials, no scientific references, nor anything else that might normally support or justify your recommended treatments.

    And if you were consulting a qualified physician in doing these things with your children, you fail to mention it, leaving the impression that it is not necessary. So, naturally it is quite easy to wonder if you were in fact using your own children as guinea pigs.

    And from there the comparison to Nazi use of human experimentation is a rather short step.

    You complain that people - presumably meaning me - should listen more carefully, but I would say the same thing in return. I read your chapter on health care twice, and I read your response to my review on Amazon several times as well, but you fluffed off my concerns with a bit of shallow wordplay.

    So, I made the point again in a manner that was more graphic and pointed, which seems to have struck a nerve.

    Now, again, I will pose my original question, which was civil enough: what business do you have making pronouncements on medical treatment?

    You have not responded to that yet, so I am still wondering if you have any idea at all how complex these things really are. You don't sound like it.

    In my review I pointed out the massive benefits that have been conferred by the use of vaccines, but you ignored the point, even though the evidence is very well known, and anyone can check the history and the data for themselves. It is blatantly obvious that millions of lives have been saved.

    More generally, all through your book you talk about The End Of The World As We Know It as though you expect it to happen at any moment, but now you say the book is just an exercise in hypothetical thinking. So which is it? Thought experiment or serious preparation for TEOTWAWKI?

    As for being an Amazon Troll, that's possible I suppose, although not all of my reviews are negative, much less wildly caustic. In some cases I have had extended private conversations with authors by email, and in at least one case the author asked me explicitly if I would post my comments at Amazon. In another case the author gave me so snotty a reply in private that I made a point of mentioning his bad manners publicly at Amazon.

    So, in general, it depends upon the author in question. If there is an honest reaction to my questions and comments, then the conversation is quite civil, or even cordial. On the other hand, if I get flaky answers of some sort, I tend to be a bit of a pit-bull about it.

    In your case, I raised what seem to me very serious questions, including ethical questions, about your qualifications to prescribe medical treatment, and you basically dodged those main questions, and changed the subject to ancillary points.

    Now you tell me that I am judging you unfairly, but on the basis of information that you did not disclose in public in the first place. And how is that legitimate?

    If you leave important bits out of your presentation, are your readers supposed to read your mind? I can't do that, so when your chapter did not add up I asked explicit questions, to which I got sloppy and/or disingenuous answers.

    [more in the next post]

  7. [continuation of previous post]

    You say that vaccination has been debated endlessly on your blog, but as a reader of your book, how should I know that? And even if that were somehow a well-known fact, why should you assume that a reader of your book would know how to tie together two completely separate presentations?

    Doctors spend many years learning their trade, and they are examined rigorously before they are allowed to practice. And they can be sued, lose their licenses, or even go to jail, if they make mistakes. Yet, you casually prescribe without any of those qualifications, or safeguards, and you seem genuinely surprised that anyone should have the temerity to question your judgment.

    I am not a physician, but I do have enough formal training in biology at least to understand that I hardly know the whole story. So, I do not run around giving medical advice to people.

    In fact, my training is not really trivial at all. For example, as a software designer I once developed some bio-informatic applications that were used by the folks doing the Human Genome project. I was the one on the software team who had actually taken a heavy-duty genetics class in college, so I wound up briefing everyone else on the team on the biological principles involved in our work.

    As I mentioned in my review on Amazon, I am also the child of a physician and a nutritionist, so altogether I have had many years of regular, expert tutorials on medicine, nutrition, and public health. Indeed, under my father's tutelage, I first dissected a fetal pig at age eight, which is an experience that most people do not get until high school or college. Never mind the one-on-one tutelage from someone with a doctorate in the subject.

    In particular, my father regularly came home, every few days, with yet another frustrating story about some patient who had ignored carefully thought out, expert advice because "somebody's Aunt Tilley had never done things that way before". He worked very hard to educate his patients so they would get the maximum value from his advice and treatment, but he was often banging his head against the wall, because his patients often thought it was not worth even paying attention.

    And, like my father, now that I have taken the trouble to study the basic sciences pretty thoroughly, I too am bothered by the huge quantity of ignorance on the subject.

    Seven or eight years ago I was thinking of changing careers, and I was admitted to nursing school. I did not go, as it happened, but on the entrance exam I got a 99th percentile score, and I finished twenty minutes before anyone else. The minimum passing score is 50th percentile, and a fair fraction of the applicants do not do even that well. Obviously I have some level of objectively demonstrated scientific knowledge, but I am not qualified to give medical advice of any kind.

    So, again, is there any objective reason whatsoever that anyone should pay attention to your medical opinions? Could you even pass the entrance exam for nursing school? Never mind passing the licensing exam? If not, what qualifies you to talk on the subject?

    And, if you are somehow qualified, why do you never mention those qualifications, either in the book, or on your blog? In their absence it is only natural to assume that you have nothing to offer, because it would be natural to mention them.

    This is basic scientific method here. In the absence of such facts, I see no reason that you should be pronouncing as you do. Someone called me arrogant, but I am not the one presuming to give medical advice. I am just asking hard questions about your right to do so.

    Thus, unless you take the trouble to answer the questions I am really asking, I see no reason that anyone should give your opinions on the subject any credence at all, and I am also concerned about the harm you may do by dispensing unqualified advice.

    And that is not arrogance, it is fear.

    Most sincerely,

    Dave Johnson

  8. Troll (via Urban Dictionary):

    "One who posts a deliberately provocative message to a newsgroup or message board with the intention of causing maximum disruption and argument"

  9. I haven't read your book yet, Wendy - stupid tight finances - but I'm sure your editor made you put the disclaimer "I am not a doctor and my statements should not take the place of medical advice", right?

    You know, it's funny...I've been sharing your blog along with a few others to family members in my hometown. They've been curious about the whole urban homesteading concept, and for me, a big part of urban homesteading is preparing for the unexpected (such as tornados, earthquakes, etc).

    One of my relatives scoffed, reminding me that our hometown was protected from tornadoes because it was "where three rivers meet" (referencing an old Native American legend that the area will never be hit with tornadoes because of the rivers). I replied that I was pretty sure what protected the area was the bluffs on either side of the town, not the rivers - but I also pointed out that weather patterns have been changing over the past several years, and that relying on Indian superstition rather than your own knowledge and preparedness was foolish.

    That was a week ago.

    Yesterday, a tornado ripped through a 1.5 mile area of my hometown, tearing off roofs, uprooting trees, sending cars flying, and collapsing buildings. It amazes me that no one was killed. I spent a couple hours trying to reach my parents on the phone, but everyone was calling family in the area and the cell lines were tied up. Finally got through - my mother was fine. My dad didn't even know a tornado had hit until I called (one of the benefits of being half-deaf, I suppose).

    I'm hoping my other relative - the one who stated tornadoes will never hit La Crosse because of the rivers - will wake up and see that she doesn't live in a magical land where natural disasters will never happen. There isn't anyplace like that on earth, and everyone should be aware - and prepared - for the dangers of their region.

  10. Wendy, my advice to you is this: as strongly as you feel about getting Mr.Johnson to see your point, to acknowledge that you DO know what you're talking and writing need to let it go. You have explained your points eloquently and clearly and that is as much as you can do.

    A book I read years ago, called The Four Agreements states one of the agreements we must make with ourselves to be "Don't take it Personally". This was the hardest of the four agreements to implement into my life, because I hate seeing injustice, I like to clear the air and help people see my point of you. I realized that sometimes, it just isn't possible, and rather than expending our energy, trying to explain/defend over and over again, it's best to send them your light and love, wish them well, and leave them behind.

    You are the kind of person I truly admire - one who isn't afraid to walk her talk, who does so with conviction and commitment to her beliefs. Let this go, it's not necessary ;)

  11. Orange Jeep Dad - *grin* Thank you for the definition ;).

    Julie - exactly the advice Deus Ex Machina gave ;).

    patricialynn - How awful! I'm so happy to hear that you are okay, though. Having lived through a few tornadoes in my time, I know how frightening it can be.

  12. Hi Wendy! I just wanted to say that it was very nice meeting you this past weekend! I wish that we could have talked longer about your book...I look forward to finishing it this week!

  13. I think your troll isn't reading what you actually wrote. He is reading what he wants to see.

    Page 9 of your book. I count no less than three times you say "let's pretend". The Acknowledgements state specifically that this is a hypothetical situation inspired by Verde's challenge.

    Hmmmm. Well, just to be sure I went and re-read the chapter on health care. I was right. Nowhere in that chapter do you actually give medical advice. You state that you are "not convinced" that immunization is needed. You give info about different types of herbs. Info easily found on the net and in any of the many herbal books available to the public. You share that you have used garlic oil to soothe earaches (you never specifically state and infection, and there are things that will cause ache without infection). I don't see, anywhere, where you give ANYONE medical advice of any kind. The closest you come is stating that staying healthy in the first place is worth much more than treating illnesses after the fact. Hm. Sounds like a controversial statement to me. ;)

    One of the things I loved best about your book, dear Wendy, was that you made sure NOT to say folks needed to xyz. You said: this is what works in my area. This is what works for my family. These are options I'm aware of that may work for you and your family.

    Hunh. Troll. Forget about it.

  14. Fortunately I wasn't in the area when the tornado hit - I live in the Chicago area, while my hometown is in northwestern Wisconsin - but thank you for the well wishes, all the same ~grins~

    As for your "troll"...I've had to deal with trolls before who read into what I've written and twist it to look like it meant something else. However, it does raise the interesting point that sometimes people are idiots who only skim a book rather than reading it, and take from it things that it didn't say. Every book is susceptible to such treatment - even holy books (I mean, geez, look at Westboro Baptist Church). But from what I'm reading from other commentators like barefoot gardener, you did everything you could do to avoid the "This is the ONLY right way" attitude.

    When you read a book, what you get out of it reflects your personality, and not that of the author who penned the work.

  15. As a long-time reader of your blog I hope you'll let this stuff roll off your back. There are as many opinions out there as there are people. There's nothing to defend, and to be perhaps too honest, your topics that don't engage with or defend against the critics are far more interesting. Just another .02 : )

  16. Maybe your new friend Dave Johnson should check out "Rx from the Garden" by Kathleen Barnes. It was being offered free on the Kindle Store a couple weeks ago, so I grabbed a copy then. Haven't had a chance to read it, but the title certainly sounds like there could be much to "object" about.

    Personally, I think there's a tighter connection to his living than his dad being a doctor — like he's astroturfing for Big Pharma. Neither his claims nor mine can be proven, just as you can't prove I didn't rewrite large chunks of the Linux kernel (I didn't, just to be clear, but my name does appear in credits for Abiword and GNU troff). The thing is, after a TEOTWAWKI event, there won't be a Big Pharma to provide us with $200 doses of Sideffectin for our various aliments; without natural remedies we'll either have to live with the ailments or let a non-sedentary lifestyle take care of them for us. Therefore, a discussion of herbal medications is a valid topic for discussion.

  17. Dave Johnson....writing to see his words (talking to hear himself talk). He's obviously skimmed the book and hasn't read it. No where is there medical "advice", simply information which is wholly different. If someone tells me that steam has been known to relieve pressure when someone has a stuffy nose that's medical information. If he tells me to sit in a steamy bathroom that's medical advice. That fact that someone would write two blog posts in response PLUS reviews etc. and yet fails to know the difference is astounding. It speaks volumes as to why he has completely missed the premise of the book which is, as you state at the end of EVERY chapter that we have 21 days, or less, until our hypothetical end of the world to prepare. Each chapter OBVIOUSLY represents a days worth of thought about the topic.

  18. As a long-time reader of your blog I hope you'll let this stuff roll off your back. There are as many opinions out there as there are people. There's nothing to defend, and to be perhaps too honest, your topics that don't engage with or defend against the critics are far more interesting. Just another .02 : )solar energy wyoming