Saturday, October 7, 2017

Disease Model of Addiction Thoughts

This started as a response to Crabby Ex-Drunk & got out of hand. Instead of taking over his forum, here's a pot of my own.

You ask for it, you got it :)
I have long disliked calling addiction a disease. Diseases are caused by microbes. And alcoholism, say,  can't be a thing if you don't start drinking and keep drinking. It starts as behavior. Addiction is out of control behavior that self perpetuates. If we someday find that there are microbes that assist with this, fine, it's a disease. But it's not a disease you can treat like a microbe, so far as I know.

HOWEVER! People with addictions need help quitting & maintaining sobriety like hoarders need organizers, ADD execs need personal assistants, and well, there are many disfunctions that are best overcome with the help of a partner or a group. Addiction is clearly a dysfunction, and can be an extreme one. The trouble is our society has few words to accurately label mental health deviations and elicit compassion in the populace. Most mental health descriptors, if not now pejorative themselves (retarded used to mean slower, now it's just a taunt, for instance) elicit judgement, self righteous pushback, and all manner of nasty responses, none of which help the person fighting an addiction. Diseases get insurance coverage. Diseases at least have a hope of eliciting compassion. Right now, "disease" may be the best word we have to elicit the responses we need. I would rather support using the wrong word to get the right effect than to insist on perfect descriptors that allow folks to flounder.

And mental health issues might be more hormonal/vitamin/nutritional imbalances than microbe based but we call those problems diseases too. I prefer dysfunction -a bad tune up (dysfunction) isn't the same as sugar in the gas tank (microbe disease) but both can wreck your engine - they're both problems.  I guess I hadn't thought this through before now. I still yell "no it's not" at the addiction network ad. Probably I should stop now that I know what my position is.

Not having been an addict (except maybe for reading, and I don't say that to make light, just to share my least controlled behavior), I can't say if the disease model helps the treatment except as it allows people to step away from eternal blame. Because I do believe that some people have less control in certain situations thru nturzl disposition. Add to that years of response feedback conditioning in the brain which sets up repeated behavior seeking those rewards. It's not totally out of your control but not totally in your control either. Some things you control just fine, others not so much. I have ADD. My life is a minefield of distractions. I have to justify having an assistant CONSTANTLY to my mother. But having one means my life works & the opposite when I don't.

More like the addiction model: I have no "off switch" for potato/corn chips; one bag is one serving. I therefore buy tiny bags of chips and limit my visits to Mexican eateries with unlimited chips. If Chips had the addictive qualities of alcohol I would be 600 lbs. My brother and dad have no "off switch" for alcohol. Mom came from near teetotalers so keeps my dad from binging by limiting availability. Dad doesn't have many friends who drink at all. My brother dated teetotalers to dry out when he found himself doing risky things. Now he tries to savor good booze while remaining on guard. And his gf developed an allergy to brewers yeast(!) that helps him too. Also I knew I could be a chain smoker so I never started. But I was only able to do this because my family and most of my community was non-smoking. I had the info about smoking to make that choice. I try to remember that most smokers didn't start on 3rd base, as it were.

I hear there's a shot that stops the cravings for alcohol. Narcan, if dispensed like (formerly cheap) Epi-pens, would have saved at least one college friend. But our society both pushes addiction prone behaviors as worthy pursuits then punishes with almighty wrath any who dare be imperfect in their vices. We condemn, judge, WITHHOLD TREATMENT & HELP in the name of righteousness punishing wickedness as if we all weren't a tragedy or two from being there ourselves. The "it can't happen to me because I'm a good person" (similar to the "I can't be doing racist things because I'm a good person") delusion is a powerful distancing factor that drives a great deal of unhelpful behaviors. Like in Jenn Ashley Wright's book "Get Well Soon" the only way to limit the spread of disease is to treat those with the diseases with kindness & help them out. It makes sense to me that it's the only way to help afflicts regain control over their lives too - by providing help with compassion. So I guess I'm ok saying it's a disease. (Especially if we can conquer it with a medicine...)

Lastly: there are resorts in regions with monkeys. These monkeys will come steal alcoholic & other drinks while people stroll or swim. Folks studying the monkeys found the SAME RATE of teetotaler/casual drinkers/addicts in the monkey population as exists in the human population. If there are traits we share that closely with evolutionary cousins, addicts just might have been born with that proclivity into a society that does its best to keep their kryptonite front and center.

(This got out of hand. Another 3 hours and I could probably edit it back some. If there are typos let me know in the comments as I'm trying this on my phone which has some odd proclivities wrt autocorrect.)

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Pretty Perfect Pumpkin Pie Crust

TL;DR  Making pie dough into cinnamon rolls is awesome for pumpkin pies. Inspiration came from
Giggling Chef cinnamon roll pie crust
 Roll out crust dough, slather with butter and slices, roll into log, cut into slices, press slices into buttered* pie plate, and bake as needed for pie recipe.

My ADD brain is always searching for new stuff to learn or to do. I hit a sale at the HyVee on pumpkin pie supplies, and since the dog also likes canned pumpkin, I picked up a stash. Then remembered I'm living in a construction zone with a mini fridge so I'm not keeping eggs for the most part, and I'm cooking with a kettle and a toaster oven. (I could plug in a microwave but am saving that as s reward for getting the 2nd bedroom drywalled. And I have to blow construction dust off it.)

Anyhow, we spent Thanksgiving and then some at grandma's house so I took my pie fixings along. But the problem is, I don't like pie crust. My mom gets complimented on hers regularly, and her next door neighbor ran the Home Ec dept of a state university and she taught me to bake bread, so I've had ideal pie crusts. I've tried crusts made with butter, lard, Crisco, coconut oil, olive oil, and vodka.  I still don't like pie crust. (I do like pie crusts made with dates and crushed pecans, but it's too sweet for many pies, and was not an option here.). As I was waffling about whether to make the pie with or without crust (pumpkin quiche?), I remembered that Google might have a better idea.

Thankfully, I ran across the Cinnamon Roll Pie Crust. Because it looks spectacular, tastes great, and is relatively easy. Here's mine!

(Um, picture?)

I only have this picture because we were too busy eating it to take a photo after baking. Even with the aid of the glass pie plate, and making a second one,  it didn't happen.

Cranky Otter's Cinnamon Roll Pie Crust.
At Aldi's we could buy a 3 year supply of Crisco for $3.39 or a box of 2 pie crusts for $1.29. We bought 4 pie crusts. Turns out the Aldi's pie crusts are good. And cheap & easy - just the way we like 'em. (I have no problems eating raw pie dough. Go figure.)

- raw pie crust, rolled out
- 2T or so cinnamon
- add sprinkles of other "pumpkin pie spices" like clove, nutmeg, & ginger if you need the excuse to stock up at Penzey's.
- dash of paprika or cayenne pepper
- dash of salt
- 2-4 T butter*, melted.
     * Butter can be subbed out. Because it's melted, texture is not an issue. Use whichever fat you like. Coconut or olive oil for vegans.

- work surface
- flexible spreader
- glass pie plate (serve pie tilted on the side if your pie plate is metal)
- clean fingers
- cutting tool
- rolling pin (for homemade crusts)

- If you made pie dough, roll it out to a square or rectangle, then chill it while getting out your ingredients to fix it. Make enough for a pie about a cm larger in diameter than your pan, just in case.
- Toss as many Tbsps of butter as you are comfortable using in your glass pie plate. Microwave butter until melted.
- Lay out pie dough on work surface. Trim back about a half inch on 4 sides to square it up slightly.
- Swish or spread butter around pie plate. Pour excess onto pie crust and spread evenly.
- Liberally douse the raw, buttered crust with cinnamon. Rub it in with your fingers or spreader to get to the edges. Don't be shy, make a paste you can't see through.
        - If you want to get fancy, sprinkle lightly also with any or all of the "pumpkin pie spices" and include the hot pepper and a pinch of salt.
        - Please do NOT add sugar. It is too likely to burn when in contact with the pan. Unless you like that sort of thing. But it's not needed.

- roll up the spiced crust into a log. Cut slices about 3/8" (1cm) thick.
- place one in the bottom of the pie plate and squish it with your fingers (or a clean glass) to be about half as thick. It will spread out. If gaps open in the spice layer just scootch it over a bit to close. In the future, use more down force, less sideways force.
- Repeat with remaining slices, going up the edge also. If you have enough to cover, yay! You're done! If you're shy a bit, use the pieces cut off the round to make a lip around the top and fill in any scary gaps. Or frantically re-squish everything just a little more.
- Fill with pumpkin pie filling, or prebake, whatever your pie calls for. Bake per pie instructions.
- Eat & Enjoy!
Introverts: Put glass pie plate on small elevated stand to show off crust.
Extroverts: Walk it around to all the relatives/ diners and insist they admire your crust before and after baking, like I did.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Nature's 10 Most Perfect Foods

Today instead of 3 things that make me happy, I'm upping the ante and going for 10. 

Back in college, whenever someone mentioned Twinkies, my dorm mates would chime in with, "Nature's Most Perfect Food!"  I've given an inordinate amount of thought over the years to what would follow Twinkies on this list, and recently decided I have a stable top 6 or so, and rounded it out with other favorites. It's late; I'm awake.  So without further ado, I bring you:

Nature's Most Perfect Foods

1) Twinkies
Definitionally, these Hostess snack cakes top the list. 

2) Hot Pockets with the crisper sleeve.
Without the sleeve they slide to 6th place. Lean Pockets count - I like the artichoke chicken.  Every omnivorous culture has an iconic meat pie, but one that can be microwaved to crispy in 2 minutes makes this ours.  Great for breakfast, lunch, snack, or dinner.

3) Easy Mac
Loved Mac & Cheese growing up. As a single adult, I don't keep much milk on hand & a box makes too much, so I rarely ate any.  Finally tried Easy Mac at a house party overrun with kids, and it was like the heavens opened up. Don't need to keep perishables, and it makes only enough for 1 serving. It tastes and feels exactly like I need it to.  What's not to love?

4) Doritos
A case could be made for Cheetos here, but Taco Bell partnering to make a Doritos taco shell brought these into the top 5.  Again, childhood food memories, this time of taco salad at church potluck chock full of chips gets evoked by the Doritos Loco Taco. Doritos are delicious, every chip. 

5) Ramen Noodles
The classic college staple, dried packs of ramen have a nearly infinite shelf life, cost almost nothing, and can partner up with all manner of steamed veggies or eggs & meat or stand alone. I posit that a third of my generation (X) owes their continued existence to access to cheap ramen at some point in their lives. 

6) Chicken Nuggets
These started in my generation, but really took off as a primary foundational food in the kids I babysat. They're now nearly universal & almost universally tasty. What kicks them out of the top 5, aside from my age, is that the best ones come from a drive thru, but the rest of the list can be made at home - or dorm or work or convenience store or...  Probably half the millennials subsisted on chicken nuggets for a good portion of their childhood.  

7) Lucky Charms
They're magically delicious

8) Pillsbury Crescent Rolls
How can you not love exploding rolls of bread? I load them up with bacon or ham & shredded cheese (sharp cheddar, mozzarella, & Trader Joe's Parmesan if you must know), give 'em a little salt & pepper to gild the lily just a bit, then roll & bake. This treat is amazingly filling & sticks to my ribs so well that I usually make a batch for traveling. I eat one or two & can go for hours. 

9) Jell-O, along with shelf stable tapioca pudding. 
With jello, most desserts are possible. Ask me about my crowd pleasing jello mold of the United States. (Alaska & Hawaii did not make the cut but it's all good.) I, myself, being a fan of stirring things, make a mean tapioca pudding, but having it on demand in single servings makes me happy. 

10) Maraschino Cherries
I love these fool things. They're peppy and sweet and always accompany something happy and fun. (Note: this is how I slyly sneak alcohol into the food list, kind of. Mmm... amaretto.)

There you have it!  Nature's 10 most perfect foods, as scientifically decided by Cranky Otter. All of them are engineered to be tasty, most have a substantial shelf life which adds to how easy they are to make & consume.  Clearly part of the selection criteria is a high degree of manufacturing in the creation of these foods, because sarcasm is also delicious.   I stuck with foods rather than beverages or condiments - which I may do another day. I may redo the list with pictures; this list cries out for pictures, but if I put that on the critical path, it could take about 3 months to get it down & I'm awake now. 

Tell me how right I am in the comments, and let me know what you would add to the list - I'll cede spots 11-20 to y'all. 

Thursday, April 17, 2014

LifeHack: Dog Pill Pockets

My dog has some persistent skin infections which require me to give him antibiotics. (I then have to add <a href=>Nzymes Probiotics</a> to his food to aid digestion and hair growth, but I digress.)

At first, Bruno was so eager to please that all things I tossed at him were *treats!* and I could just toss him pills to swallow. He started to realize there was something hinky about certain "treats", and implemented a new policy. He would not catch the first thing I tossed him, but would let it fall and investigate before committing. Raw Pills no longer made the cut. 

I tried stuffing them in cheese, specifically cut up string cheese, but larger pills would split the cheese and Bruno would spit out pills if he noticed them.  I tried hot dogs, but they had similar flaws to cheese, and both were pricey in volume. I tried stuffing them in hunks of Natural Balance sausage, but that doesn't mold or stick well. Ordinarily those are attributes, but are not consistent with disguising pills.  My dog weighs a hundred pounds. His pills can be large and/or numerous. I needed a cheaper, easier option. 

I'm not sure why I bought braunschweiger at the grocery store one day, but I did. I like it a little, but not usually enough to eat the whole package. I had the notion that I could buy it for me and give the rest to the pooch. I'm less fond of it than I remember being. I like the smell fine but the texture gets to me. But Bruno? He thinks Braunschweiger is The. Best. Treat. Ever. He likes it more than marrow, his previous favorite. 

And somehow I got the notion to hide his pills in the braunschweiger. Even knowing there is something hinky with this treat, he will still eat it without question. Success!

After some trial and error, I settled on a method to form these homemade pill pockets.

I scoop a lump of braunschweiger onto a dessert spoon (from Ikea, also used in Rainbow Cake post). I place the pills on it then squish them in, covering them and making a oval shaped lump to facilitate easy swallowing. This works a treat!

But I didn't want to be scooping strong smelling liver sausage twice a day so I started making them ahead and freezing them. This works best if I make a trough in some foil to hold them during assembly, then wrapping the foil into a tube when full. This gets frozen overnight, then twisted between each pill to make counting and retrieval easier. Like so:

Again, make them bullet shaped rather than round to reduce the risk of choking. (These look round due to reflection.) Not that my dog chokes on anything smaller than a charcoal briquette but still, caution seems prudent. If you don't agree that braunschweiger smells nice enough, other options are goat cheese or maybe hummus - if your dog likes either of those things - or anything of similar consistency. The Kroger brand of liver sausage is $2.49/ 8 oz, though, so it's hard to beat on cost and doggie desirability. 

After a while without meds, he's now on 2 antibiotics (poor boy's got methicillin resistant staph that flared up after a steroid treatment, and 4 other opportunistic bugs to add insult to injury). Each dose is given twice a day. Each dose is 3 pills. This would be fine if it was just the small pills. Three small pills fit easily into one sausage pellet. But the second pill is large and slippery. I can't fit 3 of those in one pellet without it being too large. I thought of various combinations to prep - 3A+1B & 2B was the front runner until I realized it would be hard to manage when they all looked the same. I finally settled on one of each pill per pellet / pocket. 

Doing the math, that's 42 pill pockets for a one week supply. He has to take these for a month, which makes 180. Making them all individually as above, with slippery pills, was going to be a pain in the tuchus and take forever. I decided I needed to mass produce them. I looked around for a half pipe shape of a diameter to be useful and enough and found nothing. I did have a notion of what I wanted, though: a tray that I could smear wholesale with braunschweiger. So I made one out of clay. I had to make the clay, too. This is also cheap and easy if you have standard pantry goods. 

Roughly 2 scoops flour to one scoop salt, water to mix, and a drop of food coloring to make it less repulsive looking. I also added some guar gum and xantham gum thickener because I have it and I could. I rolled the dough into a long log about 3/4" diameter or so. Then I placed it on parchment paper and sliced part way through, down the length of the log, and pressed the back of the spoon into the crevice as many times as I could fit. This gave me connected but individual shapes with a slightly crisp upper edge. I then used a rounded plastic clip to enhance the boundary between spoon presses. Realizing these boundaries would be hidden when filling, I made marks on the outside of the mold to indicate placement. (whew! Failure avoided.) I dried it in the oven in low heat (170F, chosen to be <200 & >150) for several hours while I did other stuff. Ta-da! 18 pill pocket molds!

To assemble, I lined the mold with plastic wrap, cut long and gathered slightly to allow some slack. I cut slabs of braunschweiger and pressed them I to the bottom. Between my marks, I placed one of each pill, then went back and smooshed the pills in a bit more.

 I wound up rolling out thin, flattened logs of the braunschweigher to place on top. At this point I closed the plastic wrap over the top and smoothed the top surface, trying to fully cover all pills. I then flipped over the mold to remove to log of sausage pills. To ensure proper distribution and ease of use, I pressed a dull edge into the separation marks, then re-rounded the sides. You can see the plastic wrapped log before enhancing the separation, and the mold showing pocket size relative to pills. 

In not too terribly long, I made 54 "treats", which will last a bit longer than a week. I then formed a few more by my usual method to get pictures and use up the remainder of the braunschweiger.   Now they're in the freezer, ready to start using tomorrow. 

I'll keep the mold until I can make all 180 pellets, then throw it out. But just so I wouldn't forget, I wrote this here helpful post. 

Please feel free to use any of these ideas, but know your dog's limits and use at your own risk. If choking is a concern, thaw the pellets before use. (Freezing only needed if more than a couple days supply is made ahead.) Choose a pellet making medium that is safe for your sick dog to eat.  Make sure, if you make the salty salty mold, to line it with plastic wrap. Otherwise, ick!  Don't let the parchment paper touch the heater elements in your oven, do not poke your eye out, or use my advice to perpetrate any other avoidable tragedy. Because this is the easiest way I know of to give pills to dogs and I want to share it in good faith. Good luck!

Sunday, April 7, 2013


What's the difference between convex and concave?  Mountain fold vs. Valley fold?  It's a matter of relativity - where we are when we look at it determines how it's described.  Sometimes we classify convex or concave based on a reference plane rather than our own position, but mostly it's about how we see stuff relative to where we are.

I was listening to NPR again and there was a fascinating talk on how our language influences how we think. (For the life of me, I can't find the link to the show which aired 2 hours ago, but this one will serve for now.)  From little to big, different languages make us relate to the world differently.  I think a large part of why we don't remember much from before we're 4 or 5 isn't because we don't remember.  It's because after that age, language overwhelmingly shapes our decisions and memories.  We stop using our previous memory pathways directly and overlay them with language.  Which makes us forget how to access those older memories because those memories can't be accessed with language skills.

But my point was rather different.  How we relate to the world is coded in our language.  In the last post, I mention an uncle.  All you know from that is that he was born a male sibling to one of my parents.  You don't know that he was my mom's brother or that he died.  In some other languages, you would have to know all that to be able to speak of him.  In yet other languages, you'd know even less - he might just go by the generic term "cousin" which describes all peripheral relatives.  Thinking about adding more detail or using less makes me feel vaguely uncomfortable. I imagine the people who use those other languages feel the same.

The bit I found most fascinating was the culture (Aboriginal Australian, I think) who uses fixed directions for all scales of direction.  The researcher pointed out that even greeting someone uses directions.  "Hello" for them is "where are you headed".  The response is something like "SSW for a long distance" with a gesture in that direction.  Or, if headed to, say, grandma's house, you'd point in the direction she's at.  This is fascinating to me for two reasons, both covered in the interview.
1) Relativism.  Their directions are relative to the earth, not relative to themselves.
2) Direction finding.  It has long been assumed that people lack the ability to direct themselves home like a homing pigeon.  Turns out that we can, if we have the language for it.

Before this talk, I hadn't really though about directions being anything other than relative.  A lot of people taught to read maps from a young age always orient the maps facing north, but the rest of us think more in terms of "in front of me" vs "behind me" or "take a right at the 4th Starbucks".  The directions center around us, not around the landscape.  Thinking about that makes it sound a little absurd, as if Mt. Greylock or Lake Tahoe cares where I am at any given time.

Speaking of time, it turns our our representations of time are factored into our language.  English readers figure time left to right.  Arabic readers figure time right to left.  Americans figure the future is ahead of us and the past behind us.  Some other cultures gesture forward to the past and the future is in the back - because we can see the past but we can't see the future.  Yet another always gestures from east to west, because that is how time moves. That last one is fascinating to me because it's new, but makes a lot of sense.  It even carries over into unrelated thing - when we lay out playing cards, we lay them left to right.  The do the same if they're facing south. Facing north, cards go right to left.  Facing east?  They get laid toward the body.

And that's because they use the landscape as the basis for location reference and we use ourselves.   I think each has its place, but which one makes you feel more significant in the world, I wonder?  I happen to live on the stretch of highway 101, a N/S road, where it goes almost perfectly E/W.  So all the signs say "Northbound 101" but usually just "North 101" as you head directly into the sunset. That direction accounts for the whole road, not just the section, but it is rather weird but there's sense to it somewhere. (Massachussetts has at least one road sign with 3 directions listed on it for similar reasons, although I can't argue for sense when it comes to MA roadsigns.)  On a smaller scale,  I truly cannot fathom laying out my floorboard North to South - I'd say, "make them parallel to the central wall".  I wonder if people who bow to Mecca are similarly attuned to directions during the day.  My beef with that practice has long been "who can bother to figure out East from everywhere?"  Turns out that if you do it reflexively, after long practice, it's just something you do.

Most of what I just said is things you can find elsewhere.  But I ponder relative references rather a lot - and have since I first learned that  the center of a graph's axes is "where we decide it needs to be". That rather blew my mind for a while.  Maybe I was concerned that it wouldn't make sense for the next problem in the set, but hey!  New graph!  Problem solved.  So I try to think of things like convex and concave and how I'd explain them to kids.

The part that comes from me, though, is how we think about newsworthy events.  Recently, every jackass seems to think that the way to get attention is to shoot up a school.  And whether they die in the attempt or not, they're right.  (Prior to that it was the post office.  Prior to that, I think people mostly took out their vague grievances on their darker skinned neighbors.)  It's not like someone couldn't drive a car quickly into the unloading zone of a school and do the same amount of damage in an equally short amount of time.  (Unless the school is wise and has the occasional barrier in place, and no place to work up a head of steam.)  Or crash a small aircraft into the kids a recess. (No fly zones over schools?)  Or just plain T-Bone a full school bus.  But people aren't focused on that, they're focused on the guns. Probably because people with vague but deeply felt grievances aren't looking to be unique, they're looking to be memorable and they get it.

More distressingly to me than focusing on the method of atrocity is having the News machine so focused on the perpetrator.  It's been said before me, and it'll be said again after me, but giving attention to the perpetrator makes them a celebrity. I could probably more easily identify the mass murderers of the last decade than my state's reps.  (The usual comparison is the supreme court, but I've got those mostly locked in these days.)  And Gabby Giffords is the only victim of a mass shooting (or in her case, assassination attempt) whose name I can come up with at the drop of a hat.  While I don't want to get all maudlin and in their business, wouldn't it be better if we knew the names of the victims and didn't get the names of their killers into our heads at all?  I don't want those shits taking up space in my brain pan, but I cannot get away from it without dropping out of society.

Yes, someone does need to know who the perpetrator is and figure out why they did what they did in order to seek justice and/or prevent future atrocities.  But the biggest thing we could do to prevent those atrocities?  Is ignore the asshat doing the damage.  Just refuse them credibility, refuse them celebrity, refuse even to utter  their names like an Amish shunning. If they're alive they'll be provided with food and shelter but they no longer get to interact in society and we, outside the small group who has to, hold no truck with them.

On that note, there are any number of crime shows on TV.  Bones, Law and Order, CSI, NCIS, and all the variants of "outside consultant helps the police solve mysteries with their special skills" like the Mentalist, Castle, Sherlock, Psych, Monk, Numbers, etc...  See, lots of them.  But I think I've figured out why I gravitate to Bones and Person of Interest.  Whose story do we hear, the victim's or the perpetrator's?  In those two, mostly we learn about the victim.  Sometimes that's heartwrenching - I can get upset over wasted potential in fictional characters too.  The focus on Bones is "who is this person and how did they get here?".  The focus in "Person of Interest" is "who is this person and how can we save them, or help them save themselves?"  As much as the new Hannibal looks like it could be cool, I don't need to spend 44 minutes every week figuring out how evil people think.  I'd rather watch someone be recreated in absentia, or saved.

Then, I'll go see how someone is living better because they have a better kitchen or bedroom design, can make a better dress, or find some better way to make food, make a duct tape bridge, or get grimy with folks doing their thang.  (respectively, all redesign shows on HGTV, Project Runway, Food Network, Mythbusters, and Dirty Jobs. )  Because there's only so much death and destruction I can take before I need to see something or someone put to rights.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Bully for Q

Not sure why this particular idea broke through my content creation vs content absorption boundary layer when gay marriage is heating up the Supreme Court, but here it is.

Listening to the smooth voice of Jian Ghomeshi on his show Q on NPR, one guest tonight was an advocate for "initiation rituals". (wow, links are so much more pleasant on a PC that's not trying to autocorrect "href" into an English word. /tangent) I think the discussion of whether or not all initiations are hazing or in any way necessary is a good one. I didn't think any of this guy's arguments held water. The best thing I got from him was how hazing/initiation is distinct from bullying. It's about duration. Hazing is pretty much just bullying, to my mind, but it has an end point. At some point, you join the upper echelon and you no longer get hazed/bullied, and to some degree you are complicit in it. Bullying more generally has no signup sheet and no end date. It occurs to me that this makes hazing a subset of bullying behavior, not distinct from it. Even more, they all fall into the realm of torture, either wholly or largely overlapping it. And common or no, I can't support ritualized torture. Also, hazing is about reinforcing the existing status apparatus, and being someone who has always been a little outside the normal power structure, I have no love of the status quo nor the perpetuation thereof just for the sake of it.

In general I'd define hazing as something done to diminish, hurt, antagonize, or otherwise embarrass a person or group of people, with their complicity*, on the way to joining a presumably desirable, high status group. In theory, tough initiation rituals weed out the uncommitted or undesirable, acting as a "jerk filter", kind of like a tricky technical climb keeps novices off of prime climbing cliffs or tight squeezes keep drunk teenagers out of the cave beyond the pinch point. In reality, most initiation rituals are just ways to lower people who you should want to most elevate. You can probably tell by my tone, I'm not a fan.

The specific instance here was a group of mixed sex engineering students doing the "Slush Crawl" at a Canadian University for, of all things, an engineering society. A video made it online and slush hit the fan. Rightfully so to my mind. Why? Because it's hazing. Crawling through slush in underwear in freezing weather while being pelted by snowballs, squirted by seniors weilding water guns, and being smushed further into the cold? That can physically damage you forever, or kill you without affecting your engineering abilities one iota. Canadians may be tough in the cold, but hypothermia is no joke. You can lose fingers or toes. And you know it's no fun because the organizers don't take part in the crawling.

Compare and contrast to a "water party" I gleefully attended in college:
One, it was warm out.
Two, it was a fun exploration of ways to get wet on campus, not a barrier to entry for an academic or professional group. I could go home at any time and suffer no repercussions.
Three, while I was crawling around in not much (to save myself laundry... right...) dress was up to the individual choice, not dictated by the man.
Four, the organizers gleefully participated in addition to refereeing winners of moat races.
Five, I learned new things about the campus, like which water features were the most accessible. (The most memorable being that the moat around the chapel ramps up under the "drawbridge" area so don't splash down too enthusiastically there, you'll scrape your nose.)

If the Slush Crawl was just a campus tradition? Fine - if they get a first aid station and serve hot chocolate afterward, and have heaters or bonfires or homemade saunas set up. And if participation is in no way compulsory. I starred (*) "complicit" earlier because while you're playing along like you approve, your approval doesn't matter. If you're unable to safely say no, you consent is not consent. Kind of like going through the TSA search and seizure routine - not flying really isn't an option if I want to see family and participate in modern life without losing my job for taking too many vacation days. My consent is meaningless because there are not other *viable* options to flying. The problem is similar for hazing. If you object to hazing, consequences can be severe - not being in the engineering, or any, society might not sound like big shakes, but it determines your social and professional life for years, and possibly your lifetime.

For this specific instance, the guest made the following lousy and lazy arguments:
- this has been happening for years
- many people have it worse that that
- it doesn't "look" that bad
- no one complained about the event
- if she didn't report the complaint, she didn't mind the slap on the ass
- initiations are "highly calibrated"
- initiations are put you through experiences that will prepare you and your group of initiates to overcome "relevant" obstacles.

My rebuttals, one by one
- Conduct must be judged on its merits, not its prevalence (R. Cohen.)

-University students  students  soldiers  No one should be looking to clear the lowest bar. Especially since the argument for the hazing is holding you to a higher standard. Knowing that someone else has it worse is a call to help those people out, not descend into it yourself.

- How something "looks" has no relevance to how something feels or how serious it is. It doesn't look that bad to stuff someone in a small box either, but when you do it to someone (excepting magicians and performance artists who do it to themselves) it's torture. 15 minutes locked in a box can cause a psycotic break. Crawling over ice in the buff can cause permanent damage to fingers and toes in minutes.

- Complaining about the event is equivalent to refusing to participate, if not worse. Unless someone actually does become noticably disabled or dead, complaints are rare. You don't want to be a tattletale, do you? Now you've done the hazing for nothing, and become subject to bullying and harrassment. My uncle had some similar hazing event in college (being wet and cold in underwear running around) and the resulting pneumonia nearly killed him. My grandfather, a husky 6'3" and smart as a whip and kind to all, went on a real tear to the college board. He, my uncle and his friend were the only ones to really complain. They were no longer pledges. They didn't get to meet alums in high finance in Chicago. But they did get their dignity. And my grandfather was always proud about speaking up against hazing. He found it an appalling thing to ask of someone, and I'm right on board.

- Harassment isn't defined as "something that makes a person file an official complaint". You don't get to smack women on the ass without explicit consent; it's a straight up violation. Someone with equal or greater standing should see you being an asshole and take you to task, it's not up to the lowest status person, aka an initiate freshman, to call you on your crap. Even I might have let this one pass in the noise of "they were shoving and slapping at everyone" but (a) they weren't, and (b) it was given that no-defense reaction explicity, and (c) just days ago mass media was bemoaning the status points lost for two boys convicted of rape for drugging a teenage girl, dragging her to multiple parties like a hunted deer carcass, raping her all the while as people stood around and filmed it. And people felt sorry for the goddamned boys! So I'm telling you now, if a guy smacks a woman on the ass, you stand up and tell him to back off until/unless she freely volunteers that it's just peachy with her.

So now that the lazy arguments are out of the way, we get to my buried lede. It turns out that enduring hardship together does make for strong bonds between people. But you know what? Hazing overwhelmingly makes people angry, embarrassed, bitter, and vengeful. Then if they're allowed to be vengeful, they don't take it out on the perpetrators, generally, they take it out on next year's initiates and give just a little worse than they got. And things snowball from there. Or become snowballs thrown at people crawling through slush to be... better engineers? That ritual makes no damn sense.

The real point where I lost my sympathy for the guest and culminated in this post was the "highly calibrated" and "prepares you for real tasks" comments.
  • Hazing is almost never "highly calibrated". Giving worse than you got is a recipe for evil.
  • Hazing almost never directly or peripherally prepares you for your future life challenges.
The obvious counter-example is Hell Week in SEAL training, except that *is* highly calibrated and *is* direct prep for their actual job. When they get the candidates cold and wet over and over? They've worked out the fine line between willpower and hypothermia, and if they cross it, there are doctors and warming baths on hand. They start out with simulated machine gun fire, run a lot, and stay awake for a week performing tricky tasks as a team. And some SEALs report that they've been through *worse* in the field. So while this could be hazing, it's more like overly enthusiastic job prep.

 Why would a group be made more cohesive when the relationships start out as bullying and embarrassment and negativity? What about needlessly risking hypothermia and toe loss makes one a better engineer? How is that better than having the initiates/pledges do a big project on a tight timeline? MIT Hacks come to mind. While those are mostly volunteer, some of them happened every Rush, and someone had to do them - why not initiates? That's a positive focused team directive that builds confidence and accomplishes something. Like becoming an Eagle Scout by doing a project for your community, have the freshman plan an outing or an event or a fundraiser - all these things put people to work doing observable life skills.

 Take party planning - the leaders can see who's a better organizer, who's a better "task doer", who sloughs off, who has good ideas. And they can either sort their pledge choices based on these skills, or decide to hold a skills class to get their pledges better organized. Maybe give them an inconvenient deadline - where pledges have to get their act together or fail to pledge or fail a class, but have available to them the tools needed for them to succeed at the pledge challenge AND their coursework.

 Myself, I only had marginal exposure to hazing. I did a week of AFROTC indoctrination, and there were a couple of physical fitness evenings that were just there to wear us out. I learned later that they'd planned all the insults weeks in advance, so no matter what happened, someone's uniform wouldn't be pressed enough, someone would be too slow, and that person or group would be yelled at. Most of the week was just honest learning and PT. But the very small parts that weren't? Made me dislike and disrespect the leaders. Most of them remain tainted in my mind to this day - and they weren't all that bad.

Why would we want to live in a world where people dedicate their time to making life harder for other folks? There exist tough circumstances already. While going through a trial together may make you some friends for life, hazing is more likely to bring a lingering enmity to your life that doesn't help you or anyone you know. Why not fill that initiation time with progressive challenges that culminate in creating something good or entertaining? It should be something a senior would like to do again. It should be difficult and can be silly and even embarrassing, if the goal isn't solely to cause embarrassment, like a musical done in drag, or making identical or themed costumes that get worn to class. More pledge ideas off the top of my head: make a work of art, make a music video of the latest meme, redecorate the living room, create a new dining room chandelier, run a fundraiser, hold a bake-off bake sale, hold a loft building competition, get another measurement of the divot created when a piano falls from a dorm roof. Imagine the results of onupsmanship in building a better movie room lounge or carving topiary trees instead of wasting your energy running around cold and wet.

So if you find yourself in a group preparing to haze someone, let go of any vendetta. Think instead of how you can make it be a potentially positive experience that benefits your group and your pledges. Instead of hosing people down, set them to achieve something difficult but delightful for the whole team.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Laguna outing

I've got a friend who plans outings. This is a wonderful thing for me because I don't enjoy organizing outings, but I do enjoy outings. Today, we went to the pacific marine mammal seal and sea lion rescue center. They do good work- about 4 of 5 rescued pinnipeds are returned to the wild after feeding and treatment. Today, there were a dozen seals in one of the "we're almost better" tanks who reacted to a little tiny dog being walked nearby. They lunged into and out of the pool to slip-n-slide across the decks, based on the completely oblivious dog's movements.

It was one of the first few beautiful days we've had in months, and I got to enjoy it with friends near a beautiful beach. And I was able to confirm that losing one of my nine gaspods in the carwash didn't wreck the mileage boost I get from using them. (They don't help on slow roads, but get me an extra 30 miles or do on a tank on the freeway.)

I was able to feel good about getting out without guilttripping over leaving Bruno because I found a Doggy Daycare that he seems to like well enough, and which wears him out. Both those things are key when he's not getting a big ol' hike with me. First, Bruno loves riding in the car. I offered him a snack as we were leaving and he spit it out because it was not helping get him in the car, the car!! When we got there for his second time, he went right to the dog yard. The attendant seemed a little stunned at how cooperative he was. So he got doggie socialization and I got people (and seal) socialization. All good!

My third good thing - after passing by a juice bar on my way home, I got a hankering for a smoothie. The juice place next to Petco let me (a) order a smoothie 3 minutes after they closed and (b) bring Bruno in with me to place the order. They didn't have to do either of these things but they did and I got my fruity blended beverage two hours after the urge struck.

Bruno's sacked out. It's time I get that way.