The Flu Shot Isn’t About You

From Lafayette BART 3

October, 1918, was a time of the Spanish Flu. Around 50 million people died, with 150 million people catching the flu – so, one in three people who caught it died from it. According to the CDC, “The pandemic was so severe that from 1917 to 1918, life expectancy in the United States fell by about 12 years, to 36.6 years for men and 42.2 years for women.” We find it hard to conceive of the sheer volume of death caused by what we think of as “only the flu.”

When you get a flu shot, you’re acting to prevent the spread of the disease, and to protect other people who may not have access to the flu shot, or who may not tolerate it. You’re protecting people with compromised immune systems, babies, those who are already sick. The flu shot isn’t about you, it’s about protecting the rest of humanity. And, yes, there is research on this as a more effective argument … and I don’t think that changes anything at all.

-D

Wandering thoughts on Altruism

I have been thinking on altruism, and how it plays out within organizations. In particular, I’m thinking about the question which sometimes arises when considering altruism with regards to whether altruism can be selfless or is simply a form of selfishness wherein the individual thinks well of themself for giving of themself and thus actually is being selfish by being giving. Put differently: people question altruism’s emotional component as if enjoying the altruistic act is somehow immoral because of that enjoyment of it.

The reason the question is at all interesting would seem to be because we place moral weight upon selfish versus selfless feelings, and want to frame the discussion in those terms because those terms have moral weight, rather than it being an abstract intellectual interest in the understanding of the nature of the altruistic impulse. It is also narrow in thinking because it disallows both to be true: it is possible to both experience pleasure at thinking well of yourself and to be giving to others from a genuine desire to help them. It would seem that the thinking in this area should be disentangled and should have the moral component removed in order to adequately understand the concept of altruism; likewise, they should be disentangled in order to thoroughly examine the field with regards to its hidden moral component in the form of the questions it asks.

A functioning system of community encourages its individuals to be somewhat altruistic towards one another. This is part of being an individual in a community, at its root. In being raised with in such a community, and encouraged to develop this behavior, one is encouraged to associate that behavior with pleasure of some sort (the behavior is rewarded). So, each member of the community is trained to experience pleasure at performing altruistic acts. It would seem, then, that even the question of whether altruism is selfish or selfless is rather absurd, as the value component of altruism is imposed from an outside system, encouraged by that outside system, and deliberately inflicted upon the psychological makeup of its individuals in order to cause the community to thrive and survive. Considering altruism as an individual concept, thus, ignores entirely the fact that it is both on artificial construct, and is outwardly induced rather than necessarily being intrinsic to the human psychological makeup.

In organizations, when we speak about emotional intelligence, I believe that what we are really speaking about is a set of emotional traits including some degree of fellow-feeling, which may be interpreted to mean altruism. If you consider that fellow feeling necessitates acting positively towards someone else, then fellow-feeling must be viewed as altruism. So, in organizations, just as in other communities, the culture must function to encourage altruistic behavior. In systems and cultures which lack this feature of encouraging altruism, the system or organization is not sustainable over the long term, simply because the cohesiveness and resiliency of the group must surely be determined to some extent by the number and quality of altruistic members. That is not to argue that an organization consisting solely of selfish individuals could not exist, but that such an organization (I imagine) would seem utterly foreign and would not necessarily even be navigable to someone with a functioning set of altruistic impulses.

A problem with accepting the discussion of altruism as having both an intrinsic moral component and an intrinsic motivational component is that the moral component is imposed from outside (Puritans, maybe?) and has driven the discussion in a perverse direction while the motivational component is confounded by both category errors (biology / psychology) and weakness in causal attribution and that there is a confusion with regards to the biology involved. In particular, when one is asking questions about the emotional or sensory aspects of moral judgments and their necessity with regards to how they are attached to moral judgments, one ignores that, firstly, the reward system has been conditioned by the intentional instruction of the community. Secondly, an individual which did not possess such conditioning would be an individual likely unrecognizable as human; at least, within the range of what the majority of society would consider normal, we would not recognize such an individual well enough to predict their behavior as we would other human minds.

I have been thinking about altruism alongside the biological and AI concept of Emergence*, wherein unintelligent components of the system are able to evince what appears to be quite rational and logical thought through the application of simple algorithms. When we look at something like Emergence in the animal kingdom and say, “This is something that is able to make decisions without any conscious thought,” and we clearly see that in nature, why would we assume that human thought is of any different nature? Why would we assume that human thought is of greater complexity than that which is carried out seemingly without consciousness in the animal kingdom? If we fail to consider the biological systems, we are asking questions which do not move the discussion in any meaningful direction. We need to understand ourselves both in terms of biology and in terms of psychology in order to sufficiently understand the motivational components of meta-ethics. If we attempt to explicate these questions without reaching out to adjacent fields as well, we end up where we are now, failing to honestly consider all of the aspects of the problem.

To me, though, the larger problem with disentangling the biological and psychological is that of causation: does the altruistic act cause the feeling of pleasure? We would think so, because we believe that we act based upon motivations and we believe that we understand that motivation, despite experimental evidence indicating that the mind simply makes up stories that seem plausible for explaining the world.

In order to disentangle the biology, though, we need to have a discrete chain of causation in which the biological component doesn’t actually begin the process, else the altruistic act suffers from the same lack of standing as it would have done had it been out of a selfish impulse. This isn’t possible, however, because of the way the simple system functions in that it is often quite impossible to disentangle the direction of causation between feelings and biology. For example, feelings of nausea may be caused by a stomach ailment or may be the result of psychological distress; when both conditions are present, and even considering what the individual would offer as explanatory, the reality is that we are trusting an interpretive system to make sense of systems to which the individual doesn’t pay adequate attention and of which they may not have adequate understanding. Additionally, we seem to be arguing from insufficient evidence when considering individual entities and how those entities feel, and then attempting to generalize from a population making statements about how they feel, when all of those entities are undergoing the same requirement to interpret their own biological systems and provide explanation for what they are experiencing, simultaneously we are trusting that those entities are able to express themselves in coherent manners and have the same access to language with which to express a particular set of emotions or range of emotions and thoughts and feelings.

The problem becomes infinitely more complex when one considers that these actions and emotions are usually considered as happening as discrete events, clearly strung together, when we know that there are feedback systems involved in the biological system which are themselves sending signals and request that actions be taken, all of which signals come together to formulate a gestalt decision made by the biological collective rather than being a decision made by an individual in isolation. And, yes: I did just hint that somewhere there’s an argument that the individual cells of your brain are analogous to a colony of termites. You’re welcome.

Anyway, this is what’s been rambling through my mind today, distilled down from the ideas which sleeted through the universe, landed in my head, and which I spat out into the phone (thank you TTS!) for later. I imagine there are some problems in there with the logic. Please point them out, I’m happy to discuss.

-D

*Emergence has its own epistemic and ontological problems, of course; it would seem that these should be broadened from the narrow field of artificial intelligence into the larger field of systems thinking and also applied to systems and organizations.

Has it really been that long?

I just saw a BBC article go by, about wintry weather in Scotland. Reading through the article, it’s actually showing video of someplace we’ve been in person: to the top of the lift system, in Glencoe. Of course I had to mention this to you all, but then had to find the photos of when we were there, and then to see if we’d blogged anything about it (of course we did). It’s amazing to realize it’s been 3 years since we’ve been back to Scotland.

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-D

“Is it me, or does that look like a lung?” Adventures in Kombucha

Okay, FINE. We’re making kombucha. We’ve joined the hipsters, and the state of the world is dire indeed.

Honestly, we  know lacto-bacteria is good for health – we were happily okay with fermented lemonade and ginger beer, but truly, the kombucha people are way too into their “mothers” and whatnot. Honestly? That scoby thing looks like a LUNG or something, and we are not even kidding. But – let us back up a titch.

T’s lovely autoimmune disorder is morphing into something new and annoying – gastroparesis. What we believed to be a stomach ‘flu this summer was not, and we’ve learned that few things settle her stomach better than something lacto-fermented. She believes it’s probably a placebo effect because she knows it’s good for her, but it’s also light and crisp and generally only slightly fizzy, which is generally why most nauseous people prefer something carbonated. At an airport a few weeks ago, T felt so bad she was desperate enough to try kombucha, because a shop had one with ginger… Aaaaand… the rest is history. We went home and found a store-bought bottle of organic raw kombucha with a little bit of blobby stuff on the bottom, and pulled out our fermentation crock to make our own.

Da Scoby, She Is No Pretty

The blobby bit on the bottom is a scoby – which is a 
Symbiotic Culture Of Bacteria and Yeast. We put our unfiltered kombucha into our crock, fed it a cup of sweetened black tea, and left it alone for two weeks. The bacteria and yeast eat the sugar, just like it does in the yeast in bread, and creates more of itself, with a happy side-effect of mild carbonation. Kombucha is full of probiotics and things which our gut bacteria love which will make them love us. And, despite the lung-lookalike, with its rubbery slippery-ness and brown stringy bits, it isn’t actually that gross. Okay, no it is, but it doesn’t stink – it smells fresh and slightly sour – a little vinegary.  The weird bubbles and blobby bits are a good sign – (a bad sign, of course, would be anything black, moldy, or fuzzy green). It isn’t ever going to be …an attractive-looking process, but as we poked at the thing that looked very…organic and cellular, we reminded ourselves that it was For Our Health! For! Our! Health!

And we’d like it once before, right? Right.

We decanted our first bottle yesterday, made from a black pu’er tea (a fermented tea from the Yunnan province in China – aging and fermenting teas is also A Thing, and there are pu’er gambling rings in some places, because some people are highly motivated to get certain tea batches from certain years, like some people do with wines) and do you know what it tastes like? A much less sugary Mexican Senorial soda, sangria flavor. We have no idea how that happened – at all – but it’s really tasty… and organic-looking or not, it settles the stomach, and that’s good enough, for now.

Cheese Scones, Because…

One of the things we have left to us of our lives in Scotland is reading the Scottish papers. We still read the BBC News for Scotland, peruse The Herald, subscribe online to Bella Caladonia, and of course follow a number of Scots via social media. It’s always interesting to get a Scottish perspective on the world.

This week, however, the BBC reminded Scotland that it’s an English company, with a report most Scots saw as blatantly false. Scottish Twitter’s response to the various alarmist claims by English / Unionist media, about how the Scottish Nationalist Party is having a civil war, was swift. One would think the English would learn that the Scots will unite in the face of a common enemy…

So, of course D. had to go make cheese scones (properly pronounced with a short ŏ, as in BOND) in support of our dear friends currently suffering beneath the staggering peril of so much sarcasm in one place.

Cheese Scones 11

-D & T

August 31, In Retrospect

In Retrospect posts are about looking at the pictures taken on a particular day of the year. Welcome to August 31, through the years.

2008, Glasgow Scotland. Definitely looking at all the architecture, walking everywhere, dragging the camera.

Kelvingrove Park 163 Around Glasgow 280

2010, Glasgow Scotland. Photographing things through the window, overlooking the crescent park during the day and giving us great views of the moon, as well.

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2011, Hayford Mills Scotland. T. would watch as D. walked away to work, eeling his way along a narrow footpath, to cross the motorway, wending through neighborhoods, to eventually end up in a business park in Stirling.

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2017, Newark CA. We had been down here for just over a month, and were enjoying the summer fruit, much as we’ve been doing this summer.

Peachtree 29

-D & T

August’s Bounty, Bittersweet

from E.B. White, CHARLOTTE’S WEB

The crickets sang in the grasses. They sang the song of summer’s ending, a sad monotonous song. “Summer is over and gone, over and gone, over and gone. Summer is dying, dying.” A little maple tree heard the cricket song and turned bright red with anxiety.

The crickets felt it was their duty to warn everybody that summertime cannot last forever. Even on the most beautiful days in the whole year — the days when summer is changing into fall the crickets spread the rumor of sadness and change.

Everybody heard the song of the crickets. Avery and Fern Arable heard it as they walked the dusty road. They knew that school would soon begin again. The young geese heard it and knew that they would never be little goslings again. Charlotte heard it and knew that she hadn’t much time left. Mrs. Zuckerman, at work in the kitchen, heard the crickets, and a sadness came over her, too. “Another summer gone,” she sighed. Lurvy, at work building a crate for Wilbur, heard the song and knew it was time to dig potatoes.

“Summer is over and gone,” repeated the crickets. “How many nights till frost?” sang the crickets. “Good-bye, summer, good-bye, good-bye!”

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August already, and so much coming and going. We have now been in this little house for a whole year, whirling here on the winds of fires in the North Bay, and bracketed once again by smoky, hazy days which are beginning to be the mark of summer itself. Dust settles on every surface, egrets stalk up and down the slough, and housekeeping is a futile endeavor, chasing the dust bunnies from the daily wind storms and endless house refurbishments on the block. Summer in suburbia means that someone is always cutting tile, jackhammering driveways, trimming, mowing, blowing, digging. Through windows yawning wide to gather a cool breath to dispel the clinging humidity, we hear the electronic melodies of the neighborhood’s phones ring, and fumble after our own. Child voices raised in shrieking laughter and sobs echo through otherwise quiet corridors. Ah, summertime, and the living is… fraught. Everywhere is a focused intensity, as the community seems to teem with people trying to wring as much enjoyment as they can from these long, bright days… with the ironic result that everyone seems to be whirling along busily, faster and faster than before.

Roll Bikes 1

The busy whirl makes it difficult to remember that myriad people suffer from melancholia in the month of August. It’s a month where it feels like everything is winding down, yet nothing has gotten done, and decisions have yet to be made. “The summer is over, and we are not yet saved!” Many moneyed friends are away on holiday, yet we who want to be outside are prevented from spending time in the outdoors, whether it’s because it’s too hot, too smoky, or we just don’t have the time – yet we feel the clock ticking down to colder, greyer weather. People are drowning in nostalgia for the simplicity of back-to-school when all they have before them is more work – and then the holiday insanity – and too many people feel pushed just now about affording school for themselves, for their kids, uniforms, etc. etc. Check in with yourself and with your friends this month – it’s never not a good time to sure we fragile humans are okay, but it can be an especially good time now. August hits some people worse than February. There truly is such a thing as “summertime blues.”

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T is still a bit miffed that her “summertime blues” have been more tinged with green. She has had two weeks of off-and-on stomach ‘flu which, to her mind, came out of nowhere. She was minding her own business, studying her Dutch (and conjugating zeggen, weten, gaan, drenken, spreken and hebben are enough to make one want to lie down with nausea anyway), when wham – in the middle of making breakfast, it was all over. In the season of white peaches and sunshine, who is stuck in the house throwing up??? The ignominy! It’s mainly the peaches she’s mad about, to be honest. She was marveling over beginning her morning with eating the perfect peach… and then… um. Well. Anyway, D has brought her more peaches to make up for the ones she “lost…” but she’s still holding a grudge against the universe. Ahem.

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In other news, while now we’ve been back in the States now for six years, and a single year in this house, next month also marks the unofficial anniversary of twenty-four years of the D&T show. (And yes, to all of those wondering – the show began when we were in the sixth grade. Obviously.) Unofficial, because it’s an anniversary no one celebrates but the two of us – and sometimes even we forget. The world sneers at those of us who forget to be romantics… but perhaps the truest test of a love is knowing whether or not fuss and roses are happily received. T, who believes firmly in the truth of Cut Flowers Are Dead, has twice now gotten rose bushes – which are perfectly acceptable, as well as orchids, and untold air plants and saintpaulia, which are much more suitable. Meanwhile, D received cut flowers at work once, and has yet to live down the horror. And somehow, the show goes on…

Last guests will be arriving this week – D’s childhood friend from her house in Georgia, and a few in and out trips by other family members who happen to be in town. There are birthdays to be celebrated, and fairs and festivals to attend. The Chamber group kicked off their free community choir this past weekend with games and songs and a picnic – which we missed thanks to germs – but soon we’ll be neck deep in holiday music and preparing for our first show December first. The wheels never stop turning, but in the summertime, one can pretend, for a little while, that they’re not going anywhere in particular… but deadlines are looming, endings are approaching, and so much is on the horizon…including the last of the fresh corn fritters, zucchini crab cakes, more cake, and grilled pizza. (All the things you can find excuses to make when you have company.)

So, friends. How is it with you?

Echoes of Glasgow

Way back in 2008, we were dealing with a horrible neighbor in Glasgow who felt that he needed to bring the pub party back to his basement flat … beneath us. It was truly awful, and exhausting, dealing with police who wouldn’t take any action, and a pipsqueak of a neighbor who just couldn’t understand that we needed rest, even if he didn’t.

Fast forward to another flat, and 8 years later, when the neighbor upstairs (again in Glasgow) decided to put on an album … and promptly pass out, leaving us to endure horrible bass going all night long.

You can imagine our consternation when the bass started up last night, here in Newark. After a few hours of hoping and waiting, when 10 p.m. rolled around I phoned the police … who asked where we lived … and then told us they’d been getting calls since about 6 p.m. and there was nothing they could do about it.

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Above is a shot taken from our driveway, looking out towards the Dumbarton bridge. We’re perfectly situated for Shoreline Amphitheater to blast the bass all the way across the bay, directly towards us, and for us to have to endure some other city’s lack of noise ordinance. Grr.

-D

Midsummer

San Francisco 352

And on the Fourth Day, there were Fireworks. And again on the Fifth Day. And also the Sixth. And then the Eighth. For behold, once begun, no one seemed to be able to figure out how to stop having Fireworks, but we’re about to hunt them down and help them


We are coming up on almost a year living in this little house. We arrived the last day of the month a year ago, to dirt and chaos. This month, we’re sorting closets as if we were moving again, winnowing all of our possessions in the yearly “why do we have so much STUFF!?” fit that T throws.

(But seriously: why do we have so much stuff??)

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Things are still lovely here in beautiful brown Newark. We still get weird bursts of humidity. The light is still way too bright. God’s AC still turns on faithfully at about half two in the afternoon, and the slough still provides us with an astonishing variety of weird smells and odd noises in the middle of the night. (It is disturbing to hear things swimming when one leaves the windows open.) The “bandit cats,” as D one day called raccoons when he couldn’t remember the name for them, continue to be huge and disturbing and stare fixedly at one from eerie, backlit eyes. The crow guard continues to be… nosy, and have taken to moving the patriotic pinwheel some realtor left in our yard from whichever planter we put it in. At least they’ve mostly been leaving the fountain alone…

The newest Wild Kingdom entertainment is that we have ground squirrels undermining the bank in the back of the house and watching hawks pounce and strike at them… and being startled and horrified watching an egret do the same thing. It is NOT nice to watch something with that long of a neck attempt to swallow… Ugh, never mind.
Nature, y’all.

Newark 131

As delightful as all of that has been, we’ve been a bit restless. Several news agencies reported on the research behind a story run in the Guardian about how $117 thousand a year is “low income” in some places in California, and how ridiculous it all is to struggle so hard to make ends meet. We had hoped to stay in this area long enough to retire, but after our trip to the Netherlands and visiting with friends from other states, we are at long last taking a serious look at other options for a slower life. This doesn’t mean we’re giving up on our various projects. We’re working on media for next year’s season of our chamber group already, finding ourselves somehow involved in helping with graphic and website design. We’re still doing fermentation projects (Fermented green plum pickles = amazing), and not yet giving up our summertime joys of cycling and putzing around the Farmer’s Markets or wherever. We’re giving ourselves ’til August to get serious about thinking, but… the thoughts are already sneaking in.

For so long, we thought we should stay in California because there were more ethnically mixed families here, and some of the more painful, oblivious, and/or overtly malicious interactions one can experience being part of a mixed family were at a minimum here. But, as the world so handily proves these days, racists are everywhere. We may as well just say “forget it,” and take our chances elsewhere.

For a long time, we felt like we couldn’t leave our church community. That’s …changed, and not in a wholly negative way, but we’re in a weird middle ground where we don’t have kids, and find a lot of things are very families-with-kids oriented. We’re in that same weird liminal space that probably a lot of single people get lost in, the This Is Not About You But You’re Welcome To Sit Here Anyway place, which can feel a bit alienating.

Netherlands 2018 1079

The thing about communities is that they aren’t static, and neither are we, and sometimes, what was a good fit doesn’t remain so. Currently the not-good-fit that many churchy people are experiencing is the cognitive dissonance of religious communities who remain utterly silent in the face of atrocious goings on in the nation. One can grow up on tales of bold apostles and a social justice God, yet see nothing of this echoed in the behaviors of modern day saints. What does one do, when one believes that truth doesn’t just set us free, but speaking our truth can set others free to articulate theirs? There has to be a way to …speak out to lift the burdens of injustice while also respecting a distinct separation of church and state. And so, we join many others who are now wandering to find that new middle ground. It’s something which feels a little risky, but things have already been lost in a very amicable way – so being intentional is probably the best way to go about things. Perhaps one should just take a plunge and let go.

This all feels very adolescent, this itch for risk and change and new challenges. Probably this is the point at which most people would have a baby or something – but we’re late bloomers on every level, as usual. Instead we’ll probably just get matching nose rings and take off for South America or something.

Or, you know, just donate a lot of our stuff and move. Again.

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At D’s office… put up anonymously.