Tuesday, December 30, 2008

My Guess on Mental Illness

I think I may understand mental illness better than I did. We humans think of ourselves as rational thinking beings, but I suspect we are just as instinctual as any other intelligent animal. We have obvious infant instincts such as suckling, imitating caregivers (especially in vocalization), and crying when something unpleasant happens. I also think we have other instincts that we excuse by rational thought or social convention. I think there is an underlying avoidance of contamination instinct. It is at its most basic about the smells of excrement and rot, but as with the sexual instinct it is modified, moderated, and reinforced by our experience or knowledge.

A perfect example of this is how people often cannot stand the food they had at the onset of some sort of illness for some time afterward. I had an awful experience of throwing up due to dizziness after having a chocolate shake and for some time following that I could not stand them. Likewise I once had pizza just before throwing up due to a gross scene in the movie Stand By Me. For some months I did not relish pizza and I always thought I detected a underlying unpleasant smell in the odor.

I suspect that if I had allowed these initial instinctual associations to be strengthened I might have ended up avoiding a whole variety of foods. I could have ended up hating anything that had the particular aroma of tomato sauce, for example, since that was a large part of what I was reacting too. The thought of the unpleasant experience could have become linked with the instinctual impulse to avoid consuming certain things.

I further think it is at the root of many other strong reactions to food that are excused with logical or theological explanations. Like the sometimes religious rejection of meat and animal products by vegans or vegetarians. Taboos against the eating of a great variety of animals from arthropods to cattle. Perhaps even the way that some people take to the diets that reject the eating of fats or carbohydrates. Perhaps even full blown eating disorders such as anorexia could be likewise to some extent be a out of control anti-contamination instinct.

This isn't to say it is all bad. Indeed the instinctive reaction against food that is perceived to be contaminated keeps us safer from infection than if we had to weigh rationally the possibility of infection vs. the loss of food each time. Far better to play it safe and reject something emotionally rather than to take an unnecessary risk. It is just that sometimes the reaction can be too strong and overwhelm our normal day to day life. If it isn't a problem, of course, then it is just a difference. Vegetarians get along very well in our modern world with all the available food choices, though it does sometimes limit their social choices at times (the biggest advantage of being an omnivore in modern life is being able to socialize with anyone over a meal without restriction).

But it is something that a lot of us should be aware of in evaluating most mental illnesses. How many of them are normal, helpful instincts that have just gotten out of control? Become associated with too many things or are too strong? Perhaps this is the underlying problem with our ideas about depression as well. It may have logical explainable beginnings, but then it becomes part of a irrational reaction and so cannot be overcome with just someone pointing out how silly it is. A person needs either a chemical or event that "pushes reset" or else a long and drawn out effort to overcome basic instinct.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Carrot Pudding

A recipe loaned to me by my mother that her grandmother used to make. Presented without commentary.

2 c. butter/shortening
1/2 c. brown sugar
1 egg
1 c. grated raw carrot
1 1/2 c. raisins
1/2 c. currents
2 tsp thinly cut lemon rind
1 1/4 c. flour
1 tablespoon water
1/2 tsp soda
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg

Belnd butter/shortening, sugar, and egg. Add all other ingredients and mix. Cover tightly. Put bowl over boiling water or in a steamer for 3 hours.

Monday, December 22, 2008

The Morality of the Common Cold

How should a moral person behave in regard to sickness? This is not as easy or as simple a question as it may look on the surface. After all a person's response to sickness is not in isolation, but also part of how a society behaves and how well it treats its members. Ideally any person who is sick with an disease that can be transmitted by casual public contact should stay home. Especially if you are in a occupation where you come into contact with large numbers of people. The problem is that often times people in these public high contact jobs are some of the worse paid people in the United States of America or Europe. Worse, in America, many of these retail employees do not get any paid days off and are paid so poorly that any time off would be a financial blow. Easy enough to say, "You must stay home for the sake of others," when you have 10 days of paid sick leave every year and it does not even cut into your few days of vacation time.

I remember when I worked for a bank, thankfully not in a position where I came into contact with the public, and I got 10 days off a year in total. A case of the flu could wipe out any chance of a vacation if I lingered long enough to become completely well before returning. So I did what has become part of American culture and toughed it out whenever I could. Not the best thing for workmates, but what could I do? If I stayed home every time I had a cold or a case of influenza that got past my yearly vaccine I would never have had a single day off to myself. It also meant that I worked one week when there was one of the worst blizzards in Colorado history, staying at a hotel near the office and taking a sleeping bag should things get even worse.

Would the malingering of people not really sick outweigh the number of illnesses avoided if there were more sick days given? I have no idea. I try to do my own part when I have a choice, avoiding going places when I am ill, but I am not always my own master. What should a moral person do? Be willing to give at least half of your own time to help keep others you care about or work with well. So if your job gives you 10 days a year, as I was, be willing to take at least five of them when you are genuinely ill with an infectious disease. If there are more days than that... well that's part of having a good employer and employee relationship. Yet another reason not to shop at Walmart. I'm sure you personally are more likely to get sick if you patronize businesses that have bad sick day policies. I'm sure there are others, but Walmart is the poster child of bad places to work. Don't shop there if you can help it.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Fans For Heating

I'm using the electric fans for the first time since summer. Why? I've discovered I can get significantly more heat out of the radiators by pointing a fan at them than by just letting them run. As it has been very cold the last few days, colder than at any point last winter, this has been important. If it stays this cold for the rest of the season I expect to keep using them. The best effect seems to come from placing the fan on the floor facing the radiator and about 20 centimeters from it with a slight upward angle. Or at least in measuring the temperature with the imprecise instruments available to me that produced as much as a 1 degree centigrade increase in the temperature of the air coming out the top over the fan being aimed levelly at the radiator and closer.

So, for people dealing with old fashioned heating systems a useful tip. I have also contemplated sealing up my windows with clear plastic to help keep out drafts, but I'm unsure if I want to go that far yet.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The Green Subatomic Glow

Last night as I got home I proved myself to be a somewhat observant person. Driving up the alleyway I immediately noticed a light that was not there before atop one of the electric polls. After seconds more glancing at it as I drove slowly up the icy alley I decided it was probably some sort of electrical arc due to its flickering nature and thus was something bad. The noise when I got out of the car confirmed it without any doubt and worse the lights of my building were pulsing very slightly.

So inside to make a call to Excel Energy Co. I reported everything without exaggeration, afterward I was wondering if I understated the case at all because though I arrived home about eight in the evening there was no sign of activity. The situation continued to get worse with visible Jacob's Ladder type arcing starting and I shut down all electrical equipment inside except a few lights. I made a hot toddy for my boyfriend and myself and we settled in to read and occasionally watch the eerie beauty of electricity flowing off into the air in a loop the drifted away from where the wires connected to one another in the very slight breeze.

At around eleven, thirty minutes after we went to bed, a fire truck arrived. There did not seem to be any actual fire, in fact it seemed to have settled down to just a bright green star at the top of the connection wire. Confident that I would not have to evacuate in the dead of night I went back to bed and in the morning found that our precautions based on the notion that the power would go out during the fix were quite wise. It appeared that at some point the power was off for about 15 minutes.

All in all it was a pretty minor problem with the barely tamed quarks trying to escape their normal channels during the cold.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Experimental Recipe

1 cup Raisins
2/3 cup Currants
1/3 cup Prunes
1/3 cup Dried Sweetened Cherries and Dried Apricots, roughly equal amounts
1 cup tepid tea

Combine above ingredients in a pot and bring to a boil. Reduce to a strong simmer and cook until almost no liquid is left. Cover and leave to cool. After half an hour or so start in with the next stage.

1-2 slices of Whole Wheat bread.
Process and measure.

1/2 cup Bread Crumbs
1/2 cup packed dark brown sugar (7 ounces)
1/4 cup and 2 tablespoons unbleached all-purpose flour (1.85 ounces)
1 small stick cinnamon, ground to be 1 teaspoon+, but not more than 2
1 teaspoons ground ginger
12 cloves, ground (1/4 teaspoon+ clove)
12 allspice berries, ground (1/4 teaspoon+ allspice)
1/2 teaspoon table salt
1/4 pound butter (1 stick)

Put water on to boil in your second largest pot. Process together above all ingredients except the butter. Add in butter and process until just combined like bread crumbs. If your fruit mixture is not yet cool store in the refrigerator.

2 large eggs
1/4 cup cream sherry (or amontillado)
3 tablespoons brandy or cognac

Beat all ingredients together and then pour into a well greased 6 cup pyrex bowl then cover with foil. Put into a very large pot such as a stock pot on top of some sort of support, I used one of the grates off the range. Then put a plate on top of that and pour the water in until about the same height as the mixture inside the bowl. Put on high to bring the water back to a boil and then reduce to a number three and cover.

Hard Sauce

1/2 pound butter (2 sticks), softened
3 cups confectioners' sugar (12 ounces)
orange zest , finely grated from 1 orange
1/2 teaspoon mace
1/4 teaspoon table salt
1/3 cup brandy or cognac
2 tablespoons cream sherry (or amontillado)

Friday, December 12, 2008

Political Thought of The Day

A government so small as to be unable to take anything you have will also be too small to prevent someone stronger from taking your property either.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Google Seems a Mite Slow Today...

It is enormously surprising to find that my usual gold standard for always there web service is bogged down for some reason. Worse, since this is also how I search for news, I cannot figure out what is going on. Or if this isn't actually a google problem, but something wrong with my machine.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

The Jewish/Hindu/Islamic Equivalent of a Cross?

My research-fu is failing me. In Christianity very often crosses are ritually blessed objects that give magical protection. For purposes of fantasy story I'm making the assumption that this works (in part, because I like the image of the vampire shrinking from the cross), but that it often works for other religions too if they have a tradition of such objects. So while a believer will say, "God protected me" it is a little unclear if there is a god protecting wielders of a cross from vampires or if it is just the ritual. Since even atheists can wield a cross and the Soviets (in my stories) successfully created 'blessed' hammer and sickle pin to protect good Marxists from vampires. And they worked, though the Christians always claim that they had crosses hidden inside, were demonically created, and/or did not work as effectively (don't ask them about the logical contradictions).

My problem is that I know the Jews are a lot more about the Torah being their holy thing, but do they have any ritually blessed metallic objects that might operate similarly to the cross? And Hindus and Muslims as well if you happen to have cultural/religious knowledge? I don't want to leave them completely unprotected, but I don't want to play any more silly buggers with real world beliefs than I already am by adding real magic to history.

FYI in creating my system I decided that the best materials for such blessed objects are silver and copper, though bronze and brass can work as well depending upon the particular circumstances and the particular ingredients. Less commonly large blocks of aluminum will work sometimes and completely pure gold or very low carat gold both work. So, ironically, the rich man with a 22k cross won't be protected while someone with a cheap < 12 karat cross will be. Though this would not have been common knowledge outside certain academic circles before the 1920s.

Why I Don't Torrent

I do not know if I'm even using the word "torrent" correctly. At some point I drifted into not being interested in computers. I am aware of major changes ongoing to the operating systems that my online friends use such as OSX/Mac and Windows. One could hardly avoid the marketing efforts behind Vista and the like. One of my friends is an enthusiastic proponent of Linux and torrents and he does not understand how I could not A) love the better operating system and B) download Dr. Who off the internet as soon as the British fans upload it.

He doesn't blog or I might have some idea of what was going on with Linux other than it continuing to be a very stable operating system that is very useful to people who know what they are doing. Which is much the same with torrents. Honestly the practical considerations of figuring out how to make it work safely and not clogging up my computer with lots of software I won't use are more important than the philosophical questions of honesty and the ownership of ideas. I am not the sort of person who digs into my computer for the shear joy of making it do things, as with cars I am results orientated. I'll figure out how to make my computer run well and do regular maintenance (I defrag rather often), but I am not interested in playing with it.

I could set out to learn how to do bit torrent things, but I do not want to. There is the slight danger from being part of the parade of elephants that the vexed Hollywood farmers would like to wipe out to protect their crops and for any ivory they might harvest from the endeavor. It is a slight danger, but since I think I'm not really losing out on anything it is not one I am willing to run anymore than I would run the slight risks of going to a club for music played too loudly for me to enjoy. Furthermore there are the rather larger dangers of outlaw hackers seeking dupes to host their malicious software and even more common subpar software that will be a drag on my computer's performance.

While I can reinstall Windows XP on my computer when I need to I would rather go a long time before I have to do that task again. Adding and removing lots of software does not help me towards that end.

Then there are the moral considerations. While I can see how a person might come to a different conclusion depending on circumstances, I would rather pay for what I use in some fashion. Particularly with movie makers who, despite all their faults, are just trying to make an honest living unlike the vultures of the record companies who live off the industry of others without giving any value in return. So I'll wait until the shows come to the library on disc and forgo the instant gratification.

It is good that there are early adopters of technology and people who see movies, books, etc. as soon as they can, but unless I'm paid to do so I cannot be bothered to be one of them.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

And I Thought I'd Be Well

"Ha!" Sez the universe. Yesterday I was feeling much better. No sore throat and general improving body feelings. But in the evening my health started going all pear shaped again. Stuffiness, sneezing, and some coughing. It was difficult to get to sleep even with drugs and today I am being held together by sudafed. The real stuff with pseudoephedrine. Best drug ever. But I'm dizzy and not 100% even though it dried up my nose like it should.

I wish I was well because it looks like a nice day for a bike ride and I wanted to go to the library, my credit union, and pick up a few cooking items.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Plum Pudding, Scotish Style?

The first pudding I made this year is a cook's illustrated recipe which I cut down by half and did some substitutions on after Thanksgiving Dinner.

1 1/3 cups dark raisins (1/2 pound)
1 cup dried currents (5 ounces)
1 cup water
2 tablespoons dried orange and lemon peel
1/2 cup fresh whole wheat breadcrumbs
1/2 cup packed dark brown sugar
1/4 cup and 2 tablespoons unbleached all purpose flour
1 teaspoon fresh ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon table salt
1/4 pound cold unsalted butter (1 stick)
2 large eggs
1/4 cup amontillado
3 tablespoons good scotch (because I did not have brandy)

I chopped the raisins and combined them with the currants in a large sauce pan with the water and covered it over high heat to bring to a boil. Then I reduced it to a simmer and stirred until nearly all the liquid had evaporated or been absorbed and then added in the lemon and orange peel. Then I put it in the window to cool.

Meanwhile I combined the breadcrumbs, brown sugar, flour, spices, and salt in my food processor. I processed it well so it was a nice homogeneous mixture without any lumps. Then I added the butter in large peices and pulsed until combined. I whisked the eggs until foamy and then beat in the sherry and scotch. Then I combined the crumb mixture and stirred it quite well and then added the cooked fruit once they were completely room temperature.

I greased a 1.5 L pyrex bowl quite well with vegetable shortening then poured in the mixture and covered with aluminum foil with a tight seal to the bowl. I placed this in my 10 quart stock pot on top of a burner grate to keep it off the bottom and an upside down plate over the top. Four liters of boiling water was added to the stock pot to bring it up about half way to the top of the bowl and then the lid put on and the burner put on high to bring it back to a boil as quickly as possible. Putting it on about the 1 or 1 1/2 mark on the burner seemed to keep it at a nice controlled simmer for the next three and a half hours. I turned it off and left it to cool overnight. The next day I unmolded the pudding onto more aluminum foil and wrapped it tightly. I left it out on the table for three days and have now put it in the refrigerator to save until a party or the Yule. It was not big enough to completely fill the 1.5 L pyrex bowl. Perhaps increasing the size of the recipe by 50% would be good.

So far so good. I think I will try one or two other recipes. I will try to adhear more closely to those recipes so I think that I shall sell something to get the money for a bottle of brandy.