Lifeguarding Debut

This week I started working at my new side hustle: I’m volunteering as a lifeguard at my local pool to acquire the requisite experience hours for a salaried lifeguard job with the city. I’m happy to report that I’m finding it just as exhilarating and rewarding as I expected.

Every job has discontents, and professional jobs are cushier than many other occupations, which makes whining about academia trite and tiresome. Still, the last few years have eroded much of what I enjoyed about my academic work environment, and finding myself in a new professional context was refreshing. I like the fact that people are measured and judged in a more straightforward, honest way on a job that involves a fitness/alertness component. I like the fact that the job is completely stripped of markers of prestige (I work alongside people of all ages, occupations, and walks of life.) But mostly, I’m immensely enjoying the service aspect of the job.

Lifeguarding offers a sublime combination of calm and focus. I sit by the water, which has always been my favorite place, and find a precious balance between the stillness of being of quiet service to people and the alertness to things that might happen before they happen. Empathy and perspective-taking are relevant to the job in surprising ways – most of the time one can prevent all kinds of calamities and crises not through heroic water rescues and CPR, but through anticipating what might happen, putting oneself in the place of a swimmer or exerciser, and preempting the problem by addressing their needs. The job offers varied avenues for service: lowering some of our senior swimmers to the water in a special chair, offering a toy to a kid, politely but efficiently moving people along lanes so that they are swimming with people at their speed, offering an aspiring triathlete a couple of pointers about their stroke. I’m really having a terrific time.

Not Exactly From Scratch Vegan Mac ‘n’ Cheese

Our story begins with a sniffly child in need of comfort (not the plague! We tested) and a mom sprouting a migraine halo. This situation led to us deciding on a low-key movie evening, and the child asked for mac ‘n’ cheese. Not having in me to cook, I called our trusty food deliverance app and ordered the famous vegan mac from Homeroom. We were foiled, however, as it took them about an hour to find a delivery driver, and the child’s need for comfort was growing more urgent and weepy by the moment.

Rather than spend precious minutes listening to muzak on customer support, I took matters into my own hands. We had all kinds of awesome dairy alternatives in the fridge, so I improvised, and used Banza in lieu of semolina pasta to bring some nutrition (protein, fiber) into the situation. It turned out pretty good, if I may say so, and we immediately tucked in. A few minutes later, a delightful and very apologetic delivery driver showed up with the restaurant version. Rio ruled Ima’s version better than the restaurant’s (and I trust him, as I don’t think he has already learned to lie for social convenience)! Upon Chad’s return home, I administered a blind tasting test to Chad and he, too, declared my version superior to Homeroom’s, which is high praise.

Chad opining on the relative virtues of the two dishes

To make a long story short, if you find yourself in dire straits, have some Miyoko’s products lying around, and want to be your own hero, here’s how I did it:

Ingredients

  • 1 package Banza pasta
  • 1 tsp Miyoko’s cultured butter
  • 2-3 tbsp Miyoko’s liquid mozzarella
  • 1/3 cup Ripple plant milk – unsweetened
  • 1/2 tsp nutmeg

salt, pepper, onion flakes, and garlic powder to taste

Cook Banza pasta according to instructions–get it somewhere between al dente and al denture (it’s children comfort food, not an effort to evoke a Tuscan gourmet experience.) Strain and immediately return to the pot. Add all other ingredients, mix well, and cook a bit on low heat until the fake dairy thickens and becomes gooey and delicious. Taste to fix the spices and flavors (you might need a smidgeon more salt and pepper) and serve.

I bet smoked paprika, some turmeric, and a few extra nutritional yeast flakes would make this yellower and tastier, but the child prefers his comfort dishes bland. You, of course, are free of such constraints, so enjoy!

Initial Thoughts for Sherlock Holmes Book

Things that I’m passionate about have always found a way into my scholarship–I’ve written about marathon swimming, redball crimes, and Sherlock Holmes. This last obsession is lifelong: I read my first Sherlock Holmes story when I was 10 (and had nightmares for weeks because of the Adventure of the Cardboard Box), did several pilgrimages to 221b Baker Street, contributed to an annotated version of The Norwood Builder, and marshaled the knowledge I gained through my work with Malcolm Feeley on the history of female crime to create a typology of female characters in Sherlock Holmes stories.

In recent months, as I’ve been running increasingly long distances (in preparation for the Oakland Marathon and other races), I’ve listened to the entire Sherlock Holmes canon again (Librivox treats us to the wonderful renditions of David Clarke and YouTube treats us to the fantastic renditions of Greg Wagland.) This reacquaintance with the stories has made me deeply ambivalent about the social order in Doyle’s universe of crime; Doyle was a man of his time, with opinions of his time (about women, foreigners, people of other races, ethnicities, and religions, occurrences in various parts of the world, the metropole-colony relationship, animals, social classes), many of which have aged very poorly. At the same time, being intimately familiar with the criminological innovations and trends of the 19th century (including an enriching visit to the Museo Lombroso in Turin) has added a deep dimension of understanding and excitement to my enthusiasm about the stories: they reflect an era of immense novelty and discovery at the intersection of science and criminal detection, as well as a deep love of logic and deduction. Beyond that, the magic of the stories is still there: the gothic aesthetic, the marvel at shrewd interpretations, the marriage of forensics with imagination, and the literary trickery.

This has given me an idea: to write a book in which a criminologist (me) takes you, the Sherlock Holmes lover, by the hand, showcasing and explaining themes in the stories. I will set the scientific stage for Holmes’ method through the scientific innovations of the 19th century, introducing you to Quetelet’s statistics, Bertillon’s forensics, and Lombroso’s postmortems; walk you through the magic and horror of evolutionary frenzy, as Darwinian insights become twisted into concerns about atavism and sinister simians; examine the American and Australian colonies as landscapes of wild criminality; talk about the geography of crime in town and country; discuss the roles of ethnic, racial, and religious differences in “othering” and exoticizing criminals; and show how, in a society where classes and “places” were crystallized, class jumping or class transgression can be a crime in itself. Each book chapter will illuminate one of these themes through extensive analysis and quotes from several stories, which should make it fun as a reading companion to the entire canon.

Welcome to 221B Baker Street. Mrs. Hudson will serve some tea and scones; put on your house robe and slippers and enjoy your stay.

Cauliflower Kitchari

Now that the semester has ended on both sides of the Bay Bridge, I have some time to cook delicious things, rather than eating on the fly as I ride my bike and BART. I even cracked open a great cookbook–Oz Telem’s Cauliflower–and branched beyond my usual fare of whole roasted cauli, or cauli/olive/chickpea salad, to making this satisfying, stick-to-your-ribs upgrade to cauli rice. It’s an aromatic concoction of riced cauli and yellow or red lentils with some spices.

Ingredients

2-3 cups cauliflower florets

1 cup yellow or red lentils, preferably whole

1 scant tsp turmeric

1.5 cups water

1-2 tsp salt (I used truffle salt to great effect)

3-4 tbsp olive oil

6-7 garlic cloves

1 heaping tsp cumin

Place florets in food processor and process until it has couscous consistency. Transfer to a medium pot along with the lentils, turmeric, and water. Bring to a boil, add the salt, cover, and lower the heat to a simmer. Let simmer approx. 15-20 minutes, or until the lentils and cauli are soft but not mushy.

Toward the end, heat olive oil in a pan. Thinly slice and add garlic cloves and cumin. Fry until golden. Add contents of the pan to the pot and mix well. Serve with a nice vegetable stew (pictured) or with coconut yogurt (I like Cocojune.)

By the way, we’ve had to find a new produce delivery service, and in an effort to prevent food waste we now get our fruit and veg from Imperfect Foods. This recipe came about because they brought us lots of wonderful cauliflower! In addition to the lovely produce, they have an impressive array of plant-based alternatives to meat and dairy, many of which we’ve never tried before, and we’re very happy with them so far.

The Latest on COVID-19 in Prisons and Jails

Lest anyone think that the COVID scourge is gone from California prisons, this morning’s ticker shows 351 active cases, 62 of which are at San Quentin. There are also, at the moment, 261 active cases among employees.

My coauthor Chad Goerzen has created a model of prison-community transmissivity, the basic features of which we will present in a future post here in the blog and in our forthcoming UC Press book Fester. For now, I can share that we are able to point to a number of deaths in the community (counties neighboring CDCR facilities) that we can causally attribute to the prison outbreak. Our efforts support and bolster a prior nationwide report by the Prison Policy Initiative (authored by Gregory Hooks and Wendy Sawyer) to a similar effect, though our model, which is local, can show direct causality and geographical ties. This is important to us because of the misguided zero-sum mentality that accompanied much of the community thinking about COVID – a “better them than us” sentiment that reflects lack of basic understanding of how prisons work, how viruses work, and how both of these factors can affect the surrounding community.

In other news, Aparna Komarla of the COVID-19 in Custody Project reports a worrisome, but utterly unsurprising, issue: the Sacramento sheriff refuses to discuss vaccination rates among his staff:

The first health order was issued in July 2021 and requires surveillance testing for unvaccinated correctional officers. The second order was issued in August 2021 (latest amendment was in February 2022) and mandates vaccines and boosters for a small group of non-medical officers working in the jails’ healthcare settings (ex: staff working in jail clinics). If the sheriff’s office in Sacramento is implementing and monitoring compliance with these orders, a record of vaccinated and unvaccinated employees must exist. But they insisted in their responses that no such records were available. 

Our most recent public records request for the staff vaccination rate, however, received a different response. We were told that the Sacramento sheriff’s office is implementing and complying with the CDPH’s July 2021 health order, but they would not release their vaccination rate as it violated the employees’ medical privacy rights. 

“The Sheriff’s Office strongly values our employees’ privacy and is concerned with the risk of unlawful data collection regarding employee medical data,” read their response. They cited California Government Code 6254(c.) and 6255, which give public agencies the right to not release files that are an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy. 

Their response is egregious for two reasons. One, it contradicts their previous stance that no records of the staff vaccination rate are available. And two, since we asked for the vaccination rate of the entire office and not the vaccination status of each employee, no one’s privacy would have been compromised. An aggregated vaccination rate (ex: 60% of employees are fully vaccinated) reveals nothing about the identity of those who chose to or chose not to get vaccinated. 

Further, if medical privacy was a legitimate barrier, then the sheriff’s offices in AlamedaSanta Clara and San Francisco counties would not have been able to provide their vaccination rates. The Sacramento Sheriff’s response is unreasonable to say the least, and it illuminates a pattern of evading data transparency despite their legal obligations.

To me, this is one more reminder of a principle I talk about in Bottleneck (soon to become chapter 4 of Fester): the ineffectual nature of whatever powers the Board of State and Community Corrections (BSCC) can assert over sheriffs. In addition to the many examples I cite there of county sheriffs not reporting COVID data at all (especially before August 2020, when the BSCC issued a request, but quite significantly even after), Aparna Komarla and her staff reported that, even when things are going on in jails, there is no effort to help others learn from positive examples, and that, as late as January 2022, the Sacramento Sheriff was hiding case rates at his facility. It should be obvious why in jails, which are closer to the community and have a more transient and temporary population (more community transmissivity and less community solidarity) and lower population vaccine rates, the staff vaccination rates should be a source of serious concern.

It’s true that, with the new variants and with diminishing returns of protection from the vaccine and boosters, this is a problem that cannot effectively be fixed now: the damage is already done. But the resistance to disclose the information is telling because vaccine rates (reflecting attitudes toward vaccination) are also bellwethers of other sentiments among staff. I’ve already written elsewhere about the paucity of information about the political views of prison and jail staff, and about the question whether the antivax campaign in this population reflects just that–antivax sentiments–or something bigger, like Petri dishes of Trumpism, virulent antiestablishment sentiments, or complete political capture of custodial staff unions. I think it’s really important to know who exactly we are dealing with here, because these are people entrusted with the care of vulnerable populations who get no sympathy from the public and, consequently, there are few checks on their attitudes and behavior. If the sheriff won’t provide these checks, or report about the situation, no one else will be able to effectively ensure that people are punished according to the California Penal Code and not according to the COVID-denialist whims of the guards.

Roe Overrule Leak: An Adoptive Mom’s Perspective

So much has been said and written about the Supreme Court’s leaked majority opinion draft overruling Roe v. Wade that I hardly need to elaborate the basics. I’m not a reproductive justice expert, nor am I particularly surprised that this has happened–they are simply doing precisely what they were hired to do, which is to promulgate a theocratic, sex-negative worldview. The reason I add my voice to the cacophony is that I have a somewhat unorthodox, nuanced position on this debate, which hasn’t (I think) been aired yet–that of an adoptive mom.

We adopted our beloved son as an infant from a state that frowns upon abortions. My son’s amazing birthparents’ struggles, dilemmas, and decisions are their private business and I will not air it here or anywhere else. What I can share is that, throughout our happy life together, I have been beyond ecstatic that the world has been blessed with my son, a sparkling star of a boy–bright, empathetic, loving, friendly, kind, athletic, funny, multitalented, spirited, lively. And at the same time, every adoption involves a huge leap of love and empathy, and much pain, grief, and loss adjacent to the joy. There are no hard or fast rules about the roads taken or not taken with pregnancies. The deep regrets of placing a child for adoption, the sometimes unsurmountable hardships of parenting, and the deep regrets of terminating a pregnancy all float in a realm of possibility that I can only imagine, having been raised in a welfare state with excellent sex education and easily available contraceptives. No assumption can be made, as the right makes, that abortion invariably leads to shame and regret (see this remarkable amicus brief on behalf of law professors who underwent abortions and “believe that, like themselves, the next generation of lawyers should have the ability to control their reproductive lives and thus the opportunity to fully participate in the ‘economic and social life of the Nation’.”) Of course, the opposite assumption–that abortion brings you your life back without a trace of regret or sorrow, is also false, and part of the reason many women can’t quite find themselves in the pro-choice milieu is that, in the fierce struggle for women’s rights, little room is left to contain these sorrows and regrets.

The philosophical debate about when life begins is, to my mind, a red herring. For what it’s worth, and this may surprise my lefty friends, on the abstract philosophy point I’m with the pro-lifers: I do believe that a form of life–sentience–begins at conception, and I find that congruent with my sentiments on other aspects of sentience, such as nonhuman animal rights. The problem is that the pro-life right-wingers lose interest in supporting said life from the moment it emerges from the womb, as evidenced by the lack of parental leave, child care, quality early education, and decent, government-funded healthcare for all. They are also not interested in sparing such life from emerging in the first place through comprehensive sex education and widely available contraceptives.

All of this has already been said, most eloquently, by others; but the right-wingers have a ready-made answer. “Not to worry!” They cheerfully squeal. “That’s what adoption is for!” Which is where, as an adoptive mom, I need to speak up and disabuse some of the truly ridiculous illusions that our right-wing politicos and fundamental Christian buddies are willing to entertain. Namely, the notion that limiting safe, legal abortion is going to result in a boon for adoption should be patently absurd to anyone who has gone through an ethical open adoption process; the opposite is true.

Adoption professionals recoil from the idea that adoption is about “selling children”, and from here flow multiple ethical and legal limitations on the kind of assistance that adoptive parents can offer birthparents and on the interactions between the party. And yet, beyond the niceties, let’s start with the obvious: in virtually every adoption, as ethical and kind and caring as it is, children pass from poor hands to more economically advantaged hands, with money moving in the opposite direction. This means that birthparents–usually birthmoms–are at a considerable socioeconomic disadvantage, often exacerbated by being typically younger than the adoptive moms.

Forcing women who would otherwise have a (legal, safe) abortion to instead carry a pregnancy to term and place their infants for adoption throws more young women and girls with no bargaining power into the mix–often women and girls who now have to hide their pregnancies from families and boyfriends. It is not difficult to predict that women who are less equipped to carry a pregnancy to term would be the ones seeking abortions, and that requiring them to forego that option will result in pregnancies that are less safe, and therefore in infants that are more difficult to place for adoption. Hiding your pregnant belly from your mom or your friends can result in experiencing your pregnancy under conditions that are bad for you (exposure to smoke, exposure to alcohol, unhealthy diets); having such a pregnancy discovered can result in being unhoused for the duration of your pregnancy; all this instability will surely result in less responsible and consistent prenatal care.

A birthmom who knows she can’t parent will then search the Internet high and low for adoption agencies, trying to find one with serious social workers and good services. She’ll then go through an intake interview with a social worker, who will ask her about her medical history, prenatal care, and use of alcohol/drugs. I’ve taken classes with other adoptive parents: the medical history is something that can be scary for prospective parents, and birthmoms can, of course, guess this. So, what happens when someone who has not had the resources to properly care for themselves and their baby tries to place said baby for adoption? Would it surprise anyone if this would result in more deceit and evasion when interviewed by adoption agency social workers?

I can see very unhealthy prospects for the adoption market under such circumstances. With the inability to verify pregnancy details, or to provide proper care to prospective moms, unscrupulous lawyers and corrupt social workers might step in with unhealthy incentives, pressure, and coercion–akin to the worrisome trends we see in the international adoption market. This means less safety and trust precisely in a situation that requires an enormous amount of empathy and mutual trust. It means less careful vetting of adoptive parents–the actual people who are to raise and nurture this precious life. And it also means that women who might withstand the pressure and try to parent their kids might have to later relinquish them by court order, or due to other awful circumstances, which throws kids into the traumatizing world of government care at an early age and creates considerable challenges even in the happy cases that end in fostering and adoption. Many people who can become fantastic parents to infants through open adoption might not have the emotional fortitude and resources to address and heal the trauma of older kids. Corollary: Throwing birthmoms into these situations ahead of time by eliminating a safe, legal option, is not a boon for adoption–the opposite is true.

Additionally, if, indeed, adoption is to be the panacea for the problem of sentient life, then we should also care about the life of the birthmom after adoption–in the form of extended services to help heal the trauma, beyond some meetings with a social worker: I’m talking college money, gym membership, grocery money, job seeking support. Of course, all this assumes that Alito et al. truly want birthmoms, after giving the gift of motherhood to someone like me, to land on their feet and “fully participate in the ‘economic and social life of the Nation.” Do they?

The truth is that none of this is really about abstract notions of sentience nor about seeing the abortion/adoption thing as a zero-sum game, because it is patently clear that neither value is being advanced by forcing women to carry pregnancies to term or risk a dangerous back-alley procedure. Friends, here’s what’s going on: Justice Alito and his buddies are simply out to penalize women (the wrong sort of women?) for having sex. That the punishment might extend to other (sentient) people in the equation–a child, adoptive parents, adoption professionals–simply does not enter into their equation. The idea that someone who receives solid, reasonable, science-based sex education should be able to just say yes to sexual activity with whoever they choose, with however many people they choose, in whatever form, in whatever frequency, so long as all are of sound body and mind and consent and respect each other, is anathema to them. They know that legal prohibitions will not deter young people who have been deliberately left ignorant about the functions of their own bodies from having sex. They don’t care. Because they don’t intend to ever pick up the price tag for the many young lives that will later end up in flux, this is a complete externality to them. And that is what is so atrocious here.