Wednesday, May 27, 2015

High Horses Are Meat Too, Vegans, So Stop Riding Them to Death

"In the strict scientific sense we all feed on death - even vegetarians."


Mr. Spock

For the longest time, more out of pure laziness than any other excuse, I have taken the word of a vegan acquaintance of mine and assumed that veganism is very much better for the environment than eating meat. At first blush, the maths do check out - farm animals belong to a higher trophic level & them smelly cows do fart a lot - so logically, meat production necessitates a higher burden on our resources than, for example, the humble workaday cabbage. The full vegan pitch is far longer and far more irritating, but that's really not my job to present it - or at least, it isn't anymore. While I lack the resolve to commit myself (and my family) to a vegan diet, I do try however to be mindful of the amount of delicious flesh I consume everyday and visit a local vegetarian joint semi-regularly. Whenever the topic of veganism and sustainability comes up, I just repeat what I learned from that vegan acquaintance of mine and shared much of the same references he shared with me. I recognise that I am holding out because bacon is fucking delicious of selfish reasons but I am all for more people embracing veganism if they are willing to take the plunge - though admittedly, I cannot reliably quantify the carbon footprint that will result from the combined annoyance experienced by us omnivores with the population surge of even more vegan prats, so there's that caveat.

Anyway, I have no cause to question what my herbivorous friend had told me (for years) until that same friend confronted me again regarding my choice to stick with a omnivore's diet this week on Twitter. Now, I am aware of the backfire effect - people confronted about their beliefs tended to dig in and double down rather than change their minds - and I am sure that that is precisely what occurred to me as that vegan friend prattled on and on about what a irresponsible jerk I am for not giving up meat.

However, in the process of backfiring and digging my trenches, I was forced to unearth and re-examine a lot of "facts" I had taken for granted and parroted in the veganism slash sustainability debates and in the process, I learned, for one thing, more about how alarmist vegans are great at cherry-picking stats and numbers to inflate their own contribution and sense of importance to the environment. I told that vegan friend that what he was doing to me was probably futile, given that I already agree with him on his talking points but because he couldn't shut up about how shitty a person I am for enjoying a chicken dinner, I went the extra mile to vindicate my own position. The sum result of all his high-horsing is that I now hold a less favourable position on veganism. Nice job breaking it, vegan.

The reason supplied to me for my tongue lashing from the vegan was because I tweeted a photo of my dinner. In the photo was a cut of chicken katsu I fried up myself. The vegan said,


Trigger Idiot
And it triggered an urge in me to punch him in the teeth. True story.

"Trigger" is a word that is appropriated by the internet from psychiatric language and in my line of work, we usually use it to refer to "trauma triggers" and it is a serious thing. Judging from the vegan's words, I sincerely doubt that he was "triggered" in the Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder sense of the word (just as I sincerely doubt he was actually diagnosed with PTSD). Furthermore, I pointed out to him that he is completely surrounded by "triggers" everywhere he goes considering that more than 95% of people eat meat and images of meat permeates the world. He should be a nervous wreck by now if he was genuinely triggered. Way to go in cheapening the experience of shell-shocked veterans and victims of sexual assault.

Speaking of "triggers" (in the annoying internet jackasses sense of the word), I went out of my way and ate a huge slab of sirloin steak last night after having abstained from beef for months - as a reward to myself for having suffered a bout of vegan evangelism. In fact, the last time I ate an honest-to-goodness beef steak was literally years ago. I am not even joking here: all that talk about the unsustainability of beef actually "triggered" me to crave for a medium-rare side of cow which I have been missing.

Here is what I had last night,

Sirloin Steak
"Vegetarian: A person who eats only side dishes." ~Gerald Lieberman

But let's get to the meat of this post, which are mostly things which environmento-vegan rangers tend to gloss over or omit in their guilt-tripping sales pitch, in no particular order:




Fertilisers.

One of the basic things we can all agree on is that when applied intelligently, mixed farming (crops plus livestock) is the more sustainable model in food production. One very obvious advantage is that manure from the animals can be used to fertilise the plants but according to this report by the USDA,  only a measly 5% fraction of total planted acreage even received manure and it's not because manure is in short supply. In fact, the US is drowning in so much shit that it threatens to be an environmental disaster if handled improperly. Manure is cheaper than commercial synthetic fertiliser, so what gives?

The reason why all that poo doesn't get spread around more is because 52% of harvested crop acres in the US are on farms with no livestock production at all and the cost of transporting that much crap is proving to be a deterrent for most farmers. So, they settled on using synthetic fertilisers. And if vegans have their way, we would end up fertilising 100% of our crops with synthetic fertiliser since they want to to put an end to animal farming.

And what is synthetic fertiliser made out of? Non-renewable resources like natural gas. That's sustainable alright.



The Emission Impact of Farm Animals Versus Plants.

Cows and sheep are flatulent and they fart more than soy and corn. Agreed. But what are the numbers really like, and how do we come to a more nuanced understanding of the issue without resorting to ultimata of utter meat rejection?

Here is a chart on production emissions (including emissions from processing, transportation, et cetera after the food leave the farms) from the EWG,


green_house_proteins
Okay, what are people doing to potatoes after they leave the farm?

Lamb meat is the greatest offender here, with the production of 39.2 kilos of CO2 per kilo of consumed food with beef winning silver in the agricultural fart Olympics at 27 kilos. The reason why lamb generate so much emissions per kilo is because they produce less edible meat relative to the sheep's live weight - so, aside from putting a stop to lamb chops we should really boycott wool clothing as well. Also, lamb makes up less than 1% of the meat consumed by Americans anyway so giving up sheep-meat isn't going to matter much at all.

You'll notice immediately that after ruminants (hoofed animals with 4-chambered fart-generating stomachs), the emission levels dropped precipitously when we look at other sources of meat protein like pork and chicken. And just eyeballing the chart, you can tell that pork produces about 6 times and chicken about 3 times as much emissions as most plant-based food. Which is still significant, if you ignore the fact that meat is faaar more calorie-dense compared to vegetables and grains. I mean, if you stop eating beef, you can’t replace a kilogram of it (which has 2,280 calories) with a kilogram of broccoli (340 calories). You have to replace it with 6.7 kilograms of broccoli to make up the caloric difference.

So, a fairer and more science-literate comparison would be to look at emissions per 1,000 calories,


emissionsCHART_NUupdate
Perspective, bitches.


You'll notice right away that tomatoes and broccoli farming actually produce MORE emissions than farmed salmon, pork, chicken, canned tuna, milk, yogurt, cheese and eggs. But do you hear vegans bothering people who eat brocolli and tomatoes? No. Why? Studies showed that it's because they are oversized, wet, flopping hypocrites.

Of course, vegans will moan "What about methane?!" Yes, methane is way worse than CO2 when it comes to comparative impact on climate change.


meat_emissions_chart
I prefer chicken anyway.


You can see in the above graph that chicken produces nil enteric methane emissions. That's because physiologically, birds don't need to fart. While I can sort of see the point for abstaining or decreasing beef intake, I don't see any compelling environmental reason to give up poultry at all.

There is a reason why scaremongering documentaries like Cowspiracy place a lot of focus on beef production (aside from embarrassingly bad puns) because ruminant farming is an order of magnitude worse than poultry farming. While it is not outright lying, it is propaganda that downplays the fact that ruminant farming is exceptional in their negative impact on the environment and presenting numbers which look dire on face value, while playing pretendsies that a vegan diet is always better - ignoring the fact that pork and chicken can actually be better choices than some vegetarian alternatives. But of course, he chose to badger me because of my chicken katsu instead of giving his equally insufferable vegan friends friends pain for their marinara gluten-free pasta dinners.

Will my vegan friend give up tomatoes and broccoli and start eating chicken and pork again when faced with this evidence? I don't think so.



Vegan Culture's Obsession with Organic Farming, Fad Superfoods and Fighting GMO's.

There is no hard way to determine just how many vegetarians and vegans buy into organic farming - and how many of them unfairly malign the use of genetically modified organisms (GMO), but one can't help but notice a huge overlap in ideology there if one frequents blogs or pages which advocate plant-centric diets. It makes sense since they generally approach orthorexic levels of finickiness and scrutiny when it comes to what they stuff their faces with.

Organic farming produces about 20 to 30% less yield compared to conventional farming practices. That means that for every 100 kilos of zucchinis we produce through conventional farming practices, we can only produce 70 to 80 organic zucchinis.

Also, GMO use had also lead to higher yields and more sustainable farming practices like decreased reliance on pesticides and yes, prevented 203 million tonnes of CO2 from being released into the atmosphere from less soil disturbance as well. If anything, I think genetically modifying our food organisms will be how we eventually solve the sustainability problem.

And every new "superfood" that these eat-right clowns buy into (quinoa, chia seeds,
açaí berries, goji berries, et cetera) will in turn create demand for these products and thus, cause the opening of more farms to accommodate these specialised crops. Yes, non-vegans do get sucked into these fads as well but these are all technically plant-based food.


Now, my vegan friend may not necessarily buy into organic farming practices (and all its associated woo) and fad diets nor is he against GMO, as far as I know. I bring this up because this is one of those unquantified elements that put into perspective how the vegan movement isn't necessarily as great as they say it is when it comes to sustainability. Individual vegans may even be worse than an average omnivore like me who is pro-GMO, anti-organic farming and gets most of my meat protein from chicken - particularly if that vegan eats a lot of tomatoes and broccoli.



Vegan Evangelism Isn't Going to Work.

I have no doubt that one day in the distant radiant future, humanity will no longer butcher any animal for their food (I am wagering on flawless, sustainable lab grown meat) but until that day arrives, we will be eating our hoofed and beaked friends for many decades or even centuries to come. So, on a pragmatic and practical level, I asked him how successful he is as spreading the Good News about veganism.

His reply was this:



Vegan Knight Templar
In his mind, rousing inspirational music must be playing while a cape billows dramatically behind him.

That tells me that I am dealing with someone who puts ideology above actually focusing on doing what is actually effective.

After much dodging, he later said he had only convinced just 3 or 4 people to adopt veganism in all the years of his "activism". I have no way of knowing if the converts did so due to his highly annoying proselytising or if those 3 or 4 individuals were going to go vegan anyway, but I will generously give him the benefit of the doubt. Still, at a rate of about one conversion a year, he would still have done almost no good at the end of his life, however prolonged he imagine it would be thanks to his vegan diet. He would have annoyed a great many people though.


We also know that throwing evidence in the face of people largely doesn't work, as this study on the effectiveness of vaccination information campaigns suggests (that article even mentions the "backfire effect"). I mean, I already buy the party line that veganism is more sustainable and environmentally-friendly and I still refuse to adopt vegetarianism because it meant that I would have to sacrifice my quality of life. This is a losing battle. I ought to know - I counsel alcoholics and nicotine addicts everyday in my day job. I am technically at the "precontemplation" stage in regards to giving up meat and if I already agree that meat-eating is less sustainable than eating greens, then the right thing to do is to step back and be available if I actually want more information - but instead, this vegan friend's persistence had actually caused me to be less convinced than before.

Likewise, burning fossil fuels is bad but hardly anyone is willing to give up the convenience of modern transportations or electric lights. The solution to that is creating more fuel-efficient cars (or developing equally good electric cars), inventing more energy-saving light bulbs, investing in nuclear power or resorting to renewable energy sources like solar or wind. Doing the equivalent of screaming on street corners with a sandwich board pronouncing the doom of the world if we do not "repent" by stopping the use of cars or the consumption of meat is actually counter-productive (especially if it comes with insults implying I am irresponsible or evil or smelly) and it belies a fundamental misunderstanding of human nature: most of us will do what is easy rather than what is necessary. So real, practical solutions would have to come at no cost to our comfort in order for them be popular enough to make a significant difference. Adoption rate is key and king.



Veganism is not the Solution.

There are a million aspects of our lives which we can tweak to reduce our impact on the environment and on climate change but vegans like this Twitter friend of mine who harrassed me are disproportionately focused on their personal demons in their advocacy (meat, in this case).

You know what is far, far worse than eating meat? Having children. You can drive all the Priuses and eat all the kale in the world but that is but a drop in the ocean when you compare that to the carbon footprint of reproduction. I think all these vegans making sustainability arguments should sterilise themselves if they think that us omnivores aren't doing enough for the environment because they too are doing a half-assed job as well. It brings to mind this parable that Mencius told about a soldier who ran 50-paces away from the battlefield calling his fellow who ran 100-paces a coward (五十步笑百步).

In fact, I did say as much. I told that vegan friend to go kill himself if he really cares about the environment so much. To that, he said,

Butthurt Vegan
I nearly asked him if it "triggered" him because he attempted or contemplated suicide before,
but I realised that I have stopped caring by this point.


We had been enjoying an omnivorous diet since time immemorial and we never had a problem with animal husbandry until recent times because - get this - meat is not the problem. It is a herring and it is red. The reason why meat farming is unsustainable (and eventually, crops farming as well) is because this is actually the toll that the continuously rising human population is having on this planet.

That's the fucking problem. Fix that.



Conclusion.

I try to minimise my own effect on the environment whenever I can if it does not come at a sacrifice in my quality of life. For example, I reject plastic bags whenever I shop but I'd still accept one if I really need it. I am mindful of the amount of meat I consume, both for environmental and health reasons. After the sialic acid Neu5Gc in red meat was found last year to be implicated in the increased risk of cancer, I have further reduced my already infrequent indulgence in red meat. When I bought home appliances recently for my new house, I tried to get the most energy efficient ones. And I decided to only have one child, and that alone already qualifies me for a higher horse than pretty much every vegan who birthed two kids or more. I make many of these little decisions everyday that counts towards my total impact on our world but to demonise one aspect of my life - my homecooked chicken katsu (which was delicious, by the way) - is incredibly misguided, unhelpful and tone deaf.

I am an atheist and I believe that this is the only life I will ever get to experience. I certainly don't intend to live it without all the reasonable comfort and pleasures I can get out of it. I don't want the trouble of limiting my culinary and epicurean experience, making sure I am getting enough Vitamin B12 through supplementation, or being a perpetual pain of the ass of a guest with "special considerations" at every group meal, party or wedding - all in service of a poorly thought out, mostly masturbatory non-solution to a serious issue.



Thinks vegans are pricks now,
k0k s3n w4i

Saturday, September 20, 2014

The Life of Zoë

"I think we are drawn to dogs because they are the uninhibited creatures we might be if we weren't certain we knew better. They fight for honor at the first challenge, make love with no moral restraint, and they do not for all their marvelous instincts appear to know about death. Being such wonderfully uncomplicated beings, they need us to do their worrying."


Troubles With Bird Dogs and
What to Do About Them (1975)
by George Bird Evans 

The day after Benji's tragic and untimely end, Cheryl visited the local animal shelter where we rescued him in search of some solace. Was it too soon? Probably, but there is no salve for loss as soothing as the replacement of the very thing we lost. That is not to say that Benji is so easily replaceable, but we had so much love for him that it would be a shameful waste to direct every ounce of it to grief. Instead we sought to give that love to another creature which deserves it, if only because it is still alive.

On 23rd of August, exactly three days after Benji's passing, we brought a new puppy home.


Zoë at Shelter
At the shelter.

On the way back, Cheryl christened her Zoë, apropos of nothing. When I looked it up later, I found that it is Greek and it means "life" or "alive", which is thought is delightful serendipity. There is nothing more antithetical to the deathly, funereal pall that have settled over our family than bounding, barking, warm, furry life. We needed this. I needed this.


Zoë in Crate
Zoë, in her crate, in the middle of crate training.

Zoë was very different from Benji, both in personality and temperament. To get the most obvious things out of the way first, she was female and was only about 2 months old (compared to 4 months old male Benji). While Benji was calm, confident and deliberate, Zoë was a firecracker - a wilful, hyperactive little bitch. The only time Benji got really excited was when he saw the cats, which he would chase in delight. Zoë however, have never shown any sign of noticing her feline housemates' existence at all. House training her was a more strenuous affair because of her weak puppy bladder so I was forced to wake up every 2 hours at night to let her water (or fertilise) the garden.

While Benji happily accepted his usual mealtime kibbles as training treats, Zoë proved to be a fussy, picky customer. She wouldn't even touch her dry puppy kibbles unless I mix it up with a spoonful of meaty wet food first. And since training treats have to be equal to or more "valuable" than her usual feed, I was forced to train her only at mealtimes, giving her spoonfuls of her food for each time she complied with commands. Eventually, I resorted to baking chicken liver for this purpose and thankfully, she deemed it a worthy enough payment in exchange for tricks.


Zoë & Sophie
Sophie, already plotting Zoë's downfall from day one.

Fortunately, with a bit of persistence, she was house trained and became "accident-free" within 3 days and could even hold it in through the night. Within a week, she learned to sit and lie down on command. She could even stand on her two hind legs for 1 to 2 seconds when asked, a trick I could never get Benji interested in.

Last Friday, a day before my son's one year old birthday, Zoë died. If this came as a rude surprise as you are reading this, it's because it was for us too.


Zoë
Pretty girl.

On Thursday, 4th of September, Cheryl went to take her out for her evening toilet visit but noticed that there was something very wrong with her. I saw that she was holed up inside her crate and stood up, wagging her tail when I approached. However, I noted that she was not leaving her little sanctuary like she usually did. I peered inside and noticed that she was leaning on her left, her left wrist slack and floppy.

I reached in for her but she freaked out and scrabbled backwards, something she had never done. She had a sweet, outgoing and confident disposition, and had never displayed any neuroses prior to this. I carried her out gingerly and placed her on the floor to get a better look at her - and she immediately panicked and began running in circles, persistently falling to her left. She was also drooling like a faucet. I studied human medicine, but what Zoë exhibited were unmistakably neurological symptoms. But why? Cheryl just took her out a few hours prior but she was perfectly fine! The only thing that happened that day to her was her 2nd ivermectin jab, which she was on because she brought mange home with her from the shelter which had left her mostly bald with lots of sores from scratching (quite unlike her pictures here), but was otherwise completely well and active. We fully expected her to recover from it.


We rushed her to a nearby vet who found that her pupils were also dilated and she was exhibiting what he called "knuckling" where Zoë's doesn't notice when her paws were placed in odd, uncomfortable positions - indicating a loss of proprioception. He diagnosed her with ivermectin toxicity, gave her a shot of corticosteroids and a bolus of subcutaneous fluid between her shoulders because she was not eating or drinking. The vet also gave me a syringe loaded with diazepam, in case she started fitting that night. And that night, I learned practically everything there is to know about ivermectin sensitivity in dogs, how it afflicts certain dog breeds that happen to carry the MDR-1 gene defect which impairs a dog's ability to transport certain compounds out of their brains, leading to a build up. I slept in the living room as well so I could hear it if Zoë starts fitting. I fed her some of her favourite wet dog food from a can using a spoon, and was heartened to see that she could still lick it up and swallow. Her tail still wagging like a windmill, which I understand doesn't necessarily meant that she was happy. When I carried her down to the garden to pee, she could still do her half-crouch.

We brought her back to the vet the next morning as advised but found that Zoë's condition worsened. She had started making chewing movements with her mouth. The vet look at that odd behaviour thoughtfully and then swabbed some of the tears streaming out of her eyes, pipetting some of it onto a plastic cartridge that resembles a urine pregnancy test. He showed it to me and told me that it was an antigen test for canine distemper. One very bold line showed on it.

"One line," I said. "That's good news right?"

"That is the 'test' line you are seeing. The 'control' line have yet to appear, but you can see it forming faintly now," he said sadly.

Oh no...


Now all my confusion made sense. Why Zoë did not react to the first ivermectin shot, why she was suddenly struck with very severe generalised mange - which indicated that her immune system was failing. "But she already received her 1st shot of vaccination!" I told the vet but I knew the answer before he even answered. She had contracted it at the shelter before she was vaccinated, and the virus must have been incubating till now.

I am a doctor myself and I knew that we were at a crossroads of hard decisions. "When should we give up?" I asked calmly.

"When she fits non-stop," he told me. "Or when she is completely unable to eat or drink."

By noon, Zoë was a shambles of her former self; blind, highly nervous and likely delirious. Her jaws have started locking up and it was difficult for me to pry them apart and syringe some food into her mouth. Cheryl received word from the shelter that Zoë's litter mates have also started displaying signs of distemper two days ago, which pretty much proved that Zoë was exposed to the canine distemper virus before we took her home. She was a time bomb ticking to heartbreak, but we were completely unaware. I did more reading (as I am wont to do in times of crises) but the more I read, the more hopeless it seemed, and Zoë, at this point, had deteriorated to a state where she couldn't even crouch to urinate. It just dribbled out as she stood there seemingly oblivious to her own bladder movement. Finally, Cheryl and I decided on what we felt was right: we decided to put Zoë to sleep.


We took her back to the vet, who seemed to have been expecting us. This time, we were directed to a different room and in the middle of it was a large stainless steel table. We were asked to sign some papers and after we gave Zoë her last pets, the vet gave her a lethal dose of pentobarbitone - and just like a robot powering down, she slumped down gently onto the table surface, her head flopped to one side unnaturally. The room filled with the smell of faeces as whatever that remained in Zoë's rectum oozed out. Cheryl cried. I was too numb to follow suit. After a minute, the vet checked her for any signs of life and finding none, asked us if we would like him to dispose of her for us.

"No thanks," I said. "We are taking Zoë home with us."


The orderly there offered us a plastic bag - and we refused because it just didn't seem right. I put her back in her crate and drove her back to our house. There, I dug her a grave beside Benji's, and after wrapping her in the blanket she always slept on, buried her with her bright blue collar. I comforted myself with the thought that at least Zoë did not suffer long and had spent her last hours with people who loved her most instead of a cold, harsh metal cage at the animal shelter. In the last two weeks, she ate better than she ever had in her life and had toys (and feet) to chew. Her weight almost doubled under our care. We did everything right by her and told ourselves was not our fault she was already doomed from the get go.

But it was still painful as hell.




Zoë's human,
k0k s3n w4i


Monday, September 08, 2014

Darwin is One Year Old

"Today is my 111th birthday. 111 years is far too short a time to live among such excellent and admirable Hobbits. I don't know half of you half as well as I should like. And I like less than half of you half as well as you deserve."


The Fellowship of the Ring (1954) by J.R.R. Tolkien

On the 6th of September 2014, Baby Darwin evolved out of infancy into toddlerhood and came to the realisation that people will celebrate the fact the planet he was riding on managed to go around its sun for the 4.54 billionth time and give him free stuff for it. Darwin's mom had organised a joint birthday bash with his milk brother, Keve (which I understand is pronounced like how Ukrainians pronounce Київ, rhyming with "Eve"). Their milk kinship arose from my wife donating gallons of her breast milk to the care and feeding of Keve every time our freezer run out of space for my cocktail ice, because priorities.

Because Keve's actual birth date is on the 8th of September, they split the difference and threw the party on the 7th and everyone for whom the idea of parties with booze, drugs and loud music is a fading distant memory (i.e. parents) were invited. Even Darwin's maternal grandparents and his aunt's entire family flew over to celebrate.

It was Darwin's first party and quite a lot happened, and... you know what? I'll just let the kid tell you about it himself in the picture captions.


366 Days Old - Posing on Toy Car
Yo, 'sup? Now that my aging, prime-passing, wordy nerd dad is out of the way allow me to intro myself. I am Darwin - yeah, like that place in Australia - but you can call me The Winster or D-boy, like me mates at the daycare do. And I got like everything, man. You can see me chillin' in the picture up top on my brand new 2014 Kiddieland roadster. Check out its hot vroom-vroom flame decals. It is off-da-hook!


346 Days Old - In Pool with Balls
I even got me own pool and all the balls I can ever want. I have like ALL THE BALLS, brah.


01
But it all means shizznit if I ain't got that special someone to share it with, y'know what I'm sayin'? It's like feeling all lonely in a room full of peeps at me own 1st birthday party. Hey, that's deep stuff. Gimme a sec while I tweet it to my followers, mkay?


01(1)
And then I saw her standing there across the room. And I thought to myself, "Va-va-voom! Who is that gorgeous little lady right there!?" So I got me old man to carry me over to her double-quick. My mom told me that her name is Charlie. Short for Charlotte.


03
So I went up to Charlie and gave her one of my smooth lines, "Excuse me, are you candy? Because you are making me drool and it ain't 'cause I'm teething."
I waited for a response but she just gave me this gaga gorgeous icy look so I introduced meself, holding my hand out for a dance all gent-like. "The name's Darwin, but you can call me..."
And here's the part where she turned and walked away, saying, "Sorry sugar, I am allergic to baldness."



04
But The Winster ain't no quitter, ya dig? So I took to the dance floor to show her my moves. If there is one thing I can do, it's working it. Of course, I boogied to my jam, The Bieb's Boyfriend, because I am a baby and I got phooey taste in music.


05
My hot dancing soon drew the attention of the other chicks in the house. This one lady was all like, "Your moves so hot, Darwin baby! Have all of my balloons!"


05(1)
"Thanks but no thanks, sweet cheeks," I brushed all of them off. They were like, "Have a heart, lover boy!" and was like, "I ain't got no heart to give 'cause Charlie's got it."


05(2)
'Sides, I only date gals my age. These girls are totally too old for me and I ain't no cougar-hunter, y'know what I'm sayin'? "Excusez-moi," I bid them and left the scene. I got some major sorrows to drown.


06
So, there I was trying to drown my sorrows in the pool 'cause my heart's fillin' the diaper, if you catch my drift. I am one year old and still single! Can you believe it, brah? I thought I got everything but I ain't got game. Ain't got hair neither. I just want to splashy-splash into the cold, deep water and end it but my mama's all like nuh-uh.
"You go back in there and blow your candle on your birthday cake, young man." she said. "Then, it's off to bed for you!"


10
Anyway, I didn't even get to blow the candle out on my own birthday cake because I still haven't learn how to do that without spraying me sa-li-va. Mama and Keve's mama blew it out for us. Keve there in the picture called dibs on the candle and I let him, because he is my milk brah. And like they always say - milk is thicker than water, amirite? Bros before hoes! Blue bibs before pink cribs!

And thus concludes Darwin's saga of love found, lost and clean forgotten by his next bottle feed.

I would like to thank everyone for coming and showering Darwin with more toys than he knows what to do with (though admittedly, he doesn't even know what to do with his two hands on most days). He had so much fun and excitement that he pretty much brought the party back home and terrorised his poor father and mother all night long. At one point, I was forced to stopper his caterwauling by streaming an episode of the 1994 The Tick animated series on YouTube for him (I am not even joking).

Here are some of the other pictures from the birthday celebration:


02
Darwin running to greet a fashionably late Keve by slapping him in the boobs.


02(1)
Milk bros fo life!


07
Darwin and Keve's Olaf-themed birthday cake.


08
A pair of sisters giving an impromptu performance of Frozen's Let It Go.



09
Darwin, seemingly already gotten over Charlie. The blue 2-year-old in blue shirt reaching for the plastic cake knife is Darwin's cousin from Penang.




Father of one,
k0k s3n w4i

Saturday, August 23, 2014

I Killed My Dog

"All his life he tried to be a good person. Many times, however, he failed. For after all, he was only human. He wasn't a dog."


Charles M. Schulz

"I want a dog," Cheryl said and that made me realise that I wanted one too. The last time I had a dog was when I was 14 years old - and that was 14 years ago. My dad brought home a brown Cocker Spaniel when I was 11 but now I wish he didn't. I was expected to be responsible, to care for another living being on my own but unfortunately, I was just a stupid kid with two escaped adult hamsters, a litter of dead hamster pups and half a dozen tortoise carcasses on his permanent record. I was clearly not ready and predictably, that poor little spaniel lived its short miserable life in the driveway of my grandmother's house, its long beautiful curly fur in mats with a thousand grey bloated ticks draining its life blood. I also failed to train him and sometimes, I even made him jump at neighbourhood kids I didn't like to terrorise them.

One day, when my mother picked me up from school, she told me that my dog was dead. I was told he chose a nice sunny spot beneath a jackfruit tree in front of my grandmother's house earlier that morning and went to sleep forever. He was just 3 years old. My mother took me to a large deserted bridge connecting the mainland with a man-made island called Pulau Melaka and had me dump my dog's body right into the sea with my own two hands.

"I hate animals," my mother told me. "But if you had let me know that the dog was sick, I would have taken him to the vet for you."

But I didn't know. I had no idea because I was just a stupid kid and my stupidity and irresponsibility killed Pixel. Pixel was the name I gave him. That name is a stain upon my conscience; a badge of shame and regret that have followed me all my life since.

Now at 28, I am twice as old as I was when I lost Pixel. We have a baby fast approaching his 1st birthday and two mostly intact cats, and we just moved into big house with an even bigger garden. I thought there was no better time to give myself a second chance.

So, Cheryl, Darwin and I went to the local animal shelter together to look for the newest member of our little pack and that's where we found this little white puppy sitting in his cramped cage atop his own excrements - and even though he had every reason to be miserable, he wasn't. He came right up to the side of the cage to sniff at my fingers and lick them, his tail wagging up to nines. Having spent the last two years being licked by Sophie's sandpaper feline-tongue, the softness of his tongue surprised and delighted me.

But he wasn't a good looking pup. He was recovering from a bad case of mites and had bald patches all over his body. His large bat-like ears were completely hairless and flea-bitten. Besides, I was also worried because he looked a tad too old - about 4 months old - and I read that the older a pup starts training... well, old dogs, new tricks, y'know.

We also saw a trio of pups in another cage which looked far healthier but Cheryl said, "Those cute ones will get adopted." And we might very well be the only chance that that hairless little dog had to leave the shelter so we did what felt right. We took that sweet but mangy-looking pup back home and on the drive back, I christened him Benjamin Sabrecat.

Or "Benji", as we came to know and love him.

Benji at Shelter
4 days before we brought Benji home, we went and applied Frontline® on him.

Benji 1st Bath
Benji given his last bath at the shelter by Cheryl before we took him home.

I was determined to do right by Benji in a way that I never did for Pixel. Before bringing Benji home, I studied several dog care and training books to make sure I was truly ready this time. Cheryl thought I was being obsessive but she didn't know just how much this meant to me. Quite early on, I was determined that Benji would not be sleeping out-of-doors so that meant house-training needed to be instituted pronto. Every 3 hours, I would take Benji out into the yard to eliminate and learn where his toilet was suppose to be and I somehow managed to stuck to it, even waking up in the middle of the night at 3AM just to take Benji out for him to make his little doggy deposits back to nature. There were a couple of oopsies in the beginning which necessitated some vigorous cleaning (and cursing) but in less than one week, Benji got the hang of it! I was ecstatic. It felt like I was finally doing something right.

But I can't take all the credits for myself because Benji was, we believed, no ordinary dog. He was very smart and empathetic. We thought night-time whining would be a problem but he ceased that on the first night after only a few shushes. In the same week he was house-trained, he quickly learned to sit, shake paws and lie down on command as well. Initially, he barked and bounded after our two cats but he quickly stopped doing that as well after realising that his overenthusiastic approach would only draw disapproving hisses from me (and the cats). He was gentle with Darwin and never leapt up around him as dogs are wont to do when they are playful and excited. Benji was so responsive, so eager to please, so perfect. I cannot even begin to describe how proud I was of him.

My favourite memory of him was last Sunday when we spent some time together in our yard as a family. I was weeding the garden while Darwin frolicked in his inflatable pool filled with colourful plastic balls. Benji was let off leash and he went to and fro between checking Darwin out from the side of the pool and watching me work quietly without getting in the way at all. His fur had begun to grow out and his ears were covered in a new growth of white fuzz. It looked like he was going to turn out to be a handsome dog after all. Cheryl took pictures, so we we will always have Sunday.


Sunday with Benji 3
Family.

Last Wednesday, I came home during lunchtime because I forgot my phone and while I was there, I let Benji out in the yard and after he watered the grass, I noticed his reluctance in stepping back into the house. It was a beautiful afternoon so I thought, what the heck, I would let Benji enjoy his day in the sun a little longer and reminded Cheryl to bring him in again at 3PM. Then, I busied myself hanging up some bird feeders I put together clumsily on a couple of trees in the bottom of the garden. The last glimpse of Benji I had was him going right down to the woods that bordered the edge of our garden to poop. "Attaboy," I thought to myself.

After a short nap, I left home to return back to work in my car. I went to the surgical ward to interview an alcoholic who was brought in because he vomited blood and was having the shakes, and after that, I dropped by at the clinic to assess an old Malay lady who was referred to me for dementia (she wasn't - the referring doctor screwed up the ECAQ). That was when I received a call from Cheryl. She was weeping piteously on the other side. It was wrong. She shouldn't be crying. There was no reason for her to... Oh no... No no no no no no no...

"He's not moving," she told me through her sobs. "There is so much blood. He's dead. Benji's DEAD."

I don't know how but I knew immediately what had happened. It felt as if I had fallen into a deep, dark pool of unreality and its chill had frozen my mind in rigid disbelief. I automatically told Cheryl to calm down, hung up and concluded my session with the not-demented old lady. Then, I went to my Head of Department to ask permission to return home early, which he granted after I told him what had happened. On my drive home, I raced through all the rooms in my head and rifled through all the drawers, searching for a memory, a clue, an explanation for this crazy living nightmare I am living through... and I just lost it. I broke down at the wheel and cried my heart out. I cried for Benji. I cried for Pixel. I was a little boy who lost his dog all over again.

When I got home, I espied a metre-long monitor lizard crouching in the grass and staring greedily at my driveway. What it was eyeing was a small, white, furry body lying on the concrete floor in a large, thick pool of congealing blood. On its fur, I could see the black marks where the car tires made their cruel prints on him. There was a trail of feces coming out of Benji's rear end, telling me that he crawled about a feet, shitting uncontrollably in his death throes before he stopped moving. The blood clots were disturbed, which meant that Benji was alive for at least a few minutes - maybe up to an hour - before his suffering ended. I can't imagine what he could be thinking in his last moments or how much pain he must have endured before he could finally rest. He would have been so confused, so alone at a time he needed his family the most, and the thought just breaks my heart.

I killed my dog. I couldn't believe it. I did this. I am a murderer. Benji slept under the car and I drove over him, not even knowing what I did as I was doing it. At that time, I thought I would go mad from the guilt.

It was almost 5PM so I told Cheryl to pick Darwin up from daycare. I would deal with Benji, I mumbled even though I was having trouble knowing where to begin. I took his collar off and wrapped his little broken body in the blanket he usually sleeps on before carrying him to the forest bordering our garden. There, between a clump of banana trees and a bamboo grove, I dug Benji's grave with a trowel and a weeding fork. I don't know why it mattered but I remember thinking that I should dig a hole big enough for him to lie down in.

Before Cheryl left, she came to me to hand me Benji's red collar and the small aluminium candy box I kept his treats in.

"He owns the collar," she told me fiercely. "This means he has a family and not abandoned. Give it to him. Let him wear it."

And I did. I put his collar around his neck for the last time and nestled his treat box by his side before putting him back into the earth. Then, I went inside and cried into my hands until my head hurt. Till now, I am still seeing flashes of his motionless tiny body in the driveway throughout the day and I still feel my heart race every time I put my car in reverse. I kept replaying the day's event in my mind, wondering what little things I could have done differently so that innocent, blameless Benji wouldn't need to die such a violent, lonely death. There was a million things and one, and I missed every single one of them. If only I have brought him back in instead of leaving him outside. If only I put a chain on him when he was out. If only I didn't forget to take my phone to work, causing me to return during lunchtime to retrieve it. If only I looked for him before I backed my car out of the driveway. It was a bottomless spiral of what-ifs and if-onlies; so many chances were there for me to save him that I can scarcely believe he could even have died.

Goodbye, Benji. I will miss our walks late at night, your soft gentle licks and your huge floppy ears. You were a good dog.

You were too good for me.

Benji
You will always be family, Benji. I am so sorry.

Benji in the Garden
Benji exploring our backyard.

Benji Sitting Quietly at Vet's Waiting Room
Benji's first visit to the vet for his kennel cough which he picked up from his time at the shelter. He was told to sit so he did. It was less than a week after he came home with us.

Benji Pooping with Tongue Out
An already house-trained Benji pooping outdoors.


Benji and Darwin
Benji meeting and greeting the other baby of the house for the first time.

Sunday with Benji 2
Benji and Darwin on our last Sunday together.

Sunday with Benji 1
Darwin, Benji and me.




Murderer,
k0k s3n w4i

Wednesday, August 06, 2014

Going Bump at Night

"There is nothing more frightful than ignorance in action."


Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

"She's been having hallucinations and thought she's possessed," the medical officer on the other end told me. "We are admitting her for observation - in case it is really endometritis - but we would appreciate it if you can come and review her. She seems distressed though. Afraid. Especially after we told her that she would be admitted."

18 year old Malay woman. Just given birth to her first child a few days ago. Judging from the brief blurb my O&G colleague gave me, it might mean postpartum psychosis. It was 10 PM and I was not thrilled considering that I had to chase my last postpartum psychosis patient down a long hallway to stop her from "rescuing" her baby from the nursery.

I quickly found the ward and the patient's bed and I saw that both the patient's husband and mother was helping her to settle down. I know I should never make snap judgements from simple once-overs but the girl I was suppose to see appeared a lot saner than I thought she would be. Her name, for the purpose of this article, is Ruya.

After introducing myself, I interviewed everyone and this was the story I was given: When Ruya was twelve, her grandmother witnessed her rising from her bed after she had fallen asleep. She then tried to leave her room when her frightened grandmother gave her an urgent shake, jolting  her out of her blank, trance-like state. Ruya herself was surprised to find herself out of her bed and remembered none of her actions preceding her awakening. "It was like waking up from sleep," she told me.

Throughout the years, this odd nocturnal behaviour recurred alongside frequent nightmares. Ruya's baffled and terrified family then sought out the help of bomohs, shamans and medicine men who confirmed their worst suspicions - Ruya was being plagued by djinns and demons which possesses her to steal her away. However, nothing these witch doctors do could free Ruya from their clutches. "The spirits are too strong," they said in their failure.

Finally, they came into the care of a Muslim imam - a man they refer to simply as the Ustaz. The Ustaz gave them the same supernatural diagnosis and have told them that over the years, the spirits plaguing Ruya had multiplied in numbers due to the machinations of vengeful bomohs they have stopped patronising. And, with the help of this imam, the incidence of grand-theft-Ruya decreased as she grew older. Then it stopped altogether. Impressed by the spiritual mojo that this imam displayed, the family converted to Islam because clearly, it is the One True Religion™, is it not? Why else would Ruya's night visitors loosen their grips on her?

Keeping my face as straight as I could, I asked one very critical question: Did any of these "paranormal activities" occurred when Ruya is awake?

"No."

"My O&G colleague told me that you appeared very distressed and upset that you have to be admitted in this hospital. Why is that?" I asked further.

Ruya said that that's because she was afraid that she might have to stay in the hospital overnight alone. The Ustaz have apparently told her that she must never ever be alone or the spooks and djinns will take the opportunity to assault her again.

"Please tell O&G to discharge me tomorrow! Or my mother will have to sleep here with me for another night!"

At that moment, I felt very angry but since I'm a professional, I smiled instead. I started off by telling them that there are a lot of schools of knowledge and I happen to be from a school of medicine. I told them that what I know might bring Ruya some relief and proceeded to explain that Ruya is (or was) a somnambulist i.e. she walks in her sleep. Sleepwalking is very common in children and as a child grows older, the episodes will naturally decrease in frequency, as observed in Ruya's case.

After my brief lecture, Ruya's mother thanked me and mistakenly addressed me with the honorific of "Ustaz" (which I declined politely). Ruya's husband however incorporated the information I have given him into his worldview and agreed that the devious ghosts and ghoulies have been using sleepwalking to lure Ruya out of her bedroom. Holy crap, you can never win with these people!

Realising that this is a battle I don't want to fight so late in the evening, I politely excused myself, went down to the labour room and told the O&G team that they have just referred a case of sleepwalking to me. I gave Ruya an appointment, but not for her somnambulism.

Anyway, how did the imam "know" that it was evil spirits that's plaguing Ruya? Was he lying or did he fool himself into thinking he is able to detect supernatural entities just because he went to Qur'an school or something? And boy he must have considered it a great success to convert an entire family to his brand of magical thinking. Had Ruya's family consulted a Christian pastor or a Taoist priest just as her symptoms were abating, they would be following a very different god today.

I am frequently told that I should leave people's beliefs alone because, why take them away if it comforts them? Ruya is one of the reasons why. Thanks to pure superstitions peddled by the shamans and the imam, a young woman had become so afraid of the world around her that she must be accompanied by family members at all times. And this is not the first time I have one of my patients harmed by one of these charlatans.

This is the 21st fucking century, people. Stop being afraid of the dark.



He who bumps back,
k0k s3n w4i