Monday, July 16, 2018

When was the last time you changed your opinion?

Leonardo da Vinci is quoted as saying, "The greatest deception men suffer is from their own opinion."

Some argue that he was the wisest of the Renaissance turtles.

I instantly relate to this quote, and you probably do, too, because if you're on the internet, then you've probably experienced the phenomenon of someone saying something unbelievably dumb and wrong, and, upon correction, saying, "Well, that's just my opinion."

You might have also seen the converse: when someone dismisses an opinion as "just" an opinion.

An opinion is a belief or judgement on a matter that is either a) has no definitive, objective answer, or b) is not based on facts (either because the facts are unknown or because there is conflicting data).

Let's dive in.

An example of Scenario A would be two children who argue about whether red or blue is a better color for a bike.  There's no correct answer to that question.

Scenario B is a little trickier.  Consider ssomeone who thinks that GMOs cause cancer.  This isn't based on fact.  There are studies that both confirm and refute this statement, and they all have issues with them.  There are facts available and there is a conclusive answer, but it's not immediately clear on what that answer is.  (Answer: GMOs are safe, and most food is genetically modified.  There are over a thousand studies that demonstrate this.)

The danger of people using the "opinion" defense against ignorance is that we end up with anti-vaxxers and Flat Earthers and Scientologists: people who cannot challenge their beliefs and end up maintaining dangerous, extreme viewpoints.

 Hilariously wrong.

There is such a thing as a wrong opinion.  A wrong opinion is one that, when confronted with facts that refute it, does not change.

It's easy to dismiss anti-vaxxers, Flater Earthers, and Scientologists as wackos, but in this digital age, there's a LOT of misinformation out there and it's easy to find "facts" that support pretty much any point of view.  Basically anything from the website "Natural News," for example, is garbage.  (Other sites/FaceBook pages on my shit list for bad science: David Wolfe, Food Babe, and Eat Local Grown.  The last one especially pisses me off because I absolutely think people should eat local and I feel like they're misappropriating good advice to mask their awful pseudo-science.)

So how do we combat this?  One way is to challenge our own points of views.  Most of us accept that our viewpoints are correct and never take time to cross-examine them.  But it's worthwhile to examine our beliefs and ask ourselves if we've learned anything new that challenges those.  And if we're feeling defensive, then perhaps our belief wasn't on as firm a foundation as we thought.

I should probably give one small disclaimer before launching into an (ironically opinionated) discussion about why opinions should be malleable: I am only talking about opinion scenarios in which there are consequences.  Most opinions have consequences; most opinions influence actions.  But some don't, and in that case, they don't matter.  If a person wants to insist that DJ Khaled is talented, I don't feel inclined to argue with them, because although they are wrong, it's of no lasting consequence to anyone.

He rhymed "kodak" with "kodak."

So, while reading this blog post about challenging beliefs, keep in mind:
  1. When challenging others, pick your battles.
  2. Try to find points to agree on.
  3. Not all opinions need to be changed.
  4. When challenging your own opinions, pick the ones with the biggest impact on your actions.
  5. Understand that change comes gradually.
  6. Understand that having an emotional investment in the opinions of others is usually unhealthy.
  7. Be cautious not to confuse FaceBook or other social platforms for Meat Space; it's (usually) not worth losing friends over a Reddit meme.
 Sometimes discretion is the better part of valor.

So!  Now that that little disclaimer it out of the way, I'll start the ball rolling by giving two examples of my opinion changing recently:

First of all, I have typically been very politically fiscally conservative.  I was raised in a conservative household and registered as Republican when I first registered to vote.  Over the last year, I have found myself supporting more and more social programs.  It seems to me that the "cost" of these programs, both financially and to my own sense of capitalistic "fairness," is less than the benefit it brings to society.  When I look at countries that are more heavily taxed but have more social programs, I discover happier citizens and better societal outcomes overall.

So, at this point in time, I no longer consider myself a fiscal conservative, but someone who leans more toward the support of social welfare programs.

Second of all, I have decided that quesadillas are sandwiches.

 Fight me.

Follow me here on this one because it's a bit more complicated than the capitalism vs. socialism thing above.

On the sandwich-definition index, there's two categories: construction and ingredients.  I am something of an ingredient anarchist, but I firmly believe the construction of a sandwich is what makes it what it is.  To me, a sandwich is an item that has a bread-like outside, either two pieces or one piece folded or split, containing contents which can be eaten without touching by using the bread to convey them to the mouth.  The sandwich must be capable of being eaten by hand.

So to me, a burrito or a wrap isn't a sandwich because it's one bread piece, but a pita is a sandwich because it's a piece split in hand to contain ingredients.  (Side note: is cereal a soup?  I have always argued that yes, it is a chaotic neutral soup.)

If every meal does not send you into mild panic due to over self-examination of core beliefs and questioning of self, 
then you are doing it wrong.

Shortly after I gave my belief of what constitutes a "sandwich," Andrew pointed out that, by my definitions, quesadillas and soft tacos are sandwiches.

I was dumbfounded.  A quesadilla isn't a sandwich!  I quickly got defensive, trying to figure out how to explain myself.  A quesadilla, however, fits all the criteria.  Two pieces of bread with ingredients in between (traditional sandwichy ingredients, no less) that is eaten by hand.  I have never considered a quesadilla a sandwich but was suddenly forced to either redefine sandwich-hood or accept the quesadilla into the sandwich family.

In the end, I could not figure out an addendum to exclude the quesadilla and so I changed my opinion.  The quesadilla is a sandwich.

The thing about this story that struck me is that, when my view was challenged, I quickly became defensive.  This is a red flag.  If you have an opinion and you find yourself getting upset and defensive when it's challenged, you might know, deep down, that your opinion needs changed.  People who are secure about their opinions should not be upset when they are challenged.  Look at anti-vaxxers, Flat Earthers, and Scientologists: all of them freak out when others challenge them.  Why?  Because they probably are worried that, if they actually self-examined, they would realize that their views are bogus.

Observe these two people's reactions when faced with facts that might challenge their beliefs:

One accepted the information in stride (Purple), and the other lost his mind (Orange).  Purple may or may not change her opinion that this ridiculous chocolate sculpture is worthwhile, but she asked for information when challenged and accepted it gracefully.  That's the way to live your life.  The defensive over-reaction of Orange indicates, to me, a person who is rigid and uncompromising in his beliefs and lacks the capability to learn or grow as a person.

Side note: let's stop bashing politicians for "flip-flopping."  I sort of expect a person to change their stance on things over the course of decades; a politician who has been in the game more than ten years and has "stood firm" on everything is, to me, on par with a Flat Earther or anti-vaxxer.  Can you imagine if you actually thought you should be PROUD of believing the same things you did when you were 19 years old?  When I was 19, I wanted a Dethklok tattoo and still hoped my childhood Beanie Babies might be worth something today.  In the course of your existence, you are bound to have at least one or two utterly bone-headed opinions.  If you don't, then you are a dull milquetoast person who stands for nothing and you should re-evaluate why you even exist.

For a lot of people, their views define who they are.  Therefore changing their opinion feels like a total upheaval of self.  I don't think people should let their opinions define them; opinions are, after all, non-definitional.  A person who changed their favorite color from red to blue is still the same person.

Views are based on core values, which means that the views should be malleable; they change as we learn new facts, and we find better ways to apply our core values to them.  When we feel challenged, what we should ask is, what core value is my opinion based on?

Consider the following scenario: a person loves Orca whales and wants to help them.  That's a core value.  They go to school for marine biology and then go to work at Sea World to help Orcas.  Then they see the documentary Blackfish, do some research, and realize that Sea World isn't actually helping Orcas at all.

The Orca-lover is now at a crossroads.  They can change their actions to fit their core belief, which, regrettably, means admitting to prior ignorance and possibly receiving backlash from their acquaintances.  This is obviously the harder of the two options.  Or, they can throw their core value out of the window and, in violation of their own self-professed beliefs, continue doing an action they now know to be wrong.  (Consider the Bunny Lady of Los Angeles.)

Ultimately, the question of changing one's opinion boils down to, "Are my core values more important to me than my ego or my self-image (how others see me)?"

This is all assuming one can listen to new and conflicting information, research it without bias, and then choose to believe it, of course.  Plenty of people simply dismiss facts as "fake" to protect their opinions.  Which is one reason why we should all push ourselves to search for primary sources of information, and learn to separate the wheat from the chaff.

Always research sources and credentials.  ("Some scientists suggest that marijuana causes cancer."  Who are they?  Where's the study?  Is there counter-evidence?  What do most scientists say?)

Doubt anything with a title for a name.  ("Does marijuana cure cancer?"  If they'd shown conclusively that it does or doesn't, that would be a big headline.  This is just clickbait and the answer is probably less interesting than simply yes or no.)

Doubt anything that seems too good to be true or makes big, bold claims.  ("Marijuana causes cancer!" Science and politics and economics are complex; saying X causes Y or X cures Y is almost always a gross over-simplification.)

Real news isn't clickbait.  Real news is often the harder-to-read, more boring-to-read option.("Ingesting cannabis by smoking may be a risk factor for lung cancer.")

One of the reasons real news is so dull is because it's trying to reach a large audience... including those who may disagree with it.  For news to be credible, it must present the facts in a non-biased and non-confrontational manner.

Real news.  Boring, but real.

Make no mistake: it's important to challenge opinions non-aggressively.  People who feel attacked get defensive and then refuse to listen.  I have, first-hand, witnessed this: in an internet forum, I watched as a man who was 'on the fence' about vaccinating his children was called a stupid idiot child-abuser.  His response?  To start arguing the opposing side and defending his actions, thus solidifying his belief.  No one gave him any actual resources to information about why vaccines are safe (or why anti-vaccine studies cannot be trusted).  People just yelled at him until, in a furious and self-righteous rage, he quit the discussion, though not before being radicalized.

And everyone should be comfortable letting others change their opinions when new information and facts arise.  All too often, extremists are so thoroughly mocked and isolated that they fear leaving.  (This is a tactic well-documented within Scientology, other cults, and multi-level marketing schemes.)  As I wrote in my post about radical inclusivity, we should try to make the world a place where people can switch sides if they realize they were wrong; we should make sure they know they have a place to come back to.  If we don't, then people will only cling to their beliefs harder.

No one has ever changed their beliefs because they got called stupid.

If everyone took the time to question their beliefs a little, and felt comfortable enough to change those beliefs in light of new information, the world might just be a better place. 

We would still have Giordano Bruno, aka the poor man's Copernicus, aka the oft-forgotten Yellow Turtle.

If you can't think of a time when you changed your opinion in the last year, then it might be time to do some soul-searching, because either you are a bland person with no opinions, or you are not opening you mind and listening to alternative viewpoints.  As uncomfortable as it is to leave our bubbles and sometimes realize we were wrong about something, it's a good exercise, one that makes us better human beings.  It's a way to be more open and accepting toward those we don't agree with, and a way to find find common ground between us.  It's also my hope that the open exchange of information will usually lead to the truth coming out.  For those hard questions in life, such as whether or not a quesadilla is a sandwich, there's answers.  But we have to be open and able to accept them.  Which sometimes means eating a big ol' crow sandwich.

Crow quesadilla.

Monday, July 9, 2018

Fan-Made Content Doesn't Have to be Bad

In this digital era of ours, people can create and share information and art like never before.  Unfortunately, a lot of it is terrible.

Some purposefully and masterfully so.

Those familiar with the term "fanart" or "fanfiction" know that these types of media often face derision from "real" "professionals."  This is something I myself have had a lot of struggles with.  Fanfiction is fun and easy to write and I enjoy it.  (Shameless plug: here's a sci-fi thriller based on Marvel's Iron Man franchise!)  But I'm loathe to admit that to a mixed audience because of the stigma attached to it.

The thing is, fan content isn't all terrible.  For some people, this is merely a way to exercise a talent.  Like a marathon runner going to the gym and hitting an elliptical bike.  It's low-impact, it's easy, it's a good way to stay in shape.

I am strongly against gate-keeping of most types because I think it's just a shitty attitude to have.  Also because, years ago, I met someone at a party who had the nerve to ask me if I was "really" into Iron Man or "just" into Robert Downey, Jr.  Which is unfair as a) they are not mutually exclusive (RDJ happens to be a great actor, and I loved him in Kiss Kiss Bang Bang), and b) how can you not be "really" into Iron Man?

Name three of his albums!

But one area of gatekeeping I myself have been guilty of is scoffing at anyone who is "writing a book."  That's because so many people, especially in college, say they're writing a book when what they mean is, they have an idea for a book and maybe created and titled a Word document.  As a fairly prolific writer myself, this really rustles my jimmies, because when I tell people I wrote a book, I mean I actually wrote a book.  In fact I write about one a year.  (Shameless plug: here's the same sci-fi thriller based on Marvel's Iron Man franchise from before!) Yet I find myself embarrassed to share them because they're often based on pre-existing franchises or use licensed characters.

That being said, I'm coming around to the idea that we should judge things based on their merit.

While terrible fanart and fanfictions abound, Marvel has no shortage of incredibly talented fans who produce all sorts of amazing art and work.

And it's not limited just to digital media.

Although I'm going to tell you right now that there is porn of every conceivable pairing in the Marvel universe at this point.
Credit to alby_mangroves

There's costuming...

...and animation (look no further than Hishe's How It Should Have Ended series, which gets tons of credit for the Marvel-inspired logo alone) and cakes...

...and event creation and grassroots PR.  Fans have cheerfully made their own promos for no other reason than they enjoyed doing it. It's so common there's even a name for it: fan labor.

Let's not forget Hawkeye was the most anticipated character of Infinity War, and he wasn't even in it.
The Marvel hype machine is an unstoppable Juggernaut.

A good example of this sort of promo work includes the creation of the subreddit /r/ThanosDidNothingWrong, a forum that takes its name from the Hitler Did Nothing Wrong memeThis subreddit hit headlines today with their event entitled "The Snappening," during which they banned half the subreddit in a tribute to Thanos's destruction of half the universe in Infinity War.  Seriously, it was covered by Newsweek.

༼ つ ◕_ ◕ ༽つ give ban ༼ つ ◕_ ◕ ༽つ

This meme is a thing now.

Watching Banos kick half of a forum off for the sole purpose of referencing a movie was a surreal moment for me.  And not just because the total number banned was over 350,000.  It was surreal to see nearly a million people get involved in what should have been a trivial and childish stunt, but instead brought together a huge number of people who proceeded to use the momentum to generate even more brain children from it.

 Fanart or not, some of the fan content generated is legit as hell.

"The Last Shwarma"

From shirts... tattoos... photos of installation pieces... the ubiquitous meme.

I made this and got my aunt to unironically share it on FaceBook.

Google the Winter Soldier "plums" meme if you want to fall down an Internet rabbit hole.

Even the directors and actor who played Banos Thanos got in on the fun.

 And some of the fan art is so good, it gets mistaken for the real thing, such as the above fan art cover, which was based on the Iron Man 3 movie posters (not vice versa).

I guess what I'm saying is, I'm happy to see the ways in which life imitates art.  Since the beginning of the Marvel movie franchise ten years ago, people have begun building real-life Iron Man suits.  Fiction inspires people to do great things.  And gatekeeping shit by asking people whether or not they're "real fans" doesn't benefit anybody.  In my opinion, the Marvel movies are one example of a media adaption that made said media more accessible to more people, and in doing so, opened the doors for a lot of talented artists (illustrators, writers, costumers, actors, comedians, et cetera) to hone their craft using a pre-existing template.

Sure, there's plenty of really terrible fanart and fanfiction out there, it should all be judged on its own merit.  Because there's so much good fanart and fanfiction, and we don't want to throw the baby out with the bath water here.  There is plenty of work that is truly phenomenal, and some of it frankly outshines the original source material.  Fan work helps mythologies to grow and evolve; after all, before the era of copyright law, people happily paid tribute to established entities in stories, art, music, and other compositions.  This is the whole basis of folk lore.  Fanfiction, then, is the digital media era's version of that.

Although it's been around longer than the internet.

With the rich mythology already established, people get a little kickstart for their work, and I think that's a good thing.  (Obviously, of course, I am biased in a big way.  Shameless plug #3: please read my sci-fi thriller based on Marvel's Iron Man franchise!)

And Marvel is just one example of a single franchise.  I haven't even touched on other fandoms, like Harry Potter or Game of Thrones or Pokemon or any of the other various medias that capture people's hearts and minds.

I think that in the modern era, fandoms often take the place of organized religion.  (See "Mormonism," above.)  After all, they provide a sense of community; they often deliver a message and provide guidelines on societal expectations; they offer people a sense of morality and justice and hope; and they often have the words and images to express what we cannot.  At least, not until they give us their voice.

I hope more people find that fan creations and the fruits of fan labor are a springboard for their natural talent, and that others can forgive the initial lack of creativity for the end product, which often surpasses the original.

Monday, July 2, 2018

When Good Charities Go Bad

So someone once asked a question I found fascinating.  They said, "If you could take a million dollars from any non-profit, charitable organization, without anyone knowing, without getting in trouble... would you?"

The reason the question fascinated me was because it was clearly meant to be a real head-scratcher, but the answer seemed so childishly obvious that I found it confusing that anyone could actually need to think about it.

The answer is unequivocally yes, because, I immediately pointed out, just because something has the title of "charity" or "non-profit" does not make it inherently good.

Preach it, Red.

There are lots of charitable organizations I like (you can see a list on my "wishlist" tab), but many I don't.  Some are simply ineffective.  Take, for example, the Wounded Warrior Project.  A great charity except that only 18 cents on the dollar actually goes to the veterans the charity is designed to help; 20% alone is spent on advertising costs.  And others I have issues with on a more personal level, such as how Farm Sanctuary sold my information to PETA (who I consider a borderline terrorist organization that is doing more harm than good in advancing views on ethical animal treatment) and the Animal Legal Defense Fund, who has sent me enough address labels to last me through sixty lifetimes.

This brings me to today's topic, which is bunnies.

I have a bunny.

My bunny weighs about as much as the sum total of all of the address labels that the Animal Legal Defense Fund has sent to me.

Winibelle is seven years old and a curmudgeony cunt of a rabbit.  I like her, don't get me wrong, but I don't know much about rabbits and I've been flying by the seat of my pants since she was somewhat impulsively adopted from a friend seven years ago.  I've tried my best to make her life a good one and I think overall she's doing pretty good.  Perhaps even above-average.

You're probably wondering why I went from charities to bunnies.  The answer is that here in Los Angeles, there's a bunny rescue group called Bunny World Foundation, which rescues and homes bunnies.  I know about them because a few years ago I joined their FaceBook group hoping for pointers on making my asshole rabbit's life better.

I left the group/page within only a month or two because they posted a lot of anti-animal testing PETA propaganda.  As someone who has worked in animal research, this is a moral grey area for me with a lot of complex concerns on both sides.  The simple fact of the matter, though, is that both humans and animals benefit from medical testing.  While I'm very anti-testing for cosmetic purposes, I am fully in support of investigative research and medical trials.  After all, if we didn't test medicine on bunnies, we'd have no bunny medicine.  It's a very utilitarian way of thinking about ethics and as something of a moral relativist, I can understand that my viewpoints may strike others as cold.

But then again, I wasn't the one posting memes with pictures of mutilated rabbits.  PETA is a bunch of stone-cold killers who believe that the ends justify the means, so I feel like we're on equal ground here, morally speaking.

Anywho, I left after posting that a) I did not want to see graphic and disturbing images on my wall, and b) I strongly oppose PETA's methods.

I had learned nothing except that I was doing literally everything wrong.  The group was very judgemental and their favorite past-time seemed to be trying to push another bunny on me, even though I said multiple times that I am over capacity on animals in my household and I doubted my ability to be financially responsible for an animal that lives ten years and requires a lot of attention.

According to the bunny group, I was a terrible person for only having one rabbit.  Rabbits are social creatures who need other rabbits in order to be truly happy.

 My argument that my cat is trans-rabbit was not met with enthusiasm.

I was also feeding, grooming, housing, playing with, looking at, and referring to my rabbit incorrectly.


There was a distinctively cultish vibe and I was happy to get away.  As the years unfolded, Winibelle's done just fine, and I forgot all about Bunny World Foundation until recently.

See, a friend of mine just moved from Boston to L.A. and, excited to set down roots, decided to adopt a bunny.  We went to a bunny adoption together to look at bunnies; while there I suddenly remembered the group and its fearless leader, Lejla Hadzimuratovic, the "bunny lady" of L.A.  Immediately upon getting to the adoption event, I was hounded to adopt or foster more bunnies by a lot of bunny-pushing rabbit fanatics.  Meanwhile, my friend, who had already put in an application for adoption, was asked to furnish pictures of her bunnies' new home (which she had, fortunately), and was then informed that Bunny World only adopts out bunnies in pairs.

More bunnies = better

I advised my friend awkwardly to not get bullied into two bunnies, but she did, of course, and here the real fuck uppery begins.  See, before this moment, Bunny World was one of those ineffective charities that's run by volunteers doing their best, and makes harmless mistakes such as giving the wrong address for the adoption event.  (They sent us 2 hours out of our way and failed to ever provide the actual address, which we were eventually able to look up online.)

But it was only after my friend had adopted 2 bunnies that the more sinister side of Bunny World came to light.

The bunny in the above photo is Dennis Hopper.  He and his wife (formerly Raisin and now Rabbit Downey, Jr.) were a pair-bonded couple who came home with my friend after her "donation" of $400.  (Two hundred per bunny, to cover costs such a vet fees, neutering, and spaying.  A reasonable thing to expect an adoption fee in return for a clean bill of health.)

By the way, here's a picture of Robert Downey Jr. cosplaying Rabbit Downey Jr.
The story is about to get dark so take a moment to appreciate this.

Dennis was called a "lop bunny" because he had one floppy ear, although it was immediately obviously to me that he was a regular bunny with one broken ear.  It seemed odd that the bunny people couldn't tell this was a rabbit who had had some sort of ear trauma as a baby that had resulted in broken cartilage.  Especially since they were the self-proclaimed rabbit "experts."

Dennis fell ill within a week.  My friend took Dennis to the vet immediately.  Rabbits, as prey animals, are very good at hiding symptoms of illess or injury, so generally, by the time they're symptomatic at all, they're moribund.  Sure enough, Dennis passed away the same evening he was taken to the vet.

My friend called Lejla to talk to her about Dennis.  According to the vet, Dennis had died of a gastrointestinal infection.  (I wasn't told the diagnosis but I'm willing to bet anything it was coccidiosis.  Remember, I worked with large colonies of lab animals for about 8 years.)  Dennis had been subclinical but appeared to have been sick for a long time, probably over a month, before succumbing to his disease.

My friend (let's call her Maxine for now) relayed this information to Lejla, who replied that Dennis had obviously died of a spinal injury due to improper handling.  (For those who don't know, rabbits can break their backs from kicking too hard if they are being restrained poorly.  This is a common cause of death for rabbits in households with children.)

Horrified that she might have accidentally hurt her rabbit, Maxine asked the vet for X-rays, which revealed no broken bones.  She called Lejla back to tell her that Dennis had not broken his back, after all, and that the vet quite adamantly insisted Dennis had been sick with a parasite.

Lejla had already posted to the private FaceBook group, however, that Dennis had died from a broken back, although it wasn't Maxine's fault, because she was an "inexperienced owner."

According to Lejla, Dennis had died because he'd been hopping around on hardwood floors.

According to Lejla, all bunnies from Bunny World are given health screenings and wouldn't be adopted out if they were sick, so, clearly, Dennis's death was Maxine's fault.

Bunny World posted this on their FaceBook page one or two days after they told Maxine how dangerous hard wood surfaces were, by the way.

Lejla then called the vet and asked for the body back so a different vet could perform a necropsy.

Let's recap!
  • Lejla saw pictures of the house Dennis would be hopping around in, and approved them.
  • Dennis was not at any point restrained in such a way that he would casually break his own spine.
  • The vet confirmed there was no spinal injury and that Dennis has intestinal parasites, and, from the look of things, had had them for a while.
  • Lejla told everyone Dennis had died due to owner negligence after being told cause of death.
  • Lejla tried to take the body for a necropsy after cause of death had been determined and my friend had both X-rays and exam notes, which she was more than willing to share.
  • Cherry on top: Lejla is not refunding the $200 for the sick rabbit she pushed onto my friend, who, remember, only wanted one rabbit to begin with.
It's important to understand that coccidiosis is very common.  Rabbits are very susceptible to bacterial and protozoan diseases, and even the best owners may overlook an illness until it's too late, because rabbits can be very stoic and often don't show any symptoms.  Also, in a HUGE colony like Bunny World's, where you have lots of rabbits interacting and being dragged to adoption events on a regular basis, diseases are highly transmissable, and outbreaks are expected.

My issue, the reason for this post and my total RAGE at the situation, is Lejla's handling of it.  She threw my friend under the bus, in the face of a LOT of evidence to the contrary, to protect her own image.

She would rather be seen as the Infallible Bunny Guru than admit that she made a mistake and missed an illness in one of her bunnies.

Sometimes, you just gotta bite the thistle and own up when you mess up.

By refusing to admit her error, she is preventing other rabbits from getting treatment, and possibly condemning them to a similar fate as Dennis.

Maxine tried to call up Dennis's foster family to at least ask them to get their own rabbits treatment for parasites and assure them that Rabbit Downey Jr. was doing okay.  She discovered at this time that Dennis Hopper and Rabbit Downey Jr. were not pair-bonded after all, but had been in separate families all along and had only known each other for two weeks.

So Lejla not only refused to admit her error, tormented a bereaved pet owner, and possibly sentenced a bunch of rabbits to death to fuel her own ego, but she also lied to get more rabbits adopted.

This is a case of good intention having a bad outcome.  Lejla loves rabbits and wants to help rabbits.  But her ego is so out of control and her whole personhood so wrapped up in being a "Rabbit Whisperer" that she is now actually causing potential harm to rabbits.  The exact opposite of what she set out to do!

There are two cautionary pieces of wisdom we can take from this story.

First, when adopting, get to know the organization.  Maxine informed me that she's picked up on the cult-like vibe of Bunny World since, after adopting, they added her to the FaceBook group and have been hounding her to ask me to come and join them and foster bunnies for them.  

Even though my house is all hardwood floors.
Here, we see two more victims of my terrible pet parenting, their death by sunbeam clearly preventable.

Maxine could have gotten a bunny from the Los Angeles shelter for about $10, but she went with Bunny World because she felt they would provide a healthy rabbit to her.  She was duped by words like "rescue."  Which brings me back to my original premise, that just because something has a good name, like charity or foundation, does not mean it's necessarily good or effective at what it does.

The second piece of advice is for people to examine their own motivations periodically.  Ask yourself what your core values are and whether or not you are living up to those. 

 Preach it, Judy.

Lejla's core value is, supposedly, to help bunnies.  But her actions were designed to protect herself, to absolve herself.  As far as I know, no bunnies were taken in for parasite testing; no bunnies were given medication; no quarantine was set up, even as a precautionary measure.  

Sometimes, being good means owning up to mistakes.  It means doing the harder thing and eating crow and being embarrassed and having to fix something.  It means staying true to one's core value(s) at the expense of one's personal pride.  That's a very hard thing to do.  The best charities understand this; the best charities grapple with the delicate balance between total transparency and admitting to fallibility.  The best charities are not cults of personalities; they do make mistakes, and they own those mistakes, and they do their due diligence to try to stay true to their values.

Bunny World Foundation is not one of those charities. 

Conversely, the "kill shelters" that so many people loathe do their best to maintain the most humane conditions for their animals and to give as many animals as possible the chance to be adopted.

So, if you're reading this and you happen to be in Los Angeles and you happen to want a bunny (please note: you don't; they poop like 300 times a day), then my advice is to adopt from the shelter before you adopt from Bunny World Foundation, because they have hopped fairly far from the path they had initially set out on.

Monday, June 25, 2018

Drive Me Crazy

In these dank times, it's easy to forget some of the good stuff happening in the world.  Like how, in Saudi Arabia, women were finally allowed behind the wheel of a car.  This makes it legal, worldwide, for women to drive, and will lead to the creation of about 5,000 jobs in Saudi Arabia, according to the Arab News.

You go, girl!
No, literally go.
The light's green.
What are you doing?

I happen to like driving immensely so I'm pretty pleased to see this little token of equality.  As Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said, "The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice."  

You might think this post is going to be about ladies in Saudi Arabia, but it's not.  It's actually about driving.

 Although, if any Saudi Arabian women are reading this, 
please acquaint yourself with this critically important hand gesture before getting on the road. 

 Also learn this face.

See, I have a lot of free time since I began freelance writing and one of my newest hobbies is actually driving Lyft.  Lyft is to Uber what Pepsi is to Coca-Cola.  They're fundamentally the same, although I would argue Lyft is a "friendlier" rideshare company, although, to be fair, I'm biased, as that's the one I drive for.

I have always enjoyed driving immensely and having a hobby that rakes in a little extra cash is nice.  This is also a hobby that forces me to have social contact and forces me to leave the house, both things that, as a writer, have become things I can go for days without doing if I choose.  According to my therapist, though, that's not healthy.

So today I'd like to tell a few of my Lyft stories and also dispense some wisdom as someone who uses Lyft as both a driver and a passenger.

Lyft is a rideshare service, available as an app on your phone, and it's cheaper than a taxi because, unlike a taxi company, it is made up of independent contractors using their own cars.

If you live in a big city (as I do) then Lyft is a fast, cheap option to get to where you're going.  Rideshares like Lyft and Uber have been instrumental in lowering drunk driving rates in some cities, which is definitely a good thing.

I got the idea to drive Lyft from two sources.  The first was from my maternal grandfather, who recently passed away... 

Old School Cool.

...and the second was from one of my favorite television shows, The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt.

Kimmy actually drives Uber but tomato, tomahto.

Since I started, I have given about 300 rides and have calculated my average pay as about $20/hour.  That's in Los Angeles, of course, and includes tips and bonuses.  I am a five-star driver, probably because I take Lyft with a degree of seriousness usually reserved for Liam Neeson or giraffes.

Driving Lyft has put me in contact with some pretty crazy people.  This shouldn't surprise you; lots of people who use Lyft are drunks trying to get home, and in a big city, you're bound to find a couple of nuts in the trail mix.  (Side note: I have been asked on many occasions if I ever felt like I was in danger.  Maybe this is just my natural, reckless, optimistic nature, but no, I never have.  Even with the awareness that cab driving has the highest murder rate of any profession, or at least, it's always in the top ten, along with logging, fishing, and being a black Jurassic Park employee.)

As is typical, the stories that stand out to me are the worst ones, although the vast majority of my rides are fun.  Even if my passengers don't want to talk (they usually do, though), I've got my tunes on the radio and, since I drive stick, I can lose myself in a fantasy where I'm Rocket Raccoon piloting the Rack n' Ruin through an asteroid field.  This is a technique for handling traffic I have discussed before.

One of my most recent insane stories involves meeting an honest-to-God Flat Earther.  He was clearly tweaking and he asked me if I believe the world was round, to which I laughed and said yes, utterly failing to recognize the barrage of nonsense that was incoming.  For the rest of the 30-minute ride, I was told:
  • The only "evidence" we have of the earth being round is "CGI" images from NASA.  (I asked why the government would spend the resources to lie to us about whether the earth is round or flat; I was told to do my own research.)
  • My passenger is/was a sound engineer for major music labels and has collaborated with Snoop Dogg, and also is/was an armed guard for a marijuana dispensary.  (He "puts his life on the line" every day, he said, and felt they should buy him lunch.)
  • Gravity has never been proven.  There is only density and buoyancy.  (???)
  • If gravity exists, why aren't flies smushed?  How do clouds stay up?  Wake up, sheeple!

At one point he asked me if it felt like I was spinning.
Apparently Flat Earthers also don't believe the world spins, I don't know.

This was the closest I've ever come to really feeling "unsafe."  Most of my bad fares were not crazy or drunk; they were just jerks.

Jerk Story #1:  

I picked up a guy in downtown Los Angeles right after a Dodgers game. The time was 3:30 pm. He informed me that his plane left LAX at 5 pm.

For those who don't know, this ride would take about 90 minutes, typically.

He had ordered a Lyft Line (aka the shared route). I had to pick up another person. He spent the whole ride swearing in the back seat while I Mad Maxed him to the airport. It was incredibly stressful.

I got him there at 4:22. 

I bent space and time to get this guy to his terminal and give him a chance to actually catch his plane.  I took multiple short-cuts not available on the GPS, cutting through downtown to avoid the 110 freeway, and turning onto 27th St. to take a secret FasTrack-only merge lane onto the highway.  The guy, on his phone, kept yelling "WHAT ARE YOU DOING?" while I yelled back "TRUST ME!"  He had the app open and was watching the Estimated Time of Arrival slowly ticking backwards, as I reversed time for him by using every trick up my sleeve. It was one of my proudest Lyft moments; the whole trip, including the pick up of a second person, was less than an hour.

No tip.  Not even a thank-you.

By the way, don't bitch at me that you're "in a hurry" if I've sat idling in the car for more than 5 minutes waiting for your late ass.  I'm gonna do my best but I'm only a minor miracle worker.

Jerk Story #2:  

I pick up this guy.  He's wearing a suit. He's holding a cup of Starbucks coffee. He immediately starts asking me how long I've been driving, how often I drive, if I make good money, et cetera. I'm friendly. I answer.

Then he starts saying how most Lyft drivers are stupid because don't I know that E V E R Y T H I N G is tax deductible? My phone! My car! Everything, because I use it for Lyft! And I'm a "business owner!"

(I tried to interject and say, no, I'm an independent contractor; I do not "own" Lyft. But he was on a roll.)

"That's the problem with millennials," he said. "They're all so entitled and ignorant. They could save so much money if they just did some research. And you grew up with the internet; it's all right there, at your fingertips, but you're too lazy to use it."

Again, at this point, I tried to interject again. I did not grow up with the internet. Not all millennials have had universal experiences. I was born in the 80's. Yes, I'm a millennial, but this guy kept talking about how "the reason millennial have such shitty attention spans is that they grew up with video games and it rotted their brains!" I never had a gaming console or the internet growing up, not until college; I got my first smart phone in 2013.

"That's such a millennial thing to say!" he said. "Why are all millennials so ashamed? They have no self-confidence. Just own it. A lot of great things came out of your generation and it's not your fault you're so lazy and entitled."

It was an hour-long ride into downtown Los Angeles. At some point, he complained that I didn't have a FasTrack so we could use the express lanes. ("It's a deductible! You'd know that if you did your research! Millennial don't take anything seriously, like, it's your business, why wouldn't you want to take that seriously, invest some time into learning how to be a business owner?") (Again. Lyft drivers are not business owners. Being an independent contractor does NOT automatically make you a business owner.)  (Also I had my FasTrack in the glove box that I simply hadn't installed in the car yet, but I was sure as hell not going to pull it out while I was being told what a stupid, lazy, entitled idiot I was.)

He literally called me entitled and stupid in the same breath as demanding to know why I didn't have a FasTrack, like I owed it to him; he also complained about how slow traffic was, which of course, I have no control over. (He did not see the irony.)

After a one-hour-long rant about how entitled I am, and me politely "mm-hm"ing and letting him insult and try to bait me... you guessed it.

No thank- you, and no tip.

Side note: I would like to pre-emptively reassure my readers that I do indeed deduct the mileage I accrue while driving Lyft.  The guy in my story just assumed I did not deduct anything. Nor did I feel the need to correct him, because it's not anyone's business how I do my taxes. Anyway, 90% of his ranting was about how stupid, lazy, and entitled millennials are, not about tax codes.

Bonus jerk story:  

Someone actually stuck a piece of chewed gum onto one of my cloth seats.  Like, you couldn't swallow it, or spit it out the window, or ask me for a napkin?  This is literally, from the viewpoint of the passenger, my livelihood, and you just left trash in it.  You know I have other fares to pick up, right?  Clearly, whoever did this was a psychopath.  I'm not even exaggerating.  That is literally psychopathic behavior from a person who utterly fails to give a shit about others.  The fact that they hid it from me means they knew what they were doing was wrong, but did it anyway, because of a literal incapacity for empathy.  


If you don't want to be a jerk, here's some tips for you, as a passenger:
  •  Don't eat, drink, paint your nails, do your make-up, or spray perfume in the car.  It's a public space and your driver doesn't want to have to clean up after you.  It's not only rude to the driver but to future passengers.  (Yes, I have had people painting their nails in my car before.)
  • Don't listen to music or watch YouTube videos on your phone without headphones.  Again, this is just plain obnoxious.
  • Don't rush your driver.  They're going to do their best, but telling them you're late and expect them to fix it only tends to stress them out.
  • Tip.  It's a goddamn service and you're expected to tip.  Drivers keep 100% of the tips; they do not go to the app.
  • Unless you have a legit complaint, give them a good rating.  The platform requires drivers to maintain above a 4.6 rating to remain drivers, so "four stars" is actually failing.
  • If you want your driver to shut up, tell them.  If you hate the radio station, tell them.  If you want more air conditioning, tell them.  I have only ever gotten 2 bad ratings and both were people complaining about my "talking too much."  If they'd only asked me, I would have happily acquised.  Again, most Lyft drivers are pretty desperate to maintain a good rating, so if you need anything, it's better to ask than to stay silent and bitch afterwards.
And if you're a driver who wants to know how to get that sweet, sweet 5-star rating, here's some brain hacks for you:

Lesson #1: have impeccable situational awareness.
  •  People will almost always sit in the back, so between rides, move the front seat back.  When they go to get in the car, move the seat forward for them.
  • Ask them if they're "getting enough air" back there.
  • Don't bother with having mints or water in the car.  Some drivers do this.  I think it's a cheap tactic to get a good rating.  Focus on the service, not the hand-outs.
  • Exception to the above rule: carry aspirin/ibuprofen and phone chargers.  People who have headaches appreciate this IMMENSELY.  As for phone chargers, I recommend using external battery packs, which will charge phones faster than the car will.  2/3rds of people who ask about phone chargers will be iPhone users, so when you hand them the battery pack with the cord, make sure it's an Android cord.  When they express dismay, say, "I got you, fam," and whip out the iPhone charger.  Like adjusting the seat, this is a subtle way to call attention to the service you are providing them, and makes tips more likely.
  • Drive manual.  People LOVE this.  If they comment on your driving manual, say something like, "Well, you're paying me to know how to drive a car, so...!"  This pretty much universally gets an appreciative laugh.
  • Wear a bangle or bracelet on your right hand to draw attention to the fact that you drive manual.
  • Wear a hat.  People like the idea of a "chauffeur."  Make sure it's a brimmed hat, not just a cap.  Seriously.  Nice clothes can up your tips because people feel like it's more "professional."
  • DON'T use an air freshener.  They are generally overpowering.  Just spray some air fresher in the car like, once.  Having some shit on the vents is going to make the car cloying.
  • When people exit, thank them for riding with you and wish them a great day.  If it's hot out, tell them to "stay cool!"  These tiny gestures of appreciation go a long way.

If they ask to go through a Drive-Thru, do it.  It's fun as hell.

In conclusion, if you like driving and socializing, Lyft is a fantastic way to supplement your income and sight-see your way through your city.  You get a few good stories out of it and, hey, it gets you out of the house.  (Side note: the best/weirdest tip I ever received was 2 brand-new, in-the-package sex toys.  The lady who was riding apparently owned a sex shop and that was her standard tip for drivers who seem "cool.")  But you have to be prepared to handle the occasional asshole; that being said, it's also spectacular training for becoming a master negotiator and people-person.  I definitely think I've become a better listener and more capable of handling whatever bullshit is thrown my way thanks to driving for Lyft.  If you've never tried a rideshare service, try it out next time you go drinking.  You might just love it.

Especially if you grew up playing driver simulators where the goal was to get 5 stars.