Saturday, December 11, 2010

I'm the CBEST: tales from the classroom

So in addition to slowly completing my dissertation, many of you know that I also teach in the classroom.  It's been a slightly harrowing process to become a certified sub, but a big step included passing the CBEST.

This was probably the easiest hurdle of the whole substitute-teaching credentialing gauntlet.  Sentence structure, usage, how to use a table of contents.  Random passages invoking 4th grade history or science.  I think I actually signed an NDA to not leak questions and answers, but to give the gist of my experience, it ranged from “Shit! Nobody told me I’d have to convert units of measurement!” to a sort of sad-appalled-rage, like: “CBEST, I am at least a graduate of an accredited high school in the United States of America.  How dare you ask a question like that, CBEST? How dare you?!?

Whatever, I passed.

Or at least I’m pretty sure I’ll pass.  It was a computer based test, and so my instant scores were initially disconcerting (58 writing; 64 math)—then the lady at the CBEST explained that it’s not a 100-point scale, much to my relief. 

See, it has 3 sections, with 80 points per section, and I have yet to get back the writing section, you need a 123 to pass.  And if you can’t figure out what that means for me, then you may not be qualified to teach in the states of California or Oregon.
Bottom line: you get 20 points per section just for showing up, so I’ll likely get > 1 point that I need on the writing section[1] in order to = 123.  I passed.

On the CBEST scale a 64 apparently means that I answered “most” of the questions correctly, and a 59 means I answered “many” correctly.  I don’t know how good that is or if it says anything about me on the smart-dumb standardized testing trajectory since the SAT and GRE both long ago, but I’m not surprised considering that I went in to this one cold with little or no preparation, and I did slightly better in math than verbal, and I passed comfortably.

With that, I have gained the ability to become compensated in exchange for my substitute teaching.  This will only lead to more amusing anecdotes and high school hijinks, such as the following highlights of teaching so far:

- 10th grade chatter before class, a student’s fantasy football team name is “Raw Dog,” a friend laughs, asks “who’s team Raw Dog?”  [Everybody tells him student’s name, laughing.]  Girl: “what’s Raw Dog?” Me: [interrupting] “something no young woman should ever say. [To boys]: Guys, come on, stop laughing.”

- “Hot Seat,” and “Marry, f--k, kill”:  Apparently “hot seat” is a game that an advanced journalism class is allowed to play during a dead day the first week of school.  I’ll just say I didn’t start this, the teacher I sub for is VERY comfortable with her student-led class (newspaper).  Even she loves this game, and lets them play it periodically on field trips to keep them together and entertained.  The rules of hot seat are simple, the class begins to yell a consensus name, and that person has to go on the “hot seat,” which is actually a red stool in the middle of the room.  The class then gets to ask said student ANY question.  She or he can answer any question, but can also say “fuck you guys,” and storm off without penalty (but this will likely elicit boos).  They then get to pick the next on the hot seat (but that can sort-of be overridden by the crowd if person selection is lame).  About 90% of questions concern hookups, like, with other students IN THE ROOM.  This is where I’ll say that the “teacher” left the room for the period, leaving me in charge to let this game play out for the rest of the period (about 30 minutes).  I was shocked by the candor of what they were disclosing.  I felt like when I saw the movie “Kids” for the first time.  Inevitably, the question becomes who would you “Marry, f--k, or kill,” again (a game I’m familiar with in my formative college days), only this is high school, and with students IN THE ROOM.  Some guy was asked what happened with “that girl in the sleeping bag.”  [Sudoku? Tweeting? I don’t know! What?]. A dating couple IN THE ROOM, were asked about sexual experiences WITH EACH OTHER.  Okay, I’ll say I was not AS shocked by the candor as I was with the comfort of the entire room.  There was not a single wallflower, nobody seemed at all embarrassed or uncomfortable.  These are high school juniors and seniors on the first week of school.  In that moment, I was so proud of my high school student newspaper.  This class has clearly gelled.

- One of our activities is reading the local weekly rag.  This is impossible for sophomores to do when there are writers named “Jocylin Dong” on staff.  I apologize in advance to Jocylin if she reads this blog (your local news coverage is syntactically flawless and concise ...)

- I have discovered that whereas I have always considered myself to be a hip-20-something educator with a full grasp on popular culture, and that I am that guy or specifically that teacher who knows about shit and actually wields this pop-culture knowledge base as a weapon—a teaching weapon.  Unfortunately, I have discovered that a surprising cultural gap has emerged between me and, at least, my English class of 14-year old freshman.  (I know, my cat is older).  Anyway, our vocabulary word was "marauder" and for anybody familiar with A Tribe Called Quest's "Midnight Marauders" album, you will know that defining the word "maraud" is literally a track interlude.  I could not pass this up.  "Maraud? Wow, this is amazing, hey, so do you guys know A Tribe Called Quest?" ... Nothing.  Crickets.  I was a little bit ashamed, but I don't know whether to direct this shame inwardly at my inability to identify this shocking generational chasm, or at my class' ignorance of one of the most fundamental groups in hip-hop history (and in my hometown!).

- I don't fucking get Justin Bieber.  I just don't.

[1] I wrote the shit out of that section.  I read a study where a guy taped a bunch of SAT writing section essays to a wall across a large room and predicted with something like 90% accuracy the scores of each essay.  The reason?  Word count and length are huge predictors of total score.  He could just look at how much text was there and tell.  There was a 600 word limit on the CBEST, I was pushing words like weight, son.

Obviously, I’ve now determined that cursing in blog-footnotes is completely on limits.  In fact, blog-footnotes are ideal curse-spaces.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Data Analysis (least exciting blog title EVER!)

I've had a few "oh shit" moments over the past few weeks where I'll feel pretty overwhelmed with the task at hand.  Anybody who's ever done one of these things (or maybe just any huge, colossal project) can probably relate.  It's that feeling when you're just starting something that you know is massive, and you're finally deciding how to grapple it.  For me, that's data analysis.

I have 41 participant interviews.  Those are students who use drugs or medications for academic purposes.  Each interview is about an hour, usually a little bit less.  The good news is that I got a grant to get all those interviews neatly transcribed.  The bad news is that each transcript is about 35 pages, and I have to "groom" them by listening to and coding each one as I go along.  I thought it'd take about two hours to do each one thoroughly.  So far, it's taken considerably longer.

Part of the problem is just deciding how you're going to go about taking such a large quantity of abstract, raw data and organize it into something cohesive.  There are books on this.  I wanted to be half-done by now, and finished by the end of November.  So far I've done 4/41 thoroughly.  That's where the "oh shit" comes in.  The bottom line is that I have to start saying "no" to people, friends, and be the hermit that Joan Bolker wants me to be (see 1st blog entry).  The good news is that my method is iron-clad, as I get better at my own process I think I'll get faster to the 2-hour-per mark, and most importantly, the data I'm going through is pretty good.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Catch up blog ... October, basically.

First off, I’m sorry it’s been a while.  I’ve been traveling to this conference in DC for business, then for pure pleasure in NY, and ohmigod the Giants (S.F. Giants!).  But wow, it’s all happened.  This blog is clairvoyant.
What do I mean?
-       “What do Andres Torres and Ian Kinsler have in common?”  Not only are they both medically exempt users of ADHD medications, but they’re both now in the World Series.  As far as this blog is concerned, it might as well be the Ritalin-bowl.  (Called it!).  Also, I heard the announcers again discuss Torres’ baseball success attribution to meds (this time on TBS during the Atlanta series).

-       Also, um … Mad Men!  No, Betty Draper did not develop an addiction to laced household products (abundantly available in the 60’s) but Don did run into Midge, his bohemian artist dalliance from the first season (first episode—Don Draper’s very first affair!), and she developed a heroin habit.  (Called it!)  Kudos to Mad Men for getting a little dark.  Funny how it took 50 years of chiseling away at censors for us to make a critically acclaimed show like this about the 60’s that everybody who seems to remember that time hails as “accurate.”
The DC conference was really cool.  New York was a lot of fun.  So much so that I got a cold (Lohanesque party-induced "exaustion" no doubt).  Now I’m back teaching high school this week and our freshman English reading book is "Catcher in the Rye" pretty much the most badass book I could possibly hope to teach 9th graders.
Oh yeah, and my dissertation?  Travel and poster preparation took me a little bit off schedule, but now I actually sat down with my advisor and made a schedule, so that's a plus.  I had to do a little data analysis for my poster.  This was the first time I've really seen my data since interviewing the subjects themselves, and I must say, I've got some pretty good, pretty juicy stuff.  More to come.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

The depressing side of anti-depressants

It's been a while.  I've been in LA and have a fantastic catch-up blog I'm waiting to post.  In the meantime, I want to share an e-mail I got from a student who, sadly, I'm unable to enroll in my study.  See, I've got all the participants I'll need, so I'm no longer recruiting, but over the past several years, I've peppered campus with my research flyers:

They're quality flyers, and I designed them myself with cues from Wes Anderson movie credits and whatever other random flyers I saw around campus.  They've been successful.  So much so, that I'm still getting calls and e-mails.  Unfortunately I can't take any more people (please don't call or e-mail!), but for those who do, I politely tell them what's up, why I can't enroll anybody else, and surprisingly, this often leads to a conversation:

"Well, can you tell me what you found then?"

"Do you think I should keep taking Concerta?"

"Can you call me if you decide to start recruiting again?"

Since I'm not enrolling anybody, I usually e-mail these students my manuscript (in press) with the first 12 students to enroll.  Usually all I get is a thanks, with little fanfare.  But then I got this.  [I can only show this on my blog because this person is NOT enrolled].

From: XX
Re: Info
Date: Oct, 4, 2010 7:29:31 PM PDT

Thank you for the manuscript!! I am very interested on that topic because I have ADHD, it runs in my family, but my mom taught my siblings and I how to cope with it without medicating ourselves.
Another topic that i was interested on was the effects of depression medications such as Prozac and Zoloft and how easy it is to acquire those types of prescriptions. Last summer my family doctor prescribed me those medications because he taught my migraines was caused by pre menstrual depression because i only get migraines with my period and the side effects of those medications on my body were awful!! Since I dont have depression, I almost killed myself while on those medications because they made me feel like I had symptoms of depression and also made me suffer of panic attacks and anxiety. I was so upset at my doctor for prescribing those medications to me. It was the worst experience I ever had. I just can not believe how a doctor can prescribe those things so easily. Those medications are very dangerous and should not be prescribed just like that. I never suffered from depression so experiencing the feelings that those medications caused me, it made me have a lot compassion for those people who suffer from depression. I also have a lot girlfriends who have prescriptions for Prozac and Zoloft and I really dont think they have depression. They look great! I dont understand how people acquire those prescriptions so easy and why they want those medications?? Well... keep in touch. I will finish reading your manuscript!
Thank you,

It may be tough to conclude anything from this, but here's what I see:

1.  It's a topic that's on a lot of people's minds.
2.  Look how open this young woman is about her experience!  At the onset, people told me to expect to find lots of problems getting students to talk on record.  Not the case.  People want to talk about this and make sense of their experiences with drugs.  This research is a lot easier to do than a lot of people realize.  Students these days are surprisingly candid.  (Especially for $20).
3.  There's something more specific going on here.  Anybody notice how she doubts her friends' depression and use of anti-depressants because "they look great"?  This is either a body-issue-thing or an interesting commentary.  How does one "look" depressed or not-depressed?

There's a lot of research coming out about anti-depressants and how they may be worse for treating depression than placebo.  I'll reference the Newsweek cover feature a few months back on this.  Two out of 53 students in my study used anti-depressants, so while it's not my focus, it's relevant.  Keep posted, and be vary wary of anti-depressants.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

A Tale of Two Dispensaries

I recently enrolled in a free online course called "Marijuana prevention in a legalized environment" taught by a friend of mine at SDSU.  This relates to my work in the sense that we're talking about drug and "medicine" diversion, drug policies, and this class has a lot to do with the timing of California Prop. 19.  It's all connected, just trust me.

I've had the opportunity as a student reporter through my campus daily to do quite a bit of informal "ethnographic" research, talking to dispensary owners, "recommending" doctors, patients, and observing their general operations. Overall, I cannot emphasize enough how loose and diverse these establishments are—it truly is the Wild West out here.

Here are two cases to demonstrate the spectrum of the legal experience in California. (DISCLAIMER: These are all completely factual vignettes, and probably to be published in an upcoming issue of "The Daily Bruin" in some form. I did this for journalistic inquiry and research purposes, with permission from the owners of the two dispensaries profiled below, and hopefully my editors at the Bruin*).

Dispensary A is a few blocks away from campus, it is clean, open, and looks like any other holistic medicine shop (like the vitamin section of Whole Foods), security is visible, and non-patients are allowed in to buy other herbs, supplements, non-medicated ice cream (as opposed to the medicated kind that they also serve, along with teas, cookies, and lollipops, all splayed out in the kind of pastry case you'll see at any Starbucks). They accept major credit cards. There is a 10% "student discount" to cater to the local campus community. The owner is polite and a relative veteran of the industry, but unless you're a patient, she'll ask you not to approach the counter with their "menus" behind which there are jars of weed on display. The staff wear white coats and are polite and friendly, the check in process is civil (must have ID and valid recommendation for the first time, subsequent visits only ID is necessary). There is a loyalty card policy where they give you a stamp for each 1/8 oz., and after 10 stamps you get a free 1/8 oz. All patients must sign an agreement saying they will not "medicate" within 1000 feet of the premises, and that their medication is for sole personal use (they cannot divert). Thus store rules dictate that patients cannot use their cell phones in the store, and if they step outside to use the phone or step away from the counter mid-transaction, they will not be allowed to make any purchases until the next day. Each patient is limited to 1 oz. per day, and from testimonial from patients (interviewed over 1000 feet away and several minutes later), the medicine is very good for a fair price, though some admitted their plans to share or sell to friends.

Dispensary B is in a chic neighborhood in East LA. Interestingly, it is less than 100 feet from another dispensary that has had to shut its doors recently to acquire new permits mandated by LA County. Dispensary B had a "grandfather" permit acquired years ago, just before the number of dispensaries in LA County shot to over 500 before city and county officials scrambled to curb the disconcerting proliferation of quasi-legitimate businesses. Despite new county-mandated policies that prevent Dispensary B from being open until midnight as they used to, they are still open for business. It's not much to look at from the outside, but the telltale giant green "+" painted mural on the building's front lets customers know that yes, this is a marijuana dispensary. A metal screen door and second door behind it are often unlocked, but when locked, patients hit the doorbell and wave to the security camera to be buzzed in. Sometimes non-patients loiter outside to ask patrons if they can buy for them like underage teens so often do for alcohol at liquor stores. The lobby is unattended, but a buzzer will summon an employee to a counter behind thick plastic bank-glass. Patients slide their IDs and documentation through a secure pass-through, the process is the same as in other dispensaries (no phones, no medicating within 1000 feet, signed agreement the first time, only ID needed afterward), but some patients who forget theirs are still allowed to purchase "just this once" the clerks reprimand. Patients are then buzzed through a first door into a small hallway—there's nothing in the hallway except for a few Bob Marley posters and another door on the far end. The door must shut completely before the second door can be buzzed open. There's already a fragrant smell. Once through the second security door, it's dark, there are some TV's and couches with young adults playing console video games or watching TV. It's unclear if these are employees, patients, or friends of the owners, but it is likely that everybody is very medicated. The staff are friendly, if not casual. There are cases of paraphernalia (pipes, bongs, papers, grinders, etc.) and of course, jars of marijuana. A white-erase board in the back lets you know what's available and how much it costs. Also visible in the cases are two tazer-guns that imply security, should the remote-access double-doors fail. They do not accept credit cards, but there is an ATM in the room (out of order at this particular time). It all has a dorm-room/head-shop feel, very different from Dispensary A. Patients who make purchases are rewarded on a point system, but on occasion, even employees struggle with the point-math. After a certain amount of points are accrued, patients get to spin a wheel and receive a prize**. It is literally like a small, homemade wheel-of-fortune with a spinner and sections labeled "free kush joint" or "free gram." Unlike dispensary A, they let patients handle the medicine by touching or smelling it. They even allow 1 free sample per visit, which entails an employee loading up a generous portion of any chosen medicine into a water pipe for consumption right there in the store***. Nobody seems concerned with the contradiction that all patients are required to sign an agreement forbidding medical use within 1000 feet of the premises. Many patients elect to use their 1 free sample per visit, and all speak to the high quality of the medicine they purchase.

These two profiles speak to the variability of some medical marijuana dispensaries. My overall impression is that laws and statutes are interpreted and enforced differently but the effect is the same: marijuana is very easy to purchase safely with the requisite medical credentials. I don't think it's any secret that many patients buy for the purpose of redistribution. Both Dispensary A and B have a 1-oz. per day limit, and frankly, that's a lot of weed. According to Disp. A's "menus" and Disp. B's "price board" the average price for 1/8 is around $45-$50 with price brakes on larger quantities. Reselling or diverting medication is an obvious consequence. What makes the current medical marijuana model more prone to diversion than other prescription drugs is the lack of any clearinghouse or infrastructure to prevent a patient from purchasing their 1 oz. daily limit from dispensary A, B, C, D, etc. all in a single day. Pharmacies have safeguards in place to prevent this—you cannot get Vicodin at Longs and then pick up Oxycontin cupcakes at a CVS with the same prescription slip. With weed there is no slip, it's a membership club that even comes with a card (or certificate, usually).  And according to advertisements in the LA Weekly (or SJ Metro up here in NorCal), the prices to join the club are plummeting—I can look at an LA weekly from a year and a half ago and see ads for $80 and $100 for a doctors appointment fee and valid recommendation (no charge if not diagnosable, they say, no risk!), but last week I found a business card at a coffee shop advertising them for $35 dollars.  Clearly there is a market there and more willing doctors are becoming available, driving prices down (supply and demand, son!).

The owners of both dispensary A and B have other locations for their own respective franchises that they do check, but there is often no checking between different medical marijuana establishments, making illicit mass diversion of marijuana an easier and more instantly profitable prospect than other abusable prescription drugs.  I'm not trying to give anybody ideas, I'm just sayin'.  This loophole may, and hopefully will change very soon.

* Who are probably going to be like, 19 years old. 

**According to the owner, their policies have since changed and now a $1 "donation" + X amount of points entitles a spin of the wheel. This change was made to adhere to new county statutes, apparently, but speaks to the broader, almost comical degree of semantic obfuscation with the weed industry where "recommendations" exist but "prescriptions" are taboo, and where a "purchase" is different than a "donation in exchange for goods."  I blame lawyers.

*** The free-sample policy has since been suspended. Officially, the owner said this policy never existed, but unofficially, I suspect heightened scrutiny and new county statutes prompted the change. An exception was made for an April 20th event in the store (I did not attend).

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Oh, mom ...

There will be plenty of future occasions for research-related blog entries, but it’s time for a life-related entry.  The question I get most often from friends who are familiar with my current situation: “does it suck living at home?”
Answer: no, it definitely does NOT suck living at home.
Sometimes it’s a little weird or crazy-nostalgic, and it can feel like some places have changed a lot while others are all-too-familiar.  Working at my high school has something to do with this.  My mom has a lot to do with this.
How can I describe my mom for those not familiar?  There’s no single character in the history of fiction that aptly describes her.  Every recombination of TV or literary archetypes sounds like a cartoon.  She resides on the border between California and Oklahoma, with tremendous naïveté, innocence, sincerity, and humor.  It can be 105 degrees and she’ll still be cold, and she will still eat frozen yogurt 18 times per week.  She has a doctorate from Stanford in computer science and works at NASA but somehow has the computer fluency of a Kalahari bushman.
Maybe I should just go to the stories:
-     When I went to college, she confiscated a device in my closet that she dubbed “the marijuana machine.”  (It was a bong).
-     After the advent of DVD technology, she asked me how to rewind it so she could return it to Blockbuster.
-     Our unofficial high school senior class t-shrits adorned the slogan “Bud, Bitches, and Brew” featuring a well-endowed siren sitting on a keg with a blunt (yes, it was crass, but subversion was the point back then).  To which she asked “Ross, I don’t get it, Bud is a kind of brew. It doesn’t make sense.”
-     I want to say it was 2005-ish: “Ross, do we have any USB? Everybody at work is talking about USB. I need to get some USB, do we have that?” [My head falls into my hands as I worry about our national space program] “It’s for the computer.”  I know mom.
Those are some of the better.  Both her and my step-dad Roger are fully settled creatures of habit on the brink of retirement.  So I give them immense credit for putting up with me moving back for a year as I’m on the brink of 30.  Sure, there are social … disadvantages, but back to the question of it sucking?
Again no, it absolutely does not suck.  In fact, it’s awesome.  I submit:
-     I’ve attended a half-dozen Giants games, and I can watch the rest anywhere (and not JUST when they’re playing the Dodgers).  In Santa Monica’s S.F. Saloon, they don’t even get all the Giants games.
-     Do you know how much time you waste cooking and doing laundry for yourself?  My math may be wrong, but I’m going to say hundreds of hours per week.  Oh, is that mean letting my mom do laundry?  No, and probably, respectively.  I think she likes doing mom-stuff again after an 8-year hiatus and I’ll be honest, I don’t think she does much at her job—may as well keep her occupied with something she’s good at.  Am I lazy?  Well, right now they’re gone RV’ing Yellowstone for 2 weeks and my laundry situation is getting desperate—I’m on reserve socks and underwear.  Maybe the cat knows her secrets.
-     I’ve taken Palo Alto for granted for too long.  It’s really not a bad place to land.
I’ll write soon about becoming a substitute teacher at Palo Alto High School, boy is that a big dose of weird and a small dose of paycheck.  But for now, after many requests, my mom’s greatest hits, 2010 edition:
-     Here’s an example of 1000% weirdness.  Right of the bat, maybe day 3 of being back, we’re cruising on El Camino and I’m commenting on new housing construction on the Stanford campus.  She says in complete sweet earnestness “that’s where you were conceived, my dear.”  Ugh.  If I was behind the wheel, I might have had to swerve into a dumpster just to give my brain something else to process.
-     Until 2 weeks ago, I had never seen “Risky Business” (as in, the Tom Cruise movie).  I always assumed it was about dancing around in skivvies, not running a brothel while your parents are gone.  I retroactively retract every time I said I’m going “risky business style” when my roommates went out of town.  I didn’t mean that.  Except the once (sorry Conrad).  Anyway, I’m sharing a Netflix queue with my mom, she sees I’m halfway through the movie and gets excited. “Oh have you seen the subway scene yet?  That’s a classic scene.  You’ll like that.  What a great movie.”  I hadn’t.  I finally get there and I find out that it’s the dirtiest scene in the whole movie, where Tom Cruise is totally getting it on with Rebecca de Mornay in a Chicago subway while a hobo watches.  Nasty!  … I’m disturbed, not by the scene so much, but by the recommendation.  I confront my mom about this: “oh, but the cuts to the homeless man were so funny.”   Sure mom.  Sure.
-     Sorry, I’m still vomiting a little bit over #1.
-     She doesn’t know who Glenn Beck is.  I discovered this while watching The Daily Show with her.  Actually, I’m not ashamed of this one, I’m kind of impressed.  Like when Baxter ate the whole wheel of cheese.
-     My computer has no space, I need a new one.  In the meanwhile, I can’t play Starcraft 2 at all (maybe a good thing).  But she offered her NASA computer for me to install and play it when she isn’t using it.  Let me explain the NASA computer: everything on her screen goes through NASA for security.  I don’t know if there’s some dude sitting in a big room of screens like in the Matrix, but I’ll pretend that’s exactly what happens.  I like to think there are one of two things that said government employee is thinking while I rock through Starcraft 2:
1.   “That’s odd.  Let’s see … [checking security clearance] … ah, I can see that Jan Aikins has two sons and a stepson, 25, 27, and 29, one of them probably installed Starcraft. … or …
2.   … Jan Aikins is fucking awesome at Starcraft.
-     Her grandmaternal clock goes off weekly.  Some indirect quip about how fun it would be to have granddaughters.  Actually, she’s quite direct.  I’ve learned how to hit the snooze button on this alarm, but I’ve so far failed to unplug it.  I can only make so many sarcastic remarks about my all-male litter of illegitimate bastard children before cutting humor turns to misplaced optimism.
All in all though, things are good.  I'm enjoying it here a lot more than I thought.  A surprising amount of friends are around or have materialized through Facebook, etc.  I also have a dad running around somewhere being wily and irascible.  More highlights to come.
Working on: A presentation at UCLA Ashe center at the end of the month, a presentation in D.C. in October.  Data checking, coding.  I’m thinking about getting a new computer that can run Atlas TI qualitative data management software.  Does anybody know anything about this?

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

What do Ian Kinsler and Andres Torres have in common?

1. Both are major league baseball players.  Kinsler is an All-Star 2nd baseman for the Texas Rangers, and Torres is a speedy outfielder who often leads off for the Giants.

2. Both have ADHD and take medication to treat it.

3. Both have (reportedly) attributed their major league success in part to their use of medication.

Amphetamines are illegal in baseball.  This was done mostly for player safety reasons, PR reasons, and in the interest of fairness.  Steroids were banned for similar reasons, and we all know how prohibitive the current climate for steroid and PED use is in baseball.  But some amphetamines aren't illegal for some players.

I've found no shortage of articles and book citations detailing the alarming ubiquity of "greenies" in clubhouses since the '70's.  Some prevalence estimates put stimulant use way above steroids, yet steroids seemed to get all the bad press: the Mitchell Report, McGwire, Bonds, Conseco, Palmero, BALCO, Roger Clemens still lying right now ... all that bad stuff.  Steroids also got all the credit for the great home run race of 1998.  As if better talent, advancements in technology, training, and ... other stuff, had nothing to do with it.

The last thing I want to do is say that one drug is more ethical than another in baseball.  To qualify that, you'd need to know whether one was more or less helpful, and therefore perhaps, more or less unfair to use illicitly.  I've never juiced up or tweaked out and stepped into the batting cages so I can't say from firsthand experience, but let's just say they both impart some advantage to the user.

[Interestingly, according to the MLB/players-union agreement, the two substances have different penalty scales for repeat offenders, with amphetamines getting lighter sanctions: 50 games, then 100, before you're third strike and lifetime ban for steroids; with amphetamines you get a mulligan on your first offense, then 25, 80, then additional punishment including a lifetime ban).]

And I don't want to get professional athletes in trouble if they in fact do have legitimate affective disorders where medication is prescribed.  (Especially Torres, who just jacked a decisive home run against the Rockies tonight for my San Francisco Giants in the midst of a playoff push).

But isn't there clearly a double-standard here?

The reason why Torres and Kinsler are allowed to use Adderall—a banned amphetamine medication—is because of the MLB's "Therapeutic Exemption Clause."  The ban seems to have been enforced (or possibly merely amended) in 2006.  At that time, according to USA Today, there were 35 exemption clauses, of which 28 were for ADHD medications.  Today there are 111 players playing with exemptions, and 103 are for ADHD.

My work says that students are often doing what people already suspect: faking ADD/ADHD to get drugs that help them perform.


The Kinsler tip comes from my brother Mike's Pa Carl, who is an avid Ranger fan.  I was watching the Giants game at home on 8-13 and Kruk' and Kuip's field broadcaster cut in to deliver the following: "Andres Torres was a track star in Puerto Rico, and says it took him a while to develop as a hitter, but there's another reason why he got it going late: he was diagnosed with ADD in 2002, but didn't start taking medication until 2007 during his 2nd stint with the Tigers organization ..."

Looking at Torres' career stats, the highest he batted was .220 (168 at-bats in 59 games in 2003) from there it looks like he struggled in 2004, went to, hmmm, Texas, got sent down to the minors for a couple years before coming to the Giants in 2009 where he batted .270.  This year he's .284.

For guys like this, it's possible ritalin can make or save your career.  Torres' 2010 salary is $428,000.  And all you have to do is tell a doctor you can't concentrate?  Who wouldn't do that?

Monday, August 16, 2010

8-14: Getting up to speed

Okay, this is long overdue, and much has happened since I ruminated wordily about iPods ... I mean like, my droid win has never looked cooler, the Giants are poised for a postseason push, and would you believe that Don Draper?

I'm just kidding, I have done some work on my dissertation since I moved back to Palo Alto.  I throw grant money at transcribers as soon as I can process and account for them.  I'm reading lots of articles, I've given Endnote (bibliographic software) another chance to impress me.  But yes, it's still summer, so I've also been watching my share of Jersey Shore and many of those articles come from things that likely won't make my bibliography.

Mostly, I want this blog to get back closer to live.  So about that "Dissertation Boot Camp" I enrolled in a month ago?  Had to drop out.  Moving got to be a little more hectic than I thought it would—and truthfully—I made more out of my last weeks in LA that way.  Plus the class was intended for dissertators who are a little farther along than me.  No problem.

But also no excuses to not get started myself.  Well ... one.  I'm still working for the Office of Residential Life as a researcher for the rest of the month.  For now, I'm organizing myself, taking lots of notes, piling through old notebooks, sorting post-its with crazy, random, vaguely drug-related ideas, that are just crazy enough to maaaaybe fit in my dissertation somewhere.

Actual examples:

- What if Batman needed Ritalin?
- Ross.0 presents: Weed vs. Salvia: the drug policy challenge.
- How ADHD meds made Ian Kinsler (Texas Rangers) and Andres Torres (S.F. Giants) into awesome baseball players.
- Stimulants, economic stimulus, and Terran stim-packs in Starcraft 2.

I'll admit, I ran out of steam a little on some of those, but those are actual posts that represent actual pieces in development.  So get excited, I have a shit-ton of drug related thoughts to blog about.

Working on: what I call two-a-days: reading two articles a day, processing two transcripts per day, and recording two cases per day from this survey on treatment-seeking prescription drug users (interesting stuff, way more hard core than my own research).  All while finishing my job.

Listening to: a "dissertating mix" on iTunes.  It is 2.3 days long, and won't fit on any of my aforementioned iPods.  I also saw Arcade Fire on the Daily Show—I thought it was a rerun since Jon Stewart didn't have his beard anymore—the second song sounded awesome, and I liked their last two albums ... anybody have that one yet?  Is it good?

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

On dependency and iPods

I just conducted what may be my last interview, and I can already tell that dependency is going to be a central theme. Some students are very concerned about becoming dependent on drugs in order to succeed in college. This last student interview was one of them.

He was a 4th-year student, never had his own prescription for Adderall, and he doesn't have ADD or anything ostensibly wrong with him (except for a family history of heart conditions—one factor in his self-imposed moderation of prescription stimulants). But he did take Adderall during every finals since the middle of his freshman year. And it helped quite a bit. Studying was more fun for him, he could do more, faster, it even livened up the boring stuff. Now he's trying to study for the MCAT without Adderall, and he's clearly a bit rattled about the prospect. Maybe he's studied for so long, so successfully with meds, that it's unsettling to think about studying without them.

That's an example of dependence, and in this exact context, it's one thing I expected to find at the outset. However, if you really think about what dependence is in a more holistic sense, it's far more common. It can also be rituals, routines, preparation, habits—ultimately it’s about comfort, and doing the things that we think are going to make us at our best.

After thinking about it more, for me, this summer, it's also been about my iPod shuffle.

Being from Palo Alto, I've always used Macs and generally loved Apple products. I go through iPods like Post-Its, and my favorite, by far, is the shuffle. Not the one that looked like a stick of gum (first-gen), nor the one that looks like a smaller stick of gum and tells you what song you’re listening to (third-gen … I mean, c’mon, of course I know what song is playing and who it’s by, I put it there). The second-generation shuffle is the best: it's tiny, durable, it doesn’t call out your songs like a robot DJ, it clips to anything, and holds enough songs and has enough battery life to last through a 22 hour hike of Mt. Whitney (yeah, that shit happened). It works well for workouts, running, and in a pinch, I'd grab it over my iPod touch (the one that's basically an iPhone without the phone) just to stroll around campus without worrying about breaking something so comparatively expensive and fragile.

I don’t workout without tunes. I can only take so much Ke$ha and Black Eyed Peas. My own mix makes running and working out tolerable. I’m dependent on tunes at the gym and track. Swimming has historically been trickier for me.

Just like that student hated doing problem sets (but felt compelled to do them anyway), I hate swimming. Yes, I played water polo, but A: I was a goalie, and B: it's easier when you've got teammates and/or coach pushing you. Otherwise, swimming kind of sucks. Water polo is to swimming, as basketball or soccer are to running—with a ball, strategy, goals, teammates and other variables, those sports are (to me anyway) more stimulating. Running by itself can be incredibly boring. But not if I have a soundtrack ...

Sometime in college, and with the advent of ever-smaller digital audio devices (remember the "Rio" mp3 player?), running actually became fun as long as I had Daft Punk, The Pharcyde, et al. in a small, shock-proof device. Waterproof audio was much more primitive then, but I experimented briefly with a Speedo waterproof FM radio that attached to my goggle strap. It was a fail. Swimming to KROQ commercials was almost as bad as a Nickelback block. The goal was to make swimming more tolerable, and breaststroking to NPR didn't cut it either.

Later, about a couple years ago, I found a waterproof case for my beloved 2nd-gen iPod shuffle (H2O Audio, if curious). At last, could this finally be the thing that would make swimming fun? Even if it was a $60 plastic gimmick or psychological token—even if the underwater audio quality was crappy and it made me less hydrodynamic—even if it looked dorky (it did), it was all worth it just to have Radiohead, or, pun-intended, The Strokes.

I swam for about 3 years, bringing the waterproof shuffle case everywhere I go. Sometimes on my way to the pool, I’ll realize I forgot the shuffle, or the case, and actually turn my car around to go back and get one or the other (or both). Sure, I could swim without them, and sure, I have, but it's not as fun, and honestly, I probably didn't swim as long or as hard without it.

Flash forward to this summer: my roommates and I are moving out of our place. Like running and swimming, moving can physically suck, punctuated by periods of boredom. Preloaded with the "workout mix" I went for the shuffle for aforementioned lightness, durability, and because moving is indeed a workout. Just before we needed to return our washer and dryer, the three of us scrambled to do one last load of laundry and I didn't think twice about throwing in my shorts which—sadly—contained my beloved iPod shuffle in its cargo pocket. Ironic that in years of swim use, my shuffle would die from water damage in a heavy cycle.

The 2nd-gen shuffle had since been discontinued, and waterproof cases hadn't yet been developed for the 3rd generation model (and likely won't, seeing as Apple moved track and volume controls from the device to the earphone cable—thus making it harder and more expensive 3rd-party companies to develop iPod earphones/accessories). Since I already had the case—and preferred the older model anyway—I hit up Amazon and eBay to await its replacement.

While I waited however, I noticed an interesting thing about my behavior: I didn't swim as much. Sure I'd go to the pool or beach to lay out or whatever, but since losing my iPod shuffle about a month ago, I think about running or the gym instead of the pool, just because it's become so important to me to have my music while I do it. The internal dialogue goes something like "well, I could swim, but it wouldn't be as fun—I should wait for the new shuffle for that, let's hoop."

It's not that I can't swim without it, but I've become so used to swimming with tunes, it's hard to motivate myself to do laps without a soundtrack. Maybe that's sad. Maybe if I never got used to it in the first place I wouldn't be so spoiled. Maybe I could ween myself off of it, or hum Postal Service tracks in my head instead.

But I choose not to. And I chose not to. I didn’t swim until my new used shuffle came in the mail. And isn’t that dependence?

Think about this more. Do you take supplements or multivitamins because you need to or because it’s routing and makes you feel better? What about wearing your favorite outfit before going out? I once read that Wade Boggs of the Boston Red Sox ate a whole chicken before each game (will investigate this one). Do Notre Dame football players have to slap that sign “Play Like a Champion Today?” Would they be any more likely to lose if that sign went missing?

Sometimes this seems like a fine line between rituals, compulsiveness, and an acknowledged disorder like OCD. I think I’ve made this point, and will revisit it somehow in this dissertation.

In the meanwhile, I need a break and could really go for a trip to the gym. I know my iPod is here somewhere …

Working on: Moving home to Palo Alto.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Bolker? I barely know her!

So I enrolled in a "Dissertation Boot Camp" (really, just a writer's group), and Joan Bolker's How To Write Your Dissertation in Fifteen Minutes a Day was the required reading.

I first picked up this page-turner when I enrolled last summer in the prospectus boot camp, but I only skimmed it at the time.  About a month ago I visited NY and saw that my friend Jo (herself earning an Ed. doctorate from Columbia) had the book too, so apparently it's pretty standard-issue.  Plus, I wanted to rally and really put in the effort for this boot camp.

The Cliff's Notes version (which I would title "How to Read Joan Bolker in Fifteen Minutes") wouldn't capture all of the advice (most of which, actually pretty useful) but here are my highlights:

- p. 8: What happens when you get stuck writing? How did it happen, when did it start? ... "maybe after a disappointing meeting with your advisor, or after you drank too much" (emphasis added).  First off, Joan Bolker, thank you for relating substance use to productivity and therefore drifting into my wheelhouse.  You just made the lit review!  Second, that can happen, and that will happen. And that's just real talk.  So I like that she's a realist.  Bolker, what!?!

- p. 47: "Don't waste words, write everything down ... even a glimmer of an idea, write it down." See this blog?  Check.  This is totally true though, because we all tend to forget things.  This happened in Mad Men to Paul once in a pretty good episode.

* As an aside, I love Mad Men and will probably make references/ongoing commentary in future blog-posts.  It'll be a little bit Simmons-style, but I hope we're okay with that.  Between Mad Men, Jersey Shore, and Starcraft 2 I'm a little bit worried about August.

... but back to Mad Men.  I'm not sure if that's the same episode where Paul and Peggy smoke weed, but I'm all about integrating substance abuse clips from popular shows into presentations (probably not papers—peer reviewed publications tend to hate on that, which is one way academia blows).  If Betty Draper picks up a benzedrine habit this season though, Mad Men is making my bibliography without hesitation.

- p. 84: [About writing]: "cultivate ruthlessness." Oh Bolker, you naughty ...

- p. 85: "Now is the time for saying no, guiltlessly ..."  Here that, homies?  In just Palo Alto bars, I can see myself pulling that card 327 times over the course of the year.

- p. 96:  Good quote.  "Be a blatant behaviorist and bribe yourself shamelessly."  This came up in boot camp too.  Incentives work for people.  Not me, I'm a hedonist—I indulge and then get to task.  Maybe that's a problem.

Working on: Could use about 10 more students (data collection).  Organizing files.  Avoiding jury duty.  Boot Camp assigned 20 pages of raw-writing.  Also going to San Diego for a bachelor party, let the Ron Burgundy references fly.

Monday, July 5, 2010

The first rule of my dissertation blog ...

... should probably be that there is no rules.  However, I've done this before and know better.  But welcome anyway, my name is Ross, I'm a Ph.D. student at UCLA and I'm about to embark on a year-long quest to complete my dissertation on collegiate substance abuse (tentative title: "Academic Performance Enhancement in Higher Education").  This is the beginning of me chronicling this process.

But you're probably not interested in mundane academic details, terminal degree hurdles, and other process-related bullshit that I will no doubt want to vent about publicly.

So why am I doing this blog?
Because writing is an iterative and reflective process, blah, blah, blah ... really, I'm probably not a big fan of writing in the traditional dissertation style endemic of empirical social science research.  Here I can curse, hyperlink to youtube clips of prank-fails and intense-looking-squirrels.  I just watched an episode of It's Always Sunny ... where they go to a frat and steal "Riterall" a hilarious fictional recombination of Ritalin and Adderall.  It likely won't make by bibliography, but it's going up here.  Plus I can curse.

What's your dissertation about?
Mostly use of prescription stimulants such as Ritalin and Adderall in higher education.  I interview dozens of college students about their licit and illicit use of any drug that they claim helps them with school, and look for ways that impacts their development or problematizes prior research on collegiate substance use.  ...  Sorry, that was the stodgy academic-speak.  Don't know what came over me.  I snapped into a trance, like Frank the Tank at the debate competition in Old School.  To blog-up the lingo, I study, like OMG, drugs and stuff.  LMFAO! ;)

Text speak? Emoticons? That's fucking corny, dude.
Too far.  Won't happen again.

What are the rules?
In a perfect world, there shouldn't be rules for blogging, but I need to focus this into something useful:

1. Everything on this blog must be related to the process of getting my dissy done.  This is very inclusive though.  That episode of Always Sunny?  Related.  The intro to "False Media" off The Roots' "Game Theory" album?  Related ("11,000,000 children all on Ritalin ...").  I predict my mom (who I will be living with in the interim) will be a frequent source of high-comedy.  She once wrote a dissertation, so she's on limits.  Anything about drugs—the drugs I'm studying, the drugs I'm not studying, it's related.  I like coffee.  I like beer.  Medications are everywhere.  Marijuana is "medical" ... all these things are fair game.

2. No parents, no advisor.  In terms of discovering this blog, I don't know which is worse.  I did a blog when I was teaching in Japan in 2003-04, and once my parents got divine wind of it, I wanted to commit hara-kiri.  This cannot happen again, I'm 29 years old.  Sure, this is a public blog, I'm sure my brothers will find out.  Let's just keep it on the QT from the 'rents and my advisor.

3. What you won't see: any identifying data about the subjects whom I interview.  Or anything else that violates IRB protocol.  IRB is the institutional review board that let's me conduct sensitive human subject research.  My study is approved, but I can't divulge some things about who these participants are.  You'll still see a lot, I assign pseudonyms and I'll be talking a lot about my data (very juicy! drug use!) in a few months.

Are you afraid that you daft wit and candor could inhibit your prospects as a faculty member or university administrator?
What are you, a lawyer?  Psshh, no.  I'm too old for sexting and too young to fear career suicide.  I've learned from past online snafus.  (Apologies again, Blair from high school—I'm sorry, but you shouldn't have let your ex-boyfriend scan those beach photos in the first place; also Occidental College—I'm sorry but that guy was acting like a douchebag, and I can't see how suspending student government was my fault if I had already graduated).

I know how to censor myself.  Besides, that's what Facebook is for.

What do you have so far, when will you finish?
I'm very stoked to have a manuscript in press (Journal of College Student Development, holla!), it's about 25 pages.  My dissertation proposal rounded out at around 80 pages.  This behemoth document will probably be around 300-400 pages.  I'm also fortunate enough to have received a fellowship that mandates I finish this academic year.  So I should be done by April/May.

... That's probably good enough for an opener.  I just wanted to establish the purpose of this and set a few ground rules.  That could change at anytime.