mokie: Cartoon Calvin sneezes and checks his tissue (lurgy)
I recently discovered I might not be allergic to coconut after all.

When is an allergy not an allergy? When it's Oral Allergy Syndrome, also called Pollen-Food Allergy Syndrome (along with several other names, because everybody wants to be the one whose name gets used on House M.D.), in which regular nose-based allergies masquerade as food allergies, due to certain fruit and veggie proteins vaguely resembling problematic pollen proteins.

Basically, it's like your body mistaking a dust-bunny for a spider and wigging out inappropriately.

Outside of allergy season the problem food isn't a problem, because your body hasn't been primed by pollen and pushed into kill it with sneezing! mode. The heat involved in cooking and canning can also denature the troublesome proteins, which is how some folks can be allergic to a raw fruit or veggie but able to eat the same item cooked--because they're not allergic to the food itself, even though they are having an allergic reaction to it. Either of these could explain why I've been able to eat coconut just fine until recently, mostly baked in cookies or simmered in soups, but also just noshing on raw flakes without any ill effect. I just happened to do it at the wrong time of year this time.

The upside of this, apart from that OAS usually doesn't cause anaphylactic shock, is that it would also explain why my late winter/early spring allergies have been so bad since moving to this neighborhood: birch.

I used to live next to Tower Grove Park and the Missouri Botanical Garden, two big green spaces dedicated to growing a large variety of greenery, pretty much all of which I tested allergic to back in middle school. Apart from swollen hands when walking past a bushy area on Magnolia Avenue, though, my allergies just translated to a runny nose and some occasional sneeziness--and good luck narrowing down which bit of all that greenery was responsible for which sneeze. (Especially since the allergy scratch test throws a lot of false positives, as dracunculusdracunculus pointed out.)

What the old neighborhood didn't have, and this neighborhood does, was a lot of birch trees. Specifically, a cluster of them half a block down from my current apartment.
In springtime, two of the biggest cross-reaction offenders are birch and alder trees. Depending on where you live, anywhere from 20 to 70 per cent of people who are allergic to birch and alder pollens will also have oral allergy syndrome. (Janet French, "Oral Allergy Syndrome: Why do Pollens and Foods Cross-React?" Allergic Living 2 July 2010)
The doctor interviewed in that article pointed out that OAS is more common than the legitimately scary food allergies like peanut, which might explain why so very many people believe they have food allergies even after a smug host points out that they just ate something they're supposed to be allergic to. (And fuck you if you do that to people. Seriously.) The article also mentions a point I regularly make, that chamomile and echinacea cause cross-reactions to ragweed because they're in the same family, which makes it really annoying when every suggested cure for your allergy woes is a nice cup of chamomile and echinacea tea.

The author does lose points for bad editing when she inadvertently (I hope) suggests that honey is somehow a plant related to ragweed, rather than that honey could contain ragweed (or related) pollen. That in itself sidesteps the point that many allergy sufferers intentionally eat honey hoping there's allergy-causing pollen in it, due to the old wives' tale that this will desensitize them. It doesn't work, though, because most of the honey on store shelves is (a) filtered, microfiltered, and then filtered some more to remove all possible pollen; (b) heated and treated till it's thoroughly dead so that it won't crystallize on store shelves; and (c) from China, and thus unlikely to contain any pollens you're familiar with. You could try raw local honey, but as someone who gave it a go, just go take a Claritin and save yourself the disappointment. (And the awfulness that is clover honey. Ugh.)

Back to the point! How vile is birch?

Here is the Wikipedia checklist of foods that are cross-reactive with birch: almonds, apples, apricots, avocados, bananas, carrots, celery, cherries, chicory, coriander, fennel, figs, hazelnuts, kiwis, nectarines, parsley, parsnips, peaches, pears, peppers, plums, potatoes, prunes, soy, strawberries, walnuts and wheat. That's not even a definitive list--other lists add all the tree nuts, and coconuts, and peanuts, and tomatoes, and turnips...

If you Google "oral allergy syndrome" and a food, Google will say, "Birch. It's the fucking birch, man."

Birch will take from you everything that you love.

Apart from a visit to an allergist, the only way to know for certain if my coconut allergy is a real allergy or a birch cross-reaction is to wait till the birch stops its arboreal spooging around June or July, and then nibble a little raw coconut while someone stands by with a heavy dose of Benedryl. A preemptive strike on the trees is out, as they wisely chose to be planted in front of a cop's house.

Sneaky, bastardly birch.

Update: TESTED AND CONFIRMED. The same coconut that made me miserable in April and May caused no reaction at all in June. Of course, now my grass allergies are in full effect, so I couldn't taste the coconut, but still...
mokie: Cartoon Calvin sneezes and checks his tissue (lurgy)
I recently discovered that I'm allergic to coconut.

Scoffing scoffer: "Aw, did ums get a bellyache? Getting the shits after eating a bad slice of pie isn't an allergy."

No, I got puffy lips after a piece of coconut creme Easter candy, and put it off to some weird reaction to spring pollens. "Maybe I touched my face after checking the mailbox...?"

Then my lips swelled up like someone had just popped me one, the inside of my face swelled up like a sinus/ear infection, and I got a nice big can't-swallow lump in my throat after a bowl of homemade coconut milk-based ice cream. "Maybe it's the way it was processed? It can't be the coconut--I used to nibble shredded coconut out of the bag..."

Then I got the lip and face and throat swelling after having a piece of chocolate cake that had been touching a piece of cake with shredded coconut on it. "But...but...I had coconut curry soup and I was fine! And I use coconut oil in all my soaps!"

On the upside, it turns out the oil is [usually] safe, as the problematic protein is in the meat and milk and water.* You know, all the tasty parts. Also, I'd taken allergy medicine before eating the soup. Tricksy allergies!

Okay, fine, I don't eat coconut anymore.

Except no.

I peeled potatoes today, shedding the skin into a bowl that had previously covered the coconut cake. Lunch was fried potatoes, a cup of coffee, a reusable bottle of water, my 2x daily dose of penicillin (root canal, joy) and a swollen lip and throat and right hand.

What the...

Did I cross-contaminate the potatoes simply by peeling them into the ex-cake cover? Did I cross-contaminate the cup by handling it after the bowl, even though I didn't touch the inside of the bowl or the lip of the cup? Did I cross-contaminate the water bottle during the 'my cakes can't touch' issue, or after the coconut curry soup?

Did I touch a bit of counter on which coconut cooties had previously wafted from mere proximity to the cake? Was the plate I used for the finished potatoes previously used for coconut cake, and if so, how goddamn, do I need to bleach everything in the cupboard just in case?

Is this not cross-contamination at all, but a sudden allergy to penicillin too? Or did I touch the pill bottle after touching the potatoes after touching--GAH!

Mold and pollen and pet fur I can handle: basic cleaning, an air filter during bad spells, take my pills and wash my hands, blah blah blah. An allergy that practically requires me to become OCD might be out of my league.

Update: WOO! I am not allergic to coconut! One of my run-of-the-mill pollen/tree-spooge allergies was having a weird oral reaction to coconut. Once the spring allergies gave way to summer allergies, the coconut reaction went away. VICTORY!


* An allergist's website says the oil is safe. A friend spoke up to say (a) oh hey, me too, and (b) no, the oil is not necessarily safe.
mokie: A tiny, sad cardboard robot walks in the rain (thwarted)
It has been suggested by someone who is very, shall we say, 'right', that I'm actually seething about something else that I can't do anything about. That anger that I can't fix is snaking its way out of my molten core and finding its way up to the surface through minor fissures here and there, causing things that should be small nuisances, like unclear instructions, to become sinkholes of raaaaaaaaaaaaaage.

Damn! I hate it when other people are right.

Realizing it helps. I can see where I tried to convince myself that I wasn't that angry over the thing that's making me seethe, since (a) it's a stupid thing to feel angry over, and (b) I can't do anything about it. And I can see where trying to shove that issue into the 'minor nuisance' box knocked all the real nuisances out of the box and all out of proportion, since (a) they were legitimate (if minor) issues, and (b) I could do things about them, including raaaaaaaaaaaaaage. It was easier to get angry at a few small, clear targets that I could knock out or blow up about than at a vague and currently unfixable thing.

You know what else helps? Mocha coffee hazelnut spread stirred into warm almond milk. No, wait, I mean, talking about it. But that too.

And another thing pointed out to me: socializing wipes me out and makes me cranky. I know, I shouldn't need this pointed out, since I point it out so often, but my Friday was full of more people and places full of people than usual (ooh, that's sad), so I should have expected to be spending my Saturday and Sunday waving a knife around re-establishing all perimeters, prison-style.

So now I feel stupid about being so tetchy for the better part of a month, and guilty for feeling stabby at someone (okay, everyone) yesterday, and waving a knife around, prison-style. (Joke! Don't call CPS!) And drained, because that's a lot of realizing and feeling to be doing all at once.

(Also, like I should be posting some emo song lyrics or something...)

[Related posts: I'm all out of fucks, because I used them all in this post. / All my fucks are back! / Well, that was brief.]
mokie: A big red dinosaur says, "Make me a sandwich" (cynical)
In November 2007, Malcolm Gladwell wrote in The New Yorker:
In the mid-nineties, the British Home Office analyzed a hundred and eighty-four crimes, to see how many times profiles led to the arrest of a criminal. The profile worked in five of those cases. That’s just 2.7 per cent... ("Real psychics: Criminal profiling and the F.B.I.")
The point Gladwell makes is that criminal profiling, despite its high profile in recent years, and maybe despite the best intentions of the profilers themselves, is nothing more than the old-fashioned cold reading practiced by psychics and televangelists: a few reasonable deductions mixed with a handful of okay assumptions and a lot of iffy guesses, couched in language so vague as to be realistically useless.

I mention this first because it's interesting, and second, because as a new friend (hi!) pointed out, the profilers have gathered around the Aurora shooting, all twitching and bitching. They're having trouble working with the reality they've got--the kind of profile they would come up with if they were looking for a suspect doesn't fit the suspect they have at all, and he's not giving them anything to work with. No blue collar job, no criminal history, no masturbatory basement lair. He doesn't even have a Facebook account! (Gasp!) Someone even brought up the tried-and-true boogeyman of video games, but the killer's game of choice was Guitar Hero.

So here's my profile on the killer:
  • He's an average student in a tough field of study. He wants to make a name for himself, but it's not going to be in neuroscience.
  • He claimed to be the Joker, but in red hair and body armor. He hasn't actually seen the recent Batman movies, but is aware of the popularity of Heath Ledger's Joker, and the controversy around the character. He wants to make a name for himself, and latching onto that image is, he thinks, a good way to start.
  • He may have the The Dark Knight's Joker confused with Batman Forever's Riddler. That is both sad and hilarious at the same time. If true, this suggests that he is not a nerd or a geek, as they would be aware of this difference, but that he would pretend to know such things if it got people to pay attention to him. In other words, he is a douchebag.
  • He allegedly asked one of his jailers how the movie ends. This has been interpreted by the media as a sign of how mentally out of touch he is. If we examine the question in the context of a screenplay, however, you see that it would play well as an action movie one-liner. From this, I suspect the killer really wants the world to think of him as a bad ass, and, based on that, it must really chafe his ass that the line did not play the way he anticipated. (Well played, media.)
  • Who tries to pull off action movie one-liners in real life? Douchebags.
  • According to his jailers, he's now claiming amnesia. I think we can look at this as, "This really didn't work out the way I wanted, I don't want to play this anymore."
In summary: I think he's just a douchebag who wants to make a name for himself. But it's just a guess.

[Related posts: We never learn. / Let's play Armchair Profilers!]

We never learn.

Sunday, 22 July 2012 08:10 am
mokie: Notebook paper with a message, "Abort mission, destroy phone" (media mistrusting)
A couple of quotes from Charlie Brooker's Newswipe seem particularly relevant right now.

First, the host: "Repeatedly showing us a killer's face isn't news, it's just rubbernecking, and what's more, this sort of coverage only serves to turn this murdering little twat into a sort of nihilistic pin-up boy."

And I agree.

Second, from the same, forensic psychiatrist Dr. Park Dietz:
We've had 20 years of mass murderers, throughout which I have repeatedly told CNN and our other media, 'If you don't want to propagate more mass murders, don't start the story with sirens blaring. Don't have photographs of the killer. Don't make this 24/7 coverage. Do everything you can not to make the body count the lead story, not to make the killer some kind of anti-hero.

Do localize this story to the affected community and make it as boring as possible in every other market, because every time we have intense saturation coverage of a mass murder, we expect to see one or two more within a week. (Charlie Brooker's Newswipe, 25 March 2009)

Update: The experts may expect to see one or two more attacks within a week, but I think we all underestimate how many plain old-fashioned assholes will pop out of the woodwork.

[Related posts: We never learn. / Let's play Armchair Profilers!]

I'm here! I swear!

Thursday, 10 March 2011 11:46 am
mokie: A tiny, sad cardboard robot walks in the rain (sad)
So, mokie, where have you been?

Oh, mokie. You know how I get...

- I've been hard at work in the word mines. December and January saw a burst of urgent work, and when February came I belly-flopped into it like a big, comfy bed.

- I alternated between sleeping lots and not sleeping at all--not in a manic WHEE! sense, but an oversensitive to noise and general grouchy insomnia way. A good portion of February was spent being tired and sick but awake but too tired to concentrate on anything but oh God why won't you let me sleep?, and an even better portion was spent finally dozing off.

- And then waking up because I couldn't breathe. This is the winter of the Sinus Infection That Will Not Die. Sudden calcified booger impactions have reduced me to tears and vaporizer addiction. The air pressure changes and the contents of my nose liquefy and gush out, without warning and unstoppable for half an hour at a time. I sneeze up jellyfish, and try not to skunky Mucinex-squirt while doing so, which is 50/50 no matter how careful I am to keep my bladder empty.

Seriously, crawl inside this image with me a moment: you're sitting in your tub crying because you can't stop sneezing and you can't sleep and sneeze at the same time and you've already changed clothes twice and one of those times you'd just gone to the bathroom and it doesn't make any sense and it's 3am and if you could just stop long enough to doze off...

On the upside, I discovered that vodka is the best painkiller out there, in addition to its known soporific goodness. Oh Russia, it all makes sense!

- I've been trying hard not to get off on the wrong foot with the new neighbors. Irregular hours? Not a problem, unless you're screaming and slamming doors at 1am one day and breaking down metal for recycling at 7am the next. Sounds make me twitchy like a mofo; the sound of metal screeching is a special Chinese hell for me. (If ever there were something we should outsource, it's Hell. China's hells are just far more efficient than ours.)

Not very exciting, I must admit...

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