Make America civil again

America is in the midst of a crisis. It’s a crisis of uncivil behavior.

Merriam-Webster dictionary definition of Whether you feel undermined by shifting demographics in the United States of America or unhappy with the man who currently occupies the Oval Office, each of us is entitled to an opinion.

The First Amendment specifically protects our right to express these opinions freely. The language is unambiguous, and our democratic republic can never be considered secure where this right is threatened.

Amendment I

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

copied from official US government site archives.gov (emphasis mine)

When any individual or group employs harassment and violence against another in an attempt to silence peaceful expression of free speech, the aggressor is the greatest threat to American values and freedom. Continue reading

College cheats: getting in is nothing; learning is everything

The most obvious truth revealed by the recent college admissions cheating scandal that has ensnared Hollywood celebrities and other rich fools nationwide is that typical Americans have completely lost sight of the purpose or value of education.

Paying bribes to be admitted to university is frankly moronic for most of us. All of the real value of the college experience comes as a direct result of studying—and learningtherein.

Graduation cap and degree captioned University of DeceitRich kids will continue to stumble into lucrative careers because they have the right connections. Average kids, and the less well prepared, will take on massive debt for less and less substantive rewards when we devalue our universities by sending kids with no direction or purpose simply to fill seats.

Naturally, those who steal and cheat to get into college go on to cheat while attending college. I wouldn’t want to work with or hire that kid!

Businesses already decry the lack of qualified applicants for job vacancies though the percentage of Americans attending college has been increasing for decades. Being admitted to college confers zero qualifications. Learning—at a university or anywhere else—actually builds skills.

So, too, does honoring oneself and one’s community by behaving with honesty and dignity.

True scholarship also enhances one’s life in less quantifiable ways. The cheaters are too cowardly to risk realizing this fact for themselves.

Pile of moneyEarning a college degree has held, thus far, as a predictor of higher pay, but for how long? When students are enrolled only because “college is the next step after high school” vs. following an interest in deeper, more focused study of something specific, the automatic pay bump for a bachelor’s degree will disappear.

We ought not mold our colleges and universities into the image of our less and less functional compulsory K-12 system. Academia is not the right fit for everyone. All students are not the same. Disparate careers benefit from differing methods of preparation for new workers. Human beings have different learning styles.

Jobs go to people who can do the tasks required. College, in and of itself, teaches no specific skill save mastering the “admissions game.” That’s defined as test taking and/or bribery and fraud, apparently.

Children should be encouraged to do their best academically, but honor their unique selves by accepting both their strengths and weaknesses. Don’t let them fall victim to the patently false modern myth that admission to “the right college” is a golden ticket to happiness, prosperity, or success.

Consider trade schools, sampling classes at a local community college, internships, or self-directed online study if there is no perfect path to a four year degree right after high school.

Life is so rarely perfect! Why would one person’s education be?

One of the most compelling stories by an alumna of the small women’s liberal arts college I personally attended came from someone who went on to attain an MBA from an elite American business school. This woman was committed to attending that particular institution for her advanced degree, but had to apply three times before she was finally accepted. They were eventually persuaded by her passion and dedication.

Her message to us: persevere when you know what you want. This particular woman of color had reached her own definition of personal success by working hard and refusing to take no for an answer. She was a CFO at a startup at that time.

Education is not a zero sum game, though seats at a particular university may be. Focus on attaining the skills required by a career suited to your personality and strengths, and do realize that “where you went to college” becomes irrelevant very quickly after graduation for the vast majority of people.

“Steal,” yes, because cheaters have taken, through fraud, a slot at an institution where another scholar might benefit and contribute honestly to the campus experience for the entire community.

Considering antidepressant medication? Try vitamin B-12 first.

This isn’t medical advice. I’m not qualified* to offer that.

Vitamin bottle B12 - 1I am simply a self-educated consumer who lives with a chronic health condition. I’ve drawn my own conclusions from research done as an intelligent lay person, tempering it with common sense. I invite you to do the same.

Many of us diagnosed with autoimmune conditions, degenerative neurological diseases, and chronic pain will be prescribed antidepressants. There are fine reasons for this.

Some chronic pain responds positively to antidepressant medications. Given in lower doses than those prescribed for psychological reasons, side effects are often less as well.

Here’s a link to a (long, almost 2 hrs!) YouTube presentation by Dr. Dan Clauw, M.D. that offers a great explanation for the current understanding of why these drugs may help certain types of pain.

Depression is also a normal human response to learning you can expect to spend the rest of your life with constant pain or in a rapidly degenerating physical condition.

That is a depressing situation for any rational person to contemplate. Treating mental health problems is important, and I do not sit in judgement of anyone who takes pharmacological steps toward better self care.

If you are a danger to yourself, please seek immediate, aggressive care. Do whatever it takes to get well. Your life matters.

That said, I’ve recently learned that the major physical symptoms of depression mirror almost exactly those of a vitamin B-12 deficiency. Hmm…

Even patients with valid diagnoses of other conditions—here’s a study about multiple sclerosis, for example—often have other stuff going on in the body that can make symptoms worse. Large numbers of hospitalized, depressed patients have measurable Vitamin B-12 deficiencies.

It isn’t known yet whether B vitamin deficiencies help create conditions that allow us to develop disease, result from lifestyle responses to living with chronic illness, or are direct side effects/symptoms of disease processes.

I’d argue that the underlying mechanism doesn’t matter so much when we’re talking about supplementing with vitamin B-12.

Why? There is no known upper tolerable limit for safety for supplemental B-12. Say that in plain English? No one ever “overdosed” on this vitamin.

Here’s a link to a more reputable (than me) resource, a state university, for detailed mainstream medical information on the subject of Vitamin B-12. And another to a US government fact sheet on the vitamin for American consumers.

B-12 is water soluble. If you take too much to be used by your body, it will leave your system naturally via your urine. You might “waste” the vitamins you’ve bought and paid for, but odds are tiny** that they will hurt you in any appreciable way.

If someone is ready to prescribe antidepressants to a patient, that patient must have at least one medical doctor who could also be consulted about taking vitamin supplements. Ask your doctor before starting a new treatment, including Vitamin B-12, but, odds are, you will be told this is safe to try.

You may also hear that vitamin B-12 won’t help you. But, then again, antidepressants aren’t a guarantee either. They include a long list of side effects, some of which are very unpleasant. Those prescription pills can also be expensive.

Also, it’s just as unscientific to assume the vitamins won’t help you as to assume that they will.

I’ve come to realize that no one cares as much about my health outcomes as I myself do. With good insurance and caring doctors, I’m still left with unanswered questions and a merely tentative diagnosis for what causes my chronic pain and fatigue. Where stakes are low and scientific certainty is lacking, I choose to perform nutritional experiments upon myself.

If it is highly unlikely to hurt you, and it could help you, why not take some extra vitamins for a while and see if you feel better, too?

Assuming your doctor said such a trial is safe, the only possible barrier is cost.

I picked up a bottle of store brand vitamin B-12 at wholesale giant Costco with 300 pills for $19. Each offered thousands of percent (20,833%) of the RDA***, making a bottle good for the better part of a year taking one per day.

That works out to $23.12 annually. Costco typically offers very good value.

At an expensive local vitamin specialty retailer, a three month supply (of 16,667% RDA pills) cost $16, coming out to about $64 per year. I suspect it would be hard to spend much more than this for these vitamins.

vitamin-bottle-b12-2.jpgThere are several forms of B-12 available, and both of these offerings are for the most expensive type, Methylcobalamin.

Some users have reported that the most common, cheaper form, Cyanocobalamin, doesn’t resolve their symptoms, but the Methylcobalamin form does. At less than $20 per bottle, it seems within financial reach of most Americans to do this self experiment with the potentially most effective version of the supplement.

My two sample bottles also both contain dissolving lozenges to be held under the tongue rather than swallowed and processed through the digestive system. Again, some argue that a sublingual or injected B-12 is more effective than a swallowed dose. I went out of my way to test this type of supplement, just in case, though science tends to think it is irrelevant for most.

In all of this, note that my primary interest is in clinical results, i.e., how I feel. It will be great if research comes to understand why and how B-12 or any other supplement improves patient outcomes. But I am not a working scientist.

The bottom line for how I make a decision about self-treatment comes down to whether or not I feel better, and at what risk.

The “clinically small” improvement of a group of MS study participants quoted above may be of only slight statistical significance, but when your function or your sense of well being has descended to, say, 25% of your old normal, well, then, 27% or 30% represents a win.

I don’t know what you should do to help yourself live a healthier life. I do have some opinions about which alternative health practices represent good risks worth a try for a person in pain. Perhaps this little experiment can ease some of yours, too.

Your body; your choices. Make them in good health.

*My education in both Biology and Chemistry ended in high school as my college science classes were limited to Physics courses. My major was Mathematical & Physical Sciences with a concentration in Computer Science.

Make no mistake that the side effects can be significant, however. They are also likely to affect your offspring, not just yourself. There are studies showing this in very obvious and less direct ways.

Powerful drugs are appropriate to treat significant illness, but I’d argue that they should be employed after milder alternatives have been tried and found insufficient.

Other sources, regarding. depression.and .neurological and psychiatric disorders

**There are some instances of allergic reactions to vitamin B-12, but I only read of such response to injections (shots), not over the counter vitamin pills. Reports of acne or skin rash in response to large dose vitamin pills do occur with some regularity.

You decide whether temporary skin issues are something that would stop you trying a larger dose of this vitamin for yourself.

***In most cases, we do NOT know the “optimal” level of vitamin intake. Vitamin B-12 reference ranges vary from 180-914 ng/L in the USA, 135-650 pmol/L (183-881 pg/mL) in Australia, and 500 – 1300 pg/mL. (ng/L=pg/mL, so no conversion necessary there.)

If you think this is an important thing for people to know, write to your government representatives and tell them you support basic nutrition research. Private companies have very little motivation to pay for this kind of work; there’s no resulting drug patent to fund the endeavor.

There’s a reason some public services, like infrastructure and basic research, are paid for by taxation. Otherwise, they simply aren’t available to all of us.

Book review: “From Anna” by Jean Little

I read incessantly as a child, and I read some young adult fiction working in a bookstore as an adult (between my professional career as an engineer and becoming a full-time parent.) Then, I was the mother of a child who read far above grade level, but was still emotionally too young for some kinds of content, so I read many more children’s books in a newly critical way.From Anna by Jean Little cover

I found Jean Little’s From Anna (written in 1973) at our local library in 2012, read it, and shared it with my son. It appears to be out of print as of this writing (2017.)

It is an incredible statement from me that I believe this might be the most moving children’s book I have ever read. I finished it in just a few hours and loved everything about it. I had to hide my raging enthusiasm for it lest my son rebel and refuse to read it. I think this novel is a valuable read for every child.

The plot is straightforward: a German family decides to leave their homeland as the Nazis rise to power in the 1930’s. The youngest child, Anna, has an undiagnosed problem. She is almost blind, but no one realizes it. Her family loves her but assumes she is as stupid as she is clumsy since she fails miserably at school and in her household chores. A family connection to Canada opens a door for them to emigrate. After this huge transition, Anna’s disability is discovered and she finally gets an appropriate education where she can feel safe to come out of the protective shell she’s kept herself in all of her short life.

The reasons I loved this book are so much more than the plot.

The story is written very naturally, yet every word is well chosen. For example, I have struggled to appreciate German culture due to the legacy of the World War II and the Holocaust. Early in the story, before I cared about the characters, the lyrics of a song beloved by Anna’s family are presented: “Die Gedanken sind frei.” I was brought to tears reading the English excerpts in the book. Here’s a link to the full text and translation, Thoughts are free.

A family who would sing this song in spite of the very real dangers of doing so is one I will enjoy visiting in a novel. I care, desperately, about human freedoms. Knowing what would soon happen in Germany made this moment in the story achingly poignant for me. It also serves as a valuable reminder that dissidents persist under the most tyranical regimes, and the atrocities of a culture’s leadership should never be allowed to eclipse the good that inevitably remains, however deeply buried.

The child, Anna, is drawn realistically. Her family is good and loving, but they completely fail to understand her. She is treated unfairly, and the novel recognizes this without vilifying anyone. Her father loves her. She might even be the favorite of all five children. His love isn’t enough to solve Anna’s problems.

Anna is stubborn and grumpy and imperfect, but the reader sees why this is so and likes her in spite of it. Unlike some children’s books, there is no sugar-coating the experiences of a child with real problems. It recognizes that life can stink, even when a good person lives surrounded by other good people who love her. The failures of Anna’s family members in the story are noted, commented upon, and then forgiven. Anna herself comes to terms with her family in a very believable way, providing a beautiful role model for the child reader.

Share this book with your children. Read it yourself. Tell everyone you know about it, especially if they have a child with any special needs. I loved it.

*Adapted from my August 9, 2012 Amazon review of From Anna, by Jean Little

The blessing of complicated politics

I was undertaking a small errand at DS2’s school and in the company of several other class parents when two of them discovered they shared an acquaintance in common. As they offered up little details about the gentleman in question to cement their understanding that they were truly thinking of the same man, one woman said to the other something to the effect of how sad it was that this fellow was still so deluded as to be a gay Republican.

Once again, I found myself in the unhappy place of feeling quite obliged to speak out or risk considering myself unprincipled. I actually dislike political arguments, because I can’t help but take things personally. In this case, I had very little to say about the precise opinion in question, but was compelled to call the speaker out on the matter of dismissing so cavalierly the man’s probable heartfelt, carefully considered, and socially uncomfortable position.

I think I said, “Isn’t it unfortunate that this man may have strong feelings about fiscal policy or how exactly we interpret the Constitution, and because of it people question his commitment to his sexual identity?”

The matter dropped rather quickly, as well it should, being generally inappropriate conversation for mere acquaintances at a school for children below the age of 14, but I’m fairly certain the woman I challenged left thinking less of me.

Returning home and reflecting upon the matter brought me more clarity about the root of why I was so troubled by her comment. Now I saw what had really motivated me to speak.

We live in an age of shallowing opinions; most Americans immerse themselves daily in a soup of media constantly polarizing every issue to black and white in order to sensationalize it and keep the jaded audience coming back for more titillation. Carefully teasing out the subtle strands of a complex situation takes time and energy that few producers—or consumers—of content care to exercise. A really thorough understanding of most issues will reveal at least two sides to the story, and should highlight why someone else may feel a different way, even if one is not, oneself, convinced by an argument.

Thank God for a complicated individual who finds himself straddling multiple worldviews in contrast to a sea of bobbing lemmings with their intellectually lock-stepped politics!

When I moved to a state known for its collectively liberal politics, I thought it would come as a relief after my upbringing and subsequent college experience in states with liberal cities and conservative rural districts. Imagine my surprise in finding it disquieting to be so constantly confronted by assumptions about one’s politics, ballots with no alternative candidates, and rarely even sign-holders from more than one party across the street from my polling place.

My politics have, without a doubt, been affected by my husband’s keen insight, rational discourse, and non-traditional views, but, more than anything, it has been the subtle effect of disagreeing completely on important issues with someone I simultaneously hold in the highest possible regard that has highlighted for me the value of respecting diverse views. Frankly, this is an oft-ignored facet of true diversity; yet another pseudo-acceptance by many people with whom my politics roughly align.

I know with certainty that my husband is a person of such excellence, high moral character, abundant intelligence, and absolute decency… yet I disagree with him on principles that are matters of moral imperative. This was a strain on my conscience when I met him; I had no practice in real tolerance, and I did not yet see what a gift it is to the world for there to be people, regardless of their convictions, who at least have thought long and hard to create them, and hold them faithfully, especially when they can accept the different, but equally hard-earned values of others.

So here’s to the gay Republican! May he hold his principles sacred, do what he thinks is right, and continue to reflect for the rest of his life, and so may it be for every one of us.

Originally posted via iWeb in 2011