Ignorance Isn’t Bliss

Standard

Unknown-1

The European continent is in the midst of an unprecedented outbreak of measles – unprecedented, at least, since a vaccine was developed to prevent measles, mumps, and rubella in the 1960s. Thirty-seven people have lost their lives due to complications of this very serious disease. Why? Because people refuse to believe accepted scientific fact on the safety of the MMR vaccine.

Ignorance is killing us.

Possibly the biggest threat to future civilizations is the warming of the Earth due to greenhouse gas emissions. The ice melt at the North and South poles, rising sea levels, catastrophic weather events such as deadly hurricanes, and record-breaking heat waves in places like Canada and Scandinavia are all harbingers of doom. But they’re harbingers many people are willfully ignoring.

My cousin is visiting from the Pacific Northwest. She has a nagging cough from the smoke that is hovering over Washington State due to wildfires raging in British Columbia. My cousin told me that as her small plane “puddle-jumped” from her hometown to Seattle, she was unable to see any of the landscape below because the smoke was so thick.

Meanwhile, the Trump administration is rolling back emissions standards for automobiles, deregulating the EPA, and encouraging a resurgence of dirty coal production. This is the 21st Century equivalent of Nero fiddling while Rome burned.

Once again, there is consensus that man-made global warming is a reality and that it may already be too late to save parts of the world from devastating floods, droughts, and famine. But for economic and political reasons, our government leaders are refusing to act. And they have persuaded many otherwise intelligent people that climate change is “fake news.”

And don’t look for future generations to be smarter about scientific facts. It’s well-known that the state board of education in Texas has an outsized influence on what school textbooks are selected across the country for use in our schools. In recent years, board members have objected to the theory of evolution being taught as fact, with one board member even declaring, “Evolution is hooey.” (Gail Collins, “How Texas Inflicts Bad Textbooks on Us,” The New York Review of Books, June 21, 2012)

Science used to be the one pure subject that we could count on not being tampered with by political or ideological concerns. But in our politically charged atmosphere and with so much information (and misinformation) at our fingertips, even our scientific knowledge is being called into question constantly.

I guess the number one skill we should be concentrating on in educating future generations is critical thinking.  Only dispassionate and thoughtful inquiry will lead us to truth and away from ignorance.

 

Advertisements

Put HPV on Kids’ Vaccine Roster

Standard

originalWhile the anti-vaxxer movement has mostly targeted childhood immunization such as MMR and TdaP, there is another recommended vaccine regimen that tends to make parents uncomfortable: the vaccine to prevent human papilloma virus, or HPV. The reason for our discomfort is that HPV is contracted through sexual activity, and we just don’t want to think about our precious 12-year-old having sex (11-12 being the target age at which to give the vaccine series).

But if you think your child will ever have sex in his or her life, it’s a really good idea to have them immunized for HPV since the virus is incredibly common. In fact, without vaccination, most sexually active adults will contract HPV at one time or other in their lives.

The reason for vaccinating against HPV is that certain strains of the virus are known to cause cancers of the reproductive organs and the throat. HPV can also cause genital warts, which is uncomfortable and painful to treat. So while the HPV vaccine is mostly touted for girls, boys should also be vaccinated.

Naysayers will argue that giving children a vaccine against a sexually transmitted infection will encourage promiscuity. But given how widespread the virus is, even if your child remains a virgin until marriage, his or her partner may still be infected and pass along that infection to a spouse. I have also heard parents argue that the vaccine has not been proven to be safe. But millions of children have received the HPV vaccine with no serious adverse effects.

Physicians who treat common gynecological cancers such as of the cervix see great promise in the HPV vaccine. While the vaccine won’t prevent all such cancers, it will greatly reduce the number of people who develop them.

Getting our kids through childhood in one piece is only part of our responsibility as parents. We owe it to them to provide as much protection for their future as we possibly can. The two-dose HPV vaccine regimen is a relatively painless way to help them stay healthy as they mature into young men and women.

Yes, there are plenty of shots to be gotten through in childhood. But with a dose of humor and a Sponge Bob bandage, we can make the HPV double shot part of the “going to the doctor” routine.

No Hurry

Standard

young-beautiful-woman-doing-yoga-in-nature_1139-909

It is a pleasure and a luxury not to be in a hurry.

So often in our frantic lives, we find ourselves hurtling from A to B on our To Do lists, scarcely stopping to take a breath. Our blood pressure rises as we wait in traffic or long lines, knowing that precious minutes are ticking by and the day will all too soon be in our rearview mirror.

Time to take a breath.

This past weekend I was on my own. I could sleep in and stay in pajamas as long as I wanted in the morning. I could while away the hours reading, doing crossword puzzles and binge-watching The Chi (That show deserves a blog post of its own!). I took long walks without the nagging sense that someone or something at home needed my attention soon. And even though I had made myself a fairly impressive To Do list, I was relaxed and in no hurry to complete it.

It’s nice to drop something off at the local dry cleaner and say, “No rush” when asked when I need the item back. It’s lovely to drive when a little bit of traffic or a road closure (We’ve been having many in my small town this summer.) needn’t faze me. It’s wonderful to give my attention to small chores and errands that have been nagging at the edge of my consciousness for weeks.

On Saturday morning, I went to an 8 am yoga class. The theme of the class that day was balance, and most of our poses were designed to help us achieve that balance of body and mind. On my way home from the class, in the spirit of calm it induced, I decided that all prisons should offer yoga classes to their inmates. I can’t help but believe that a regular yoga practice would help diminish anger and aggression in those incarcerated.

Tomorrow life will return to a busier pace for me. My family and household responsibilities will keep me on a more pressing schedule. But I hope to hold onto the peace and calm I am feeling right now when there is no hurry.

Let’s Get Physical

Standard

80s-workout-queen-320x476px.jpg

Lately I’ve been driving past a building construction site on a regular basis. As I pass by in the comfort of my car, I can’t help but feel a little lazy watching construction workers haul heavy loads, pound nails, and perform other manual tasks. Now that the weather is warm, I see more and more workers outside mowing lawns, trimming trees, fixing roads and the like. And I realize there is something missing from my day to day life: strenuous physical activity.

In the past, most human beings had to work very hard physically just to survive. Everything from feeding one’s family to maintaining shelter to staying clean required huge amounts of digging, pushing, pulling, kneading, scrubbing and so on. As technology advanced, labor-saving devices started to make life easier for ordinary people. This tech revolution shows no sign of stopping. Nowadays, you can have a Roomba vacuum your living room while you sit on the couch and eat chips.

Just as with many other positive developments in society, though, reducing the need for physical labor has made many of us overweight and out of shape. When I was growing up, jogging and other like forms of exercise were not very common. My mother stayed in shape by a daily regimen of cleaning, cooking, and maintaining a household of 13. My father had an office job but spent hours in his garden on weekends, fixed things, and washed and maintained our car. We kids were also expected to pitch in by sweeping, dusting, ironing, weeding, and mowing the lawn.

As a child and teen, I was not much into exercise. I didn’t play any sports, and I dreaded the thought of running or swimming. When I went off to college, I lost weight because of all the walking I had to do on the huge campus of University of Illinois. I had sporadic bursts of trying jogging in my early 20s, but it wasn’t until the aerobics boom in the 80s that I really started to work out in earnest. I started exercising to Jane Fonda workout videos and soon discovered a class I loved: Jazzercise. In those days, leotards, tights, and leg warmers were de rigeur attire for doing aerobic dancing. I still chuckle at the leopard print leotard I loved so much.

Over the years, I have slowed down a bit in the workout department. I prefer a brisk walk to a run, spin, or Zumba. I love yoga because of the whole body, mind, and spirit connection. And I try not to spend too much time sitting around.

There are so many things the average American can do to up their physical activity. Walking or biking instead of driving, parking at the far end of the lot at the mall, doing chores, baking, gardening. Nowadays we can wear a Fitbit that record steps to make sure we are getting enough “steps” day to day.

Being active is important to living a long and vital life. So as Olivia Newton-John sang in 1981, “Let’s get physical!”

 

Maybe We Know Too Much

Standard

Unknown-1

The world sure seems to be a scary place. In the news this week I’ve read about 13-year-olds shooting 10-year-olds, police officers being shot, an increase in sexual assaults reported in the military, a Chicago cathedral being robbed, another news luminary being accused of sexual harassment, and the fact that security at the local mall has been scanning my license plate when I park there. Last week a horrific accident on a Southwest Airlines flight caused the death of a woman and served to terrify the countless Americans who are already afraid of flying. Americans recently learned about a deranged man shooting up a Waffle House in Tennessee and a different killer driving his van into a crowd in Toronto, Canada.

Not only is the steady stream of bad news demoralizing, but it gives us a skewed impression of the risks we face in daily life. As much as I’m appalled by gun violence and want to see common sense gun legislation enacted, the vast majority of Americans are much more likely to die in a car accident or from heart disease than by being shot. The statistics are worse for children, however, in that gun violence is now the third leading cause of death in America. Nevertheless, children also are more likely to die in a motor vehicle accident, and yet how many people take pause before strapping their kids in and taking off in a car?

As scared as we all are of terrorism, the individual risk of being killed by a terrorist in America is statistically insignificant. The same is true of airplane fatalities. Yet we obsess about such fears while downing our Big Mac, fries, and large Coke, despite the fact that heart disease is the leading cause of death in America.

The internet and social media have only made this problem worse. In the past, a person would hear or read about news of national significance and possibly incidents in their own city or town. But nowadays we see articles about crimes and mishaps all across the country and even the world, despite the fact that those incidents are unlikely to have much impact upon our lives – except to scare us.

One of my favorite movies as a child was The Man Who Knew Too Much with Doris Day and Jimmy Stewart. It was a thriller about an ordinary family who unwittingly witness an assassination, which puts their lives in peril. Well, I feel like the woman who knows too much, and it’s stressing me out. No doubt the stress will kill me and not the horrifying events I’m unfortunately privy to on a daily basis.

 

In Praise of Moderation

Standard

Unknown

America is a nation of extremes. Either we are subsisting on grass and twigs with the Paleo diet, or we are Supersizing our fast food hamburgers and fries. We can’t just use our phones to stay in touch with each other. We have to have them in our hands constantly to check email or go on social media. And watching a television show or two won’t do. We have to binge watch an entire series in one sitting.

Nowhere is our penchant for extremes more obvious – and potentially more dangerous – than in our politics. Both the Democratic and Republican parties have been skewing far to the left and right respectively in the past several years. The Tea Party movement on the right has pushed candidates with views that go way beyond traditional conservative beliefs about limited government. Tax cuts at all costs seems to be the new Republican mantra, regardless of how severely they will impact the national debt. And the election of Donald Trump shows a disturbing trend on the right to vilify immigrants and minorities, roll back environmental protections, and normalize the white nationalist movement.

On the Democratic side, we see the popularity of socialist-leaning Bernie Sanders and such idealistic but impractical agendas as providing free college for all Americans. And while I personally favor a single-payer health care system such as the ones found in most Western European nations, the hue and cry over the baby steps of Obamacare shows that the country is not ready for quite that massive of an overhaul. I believe that Sanders supporters’ refusal to get behind Hillary Clinton in the presidential election was in part responsible for the election of Trump.

The political polarization is being fed and magnified by social media algorithms and the various websites that have sprung up pushing extreme agendas and often fake news. There is no more talking or meeting of minds. We are simply shouting at each other, and our political leaders are, for the most part, perpetuating the great divide we have between the left and the right.

There needs to be a new movement: not the Tea Party nor the Coffee Party. Let’s call it the Milk Party. Milk is a little bland and unexciting, but it’s also wholesome and nutritious. It builds strong bones and teeth. Likewise, we need our leaders to come together and work with each other. Compromise is not a bad word. As Sheriff Hopper explains to Eleven in Stranger Things, it means “halfway happy.” I don’t know about you, but I’d rather be halfway happy than completely miserable.

After the recent tax bill passed, legislators admitted that they had not even read it. And already the U.S. Treasury Department is being deluged with complaints about ambiguous language and unintended consequences of the new law. We are paying our government leaders well. I think we deserve better than the dysfunction in Washington, which, contrary to the intentions of the Tea Party, has grown worse.

In short, we need the moderates to stop hiding or being co-opted by the extreme right and left. We need the leaders in the sensible shoes and serviceable haircuts to step forward and lay claim to being the voices of reason in the insanity that has grown up around politics in America.

As in most areas of life – including our diet, exercise, religious practices, child-rearing, and the like – moderation in politics may be the key to saving our democracy.

Guns and (Peanut) Butter

Standard

Unknown-2

My son has a life-threatening allergy to peanuts. Ingesting even a tiny amount of peanut protein can send him into anaphylaxis, shutting down his airways and potentially killing him. He and I have lived with this scary phenomenon for virtually his entire life. And even though he is now in his 20s, it still hurts every time I have dinner out with him and he has to inform the server about his allergy.

Early on I learned to read every label of every food item I purchased to make sure there were no peanut products or potential cross contamination that could harm my son. I provided him with safe treats to bring to school so that when there were birthday cupcakes for a classmate, he wouldn’t feel left out.

When my son was first diagnosed, I still kept peanut butter in the house for my older daughter, reasoning that since she did not have the allergy, she should not be deprived. But I learned through some incidents of accidental ingestion on my son’s part, along with scary rides to the ER, that having any peanut products in the house was unsafe for my son. So my kids grew up without peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and have been no worse for the wear.

Of course, if I had my ‘druthers, this scary potential killer legume would be banned from supermarkets, restaurants, and anywhere else food was sold or served. But I realize that is neither practical nor fair. The vast majority of people do not share my son’s allergy and should not be told they can never have peanuts under any circumstances.

Still, I appreciated our schools’ efforts to keep peanut-allergic children safe. In the lunch room, for instance, there was a peanut free table at which my son would sit to eat. When he went away to camp, I worked with the food service personnel to make sure he could eat safely in the mess hall. As awareness has spread about the life-threatening nature of peanut allergies, most airlines have discontinued serving them on flights. Ironically, my airline of choice, Southwest, still serves peanuts but will refrain from doing so if they know a peanut allergic person is on the flight.

I see the parallels in my son’s situation to the issue of guns in America. Although recent calls to repeal the Second Amendment have gun rights advocates on the defensive, I respect the right of law-abiding citizens to own a gun. Still, a household with children is no place for a gun, just as peanuts posed a threat in my family to my son’s safety. And while we can’t completely ban firearms in America, we can take common sense measures to keep people safe, in much the same way that society has taken steps to protect food allergic individuals.

So while the NRA and other gun rights extremists rant about how everyone is coming for their guns, I don’t think it’s too much to ask that we take some logical steps to keep people safe from being shot.

Come to think of it, guns are not like peanuts. After all, peanuts are generally a safe and healthy food that can sustain life. In fact, some products made to help malnourished children in developing nations are made up primarily of peanuts. But guns are made for one purpose: to kill or injure a living thing.

So I don’t think passing common sense gun legislation is all that nuts; do you?