Thursday, October 29, 2015

A Cat's Eye View: In it for the Long Haul

Baxter here. I am Complaining because there are Too Many Republicans. Here at My House, we were Thinking of Maybe watching the Republican "Debate" but in the End could not Bear to do it. How can there be any Sense made out of ten people answering Stupid Questions for Two Hours. What kind of Substantive Conversation can be had?

The Worst Thing is, there isn't even One Candidate that would make a Good President out of the Bunch of them. I don't know What this Country is coming to. And I think those with No Support Whatsoever (I'm looking at YOU, Chris Christie!) should Drop Out and let the other Bozos get more Air Time so Everyone can see what Idiots they all are.

Then on the Democratic side, there is the whole Hillary vs. Bernie Problem. Hillary supporters say Bernie can't Win so people should be Rooting for Hillary. They say don't Waste Your Vote on Bernie because he Can't Win. Bernie supporters, on the Other Hand, say Hillary is as Bad as the Republicans and if you Vote for Her you are as Bad as a Republican too.

Neither of these Opinions are True, in My Own Not-so-Humble Opinion. Why not Wait and See who Wins the Primaries? If you really Agree with Bernie, vote for him in the Primary. If he doesn't Win and Hillary is the Nominee, then vote for her in the General Election. Isn't that Simple? Oh, you are one of Those who say Hillary is no Better than a Republican? Have you SEEN who the Republicans are? Do you KNOW what they Believe? Check out this link.

You will see their Views on Many Subjects are direct Opposites of Hillary's OR Bernie's, especially when it comes to Family Planning and a Woman's Right to Choose. Check out their Views on Energy and Oil and Alternative Energy Sources. Compare their Civil Rights records and their Views on Global Warming. If you are a Democrat, you will realize there IS a difference between the Parties and that Hillary's views are a Lot Closer to Bernie's than You May Realize.

Then Keep in Mind that there will No Doubt be Supreme Court Appointments to be made in the coming Presidential Term. If Hillary is the Democratic Nominee and you Stay Home or Write in a Candidate You Prefer, then if one of these Republican Candidates wins the Election, you will have Only Yourself to Blame if we get a Completely Right Wing Supreme Court as a result.

Me, I am in it for the Long Haul. First, let's see who Emerges among the Republican Crew as the Actual Nominee. Then let's see who the Democratic Nominee is. And then things will Get Interesting. Right now it's all a Big Show.

So... Carry On with the Debates. Maybe by Next Spring they might Mean Something. In the Meantime, I think I will enjoy some Catnip and Relax.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

In Memoriam: Farewell to Doris

Of course, I never called her Doris. I called her Mom - because she was the epitome of a good mother and I didn't feel the least bit odd about calling her that even though she was my mother-in-law, not my own mother. But once she was in the nursing home for a long time, a lot of the people who cared for her referred to her as Doris so I started to think of her that way too.

We first met in 1983 when my then-boyfriend, now husband, Ed, was admitted to the hospital with appendicitis - a perfect way to meet one's future in-laws without any pressure! I still remember my first sight of her and my future father-in-law in the waiting room at the hospital. It worked out well for me since I am the one who brought Ed to the hospital and made sure they took good care of him. I was in their good graces from Day One.

My mother-in-law was always kind, generous and loving. She never made me feel like an outsider. In fact, later on my father-in-law told me that she always considered me a real daughter, not a daughter-in-law. I feel honored that she felt that way. We were good friends and always found a lot to chat about. Sometimes Ed or his dad had to break in to our conversation in order to get a word in edgewise.

Mom was born in 1928 and grew up in South Amboy, New Jersey, the oldest of five. She went to Catholic school and graduated from St. Mary's High School in 1946, just after the war ended. She then worked as a secretary in a doctor's office for awhile. She met Ed's dad at a local dance - soon after he had returned from serving in the Army during World War II. How could she resist this dashing young man, who was still in uniform when they first met? From the pictures I found in an old photo album, they made quite a handsome couple as they were dating.

They married in 1948. She was 20, he was 22. Mom only worked until their son was born in 1952, and then became a homemaker. Dad, who had become an engineer, was the breadwinner.

During her last illness, Dad said over and over what a wonderful wife and mother she was... but he also revealed they were truly a product of that pre-women's liberation era.

He said when they got married, she had wanted to go to school, and he said she could -- but he told her she would not work afterward. He said he told her she was to stay home and take care of any children they had, take care of the house and have dinner on the table, and he would earn the money. So she did. "You know," he reminisced, "We never had an argument in all those years."

When Ed was older and in college - they only had the one child - she did work briefly as an administrative assistant in a doctor's office and as a secretary in the local high school. Ed said she loved it. But by the time I met them she was home again. As she once told me, "Dad wanted me home." He wanted to know he could call her any time of day and she'd be able to talk to him, or run an errand if need be.

Mom was kept busy with all of her homemaking duties. The house was always spotless; no speck of dust would dare appear on any surface. She was an excellent cook, able to make everything from roasts to fried fish that was light as a feather. She made a pumpkin pie that was everything a pumpkin pie should be. She made fabulous cakes. She was an expert seamstress and made a lot of clothes, including men's jackets, and drapes for the living room. She helped a friend's Girl Scout troop earn their sewing badge by teaching the little girls how to sew. She wrote a weekly social column in the local newspaper. And she was president of the Women's Club, the Garden Club and the PTO.

Every summer the whole family would go on a road trip, including four cross-country journeys where they toured the national parks and other sites of interest. A map still hanging on the wall of the family room marks with red pins the various spots they stopped along the way on each trip. They also took trips with Ed's grandparents, to Florida a few times, and once to the Bahamas.

Right before I met her, Ed had told me his mom had just gotten her real estate license. She later explained to me that Dad was getting close to retirement age and she thought it was something they could kind of do together - she could do the selling and he could help with the paperwork, which would keep him busy in retirement.

But it was not to be. Dad's whole division was laid off when he was 61 and he suddenly found himself retired a year earlier than he had planned. After the first shock wore off - which took only a weekend - he adjusted with lightning speed and immediately started planning all the trips they would take. And Mom never did sell a single house.

Don't feel sorry though... they had a grand time. They went to Hawaii for 4-6 weeks each year (several times with us); they drove up the coast of California repeatedly, and visited the Blue Ridge Mountains multiple times, as well as taking trips with us to Portugal and Italy. They went on a tour of China and walked on the Great Wall. They took a cruise that stopped at various ports of call in Indonesia, Thailand and Singapore. They skied every winter in the French Alps. When they were home they skied locally in the winter and spent time at the town pool each day in the summer.

It sounds as if they were rich, doing all this traveling, but they weren't. They were very frugal and saved their money.

They had moved from Perth Amboy, where they lived when they first married, to Holmdel, New Jersey, in 1958. The house they bought was part of a new development going in where an old apple orchard had once stood. Generous to a fault when giving gifts, they didn't splurge on material things for their home. Instead, they spent it on travel and family.

Dad still lives in the house today; they never "traded up" to something fancier. It's a modest split level home with 3 bedrooms, two of which are quite small. The house still has its original kitchen, and they had the same furniture and carpeting throughout most of their married life until Dad had to spend down some of their money to make Mom eligible for Medicaid in the nursing home, and he installed new carpeting and central air conditioning at that time. I think that was the only improvement that was made to the house, other than painting it, during most of their marriage.

Here are a few pictures of them from their early retirement years. The top left picture is from a cruise they were on, the group picture was taken on Maui, the one below is on the Asia cruise, and the bottom left photo is in our living room at Christmas one year.

Sadly, my mother-in-law's dementia began to gradually become noticeable in the early 2000s, when she was in her mid-to-late 70s. She started to forget things and ask the same questions over and over. Then she began to lose her vocabulary. She still went on trips to Hawaii and California as long as she was able to function, but on the last trip to the California coast, Dad realized she couldn't cope with traveling anymore. She was too confused.

He carried on, taking care of her at home, until he was struck with illness in early 2008. He ended up in the hospital and we ended up caring for Mom for a few days. It was then we realized how bad her condition had become. We were still working at the time, and couldn't keep taking days off to care for her, and Dad was going to be in the hospital for a couple of weeks after a severe intestinal bleed and surgery.

So we researched and found a nursing home, Laurel Bay in Keansburg, about 15 minutes from their home, that was able to take her on a temporary basis until Dad recovered and we figured out what to do. Mom at that time became easily agitated and we were very grateful to the wonderful staff who were able to care for her despite the difficulties. Once Dad was out of the hospital he agreed he couldn't care for Mom properly at home anymore. We looked at a few other nursing homes in the area but none were as cozy and homey as Laurel Bay. So that is where Mom stayed, and we are glad she did.

For almost 8 years, Dad went to Laurel Bay twice a day and helped Mom eat her lunch and supper (she had by this time lost the dexterity to feed herself). He knew everyone there and they knew him. Sometimes he drove them crazy because he always made sure his Doris got the best care of anyone there, and let them know if he felt they hadn't lived up to his expectations. But they all understood he did it out of love for her.

Sometimes he'd take a break and go shopping (usually to buy her something) and I would go down and help her eat her lunch. Even though at this point she could no longer speak much at all, she knew me and always gave me a big smile. She knew me right until the last few months, I think. I would chat with her as if she could answer back and let her know what was going on. I always wondered whether she was just trapped in her mind and couldn't speak but did understand. It must have been so frustrating for her.

She had a wonderful caregiver, Obai, who is originally from Haiti. She and Mom developed a very special relationship. They understood each other and Obai truly loved her. A former hairdresser in her native country, Obai loved to dress Mom up for the "elegant dining" events they had three or four times a year, and she'd always do something special to her hair.

Elegant dining was a really nice event; they had a singer there who would sing a range of songs from the old standards to more modern rock-and-roll from the 50s and early 60s, to accommodate the various age groups at the nursing home. The cooks would make a special dinner, complete with appetizers and desserts, and they served wine. Mom enjoyed these events a lot when she was first there. Later she was less responsive but I still think she liked the music and she always ate all her food.

Here are a few pictures where Mom is dressed up for these events. The black-and-white picture is her with Obai.

Dad did get away for some respite from caring for Mom. We had bought our cabin in the Adirondacks just after she went into the nursing home, so he started to come up for long weekends about once a month or so to relax. While he was away, he called the nursing home, without fail, at noontime, to make sure Doris had eaten her lunch and that she was doing well. For a long time she was.

In the past year or so, though, she began declining. She was having more trouble chewing and swallowing and they put her on thickened liquids and pureed food. I knew, from experience with my own father, who had had dementia in his later years, that this was the beginning of the end. But Ed's dad never looked at it that way. To him, anything that went wrong could be fixed, as long as he tried hard enough. And try he did. He blamed her problems on everything possible except the dementia. I don't think he ever admitted that it was a terminal disease.

Just before she truly could not swallow at all anymore, we had a discussion about whether he would choose to put in a feeding tube if she could no longer swallow her food. At that time he said no. But when the time came, about two weeks later, he couldn't let her go. There was even a piece of paper, in her own handwriting, that had been found among her belongings at home a couple of years ago, that said she did not want to be kept alive by artificial means. "Let me die in peace," she wrote, and signed and dated it, in the mid-1990s. She had seen her own mother die in a nursing home from dementia. She knew what awaited her if she got it too.

Dad didn't agree that a feeding tube was "artificial means." He said he "couldn't let her starve." So she got the feeding tube, and he got three more months with her. He was happy just holding her hand - he said she squeezed his hand so tightly he knew she knew he was there. I hope that was true and not just some reflex she had.

The end finally came despite the feeding tube, or maybe because of it. She got pneumonia, ended up in the hospital for yet another time (she had had pneumonia several times in the last year of her life due to her inability to swallow properly, which causes aspiration pneumonia, even when someone isn't being fed by mouth). She then began vomiting blood. The doctor, who was a very compassionate woman, said it was common for people with feeding tubes to get bleeding ulcers. She gently told Dad that "it is time to let her go." He finally agreed to sign a "do not resuscitate" order. Mom was put into a private room and Dad kept watch over her for three days, going home only to sleep. We were there as well for much of the time. She finally drifted peacefully away on October 20, 2015.

It was Dad that couldn't bear to let her go. And it is heartbreaking to see his grief. But the next morning when I woke up, I felt her presence around me, and a great sense of joy. I am not a big believer in an afterlife or religion, but I do think there is something out there after death. I do know I felt that she is finally free and able to express herself again and is happy, wherever she is. I am not sad for her, I am happy for her. I hope Dad will feel that way someday too. I know she would want him to.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Fighting the Rat of Death

It's been a rough year. First Baxter was sick and we weren't sure if he was going to make it - thankfully, as he explained in the last post, he is doing well.

Then my mother-in-law, who has dementia and has been in a nursing home for nearly 8 years, started declining rapidly, after being relatively stable for a long time. Looking back, we realized she had been declining all along, but so gradually we didn't really notice it until this year. By June she had forgotten how to swallow properly and had started getting recurrent cases of aspiration pneumonia. Finally, she wasn't able to eat at all. DH's father made the decision to have a feeding tube inserted to enable her to continue to eat. "I can't just starve her," he said.

DH and I had looked into this back in 2005 when my own father was in a nursing home with dementia and was no longer able to swallow. All of the literature we read online and elsewhere said that inserting a feeding tube when someone has dementia and has lost the ability to swallow does nothing to prolong life and just results in numerous, constant complications.

Unfortunately, after 67 years of marriage, in the end, DH's dad couldn't let her go. He wanted just a few more months with her. So, the feeding tube was inserted after a few days of angst and tears on all sides. (Except for my mother-in-law, who, thankfully, had no idea of the drama circling around her). She hasn't been able to speak, other than occasional grunts or simple yes or no answers, for years, and at this point she was hardly even doing that, and was sleeping most of the time.

Next came a problem with our 13 or 14-year-old dog Diva. We adopted her 10 years ago, but were never really sure how old she was at that time. Given her arthritis and very grey muzzle, we are thinking she may have been as old as 4 when we adopted her, making her 14 now.

We started to notice changes in her behavior over the summer. She gradually stopped coming upstairs to sleep on our bed, preferring to stay downstairs on her own bed nearby her adoptive "sister," Angel.

Then in September we realized she was getting very deaf, and more and more sensitive to odd noises. She had developed a fear of thunder and fireworks a few years ago, but now she became afraid of acorns falling on the tin roof at our cabin in the Adirondacks, nail guns, hammering, and any other abrupt noises. She started shaking whenever one of these objectionable sounds occurred.

Then we went to Cape Cod for a week and she acted nervous in the car going up, panting and restless; then at the cottage, a new one for us that we hadn't stayed at before, she started acting nervous and pacing around every evening.

We had gotten a prescription for Xanax from the vet for her since we had started noticing this nervousness before we left, and that calmed her down but didn't cure the problem. She decided the bathroom was the only safe place to sleep, so we put her bed in there. Not very convenient when we got up in the middle of the night to use the facilities, but at least Diva was happy. We were afraid she was developing doggie dementia and that it was a sign of age and it would only get worse...

Then, the day after we got home, we finally realized what might be part of the problem - she had a urinary tract infection! She started asking to go out and urinate every half hour and we realized there was blood in her urine. We rushed over to our local emergency veterinarian clinic and had her checked out and the vet gave us antibiotics and painkillers for her. After only a day on the antibiotics and painkillers, her behavior became much more normal. After two weeks she seems back to her old self; but she still won't sleep on our bed.

We were up at the cabin this past week while she was still getting better, and we were still worrying about her, as well as DH's mom, who was back in the hospital with yet another bout of pneumonia. She had also developed a C. difficile intestinal infection from the antibiotics she was being given for the pneumonia, and was not doing well at all. Based on my experience with my own mother, this infection could very well be what swept her away.

One night while we were at the cabin, DH had a terrible nightmare. I woke to find him pawing my shoulder and making odd noises. I finally shook him awake and said, "What's wrong?" He said, "A rat. A huge rat."

The next day he remembered the dream: He had been dreaming there was this huge, snarling rat attacking Diva, and he was trying to beat it with some kind of a stick and get it away from her. He had been calling for our other dog Angel to come kill it but she was nowhere around in the dream. He said it was one of those dreams where you can't do anything -- you can't hit the rat, you can't move fast enough, nothing works.

I told him it must have been that he was fighting the Rat of Death and trying to keep it from Diva, and that Diva might be representative of his mother as well, since he was so worried about both of them.

The next day one of the doctors taking care of his mother in the hospital in New Jersey called to tell us that his mom had taken a turn for the worse and it was really time to let her go; he said it was unfair to keep having her go back to the hospital for treatment over and over, and make her suffer further (which of course we did agree with).

We left the cabin earlier than we'd planned and returned home, arriving late in the evening The next day we received a morning call from the doctor overseeing my mother-in-law's care to tell us she'd had to entubate her after she had stopped breathing earlier that morning, because DH's dad had not made a decision to put her on palliative care. She said Mom had been moved to intensive care.

We met at the hospital along with DH's dad, and told them we would like her taken off the respirator, expecting her to pass away an hour or so later.

As it turned out, after the respirator was removed, she stabilized and has been holding her own ever since. She is being given morphine and is no longer receiving any curative measures. But she continues to fight against the Rat of Death a little longer.

My father-in-law asks, "Why? Why am I going through all this at this stage of my life?" I can't give him an answer.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

A Cat's Eye View - Baxter has returned just in time for the election season!

Well, here I am again. I expect Many of you have wondered where I have Been; I suppose a Few have also wondered about the Disappearance of my Female Human over the past Year or so. Of course, not as many as would have missed Me. That Goes without Saying.

On My part, I have had a Bad Year, health-wise. In Fact, I may have used up one of my Nine Lives this past Year. It all started Last Fall when I started Losing Weight. That Female Human who sticks needles into Me and pokes at Me in that Office we go to (my Humans call her a Veterinarian, whatever that is) suspected I had something wrong with an Organ I apparently have called a Thyroid. She decided my Humans would have to shove some little White thing down my throat at Periodic Intervals in order to Fix the Problem.

Well, Needless to Say, I tried my Best to trick them out of being able to do this. If I see one of them coming, I Hide under the Bed until all risk of having that Thing shoved down my Throat is over. If it’s at Night, I just wait till they go to Bed and turn out the Light and then I can come out. Sometimes they try to Trick Me into eating it in my Food but I am Too Smart for them.

Nonetheless, I eventually had enough of these things (I believe they call them Pills) shoved down my Throat that the Veterinarian thought I should be gaining back the Weight I had lost. But I wasn’t. She got worried there was Something Else Wrong. After Several Months they finally decided I needed something called an Ultrasound. I was Dropped Off ignominiously at 8 a.m. one day at the Veterinarian’s Office and left in a CAGE (the horror!) until the Procedure was done. As it turned Out, I have some kind of Thickening in my Guts somewhere that could either be Cancer or Inflammatory Bowel Disease. The Veterinarian and my Female Human agreed that at My Age it wasn’t worth doing a Biopsy to find out which it is; the Treatment would work on either, one more long-term than the Other. I think they called it Prednisilone.

So now – to my Horror – I have to have TWO of these Pill things shoved down my Throat twice a day. I had gotten Very Thin – down to 8-1/2 lbs. -- when I was once a Hearty 23 lbs.! My Humans said I looked like a walking Furry Cat Skeleton. Lo and Behold, after 6 weeks on these New Pills, I have gained back 4 lbs. and am looking much more like my Old Self! On top of That, I have enough Energy to jump up on the Bed again instead of using the Cat Steps my Humans had put there for my Use. How do you like my New Look?

Sure, I sometimes still Manage to avoid taking the Pills but I know underneath that they may be what is Doing Me Good. So I get enough of them to Do the Job. My Humans hope it is the IBD and not the Cancer. Seems to Me if it were the Latter, I wouldn’t be doing as Well as I am!

So, now that I am feeling Better, I thought it was About Time that I went back to Blogging, as one of my Fans suggested to my Female Human recently on Facebook.

And just in Time, too – the Presidential Election Season has Already Begun! Oh my, I can’t Believe the number of crazy Candidates there seem to be on the Republican Side! And the Leading Candidate so far is that Donald Trump person – what on Earth is going on when more Republicans think he would be a Good President than any of the others? I am only a Cat, but even I can see he has no Qualifications to be President.

Then there’s the Neurosurgeon, Ben Carson. Being a Neurosurgeon doesn’t mean you’re smart. It means you are a Good Mechanic. You can cut open someone’s Brain and make a lot of delicate changes that require Steady Hands and a Knowledge of what Nerves are located Where. That is something you Memorize. But when it comes to Knowing Things outside of Medicine, or even Thinking Right in general, there is no need for that in that career.  And obviously, this one lacks both of those types of Knowledge. I mean, he doesn’t believe in Evolution, for One Thing. How can you be a doctor and not believe in Evolution? Even I know that we Cats weren’t always in this form. We are related to Big Cats like Sabre Toothed Tigers! I am proud of my Tiger heritage! It is obvious we Cats of all sizes have Common Ancestors. How can it not be Obvious to these Evolution-Deniers? He actually said that the basic Tenets of Evolution are "fairy tales" and compared the Similarities between various Species to different models of General Motors cars! 

Secondly, he obviously doesn't believe in the Constitution. To think that he would Say Outright that he would not "advocate" that a Muslim be "put in charge of this nation"! He later amended that to say “a Muslim who believes in Shariah Law.” Either one is Reprehensible given the Constitution says there should be “no religious test” to be President. But even if you go by his Amended Statement, what about Christians who are Fundamentalists and believe the nation should be governed by the Rules in the Christian Bible, which they believe unconditionally? Shouldn’t they also be Barred from the Presidency under his principle?

Then there’s Carly Fiorina, failed CEO of Hewlett-Packard. Another one with No Political Experience.  For what other Job would people with NO experience in the Job be the leading Candidates to get the Job? None, I daresay!

If they all Fail then Ted Cruz may have a chance to Win. I can’t even Go There…

The even halfway-reasonable Candidates like Kasich and Jeb Bush (I can’t Believe I am Saying that) haven’t Got a Chance! The Republican voters are Out of Control! It is Scary.

Of course, the Democrats have to have their own Drama too. Hillary Clinton was supposed to be the shoo-in for the Nomination – but of course, being a Clinton, there has to be a Scandal that comes out. Is it her Fault the Republicans jump all over her for everything they can dig up? Well, yes and no. She had a private email System at her home that she used for emails during her Tenure as Secretary of State. Maybe it wasn’t Technically Not Allowed at the Time she had it but it Didn’t Look Good. It seems as if the Clintons are not very good at avoiding things that Don’t Look Good. Sure, it may all depend on what the definition of “is” is, but in the End, if you are Smart, you don’t do things that Don’t Look Good at all, and then you don’t have these Problems.

So Bernie Sanders saw a Weakness and realized he might have a Chance! Bernie is probably the Least Likely to Succeed Candidate the Democrats could come up with in the current Climate of a Country constantly edging to the Right… he’s not even a Democrat, he describes himself as a “Democratic Socialist.” And you know how the Right loves to call anyone to the Left of Barry Goldwater a “Socialist” as a Pejorative Term. This guy actually calls HIMSELF a Socialist. That can’t go well.

That said, he embodies the Beliefs of a Whole Bunch of my Female Human’s Facebook friends, and, in all honesty, hers as well. She took one of those Tests where you answer Questions about various issues and then it tells you which Politician you most agree with. What did she get? Yep, 98% Bernie Sanders. And apparently a lot of other People agree with Bernie too. He is going up in the polls vs. Hillary, which will present a Quandary for Many practical Democrats. Do you vote for who you believe in, or who you believe will win in 2016?

My Humans have me up at that place they call The Cabin in the Mountains somewhere this Week and we can’t get CNN so I wasn’t able to watch the Democratic Debate the other Night. However, I hear Hillary acquitted herself Nicely and it went well for her.

It’s Too Soon to Tell how this will all Play Out, because we don’t know which Crazy Republican will be running in 2016! It all hinges on that.

So Stay Tuned. It should be an interesting Year! I hope my Health will Hold Out and I will be able to See What Happens! In the meantime, I can only Hiss at the craziness that is the United States election process…

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Curing Childhood With a Pill

I have had this post percolating in the back of my mind for over a month now, ever since reading an article in the New York Times about a newly-"discovered" mental disorder in children called Sluggish Cognitive Tempo or SCT. According to the article, "the condition is said to be characterized by lethargy, daydreaming and slow mental processing. By some researchers' estimates, it is present in perhaps two million children."

Over six million children in the United States, according to the article, have been given diagnoses of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), usually treated with one of several drugs. Adderall, Ritalin and Concerta,all stimulants, are among the drugs used to treat kids with standard ADHD symptoms.

Eli Lilly makes Strattera, a non-stimulant type of drug used for ADHD. Lilly recently funded a study to learn whether Strattera can help symptoms of SCT as well. The conclusion was that Strattera did have significant effects on children with the condition, which may or may not be an official mental disability. It may just be a subtype of ADHD. It is not yet listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders as a separate condition even though symptoms have been recognized for several decades.

Then I saw yet another article in the Times, this one saying that 10,000 toddlers are being medicated for ADHD - these are children of 2 or 3 years old - many of them children who are on Medicaid. These medications haven't even been studied for safety or efficacy in children this young, and using them on toddlers is outside the standard of care for pediatricians. And yet, this experiment on our youngest citizens is taking place across the country. Young children, practically still babies, are being given powerful drugs with unknown consequences when their behavior patterns could be the result of poor nutrition, poor family life, lack of sleep, etc. Toddlers develop at different rates and this age group is in flux - some children are precocious; others may be a bit behind and find it harder to settle down. Shouldn't their physicians be looking deeper, or waiting longer to see what happens as the toddler matures, rather than prescribing a pill to "cure" him or her?

I am not denying there are children who do have real learning disabilities and that they have been helped tremendously by these medications. This new or renamed disorder may be another type of ADHD or a separate condition and there may really be kids who might benefit if properly diagnosed and medicated. In fact, I am usually a strong proponent for "better living through chemistry."

But - I do wonder whether it is true that this many children in our country truly have something wrong with them, or whether adults' expectations of children's behavior have changed in the last 30 years or so. Schools and teachers are being judged on how well they are functioning by how well the children they teach do on tests. Many children worry about things like getting into college at an age which my generation wasn't even thinking about it yet. They take expensive classes just to ensure a high SAT score; something no one did in my day. Heck, in New York City, parents compete  - and even cheat - to get their children into the "right" preschool.

When I look at the definition of SCT, I think of some other students in the past who may have had those symptoms - students like Albert Einstein or Thomas Edison, for instance, both of whom were considered problem students.
"He [Einstein] was a poor student, and some of his teachers thought he might be [ mentally handicapped]; he was unable to speak fluently at age nine. Still, he was fascinated by the laws of nature, experiencing a deep feeling of wonder when puzzling over the invisible, yet real, force directing the needle of a compass.... Einstein's formal secondary education ended at age sixteen. He disliked school, and just as he was planning to find a way to leave without hurting his chances for entering the university, his teacher expelled him because his bad attitude was affecting his classmates." (Source)
"Edison was a poor student. When a schoolmaster called Edison "addled," or slow. his furious mother took him out of the school and proceeded to teach him at home. Edison said many years later, "My mother was the making of me. She was so true, so sure of me, and I felt I had someone to live for, someone I must not disappoint." At an early age, he showed a fascination for mechanical things and for chemical experiments." (Source)
And think about Mark Twain - who also left school early and was a dreamer who preferred going on escapades with his friends and aspired to become a riverboat pilot. Most of his learning thereafter was self-taught, and he eventually became the journalist, and finally the esteemed writer that we are so familiar with today.
"In his youth, Twain was a mischievous boy, the prototype of his character, Tom Sawyer. Though he was plagued by poor health in his early years, by age nine he had already learned to smoke, led a small band of pranksters, and had developed an aversion to school. Twain's formal schooling ended after age 12, because his father passed away in March of that year." (Source)
What about Winston Churchill, who also struggled to conform to formal education?

I wonder what would have happened if these notable men had received medication for their conditions when they were children? Would they have gone on to be the geniuses that they eventually became? Or would their creativity and inventiveness have been stifled and would they have just gone on to be cogs in the wheel of commerce instead? The truth is, none of them were suited for the rote learning in standard schools and excelled when able to learn in their own way and pace, and to learn about subjects that interested them.

How many of these children currently identified as suffering from ADHD (or SCT) would blossom if they were given the opportunity to learn in their own way rather than the way the school expects them to learn? Would they still need medication? Some of them, probably. But there might be a good number that turned out not to need medication, but instead have their needs better addressed.

I am not ordinarily a fan of charter schools, because diverting tax dollars to private enterprises just robs the public schools of much-needed funds. But there are innovative schools, whether charter, public or private, that are trying out new ways to teach children. They should be viewed as laboratories for learning what works best and for whom. If some of these innovative methods are successful, then they should be transferred to regular public schools as well so that all children can benefit.

Magnet Schools are public schools that focus on a specific discipline, such as math, science, history, performing arts, music, etc., and often use innovative teaching methods as well. While these schools do promote integration in some areas, the fact that they cannot accept every student who wants to attend them generally leads to less diversity in socioeconomic status than in public schools.

Charter schools, of course, are the latest idea for disrupting the status quo of the public schools. Those schools that do well for their students tend to use innovative teaching techniques such as project-based learning, portfolios instead of grades, thematic, multi-grade classrooms, and more.

AltSchool, based in San Francisco, is an example of a private school that is using innovative techniques to help children learn. Their website defines AltSchool as a network of microschools, which provide "personalized learning plans" for their students and address the needs of the whole child. At $19k annual tuition, it costs as much as many colleges; however, there is a tuition assistance fund.

Now, mind you, I am not a teacher, have no experience in the education field, and have no children. I am certainly not up on the latest and greatest when it comes to curricula, or the challenges teachers - and school administrators - face every day. There is no magic bullet and I invite all of you with more experience in this field than I have (and you are legion) to comment and add your perspective.

But it seems as if there has to be a better way to deal with children who have difficulties learning in the standard classroom other than medicating them into lock-step with everyone else so they can fit into a mold.

I'll leave you with Harry Chapin's classic song about the kid who didn't fit into the mold - Flowers Are Red.

Wednesday, April 02, 2014

Haiku Wednesday

Is such a lonely talent
At which I excel.

I should be cleaning
And laundry is a-waiting;
And yet here I sit.

Articles to write,
A resume to update;
And yet here I sit.

A trip to pack for,
Instructions to write for pets,
And yet here I sit.

The dogs should be walked,
The kitchen must be cleaned up,
And yet here I sit.

Blame it on Facebook,
And the videos of cats,
And so here I sit.

Tuesday, April 01, 2014

The Early Internet - An Ode to Prodigy

Mental Floss recently posted a bunch of old ads for the Prodigy internet service on their Facebook page and I took a trip down memory lane by watching them.

We bought our first computer in 1990 - it had something like 40 MB of hard disk space and used 5" floppy disks. It was some kind of IBM PC clone and we had debated for awhile whether to buy a Mac or a PC, deciding ultimately to go with the PC because it was cheaper; and even then we shelled out about $2000 for a computer that couldn't hold a candle to the computing power in any of our smartphones.

I don't even know what we used that computer for when we first got it - maybe spreadsheets? We weren't early adopter types, like those who used CompuServe in the 80s; we were internet virgins. But then we heard about Prodigy because there were commercials on TV constantly. So we became early subscribers to their internet service. Of course back then we only had dial-up modems to access the internet. But in those DOS-based days, even though Prodigy had a graphical user interface, accessing the service was not a problem since the graphics were so much more primitive back then.

My first non-work email address was through Prodigy, and my first online shopping experiences were through Prodigy. From the beginning I saw the advantage of shopping online - and now I do almost all of my shopping that way, even for groceries! But it was thanks to Prodigy that I first got hooked on it.

I remember getting up every morning during the first Iraq war and getting online to see the latest headlines from the night before. It was through Prodigy that I started to be addicted to getting the latest news without waiting for a newspaper.

My favorite aspect of the service was their message boards, which they called bulletin boards. They were organized by topic and subtopic. So, for instance, there was a Pets topic, a Dogs subtopic, and then individual subjects under that. You could either create your own heading or get involved in a discussion under another heading, such as, in my case, Pit Bulls. In 1995 we had just adopted a pittie mix, our dog Alice, from the local shelter, and I got into discussions with other lovers of the breed on that bulletin board. We had a great community there and I got to know one of the members well enough that we started exchanging snail mail Christmas cards each year. She lived in Fresno, California. Unfortunately, we eventually lost touch. I am hoping she and her husband and pets are still doing well.

By the mid-90s AOL was overtaking Prodigy as the more popular service, but I never liked their format. I tried their service a few times, using one of the free floppy disks they sent to our house, but ended up sticking with Prodigy.

However, as time went by, we eventually dropped Prodigy because the costs were going up - and by then there were so many other ways to access the Internet. We tried Juno for awhile, and then Earthlink, all still using dial-up. Then we finally succumbed and got Comcast cable, which gave us high speed internet access as well as cable television. Believe it or not, we did not have cable TV until then.

By this time - maybe it was 1999 or so? - the Internet was much more established. I was in touch with many old friends through email and went on various forums from time to time, but I missed the interaction with other people that I got in a more organized format.

In the early 2000s I found that kind of interaction on the online forums on our New Jersey site, There were forums about our town of Bloomfield, for our county - Essex - and for various subjects, including religion, politics, and pets.

Once again I found myself part of a community of likeminded (or not so likeminded) people, and delved into deep conversations with people I had never met. We all had "handles" to disguise our real identities. I went with Uhuru, which means "freedom" in Swahili. Uhura from Star Trek was also based on the word, which is where I got the idea, but I just took the generic Swahili word without the feminized ending, just to be more mysterious.

I used to get into heated arguments with a poster named Greylady, who rescued greyhounds but was not a fan of pit bulls. We used to argue incessantly about the issue of breed-specific legislation, in which certain breeds of dogs, particularly pit bulls, are restricted or banned.

I also had a lot of fun on the Religion forum, where atheists and believers clashed on a daily basis. I made a lot of good friends there, including a poster named Friday. I wonder what happened to her...

Then came blogging. In 2006 I started hearing more and more about blogs, and found out that a neighbor of mine at the time was a blogger - a well-known and prolific blogger. She wrote about her family, her son, her dog  and many other subjects. Some of her posts would make you laugh; others would make you cry. She has since become a published writer and she teamed up with another blogger and wrote a whole book. At that time I was simply impressed that she actually had a blog; it seemed so interesting and trendy. I thought to myself, hmmm. I wonder if I could do that?

My inspiration came after writing a long post on our hyperlocal news site, Baristanet - yet another location where people exchange comments and opinions. I had posted, along with others, an account of where I was on 9/11, on the fifth anniversary of the attack. I figured, here I had my first blog post all ready to go. So I got on Blogger and started this blog, and plonked down the remembrance of 9/11 as my first post.

I was glad I named the blog Mauigirl's Meanderings, because after that I had no idea what to write about. I meandered.... a lot. I was nervous about actually speaking my mind and having people who know me figure out who Mauigirl was and know what my thoughts were about various subjects, especially if they were people from work.

In the early days I made a few blog friends - one of the first was my friend Ruth from England, who wrote the blog Me, My Life, My Garden. A few others joined in commenting on my blog, but not as many as would eventually become part of my little circle of blog friends.

Finally came the first Blog Against Theocracy event and I decided to participate for the first time in 2007. I wrote a fairly scathing post about the evils of mixing religion and politics (sadly in some ways even more pertinent now than it was then), and after that the gloves were off. Although I still write about anything I feel like writing about, and I still meander, I have long since given up the idea of keeping my liberal politics - or my real name - a secret. I met a lot of great blog friends in the liberal blogging community and am happy that many are still commenting even after all my gaps in posting here.

Then in 2008, I joined Facebook. A friend of mine had joined and said 'You have to join, it's perfect for us - it gives instant gratification!" Sure enough, I became hooked. I ended up being Facebook friends with many of my blog friends, and then friends of theirs, and friends of their friends... At the same time I got to know a lot of people in my own community, some of whom I'd met in person and some not; and on top of that I got back in touch with childhood friends I hadn't been in contact with for, in one case, 40 years!

Looking back, I see my online involvement has been most focused on finding a community or number of communities in which to exchange ideas, find likeminded people who are interested in the same things I am, and keep in touch with distant friends and even relatives. Facebook is the ultimate when it comes to this function. I love reading blog posts and making the effort to write well-thought-out posts of my own, for when I want to do some serious thinking, or even not so serious thinking. But in terms of carrying on a conversation and providing the opportunity for give-and-take that builds a relationship, I find Facebook to be a great resource.

My Facebook friends tend to post links to thought-provoking and informative articles that I might not have ever read otherwise. They post points of view that invite intelligent discussion. We commiserate on one another's losses and share in our successes. Some people complain that their Facebook feeds are full of silly things and are a waste of time - I am happy that is not the case with mine.

Don't get me wrong, I love a good joke or meme as much as the next person, and my friends and I are certainly guilty of posting pictures of our dinners from time to time. But I like seeing people's dinners! They inspire me to want to cook something good for my own dinner! Often a post like that leads to a request for a recipe, or a restaurant recommendation. So it's all good.

So many people criticize Facebook and other means of online communication as leading to people being more lonely and less social than when they were confined to interacting "in real life." I disagree.

Between blogging and Facebook, although I am often by myself at home now that I retired from the Big Corporation, I am never lonely. I can always find someone out there who is online at the same time I am and we can talk. Some of the people I talk to may not be people I know "in real life," but I feel I know them nonetheless and they are no less "real" than other friends.

When you think about it, ever since people went online, what they have always been looking for is what is now called "social networking."

So, looking back on how it all started, in my own case, I have to thank Prodigy for having sucked me into the world of the Internet and changing my life forever. For others it may have been one of the earlier services, or a slightly later one like America Online. But in the end, we were all looking for the same thing. Connectivity with other human beings.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Science is Not an Opinion

Source of cartoon

One of the things that really worries me about the "modern" (and I use that word loosely) Republican Party is the insistence by many of the party's members that scientific facts that others take for granted are merely matters of opinion - and not facts at all.

For instance, I really thought the question of evolution versus creationism had been settled back in 1925 with the Scopes Trial, which was widely seen as a setback for anti-evolution forces at the time, although the Supreme Court didn't rule on the issue until 1968, in the case of Epperson vs. Arkansas.

At that time, two states, Arkansas and Mississippi, banned the teaching of evolution in schools. The Court ruled that the Arkansas law
"...must be stricken because of its conflict with the constitutional prohibition of state laws respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof. The overriding fact is that Arkansas' law selects from the body of knowledge a particular segment which it proscribes for the sole reason that it is deemed to conflict with a particular religious doctrine; that is, with a particular interpretation of the Book of Genesis by a particular religious group."
A 1987 Supreme Court decision also ruled a Louisiana law requiring teachers to teach creationist theory if they were teaching evolution was also unconstitutional, again based on the establishment clause of the First Amendment.

With the rise in importance of the Religious Right in the U.S. over the past few decades, teaching evolution as the accepted theory of how different species, including mankind, came into existence, has become a source of contention in many states. Some states, like Kentucky, have laws that allow teachers to teach creationism along with evolution at their discretion. Curricula in other states downplay evolution by emphasizing that it is only a "theory," or authorizing the teaching of alternative explanations.

One of the exasperating things about those who claim evolution is "only a theory" is their lack of understanding of the scientific method. The use of "theory" as it pertains to evolution is as a part of that method:
"A scientific theory summarizes a hypothesis or group of hypotheses that have been supported with repeated testing. If enough evidence accumulates to support a hypothesis, it moves to the next step—known as a theory—in the scientific method and becomes accepted as a valid explanation of a phenomenon."
It is all the more concerning that in a recent Gallup poll, 46% of Americans believe God created people and animals just as they are, less than 10,000 years ago, despite tons of scientific evidence to the contrary. People who believe this stuff come up with excuses to explain away the evidence, or to say the evidence is fake, or even say Satan is the one who came up with the idea that dinosaurs are millions of years old.

The even scarier thing is that the same percentage of college graduates believe this. And of course, 58% of Republicans.

Then there is the issue of climate change. It appears pretty low on the list of things that people worry "a great deal about," at 24%. But when it comes to Republicans vs. Democrats, there is a clear difference. When you look at the Democrats, 36% of them are concerned "a great deal" about climate change, while among Republicans, just 10% have that level of concern.

And although, overall, 67% of Americans believe the earth is heating up, 85% of Democrats believe it, but only 48% of Republicans do. When you look at conservative Republicans, it's only 43% - and among those only 16% think it is happening due to human activity.

97% of scientists who have studied the issue agree that global warming is taking place as a result of human activity, and will cause catastrophic results during the next 100 years.

But the deniers either deny the existence of climate change, or else agree it's happening but is part of a natural cycle - despite the steep trend line of the warming. And many conservatives refuse to admit that the scientists agree, saying the 97% number isn't right or even saying that the earth is actually cooling.

But despite this winter's Polar Vortex that caused unusually cold weather across the northern hemisphere, climate researchers on Hudson Bay are reporting a continued reduction in Arctic sea ice, with open water periods lengthening by about 3 weeks just since the 1990s. And despite the chilly temperatures in the U.S. over the winter, global average temperatures in 2013 are nevertheless expected to be among the 10 highest on record since 1850.

And if you look at the trend by decade back to 1881, you can see the relentless climb in average global temperatures. The last three decades have been the worst, as developing countries, particularly China, have vastly increased their carbon emissions as they become more industrialized.

Source: Washington Post

But you can't tell any of this to a climate change denier. They will just have more excuses why it's a hoax perpetrated by liberals.

And then there's another big group of people who are anti-science. These people are fervently against vaccinating their kids. This group comprises an unlikely alliance of lefties who feel vaccines are unnatural and dangerous, conspiracy theorists who believe the government is trying to poison them for some unknown and nefarious reason, and some right-wingers who think vaccinations are an example of government overreach.

As a result, diseases such as measles that were close to being eradicated in the United States are making a comeback. Most of those who are against vaccination don't even realize that diseases such as measles can kill people. They think the cure is worse than the disease, when that is emphatically not the case. If something isn't done, at this rate, polio could even come back. The problem is most people today weren't even around when these diseases ran rampant in our population, so they don't know what it was like.

The other problem with not vaccinating kids is the loss of "herd immunity," wherein the few people who aren't able to be vaccinated for one reason or another - or for whom the vaccine just didn't work - are protected due to the fact that the rest of the people they interact with have been vaccinated. Unfortunately, as the number of unvaccinated children rises, that herd immunity is no longer effective and the risk of contagion becomes higher for everyone. When a family refuses to have their child vaccinated, they are not only putting their child at risk, but they are putting others at risk as well.

Thankfully, there are some people who do see the light in regard to vaccines - see this blog post written by a young mother who had jumped on the anti-vaccination bandwagon, only to have the good sense to reconsider her views.

But many others will refuse to listen to reason. In fact, a scientific study showed that exposing anti-vaccine believers to evidence and factual information often backfired and actually decreased their intention to vaccinate.

In fact, for all of these issues, no matter how much you tell actual facts to people who have a strong belief about something, the less they listen. They claim you have been brainwashed, you have drunk the Kool-Aid, or are part of the Conspiracy.

Other studies bear this out:
"In a series of studies in 2005 and 2006, researchers at the University of Michigan found that when misinformed people, particularly political partisans, were exposed to corrected facts in news stories, they rarely changed their minds. In fact, they often became even more strongly set in their beliefs. Facts, they found, were not curing misinformation. Like an underpowered antibiotic, facts could actually make misinformation even stronger."
This means that there is no current solution to pull this country out of the abyss of ignorance. How do you argue with people who won't believe facts because they contradict their opinions?

Science is not an opinion. But until more people in America admit that, we will continue to fall farther and farther behind other countries that are a bit more rational in their beliefs.

I predict the era of American domination is nearing an end and we will fall into a dark age of sorts, while other countries take the lead into the next century.

Friday, March 07, 2014

A Cat's Eye View - Baxter is Back

Baxter here. Yes, I'm Finally Back, after my Female Human decided to take an Umpteen Month Break and not let me Blog. I have So Much pent up inside that I don't know Where to Start.

Let's see... Since my Last Opportunity to Blog, a Lot of Stuff has Gone Down. I'll try to cover it By Month.

July 2013: George Zimmerman was Acquitted of Murdering Trayvon Martin. This self-styled Vigilante took it upon himself to follow a young African American guy who was walking Back from the Store with a bag of Skittles, and ending up shooting him Dead even though the Cops said not to get out of the car and follow him when he called 911 to report Suspicious Activity. He claimed he was In Fear of His Life and that's why he shot the Kid. Hmm. If he hadn't gotten Out of the Car he wouldn't have had to Worry about that, would he?

August 2013: Two more states, Minnesota and Rhode Island, began issuing Same-Sex Marriage licenses, later Followed by other States, in the Wake of the Supreme Court's striking down of the Defense of Marriage Act. (Same-Sex Marriage is Now Legal in 17 States plus Washington, DC and counting!)

Bradley Manning was Convicted of leaking over 700,000 Government Files and Sentenced to 35 years in Jail (although he can get Out on Parole in 7 years). Seems a Bit of an Extreme Punishment to Me.

September 2013: Colorado voters recalled pro-gun control state senators for Supporting recently enacted Gun Control measures. And... also in September, Aaron Alexis, a former Navy Reservist, shot and killed 12 People at the Washington Navy Yard near the U.S. Capitol. But we don't Need Gun Control... really?

November 2013: Illinois and Hawaii legalized Same-Sex Marriage. Virginia Elected a Democratic Governor, and Chris Christie was Re-Elected in New Jersey, to Our Dismay. And of course, the News in Guns included not One, but Two shootings in November: One at Los Angeles Airport and one at a New Jersey Shopping Center. Sadly, there was also a Typhoon that Hit the Philippines and killed a Lot of Humans.

December 2013: Yet Another Shooting, this time in Colorado, where a Kid killed another Student when he Couldn't FInd the Teacher he was Aiming to Kill. Then he Killed Himself. There was also a Nasty Train Crash in the Bronx that Killed 4 Humans and injured about 60 Others.

January 2014: January was a Great Month for New Jersey Democrats, as the Bridgegate Scandal erupted around Governor Christ Christie, dating to a Closure of Traffic Lanes to the George Washington Bridge near Fort Lee, Back in September. Turns out it was done On Purpose by some of Christie's Most Trusted Aides, and it's all Under Investigation. MSNBC had a Field Day digging into the Details for Weeks!

We got a new Chair of the Federal Reserve, Janet Yellen, the first Female Human to do the Job. Good for Her!

West Virginia had a Terrible Chemical Spill that contaminated Drinking Water, a result of Chemicals used in the Coal Industry. Between that and the Mountaintop Removal Method of Coal Mining, seems to Me that we should Phase Out the use of Coal as a Fuel in this Country!

February 2014: They had some Pretty Scary Revolts and Protests in Venezuela and Ukraine - the Ukraine Stuff is Still Going On. And there were Also the Winter Olympics in Sochi, in Russia. Lots of Controversies between Russia's Anti-Gay Policies and their deadly Solution for the Stray Dogs in the Area. Luckily, not all the Dogs met a Bad Fate - a Russian mogul helped Fund a Shelter to save a Lot of Them, and some Olympians even Adopted some.

March 2014: Russia marched into the Crimean part of Ukraine, which is Mostly Russian-Speaking People, and Crimea's Parliament voted to Join Russia. President Obama has Ordered Sanctions against Those responsible.

Now, I know I must have Left Out many Important News Items but this is as Good as it Gets for Now. I wanted to provide an Update in Case you missed Anything since last June when my Human last Posted here about Current Events.

All I can say is, as a Cat, I continue to find Humans to be Extremely Illogical and, frankly, Annoying. What's with the People who oppose Gun Control, No Matter What insanity Guns are involved with? Isn't it Ironic that since all those Kids were killed in Newtown, Connecticut, that hardly a Day goes by without another Kid being killed by a Gun? And yet, Nothing changes. I shake my Head in Bewilderment at This.

Oh well, all I can do is Comment here. We Indoor Cats don't get to go Out and interact in the World so we are the Observers of Humankind from a Distance. I must Say, however, that it Does drive me to the 'Nip to think about these things. I think it's time for some Catnip right Now, after having Looked Back on the past Year like this. Hang in there, Friends!

Tuesday, March 04, 2014

Haiku Tuesday - Mardi Gras Edition

Fat Tuesday is here
Celebrating it.

But all is not lost
I'll be at the Yellow Plum
Eating and drinking.

What's the Yellow Plum?
Ah, well you may be asking

Tonight they will have
Gumbo and jambalaya
And red beans and rice.

I'm sure there will be
To wash it all down.

For dessert, beignets;
Whatever else would you have?
On such a fine night.

I must get ready
My friend is picking me up
I must find my beads.