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I have to admit that my absence from my own blog is from nothing less than the mind-blowing discovery of Facebook. It has been over six months of searching and liking and commenting and responding to friend requests from people I haven’t seen in over 20 years. (And don’t get me started on the disgusting amount of time I’ve spent on Farmville.) People from high school are coming out of the woodwork;  they never spoke to me in school, yet here they are on my notifications list, even though my maiden name was never listed. It’s amazing – on so many levels.

It was hard for me to sign up for Facebook. I knew that, even if I didn’t want to be found, my associations would give me away. I have reinvented myself a few times since I was a kid – and by that, I mean I had to adapt to life-changing circumstances more than once. Now, I don’t even remember who I was as a child. I remember some things that happened, but I don’t remember me. In a way, I’m probably unrecognizable to some people from my past as well. Would that be a good thing – as in “fresh start” – or would people regret friending me because I’m not who they expected me to be?

I grew up in a small town and went to a school that consisted of two buildings which held classrooms for all thirteen grades. On the other side of the ball field was a corn field that went on for miles. Life in a rural farming community was peaceful enough. I would eventually learn what the rest of the country was like, but then I knew no different than small town life.

One man from that small town spoke up recently on Facebook. I knew of him, but I had never met him because he was older than I was. But what he posted last week really made me stop and think. He said, “Can you believe that I remember the name of everyone who made fun of me in high school?” Okay, now I remembered him – he has cerebral palsy, but he was simply known as the guy who walked and talked differently. For many of us, it was our first exposure to physical disability. I think most of us were kind or wondered what was wrong with legitimate concern, but I have no doubt that he was laughed at by kids who thought “different” was funny.

What really struck me, though, was the response to his post. All who responded were schoolmates. Some were sympathetic. Some went into the old “well, kids can be mean sometimes,” as if they wanted to be kind, but didn’t quite know what to say. One in particular (now a teacher himself) expounded on the need to move on from being hurt by such things. But the burn came when some chose only to emphasize the fact that “we’re all grown up now.” In my mind, it was like they were saying that his memories shouldn’t  matter, or they were denying him the right to remember how awful those times were for him. Tough shit. Life’s rough all over. Get over it.

I can remember feeling awful, too. I saw what those kids did. I was on the receiving end of it myself a few times. Over the years, I figured out that it wasn’t necessarily that they were evil, but that they were subconsciously taught to be uncomfortable with people who were different. Okay, I’m putting that way too nicely. But that’s what it boils down to. It may not be just in small towns, but in this one, people who were different got strange looks. They got laughed at. They were excluded from the community in one way or another, just because they walked or talked or acted differently. The peaceful life in a small town turned out to be undisturbed homogeneity.

Sure, we’re all grown up now. But some of us left school feeling extremely relieved that we weren’t going to be punished for being different anymore, some of us left school feeling completely worthless, and some of us bottled up the anger until we snapped. Those feelings don’t just magically dissolve because we’re outside the double doors of the school or because we’ve gotten older.

Personally, I’m glad he started that conversation. At some point, with all the indiscriminate Facebook friending going on, the air had to start clearing among the students who went to that small school. The whole thing has actually been sort of cathartic – maybe now I can just be myself instead of worrying about who is still ignorant and who isn’t. I still don’t have to go to the reunion if I don’t want to.

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I actually found a completely rational explanation of the corporate bonus debate in an article today:

http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/34809700/ns/business-answer_desk//

The best thing about it? The writer goes through a whole article on that particular subject without once pointing fingers at people who had nothing to do with creating the mess. Gotta respect a guy like that. Danke, Mr. Schoen.

Check this out. The US Patent Office has officially declared that we don’t own our own genetic material, and apparently they’ve been doing it for years.

Now, normally I don’t jump every time the ACLU has a problem with something, but this one I like. On behalf of 20 plaintiffs, including other researchers and individual cancer patients who can’t get the testing they need, the ACLU has filed a lawsuit in a New York federal court to release the patent which says that Myriad Genetics is the only company that can study, test, and report on the BRCA genes related to breast and ovarian cancer.

This isn’t exactly a new story, but twelve years and eight patents ago, someone at the US Patent Office began setting a seriously questionable precedent.

If they’re really preventing anyone else from even looking at these genes, Myriad’s patents have succeeded in holding up cancer research – for now. Fortunately, someone has already recognized the futility of patenting nature. Myriad’s motion to dismiss was denied by the judge. Stay tuned.

You have to see this, if you haven’t already. Anyone who is interested in topics like mental health, pediatric health, teaching children, pharmaceutical research, or what to do about children with unusual behaviour should watch and pay attention. This is a 56-minute video called The Medicated Child, and it was aired on PBS recently. It really struck a nerve with me, both as a mother and as an adult with bipolar disorder.

http://video.pbs.org/video/1316921025#

What do you think?

I can’t decide which I like best – the database itself or the information-sharing. The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) is gathering information on what a normal kid’s brain looks like so they can share the information with people who are researching developmental disorders like autism.

NIMH described the latest release of data on their website today. They studied over 500 kids, from infants to young adults, using MRI brain scans, physical exams, psychological exams, and measurements of hormonal activity. The point was to catch each kid at different points in their life, get all of this information for that age, and wait a couple of years before doing it again to see what changed. The younger ones got tested more frequently because development occurs faster in the younger years.

The project, called The NIH Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) Study of Normal Brain Development, is looking at things like brain size, memory function, motor skills, language development, and general social skills.

Their focus in this study is only on kids with no health problems. This way, they can pass on the information to people who are trying to figure out why some kids don’t develop normally, who can then compare the “normal” scans and physiological data to that of those kids and study what’s different. Hopefully, we’ll all learn something soon about why the brain can sometimes go haywire in childhood, and whether there is anything we can do to keep it from happening.

If you’re wondering how they got the kids to lie still for the MRI, I read somewhere else that the younger ones are usually scanned while they are sleeping. Trust me – telling most two-year olds to lie down and be still while they’re awake is like asking most puppies to calm down when you come home. That research environment must have been a real trip.

Just when you think nothing can surprise you anymore…

http://www.jointogether.org/news/research/summaries/2009/cocaine-vaccine-cuts-drug.html

Isn’t that the point?

I was reading an article on MSNBC this evening entitled, “Insurers escalate criticism of health overhaul.” Apparently, the health insurance industry commissioned a cost analysis from PriceWaterhouseCoopers that projected higher premium costs for privately insured individuals over the next several years.

Let’s see. We’re going to require that health insurance companies accept all applicants, we’re going to take away their right to deny coverage based on pre-existing conditions, and we’re going to increase their customer base because of that. Meanwhile, we’re going to legislate a series of give-and-take taxes, credits, and conditions to level the paying field (no, that’s not a typo). Finally, either they will raise their rates and watch their customer base decline in favor of public programs, or they will find a way to control costs and keep their customers.

No – wait. They just said that the legislation will raise their rates again, and that would be bad. The health care reform bill will raise their rates for them. It will be all someone else’s fault that we’ll be paying higher premiums, not theirs.

Do you think there will ever come a time when the insurance industry will see raising rates as a choice instead of a mandate?