Tuesday, September 24, 2013

To Oldly Go Where I'm Going Too

I don’t remember how I ended up there. I was doing some late night…or call that “early morning”…web surfing, when I stumbled across some videos dedicated to what used to be my favorite TV show: Star Trek: The Next Generation. And as I sat up into the wee hours of the morning watching clip after clip after clip, it occurred to me that, ironically, the only member of the cast who doesn’t appear to have aged at all is 73-year-old Patrick Stewart. I figure that’s because not only is he still as slim as he was 26 years ago, but being bald in the first place, we never saw his hair turn gray.

The other cast members, however, have gone gray, put on a few pounds, or done both. And while, on the one hand, it sort of saddens me to see that, because I remember the much younger (and hotter) versions of them; on the other hand, it gives me permission to let go of the body image I had of myself from 26 years ago.

Yes, Jonathan Frakes has put on a few pounds, but for Pete’s sake, he’s 61. Brent Spiner is no longer as svelte as he was in his days as Data (or for you fans of Night Court, Bob Wheeler), but he’s 64, and boy, does he have a shock of white hair. We never really got to see what Michael Dorn looked like without the Klingon makeup, so there’s no illusion to be destroyed by seeing him now at 60. And then there’s LeVar Burton, who, at 56, is just a year younger than me. But the point is that none of them are in their 30s anymore, nor am I.

Oh…and then there’s Marina Sirtis. Oh my, is there ever Marina Sirtis. Well, OK, there was Gates McFadden too, but I want to talk about Marina Sirtis (and who wouldn’t). She took on the role of Deanna Troi when she was 32, and played it for the last time when she was 50. I saw a clip of her in that role from 2002’s Star Trek: Nemesis, and at age 47, she was definitely still hot.

But some putz had the nerve to say that lately she looks like a dog.

Good grief man, she’s 58. I want to see what you look like at 58. No, she doesn’t look now like she did 26 years ago, but why should you expect her to? Why on earth…or any other planet…would you expect her to still look like she’s 35?

She recently did a 10-minute video with Jonathan Frakes called The Reunion of the Rikers, and I’ll tell you, she’s still attractive…in a 50-something way. But that’s fine, because I’m 50-something, and as I’ve aged, so have the women I enjoy looking at. Why should I be salivating over 30-somethings? Well, OK, I’ll admit, I do watch Mythbusters for Kari Byron.

But my point, my original point, is that seeing them age has allowed me to make peace with my own aging. To make peace with my own whiteness (or lack) of hair and thickening of middle. It has allowed me to say, “Dammit, Jim. I’m 57, not 27!” (Oops, wrong series).

And for that…I thank them for oldly going where I’m going too.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Microsoft Word and Describing People

I love Microsoft Word, and I’m not ashamed to admit it. And one of the many things I love about Word is how you define paragraphs. There’s your normal style, and then there are the others.

Now let me say a word here about “normal.” That poor word takes a lot of flack about what it does and doesn’t imply. I know that in the Autism/Aspergers community, that word has been replaced by typical, as in there are people with typical brains and autistic brains. This word is used because to them “normal” implies that anything else is abnormal. So for them there’s neuro-typical and neuro-atypical. But “normal” doesn’t have to imply that anything else is abnormal. It can mean something that you regularly do, as opposed to something that you only do on occasion.

This is how Word uses “normal.”

Your Normal paragraph style is all the settings that you use most of the time. Right now my normal consists of a single-spaced, fully-justified paragraph in 10-point American Typewriter font, with a left-hand tab a quarter-inch in from the margin. My Normal style used to be the same thing, but with Comic Sans as the font; and before that, the font was Tekton.

I can go into Word and redefine Normal anytime I want, so that when I start a new document, it comes up with the setting that I think I want to use most of the time.

Now here’s where things get fun. You see, I can also define other paragraph styles…things like Double, or Quote, or First and Second…and the great thing about them is that I don’t have to define them all from scratch. I simply define them by how they’re different from Normal.

For example, my Double style is Normal, but with double-spacing instead of single. My Quote style is just like Normal, but with a half-inch indentation from the left and right margins, and an additional left-hand tab three-quarters of an inch in. Do you get the picture? Your Normal may be different. You may prefer Times New Roman for your font and absolutely hate fully justified paragraphs, but when you create a new style, you’re still defining it by how it’s different from what you Normal-ly use.

All of which brings us to people and how we describe them…or rather, how we agonize about not describing them.

If you’re looking for Conan O’Brien in a crowd of 200 people, the first thing you’re going to say is that he has red hair. That immediately eliminates most of the people in the room, and makes it easier for people to help you find him. Red is not a color hair that you normally see. It’s not an abnormal hair color like green or purple, it’s just atypical…outside of Ireland…and as such, it helps you to narrow things down so that you can find her faster.

So then why on earth is it that we try to avoid describing someone as being black, or Asian, or Hispanic, for fear of being called racist? Why is it that some people even think that’s racist in the first place?

It’s not. The definition I grew up with of racism, back in the 60s, and the one I still hold fast to is the belief that some races/ethnic groups are inherently better than others, that you’re in the better group, and that gives you the right to keep the others “in their place.” That’s racism. As a librarian, I have a perfectly good term for when we describe people based on what they look like: cataloging. And cataloging helps you find the book you’re looking for.

OK…so I can hear some of you saying now, “Then why don’t we describe people as white? Why do we only mention it when they’re not white?”

We do…and it all depends on what’s “normal” where you are. Back in East Orange High School, we would’ve described my friend Ruth as “the white girl,” because EOHS was 99% black, and that was our Normal. I wouldn’t have bothered describing Rhonda as black, because just about everyone was. Instead, the first thing I’d say about her was that she was short.

When we avoid describing people by things that are obvious, we’re not doing anyone any favors, we’re not making some sort of symbolic stand against racism. We’re actually making it hard to find the person we want.

For the sake of clarity, I think that we should dispense with the attempted “political correctness,” learn to just call a spade a spade, and be done with it.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Cursed With Good Health

When I was in fourth grade, I wanted to be a doctor. This phase lasted until I dissected my first worm in Mrs Sellers’s eighth-grade Science class.

Anyway, since I wanted to be a doctor, I read all the books I could get my hands on about medical pioneers like Alexander Fleming, who discovered penicillin; Edward Jenner, who proved that inoculating people with the cowpox bacterium could prevent them from getting smallpox (the word “vaccination” comes from the Latin root “vacca” for “cow”); Frederick Banting, who discovered insulin, the drug that’s been keeping me alive for the past few years; and the Mayo Brothers, who founded the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. My knowledge of the work of the Mayo Brothers is particularly appropriate here.

You see, a good 30 or so years ago, a woman, incensed at all the “chemical additives” in our foods, wrote an angry letter about this to the Saturday Evening Post, specifically upset about the fact that she couldn’t find any salt without iodide added to it. After I face-palmed myself, I saw that the editors of the Post had a very wise, yet snarky, response, to her letter. Here’s a paraphrase of what they wrote:

Madam, since you are so incredibly ignorant about this issue, we’re going to use the next few pages to show you full-color photos of what happens when you don’t have iodide added to your salt.

And with that, they indeed filled the next two pages with full-color photos of people with goiters, the huge growths that occur from an iodine deficiency. These were very common among people who lived inland, and with little access to iodine-rich foods like fish. The Mayos and others figured out that the best way to get the proper amount of iodine to people was to add it to something they used everyday: table salt. And the fact that just about all table salt includes a small amount of sodium iodide is why most of us have never seen a goiter.

The fact that this woman had never heard of goiters, never seen one, and didn’t know how to prevent them, is what allowed her to make her ignorant comment about “chemical additives” in our foods. Had she been around at the time that the Mayos made this discovery, and had she lived inland with relatives who were suffering from goiters, she would’ve been among the first to clamor for iodized salt.

With that in mind, the current clamor by some people against regular vaccinations for childhood diseases, and the mindset that they’re simply profit-making tools of the “evil medical-pharmaceutical establishment” has come from people who live in an era in which they’ve never had to see any of the tragic results of some of what are now easily-preventable childhood diseases. Because they’ve never known people who lost children to diphtheria, they don’t understand how thrilled people were when a vaccine came out to prevent it. Because they never knew anyone who was crippled with polio, perhaps even to the point of having to live in an “iron lung,” they can’t grasp the urgency with which resources were directed to come up with a vaccine against it. Because they remember the measles, mumps, and German measles as simply one of a handful of mildly annoying childhood diseases that they successfully weathered with no problem, they’re unaware of just how devastating the complications of those diseases can be. They don’t realize that “back in the day,” medical research was working its hardest to try to come up with a vaccination for these diseases, in order to ease suffering, and not as a part of some evil profit-making plan.

But because we’ve been “cursed with good health,” as a result of these vaccines, some of us just don’t get it. Because of this, some people have become more concerned with the risk of the vaccination than with the risk of the disease.

To be certain, there are risks inherent in everything. Every time I cross the street, I run the risk of being hit by a car; and yet none of us lives our lives staying only on our block out of fear of a hit and run. We realize that that risk is extremely small compared to the benefit of venturing out in the world. There are indeed risks inherent with vaccines, but compared to the risks involved with getting the actual disease, those risks are incredibly small. Of course, to paraphrase a statement once made about unemployment, no one is ever 0.000001% dead. That one in a million person with the deadly reaction to the vaccine is still 100% dead, and if it’s your child, you’ll likely spend the rest of your life asking “what if?”

On the other hand, the families suffering in the great Texas measles outbreak that came as a result of people not getting their kids vaccinated are probably also asking themselves “what if?”

For now I just want to say one very important thing:

For Pete’s sake, get your kid vaccinated already before you’re cursed with bad health!