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I am a new parent. My interests are secularism, learning, parenting, religion, career planning, and adult education.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Why isn't empathy a universal human value?

I just read a sad story about a young man, Tyler Clementi, apparently gay, who killed himself after discovering that his roommate had wired their room and secretly taped and broadcast Tyler having an initmate encounter. I can't imagine that Tyler's roommate would have guessed how Tyler would take this invasion of privacy and public humiliation - I hope he regrets his actions.

I can only guess why Tyler's roommate would do such a thing - did he think it was funny? Perhaps he thought his college buddies would think it was funny, but did he even stop to think how Tyler would feel? My guess is no - or worse, that he knew Tyler would be upset, hurt, and embarassed - but maybe that reaction would just add to the fun. I really can't stand people who think that hurting or embarassing others is fun or funny.

When I was a kid, as young as 5 or 6, my mom would ask me - how would you feel if someone did that to you? I was asked this whenever I let my friends make fun of my sister or other kids. I was asked this when I trampled on the neighbors garden so I could pick their raspberries. I was asked this when I tried to lie to get away with what I wanted - and over time I developed empathy. It took awhile, but eventually, I came to a point where I could truly put myself in someone else's shoes and know what it would feel like to be humiliated, to be hurt, to be embarassed. Some of those lessons came when I, myself, was the brunt of jokes or public humiliation - or when no one would stand up for me. Then I really knew how it felt - and vowed to never, ever make someone else feel that way and I started standing up to bullies, calling people on insensitive comments, or distancing myself from people who were insensitive to other's feelings. I even started reaching out to people who seemed to be lonely and made some really, really cool friends that way. But I hope that people don't have to experience that kind of pain to develop empathy.

The thing about empathy is you really have to consider that someone might take teasing differently than you do. Some things aren't easy to shrug off - maybe they are for you - but not someone else. Sometimes we need to stand up to others who want to humiliate others and say, "I don't want to participate in that." I wonder if Tyler's roommate would have accomplished his "trick" if it weren't for another dorm student who let him use her computer to broadcast shy Tyler's evening with his boyfriend? If she had thought, "how would I feel if someone broadcast me making out with my boyfriend on the internet without my knowledge?" perhaps Tyler would still be alive today. We'll never know.

But for now, I wish that empathy could exist in the hearts of all humans for all humans.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Blurring the Line Between Science-based Medicine and Alternative Medicine.

This post at Skeptic blog reminded me of a time when I visited a physiotherapist regarding some pain I was experiencing in my hip after training for a few months to participate in my first distance run. After a physical examination, I was informed that my left hip had rotated forward. The therapist took our a picture of the anatomy of the muscles and bones of the pelvis and explained in detail how the hip was positioned, how it affected the connecting tissue and muscle, and explained how it was causing me so much pain. He then performed a quick adjustment to my left hip, I actually heard my hip click back into place and felt immediate relief. The next thing my therapist said was that the muscle would be sore for a few days, and if I wanted to relieve the pressure, he could massage it - which would take a few sessions - or he would use acupuncture to relieve the soreness, and that could be done in one session. So I asked him if he was qualified to perform acupuncture, which he was, and then submitted to the treatment.

Now, I had been walking and running around on that hip for almost a year - thinking it was a muscle strain that would just heal itself in time. The relief I felt after my visit to the physiotherapist was exquisite and for awhile I credited both the adjustment and the acupuncture for my relief. Awhile later I came across some unflattering science that showed that acupuncture didn't do much besides provide a placebo effect on most patients - so I started wondering if perhaps the acupuncture didn't do what I thought it had done. Perhaps my relief would have been just as good with just the hip adjustment?

Sure enough about 2 years later, my hip rotated again while running. I decided to not suffer and went right to a physiotherapist for treatment. They did the same adjustment to my hip - without the acupuncture - and the relief was just as welcome and effective. This just goes to show - as outlined so well in the blog post over at skeptic blog - that us regular folk can be easily fooled into believing an alternative treatment works when it was really the science-based treatment that deserves all the credit.

In a country like Canada where we have public health care, we need to ensure that our tax dollars are paying for science-based medical treatments and not squander our shared resources on alternative treatments that have not stood up to the rigorous standards and testing that science-based medical treatments have.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Context is Everything

Disclaimer: I am not a scientist or health professional - these are just the ramblings of a soon-to-be-parent. I plan to follow the recommended vaccination schedule for my children.

So this weekend I was visiting with a family member and the topic of vaccines came up. This family member, a fairly new mom herself, said that she tried to read a link I posted on facebook regarding vaccinations but it wouldn't open for her and asked me what it was about. I explained that the links were about the common concerns that many parents, who choose not to vaccinate, have about vaccines and the science that addresses these concerns directly. The links are as follows for anyone who is interested:

A short video on "Dangerous" Vaccine Ingredients

A blog post: Skepticblog: The Long Awaited CDC Trial on Thimerosal and Autism

We spoke bit about the contents of the above video and she shared an anecdote about a friend of hers whose six-month old baby had had a seizure after his vaccination. Having recently reading a blog about a doctor who witnessed a baby seizure right before giving a vaccine, I knew that it was possible that the vaccine may not have caused the seizure. The doctor in the blog post could understand how convincing it would look to a parent that the vaccine caused the seizure had the needle been given just 5 minutes sooner. So I asked my friend what the doctor said about the seizure - apparently the doctor said that seizures happen about 1 in 30,000 children.

Now I have to admit that this piece of information was new to me - and it seemed high - high enough that surely someone in the medical field would be studying it and explaining it (scientists are, do a google scholar search on the topic, the results are interesting). For the first time in about two years, since I started looking into vaccine safety claims, I actually questioned whether or not I would vaccinate my child. It just didn't make sense to me that the government and public health authorities would continue to recommend something that caused seizures in small children so I did a little digging and thought I would share my journey.

The first thing I did was do a little digging to find out if the information in this anecedotal tale was reliable. It turns out that in Alberta, the vaccines recieved at six months are DTaP-IPV-Hib to protect against diphtheria, pertussis (whooping cough), polio, Hib and tetanus (for more info see: It also turns out that one of the reported uncommon side effects for 1 in 15,000 children is seizures (yikes, that sounds scary). But then I discovered that seizures are actually quite common in babies and have numerous causes but are most likely not connected to vaccines (see: and

Febrile seizures (seizures caused by fevers) occur in 1 in 30 children over the age of six months. Fever is a common side effect of vaccines and I think it is safe to say that most seizures associated with a recent vaccine is probably caused by fever. When I read how common febrile seizures are in the general population of infants and children (1 in 30), and that there are no long-term, harmful consequences for febrile seizures, all of a sudden a 1 in 15,000 chance of a seizure from vaccines didn't seem as scary.

Resources I've Found Helpful as a lay-person trying to understand vaccine safety.

Alberta's Immunization Program

Public Health Agency of Canada

Vaccine Section of the Science-Based Parenting Blog

Vaccines and Autism: A Deadly Manufactroversy

And if you are not a reader - I thought these two podcasts were excellent!

Parenting Beyond Belief Podcast Episode 8: Vaccines

Parenting Beyond Belief Podcast Episode 9: Vaccines (Part 2)

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

On Language and Tolerance

I am a relative latecomer in terms of becoming a "Gleek", a fan of the show Glee. Last night, I caught episode 20 "Theatrically" and was so inspired by an incredibly moving scene in this show.

The scene include three characters:

Finn, a jock and member of the show choir Glee club - mostly a really great guy trying to find himself between his jock side and performer side. Finn is straight.

Kurt, a fellow-member of Glee club, a gay young man just coming out of the closet, who has a crush on Finn.

Burt, Kurt's "jock" widowed father, who is in a relationship with Finn's widowed mother. Burt accepts and loves Kurt for who he is, but has bonded with Finn through a shared love of sports and dating Finn's mother.

In this episode, Kurt and Finn's parents move in together, making the teenagers roommates. Finn is aware of Kurt's crush on him, which makes him a little uncomfortable. Finn lashes out at Kurt when Kurt shows him how he's decorated their shared room. Finn angrily asks Kurt not to be so "showy" about coming out, admonishes him to "blend in" better at school, and can't believe that Kurt has decorated their room in such a "faggy" way.

Burt overhears Finn's outburst and in an emotional and moving display of support for Kurt, explains to Finn why what he's said is wrong and hateful. He then asks Finn to move out, as he can't have someone who feels that way about his son living under his roof.

At the end of the episode, Finn stands up to his football buddies when they are bullying Kurt, showing that Burt's admonition has had a major effect on him - and it looks like Finn and Kurt will reconcile their friendship. I couldn't find a good link to the scene in Glee but there are some on youtube, and can be found if you search for "Glee Burt and Finn" but I'm not sure of copyright infringement rules, so I won't post the link on my blog. I hope you view it though or have a chance to see the episode - it's an incredible dialogue about how powerful words are - even if we don't think we're using them in a derogatory way.

Think about it - what is someone really saying when they casually say "that's so gay" - substitute the word "gay" with what they really meant - what does that mean they think about gay people? Would it hurt someone's feelings to know that you associate that word with something like dumb, feminine, stupid, or freaky. That type of language creates an "us vs. them" mentality. Just like we don't use words like "retard" and the "n" word anymore, we need to eliminate other common "sayings" that may seem harmless, but really aren't. I think its important to recognize how powerful language is - and we need to respect the dignity of every human being in both our words and behaviour. It was so good to see this message in the popular media - from a Fox program no less!

Monday, September 13, 2010

A Day in the Life of Gestational Diabetes

So I went to my diabetes doctor last Thursday and so far it looks like I can manage my glucose levels with just diet and some exercise. I am so glad I got into my diabetes clinic so fast, the nutritional information was so helpful. Here is what my diet looks like now - and so far it is working at helping me maintain my glucose levels so I don't put too much pressure on my developing baby.

In a day, I am susposed to eat three meals and three snacks. Throughout the day I need to include the carbs, protein and fat in each meal or snack.

Each carbohydrate "serving" is 15 grams of carbs and can come in the form of fruits, vegetables, milk, and grains.

A protein "serving" is 7 grams of protein and 3 grams of fat - should stick to lean meats.

A fat "serving" is 5 grams of fat, and should be low in saturated fats.

Here is what an eating day looks like for me.


1 egg on a slice of whole wheat toast (1 protein and 1 carb serving)
1/2 cup of sliced strawberries and a 1/2 cup of yogurt (2 carb servings)

Morning Snack

1 orange (1 carb)
1 cheese stick (1 protein, 1 fat)


1.5 cups of chili made of tomoates, beans, extra lean ground beef, carrots, onions (3 proteins, 2 carb, 2 fats)
Whole Grain Crackers (2 carbs)
1 cup skim milk (1 carb)

Afternoon Snack

1 apple (1 carb)
1 cheese stick (1 protein, 1 fat)


1 piece Shephards Pie (2 proteins, 3 carbs, 2 fats)
Spinach Salad (greens are "free" carbs) w/ dressing (1 fat)
1 cup skim milk (1 carb)

Bedtime Snack
Peanut Butter on Whole Wheat Toast (1 carb, 1 protein)

With a lot of diet books advising us to ban carbs from our diet, the biggest thing I've learned from this experience is that we need carbs in our bodies - it's part of our fuel. Carbs come in many forms and we need the ones that come from fruit, veggies, whole grains, and milk products balanced with protein and healthy fat sources - the three macro-nutrients work together for our good and our body is made to process these food sources. The only "bad" carbs are processed ones with refined sugars.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Pregnancy Update

Seven Months!
Sooooooooooo...I have made it to my final trimester! Whoohoo! Although this pregnancy hasn't been without it's ups and downs, it really hasn't been too bad. I feel really lucky in my family doctor, my OB, my girlfriends who have travelled the path to motherhood before me, and the ladies in my "birth club" on All have been great sources of information, compassionate listening, and comfort.

To sum up, my pregnancy can be summarized by the following words and phrases:

1st Trimester: excited, headaches, nausea, scared, relieved, FOOD AVERSIONS LIKE CRAZY! I lost 5 pounds, not on purpose at all. I was kind of miserable, actually.

2nd Trimester: feeling better, restored appetitite (gained 16 pounds), 2 ultrasounds as baby wouldn't cooperate the first time - and everything looks good with baby - I, unfortunately, have developed gestational diabetes (GD). Excited to feel baby move!

Baby Pina at 18 weeks gestation.
3 Trimester: well - stay tuned! I'm only a few days into it. I was able to attend a gestational diabetes clinic and will have to monitor my blood glucose levels and diet for the next week to determine whether the GD can be managed by exercise and diet alone, or if I will need insulin. I feel a little less nervous about everything as the diet seems fairly straight forward and I think I just need to balance out my breakfast and snacks will a little bit of protein and add in two more 20-30 minutes walks per day (one after breakfast, one after lunch). So here's hoping a few tweaks and a bit of planning will keep me and baby healthy until D day (delivery), which should be sometime around November 24!

Friday, September 3, 2010

Common Wisdon - Not Always So Wise

I am a fan of Skeptic Magazine, and subscribe to the email newsletter, eSKEPTIC. In the last newsletter I recieved, there are a really interesting article on Myths in Popular Psychology. Please note the term, popular psychology. Sometimes popular doesn't mean it's based in science, or that it might have been a popular scientific idea at one point, but further reseach has debunked it.

Anyway, some of these I knew were myths, but others suprised me.

Myth: We only use 10% of our Brains

There are several reasons to doubt that 90% of our brains lie silent. At a mere 2–3% of our body weight, our brain consumes over 20% of the oxygen we breathe. It’s implausible that evolution would have permitted the squandering of resources on a scale necessary to build and maintain such a massively underutilized organ. Moreover, losing far less than 90% of the brain to accident or disease almost always has catastrophic consequences. Likewise, electrical stimulation of sites in the brain during neurosurgery has failed to uncover any “silent areas.”
Myth: Low Self Esteem is the cause of psychological problems.

Don't get me wrong - I think positive self-esteem is important, but I think that giving kids an opportunity to try things and succeed builds a positive self image, and debriefing and making sense of mistakes helps kids deals with the emotional bumps and bruises of growing up. But I really like the reference to school performance - this is a classic example of being careful not to confuse correlation with causation.
Research shows that low self esteem isn’t strongly associated with poor mental health. In a comprehensive review, Roy Baumeister and his colleagues canvassed over 15,000 studies linking self-esteem to just about every conceivable psychological variable. They found that self-esteem is minimally related to interpersonal success, and not consistently related to alcohol or drug abuse. Moreover, they discovered that although self-esteem is positively associated with school performance, better school performance appears to contribute to high self-esteem rather than the other way around. Perhaps most surprising of all, they found that “low self-esteem is neither necessary nor sufficient for depression.”

Myth: The Polygraph Test is an Accurate Means of Detecting Lies

This one really surprised me. I remember as a teenager watching shows like Maury and Jerry Springer who both use polygraph tests repeatedly to create drama on their shows (yes, I used to indulge in trashy TV as a teenager, surprise, surprise). I used to be soooooo amused by the people who were "caught in a lie" on a polygraph test and still maintained their innocence. I mean, really, who did they think they were? However...

If a polygraph chart shows more physiological activity when the examinee responds to questions about a crime than to irrelevant questions, at most this difference tells us that the examinee was more nervous at those moments. Yet this difference could be due to actual guilt, indignation or shock at being unjustly accused, or the realization that one’s responses to questions about the crime could lead to being fired, fined, or imprisoned. Thus, polygraph tests suffer from a high rate of “false positives” — innocent people whom the test deems guilty. As a consequence, the “lie detector” test is misnamed: It’s really an arousal detector. Conversely, some individuals who are guilty may not experience anxiety when telling lies. For example, psychopaths are notoriously immune to fear and may be able to “beat” the test in high pressure situations, although the research evidence for this possibility is mixed.
There is a whole lot more in the article, including why these myths are so popular. You can read the whole article here.