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Mon Aug 13, 2012 at 02:41 PM PDT

The Presidential Character Issue

by Lisa Roney

I attended a small dinner party last Friday evening, and politics came up. One young man at the party commented about the recent Washington Post/ABC News poll that determined just six percent of Americans are undecided about which presidential candidate they will vote for in November. Other news venues, including The New Yorker, have discussed how these are the very voters who don’t follow politics or make much effort to understand the issues. They are no doubt what we might call emotional voters, and they will play a huge part this year.

I am, quite frankly, hoping that Barack Obama can win the larger portion of those voters, even if it isn’t on a sophisticated understanding of the issues. I usually like to focus on issues, but today I want to talk about “character.”

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I'm so happy to report today that I was wrong, and the Supreme Court has upheld the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act. MSNBC has good commentary here.

I’m writing this with the fearful expectation that the Supreme Court will rule tomorrow that the health-care reform law is unconstitutional. After all, they’ve once again affirmed their ridiculous and absurd assertion that corporations are people and that, therefore, elections are for sale.

There are, as usual, much greater and more knowledgeable minds than mine that have weighed in on these issues in ways vastly subtle and complex. That’s fine, but I need to express my own sheer terror at what is coming. I am afraid, very afraid.

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On January 24, Left of You posted about the importance of recognizing stroke, and I thank him. But PLEASE know that the mnemonic devices STR and FAST are not adequate measures for identifying stroke. Although at least a couple of comments on the original post also note this, I felt it crucial enough for its own post.

STR and FAST did not help me recognize my own stroke, though I had just re-posted about them on Facebook when I was beset.

(STR stands for Smile-Talk-Raise both arms and FAST stands for Face-Arms-Speech-Time.)

Pay more attention to the fine print on the STR poster and understand that you don't need to be having ALL these symptoms. Only one can indicate a stroke.

Stroke presentation is highly variable. In a simple nutshell, if you or someone in your presence has any sign of numbness or has a "drop attack" (where they fall suddenly or nearly fall), then IMHO they should be checked out at a hospital. Likewise with any severe or unusual headache or loss of vision or loss of coordination.

I had a hemorrhagic stroke in November of 2010, and the signs were obvious--severe pain and vomiting. My husband took me straight to the hospital, and though I was there for 10 days, it turned out to be a relatively benign sub-arachnoid hemorrhage, a fluke occurrence.

However, in Fall of 2011, I had two episodes of "dizziness" and tingling and staggering that each lasted about a week. After an initial drop attack, my main symptom was that I couldn't type properly.

I never had aphasia. My face never drooped. I could always raise my arms. SRT and FAST did me no good. Though I had just re-posted about them on Facebook, I did not recognize my own stroke. My husband and I went through the STR list, and I didn't match it. Even my GP first diagnosed me with vertigo, but eventually I found out that I'd had two small ischemic strokes. It took several weeks for me and the doctors to figure it out.

It was my veterinarian who finally said to me, "If you're dizzy, no big deal, but if you have any numbness, then you're in trouble." He told me later that vets only deal with the big issues, so they are good at making such distinctions very clearly. If I had been asked which it was--dizziness or loss of coordination due to numbness, I could have distinguished, but I didn't know the difference was so important.

Fortunately, my strokes have all been minor, and I have no apparent lasting effects. However, THE BIGGEST RISK FACTOR FOR HAVING A MASSIVE STROKE is having had a smaller one first. Fortunately, I am medically astute, and so I got my symptoms checked out even though they abated. Now I am on preventive medications, and my prognosis is good. But all too often people never recognize a small stroke, much less a TIA (transient ischemic attack) and so don't seek treatment until the big one comes.

In addition, women are more likely to have atypical stroke symptoms than men. And starting as young as age 45, women benefit from beginning baby aspirin every other day unless contraindicated.

And remember that ANYONE MAY HAVE A STROKE. Yes, smoking contributes to them, but one reason my GP did not recognize my stroke is that I am not a likely stroke candidate.

Anyone, any age, any seeming health status can have a stroke. Don't think you're immune just because you are healthy and young and don't smoke. Nearly a third of first strokes are never attributed to a particular contributing factor.

So, start with STR, but don't forget the rest of the word. "O" for odd sensations. "K" for "klutz." And "E" for "everyone is a candidate for stroke but not everyone has all the symptoms."

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You might not think that the Penn State child abuse scandal and Occupy Wall Street have much in common. But maybe I can explain why I will celebrate OWS every day until they are smashed completely by those who don’t want to hear it. It’s not just because they have a point, but also that they are willing to make it.

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Sometimes the most innocent of comments can activate the wildest responses on Facebook. Yesterday one of my friends, a fellow traveler in academia, posted a harmless, humorous comment about a student of his who had sent the "€œbest excuse ever"€ for missing class: s/he was in jail in New York after being arrested at the Occupy Wall Street  protests.

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I am a tenured associate professor at one of the largest (though, let me emphasize, not one of the highest ranked) public universities in the U.S. How can I explain why it is that this often makes me want to cry?

Don’t get me wrong. I love my work, and, although I am not an academic superstar, I’ve done reasonably well. In economic times when so many are losing jobs, my job is relatively secure. The work that I do has pleasant and meaningful aspects that I value, in spite of sometimes snake-pit politics and bureaucratic burdens that often make it very difficult to focus on the things that are actually my job.

However, the future of public higher education, and especially in my area of the humanities, is truly in question. Even though more than half of all Americans attend at least some college courses, and 30% over age 25 have a bachelor’s or higher degree, what we do in academia and the value of it is still largely misunderstood by the public. When the governor of the state of Texas can blithely call for higher education reforms that include “treating students as ‘customers,’ judging faculty by how many students they teach and how those students rate them, and de-emphasizing research that doesn’t produce an immediate financial return,” it becomes clear that our future is in the hands of people who either don’t know what they are talking about or harbor a truly vile and anti-intellectual agenda. Or both.

There are many angles on higher ed and its issues, and I hope to be able to sort some of these out in coming posts. But today I am inspired by yesterday’s article in the Orlando Sentinel that reported on Florida Governor Rick Scott’s agenda for the coming year, in particular his desire to abolish tenure for public university employees. (He’s already done it in K-12 education.)

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Sat Jul 30, 2011 at 05:44 AM PDT

Not Sexy, Just Crazy

by Lisa Roney

Probably every single person who reads this will have made use of at least some of positive psychology's tenets and recommendations at some point or another: visualize success, believe in yourself, take charge of your life, think good thoughts and good things will come. All fine to a point.

When it comes to discussions of health and illness, though, this makes me crazy. Not sexy, just plain crazy. Yes, there is much we can do to positively affect our health. No, we cannot cure illnesses with positive attitudes and wheat grass, not unless they are psychosomatic.

One of the purveyors of the idea that we can cure ourselves and defy illness is a woman named Kris Carr of Crazy, Sexy Cancer fame.

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Mon Jul 04, 2011 at 08:39 AM PDT

Fourths of July

by Lisa Roney

The Fourth of July has never been one of my favorite holidays. I’ve always tried to enjoy it, but the flag-waving crowds and noise were never fun for me. I saw the fireworks on the Washington mall once, but the fellow behind us kept shooting bottle rockets into my back. Fortunately, they were duds, but it still scared me, and the adrenalin got me in a yelling match with him. I’ve watched the fireworks over the Atlantic Ocean from Virginia Beach, too, but the debris that polluted the water just depressed me. And once, in State College, Pennsylvania, I went with friends out to a field where we hoped the distance would give us a good view without the deafening noise. Instead, an oppressive cloud system held the smoke in and all we saw were a few glimmers through a thick, billowing, brown haze. We coughed and went home. None of it ever seemed worth the trouble.

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November 14, 2010, was a beautiful Sunday, and I talked my husband into taking a bike ride with me. In Florida, where we live, November is filled with clear air and sunshine. Hurricane season is a quickly fading memory, and yet it’s not cold enough to require even a sweater. Bruce and I rode to the end of a nearby bike trail, stopped for water and for me to check my blood sugar (I've had Type 1 diabetes for 39 years), then headed back. As we crested a bridge over a road, I suddenly felt pain like I’ve never experienced before. It was like nails being pounded in all over my head.

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