Tuesday, April 30, 2019

More Than You May Want To Know?

[“Let Inga Tell You,” La Jolla Light, published May 1, 2019] ©2019

I didn’t jump on the ancestry band wagon right away since both my mother’s and father’s families kept good genealogical records back many generations – even centuries.  But I was definitely curious about the carrier status, health predispositions, wellness predictions, and traits data that was now available. 

My sister, a year younger, decided against it. “I don’t want any bad news,” she maintained.

“Not to put too fine a point on it,” I replied, “but we’re SEVENTY. How much bad news could there be? We’ve already aged out of Early Onset Dementia!”  But she is unmoved. 

23andme is careful to inform you that with each of the afflictions they test your genes for, they are only testing for specific variants and just because you don’t test positive for those variants doesn’t mean you’re home free on this disease. 

They emphasize that there are all manner of life style and “other factors” that could contribute to your succumbing to these maladies besides your DNA.  Still, I confess it’s comforting to know that if I crump from one of these, it’s my own fault and not my genes’. 

I was especially happy to discover that the variants they tested for me did not detect the variants for BRCA1/BCRA2 (breast cancer), Late-Onset Alzheimers and Parkinsons. 

I did, however, test positive for one of the two variants they tested for Age-related Macular Degeneration.  Apparently, it’s pretty common in people of European descent. 

I was genuinely pleased that “variant not detected” came up on all 44 Carrier traits they tested, even though I had no idea what most of them are.  I am not, for example, a carrier of the gene for Hereditary Fructose Intolerance, MCAD Deficiency, Rhizomelic Chondrodysplasia Punctata Type 1, Usher Syndrome Type 1F, or Dihydrolipoamide Dehydrogenase Deficiency.  None of them sound like a good time.

The actually fun parts of 23andme were in the Traits sections which predicted whether you were or less likely to have certain qualities related to appearance, weight, food preferences, sleep patterns, and general wellness. 

23andme correctly predicted that I was “likely to have blue or green eyes” (blue; I’m Northern European); “more likely than average to be afraid of heights” (utterly deathly afraid of heights over three feet); “likely lighter skin” (Northern European thing again); “less likely to be able to match a musical pitch” (and then some: I’m totally tone deaf), “likely lactose tolerant” (yup); “likely no unibrow” (correct, but seriously??); “less likely to get dandruff” (true, but see “seriously??” above); “likely no cleft chin or dimples; and “likely to experience hair photobleaching” (i.e. hair lightens after long exposure to the sun).  My hair always lightened multiple shades if I sat out in the sun which I don’t any more after having malignant melanoma, an affliction, by the way, that is not tested.  Personally, I think it had everything to do with all those youth baseball and soccer tournaments in the blazing sun rather than genetics anyway.

 But 23andme totally struck out on other traits: “likely a lot of freckles” (nary a one); “less likely to have lots of baby hair at birth” (born with a full head of hair); “less likely to have thick hair” (I STILL get my hair thinned every three weeks or it’s like a mattress on my head); “slightly higher odds of disliking cilantro” (I adore cilantro and consider it one of the basic four food groups); “likely to have a muscle composition common in elite power athletes” (I’m still laughing); and “likely to consume more caffeine” (definitely not so since I inherited my mother’s severe sensitivity to caffeine). 

23andme predicted I preferred “sweet over salty” which may technically be true but I’ve never met a potato chip I didn’t like. 

Where they really struck out was in the “Sleep and Wakeup Time” category.  According to them “based on your genetics, you’re likely to move about an average amount during sleep” which they note would be about 12 times an hour.  As a sufferer of Restless Leg Syndrome (which sounds so innocuous but is utterly brutal), I move about 12 times a minute.  Interestingly, this can be a hereditary ailment which I’m sincerely hoping for my younger son’s sake is not.  (My older son, noting the afflictions that have plagued his aging parents, is increasingly grateful he’s adopted.) 

Where 23andme struck out the most, however (besides the elite athletes thing) is the prediction that I am “likely to wake up around 6:42 a.m.”  As far as I’m concerned, anything before 10 a.m. is still the night before. It predicted that I am a morning person which I have never ever ever been in my whole life.

Still, it’s been a fun exercise and there are always new reports coming out. So far no really bad news and if some comes out, how hard is it to hit “Delete”?

Monday, April 15, 2019

Dishwasher Wars Revisited

[“Let Inga Tell You,” La Jolla Light, published April 17, 2019] ©2019

A while back, I wrote about how Olof and I were engaged in dishwasher wars now that he had taken over this chore in retirement.  Three-plus years later, after considerable discussion and negotiation, I would like to report that…nothing has changed. 

As I noted when I first wrote about this issue, it goes against my feminist sensibilities to stand in the way of a man loading a dishwasher.  But it makes me crazy that he runs it half full. I could easily get three more days’ dishes in there.  As you might guess, our definitions of “half full” vary considerably.

I think we’d all agree that if a family member – particularly a husband family member – takes over a household chore that one has to step back and let them do it their way.  Even if their way is TOTALLY WRONG.  It annoys me to waste so much water, so much energy, and so much wear and tear on the dishwasher.  As much as women want household help from their husbands, it is very hard for a wife to ignore what her husband might unwarrantedly call her “inner control freak.”

Now, it might be easy to wonder about Olof and me: “Do these people need a hobby?” 

Another issue is that for reasons known best to Olof, the dishes are so clean by the time they’re loaded they probably don’t need to be run at all. Since I’m still the dishwasher unloader, I couldn’t help but comment that if you can’t tell whether the dishes are clean or dirty, some of us could give them the benefit of the doubt. The only way I know the dishwasher has been run is that Olof puts a Swedish moose magnet on the front when he pushes “Start.” 

Olof has always maintained that he picked after-dinner clean-up as his retirement chore partly because he read that, in recorded history, no man has ever been shot by his wife while doing the dishes.  He never said so out loud but he was also apparently never all that happy with the job I did with them either. (We can put someone on the moon but we can’t invent a machine that cleans the counters, stove top, and sink too?)

As I frequently noted to him in our dating years, life is all about priorities. The kids seemed to be turning out well. So if the dishes got a little furry sometimes during warmer weather, so be it. That’s what the fur, er, superwash cycle on the dishwasher is for. Astonishingly, Olof married me anyway since Olof is not a furry dishes kind of guy.

Now, you’d think that four years into the dishes gig, he’d have this down to a pretty quick routine.  But he spends at least a half hour doing the dishes just for the two of us. A champion power-loader during my 12 years as a divorced working mom, I always had that sucker loaded up in four minutes flat.

I truly feel that spending a half hour on kitchen cleanup is time that could be used far more wisely. Like reading War and Peace with a snifter of Laphroaig. Or in my case, People with a glass of chardonnay.

When Olof is done, the stove top is spotless, the granite counter tops positively sparkle, and you could be blinded by the shine in our stainless-steel sink. And then – listen to this - he sweeps the kitchen floor. Whether it needs it or not. As you might guess, our definitions of  “needing” vary as much as our definitions of “full.”  Olof will sweep whether you can see a single crumb on the floor.  “Part of the job,” he says. 

In my defense, it’s not like I never sweep.  Just recently I dropped a box of breakfast cereal on the floor which was more than I thought the dog could – or should – eat.  As I was sweeping it up, Olof happened to wander into the kitchen.  “Whoa!” he said, in mock astonishment.  “I didn’t know you knew how to use that thing!”  (He doesn’t know that he’s getting a brand-new broom for his birthday.)

Recently our 18-year-old Bosch dishwasher finally went to the Big Appliance Warehouse in the Sky.  Now we can probably thank the Bosch company at least somewhat for the longevity of this machine, but I contend there is another good reason why it lasted so long.  I only ran it when it was full.  Very very full.  Full being defined as you couldn’t see the bottom of the dishwasher anywhere (or even the racks.) 

Ultimately, we went with another Bosch which Olof is still waaay underloading and which I am still biting my tongue as I unload.  But after four years, I might have to concede that this might not be a winning battle. Might.

Olof pre-washes the dishes so thoroughly that unless he puts the 
Swedish moose magnet on the front of the dishwasher, I have no idea 
whether he ran the machine or not. 
One might ask: does it matter?

Tuesday, April 2, 2019

College Admissions Thoughts (Censored)

[“Let Inga Tell You,” should have been published by the La Jolla Light tomorrow (April 3) but they notified me this afternoon it was being pulled as “too controversial” and “potentially offending,” so just a blog post this week.] ©2019

The recent college admissions scandal actually didn’t surprise me all that much. 

When I applied to colleges in the fall of 1964, I think I was aware that the really rich and politically connected weren’t worrying about where they were going to college. They were already going to the right elite prep schools and their names alone made SAT scores moot.
At the same time, I felt that there were still plenty of spots, and if I didn’t get in some place, it was because there were more qualified candidates than me.

But by the time my own kids were applying to colleges thirty-some years later, the playing field had changed in really disheartening ways.  The mother of one of my son’s friends re-registered all of her kids as Hispanic maintaining that the family “identified” with her maternal grandmother who was allegedly Hispanic.  Never mind that their last name was so ethnically British Isles as to conjure up images of grain-based spirits. I don’t remember much in the way of Cinco de Mayo parties over there either. At the time, if you maintained you were even 1% of an ethnicity, you could claim it, not that anyone was checking.  You were what you said you were.

And that was probably why a quarter of the graduating class suddenly seemed to be Native American. I think now they at least make you identify the tribe. Not that it matters.  If the goal is to get people off the reservation and improve the prospects of future generations, admitting kids for whom the only reservation they’ve ever known was for dinner at the Beach and Tennis Club, what societal goal are they really fulfilling?

The easiest way at the time to game the system seemed to be ethnicity. And yet, astonishingly, college admissions staff seemed to fall for it.  In my younger son’s year, “Native Americans” and ersatz Hispanics who were way down the academic food chain were being admitted to highly selective schools while kids with far better credentials were turned away. 

If colleges were looking for stats, they got them. Otherwise, what would make an already-privileged applicant who may or may not possess some long-diluted American Indian DNA be a more desirable candidate?  

Crooked college coaches seem to be generating a lot of news lately which reminded me of a memorable encounter in the produce aisle of my local market. Another mom was querying where my son was applying to school and then volunteered that her son was going to Berkeley.  I expressed surprise since acceptances weren’t out yet, and also because this kid hadn’t been able to play high school sports for two semesters because he didn’t have the requisite 2.0 GPA. She explained that his uncle was a coach at the school and could get her son in as a recruited athlete.  He wasn’t even going to play the sport. And lo and behold, the kid did indeed go to Berkeley.

But some deserving kid didn’t.

Given that the shared last name of both coach and recruit weren’t particularly common, you’d think Berkeley should have been on to this. 

The multitude of articles about this scandal in recent weeks have proffered all manner of theories as to how this came about. Have parents lost faith that if you don’t game the system, your kid has no chance? Is gaming the system now considered fair game?  As more applicants vie for fewer places, is this a natural, nay expected, economic solution?  How many other Rick Singers are out there plying “side door” admissions?  Sadly, I’m guessing he’s the tip of the iceberg.

I was watching a talk show shortly after this story broke in which the guest maintained that in some selective schools, up to 80% of the spots are taken by recruited athletes, affirmative action, and legacies.  I know that most schools (and alumni) are really big on football and basketball, but I remain baffled why the excellent scholastic opportunities at top academic institutions with admission rates under 10% should go to academically-underachieving water polo and lacrosse players who would have no chance of admission otherwise. Ditto fake Indians and deadbeat alumni offspring.  While colleges strive to have a variety of students on their campuses, can this selection criteria really be improving the culture and quality of the school?

 It would seem that in the internet age, it wouldn’t be hard to identify the legitimate minorities who truly are the first generation in their families to go to college.

And as for the legacies, has this become academic incest (albeit endowment-building)? It sounds like a lot of  schools could use some new blood, the subsequent generations lacking the stand-out qualities that their parents or grandparents demonstrated to gain admission in the first place.

I really hope this is an opportunity for colleges to re-examine their admissions policies.  

Meanwhile, next up: financial aid scams.  Don’t get me started.