Doctor Eclectic

Doctor Eclectic
Doctor Eclectic

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Chew-Chew-Chew

Cortez and the Aztecs
Gum may have been chewed as early as 2000 BC, since the tree sap used in the original product was known to the Mayans as chewable and it was right in their Mesoamerican backyard. Europeans were first introduced to it when they conquered the Aztecs and Maya civilizations, trading syphilis and typhoid for the subtly sweet and sugary stuff.  Recent changes in what we can buy today calls for an investigation of what is out there and what are good choices.

Actually, before we can look at today’s gum, we need to know a little history.

The first gum in the United States was introduced, not surprisingly by William Wrigley, who thought it would be a giveaway enticement to give him a marketing advantage for his baking soda.  He packaged the two together in 1892 and sales did indeed increase.  However, public comment was strong and he immediately decided to launch the new product individually.  He chose the name Juicy Fruit and within a year gum sales exceeded his baking soda sales.

son, Sean and Grandson, Ryan
1906 Chicago Cubs
He experimented with other flavors and soon other companies came into the market.  Not too long afterwards the Chicle, used as the vehicle for flavor and sugar became too expensive.  Fortunately the rubber products being designed for use in tires, among other things, provided a cheaper alternative.  The process for making gum has remained inherently the same since Wrigley introduced it.  Would that his beloved Cubs had remained the same as the 1906 team, but then he didn’t buy the club until 1921.

Although the process for making gum remains much the same, the chewy vehicle has dramatically changed and alternatives, most with trademark specificity and secrecy abound.  My favorite is a product called Felix, which was manufactured in Japan when our family lived on a Naval Base in the Philippine Islands.  When we left for the States, both of my boys, aged then twelve and sixteen brought a survivor supply with them, some of which is still there today, thirty years later.  I’m sure it would pretty much chew the same; since everyone was convinced the binder vehicle was whale blubber, with an unknown shelf life.

For the last decade at least most gums are offered with a sucrose sugar alternative, and sales of sugar-free gum far surpass sales of the original recipes.  There are at least three common sugar substitutes, Aspartame, Saccharin, and Erythitol.   These are often combined with sugars other than Sucrose; e.g. Dextrose, to lessen or eliminate the caloric levels of the product.  Gums with sugar substitutes are equally effective in cleansing the teeth and in increasing saliva flow, a major benefit for the elderly, many of whom take medicines with a saliva depressing side effect.

The most recent substitute is a sugar that not only substitutes, but competes with sucrose: Xylitol.  As more and more studies are completed, the value of using Xylitol, not only in chewing gum but also in candies and impregnated in products that can transfer it to the oral cavity, such as nursing bottle nipples becomes overwhelming.

In order to be effective 10 mg. of Xylitol have to be delivered to the mouth a day.  At that level, decay causing bacteria are literally blocked from converting any carbohydrate to an acid, thereby lowering the pH to a level where tooth surfaces can be attacked.  Unfortunately, many of the gums that are on the market, including some approved by the American Dental Association, have less than 5 mg. of Xylitol per stick, the recommended dosage for a twice a day regime.

First 5 California
Some of you may have been puzzled as to why it is suggested that a child go to the dentist by age one.  The reason is that the dentist can then measure the levels of decay causing bacteria in the mother at a time where intervention, such as chewing Xylitol gum, can be initiated to prevent her transferring the dangerous bacteria to the child.

There is another problem with using Xylitol gum therapeutically: only about half the population consider themselves as “gum chewers”, defined as chewing gum almost every day.  For the rest of us, chewing gum is almost uncomfortable.  Oh, well, there are other ways to reduce the pH in the mouth, which is now thought to be the easiest and best way to control dental decay.
The relationship between gum and dental care has been around for a long time.  I chose the title of this post from a Mike Nichols-Elaine May skit where Nichols is a Dentist and May a Dental Hygienist.  I hoped to find that on YouTube but was unsuccessful.  I did find another that I thought funny and a May tribute to Nichols that I found hilarious.

I think my next post will be more serious.  I have friends recently who have needed hospice.  I found I know little about when and why that developed and even more interestingly how it is funded.  I’m going to check on that.  Visit me next time and see what I found.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Don’t Stop Believing

This year and right now the Los Angeles Kings are responsible for reinventing an interest in hockey greater than any I have seen in the thirty-five years I’ve lived in Orange County.  The other night, when the team was on its way to sweep St. Louis after soundly trouncing Vancouver, I was watching the action in a Hamburger Hamlet off Ventura Boulevard while waiting to attend a Casting Workshop.

At a table nearby were two couples engaged in a very lively conversation about the game, hockey in general, and the history that goes with the sport.  Like classic jokes: “I went to a fight the other night and a hockey game broke out.”  Or the fervor the fans have as their home team follows a quest for “The Cup” donated originally by the Canadian Governor-General, the Lord Stanley of Preston in 1892.  It was not coincidental that it was a Canadian politician who gave the cup to Montreal that first year, since it was then believed that hockey was only a Canadian sport.

But it is now not only played in the colder countries of Europe and North America, but in many areas of the United States, including Phoenix, where the Kings will try to close out their dream of beating both the number one and two seeds to win the prize.

I first became interested in the game through my father.  He followed the sport, mostly in the papers and occasionally on the radio, since Mason City, Iowa is a far cry from most established teams.  However, my mother often spoke of how he had gone to a Blackhawk’s game when he was in Chicago for the Midwinter Dental Meeting.  I doubt if it had anything to do with the cold, but he came down with pneumonia and came close to death from the experience.

While in the Navy I found myself able to take my boys to games in several locations: we saw games in San Jose while stationed at Moffett Field, in Washington, DC while stationed in the nation’s capital, and both in Anaheim and Los Angeles while at The El Toro Marine Base.  Perhaps it was the variety that resulted in their having a general interest rather than the passion of a fanatic fan.

But, back to the Hamburger Hamlet.  What I heard that gave me the reason to intervene in their conversation was this gentleman saying he was a Red Wing fan.  Now I have had several friends, including two young ladies, who were avid Red Wing fans.  Not too unusual, since the Detroit team has won the most Stanley Cups of any U.S. team (11) and is third in the number of wins, following the Montreal Canadiens (24) and the Toronto Maple Leafs (12).  The NHL started the year Detroit formed a team, in 1926, with six teams participating: Red Wings, Canadiens, Maple Leafs, Rangers, Bruins, and my dad’s Blackhawks.

Pavel Datsyuk - 2008
My comment, when I heard he was a Red Wing fan was, “Is that the team that throws whale meat on the ice?”  He graciously introduced himself as Seymour, and corrected me (even though I knew what the correction would be) by informing me that it was actually octopus, or, because several are usually thrown, octopi.

The original octopus was thrown by Peter Cusimano, the owner of a Detroit fish market. in a playoff game in 1952, and the practice continues at home playoff games to this day, most likely because the Red Wings swept the 1952 series and won The Cup.  So, it is considered a good luck talisman.  A few years ago, the NHL tried to ban the practice, mostly because the octopi were being picked up by Al Sobotka who was swinging them around his head with so much energy parts were flying on to the ice, endangering the players.

Instead of banning the fan action, they now enforce that linesmen assist in removal and that any twirling occur only at the Zamboni entrance where remnants can be carried off the ice.

A second fan tradition of the Red Wings is the singing of “Don’t Stop Believing”, Journey’s longtime hit, which is played and sung toward the end of the game, when the team is winning.  The music is paused early in the song, the sound system is muted, and the crowd, as one chants, “Born and raised in South Detroit.”

Aren’t fans great?  Are any of you passionate about your sports teams?

Oh, and I’m thinking that the Kings might start a tradition of throwing a Kardashian on the ice at playoffs.  We seem to have an abundance of them, and they are probably at the game.

Next post should be informative.  I’m writing an article on what has happened to chewing gum in the last ten years.  Come on back!

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Mice, Rats & a Related Fiasco

Somewhere around 1965, a comedian named Jim Stafford had a modest hit song titled, “Spiders and Snakes”, which indicated that trying to use these to attract girls wasn’t working very well.  In my wife, Mary’s case, she handles spiders very well, only insisting they should move themselves outside as soon as they have eaten all the bugs in our house.  Snakes? Not so much, but then she doesn’t travel the paths that California rattlers do.

What she doesn’t tolerate well are mice and related rodents, which explains why there was a startled shriek from the top of the garage steps recently and then a strong suggestion that we make a call to Orkin in the near future.  Luckily, Orkin is on my speed dial list.

That’s mostly because we had a rat problem.  Well, really two very different rat problems, over the last couple of years.

The first started innocently enough.  We began to notice that the insulation around the vent pipes in the garage was disappearing.  There were also some droppings, which I thought indicated we had mice.  So I bought and set some mouse traps which, in spite of the fact that everyone is supposedly trying to build a better one, seem to be the same as ones I set as a kid.  Turns out I was in the nostalgic aisle of Home Depot, since I now know they are practically as obsolete as a VHS machine.

After a few days when I had no activity in my traps, I called Orkin, and they were very pleased to address my problem…for about three hundred dollars.  Worth every penny though, since they recognized that the droppings were not mice, but rats.  They set rat traps, baited with Juicy Fruit gum (lasts forever and rats love it).  Within two days we caught two rats.  While we didn’t sex them, the Orkin man was pretty sure they were a pair and were gathering the insulation material to make a nest.

Two and no more.  So, for about a hundred bucks apiece, I solved my rat problem…for a year or two.

And then I had a mouse problem.  I have been feeding birds from my backyard or deck for decades and truly enjoy bird watching; one of three things a man can do where doing nothing isn’t considered being lazy. The other two are watching waves and watching fires.  One of my feeders is a classic glass enclosed box, hanging from a pole, which provides black oil sunflower seeds to, primarily house finches.

I began to question the quality of my seeds as there seemed to be many that were empty, even while in the feeder.  It turns out, I had a mouse that had figured out how to get into and out of the feeder.  My Home Depot expert had me grease the pole with graphite and that seemed to discourage the mouse for a while, but he seemed to return. So I asked my Wild Bird man what to do and he sold me my fiasco, a $55 Rat Zapper, which supposedly kills in a humane manner by electrocuting the animal.  I had one replaced because it stopped working and now a year and a half later; the second flashes a red light, which indicates it has caught something, but either the raccoons in my neighborhood have disarmed it, or water damage has rendered it inoperable.  The Rat Zapper people are not returning my calls, so I am recycling the machine.  I never caught an animal in the trap and suspect that the mouse, who I have watched eat his lunch while I ate mine on the deck, uses the machine to vault unto the pole.

While sharing my mouse experience with my neighbor, he commented that he had seen a rat climbing into my chimney.  There did seem to be a hole in the stucco near the chimney top and my son, who sits near the fireplace in my easy chair to watch TV when he comes over, said he was hearing noises in the chimney.  Mary listened and confirmed that she heard them too.  So I called Orkin, only to find that they had liability issues that prevented them climbing on my roof and baiting traps outside where domestic animals and children may be injured.  The Vector man came out and advised me to set a series of traps leading to my chimney, which I did, with the assistance of my two grown sons.

Within a couple of days we caught a roof rat, seemingly endemic to the woods in which we live.  Shortly thereafter Mary heard a terrible ruckus in the chimney and afterwards we heard no more rats.  I had the chimney repaired and seemingly solved that problem.  My theory is that the mother rat insisted on a larger home now that they had children.

So, at this time I have about a dozen mouse glue traps and rat traps in my garage and loft.  I have caught one mouse in the glue trap and one rat in the rat trap and have had a possible entry way closed with copper wire.  We are now on week two with no kills and no droppings.  We did catch a sizeable lizard in the glue rap, which PETA will probably find out about and demand retribution.

My next post will deal with how renewed interest in Hockey made me a new friend.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Kids & Cars


For the last several years business has brought me to Chicago in February, an event looked upon by many, especially those who live in the Chicago area, as at the least foolish, and more likely an indication of lost sensibilities.  But my wife, Mary, having been raised in Wisconsin and me, a native Iowan, find a brief visit a journey down Memory Lane, and a reminder of why we choose to live in Southern California.

This year, the weather was exceptionally mild, and we were glad that a trip for dinner at Mary’s sister’s apartment would be pleasant.  We were surprised, when we confirmed our visit that said sister was expecting our nephew from another sister to join us.  Surprised, because he would have had our $25 dollar one-way cab ride, or a multiple change bus ride, since his car had been totaled by a Chicago Public Works towing incident some six months before.

Turns out he was planning to ride his bicycle.

Scott is bright; may even have a doctorate, and is probably in his mid-thirties.  Good shape and all that, but his decision to not replace his car highlighted what I have been hearing in the media.  His, and the Millennial generation have fallen out of love with automobiles.

Why, I wondered?  I remember sitting on a wall in Rhode Island with my, then four year-old son, watching traffic to and from Providence and identifying the cars!  By the hour!  Mary remembers feeling embarrassed when she was in the car by herself, trying to say what kind of truck had just gone the other way.  Sean had Matchbox cars and trucks, picture books with cars and trucks, and would embarrass us a few years later at a Marine parade when he saw a truck and literally shouted “TRUCK!” with that soft “Fr” sound young boys use for “Tr”.

Aside from the fact that GM, et al will have to sell their vehicles abroad, why should I care that the love affair with cars is gone?  The answer for me is that cars were part of the heritage of my generation and I feel the loss is another indication of not building a heritage.

I believe there are at least three causes:

1.      Driving isn’t as much fun as it used to be.  Whether it is Road Rage, seemingly endless traffic, automatic shifting, or fuel efficient cars, it just isn’t something one does for the enjoyment of it.  No more Sunday Drives.  Few convertible moments. No more Cruising on Saturday nights.

2.      There is little bonding with cars as we grow up.  In California I jokingly observe that the first time a child is allowed out of the back seat is to take his or her Driver’s Test.  We stick our children in car seats so safe and rigid that the first social contact they have in a car is when they start texting.  Cars become a necessity to getting from point A to point B, rather than something to do in its own right that’s fun.  I bet most of you can remember sitting on a parent's lap and steering the car.
3.      Cars have become expensive.  I cannot imagine a kid saving up to buy his first car, even if there were jobs for them to make money at.  They almost have to be gifted.  The features that would appeal to a new car owner; e.g. a decent sound system, GPS, USB terminals, are all heavily priced, as are the cars themselves.  Even the gas required to run the cars has become fodder for late-night comedians.  And don’t get me started on insurance.  There is a reason why leasing has not disappeared from the marketplace.  For many, it is the only way they can afford to buy.

However, I asked my 14 year-old grandson if he were going to get a Driver’s License when he was sixteen (presuming the law allows) and he replied in the affirmative, probably not realizing how costly is the process of even learning to drive.  His reason?  Not that much different from my generation: so he could get his own car and drive to school and activities to free his parents from doing the job they have done all his life.  If and when he gets a license, I will make the same bet with him as I did with his sister: Fifty dollars against $300 that she would have a reportabe accident in her first year of driving.  When I gratefuly paid off a year later, I asked if she thought of the bet whn she was driving.  "Almost every time," she said.  Money well invested!

In my next post I will share with you my recent experiences with mice, rats, and a related fiasco. Let me know if you agree that cars are falling out of fashion.