The Bad, The Ugly And The Good

 

Three stories from the front section of today’s Chicago Tribune.

The Bad

Rampage leaves India reeling

Siege of Mumbai ends, and the reckoning begins

The Ugly

Mother dead, dad accused of murder-for-hire: ‘Over the years love and hate can get mixed up’

The Good

For world’s sick, ‘help is just an e-mail away’

 

Too many bad and ugly stories overall. Not enough good.

Food: Addiction or Cure

addiction

The following is the opening from an article published in The Economist titled, “Treatment on a Plate“.

PEOPLE are programmed for addiction. Their brains are designed so that actions vital for propagating their genes—such as eating and having sex—are highly rewarding. Those reward pathways can, however, be subverted by external chemicals (in other words, drugs) and by certain sorts of behaviour such as gambling.”

The article goes on to describe the world’s improved understanding of the biochemistry behind addiction. Beginning to be, though not thoroughly, tested are theories that certain foods can help mitigate the cravings of addiction. These foods are ones known to have other health properties such as nuts, seeds, brown rice and fish high in omega-3 fatty acids.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if food rather than drugs could help beat addiction? Just one question. What do people like me who’s addiction is food do?

Yes, I am a food addict. Only bicycling 50 miles a week kept me from blowing up like a balloon over the summer. In normal years I would lose weight during the cycling season but this year I was lucky to just to maintain. As soon as it got too cold to bike 5 pounds instantly appeared in my belly.

I eat due to stress. I eat the wrong things, those high in fats and processed sugars. Even when I eat healthy things, I eat too much. There is no such thing as portion control in my world.

So if food is the addiction is there a food cure for food? That would make it easy.

The Psychology of Reruns (or Reruns Again?)

Why do we watch the same thing over and over? I was on a plane and watched an episode of “Chuck” that had seen twice before. We are talking about “Chuck” here. This was not a highly styled production, a nuanced presentation for which every viewing reveals new insight or previously unseen detail that further illuminates the story. This was not even a “classic” that by the force of its greatness, its reputation as a cinematic masterpiece, one’s senses are heightened or the soul inspired as if viewed for the very first time. This was Chuck. The best one could say is that the show is cute. True, I was on a plane and there was nothing else to watch on the screen. However, it is not as if there was nothing else to do. Work, write, read, or sleep were all alternatives. Even rereading a book trumps TV reruns.

And yet I believe that I am not the only human that succumbs to the lure of reruns.  DVD sales of past TV shows now rival that of movies. This demonstrates major commitment to reruns. It is one thing to watch a show or movie on TV but it is another to spend money to have the show permanently in your collection so you can rerun 24/7. 

So why rerun. It certainly is not about intellectual stimulation or growth. Comfort? Laziness? Familiarity leading to comfort? Is this like comfort food? Are reruns meat loaf and mashed potatoes for our psyches?

Reruns do take us back to different points in our past. What was your life like when Seinfeld introduced Yadda, Yadda, Yadda? When Cosby was raising those precocious kids along with his younger, too beautiful wife. Or for me when Dick Van Dyke was tripping over the ottoman? We were younger certainly. Are reruns a mental fountain of youth? Or a time machine?

We have become passive in our viewing habits. There must be some reason why we allow TV networks and cable stations to get away with so little new programming. I would love to see a static of what percentage of total viewing time are programs seen for the very first time. 

Next time I will resist the urge to watch a rerun. In fact I will cut down on TV time altogether. My focus will be on improving my mind, body and spirit.

Of course I could watch this 1,000 times.

Fate Changes In a Moment

The title works on several levels.

Saturday was to be movie night. We had wanted to see Slumdog Millionairebut neglected to buy advance tickets and the next two showings had sold out. The choices, Quantum of Solace and The Boy In The Striped Pajamas. I could not remember what the latter was about and while the Bond movie received mixed reviews, I preferred something mindless. I hesitated by calling my wife to gain her perspective. He who hesitates…it too sold out. Striped Pajamas it was.

Moments after the tickets were purchased,  I remembered what the movie was about. We had seen a trailer. A Holocaust movie was not the mindless entertainment I sought for this evening. The movie, like the book was really aimed at helping children understand the Holocaust. Yet the audience was middle aged to downright old. (I of course falling into the former category.)

The focal points of the movie are a German family of four, the solid soldier/father, the the head of household/mother and the daughter of 12 and son of 8. As the story begins, theirs is a life like many of the upper middle class in a big city. The initial portrayal shows of a picture of a family that could have been from anywhere. The boy plays with his friends, he wants to be an explorer. There are no monsters here. Yet the father is transferred to a new assignment in the country outside of Berlin. At the going away party are the first hints of Nazis and Hitler’s influence. The father’s mother clearly stands against those policies but is warned not to share her opinions in public.

The assignment is to run a concentration camp. Over the mid portions of the film you get to understand how adults and people can change. Children learn to hate through propaganda and lies taught to school children. Adults learn to hate through the idea of duty to the Fatherland at to obey orders at all costs. From this hate came the dehumanization of a people. Once dehumanized then being cruel and killing become natural. 

They movie presents contrasts. The 12 year old sister is quickly indoctrinated while the 8 year old boy meets his counterpart on the other side of a barbed wire fence. They become friends. Also, he is helped by a Jew working in the house doing odd jobs including peeling potatoes. The  boy discovers that this man was once a doctor.  Unlike his sister he cannot grasp the concept that all Jews are evil when he personally knows two who are anything but. He also cannot fathom why a doctor would choose to peel potatoes. He is amazed by the choices adults make. The other contrast is between a father doing his duty and the mother who can no longer believe in that duty when she discovers that people are being gassed and their bodies burned.  The boys fate ends with an ironic tragedy as he tries to right a wrong he committed to his friend in the striped pajamas. He was in the wrong place at the wrong time.  I will save the details for those who may wish to see the movie. It is well done but not the thing to see when light fare is what you seek.

I began thinking about how topical this movie is today. Substitute Muslim for Jew and The U.S.A. for Germany and Guantanamo Bay for Auschwitz. I see too many parallels. We cannot let ignorance dehumanize another people. Never again.

An Inspiration: Gary Hall Jr.

It is easy to let obstacles slow you down or even stop you. Hell, there are phenomenal amounts of worldly and personal negative forces impacting each of us every day. The economy and the stock market are down, people are out of work and/or losing their homes, there are more places in the world than we can count where neighbors are killing neighbors in record numbers and the hopes for peace are slim. We each face our own declining physical conditions, injuries or illnesses or maybe the decline of someone we love.

That is why when famous people can inspire through there actions against personal adversity I believe the word should be spread.

I was aware  of but did not know much about Gary Hall Jr. He is a swimmer. Was an Olympic quality swimmer with 5 golds and 10 total medals. Maybe not at the Michael Phelps other worldliness level but pretty terrific. I also remember that he was often outspoken and a bit of a maverick (a real one, not the Sarah P made for TV kind).

After his first Olympics he developed Type 1 diabetes. It could have finished his career. Several doctors told him so. It certainly would change his life forever. He could have let the labels determine his life. From Olympic Hero to Diabetic. He chose not to.

He found a way to continue to follow his desired path while dealing with his disease. He did not let the disease define him. It was not easy. Testing his blood sugar at least 8 times a day going to every hour on race days. Five or six glucose injections daily. Diabetes is a disease that never lets you forget that it is with you.

A lesser person would have not gone on to compete and win medals in two more Olympics. A lesser person would not devote time not only to fund raising and making inspirational speeches but also to touch kids every day on a personal basis to help them see that as hard as their condition is there is a life to be had.

Gary Hall Jr. makes the 48 Facets Mensch hall of fame.

Read more about him at SI.Com

Conan The Silly

One form of humor is the juxtaposition of two things that seem to be fundamentally different. Such as a serious newsman doing something silly.

On the in-flight entertainment of a recent flight, I saw a rerun of a portion of the Conan O’ Brien show. Ted Koppel was the guest and he mentioned that he had been spinning his wedding ring since the time Conan was an NBC page. He challenged Conan to a spin off.

I do not care for Conan O’Brien as a talk show host. The few times I checked out his show I did not find him funny. He can be silly and off beat. Those features can lead to humor but don’t in his case.

I checked out the NBC website and learned that the wedding ring spinning was a periodic bit for Conan. There was a a clip of him doing it but not the one with Koppel. I could not download the clip but you can find it here. It just proves my point of the unfunniness of the man.

When a guy who makes his living being funny spins a wedding ring to kill time because this is the best he can do at the moment, for me there is no humor. However, take Ted Koppel, known for decades as a serious newsman. Have him challenging the unfunny man to a wedding ring spin contest. That was funny. I wish I could show it to you.

Instead enjoy this clip of a young Conan being interviewed by a very young Jon Stewart. Clearly Stewart is the wittier of the two.

Iowa

I am spending the night in a Mt. Vernon. Not bad you say. Just outside of D.C. The home of the first President. No, the other Mt. Vernon.

Mt. Vernon, Iowa. Home of the other Cornell, Cornell College.

One more small liberal arts college on the tour of Midwest schools.  About 1200 students. 4000 people in the town. Three stoplights–all on the same street and about 3 blocks between lights.

Sure the town is quaint. The kind of place worth spending a couple of hours exploring on the way to somewhere else. But to stay overnight??? At least I will have some quality time with my son you say. Sure. Except that he slept 80% of the trip here and is staying with a student in the dorm tonight, We were together for about 90 minutes today. I have been at the Sleep Inn by myself since 4:30.

My wife wouldn’t come with. Too much to do. I wish I could say that. I have nothing to do. Nada. Less than Nada. Small, small town. When the locals talk about Cedar Rapids and Iowa City as the big towns nearby, you know you are in small town Iowa.

Oh, by the way, never go to the fast food Chinese place in a small town for dinner. Especially if the woman at the counter is Hispanic and the also have burritos on the menu. The food may be cheap but in this case you will likely get what you pay for.

The school actually seems fine. It has a unique approach to education. Students take 1 class at a time for 18 days. You can walk from one end of the campus to the other in less than 15 minutes. Most buildings are historical landmarks.  

Hopefully my son is having a good time. I will find out tomorrow.