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


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.


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.

A Rich Lunch

I wrote earlier of my day last week in downtown Chicago. I did not mention the most enjoyable lunch that I had.

I have known Howard Bernick for 15 years or so. He was for many years the CEO of Alberto Culver and I was, still am, a consultant to the Company. We saw each other primarily in work situations but took the time to share stories of family. He was good to work with. In general a mench. We might not always agree but we could agree to disagree in a professional way.

He left the company a couple of years ago after completing a sale of a major portion of the company. He is on his own, sitting on some boards, enjoying his parents and his children and generally enjoying life.

I cannot say that I am not more than a bit envious. He is financially well to do which gives him options on how to spend his time. I would love to have those options. Yet while envious of his situation I can only wish him well. In my line of work I meet many very wealthy people. Many of them are not very nice. Howard is.

He took me to lunch at a nice restaurant, but that is not what made the lunch a rich experience. It was the conversation that made it rich. The conversation was a good mix of reminiscing and catching up on what has happened in the time since we had seen each other. We told stories. Good ones. I learned some very interesting details about people we knew in common. I shared about the loss of my mom, the increased responsibilities with my sister and the joys and pain of raising a teenage boy. Howard has raised two sons and a daughter so he could relate.

At the end of lunch he offered to make a donation to the organization that runs the group home which houses my sister. He did not need to do that. I did not ask. (I have never been good about asking for money from friends or others I know. I will have to find the courage now that my mom is no longer in the fund raising business.) He just did.

We agreed not to let so much time go between visits. I cannot wait to do this again.

I want to become a professional go-to-luncher. I have found my calling. Now if I can find a sponsor.


I bring home take out for D and two friends. I can tell they are about to put on a movie. An action flick? Some sophomoric comedy, perhaps?

No. The Disney movie Enchanted! And this is not the first time.

I asked D why that movie. “Never underestimate the power of a beautiful movie.”

I do not understand 17 year old boys.


Sunday With Sandy

I spent Sunday afternoon with my sister Sandy. She has autism and lives in a group home about a 45 minute drive away. It was the first I had made time to visit her since my mom died. Over the past 5 months Sandy has had far less contact with her family than she had become accustomed to because our attention had turned to Mom’s needs. It is time to pay more attention to her.

Since people with autism can range broadly in terms of how and how well they function let me tell you a bit about my sister. She knows who people are. She knows her family,loves her family and certainly misses us whe n she does not see us.

Her speech is limited. She forms words and sentences often it is hard to figure out what she is saying. She has a tendency to babble and repeat things over and over and over.

She is on several medications that help her control her behavior. She can become obsessive about something and it will become hard to redirect her which may lead to physical confrontation. Often food is the object of her obsession. Her control has been relatively good for the past couple of years but  I still have memories of having to wrestle her to the ground  in public, crowded places to keep her from grabbing things she should not have. With her screaming at the top of her lungs. While people stare at you as they try to figure out what if anything to do since they do not know you are family or a mugger. One learns not to be embarrassed easily.

She loves music. She could play records for hours. Beatles, Beach Boys and Herb Alpert are amoung her favs. No accounting for taste on that last selection. If you spend time with her it is always a good idea to have some of her favorite tunes on hand.

She is very friendly and enjoys striking up conversations with strangers. Most are fairly good natured about it though as I said she is often difficult to understand. Once in awhile Sandy will try to hold someone’s hand or reach for a piece of jewelry. You never know.

She has few govenors on her speech or he actions. She is definitely not politically correct. That last characteristic can lead to many smiles–as long as you are not easily embarrassed.

So that is my soon to be 42 year old sister.

I went with my mom’s husband Fred who has been her de fact father for 20 + years. She seemed a little reserved at first. Normally I immediately get a big hug and kiss. I can understand. She could feel a little abandoned andon top of that her mom just died. Yes, she understands that. She was also very chatty, in a random word kind of way. Sometimes that is a warning sign that her behavior control is on the low side.

We started by going shopping for a new comforter and sheets. Most people with autism have some trouble with choices. I gave her the choice of polka dots or a blue pattern. She would say she wanted whatever one I said last. We finally agreed on the polka dots.

By this time she had warmed up. Lots of hugs and kisses and she wanted to hold both of our hands. Nice but hard to maneuver through narrow aisles that way. She waited patiently in line.

Non-PC moment number one. She asks the sales clerk if she showered today. One of the good ones. The response was  “No, not today but I did shower last night”. At least two more people got the same question before day’s end.

We went to another store to look for a winter hat and gloves. Sandy was doing a good job of reading name tags and addressing clerks by name. One got her necklace grabbed. Another was fun and offered Sandy a smell of some perfume.

People can be very kind or completely standoffish. Enough are kind that my faith in people gets restored consistently when I am with my sister. As Sandy was trying on hats another shopper asked if I had coupons for the store and offered me an extra. She made a point of finding us again before she left to give us more that she had not used.

We went to a movie. She tends to be more interested in live action movies especially musicals. Unfortunately High School Musical 3 was not for 2 hours so we saw Madagascar 2. (It did not hold her attention or mine.) Got pop and popcorn. Popcorn can be a problem because she never has enough but I took a chance. A little chatty during the movie about the popcorn but not too bad. Some great belches from the pop (hey, I am a guy of course I found that funny). Lots of kisses.

On the way home she borrowed my water bottle for a drink. She sits in back, its safer. I ask for the bottle back and then try to drink not realizing that she had removed the top. Soaked my pants. For a nanosecond I was mad, after all it was 30 degrees out. Then I burst out laughing. You never know what will happen when you are out with my sister. I turned on the heated seats and all was right with the world.

Once you take her home she is done with you. She starts saying goodbye and does not stop until you walk out the door. Every time you walk out you realize how much you learn from a day with Sandy.