Parlor Spider...Step In, Little Fly

Insightful thoughts and/or rants from atop the soapbox from one who wishes to share the "right" opinion with everyone.

Thursday, February 28, 2013

Sequestration ambivalence

Like just about every other American citizen with a pulse, I am quite frustrated with our elected officials who put party politics ahead of the job we hired them to do: take care of America. Instead of collaborating across party lines to fix what is wrong, we continue to borrow money we can never repay and engage in conflicts thousands of miles away which we cannot hope to win. There is no way I can hope to fathom the intricacies of a national budget or begin to figure out how to please a country in total that is more politically, ethnically and sexually divided than ever. Images of the fall of Rome keep crowding out my other rational thoughts, but the excessive lifestyle that is American must have a bill to be paid, and that bill won't be paid by opening up the last pristine wilderness in Wisconsin to open pit iron mining or haggling over just who did or said what in Bengazi...just for spite.
So we sit: on the edge of financial disaster if some are to be believed. Layoffs will occur, our military might will be weakened, programs like Head Start will suffer dramatic cuts, and people will lose jobs and suffer through furloughs if they retain their jobs. That's where I get upset.
People complain that if they have to stay home from work for a couple of weeks without pay, they cannot meet their bills. Perhaps so; however, when I was furloughed four days a year for three years, nobody even thought to mention was all part of the state government's plan to balance a it was necessary. Nobody sent me any money to help pay MY bills.
Even before that: when my profession in Wisconsin lost its bargaining rights 15 years ago and was relegated to accepting whatever we were offered as long as a 2.5% increase (including insurance) was part of the deal...nobody raised a hue and cry for me. That deal predated the most recent labor issues in Wisconsin by 12 celebrities came to protest on my behalf or cared that my salary kept dropping with regard to inflation.
So, I'm sorry for the people who will lose a job. I was unemployed and underemployed (as a night janitor at McDonald's and an orderly on a locked ward at night) for more than a year. That was awful. Furloughed? not so much. Everyone seemed to think it was a good idea when I was in that position.
It's not such a good idea now, is it?

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Full Contact Hokatsu

One would think the intensity of labor involved in simply being pregnant and giving birth would be more than enough strain on a woman. I've watched this process up close and personal a couple of times, and, believe me, I would not be thrilled to undergo it. Living near parents or in a small town with a plethora of daycare options made even part-time work a possibility. It's a good thing we didn't live in Japan, however. There, the competition to get a child into daycare is so intense that it even has its own name: hokatsu!
It seems that due to a variety of factors, finding daycare in Japan is only slightly less difficult than getting national security clearance at the highest level. Take the case of Ayaka Okumura whose story was featured today in The New York Times. Since Japan has begun loosening restrictions on women in the workplace, things have changed dramatically. Of course, for thousands of years in Japan, women did not work except to keep the household running and provide sex when husbands wanted it. Following WW II, though, women were urged to work at something other than being "office ladies," a position designed to serve tea and greet guests at places of business. Some of the old traditions remain, though, and that was one of Okumura's problems: if she wanted to find childcare, she would have to do it alone since men did not consider that worthy of them. So she began.
She spent the entire pregnancy going from daycare to daycare, filling out applications and being put on waiting lists...some as long as 200 names. Her parents are live too far away to take care of an infant so she had to find either a government-sponsored place where workers are required to have two years of specialized training, or find a private service: nannies being unheard of since the Japanese are hesitant to invite foreigners into their homes.
Anyway, she visited 44 sites in 9 months, the last being scheduled on the day she gave birth. In many cases, she was asked why she would be so selfish as to put her child in someone else's care...the stereotype of the "June Cleaver" mother still being culturally accepted as a norm.
Okumura even bemoaned her lack of timing: If she have had her baby closer to April, the beginning of the daycare "school year," she would have been much higher on the list for government sponsored childcare. Of course, since both she and her husband had jobs, and no relatives lived nearby, she was still ranked relatively high on the list.
When she was finally granted a spot in one of the government daycares, she was relieved but still felt the guilt of leaving a child in the care of strangers.
Motherhood can be a real pain.
In Japan, it is apparent that it is difficult to "have it all."

Monday, February 25, 2013

Glamorous, It's Not!

Every time the Academy Awards are handed out, there is the usual clamor about glamor on the red carpet (when did Joan Rivers or Kelly Osborne get to be fashionistas?), and it leads the rest of us to the realization that our lives are not very glamorous. That five o"clock shadow isn't ruggedly handsome on us: it's a sign that the weekend's here, and we're just too lazy to do much about personal grooming. Not many of us have designer gowns that either hint at or blatantly show our "girl parts" for the folks at TMZ (not to mention Sports Illustrated) to ogle or discuss at length. Life, for most of us, just isn't filled with excitement and/or glamor. Sometimes, though, people think my association with college athletics is different. it. is. not.
This past week, I went with the men's basketball team to a game in Iowa. We chartered planes, ate great food, and I got a courtside seat for a college game with more Gatorade than I could drink in a week. Glamorous, right? Nope.
First of all, the charter was a series of small 12-passenger planes that contained tiny seats too uncomfortable for me, let alone the 7'1" guy we have.
Food was good, but we ate five times over a day and a half, and frankly, I was tired of eating...but then, I'm not a college athlete anymore, and my caloric needs are different. The problem is that the food is always the same: pasta, sub sandwiches, salads and a buffet breakfast. More than two days in a row of the SAME food (like we have on most travel trips) is not fun; in addition, the timing of meals had to coincide with the schedule for practice, film study and pre-game discussions, so we were eating at incrdibly off-schedule times.
Then, there is the boredom factor: hours of time devoted to the athletes' rest, recuperation, coaches' meetings, and time spent watching TV in the hotel. Fortunately, a couple of the guys had essays for me to work with so I was not completely zoned, but enough so that I felt disoriented...and terminally slow elevators to the 8th floor occupied by screaming 10-year-olds...and malfunctioning door keys? don't even ask.
Sleep in a strange bed that's too soft or too hard? Room temperature too hot or too cold? Roommate that snores? yep. all of those.
Returning on the red-eye charter at midnight in time to drive 30 minutes home and try to sleep. Definitely not glamorous.
And we lost the game.
Long, long trip.
Typical of the "glamor" of college athletics.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Red State or Blue?

First of all, this has nothing to do with politics...or maybe it does. It's about happiness, and while the two are not as mutually exclusive as they might seem in the current state of affairs, I'm generally disinterested in the duality of "you vs me" instead of "us" that politics has devolved into on a seemingly permanent basis.
Back to happiness. Researchers at the University of Vermont decided that they would like to know where the happiest people live and how they described that happiness; so, like so many other demographics studies, this one turned to social meda: Twitter, to be precise. Researchers studied 10 million geotagged tweets from 2011 and tried to determine whether or not the tweeter was happy. Judgments were based on occurrences of more than 10,000 words used to indicate a happy or unhappy mood. The results were then analyzed using the Mechanical Turk Language Assessment (who knew?) on a scale of 1-10. After crunching the numbers, researchers found some not-so-surprising results:

Happy people tended to use words like "LOL," "ha ha," "good," "nice," "sleep," "wine" or words that were beach-related.
Less satisfied tweeters more often used terms such as "mad," "hate," "boo," and "smoke."

People with a higher income tended to tweet words like "cafe," "sushi," "brewery," and "banana."
while those more economically challenged favored words like "McDonald's," "wings," "ham," and "heartburn."

People who lived in coastal areas tended to tweet happy more than those who were landlocked.

Urban areas that were highly technological seemed to have more unhappy users of Twitter than less "developed" urban centers.

I know you've waited with bated breath to find out where the moving van is taking you next week so you'll be happy. First, let's discuss where NOT to move.
The five states containing unhappy users of Twitter are Louisiana, Mississippi, Maryland, Michigan, and Delaware. As a sidenote, the Cajun state zoomed to the top primarily based on the proclivity of its Twitter users to use profanity.

The five top states for happy tweeting are Hawaii, Maine, Nevada, Utah, and Vermont.

You can make up your own reasons why, but keep this in mind: only 15% of people in this country use Twitter. It would stand to reasont hat smartphones have jumpstarted the tweet explosion. Thus, the study does NOT reflect the demographics of this country; so, think twice before loading the van.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Tortoises Need Not Apply

As the Baby Boomers begin to hit the mid-60s, they realize that their parents all died relatively young...mind you, at this point in their lives, Boomers don't consider 60 old...they figure they're just getting started. They also seem to feel that Mom and Dad succumbed early because they lacked the proper diet or exercise program or any of the host of maladie that this generation hopes to avoid.
so, they run marathons, do triathlons, bike, and hike and go to the gym to swim as well as quitting smoking, eating butter and red meat...and on and on. The malls are full of folks walking briskly every day when the weather is unreasonable. Just maybe, says Dr. Stuart Gry, they're doing it wrong.
Gray, a researcher at the University of Aberdeen's musculoskeltal research lab, opines that what everyone SHOULD be doing is high intensity exercise in order to eliminate the fat that courses through our bloodstreams, a technique that burns fat much faster than medium intensity activities like walking briskly.
Gray recommends 30 seconds of activity such as sprinting or pedaling all out on an exercise bike as typical of the kind of work that he feels is most effective. The owners of Results fitness in Santa Clarita agree, and they have been basing their workouts for 10 years on the latest research. The resulting "metabolic zone class" has shown to be very effective. Participants utilize heart rate monitors for the 45-minute classes, upping their exercise level to 85% of max then relaxing until the monitor shows a decrease to 75% of max...then they begin again. In reality, it's a simple form of interval training, though using the monitor is a more scientific way of controlling effort. After all, everyone's threshold is different so not everyone is working at the same pace at the same time. Oe might, for example, slam an exercise ball explosively downward for 30 seconds (hopefully catching it on the rebound). I would suggest that "boot camp" cl;asses might be similar, though I will never know from experience.
Having used heart rate monitors for classes of students, though, I know the device gives everyone a kind of confidence that he or she is working as hard as necessary and in a safe range.
As far as sprinting or pedaling fast? No word on how many repetitions one needs to do. I suspect I'd be done after one or two.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Perfect Site for a Polar Bear Club to Swim

On the first day of each new year, hardy souls gather around cold water hotspots and jump in to prove...well, I'm not really sure what they are trying to prove, but it is relatively safe to say that the majority of people thinks that such people are more than a little addled to complete such a stunt. While I have never done so myself, it's not out of the realm of possibility. After all, I have run from a sauna to plunge into a snowbank because one of our foreign exchange students from Sweden said it was commonplace there, and I didn't want him to think Americans were sissies. Having done it, I can cheerfully say that I will never do so again...unless provoked by an interesting challenge such as the one pictured above.
Yes, it seems like another ordinary hole in a frozen lake, but this one's about to become famous. It is located in the Ural Mountains of Russia and is named Chebarkul Lake. I hear you asking why I might travel all the way to Russia to do something I could do right here in Green Bay. The answer is simple: you are looking at the hole created by last week's falling meteorite. By now, we've all seen the footage of the ball of fire streaking across the early morning Soviet skies, emitting sound waves strong enough to shatter more than 200,000 square meters of glass from buildings underneath its path while traveling at an estimated 19 miles per second. Wow!
The hole it left in the lake where it finally deposited itself was about 20 feet wide...certainly large enough to handle a newly-formed Polar Bear club. Who wouldn't want to be able to say that he or she had leaped into this lake just after the meteorite landed?
For the record, divers DID go into the water to find the remains but could find nothing.
If it starts to glow, there will be a new "place to visit" in Fodor's next travel guide.
Or, it could be an ice-fishing hot spot.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Kickin' It Into High Gear

With apologies to Motley Crue, I don't think this is exactly what the band had in mind when they had a big hit with "Kick Start my Heart" back in the day. References to naked skydiving and rockin' out surely could not have been the impetus for PepsiCo when they decided that America and the world needed yet another  "get up and get going" morning drink to compete with the veritable legion of choices out there, from the baristas slinging java to taurine-infused Red Bull and its brethren, it's a crowded market, and we're just about to have another entry.
Slated for introduction in the latter part of February, this caffeinated drink aims to compete head on for our morning jolt. It combines the well-known taste of Mountain Dew with an infusion of fruit flavor (though probably not actual fruit, per se). The 16-ounce drink will arrive in both an orange-citrus blend as well as a fruit punch offering.  Yes, it has caffeine (we wouldn't drink it if it didn't!), but somewhat less than other notables in the field.
According to the Center for Science in the Public Interest (who knew?), the 92 mg of caffeine in Kick Start place it below some of the more recognizable drinks:
Amp, for example, contains 142 mg of caffeine, while a 16 oz cup of coffee at Starbucks is loaded with 330 mg of caffeinated high. Interestingly enough, a 16-ounce serving of Mountain Dew contains "only" 72 milligrams of caffeine, and we were led to believe that Mountain Dew was absolutely killer in that department.
So, if it's the jittery jive of full-tilt caffeine you want, Starbucks is the place to go. Of course, all of that hype comes at a cost, but it's far more economic to drink coffee than two or three cans of Kick Start to get the same rev.
Or, you could just get to bed earlier and get a solid eight hours of sleep to wake refreshed to a good breakfast and a nice, brisk walk to work.
That is even cheaper.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Smarter Than Some People, No Doubt

I am definitely not a cat person.I dislike their aloof behavior, the smelly litterbox and the clawed up furniture and drapes. I especially don't like the way cats seem drawn to me like I'm wearing catnip underwear whenever I visit someone who owns a cat. I suppose since I've never owned a cat but always had dogs, I might be somewhat biased; however, it always seemed to me that dogs had a personality more suited to people than did cats...whose expression might have been a permanent, "meh."
Now comes a degree of proof that dogs are possessed with a degree of flexible understanding that we had not thought possible prior to the study done by Dr. Juliane Kaminski of the University of Portsmouth in ?England. Her research points obliquely to the fact that dogs have an ability to understand changes in their owners' perspective.
In her study of 84 dogs, Kaminski found that dogs were four times more likely to steal "forbidden" food-even in the owner's presence-wen the lights were turned out as they were when they could see the owner in the room. According to Kaminski, this means that the dogs were able to sense a change in the owner's perspective...meaning that the dogs knew the owners couldn't see them and they were thus free to alter their behavior and take food that the owners had withheld from them in the lighted room.
The report, published in the journal Animal Cognition also potentially helps to explain why dogs have a great capacity to interact closely with people in their work as guide dogs or sniffer dogs.
The downside of this finding, however, is that now it's not just our significant others who can think for the darn dog can do it, too!

Friday, February 08, 2013

Like political campaigns, holiday seasons seem to meld into one another. Just as the decorations and come-ons int he stores are moved to the clearance aisle, the next big blitz is underway. Marketing geniuses know that advertising is a key element in attracting customers, do the visual and auditory airwaves are inundated with enticing messages, encouraging would-be buyers to a) get the must-have items while they are still in stock or b) get them early before the price changes.
Here's my beef, though. While I seldom actually watch television, and tune out virtually every commercial, it seems to me that on every occasion, the ads are aimed at the male population. Take the upcoming lovefest that is Valentine's Day. Can you remember an ad that was designed to entice women to get something or do something special for the special man in their lives? I thought not. I've been thinking for days, and every single commercial I've encountered encourages me to show a woman just how much I love her. every. one. Something for me? never. Why is that?
I have a few theories.

1. Men are stereotypically portrayed as forgetful...people who can never remember any special day whether it be a birthday, wedding anniversary or Christmas. really. How many television programs/movies near the holidays feature men rushing around doing the last minute shopping thing? All of them. Women? never, Sometimes I think it's amazing that we can still find our way to work or remember where we parked the car at the store!

2. men are portrayed stereotypically as having no "personal" sense. We don't know what our significant other likes, what she hates, and anything at all about the world of fashion, fragrance, and flowers. I must confess that ONE TIME I did buy the wrong fragrance and had to suffer through, "You should KNOW what I like." I have not made that mistake since. Generally, though, we are depicted as goofs who walk into the department store, flower shop, or 7-Eleven and say to the clerk, "Get me something the little woman will like. I don't care what it costs."

3. That scenario is ridiculous, of course, because men are also depicted as cheap when it comes to buying women gifts. If it's something for the man cave or the yard work...we spare no expense. That $20 seven-tools-in-one? I need every one of them all the time, despite the huge, locking tool chest that she gave me for Christmas being full of Craftsman stuff (with air fresheners tucked away inside to keep everything smelling nice. But when it comes time to open the wallet for women? If we are not told specifically what EVERY woman wants, we'd get a gift card at Pizza Hut and consider that an excellent gift (the key being to get something WE like in case she doesn't...and generally, she doesn't, so why should both of us suffer?)

Whatever the case, and I'm sure it is different for each of us, I think it's time we men got some air time around the holidays. Women may think Valentine's Day is all about sex for men (like most days). Not so.
We like presents, too.

Tuesday, February 05, 2013

Diet Soda Dilemma

Health experts have decried consumption of soda pop for many years: empty calories, weight gains, hyperactivity...a myriad of health issues have been laid at the doorstep of the soft drink companies. They have responded to the crisis by disguising the product with terms like "real juice" or "fruit-flavored" or "zero calories" in an attempt to keep us going back again and again for those soft drink options we love. Even flavored waters and sports drinks contain things we really don't need (like the recently-reported flame retardant in a major sports drink!), yet we continue to guzzle them.
In my mind, the biggest ruse foisted upon us has been the diet soda invention. Supposedly devoid of serious caloric input, these beverages have been touted as an answer to our cravings without the "bad" stuff in regular soda. I read at one point that diet soda had been shown to make us hungry...thus negating the purpose of losing calories. I cannot offer proof of that anymore; however, a recent study reported on Tuesday in the journal Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research implies a far more sinister problem with drinking diet soda.
In a small study completed at Northern Kentucky University, researchers had college students (self-identified as social drinkers) ingest drinks of vodka and soda, with some getting regular soda and some getting their drinks mixed with diet soda. Students were given the equivalent of four mixed drinks over a 10-minute period, then were tested for reaction time and blood-alcohol content.
Without fail, the students who drank vodka mixed with diet soda showed an over-the-limit blood-alcohol content as well as slower reaction times when compared with the students whose mixed drinks combined regular soda with vodka. Strong proof (so to speak) of diet soda's effect when mixed with alcohol. Why the difference?
The body treats the sugar in regular soda like a food; thus, the digestion time is slower. The sweeteners used in diet soda confuse the body into thinking that what just went down the esophagus is a liquid, and it processes it much more quickly...hence a much more dramatic alcohol effect.
From the caloric standpoint (remember...this is why people choose diet soda to begin with), researchers found a mere 130-calorie difference between the drinks offered with and without the diet soda: a small difference when the results of the alcohol are factored in.
Another observation was that mixed drinks of this sort were mostly consumed by females; this, of course, adds another dynamic to the dating scene.
Now THIS is research that can be usefully applied.

Monday, February 04, 2013

Dawning Uncertainty

Nobody lives forever. Nobody gets everything he or she wants. Nobody thinks life is fair. Nobody ever expects to work all his or her life, retire, then die. But it happens.
My friend retired two years ago and has been enjoying the life he felt he deserved. He worked hard for others all his life. He accepted the cruel twists fate handed him with aplomb.
And he persevered.
Until now.
Sudden seizures recently let to a diagnosis every one of us dreads: cancer.
The prognosis is dire: at most, with chemo and radiation, a couple of years.
Without treatment: a couple of months.
What happened to fair? Just desserts? Paying your dues and getting rewarded?
It's not meant to be.
I will miss you, buddy...for the rest of my life.
This hurts.

Friday, February 01, 2013

Publish? Perish? What's the Point...Sometimes?

Research is a valuable way to spend time. It goes without saying that such activity has furthered just about every facet of life...though some has ultimately resulted in things like climate change, online porn and a general depersonalization of society. Still...the good outweighs the bad. For example, just this week, I discovered an amazing study  tool that I will use from this day forward to help somewhat reluctant well as any student who wants to learn and retain more.
Much of the research we read emanates from the ivy-covered walls of universities. Often funded by private organizations, this research produces significant advances as well as significant money for both producer and underwriter. It is well-known that university professors are required to do research to gain as well as to keep their full-time jobs. If one does not publish in accredited literature outlets, one is no longer welcome. Still...
Sometimes I wonder just how relevant some of the research and the findings are. I often find myself saying, "Well, duh! I knew that without spending time and money researching the topic!" Not that I'm a genius; it's just that the results of some seem so obvious based on general observation that "researching' the topic seems like a waste. Case in point:
As a result of a Council on Contemporary Families study done in 2008, Julie Brines, an assistant professor of sociology at the University of Washington-Seattle decided to further the research to discover how accurate the results were: she suspected not at all!
In short, it was suggested in 2008 that husbands who helped out more around the house with non-traditional chores like shopping, cleaning and cooking experienced a greater incidence in the amount of sex they experienced with their wives. Since that study, it is probably true that men have changed the way they operate at home. Brines, however, doubted the results and set about checking them.
She cited a survey of 4500 families taken in a national survey of families and households that indicated almost the exact opposite result.
Men who varied their duties to include the more traditional female chores actually had LESS sex than those who did more traditionally male jobs like gardening and yard work! To be clear, she also found that the wives were more satisfied in their married life and with their partner, but they were not exactly aroused in the way the previous study might have suggested. The men, she opined, were more "helpmate" than "bedmate." question is this: how valuable was any of this research, anyway? How does Brines' research further the knowledge about relationships or marital satisfaction, or ...well, anything? Perhaps, it furthers the cause of her getting a full professorship, but I don't see how it helps either men or women significantly. As a cynic, I guess I can see that this would ensure men would return to more traditional tasks, leaving the bulk of the work yet again to women.
It also makes me wonder if dusting is really all that necessary for me to do EVERY week!