Archive for September, 2009

The Thinker

Devour these sites

It’s a food jungle out there and you as a consumer are at a distinct disadvantage. Most packaged goods available in supermarkets at least have standard labeling. Eat out, which most of us do at least several times a week, and you generally have no idea how many calories you are consuming. It’s not just calories that have major consequences on our health, but also the fat, sugar, sodium and absence of dietary fiber in these foods.

Not all restaurants are evil. Many of the major fast food restaurants like McDonalds and Wendy’s are at least courteous enough to post the information on a wall in their restaurants. It is often on the side somewhere, and the type may be small, but at least it is there. Most restaurants will deliberately leave you in the dark. If you take the time to go to their web sites, you may find nutritional information there. Most restaurants, like, America’s quintessential neighborhood bar Applebees, prefer to leave you obese and ignorant. After all, if you knew just how caloric and toxic their food was, you would never patronize the place.

For someone like me who is back to a normal weight and plans to remain there, navigating through these endless food choices is like walking through a minefield. In part, I am succeeding because I eat out a lot less. At places I eat at all the time, like the cafeteria at work, I have learned and stick to the safe foods: the salad bar and the broth oriented soups. Yet, sometimes I cannot escape encounters with unhealthy restaurants. This weekend, because my daughter turned twenty, we let her pick a restaurant to celebrate. Being young and immortal, my daughter naturally chose one of the greasiest of joints, Red Robin in this case. Red Robin, like Applebees, prefers that you remain nutritionally ignorant. What is a smart restaurant consumer supposed to do?

One could buy one of the many books on the market that estimate the nutrition in dishes at popular restaurants, although regional chains may or may not be in these books. Most of us though don’t have time to buy these books or carry them around with us. They are also of limited value because restaurants tend to change their menus regularly. However, you could go to That’s where I went Sunday to figure out what food I could eat at Red Robin that would not spike my blood sugar nor expand my waistline. of course would prefer that you buy one of their many books too. However, you can also use their search engine and it will often give you the nutritional lowdown. It is quite comprehensive. If you choose a national or regional restaurant chain, they most likely have the nutritional information in their database. I typed “Red Robin” into their search engine. It was somewhat tedious but I was able to browse through seven or so pages of items available at Red Robin. As I feared, although the restaurant’s food is undeniably tasty, it is one big fat and calorie cluster bomb. With a couple exceptions, even their salad should come with blinking red warning lights.

For example, you would think a turkey burger would be safe and healthy choice, right? Turkey is low in fat. Not so fast! In the calorie intensive and lard-loaded world of Red Robin, it is 704 calories, contains 43 grams of fat and has just 3 grams of fiber. (Naturally, the bun is not made with whole wheat so it, along with the fries, will quickly spike your blood sugar.) The Whiskey River Barbeque Burger? 975 calories. Many of their burgers easily top 1000 calories. Naturally fries come with the meal but are not included in the calorie count. Consume just two and a half turkey burgers, without eating any fries or a drink and the average woman has already consumed all her daily calories.

A generation ago, people went to places like McDonalds or A&W and ate what were then considered to be normally-sized hamburgers. While not exactly healthy, by themselves they were unlikely to expand your waistline. A plain McDonald’s hamburger, for example, is 250 calories. A small order of French fries is 231 calories. With a 2000 calorie a day diet, this was a reasonable meal. Unbelievably, there was a time before the Big Macs and the Quarter Pounders with Cheese when plain hamburgers and cheeseburgers were what we ate when we went to a burger joint, and we were completely satisfied by our portions. The word “supersize” had not yet been invented.

I am no fan of McDonalds, but I wish I could have persuaded my daughter to go there instead. I ended up eating Red Robin’s Garden Burger, still pretty hefty at 422 calories and 18 grams of fat. does not list the calories in the fries they place on the side of your plate, but it was likely in the 300-400 calorie range. Had I eaten at McDonalds I could have likely saved myself at least 300 calories, enjoyed some meat, and likely would have been just as satisfied.

Aside from eating out less, it helps to get regular information to keep you mindful of your eating choices. is my favorite web site for this kind of information. It is a treasure of practical information, attractively arranged, interesting to read and you might say, easily digestable. For most of us, trying to estimate calories is more hassle than it is worth. What we need are some good strategies. offers an email newsletter to which I subscribed. Most days I get a colorful email where they offer some particular advice, and warn you about a particular toxic food while providing a healthier alternative. The articles are often packed with useful information. For example, most of us are unaware that blueberries are both oh so healthy (stuffed with antioxidants) and great brain food. Perhaps I should encourage my students to have a cup of blueberries before their test on Saturday., in addition to publishing some handy books of their own that I find useful and fun to browse, also attempts to rate restaurants. Unfortunately, it does not keep a comprehensive and up to date list of all items on all popular restaurants, but it can help you make informed choices. It also rates chain restaurants based on how nutritious their food is and how well they help you make informed dietary choices. Browsing the Restaurant and Grocery tabs on their web pages, or simply using their search engine, could easily save you thousands of unneeded calories a year. I often learn things I did not expect. For example, did you know a cup of Wendy’s chili is reasonably healthy and high in fiber? The site also includes areas for kids, great swaps for various kinds of food that are less caloric and healthier but taste just as good, as well as extensive articles and tips that help you navigate the caloric landmines all around us.

I look forward to reading their near daily emails, and frequently follow the links to the articles of interest. Slowly I am becoming an informed eater. While the news is mostly unsettling (it is amazing the extent to which restaurants go to make us obese), it is also hopeful and full of pragmatic advice.

Until we get some common sense restaurant labeling laws, your health may depend on regularly reading sites like these.

Do you have a better web site to recommend? If so please leave a comment.

The Thinker

Republicans are a party of sadists

If Democrats are a bunch of bleeding heart, do-good tree huggers (which sadly, we are not), it is clear that modern Republicans are pretty much the opposite. They may put on great smiles, but underneath that plastic veneer are a whole lot of seriously hurting and angry people who basically are sadists.

In case you are not familiar with the term, sadists take pleasure in the infliction of mental and physical pain on others. Being sadistic is not considered a virtue; it is considered a mental illness. Strangely, particularly in our bizarre modern times, Republicans do consider sadism virtuous. It is witnessed by the preponderance of Republicans and conservatives who were all for waterboarding and other forms of torture in our War on Terror.

In fact, some of the leading sadists come out of the conservative Christian community. Have you noticed? Yeah, it puzzles me too. I always thought Christians were for the poor and oppressed and wanted to relieve misery. Just a few of the Christian dominated conservative organizations that are opposed to health care reform include the Southern Baptist Convention, the Family Research Council, Focus on the Family, the Freedom Federation and American Values. The consequences of no health care reform are inescapable: health care will become more and more unaffordable, putting more people into misery, poverty and early death, and principally those near the bottom of the income scale. When you advocate policies that hurt and make miserable people you do not know or like, you are being sadistic.

The thing is most sadists enjoy inflicting pain and misery only on people they know personally. Republicans are taking it national, to people they don’t really know and in many cases just imagine. Take ultra-conservative TV show host Glenn Beck. Before he joined Fox “News” he worked for a radio station, B104 in Baltimore. What is more, Beck admits he was a sadist.

Today, when Beck wants to illustrate the jerk he used to be, he tells the story of the time he fired an employee for bringing him the wrong pen during a promotional event. According to former colleagues in Baltimore, Beck didn’t just fire people in fits of rage — he fired them slowly and publicly. “He used to take people to a bar and sit them down and just humiliate them in public. He was a sadist, the kind of guy who rips wings off of flies,” remembers a colleague.

Now that his audience is national, he appears to be in remission. In case you missed it, among Beck’s latest sadistic antics was this one where at first he appeared to boil a live frog.

As I noted back in 2007, Fox “News” commentator Bill O’Reilly is a bully with sadistic tendencies. He also has an explosive temper, both on and off the air. Yet in conservative circles, sadistic tendencies are now a virtue which might get you into their Hall of Fame. Sadistic tendencies show you are serious, just like Hitler was dead serious about ridding the world of the Jews. Indeed, Beck is rising in the public spotlight based on his sadistic notoriety. It’s like conservatives on TV and radio are holding a contest to see who can be the most sadistic and outrageous.

Fueling the sadism of course is anger, anger that must be expressed. When it is expressed in creative ways, such as pretending to boil a live frog, it gets publicity and weird interviews with Katie Couric. Even people who are not sadistic by nature might be drawn to watch Bill O’Reilly or Glenn Beck just to see what crazy sadistic antics they try on a particular day. (I am betting most of these people also watch TV reality shows.) While they are watching, of course, they will get plenty of propaganda. Their hope is that these viewers will make a regular habit watching them and, perhaps in time, enter the black and white world of the Dittoheads.

Perhaps it was Ronald Reagan who most recently started the whole mess, although clearly the underpinnings of this movement go back well before the rise of the John Birch Society. When Reagan first ran for president in 1976, he railed against welfare queens who he was sure were living the high life on the public dole. There was virtually no basis in fact for these allegations, but it made for an easy piñata that conservatives could bash. Given how miserable the economy was doing at the time, alleged welfare queens also made an easy target to advance a larger power agenda.

What was really needed in 1976, and is needed today in our sour economy, was some perspective. In 1976, anger against welfare queens was not the real issue; it was our rampant inflation instead. Our country was rapidly changing for the worse in a new global economy that we were not ready for. Today, the welfare queen may have been replaced with illegal immigrants clogging our emergency rooms, or illusory death panels of government bureaucrats, but their anger is real enough. When you feel angry inside, at some point you have to express the anger, at least you do if you have a short fuse. Naturally, the last place you will look for the source are some defects inside yourself. I am sure this anger has nothing to do with the way their Dads were so liberal with the use of the belt on their backsides.

So just why are conservatives so angry with Democrats in general and Barack Obama in particular? Is it just racist feelings that explain their hatred of all things Obama? That is certainly part of the unstated animus, but only a small part of it. What really gets conservatives riled up is the unacknowledged fear that we have an administration and Congress that just might actually solve a couple of these chronic problems that people really care about. (As I pointed out in my last post, I am not particularly hopeful that Democrats will succeed.) After all, should Americans choose a government run plan over private insurance, and should it be fashioned like Medicare, they might like minor conveniences like not having to hassle with paperwork and knowing that they might be able to afford to be sick. Moreover, that might mean they would want more policies like these, and more Democrats voted into office. Eventually Republicans might devolve into a wholly inchoate bunch.

The truth is, Republicans today pretty much are an inchoate bunch but they are making a hell of a lot of noise. Hurricanes are very loud too and leave a lot of devastation in their wake. When you go from welfare queens, who just might possibly exist in some weird and exceptional case, to government sanctioned death panels trying to kill grandma, it is clear that people like Sarah Palin are not playing with a full deck. The best you can say for them is that their sense of rage has temporarily overtaken their ability to reason based on the known facts. The worst you can say is that they are loose cannons. The last thing you want to do is put one of these impulsive people on the deck of the ship of state. The next thing you know they will be worrying their next-door neighbors are Martians because their next-door neighbor looks like Uncle Martin Martin from My Favorite Martian. This would mean, of course, given their tortured logic, that America is covertly up to its armpits in Martians, and, by the way, Martians look upon us the same way we look upon a juicy steak.

Seriously, if anyone needs health care reform, Republicans need it, and make sure it includes mental health benefits. Many of these folks can no longer discern reality from fantasy. Their world is apparently one full of endless subterfuge where someone is always out to get them or some member of their clan. Perhaps if there is some intelligence behind their hatred of health care reform, it is their hope that by maintaining the status quo we will end up with a nation of paranoid village idiots, just like them. When everyone is pointlessly paranoid, just like them, then perhaps they can relax a bit. Somehow, I doubt that will calm their restless souls.

I know that if I were Glenn Beck’s physician, I would be writing him a prescription for Valium and when he is calm enough send him to a good head shrinker. Chances are he will in there a long time.

The Thinker

America: An Empire in Decline (Part Two)

President Obama may be our Great African American Hope, but it is hard to avoid the feeling that our great country’s best days are behind it. Politicians will not admit it, of course. From their lips, like it came from Ronald Reagan’s, it is always Morning in America. If you need more proof our best days may be behind us, look no further than the current health care “debate”. It is a sad political debacle in which “compromise” apparently means everyone’s needs will be satisfied except for the people who actually need and use health insurance in the first place.

Democrats, as usual, are busy imploding now they have returned to full power. There are few things that Democrats do better than control both Congress and the White House and then quickly splinter into disunity. We saw it happen to Bill Clinton’s Democratic Congress, and before that to Jimmy Carter’s. This time, it’s the Blue Dog Democrats (who represent conservative and southern districts) vs. the Congressional Progressive Caucus. House Blue Dogs, who consistently represent more underinsured constituents than elsewhere, nonetheless cannot seem to summon the will to vote for the mere option of a universal public health insurance plan. The House Congressional Progressive Caucus, a somewhat larger body of Democrats, won’t vote for a bill without a public option.

Meanwhile, over in the Senate, alleged “Democratic” Senator from Montana Max Baucus, who is also chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, and whose reelection campaign is largely funded by the health insurance lobby, tried mightily to create a “bipartisan” health care bill. He did so by systematically excluding input from all but a handful of personally selected senators on his committee. “Bipartisan” meant trying to be inclusive to three Republicans, only one of whom (Olympia Snowe) may actually vote for his “bipartisan” bill. Baucus hopes that taxes on “Cadillac” health insurance plans plus murky promises to reduce future waste and fraud in Medicare will help subsidize health insurance for the working poor and the middle class. Everyone will be required to have health insurance, but will have to buy their plans from the same insurance companies that keep raising their premiums and dropping them as customers for sins like not disclosing that they had acne. With premiums alone currently running $13,000 a year for a family, and with subsidies anticipated to pay for only a small part of the premium, it is unclear where these already stretched families will find the dough to buy health insurance, but they risk a fine if they do not. The sad reality is that if the Baucus bill becomes law, most families will opt to pay the fine because they still will not be able to afford health insurance.

The winners, naturally, will be health insurance companies who will get plenty of new customers, many of whom are younger and thus less likely to get sick. While insurance companies will not be allowed to deny people insurance based on preexisting conditions or kick them off the plan when their care gets too expensive, they can keep raising premiums as much as they want. No insurance commissioner will be policing their premium rate increases. An independent commission may make recommendations for providing more efficient health care, but these are likely only to apply to Medicare, Medicaid and maybe physicians. A public option may or may not survive. It is likely to pass the House, but the assumption is that the Senate won’t pass it and they hold the trump card.

This is as close to health care reform as we are likely to get. In short, if you have insurance you cannot be dropped. If you don’t have it, you cannot be denied it even though you may not able to afford to do so. In addition, nothing serious will be done to slow the escalating costs of health insurance, meaning that it will only become more unaffordable as time goes on.

When a nation cannot find a pragmatic way to solve a pressing national problem that a majority of Americans earnestly want solved, you know government is becoming dysfunctional. Yes, the seeds for the eventual unraveling of our country are being planted through myopic and reckless acts of self-interest like these. Rather than be the United States of America, we are becoming the Divided States of America. You can see it in the senior citizens attending health care rallies, determined to protect their Medicare benefits at all costs while somehow blissfully unaware they are using socialized medicine. For those younger than them who cannot afford health insurance, well, screw ‘em. They got their government bennies first and they’ll be damned if anyone else will get any at their expense.

What would real health insurance reform look like? For one thing, we would mercilessly tax the things that are driving up health care costs, like we have been doing with tobacco and alcohol. There would be a ten cent per can surtax on every sugary beverage sold, from Coca Cola to a Starbuck Carmel Frappuccino. This alone would pay for much of our health care costs, but we could also do the same with any food the Surgeon General determines is unhealthy. We would give premium discounts to people who maintained a healthy weight. We would offer subsidies so the overweight and obese can enroll in successful weight loss programs like Weight Watchers. We would provide these companies bonuses for keeping people at healthy weights and physically active. We could require employers provide gyms and basketball courts and make sure their white-collar workers get cardiovascular exercise during the day.

No doubt, Republicans would scream about more socialism and higher taxes, and the food industry would oppose any reforms. And of course, they would win because this is America. In America, the interest groups that can best influence Congress (and these amount to those who have the most money, which is generally corporations) tend to get their way. Moreover, based on arguments recently before the Supreme Court, it looks like conservatives on the court will give corporations permission to spend unlimited amounts of money on campaign related advertising and propaganda too. We can look forward to even more government of, by and for the corporation.

Most sensible governments like the rest of the first world came to a reasonable solution a long time ago. A good American model would look a lot like Switzerland’s, where everyone buys private health insurance but niggardly insurance regulators set all sorts of conditions on premium increases and quality of care standards. However, we could not do that here, you see, because that would be “socialism” and might affect health insurance company executives and their $500M a year salaries.

Sadly, America has a long tradition of capitalism triumphing over common sense. Moreover, many of us will gleefully applaud policies that will only make us unhealthier and kill us faster. It’s the American way! From our growing guts, to our obsession with drugs, to our addiction to SUVs we cannot get beyond our own short sighted interests and pragmatically deal with the longer term problems that are crippling not only ourselves but destroying our great country.

I get the sense that we are doomed. I doubt even our Great African American Hope can pervade over such entrenched, self destructive and selfish dynamics. Shame on us.

The Thinker

Review: Chess in Concert

In 1995, to celebrate its tenth anniversary, the producers of the phenomenally successful musical Les Misérables brought together an all-star international cast for a celebratory concert. The event took place at London’s Royal Albert Hall. I remember watching on PBS wholly enrapt, frustrated only by the annoying “membership week” breaks. The cast was in costume but sang from microphones on the stage. Among many notable performances were Colm Wilkinson as Jean Valjean and Lea Salonga as Eponine.

Chess was another musical that appeared about the same time as Les Misérables. It ran for three years in London’s West End. However, it crashed and burned on Broadway, lasting a mere eight weeks. In trying to make it appealing to American audiences, Chess lost much of its vitality. Most Chess enthusiasts readily agree that the London version was much better than the Broadway version. For many years, its producers stubbornly refused to allow any changes to what it saw as the “official” Broadway version. Regional and community theaters started to stage the work. I saw it at a local community theater. While I found the music wonderful, the arrangement of the Broadway version was very disappointing. Over the twenty plus years since the musical was first produced, many “illegal” versions of Chess have surfaced, keeping most of the tunes but often rearranging plots and lyrics, and many favoring the London West End version.

The lyricist Tim Rice eventually decided that the musical needed a new “revised” version, which meant that it mostly needed to return to its successful roots. Last year in the same Royal Albert Hall venue where Les Misérables was staged, Chess enthusiasts watched a concert version of Chess, based on the successful London version. If you knew about it, a few months ago you could have caught it on “Great Performances” on your local PBS station.

I was blissfully unaware of this new concert version until I recently learned about it online. Naturally, I ordered the DVD and sat down this weekend to watch it. Wow! Here was the Chess I always wanted to see but had never seen staged. Even if this was just a concert version, it was delightful!

Chess is definitely not your ordinary musical. The powerhouse behind the phenomenal ABBA pop group (Benny Anderson and Bjorn Ulvaeus) first scored it in the early 1980s. While not quite a rock opera like Hair and Jesus Christ Superstar, it is an amalgamation of rock, pop and orchestration. Like most of ABBA’s songs, the tunes in Chess are very infectious.

If you take the time to listen to a recording of the musical, you be tapping your toes, and not just to the tune of One Night in Bangkok, the only song from the musical to get any radio play. Tim Rice has written many lyrics in his long career, but he may well have reached the top of his form with Chess. You should also appreciate its complex plot. Chess is not unlike Evita (another musical with lyrics by Tim Rice) in that it is only tangentially about the game of chess, and much more about politics, intrigue, romance and revenge. In short, it is a human story wrapped up around the frame of chess. So Chess may be something of an egghead’s musical, which may explain my own fascination with it these last twenty years.

In retrospect, it is clear why Chess did not get more visibility. First, it was written during the dying days of The Cold War, and by then Cold War intrigue had lost much of its power. Nearly a quarter century later, many have no memory of it because they were born into a post-Cold War age. If Chess had been released in the mid 1970s instead of the mid 1980s, it likely would have done much better. Then there is the topic itself, the game of chess, which is too cerebral for most folks.

The musical was clearly inspired by the infamous 1972 chess championship between American Bobby Fischer and Russian Boris Spassky, which at that time became another way to wage Cold War between East and West. In Chess, Freddy Trumper plays an American who is very much like the late Bobby Fischer. Fischer was renown for his temperament. Trumper likes to use theatrics to both undermine his opponent as well as to draw in larger audiences so he can enrich himself. One cannot really draw a similar comparison between Spassky and the musical’s Soviet chess master Anatoly Sergievsky. Nor did Bobby Fischer happen to have a comely female second named Florence Vassey. (Florence is also his lover as well as a refugee from the 1956 Soviet Union invasion of Hungary.) Florence provides a critical female character as well as a mutual love interest that the musical needs to succeed. Doesn’t there have to be a love story somewhere in a successful musical? Poor Florence finds herself drawn toward Sergievsky, but also discovers that she can never be first in their hearts. Chess must always be their true love.

Just as Les Miserables in Concert drew top tier talent, Chess in Concert got some of the best voices in the musical theater world. Adam Pascal, who many of us know as Roger from Rent is delicious as the flawed and often odious Freddy Trumper. In case you are unfamiliar with Idina Menzel, who plays Florence, she too appeared in Rent (both in Broadway and in the movie) in the role of Joanne. Younger people will probably know Menzel better as Elphaba in the musical Wicked. Josh Groban plays the Russian Sergievsky. Groban is somewhat new to musicals in general (he is only 28) but a phenomenal and powerful singer, who in addition to being very talented is clearly handsome in a thin and swarthy way.

Unlike the concert version of Les Misérables, this concert version of Chess is partially performed. There is actually a fair amount of dancing and acting. There are also some new songs to enjoy. This updated version of Chess gives us more music and less talking, yet does it in a consistent way that improves on the original musical first staged in 1986. In addition, some of the loveliest songs of the musical, such as “Merano” are now fully restored. Some songs have been rearranged. “The Story of Chess” is at the beginning, where it should have been all along. Some lyrics have also been updated. This concert version is likely to greatly please Chess aficionados, as it certainly pleased me. In addition, the DVD gives you an intimacy into the performance impossible to get unless you have front row center seats.

If you are a fan of musical theater, and have not heard or seen Chess performed, you are doing yourself a disfavor, as it is one of the best musicals of the 1980s. Both the CD and the DVD of this concert version are available, and you may want to own both.

The Thinker

Review: Public Enemies

Have you ever seen a film that was excellently directed, filled with fantastic actors and blessed with a great screenplay yet was still not very memorable? Public Enemies, starring Johnny Depp and Christian Bale is one of these movies. It is a really good movie but may leave you, like it left me, feeling “so what?”

John Dillinger, portrayed by Johnny Depp (perhaps America’s best actor), remains a well known name even more than seventy years after his death. He earned a reputation as America’s premier and most audacious bank robber. He also earned a margin of respect by some among the public by not also taking money from customers during his bank robberies. In 1933, bank robbers could often evade the law by escaping to a nearby state. The solution at that time was to make crimes where felons crossed state lines federal crimes. Unfortunately, in 1933, the FBI (known as “The Bureau of Investigations”) was a brand new organization directed by some untested newcomer called J. Edgar Hoover.  As you probably know, during The Great Depression and the era of Prohibition, the nexus of crime in the United States was in Chicago, which was effectively ruled by brazen mobsters like Al Capone. Early in the movie we watch Director Hoover (played by Billy Crudup) send Melvin Purvis (Christian Bale) to Chicago. Purvis’ job is to succeed where others have failed by bringing John Dillinger, Public Enemy No. 1, to justice. It was a tall order and not for the faint of heart, because his investigators were likely to die in a barrage of bullets.

Bale must have been between Batman movies and Depp must have been between Pirates of the Caribbean Movies. All this is for the good because both actors are at the top of their form and it is fun to watch them act together. While they naturally get the most screen time, the whole supporting cast is excellent too and blend in forming a seamless whole. Marion Cotillard plays Dillinger’s girlfriend Billie Frenchette, a simple hat check girl whose life had thus far been pedestrian, but who cannot help but find herself drawn to Dillinger.  The 1930s has probably not been so well realized on film since Paul Newman and Robert Redford starred in The Sting. The movie is truly a feast of great acting married with impeccably realized and historically accurate scenery. It is also, as you might expect, quite bloody. The gangsters’ gun of choice was a submachine gun, which was effective at wreaking butchery very quickly.

The movie follows Dillinger, his gang of associates and his girlfriend on chases that becomes ever more perilous for Dillinger as the feds slowly close in on him. There is lots of violence in this movie, but by current standards it is not particularly gruesome. There are no heads exploding or limbs butchered off, but lots and lots of bullets, dead or wounded people and houses torn up with gunshot. These scenes are all brilliantly captured. The movie is also interspersed with much period era music. Millions must have been spent on costume alone, given the many scenes with large numbers of extras. The directing and cinematography are first class, with many medium shots and steady cams helping to make you feel like you are part of the action.

Yet at its root this story is a one trick pony. Even if we forgot the history, we have a sense that Dillinger will be hunted down by the FBI and eventually meet a bloody end. We suspect that lots of people will die painful deaths before he is killed, and the movie amply justifies our suspicions. So we are left with a story which, at its essence, is about a headstrong John Dillinger finally being cornered by the determined and obsessed Melvin Purvis and his operatives and not much else. The only real suspense is whether Dillinger’s girlfriend will survive as well, given that the high mortality rate of anyone close to Dillinger.

So this film falls into the nebulous realm of “really good film” with no compelling reason to watch it other than to enjoy great acting and directing. If you are a Depp or Bale fan, you should not miss the film. However, if you are particularly choosy about movies that you see, there is probably something out there worthier of your time than Public Enemies. Given what is playing at the box office at the moment, Public Enemies is likely a top choice for adults.

3.4 on my 4 point scale. This is a film that manages to check all the checkboxes except perhaps the one that is most important: a film that leaves you more enriched and enlightened than when you entered into the theater.

The Thinker

Review: Mother of Mine (Äideistä parhain) (2005)

Over twenty million men and women died in World War Two. There were also millions who escaped with their lives but who were left spiritually wounded. Few who lived in Europe were unaffected by the war. Among the victims were thousands of children who were separated from their parents for much of the war. In many ways they were the lucky ones, for many escaped into safer countries. Mother of Mine traces the story of one Finish boy, Eero Lahti, who was caught in the detritus of the war.

During the war, Finland was aligned with the Axis powers. Sweden, just across the Baltic Sea, was unaligned. It became a logical destination for young children like Eero to go for an extended “vacation” with a host family. While the idea sounded humane in theory, it was still wrenching in practice. It was more so in Eero’s case, because he lost his father to the war shortly before being sent to Sweden. His world, which had been wrapped around his father and his mother Kirsti, was suddenly bereft of both friends and family. Moreover, Eero arrived in Sweden, unable to speak a word of Swedish, and placed with a childless farm family. As if his world was not topsy turvy enough, he finds little but coldness from his foster mother Signe. The only person that seems to care at all for him is his foster father Hjalmar, whose Finnish is rudimentary and whose attentions are often elsewhere.

Eero is also an unusually sensitive boy for whom any change is unwelcome and who is easily frustrated. He dreams of returning home to his mother, and even starts constructing a raft to make the trip home, a foolish and perilous journey which when he attempt it nearly kills him. His unhappiness turns to despair when he reads a letter from his mother to his foster mother, saying she has met a man in Germany who she wants to marry. Kirsti wants the family to adopt Eero permanently. Meanwhile, through the wireless he hears reports that the Russians have invaded his country. Helsinki is in flames and there are thousands of civilian casualties. In short, his world is blown away and he feels trapped in a situation that seems shows no possibility of improving. Moreover, he is emotionally devastated to learn that his mother wants to give him up for permanent adoption.

I was a sensitive boy like Eero, so it wasn’t hard for me to relate to his trauma in this low key but very well made film. Topi Majaniemi is a gifted young actor who convincingly plays Eero in a part that would be challenging for any child his age. The roles in this movie are few, but the acting is uniformly excellent. Maria Lundqvist has perhaps the most demanding role as Eero’s foster mother. She portrays a complex woman whose antipathy for Eero is hard to understand, until it becomes clear that, like Eero, she too has suffered devastating personal losses. It is her decision to share her loss with Eero that eventually helps her feel affection for him. Yet no amount of affection can salve Eero’s mental wounds. That his mother does not want him back in her life after being such a nurturing presence is like a knife through his heart.

As you might expect, this movie comes with subtitles, but that should not dissuade you from spending ninety minutes or so in Eero’s poignant world. Not only is it convincingly acted, but it is also well staged and superbly directed. If your childhood, like mine, had periods of dysfunction, this movie will help you realize that your problems were probably trifles. And Eero’s problems, as heart wrenching as they were to him, were very small in the context of a much larger and uglier war.

3.2 on my 4 point scale.

The Thinker

Two parties could play the disinformation game

I suspect that it was mostly us political junkies who watched President Obama’s speech before a joint session of Congress last night. My wife cares very much about health care reform, but not enough, apparently, to watch the speech with me. It was one of Obama’s better speeches, but it should have been delivered months ago. His administration has been floundering trying to master the health care reform debate and the speech was a belated attempt to regain control of the debate. For such an important initiative, it required better marketing effort than it has so far received.

Granted, Obama has had a few distractions to deal with, like fixing our tanking economy. It appears that our recession is over, but to the unemployed, whose ranks are likely to continue to swell in the months ahead, this is meaningless. Health care reform appears to be in part a victim of an administration trying to do too much at once. It is also the victim of learning too many lessons from the failure of health care reform during the Clinton Administration. Certain those dynamics are still in play, they appear to have floundered responding forcefully to the new dynamics of the debate. With luck, Obama’s speech at least changed the dynamics.

South Carolina Republican Congressman Joe Wilson certainly made a name of himself by heckling Obama during the speech. When Obama said accusations that reform would cover illegal immigrants was false, Wilson stood up in the middle of a joint session and called the president a liar. He has subsequently apologized for the incident, although it sounded halfhearted. While he agrees he acted disrespectfully, he still believes that health care reform proposals will indeed cover illegal immigrants, even though this is demonstrably false.

As Wilson demonstrates, Republicans seem to state as fact what could happen rather than what is actually being proposed. Using the “could” argument, of course, anything is possible. A subsequent Congress could explicitly decide to cover illegal immigrants so there you go, it must be true. In the minds of many Republicans, because anything is possible in the future, this means that Democrats are actively planning to make it so. There is a word for this sort of behavior: paranoia. Sometimes paranoia is justifiable. When paranoia extends to acts that are only imagined but have no basis in fact, one of two things is going on. In the case of Joe Wilson, it suggests a psychosis. Wilson could probably use some therapy, including anger management therapy. Most Republicans in Congress though are too smart to be psychotic. Which means that when they spew garbage like these imaginary death panels they are simply lying. Obama was correct to call those spewing these lies what they are: liars.

Wilson apparently transgressed the line of propriety by expressing his opinion during a joint session of Congress. However, being a politician means that you are free to lie the rest of the time, unless you are under oath. The only thing that really matters is whether voters will hold you accountable for your lies. The odds are stacked in an incumbent’s favor, but in the egregious case of Joe Wilson, perhaps not. His outburst spurred many contributions to his likely opposition candidate in 2010.

It may be late in the game, but maybe Democrats should to respond with a weapon similar to the one launched on them. Such a strategy may be hard to swallow, since it is so disingenuous, but it has proven remarkable effective for the Republicans. After all, if Republicans are going to charge as truth things that could happen, why should not Democrats and the Administration feel free to do the same? Of course, it would have the effect of burning bridges with the Republicans, but heck, Republicans have already burnt the bridges! What is the point of reconstructing the bridge of bipartisanship on the Democratic side if the Republicans are unwilling to also reconstruct their side? As I noted recently, bipartisanship is now perceived as for losers.

Perhaps it is time to marshal forces like in a deliberate disinformation campaign. What would it look like? Here are some lies that, like the Republican lies, could be true, if not now then in Democrats’ imaginations but based on not wholly unreasonable inferences:

  • The Republican Party has a master plan to destroy Medicare and Medicaid.
  • Republicans hate poor people and want them to die young. Their opposition to health care reform is all about killing these Democrats to create a new Republican majority.
  • Republicans also want to destroy the Social Security system because they see it as just more socialism.
  • Republicans hate all but wealthy senior citizens. They want to destroy Medicare so their access to high quality care is unrestrained. If this means that other seniors die prematurely, that’s okay.
  • Republicans are racists who want to deport African Americans back to Africa and send all Hispanics back to their native countries.

Like Republican lies such as the death panel lie, these lies sound a bit crazy, but not so crazy to not have a whiff of believability to them. For example, it is easy to find quotes by Glenn Beck or Pat Buchanan suggesting they are racists. It is also easy to find far-right members of Congress, like Ron Paul, who really are in favor of getting rid of Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.  The reason a smear so often works is because you really only need one egregious example to infer the truth about an entire class. In this sense, these lies are more credible than those Republicans have uttered. Since Republican lies have proven good at putting Democrats on the defensive, it is likely these lies would stick like superglue to Republicans. After all, their recent stints in power have left them with little credibility and their approval numbers are in the gutter. Moreover, the lies would keep Republicans busy explaining why the lies are not true, essentially taking the wind from their sails, as their lies did to Democrats at many town halls this summer.

In reality, it is not Republicans whose votes are needed. They will be opposed to it, no matter how much Obama and Democrats try to sweeten it for them. It is Democrats, particularly those Democrats that represent rather conservative districts and states, who are scared. I see it here in Virginia, a purple state. Senator Jim Webb is calling for more time for discussion and debate on health care reform, as if the last fifteen years have not been enough. Senator Mark Warner is being cautious and hedgy, and in particular seems to be backing away from supporting a public option.

Outspoken citizens at town halls are disproportionately influencing both senators. Numerous polls, such as this New York Time poll, show that the public option is strongly supported by a majority of Americans. Democrats have to summon the nerve to vote the will of their constituents. If they do, they will be rewarded by reelection because they will be seen as working for their constituents for a change. However, capitulation to a loud minority will only help ensure that Democrats reenter minority party status far sooner than need be.

The Thinker

Review: The Snow Walker (2003)

In the mood for a movie filmed in an exotic location? It’s hard to imagine a location much more exotic or remote than the Canadian Arctic. The region consists of a huge expanse of land and forms the Canadian provinces of Yukon, the Northwest Territories and Nunavut. The remote Arctic island of Ellesmere in Nunavut is one of the closest landmasses to the North Pole.

Most of us Americans, to the extent we think about Canada at all, think only of that part of the country that borders the northern continental United States. Yet by any standard Canada is an enormous country, much of it inaccessible, extremely remote and sparsely populated. Nunavut province alone contains nearly 800,000 square miles. Only 30,000 people, mostly native Inuit, live in these vast expanses of Arctic tundra.

Canada is so large that it can fit three Europes within its landmass. Except for its most southern regions, Canada is also wild and largely undeveloped. In most places above the Arctic Circle, roads are largely non-existent. If it were not for the airplane, many of these small towns would only be accessible by boat, and only then during the summer.

It is something of a mystery why we don’t know more about this area, since it is within a few hours flying time from the United States. Happily, if you rent the movie The Snow Walker, you will learn plenty about northernmost Canada. You will also enjoy a compelling story about a lost pilot and a sick Inuit woman in his charge trying to survive in one of the most inhospitable and remote places on earth.

Those who expect great special effects will find none in this movie, which takes place in 1953. Charlie Halliday (Barry Pepper) is a World War Two pilot who, unlike many of his friends, survived the war. He finds employment in Yellowknife in the Yukon ferrying cargo across the Canadian Arctic to remote locations. Charlie is 32 but still somewhat immature as well as short-tempered. He is also suffering the effects of posttraumatic stress disorder from his experiences during the war. On short notice, he is assigned to run some cargo to a very remote Inuit village, leaving behind a budding relationship with a hostess at a local bar. He and his pontoon plane eventually find the tiny village. There he discovers a sick young Inuit woman named Kanallaq (Anabella Piugattuk) who he halfheartedly agrees to fly back to Yellowknife for medical care. As you might expect, his errand of mercy is short lived. His engine malfunctions and he and Kanallaq find themselves on the Arctic tundra literally hundreds of miles from the nearest outpost and without a working radio to call for help.

Their bleak prospects for survival grow bleaker when Charlie makes an audacious attempt to hoof it to the nearest village hundreds of miles away. He promises Kanallaq that he will return with a plane that will take her to Yellowknife. After a couple days on the tundra, he discovers he made a terrible mistake. He is wholly unprepared for the reality of life on the tundra, even during the warmest part of the year. He frequently falls into bogs and is nearly eaten alive by the omnipresent mosquitoes and black flies. He very nearly goes insane.

Fortunately, although quite sick, Kanallaq tracks him down on the tundra and cares for him. Her English is very poor, but they find ways to communicate. Despite the odds, Kanallaq nurtures Charlie back into health and shows him how her people survive on the tundra. They eventually return to their downed plane, but because he veered off his flight plan, there are no signs of a rescue party. Their chances for survival get bleaker, and Kanallaq’s illness (probably tuberculosis) gets progressively worse.

Piugattuk is a beautiful but unknown Inuit actress. According to IMDB, this is her only movie, although she did star in a mini-series in 2005. She proves herself an accomplished actress. Their survival story feels uncomfortably real and is very well done. Charlie and Kanallaq draw closer over time, but their relationship does not really blossom into romance. Rather Charlie discovers what has probably eluded him the most in his life: genuine intimacy with another human being. He also learns about love, not the romantic kind, but the unselfish and giving kind from one human being to another.

In short, The Snow Walker is a very human film that is both raw and endearing. It will tug at your heartstrings and quickly pull you into their struggle. You will probably find yourself crying at the end. This movie’s story is rather simple, yet compelling. It falls into the nebulous category of really good but vastly underrated and under-marketed films that is worthy of anyone’s time and attention. Since most of us will never set foot above the Arctic Circle, you will also develop an appreciation for this amazingly remote place and for a vast part of the earth that is mostly unseen.

3.3 on my four-point scale. This movie is much better than its premise would suggest.

For the price of a short commercial, you can watch the movie in its entirety on YouTube.

The Thinker

The potential of Google Visualizations

Two years ago, I wrote about what I saw as the hidden power of Google Docs. Google Docs offers word processing, spreadsheets and presentation software on the web, similar to Microsoft’s Word, Excel and PowerPoint. In the last two years, Google Docs have not displaced the Microsoft Office suite, but its functionality has improved. Some businesses are actually paying Google to use Google Docs, noting that even though its license costs money, it is cheaper than Microsoft Office. Google Docs remains free for personal use, unlike the pricey Microsoft Office suite. Free is nice, particularly if you are wondering why you have to shell out hundreds of bucks per computer to run Microsoft Office. You also don’t need to worry about losing a Google Docs file, as it is stored in the massive Google “cloud” somewhere. You also do not have to worry about installing, upgrading or patching it either.

In truth, most of us use no more than twenty percent of the Microsoft Office suite anyhow, so it is unlikely that we would ever notice any missing functionality if we switched to Google Docs. We stay with Microsoft Office primarily because we are comfortable with it. Microsoft Office is arguably faster, since documents do not have to traverse the worldwide web in order to be stored.

The folks in Google’s labs have been busy creating and improving innovative products like Google Docs, Google Earth, Google Maps, Gmail and Google Analytics. I have recently been experimenting with yet another product Google has been fostering called Google Visualizations. Once again, I really like what I am seeing. I think this product has enormous potential. Unfortunately, at least the moment still requires a web developer in order to create useful visualizations.

Google Visualizations is about more easily creating web pages with useful and interactive data driven graphics. The premise behind it is that static graphics on a web page are so yesterday. Most graphs and charts rendered on the web are images. The images are generally created on the web server and embedded in a web page. Largely, you cannot interact with these graphics. To the extent that graphs and charts are animated on the web, it is because they are written using Adobe Flash technology, which is built into browsers. Although end users do not pay for the privilege of seeing fancy animated graphics (and animations), those who create these graphics arguably pay hefty fees to Adobe to license the technology.

To be clear, Google Visualizations is not an Adobe Flash (or for that matter Microsoft Silverlight) killer. These products have other uses besides rendering data in fancy formats. What Google Visualizations provides is a programmer friendlier and less proprietary way to display and manipulate analytic information on the web in ways that are more visually appealing and more interactive.

To get a sense of what can be done with Google Visualizations, spend a couple of minutes here. I think that you will agree that Google has come up with some clever ways of rendering data. While Google created the visualization platform, it has also levered communities of open source developers on the Internet who, true to form, are developing innovative visualizations that may surprise and amaze you.

Google Visualizations are helping us better see and easily interpret data hosted on the web. Data sources are voluminous on the web, but they are only useful to the extent that we humans can interpret, understand and draw inferences from the data. Some web sites have tried to be data friendly by allowing us to download their data as Microsoft Excel spreadsheets. Assuming we have fluency in Microsoft Excel we could then slice and dice the data gathered over the web, but only after significant pruning of the data to just that subset we are interested in. It is not very efficient.

A good example of a useful Google Visualization is its Gauge Visualization. The Gauge Visualization succeeds because we understand it at a glance. For example, if you are responsible for monitoring a network, a customized console application that reads information from various data sources and places all the information in one place where it is easy to see where the trouble spots are is very useful. Even with the coding required to make these Visualizations work, it is a relatively fast way of being able to render data, once you are used to using the Visualization API.

Google Visualizations harness the power of the non-proprietary Javascript engine in your browser to render very pretty graphics on the fly. It does this by providing its own Javascript libraries. A programmer still has to write the Javascript that renders the particular visualizations needed. Yet most Javascript programmers will find the interface straightforward. Google hides much of its complexity from the programmer.

The true innovation in Google Visualizations is not the code that renders the pretty visualizations, but figuring out a generic way to render rich tabular data using one format. Tabular data is nothing more than data expressed in columns and rows, like a spreadsheet. Put data in columns and rows in a smart way and it can be rendered in an infinite number of ways, from conventional HTML tables, to bar and pie charts and even to advanced charts like heat charts, and you have something very compelling. If data content providers can provide data in a Google Visualization data query format, the data can potentially be rendered, analyzed and interpreted in infinite numbers of ways.

Not coincidentally, when needed Google Visualizations ties closely to Google Docs. If you take the time to express your data in the spreadsheet in Google Docs, you can render it in all sorts of creative ways as a Google Visualization. Since no special software is needed to view the visualizations, and since a well-supported code base is rapidly developing behind the product, I believe you can expect a lot more general use of Google Visualizations in the months and years ahead. Your bank, for example, may provide bank balance charts by day for your accounts, which are rendered using Google Visualizations. Your stockbroker might provide graphs that let you look at your investments in detail with a few clicks of a mouse.

It is my hope that the government will provide its data in Google Visualization accessible formats. Unfortunately, right now government licensing of the Google Visualization API is murky, but it is actually something I am helping to rectify where I work. For example, if the Census Bureau provided census data services in a Google Visualization data table format, its data will be far more accessible and, just as importantly, usable.

In time, I suspect that the Javascript skills currently needed to render Google Visualizations will become less onerous, or perhaps go away altogether. If this happens you will be able to create and share Google Visualizations without being a programmer. Google is a smart company. I would be very surprised if they were not already working on a programmer-less interface to Google Visualizations.

I expect great things in the next decade with this technology. Time will tell if I am correct.

The Thinker

Real Life 101, Lesson 11: The skinny on nutrition

This is the eleventh in an indeterminate series of entries that provides my “real world” lessons to young adults. It is my conviction that these lessons are rarely taught either at home or in the schools. For those who did not get them growing up you can get them from me for free. This is part of my way of giving back to the universe on the occasion of my 50th birthday.

An indigent and obese friend of my wife tonight sits critically ill in a hospital in Lanchester County, Pennsylvania, her abdomen a mass of bloated polyps and at least one large tumor. She has had one surgery already that removed many of them and is scheduled for another shortly, however her prognosis for a full recovery is almost nonexistent. She is in her fifties. What is unstated, but is quite possible, is that she is dying. With so many masses in her abdomen, the chance that one of them is malignant is very high.

I have met her only twice. While a nice person, she appears to have spent a lifetime treating her body with contempt. Between her regular smoking (which she only recently she gave up) and the voluminous crap she has been eating over the years, she passively chose the miserable experience that she is now enduring. (Yes, I am aware obesity is a disease like alcoholism. It required treatment that it appears she either could not afford or refused.) She also chose the substandard life she has lived these many years because the result was she became officially disabled and is hobbled by her obesity. Her joints often hurt. She is rarely mobile enough to even take a shower, and she is able to move only with great effort. She is morbidly obese.

When she visited us recently, she asked her partner to make a run through the local Burger King drive thru. I do not know whether her partner indulged her or not, but it is clear that to her junk food has the lure of a narcotic. Like too many of us overweight and obese Americans, she is addicted to stuff that seems destined to kill her prematurely.

I hope all that food and nicotine that she enjoyed earlier in her life is worth the pain, misery, inconvenience and heartache that she is now experiencing and has been experiencing for probably at least a decade. What is clear is that she allowed these forces to control her, rather than the other way around. Had she embraced other choices earlier in her life she might have a couple more quality decades of a life ahead of her. She might have the time to watch her young granddaughter, who she dotes on, graduate college. She may also have enjoyed much more the last few decades instead of being hobbled by the consequences of these addictions.

Particularly in your younger years, the consequences of eating pizza, drinking sugar-rich beers and sodas, and smoking are fully reversible. As you age, the effect of these choices takes an increasingly larger toll on your body. The probability of gaining control over these demons lessens too with age.

Many young adults reach maturity with little to no training on nutrition. Maybe they studied the USDA food pyramid in class, but it is unlikely they received the coaching to use it effectively. The more I learn about nutrition in my middle years, the more I understand how complex it is. What is clear is that temptations abound, and the unhealthy food is artificially cheap. Paradoxically, the healthy food is increasingly more expensive.

How do young adults in particular navigate the complex issue of basic nutrition, particularly when their forebrain tells them they should eat healthy but their emotional side has them craving a processed food diet? Perhaps it starts with some understanding of what nutrition is. Based on younger adults in my own family who shall remain nameless, I don’t think most teenagers and young adults really understand. On one level, they may understand there are “bad foods” and that they tend to be the ones they want. They may also infer that “good foods” are boring and not very tasty.

The essence of nutrition is readily understandable. It is about giving your body the food it needs to operate optimally. It is also about giving your body the right amount of food so that you can maintain a healthy weight. The good thing about eating nutritious food is that it tends to naturally correct the desire to overeat. Conversely, one of the many bad things about unhealthy food is that it tends to make you want to eat more of it. You can enjoy an apple. Will a tasty apple make you reach for a second? Perhaps. Will one slice of pizza be enough? Probably not.

What is the difference? Aside from the ingredients in an apple, which are either benign or healthy, and a pizza, which is overloaded with saturated fats and quickly absorbed carbohydrates, an apple has two important attributes. First, it is not calorie dense, which means there are fewer calories for the same volume of food compared with a pizza. An apple also is rich in something called dietary fiber. Dietary fiber is simply benign non-food, or bulk if you will. It has zero calories because it is not absorbed; it just passes through you. While it does not go to your waist, dietary fiber is also good because roughage helps keep you regular and reduces your chances of colon cancer.

If an apple were a candle, it would burn slow and steady. A pizza is more like a fuse. It burns brightly and quickly. Because a pizza’s carbohydrates and fat are readily absorbed (they are rather simple), the excess is not needed by the body, so it tends to get stored instead. In addition, since the carbohydrates are quickly absorbed, your blood sugar will spike and then drop like a rock, and you will feel hungrier. You get a double whammy and unsurprisingly your waistline is likely to expand.

Nutritious food is also often loaded with natural vitamins and minerals. Many fast or processed foods are enriched with vitamins. Does this make them healthy? No, these foods are no healthier than eating a wheat donut is healthy. In other words, these processed foods still have virtually all the bad stuff, and the manufacturers are hoping to convince you that by adding vitamins and minerals it has morphed itself into something healthy. It’s still junk.

If you are overweight or obese, you might think that exercise will take off the pounds even if you keep eating the same fast and processed foods you are used to eating. Yet, most people who try this strategy fail. Why? Because exercise also depletes the body’s immediate stores of energy, i.e. your blood sugar. Your body will try to make up the difference by burning fat, but it will also send a strong signal to your brain: feed me. Exercise is still good, but you need to do it smartly. Eat a small snack with slow burning carbohydrates before and after exercise instead, this way you will not feel so hungry. While exercise has many healthy aspects to it, it is not a silver bullet for losing weight. In particular, if you are trying to lose weight, exercise in moderation, as too much exercise will simply drive you to eat more calories. Eating the same processed food you always ate while regularly exercising will not help your body be healthy either. Nor does exercise add any nutrition to your diet, unless you exercise outside in the sunlight and catch a little free Vitamin D. Fifteen minutes a week of sunshine (skip the sunscreen) is all you need to get your Vitamin D.

And speaking of Vitamin D, there is likelihood that you are Vitamin D deficient. Many Americans are these days. Why? Because we have become indoor denizens. Our jobs put us in cubicles. Moreover, we prefer to be tethered to our televisions and computers. Vitamin D deficiency is bad because it puts you at even greater risk of health complications, and markedly increases the chance of acquiring heart disease in particular. At any age, you should never take your health for granted. Make sure you are getting regular physicals so you can detect and correct these problems early.

Do not feel proud of yourself if you do not smoke but you do overeat. The evidence is clear: overeating and eating the wrong foods is at least as unhealthy for you as smoking. Overeating can trigger cancers, just like smoking. You are unlikely to die from heart disease because of smoking, however you can die of either cancer or heart disease because of poor eating habits and overeating. If I had to choose between the two habits, I would take up smoking, as disagreeable as the idea is to me.

How do you learn new habits that will last a lifetime? There are plenty of programs out there but if I had to pick one, I would choose Weight Watchers, for reasons I document here. Need more help? Try this site and buy a couple of their books, which are widely available. I think you will find them quite insightful.

Please, think carefully about what you put into your mouth, why you really do it and the long-term consequences of sticking with your habit. It may be too late for my wife’s friend, but your life is just unfolding. Do not eat yourself into an early grave.


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