Πέμπτη, 2 Ιουνίου 2011

Food For Thought

Remember, if you will,  nutrition education in elementary school.  The visual tool used in these classes was a food pyramid.  At the base of the pyramid were the foods that should provide the bulk of our diet and at the peak of the pyramid were items that should be sparingly consumed.  Simple visuals that every young student could comprehend, right?

Well, obviously, the food pyramid just didn't get the job done.  Obesity in the United States is increasing at such a rate it is being referred to as an epidemic.  As a result, the United States Department of Agriculture is introducing an updated "food pyramid" to fight obesity.

A new "food plate" is being introduced to replace the old pyramid.  This new icon of healthy eating resembles a pie chart (please note the irony in my typing here) that is divided into slices, or wedges, of nutritional value.  With the largest piece of the pie being devoted to fruits and vegetables, much like the base of the now defunct pyramid scheme.

I'm sure much fanfare and hoopla will surround the launch of the new USDA icon of healthy eating.  Close tie-ins to First Lady Michelle Obama's Let's Move initiative can be expected .  A new website has been designed to accompany the new logo and provide further healthy eating advice.  "Food plate" charts will be posted in restaurants, grocery stores, schools and workplaces in the hope that the sheer power of suggestion is enough to get people to eat healthier foods.

Clearly, the power of suggestion isn't enough to make people choose healthy, nutritious food.  The governments own statistics prove it.  The USDA reportedly spent two million dollars to DEVELOP this new icon of healthy eating and the accompanying website.  Two million dollars!  This is a government agency, employing thousands of paid employees.  Did they have to go to outside sources to design a pie chart showing the US public what to eat?  How much does it cost to set up and maintain an in-house website?  Does this two million dollars include teacher training in nutrition?  Does it even include the cost of printing and distributing the posters?

At a time when the US government should be "nickel and diming" it, just like the rest of us, they are spending millions of dollars to launch a new campaign in the fight against obesity.  A campaign that sits squarely on the shoulders of a previous healthy eating campaign that didn't seem to have the desired result:  a slimmer, trimmer, fitter American public.  Honestly, don't we all know what foods are "good" for us without the government telling us?

The fact that the pyramid that predated the plate didn't seem to have much of an impact on US eating habits seems to have been lost on the USDA.  The fact that throwing good money after bad has no impact whatsoever seems to be completely lost on the US government.

Τετάρτη, 16 Μαρτίου 2011


I want to be your sea.

I want to be the cool welcoming water
That kisses your skin.
The teardrops of water
Glistening in the sunlight.
The water that revives you
Then lets you float, weightless.

I want to be the waves
That move with you and against you.
The strength surrounding you
In stormy seas and calm.
The waves that break at your shore
Trying to hold you, never wanting to let go.

I want to be your sea.

Τετάρτη, 9 Μαρτίου 2011

The Positives in Negative Thinking

I must admit, here and now, that I loved "The Secret".  The power of positive thinking and concentrating positively on goals you set just seems wonderful.  Get rid of the negatives in your life and accentuate the positives.  Turn statements like "I'll never be able to do this!" into "I will master this!"  Positively simple!! 

Since reading the book I've read several references to Thomas Edison and his long road to inventing the incandescent light bulb.  How many times did he have to try before he got it right?  Well, lots.  How many times do we think that something we are about to embark on is much simpler than it actually turns out to be?  Well, lots.  Remember the last time you had to "budget" a home improvement or, bigger still, a new build?  How far over budget did you go?  Well, once again, the answer is probably a lot.

We delude ourselves into thinking that we've done our homework, the bank agrees that X amount of dollars can be safely loaned to us and we disregard the negative little voice that pops into our heads and starts questioning our decisions.  In other words, we reinforce the decision we have already made by focusing on the positives.  We tell ourselves that the return on investment will easily off-set the expenditure we are about to make and I'll have, for example, a beautiful new house or a luxurious new bathroom. 

But what if we listened more to the negative little voice that pops into our head?  What if we tried to logically make a list of pros and cons?  The truth is that most of us don't do this as it may make us appear to be wishy-washy.  We live in a world where spontaneous decison-making and risk taking are seen as powerful, a world where wishy-washy indecision just doesn't cut it because it makes us look weak.

The ability we have to focus on and reinforce the decision we have already made is what psychologists call the "confirmation bias".  According to a November 19, 2009 arcticle in the Wall Street Journal this bias "acts like a compulsive yes-man who echoes whatever you want to believe".   It goes on to state that when researching our decision we are more likely to concentrate on data that re-confirms our decision instead of considering data that would contradict it.

The article also touches on rationalizing our mistakes by stating that it is "easier for people to rationalize than to be rational".  We put a positive spin on failure and turn it into a study of what if scenarios.  Which in my terms means, it's easier to blame anything from Mother Nature to the butterfly effect than to have considered every possible angle to begin with.  Maybe we could learn a lesson or two from FEMA and crisis management teams, people who have to look at best case/worst case scenarios on a daily basis. 

Seeing the world through rose-colored glasses or even rationalizing in hindsight using 20/20 vision isn't seeing the real world.  Thinking in positive terms is spiritually uplifting but one-sided.  Listening to the negative little voice that pops into our head from time to time isn't weak nor cowardly, it's a reality check.  Maybe the ultimate "secret" is putting a little positive energy into negative thinking.

As Always, Sunshine and Daisies

To read the complete Wall Street Journal article:  

Δευτέρα, 7 Μαρτίου 2011


Almost 50 Bangladeshi evacuees from Libya used a rope to jump ship as their ferry docked in Souda Bay, Crete, Saturday night.  According to officials with the Greek Coast Guard they chose this route to avoid being sent back to Bangladesh, adding that there may have been discrepancies with their paperwork.  Three evacuees were found dead, another 33 were found alive, more than half of them suffering from hypothermia and dehydration and taken to local hospitals. The search for the remaining evacuees continues.

Imagine the fear that drives a man being taken to safety to abandon ship and jump into dark, unknown waters. Can any of us even begin to understand that kind of desperation?  To be confronted with the object of their fear, in this case being sent home, giving in to that fear, and for a few, paying the ultimate price.   

Francis Bacon said, "It is a miserable state of mind to have few things to desire and many things to fear."  Most of us desire many things and admit to fearing few, yet, if we were confronted by our biggest fear would it outweigh our desires?  How far would we go to escape our fears? And, how many of us would find the courage to overcome our fears?

These Bangladeshi evacuees were being rescued from an increasingly violent civil war in Libya.  They escaped the horrors of this conflict only to become victims of their own personal fears.  I will never be able to do more than surmise that the horrors of what they would have faced upon their arrival home were equal only to those that they had escaped.  May they now rest in a fearless peace......................

Παρασκευή, 4 Μαρτίου 2011

Help Me

Most self-help books don't really help people, that was, basically, how the article I read this morning began.  Without reading any further and pursuing my less than favorite past-time, ironing, I kept thinking about whether self-help books actually work or not.  In my mind, the fact that someone would purchase or borrow a self-help book shows that they have some sort of issues that they want to work out.  So, that's step one!  It's basically the same step as going to see a psychologist or therapist, though quite a bit cheaper.  The effort to, in some way, sort through whatever issues may be burdening them had begun.

Like so many others, I've read my fair share of books of this genre and, while working my way slowly through what seemed an endless pile of unironed clothes, I asked myself if any of these books had changed my life.  Obviously, since I'm ironing my own clothes, I haven't become an uber financial success.  Nor have I succeeded in understanding what it takes for a relationship to reach that idyllic bliss we all long for.  My life didn't even change in seven days!  But were self-help books designed any more for 100% success than going to see a therapist?

So, as I pondered this question (and struggled with a cotton blouse with too many buttons and seams) I came to the anticlimatic conclusion, that no, whatever the authors or therapists intentions are the only person that can really help us is ourselves.  The success of anything we do is determined by, well, determination, hard work and a whole lot of luck. Why then, does the public partake in these books?  In my humble estimation it's because we feel a part of a group.  Reading a self-help book makes me realize that I'm not the only one that is going over some speed bumps on the highway of life.  I'm NOT the only one who hasn't figured it all out (by the way, to actually figure it all out you should be reading "The Hitchiker's Guide to the Galaxy").

As my Dad always says, "Misery loves company" and that is, I think, what makes the "self-help" industry a multi-million dollar business.  Do you really need someone to tell you to be positive?  To eat healthier to lose weight?  To stop blaming others for your poor choices? To start loving yourself?  Of course not, but sometimes it's nice to know that you're not the only one struggling to make sense of it all.  Unplugging the iron and feeling slightly triumphant I realized that, yes, life is good.  And it sure as hell beats out the only other option!

As always, sunshine and daisies!

Πέμπτη, 3 Μαρτίου 2011

F1 & Bernie Ecclestone

Yesterday, while I was watching BBC news from the comfort of my sofa, the female sportscaster reported on an interview with Bernie Ecclestone.  This isn't much news in itself, he is, after all, the President and CEO of Formula One Management and Formula One Administration.  What did amaze me was that during an interview with formula1.com (which he owns) he dropped the following bombshell:

Q: So the phrase ‘money makes the world go around’ is a fact?
Sex and money make the world go around. That is why I am sure that not so long from now 50 percent of the decision makers in the economy and politics will be women. Women have always had a strong influence, and have probably been in the background for too long. Isn’t there the saying that behind every successful man there is a woman?

Q: That suggests that you think women have a different approach to making decisions…
Yes, I do. I think that women don’t get trapped so easily in their own ego. Women don’t have to play golf to make deals, they simply have to work harder to get the same acceptance as men. As their egos don’t stand in their way they decide things less emotionally and in the end that serves the cause.

And this is when the both of the female broadcasters smiled, giggled, and agreed that yes, all's well!!! But, wait, hang on!!! Is this the same Bernie Ecclestone that, in 2005 made headlines in the USA with his reply to a question about Indy car driver, Danica Patrick's fourth place finish at the Indy 500?  At that time his reply was:

 "She did a good job, didn't she? Super. Didn't think she'd be able to make it like that. You know, I've got one of these wonderful ideas that women should be all dressed in white like all the other domestic appliances."

So, women of the world celebrate!  In the space of six years, at least in the mind of Bernie Ecclestone, women have gone from refrigerators to unemotional decision-makers.  Champagne anyone? 

As alway, Sunshine & Daisies!!!