Monthly Archives: September 2011

A Lesson On Love, Family and Alzheimer’s

Pat Robertson, Christian television evangelist and ex-Baptist minister, created quite the controversy when he advised that a married man, dating another woman because his wife was suffering from Alzheimer’s, should “divorce and start all over.”

I try not to involve myself with the musings of offensive radio hosts, nor do I think it’s wise to judge another person’s situation. But the episode did made me think about my own experience with Alzheimer’s and what it taught me and I thought I’d share it today, on World Alzheimer’s Day.

My grandmother had Alzheimer’s and for ten years, I and my family witnessed her condition deteriorate. As the disease progressed, my grandfather assumed more and more of the housekeeping responsibilities – from cooking to cleaning to doing the laundry. It was truly amazing to watch, considering he had been attended to so dutifully by my grandmother all throughout their marriage. But my grandfather didn’t seem to mind. In fact, he seemed to take great pride in being able to care for his wife.

Eventually, it became more than he could handle (just managing the steps in the house became a challenge) and he sold their home and moved into a 1-bedroom apartment in the Alzheimer’s ward of an assisted living residence.

Here’s the thing about my grandparents: they were crazy about each other. What they had, in today’s day and age, seems rare. They lived for each other and their love was something fierce, like The Notebook, times ten. But unlike The Notebook, where the children seemed to question the father’s dedication to his Alzheimer’s afflicted wife, the disease only served to bring my family closer together. And unlike The Notebook, my grandmother rarely forgot my grandfather, even when she didn’t recognize him. She sometimes thought my uncle was her husband, which made for some awkward situations all around.

Almost every Sunday and every holiday, all the kids (six total) and the gaggle of grandchildren, would gather when they could in the 1-bedroom apartment at the assisted living home and we’d just be a family. I changed my grandmother’s diapers. Most of the time she didn’t have a clue to who I was. Sometimes she thought I was a nice, young man. But I played along because I knew who she was and what she meant to me, and that’s all that mattered.

Pat Robertson equated Alzheimer’s to death:  “I hate Alzheimer’s. It is one of the most awful things because, here is a loved one, this is the woman or man that you have loved for 20, 30, 40 years, and suddenly, that person is gone. They’re gone. They are gone.”

My grandmother was never gone. Even on her worst days, she was still, at age 80, the same fiery, feisty girl from Hagen, Germany who survived the boat ride over to the United States at age 5. Her memory might have left, but it was okay. We remembered for her, what it means to love, and what it means to be a family. And sometimes, almost miraculously, her memory would come back, even after the most dismal of diagnoses.

I was emailing with my aunt and she reminded me of an incident that happened between my mom and one of the staff members at the Alzheimer’s home:

Your mother could have taught [Pat Robertson] a lesson. When a staffer told Linda to just “dress your mother in cheap sweat shirts and pants, she won’t know the difference,” Linda turned to her and said, “My mother never dressed in cheap sweats and never will. And believe me she knows the difference. She always has a smile on her face when we dress her up in something new.”

You know I have such pride in the way our family took care of Mom….every one of us did what we could, and that is something to be very proud of.

To this day, I can’t hate Alzheimer’s. It taught me a lot about myself, about loving, and about family.

So while it might not be the Bible, I’ll sum this up with a quote from The Beatles’ The End: The love you take is equal to the love you make. Alzheimer’s taught me that lesson. I hope anyone is fortunate enough to learn it.

A Lesson On Love, Family and Alzheimer's

Pat Robertson, Christian television evangelist and ex-Baptist minister, created quite the controversy when he advised that a married man, dating another woman because his wife was suffering from Alzheimer’s, should “divorce and start all over.”

I try not to involve myself with the musings of offensive radio hosts, nor do I think it’s wise to judge another person’s situation. But the episode did made me think about my own experience with Alzheimer’s and what it taught me and I thought I’d share it today, on World Alzheimer’s Day.

My grandmother had Alzheimer’s and for ten years, I and my family witnessed her condition deteriorate. As the disease progressed, my grandfather assumed more and more of the housekeeping responsibilities – from cooking to cleaning to doing the laundry. It was truly amazing to watch, considering he had been attended to so dutifully by my grandmother all throughout their marriage. But my grandfather didn’t seem to mind. In fact, he seemed to take great pride in being able to care for his wife.

Eventually, it became more than he could handle (just managing the steps in the house became a challenge) and he sold their home and moved into a 1-bedroom apartment in the Alzheimer’s ward of an assisted living residence.

Here’s the thing about my grandparents: they were crazy about each other. What they had, in today’s day and age, seems rare. They lived for each other and their love was something fierce, like The Notebook, times ten. But unlike The Notebook, where the children seemed to question the father’s dedication to his Alzheimer’s afflicted wife, the disease only served to bring my family closer together. And unlike The Notebook, my grandmother rarely forgot my grandfather, even when she didn’t recognize him. She sometimes thought my uncle was her husband, which made for some awkward situations all around.

Almost every Sunday and every holiday, all the kids (six total) and the gaggle of grandchildren, would gather when they could in the 1-bedroom apartment at the assisted living home and we’d just be a family. I changed my grandmother’s diapers. Most of the time she didn’t have a clue to who I was. Sometimes she thought I was a nice, young man. But I played along because I knew who she was and what she meant to me, and that’s all that mattered.

Pat Robertson equated Alzheimer’s to death:  “I hate Alzheimer’s. It is one of the most awful things because, here is a loved one, this is the woman or man that you have loved for 20, 30, 40 years, and suddenly, that person is gone. They’re gone. They are gone.”

My grandmother was never gone. Even on her worst days, she was still, at age 80, the same fiery, feisty girl from Hagen, Germany who survived the boat ride over to the United States at age 5. Her memory might have left, but it was okay. We remembered for her, what it means to love, and what it means to be a family. And sometimes, almost miraculously, her memory would come back, even after the most dismal of diagnoses.

I was emailing with my aunt and she reminded me of an incident that happened between my mom and one of the staff members at the Alzheimer’s home:

Your mother could have taught [Pat Robertson] a lesson. When a staffer told Linda to just “dress your mother in cheap sweat shirts and pants, she won’t know the difference,” Linda turned to her and said, “My mother never dressed in cheap sweats and never will. And believe me she knows the difference. She always has a smile on her face when we dress her up in something new.”

You know I have such pride in the way our family took care of Mom….every one of us did what we could, and that is something to be very proud of.

To this day, I can’t hate Alzheimer’s. It taught me a lot about myself, about loving, and about family.

So while it might not be the Bible, I’ll sum this up with a quote from The Beatles’ The End: The love you take is equal to the love you make. Alzheimer’s taught me that lesson. I hope anyone is fortunate enough to learn it.

The college dropout bubble

Did you know that every year $4 billion is lost due to college dropouts?

The number comes from lost income and compounds every year with new dropouts adding to the roll call. It’s an interesting statistic that highlights a problem in education.

One that I call the college dropout bubble, but unlike most bubbles this works backwards. It’s a negative bubble:

Positive bubble - trade in which products are at inflated values.

Negative bubble – trade in which products are at deflated values.

I propose that a college education in this country has a deflated value. To the vast majority of Americans it just isn’t worth it. We can get 87% of our multi-lingual/racial/cultural people to get a high school education but, when it comes to college degrees we are at 39%.

There are more college dropouts (17%) than high school dropouts (13%)!!

That is a definitely a negative bubble and is probably impossible to explain. One could say it’s due to the skyrocketing costs of college, or just blame the cool kids for shunning school.

I do have a few topics that really annoy me and one happy-positive solution.

There are a ridiculous amount of students picking “catch-all” majors like business, history, and health. The vast majority of which are only doing so to check the box, “got a college degree…now I should go figure out what I want to do.”

Another issue is the “point the finger” problem in education. Where everyone blames everyone else for our losing ways. Even the movie Waiting For Superman spreads it around liberally. Of course, we usually skip over the parents as if they play a role in getting a kid into and through college.

Then there is billionaire investor Peter Thiel offering $100,000 for students under the age of 20 to dropout. His rationale being that the cost of college is in a bubble (a positive one). An interesting argument until you realize that he is talking about exclusive Ivy-League and other private schools that cost $50,000 a year. As if they haven’t ever been over-priced…

For the record the average tuition at public schools is $7,600 and at private schools is $38,700.

This by no means covers all the issues and I bet my readers have many of their own.

For a solution I think we should go old-school. Pick up something that has been lost in our reverence for money and unhappiness, a hobby.

It’s easy to explain, ironically, by looking at America’s two most successful dropouts: Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg. Both have a hidden truth. Before they achieved instant wealth they were nerds in high school. I know very revealing, but it’s true and they spent an absurd amount of time playing with computers.

What’s the difference between us and them. Well, when high school hit we all dropped our hobbies for chasing girls/boys and lots of drinking. Few of us were successful with the opposite sex, though, we like to think we did better than Bill and Mark.

I hope that one day our youth (aka my future children), are able to drink less and tinker more. Pick up some nerdy, DIY hobby and run with it. Like the other day I saw a fellow on the beach testing out a remote control surfer robot, future billionaire…

It comes down to..

spending your weekends at a comic convention

Or..

spending weekends working on the Jager

Photos by

bubble – HKD

comics – Kevin Dooley

jager – GadgetBubba

Apple gestures…quietly revolutionary

Do you use Apple gestures, have you even heard of them?

I was first introduced to them in January of 2008, when I became hipster #1 and bought the first MacBook Air. Now, three years and eight months later I am still barely using them.

Of the available fourteen there are only three I regularly use but those three are absolutely time-saving-revolutionary.

  • Scroll with two fingers – just move two fingers up/down, instead of turning a mouse wheel or dragging the sidebar.
  • Forward/Back with two fingers – browse the web by “swiping” left or right with two fingers, no more back button.
  • Double-tap with two fingers - instead of the right mouse click (called a “secondary click”), tap two fingers to engage a secondary click.

When Apple says they are “fluid, natural, and intuitive,” I wholeheartedly agree. I don’t think about using them anymore and it hurts to use a computer without them. Which is when you know it’s a true innovation, “when you can’t live without it.”

Of the other fourteen, I have three more just barely in my memory. Six out of fourteen?

It does take a while to break the old habits, especially for former Windows users. No more mouse and an almost entirely new language with my fingers. Yeah, it’s tough but I can’t complain about clicking less buttons and gaining agility.

It’s part of the reason why I like Apple products. Their agressive forward pace, while offensive to some, keeps me on my toes and ever-improving. I can only imagine the day when I am able to handle all fourteen:

[one_half]

  • Single click
  • Dictionary look-up
  • Directional scroll
  • Smart zoom
  • Rotate
  • Scroll between screens
  • Open Expose
[/one_half]
[one_half]
  • Secondary click
  • Window drag
  • Zoom in/out
  • Scroll forward/back
  • Open Mission Control
  • Open Launchpad
  • Show desktop

[/one_half]

Watch out too because these gestures are growing exponentially. On my last computer there were only 6-7 and now fourteen. It won’t be long before there are 72 gestures encompassing every feature on a computer.

We may even begin to skip the keyboard…have you seen the Swype text-input on Android?

Jobs, jobs, jobs (are they created by politicians?)

This morning I created 150,000 jobs. I put into motion a plan to support small business and fix healthcare.

Don’t believe me?

It turns out you shouldn’t believe the politicians either.

It’s obvious that Obama is struggling with job creation. His main Republican opponents, Rick Perry and Mitt Romney, are playing that against him.

Both claim they created 1,000s of jobs while in office and are even pinning their campaign on it. They directly state that they are responsible for job creation:

They are not alone. All politicians make this claim as if fixing potholes and firing teachers creates jobs. Of course, some of the best will try to convince you that cutting business taxes or creating a “friendly climate” is what it takes.

The team over at Planet Money called foul and dedicated an entire podcast to it. It turns out that they have no influence on jobs.

They are just lucky and happen to be in office when growth happens.

You can bet that this jobs nonsense will continue all the way to the 2012 Presidential Elections. Don’t let yourself be fooled!

How I spent my summer by Amy Senger


“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us…”

~ A Tale of Two Cities (1859)

Talk about timelessness of good writing. Somehow, with pitch-perfect lucidity, Charles Dickens over a century ago eloquently described my summer.

Starting with leaving DC. In the weeks leading up to our departure, Steve and I had some of the most tempestuous showdowns I’ve ever endured, including a 5-hour fight (five f***ing hours) that ended with me trying to hit him with a tin bucket of dirt and him catching it and dumping it on my head. I can’t even write those lines without laughing, but at the time, it was intense and devoid of any humor whatsoever.

I wanted to leave and I didn’t. DC was home for me. But if you’ve ever tried to fill up on tofu or non-meat substitute when all you’re craving is a hamburger, no matter how much “toburger” you consume, it just doesn’t cut it.

I needed a solid break from everything I was trying to fill up on that wasn’t fulfilling me. So I moved 3,000 miles across the country to Southern California to pursue screenwriting and a different way of life. And I found a happiness that I haven’t felt in a long time.

I took up surfing and after at least 50 (maybe it was 100 times) falling down, I finally rode a wave. Anyone who has ever surfed knows that first wave you ride makes all the times falling down worth it.

I needed surfing. It’s been my salvation. After struggling to get off Adderall for the past two years I finally cut the cord. I needed something to replace the mental and physical “stamina” and “focus” Adderall gave me and I found that in surfing. When I’m in the water, I find that edge I’m looking for, and afterwards, I have a sense of peace and clarity of mind Adderall never gave me.

And I’ve been writing, a lot. I completed the first draft of a second screenplay and finished a 10-week Advanced Screenwriting class at UCLA, rewriting my first screenplay and learning the things you won’t find in any screenwriting book. Which has been the best part of my summer and the worst.

No matter how much I love writing, no matter how much I write, no matter how many people read what I’ve written and say they love it, I still have my moments of doubt when I ask myself, What the hell are you doing?  Which is really code for, How far are you willing to go to make this happen, to make this a career and not just an interest and indulgence?

The answer is always the same. Pretty far. This summer I came to the conclusion that this is what I want to do, this is the life I want, which is a pretty big pivot.

So if you ask me to describe my summer, instead of quoting Dickens, I’ll sum it up with one word: gnarly.

A note on salads

I have been agitating for a while that supermarkets sell the worst kind of food. I even go so far as to say that everything they sell makes you fat.

Which consistently causes folks to disagree with me, after all 98% of Americans buy their food from them.

But, that means they have a complete monopoly on our food system, and with our health in their hands, the US obesity rate is skyrocketing to unheard-of levels.

In the fast food industry, a recent report states that Subway is now the worlds largest fast food chain, displacing McDonalds. There is also a booming salad industry with an explosion of salad fast food chains.

Perhaps the fast food industry will save us?

Well, remember the cliche: “I’m on a diet so please give me a Diet Coke instead of a Coke.”

I think that fits as an analogy here.

Just saying you’re eating a salad doesn’t mean you are eating well. One could skip the hamburger for the salad then load it up with dressing and fried chicken. A report from ABC’s Good Morning America, points out that in many cases the salad is equally fatty or worse.

They point out that iceberg lettuce, which accounts for much of the salad, has “zero nutrients and zero fiber.”

Which is where I draw the line.

The story is all wrong. Yes, iceberg lettuce can be at zero, but so can everything else we eat. Let’s not take an entire crop and label it as useless.

Instead we should understand the nature of food. First and foremost, quality is the most important aspect of food and not all are created equal. Or, put another way, vegetables that are grown from quality seeds and harvested when ripe are densely filled with nutrients.

But, if you buy vegetables from a supermarket or fast food chain, you are not getting this. Instead, you are purchasing the cheapest food money can buy. Which means they are harvested before they are ripe and grown from the cheapest seeds.

There’s more. A growing number of items, like tomatoes and strawberries, have been modified to produce extra sugars. Added together you have produce practically empty of nutrients but with extra sugar.

Fantastic.

Even if you choose the best supermarkets have to offer, you skip the dressing, choose a lean meat, and all that…then the best you can do is “the cheapest food money can buy.”

A lot like choosing the Diet Coke.

If you’re new to this, here a good way to think about it.

Take the typical supermarket salad and cut it in half. That should be your portion size when eating high quality food. It should make you feel full and it should be delicious.

The reason for this is the dense amount of nutrients in the food which also makes it taste much better. Decrease the amount of nutrients and you will increase the amount you eat. It’s as simple as that.

Now, how long do you think it will take for 2/3 of America to understand this?

Sometimes you can spot the tomatoes that are "densely packed with nutrients"

photos

salad by catsper

tomatoes by clayirving

Farmers markets grow 250% since 2000

I’m all about farmers markets. Every dollar I spend on food goes there and they provide me with everything I need to eat and more (dessert!).

The reason for all this is covered in several previous posts, including: Why nobody knows how to prevent obesity & How food coma overcomes exercising.

A quick recap is that by eating at farmers markets you gain superior health and weight loss, prevent global warming, and save money.

For the longest time, I wondered why nobody else understood this. It turns out that since 2000, many, many more people are starting to agree with me.

Check out the graph provided by the USDA in their annual farmers market audit:

Notice that since the recession, the so-called “expensive” markets are surging with 164% growth since 2006. If this trend continues we may finally be able to impact our food system.

I can already see it happening in the supermarkets where the words “farmer”, “market”, and “local” are everywhere. Too bad they are only marketing terms.

So next chance you have, stop by a farmers market for the real thing. Pick out some fruits and vegetables. Come back the same time next week and keep the farmers market revolution going!

Do young Americans want to work?

As in, get a job?

Despite all the haranguing on our economy and jobs market, why aren’t we talking more about the massive labor imbalance in our country?

A recent Rutgers University survey of 571 Americans who graduated from college between 2006 and 2010 found that only 53% held full-time jobs. And yet, it’s not hard to understand why. In 2009, of the 1,601,000 bachelor’s degrees conferred, the greatest numbers fell into the fields of business (348,000); social sciences and history (169,000) and health sciences (120,000).

I had to look up health science and found this description:

The health sciences are concerned with the development of knowledge and programs related to health and well being. Health science is also concerned with the study of leisure and cultural phenomena.

And just so we’re all on the same page, social sciences include: anthropology, archaeology, communication, criminology, political science, sociology and psychology.

I’m going to refrain from commenting on the social and health science and history majors and instead take a moment to focus on business majors. You would think having a prevalence of business majors would be a positive for our economy, but we first need people who can actually make something before we need the people to market, sell and manage it.

We are missing the makers (engineers and scientists), the people who have the skills and knowledge to create something.

The fact is, there are jobs in this country. According to the most recent report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, over three million job opportunities are unfilled in the United States right now, the highest level in three years. And yet, in that same period we have produced the highest unemployment rate we’ve seen in over two decades.

I was at my alma mater (James Madison University) a few months ago and caught up with a former professor in the college of Integrated Science and Technology (ISAT) ; she told me that enrollment numbers in ISAT were the lowest they’ve ever been, even though these students are the most desirable and in demand by employers. Given the current economy and jobs market, I was a little shocked.

I’ll be honest here and say that when I was 17, college and majors didn’t consume my thoughts nearly as much as boys and field hockey. I went to JMU because it had the best field hockey program in the country. And my parents essentially chose my major for me. I was pretty ambivalent about what I wanted to do. There was lots that interested me (minus Accounting). At one point it was Law, another time English, I even considered Business. But my parents reasoned that I was good at math and science and the world needed more women in STEM, so I said sure, why not.

When I graduated, I had 15 job offers. Looking back, I’m certain my collegiate experience would have been a lot easier if I majored in something that didn’t require me to spend so much time in computer and science labs, but in this tech-centric day and age, I’m glad I left knowing how to program and build a website, amongst other things.

How many young Americans today think about employability? If you look at the degrees that are most likely to land a person a job, there seems to be a disconnect with the majors students are pursuing the most. Case in point,  in 2009, degrees in “parks, recreation, and leisure studies” saw a 43 percent increase. Yep, the things with budgets first to get cut in a recession are what students are flocking to.

I’m not saying people should neglect their true callings in life. In fact, I think the world benefits the most from the people who vigorously pursue their passions, including social psychology majors (who have the highest unemployability rate). But for those who aren’t so sure what path to pursue, wouldn’t it make sense to take a look around, at the state of the country, and consider majoring in something employable?

Incidentally, it seems the United States isn’t alone in its labor gap. A recent report from the British Chambers of Commerce reveals small businesses are frustrated at the quality of applicants, who they say can barely concentrate or add up. The report warns: ‘Too many people [are] coming out with fairly useless degrees in non-serious subjects.’

10 years after 9/11, have we changed?

It’s been 10 years since 9/11.

Amid the celebrations and acts of unity, I want to reflect on how the world has changed. More specifically how we have changed, and will that prevent another attack from happening.

What really caused 9/11?

There are so many explanations, if I miss one please tell me, but here are the ones I look to: oil, the Middle East, our military but more specifically our geo-political strategy, and our security around the world.

Oil

U.S. oil consumption has remained steady since 2000 when it was 19.7 million barrels of oil/day. In recent years a slight dip has occurred maybe due to the recession or due to structural changes (improved car MPG), and is now at 19.2.

Which is very good news. Not only have we handled our economic and population growth without increasing our demand, we have even reduced it. Economist call this “demand destruction”, one of my favorite terms.

It is quite possible that we have turned the corner on fossil fuels (or reached “peak oil”). If so, one of the main sources of terrorist funding, recruiting, and anger may be fading away.

 

The Middle East

Then we can look to the Middle East, where all 19 hijackers were from. The vast majority of them (15) were from Saudi Arabia, which backs up the oil topic. The remaining ones were from Lebanon, Egypt, and two from the UAE.

It’s great that we took down the Taliban in Afghanistan, even though it is not in the Middle East (South-Central Asia). They were bad and needed to go. Their replacement is not perfect but a whole lot better, with room to grow, unlike the Taliban.

The Arab Spring changes everything, though.

Before the uprisings, there were no democracies in the Middle East (only 26 in the rest of the world). Many of the new governments are on track to change that, but remember that even in our own past, the road is rocky and violent.

The good news is that three evil, violent, and obnoxious dictators are out of Egypt, Libya, and Tunisia. Eight other countries had major uprisings and six more had minor ones, with multiple reforms across the board.

All in all, it looks to be a general improvement.

Military Presence

The cult of Al-Qaeda was formed due to one very important factor, one that Osama exploited to no end. We have our military in several countries.

From our point-of-view this is a rational geo-political strategy to protect our interests. In the early days, we also protected the people from dictators and warlords.

Then at some point we started supporting more corrupted leaders than reformers. When one is bad, several is more than enough to cause hatred.

Which explains the opposing point-of-view. We often crossed that fine line between bully and protector, and usually for our own oil interests.

Yet, the situation hasn’t changed, in fact, it’s gotten worse. We now have our military in more places than ever, with many long term contracts in place to keep it there.

This is a problem and will not go away and was recently highlighted by crazy guy #1 in Iraq, Moqtada Al-Sadr’s statement, (paraphrasing): “don’t kill the Americans, they are leaving.”

Security

It’s hard to travel when everyone hates you. I went to Europe in 2004 and so many of those wealthy, pacificist, socialists hated us. They had signs up about our “invasion” of Iraq.

Now imagine how people in Muslim countries feel. It’s gotten to the point that if we are not giving money to a country, they hate us (and some still hate us when we do). We have to build monumental fortresses just to have embassies. Our checkpoints are becoming comedy acts of creative bomb making.

US Embassy, El Salvador

Where else can we possibly stick a bomb when traveling?

The only good news is that, for some reason, foreigners like Obama.

I don’t really get it. Maybe it’s that he’s not white. Maybe it’s because he was against the Iraq war and talks about removing troops. Or, maybe it’s just because Bush labelled so many as enemies that it became us-or-them.

Who knows.

The good news is that foreigners still like him after he announced the troop increase in Afghanistan. If he gets re-elected then he can do more international rock-star tours and keep building up that goodwill.

Then maybe I can travel abroad and not get the evil eye from everyone.

But then again, if a Tea Party-er gets elected we might start calling everyone extremists and enemies. It would be great if they added ‘isolationism’ to their pseudo-retro movement.

Conclusion

I think everything begins and ends with oil. If we are truly past peak oil then things are getting better. We can stop (or decrease) the use of our heavy hand in the Middle East to maintain our oil supply.

Our military can draw down and our goodwill will go up. Which will take years of course, but it will mean our state of affairs is getting better.

We just have to keep making those hard decisions to get us off oil, though, with shaded solar parking lots, maybe it’s not so hard after all.