Old Well: UNC Chapel Hill Campus

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Gone with the Wind? Sandy's election impact

"The best laid schemes o' Mice an' Men, Gang aft agley." (Robert Burns)
The October surprise arrived this evening in Sandy's windy assault on the Northeast. How it factors into next week's election is anybody's guess, and you can work varying good or bad scenarios for either candidate. Provided he doesn't make any mistakes, the President can be seen being presidential. It's also a safe bet that most folks on the receiving end are likely to be grateful. The storm, moreover, relieves Obama from the incessant focus on a still languishing economy along with the emerging reality of the government's grievous misfire in preempting the Benghazi debacle.

As I write, the Labor Department may delay Friday's crucial job report until after the election. Probably no conspiracy here, since we don't know how the report would break in favoring Obama or Romney, though you'd think the Administration would push for its release we're it favorable, come hell or high water. After all, the economy has been showing inklings of improvement in several sectors, ie., housing and employment.

Perhaps the most potent advantage for the President is that the storm may corral the incipient surge towards Romney even in battleground states like Ohio, now rated a toss-up.

You might argue that Sandy has handed Obama the election on a silver platter. But hold on: there's one thing the speculative press may be missing that favors Romney. Vast as Sandy is, with winds extending 175 miles from its center, it mainly impacts those states, apart from Virginia, that are foremost in the Democratic column anyway.

Whatever happens, the media will have plenty to chew on following next Tuesday's voting results.


Sunday, October 28, 2012

Why I'm an Independent!

As I write, monster storm Sandra plows its way towards its projected target. In like manner, our rancorous politics will soon funnel into Election Day. I wish I could say November 6 will, like refreshing rain, bring our national rancor to its close, but I know better, and so do you.

Whatever the result, our ills are likely to continue and may even worsen: a sluggish economy; soaring deficits; the shrapnel of sequestration in January. Abroad, a tiltering Europe; an Arab Spring gone wrong; the progressive materializing of Iranian nuclear capability. Perhaps we should lament the winner's fate.

As it stands right now, I'm not tethered to either candidate. Both have proven themselves masters of solipsism masquerading as wisdom. Not wanting to be manipulated by party interests, I registered as an independent several years ago. Wary of the dangers inherent in political partisanship, I found unanticipated support one day in coming upon George Washington's remarkably visionary Farewell Address (1796), warning of the destructive capacity of political parties to vest themselves in parochial partisanship rather than the national interest:.

It [party faction] serves always to distract the public councils and enfeeble the public administration. It agitates the community with ill-founded jealousies and false alarms, kindles the animosity of one part against another, foments occasionally riot and insurrection. It opens the door to foreign influence and corruption, which finds a facilitated access to the government itself through the channels of ;party passions.

My father was a life-long Democrat, despite admiring Teddy Roosevelt. I think he'd have liked Reagan as well had he lived, though probably wouldn't have voted for him. I married into a family much the same way, for whom "Republican" probably came close to a dirty word. And obviously there are Republicans who have never opted to vote Democratic. All of this just tells me how much we're shackled by the culture we're embedded into, beginning with family, rather than filtering the debris through that best teacher, experience.

Political rancor isn't anything new, of course, but then you'd think in the digital age we'd have our wits about us and not fall prey to demonization and snake oil promises.

In closing, let me quote another distinguished American, Walt Whitman, on the corruptive legacy of partisanship:

America, if eligible at all to downfall and ruin, is eligible within herself, not without; for I see clearly that the combined foreign world could not beat her down. But these savage, wolfish parties alarm me. Owning no law but their will, more and more combative, less and less tolerant of the idea of ensemble and of equal brotherhood, the perfect equality of the States, the ever-overarching American Ideas, it behooves you to convey yourself implicitly to no party, nor submit blindly to their dictators, but steadily hold yourself judge and master over all of them" (Democratic Vistas, 1870).

And that's why I'm an Independent. I'm just not going to drink the snake oil!

Be well,


Saturday, October 27, 2012

Zarkaria's GPS: must viewing

I always enjoy tuning into Fareed Zakaria's GPS. Zakaria, who also writes for the Washington Post and Time, strikes me as a man largely free of assumptions, or political bias. Last week, for example, he provided helpful explanation of Mitt Romney's all over the map positions, motivating Republicans, whether liberal or conservative, to be wary. Romney's shifts lie behind retired general and former Bush secretary of state Colin Powell's endorsement on Thursday of Obama for reelection.

Zakaria offers that Romney's protean shifts are due to Tea Party elements within the Republican Party. It's stratagem entirely, though one could argue this reenforces the widely-held notion Romney's deceitful. According to Zakaria, Romney's surge in the polls is due to his moving over to more moderate positions on key issues. In short, this is the real Romney who can now return to the middle that characterized his tenure as Massachusetts's governor. After all, Obamacare is modeled after Romney's historic health insurance legislation in Massachusetts. While it doesn't get Romney off the hook, it's analysis like this that can provide another purview.

I also enjoy the broad spectrum of GPS' panel feature with its participants drawn from neo-con to far left. Again, cool-headed analysis to extract the factual and reasonable governs Zakaria's show.

One of my favorite, can't wait show elements comes at very end when Zakaris gives his weekly book recommendation. I've actually taken him up on several of his recommended reads such as Charles Murphy's Coming Apart: the State of White America, 1960-2010, a book by the way that supports Romney's off-the-cuff notion of the 47% who pay no taxes and not necessarily from need. I intend to pursue this week's recommendation of Nate Silver's The Signal and the Noise: Why So Many Predictions Fail--but Some Don't.

For me, Zakaria provides a refreshing change from the pervasive mortar shelling of the current political scene, whether at MSNBC or Fox News, or among the partisans of the print media and social networks at large. After all, I like finding the truth for myself as best we humans can get at it to someone's imposing her notion of the truth on me.

You can dismiss me as quixotic, but I find the probing almost as much fun as the finding.

Thank you, Fareed!

Be well,


Thursday, October 25, 2012

The dismal failure of the debates

It's just a hop, skip, and a jump and Election Day will be upon us. Although debates possess potential to help us view candidates more fully, and even to shift momentum as seems to have occurred after the first debate, they can frequently run as shallow as a drought stream in August. More likely we remember them for their gaffes, or their generating new memes such as President Obama's "bayonet" analogy of the last debate, the likeability of the proponents, their apparent command of facts, etc.

Alas, the casualty is more likely to be substance. Whatever happened to seismic suffering and its inveterate challenge? From these debates you would gather poverty--think the likes of Bangladesh, Haiti, Somalia--has been solved. And global warming? While we may debate its causes, we cannot deny its consequences, already upon us and mapping our future. Think about it: three debates (four, if you include the veep debate) and not one question on global warming! I hold that we define ourselves not only by what we say, but by what we omit.

In all the debates, moderators have played a big share in their failure by not asking the sizzling questions on issues such as nuclear proliferation. If nothing else, these debates have mirrored a colossal absorption with ourselves in their shocking indifference to the plight of our earth and its increasingly beleaguered populace, not just the American middle class.

Must all moderators derive from the press, often with their own hidden biases? We would do better with the likes of someone like Fareed Zakaria, whose mainstay is to sound out the truth rather than adumbrate ideology. Or perhaps a panel approach of disparate moderators to provide for balance, scope, and substance would offer us better vistas.

In so many ways, these debates have failed all of us in their platitudes and cliches. Consider the matter of economics, rightly a center piece for focus in the Great Recession. To promise more jobs and balanced budgets should not be conflated with result. We must get at the devil in the details. Two unacknowledged integral factors posing destabilization of the middle class with no easy, if any, resolutions are vested in globalization and the digital revolution. Third world workers can now compete in a global market place at lower cost. Meanwhile, the digital revolution means more jobs going through the shredder. Increased stimulus spending is unlikely to dent their effects and may ultimately even complicate our morass.

At the worst, we can take the ostrich approach and bury our heads in the sand. (Our debates show we have a talent for this.) At the best, we can at least probe for solutions.

More than ever, we need to preempt the political capacity for glibness rather than substance. In an elbow-touching world menaced with the damocles sword of marginalized income and hammer blows to Nature's resiliency, it behooves us to hold our candidates' feet to the fire.

Anything less subjects ourselves to further political manipulation and erosion of trust, complicating our future.

Be well,


Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Doesn't get better than this

Karen and I saw Argo yesterday, the film about the ingenuous CIA-Canadian rescue of the six Americans holed up in the Canadian ambassador's Tehran residence in the aftermath of the seizure by Iranian militant students of 52 of their fellows at the American embassy in November,1979.

You may already have seen it, and even if you haven't, I'd be doing you a considerable disservice to give you any details.  Now don't cheat by googling and miss all the fun. I promise you this film will keep you glued to your theater seat from beginning to end.

Of course, a lot of the film's tension is orchestrated, since one of the six has recently shared that everything actually went like clock work.  By the way, the hostages had three plans to work with, but chose this one, the film production guise, as the most likely to succeed and embraced it immediately. Not so in the film.

Other inaccuracies occur as well; for example, the Shah's full name isn't correct. Also, Premier Mossadegh was appointed by the Shah, not elected. Free elections haven't been part of Iran's history.

The primary roles of Britain and New Zealand in helping the Americans are ignored.

At the end of the movie, former President Carter says, "Eventually we got them all out." I seem to remember an aborted rescue attempt somewhere. The truth is the Iranians spitefully released the hostages on January 20, 1981, or on Inauguration Day when Reagan took office.

But the movie overcomes its exaggerations, just maybe because it's more fiction than fact, thus enabling its transformation into an intense, well-performed thriller that will surely catapult it into Oscar consideration. Ben Afleck, who directed the film, plays CIA agent Tony Mendez, with understated brilliance, replete with a 70s' shag-carpet beard.

That last scene--a lumbering Swiss jet lifting its wheels, heavy trigger-finger revolutionaries in hot pursuit--Oh, my God!

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Foreign vote monitors in this year's election

When the polls open this upcoming Election Day, you may be seeing UN affiliated monitors at your local voting place, particularly in places like cities with large minorities. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), for example, will be sending 44 observers.

This comes at the request of leading liberal groups such as ACLU, NAACP, and the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights. Conservatives are outraged, although monitors have been present since 2002 and a number of states directly allow for it. In what augurs to be a close election, every vote matters, and thus a wave of conservative attempts to ensure voting fraud is minimized. Civil rights organizations, on the other hand, worry about the disenfranchisement of minority votes, who are likely to vote for Obama.

Such groups are sending up to 15,000 monitors of their own, concentrating on 80 cities, to counter scores of conservative ones. Meanwhile, the courts have been consistently ruling against conservatives' implementing specific eligibility requirements.

As I see it, both sides are justified in their concerns. We only have to recall the closely contested 1960 election of John Kennedy to the presidency with its large scale fraud in Illinois that altered the outcome. Fresher in our minds is the Florida debacle of 2000, decided only by Supreme Court intervention.

Elections shouldn't come down to getting our guy (or gal) in by hook or crook. Voting lies at the heart of what we're all about and should be free of intimidation and fraud.

How widespread is fraud? I think it substantial, given the worst in human passions that exist when it comes to politics. We live in a nation of an estimated 12 million illegal immigrants. You can't question their citizenship when they register at the local court house. And then there's the problem of double voting among those who reside in two states over the course of a year, which includes many with winter homes or out-of-state students. Unfortunately, and ironically, we don't have a national computer tracking system in place. As I pointed out in an earlier post, we can’t even track those who over stay their visas--and this after 9/11!

Personally, I favor a national ID card. While, yes, you'd have to provide proof of citizenship, I don't grasp how opponents may consider this intimidation. After all, we require documentation for benefits such as Medicare and Social Security. And, yes, we require photos on passports. No honor system here! Drivers licenses aren't sufficient, as an increasing number of states grant them to undocumented residents. ID cards are successfully employed by countries such as Germany.

Since both liberals and conservatives believe elections should be fair, surely both could find a better way to ensure the ballot is accessible and fair. Unfortunately, mistrust and rancor have so far preempted their bridging the impasse, exacerbating narrow self-interest.

I propose a non-partisan commission to study the problem and make recommendations to the Congress. This commission needs to take a look at the Electoral College with its winner take all approach as well.

Your thoughts?


Thursday, October 18, 2012

Twitter's wrong move

Twitter today did the unprecedented. It shut down a neo-Nazi site, @hannoverticker, though only in Germany at the request of the German government. Earlier in the year Twitter announced it would close down sites in conflict with local law while leaving them open internationally. I wonder if this policy is really nothing more than appeasement of religious conservatives in Islamic counties such as Iran or Pakistan. Whatever, today they exercised that option for the first time. We''ll have to see where this thing ultimately goes. Despotic governments will probably become even more adamant in demanding the same be done for them when they find their power threatened.

Think about it: Twitter has proven a catalyst for change in such countries, a jungle drums scenario that dispenses what ideologues would snuff out, the yearning of the oppressed to undo their shackles. It's inconceivable to think of an Arab spring without the social media's advocacy; the phenomenon of the Occupy Wall Street Movement that spread to other countries; the daily revelations of otherwise sequestered Syrian government atrocities against its own people.

Twitter, what you've done is a grievous wrong. I can't really speak for your motives, but the end doesn't justify the means.

In Turkey, world-renowned pianist Faxil Say's trial has begun. He's been arrested for alleged defamation of the prophet Mohammed. Ironically, the charges stem from several of his tweets. "I am not sure if you realize it, but if there is a louse, a non-entity, a lowlife, a thief or fool, it's always an Islamist." So much for Turkey's aspirations to join the European Union. Ataturk, the father of modern Turkey, must be turning over in his grave.

In our own land, the threat to harness our right to free speech remains under continuous attack in the current reign of political correctness and the narrow confines of political and religious ideologues bent on imposing their own views, not through better arguments, but by shutting now those who oppose them. This afternoon, In Ocala, Florida, as Republican veep nominee Paul Ryan gave a campaign speech, malingers gathered nearby, bent on disrupting the rally.

Back to Twitter. Why not protect the speech rights of tweeters like prominent African-American actress, Stacey Dash ("Clueless"), who recently urged her 200,000 followers to vote for Romney. Almost immediately, scores of threats on her life. Hey, Twitter, these are the people you need to use your broom on.

Censorship has its place against those who sanction violence, or like those just mentioned. Otherwise, as I've said, fight a bad idea with a better one.

John Stuart Mill was spot on when in he wrote in On Liberty, that "if all mankind minus one were of one opinion, and only one person were of the contrary opinion, mankind would be no more justified in silencing that one person than he, if he had the power, would be justified in silencing mankind.

I suspect the roots of Twitter's action is money. Nicholas Kulish, writing in the New York Times, takes us back to last summer's Olympics when Twitter blocked the account of a British journalist who heavily criticized NBC's reporting of the Games. (NBC is one of Twitter's corporate sponsors.) Twitter later apologized and reinstated the account.

Twitter may have opened up a Pandora's box for itself. So far, six governments have made requests for site closures.

Be well,


Wednesday, October 17, 2012

No knockout blows

I don't know how you saw it last night, but I found the debate between the President and Romney riveting, with no real knock out punch delivered by either candidate. Romney was just as smiling, confident and nimble as in the first debate, which most observers have conceded to him. On the other hand, Obama couldn't afford another lack-luster performance, and last night he didn't disappoint his fans, aggressive, yet never compromising his characteristic graciousness, delivering dextrous rejoinders to his challenger. I thought his great moment occurred when he summarily said, "Governor Romney says he's got a five-point plan. And that plan is to make sure that folks at the top play by a different set of rules."

For me, the ex-governor was at his best when he repeatedly asked if licenses and permits for energy on federal land had been reduced. When earlier Obama had maintained that energy permits and licenses increased during his tenure, Romney came back that those increases occurred on private, not Fed land, where they suffered a 14% decline.

Two very positive moments occurred in the debate that made me feel good about both contenders. The first was when Romney was addressing the immigration concerns of a Latina in the audience. Unlike many office-seekers, Romney didn't pull any punches.
Four million would-be immigrants are standing in line, but are hindered by the large number of illegals.

At the close, I liked Obama's graciousness in remarking that Romney is a "good man," despite the heated, in the grill aspect of this debate and his campaign's unrelenting demonizing of Romney as a liar immediately following the first debate.

My most negative impression is of the moderator's (Candy Crowley) blatant interference in the debate, correcting Romney in his charge that Obama went days before declaring the Benghazi violence a terrorist act, initiating audience applause. It turns out that Crowley didn't get it right. While Obama did use the word "terrorism" in his White House Rose Garden statement, he spoke only of his resolve to combat terrorism rather than specifically dubbing the violence as terrorist. (Most of the press continues to pass on Crowley's imprecision.) Romney missed a golden opportunity to set the record straight.

Anyway, I dislike when a moderator deliberately sets out to circumvent the previously established ground game for this town-meeting format by raising her own questions, which in running the clock also ironically stop gaps other audience members from asking more questions. I think of, say, baseball, where an umpire can sometimes make himself bigger than the game by an obviously wrong call.

Will this debate prove decisive? I don't think so. At this late stage, I would venture most voters have made-up their minds. Each candidate, in any event, did what he had to do. Obama showed-up for this debate and Romney held his ground. Neither candidate committed a serious gaffe. Partisans will find fodder for declaring their candidate the winner.

Of course, there can always be the occurrence of some late moment anomaly such as a global crisis or a glowing or dismal end-of-the-quarter economic report a few days before the election to tip the scales in what appears to be a dead heat


Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Verbal misdeeds: the Biden-Ryan debate

Politicians are known to bend the truth, so always be careful before you buy into their claims. Consider the recent Biden-Ryan debate. Both men proved themselves Pinnochios repeatedly. Let's take the issue of abortion, for example.

According to Ryan, Biden went to China and said he sympathized and wouldn't second-guess their one-child policy of forced abortions and serializations."

Not true! Yes, Biden did visit Sechuan University in 2011 and in response to a student question as to how the U.S. planned to reduce its deficit, replied by reforming entitlement programs such as Medicare. He then used a cost analogy that China also faces with regard to its social programming, given its one child policy. "As I was talking to some of your leaders, you share a similar concern here in China. You have no safety net. Your policy has been one which I fully understand -- I’m not second-guessing -- of one child per family. The result being that you’re in a position where one wage earner will be taking care of four retired people. Not sustainable."

Surely there's no endorsement of, or sympathy for, abortion going on here, and forced abortions happen to be illegal in China anyway, though it occasionally occurs. Of course, you can argue Biden missed an opportunity of criticizing China's one child policy, but his purpose was to indicate that on the matter of debt China faces similar problems in sustaining entitlement programs.

But let me play fair and point out how Biden also sometimes blurred the truth in the debate. At the outset, moderator Martha Raddatz asked Biden if what happened at the American consulate in Benghazi constituted a breakdown in intelligence sources. Biden largely skirted the question, saying that the administration simply relied on what it was first told. When pressed by Raddatz's assumption that the consulate "wanted more security there," Biden responded, "Well, we weren't told they wanted more security there."

This is false, as the subsequent House hearing indicated when Eric Norstrom, a state department employee, testified he had informed his superiors on two occasions that the Libyan mission needed more security. More specifically, as the regional security office for Libya, he had made a cable request for twelve guards, along with military trainers. His testimony was confirmed by Charlene Lamb, a deputy assistant secretary at the State Department.

Nordstrom went on to say, "It's not the hardships. It's not the gunfire. It's not the threats. It's dealing and fighting against the people, programs, and personnel who are supposed to be supporting me."

You can argue, of course, that Biden meant that the White House itself wasn't aware of any such requests, but then again, isn't the State Department an integral component of White House policy?

I could point out other flagrant abuses of the truth on both sides, but you get my point, I hope, that when it comes to politicians, check and double check

Jack be nimble, Jack be quick.
Jack jump over the fibber's stick.

Aside from the recent debate, I get annoyed with the myriad campaign ads that attempt to manipulate through fear: Re-elect Obama and Iran will get the bomb. Or Romney will destroy Medicare. Et cetera ad infinitum.

Politicians are astute in appealing to fear seeded with falsehood to obtain or keep themselves in power. By being vigilant, you and I can avoid becoming their victims.

By the way, I'd be interested in hearing what annoys you most about politicians.

Be well,


Sunday, October 14, 2012

Wake-up call for Pakistan?

"I had a terrible dream yesterday with military helicopters and the Taliban. I have had such dreams since the launch of the military operation in Swat. I was afraid [of] going to school because the Taliban had issued an edict banning all girls from attending schools. Only 11 students attended the class out of 27. The number decreased because of Taliban's edict. On my way from school to home I heard a man saying 'I will kill you'. I hastened my pace... to my utter relief he was talking on his mobile and must have been threatening someone else over the phone." (Malawa Yousufzai's blog, 3 October 2009)

Finally, it seems volatile Pakistan is united by a heinous Taliban act, the October 9th shooting of 14-year old schoolgirl, Malala Yousufzai, along with two of her school mates. Malala's offense? Her brave, public criticisms of Taliban restrictions on girls' having access to education. Calls for more aggressive action against Taliban insurgents in Pakistan are now widespread, embracing even conservative Muslim factions.

Up to now, little has been done against the Taliban, who have concentrated their presence in remote northwestern Pakistan, including the Swat Valley where Malala lives. As I write, Malala appears to be making a slow recovery after a bullet pierced her neck and traveled to her spine. While she's now able to move her hands and legs, following a reduction in sedatives, her prognosis for full recovery remains uncertain.

In a horrid compromise, Islamabad in 2007 agreed to the Talban occupation. After taking-over the Valley, the Taliban forced men to wear beards, blew up schools, many of them for girls, and forbade women access to the market place.

Pakistan's army entered the valley in 2009 following these outrages, causing Taliban leaders to flee into Afghanistan. Nevertheless, the Taliban remain a formidable presence.

Malala's ordeal isn't an isolated incident. It's happened in multiples, both in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Not long ago, it made headlines when Taliban gassed a school for girls in Afghanistan. In Pakistan, they recently beat-up a girl who wanted to go to school.

It saddens me that in the recent Biden-Ryan debate Malala's horrid fate never received mention, even when our Afghanistan policy entered into the debate and a woman reporter served as moderator. The unrepentant Taliban leadership meanwhile promises they'll try again, should Malala survive.

Surely such silence bodes ill for women in Afghanistan when coalition forces leave Afghanistan in 2014. Unless Islamabad opts for a decisive policy change towards its insurgent presence, the duress of women seeking self-realization through the liberation education provides is likely to continue. Up to now, Pakistan has sent mixed signals, more concerned with negating Indian influence in Afghanistan via destabilization than negotiated reconciliation with its neighbor that would also ameliorate life for many of Pakistan's own beleaguered women.

While presently Pakistan's military and political elite beat a path to her bedside, it's probable they'll re-clothe themselves in silence, unless Pakistanis continue to speak out.

One final thought: What's happened to Malala again reveals the horrid calumny of doctrinaire ideology, whether religious or political, when polemic turns into hate and spills over into intolerance.


Sunday, October 7, 2012

Getting the monkey off your back

Take a moment, in a quiet spot, and close your eyes. Visualize a scene from the past that gave you a sense of peace or relief from daily anxiety. For me, it's hiking the trail up lofty Ben Nevis in Scotland with my wife several years ago. I can still see the narrow trail's steep ascent, slate gray limestone fences dividing a retreating green tapestry below, snow-flaked with sheep; hear a babbling brook; feel the day's exhilarating coolness. I find again the shepherd psalmist's quiet waters and renewal.

Such moments are rarer now for many of us, given the frenetic pace of modern life with its myriad stresses. The poet Auden knew this when he famously dubbed our era "the age of anxiety." We pop our pills, vegetate before our TVs, seeking relief from deadlines to meet or places to go.

It isn't really cancer, heart disease or the like that are killing us. It's stress, and much of our morbidity is its result. We eat more, worry more, hurry more. Twenty percent of us suffer from acute anxiety disorder requiring professional intervention, while our media proclaims daily the social violence of those who "just can't take it anymore."

Here are some suggestions that have helped me and may help you ease up and enjoy your life more fully, ways of coping that may even help you live longer:

1. Change your reactions: A lot of our stress derives not from what happens, but how we respond. We can choose to adapt like that Robert Frost birch bending with the wind, rather than arching its boughs, or remain brittle like a Bradford pear, its limbs severed by the storm. Substitute a positive alternative for a negative one. What we think fosters our emotions, and emotions often generate our distress. Instead of dwelling on how awful the economy is, think of how it's likely to ultimately get better. It's not "that sob, he cut me off"! Instead, drivers can be rude, but most aren't. It's not, "What's going to happen?, but "Let's take it just one day at a time.

2. Get a hobby: Like birds, learn to identify them. Fond of the outdoors, join a hiking group. Enjoy games? Try contact bridge. Cooking? Attempt new recipes. Want something new? How about learning another language?

3. Take-up meditation: Clearing the mind's clutter goes back several thousand years.
It endures because it works. Don't know how? Check your local resources. They're abundant now. Stress reduces the brain's white matter (the wired area of the consisting largely of nerve fibers). The good news is that according to a published report in the Proceedings of the National Academy, just 30 minutes of meditation over a two week period showed measurable changes in the white matter, indicating that meditation facilitates healthy brain function.

4. Try biofeedback: Many find the device Resperate useful for teaching them precise breath control that produces a relaxation effect. Dividend, it reduces blood pressure. Resperate gets a thumbs up from a number of leading medical resources, including Mayo Clinic.

5. Say no! You've only so much time in a day. Take time for yourself. Give yourself a special treat each week. Go for that dessert! See that movie! If you can, set one day aside for yourself.

6. Read! This means shutting off that TV. Television, mostly a mind-numbing activity, doesn't generally relieve our stress. It may even add to it. Reading expands the mind and relaxes at the same time. At bedtime, it can help you get a good night's sleep.

7. Blog! I can speak first hand about what it does for me. When I'm writing, it seems I've hurled my anxieties into the deepest sea. Writing not only opens a window on the world, it brings me into touch with myself, clarifies and cleanses, while providing perspective.

8. Drink green tea:. It works because of its i-theanine content, which you can also find in pill supplements at your local health stores or at Whole Foods. Drink it several times daily, especially when you feel uptight. Taking about 30-minutes to kick-in, it's super just before bedtime and will help you sleep like a rock.

8. Exercise: Nothing really new about this life essential, along with good nutrition, for promoting health. But exercise also relieves stress. The trick is to schedule it into your day. The preferred form should be aerobic, and the cardinal rule remains 5-days a week, 30 minutes minimal.

9. Tablets: I 'm not thinking pills here, but of those popular devices such as the iPad. I've become fond of the mind-stretching game apps in particular like Sudoku. Talk about time out, diversion comes easily with a tablet. It doesn't have to be confined to games. Tablets provide apps for virtually any interest. How far away troubles seem when you find a riveting app.

10. Turn on the music! Shakespeare rightly said, "Music hath charms to soothe the savage beast." Obviously, it works, or it wouldn't be so popular. To promote relaxation, however, stay away from the frenzied kind. I like classical Indian music for this purpose. You might also find Enya very soothing. She works for me. Sometimes I just go for the sounds of nature: waves washing up on the shore, a murmuring brook, birds in early morning revelry, the soft pitter-patter of falling rain, etc.

Yes, you can get that monkey, stress, off your back, and in doing so, wake with joy each morning, eager to seize the day.

Be well,


Monday, October 1, 2012

The myth about cholesterol

For years I’ve believed all the hype that high cholesterol sharply increases your risk for heart disease. I’m dubious about that now. Did you know that people with low cholesterol get heart attacks, too? Are you aware that nearly half of those with atherosclerosis have low cholesterol? Or that half of those with high LDL never suffer any complications? Something else seems to be going on.

I’ve suspected this for some time, but I didn’t know the mechanism behind it until now. Not all LDL is the same. A variant type exists, often hereditary, where the LDL type is smaller and denser, increasing your risk for heart attack or stroke. It isn't LDL per se, but the kind of LDL you have. This kind puts you at greater risk, since small LDL particles can more easily infiltrate the arteries and cause blockage. You can get a good reading at your doc’s on your cholesterol levels, LDL and HDL, be thin as a rail, exercise daily, yet still be at risk. You can even pass an EKG stress test and drop dead several days later. You come across this story often.

There are two things you should do, whether you agree or not with my particles hypothesis.

1. The next time you go for a blood check, which should be annually at the very least, ask for a particles check to determine the type of LDL you have. An added dividend is it will show whether you’re insulin resistant, a precursor to diabetes. Your test will even categorize your risk for heart attack or stroke: minimal, moderate, high, highest.

2. If you do have small particles, there are ways to improve, or transition, to large particles, the healthier kind; namely, cutting carbohydrates, especially from unrefined sources such as processed foods and sweets and exercising vigorously at least 150 minutes weekly, i.e., 30-minutes daily.

Be warned that eating fats, especially the saturated kind, has its own dangers, but in the end, unrefined carbohydrates are the primary threat to a healthy heart. If you think about it, carbohydrates are turned into blood sugar (glucose). If there's one insidious source of disease, not just coronary, it's sugar!

Let me close with my own experience. Last May I was found to have high small particle lipids. Over the last three months, I’ve practiced my own counsel. Result, my August lab showed a 25% drop in small particle total.

As always, sound nutrition is your key to good health and longevity.