Friday, December 26, 2014

Another Marlon Brando New Year

Let’s be real.  For once.  It’s OK.  Go ahead and let it out:  We’re not keeping our New Year’s resolutions, are we?

There now.  Doesn’t that feel better? 

Oh sure, we mean well.  We have every intention.  We do so want to improve.  But do we even remember what we resolved with such fervor on January 1, 2014?

No.  No we don’t.  Unless of course we are coming up on January 1, 2015, fixin’ to resolve it all over again.  With a straight face.  Like it never even happened.

But aw shucks, Miss Carolyn!  We was just funnin’!  Honest!  We was just kiddin’ anyway!  What’s all the fuss about?!

Year after year we flap our lips!  Expel hot air into an already warming global climate. 

When if we’d kept our own promises TO OURSELVES, we could’ve been better by now.  We could’ve had class.  We could’ve been somebody.  We could’ve been contenders!  Instead of a bunch of bums.  Which is what we are – let’s face it.

Last year right about this time we punched our one-way tickets to Palookaville. And this year, if we don’t make some changes, we’re climbing on board the express train!

The Wall Street Journal quantifies the phenomenon for us: 88% of New Year’s resolutions fail!  So who are we kidding anyway?  Really – Who?

As I see it, if we want to hold our heads up, we have two courses of action available:

Option one:  Follow the advice of Oliver Burkeman, also known as Mr. Grumpy Gills at The Guardian, who says – Abandon your resolutions now “rather than waiting a week or two for the moment when [they] will inevitably collapse in a quagmire of failed hopes, self-reproach and packets of Pringles.”

Geez!  That’s a little harsh!  All right, it’s true.  But harsh. 

Interestingly, his crabby cynicism has the opposite effect on me.  Rather than give up before I begin, his defeatism on my behalf makes me want to prove him wrong.  Just show him that I can keep my resolutions even though my track record mirrors that of Charlie Brown’s classic football kick. 

Maybe I am doomed to fail.  Maybe the Lucys of the world have conspired to pull that ball away from me; or maybe I’ve done it to myself.  But no matter how many times I land on my back screaming “Augh!” I want to get up and try again. 

Ever hopeful.  Ever optimistic.  All right – ever naive.

Senor Crabbiness explains: “The lure of making a ‘complete fresh start’ can be hard to resist… But in fact, aiming for across-the-board change – to get fitter, eat better, spend more time with the family and less time playing Angry Birds, all at the same time – is exactly the wrong way to change habits.”

He and the WSJ agree – we should respect the feebleness of our self-control.

The prefrontal cortex is responsible for willpower and it has lots of other things to worry about besides our half-hearted New Year's resolutions.

“Willpower is a depletable resource, which means investing energy in any one goal will leave less remaining energy for the others; so your resolutions end up fighting each other.”

Sabotaged by a weakened wherewithal!  That explains why I have no recollection of my earnestly enumerated good intentions.  They paired up and knocked each other out!
Far better, according to the Grinch, is to aim for one new habit every couple of months.  Maybe it could be worth a try – In January swear off the Law & Order marathons.  Then in March…I don’t know…dust?

Or, says he, you can manipulate your surroundings and totally eliminate the need to spend your precious reserves of willpower.  For example, it's much easier to watch less TV when you don't have one.  Right.  Like that’s going to happen! 

Make things automatic, he says, so you don’t have to strive constantly to be better.  It’s too hard on your pea brain!  But despite your handicap, you can automatically use your credit card less if you hide it in your sock drawer.  That’s exactly how I wound up with a surplus of sox!

This year, I think I’ll simplify.  Opt for Plan B:  Line up your excuses in advance.

I plan to blame my brain.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Holiday roundup


From CBS news affiliate WIAT-TV: A report that Officer William Stacy was called to the local Dollar General store in Tarrant, Alabama, on Saturday where a woman was caught trying to steal a dozen eggs.
The officer recognized the woman because he had responded to a previous call to her house and had seen her difficult living conditions.
The store agreed not to press charges, and Officer Stacy decided to buy the eggs for her.

Researchers at Washington University in St. Louis say they've discovered that nitrous oxide – laughing gas a somewhat mild general anesthetic often used as a sedative in dental surgery may be a rapid, effective treatment for severe depression when a patient isn't helped by standard therapies such as antidepressant medications.
Two-thirds of patients who received the laughing gas reported significant improvements in their depressive symptoms. 
Side effects of the use of nitrous oxide are feeling relaxed, unconcerned, happy, slightly numb and disconnected.


Psyblog reports that when thinking about almost anything, anxious people are prone to expect the worst.
However, socially anxious people often enjoy social occasions much more than they expect.
One study had people predict how much they would enjoy a group celebration on St. Patrick’s Day.
The results showed that socially anxious people consistently underestimated how much fun they would have.


A former monk speaking on The Daily Good says that “deep within each of us is a great well of health, abundance, knowledge and guidance.  When we enter into silence and stay in the silence, we come into direct contact with that sacred well.  In that place dwells our True and Higher Self … One of the most powerful spiritual practices you can adopt is also one of the easiest to do."

If you leave an open box under your Christmas tree, your cat will sleep in it instead of trying to open the other packages.  The box doesn’t have to be big enough for the cat.  Cats seem to enjoy squeezing into too-small boxes.  This strategy also helps with cat hair containment.
Associated Press reports that Ron Ingraham, a 67-year-old boater who had been missing at sea for 12 days, is on his way to shore after being found uninjured 64 miles south of Honolulu.
The Coast Guard searched for him after his mayday call on Thanksgiving reported that his small boat was taking on water about 50 miles west of Kailua-Kona.  In an audio clip of the call, Ingraham is heard saying he was in danger of sinking. 
The search was suspended Dec. 1 until another mayday call came in Dec 8th.  A guided-missile destroyer was nearby and its crew members found him.  
The Coast Guard says Ingraham was weak, hungry and dehydrated when the Navy ship reached him.  The agency said that he accompanied the cutter that towed his 25-foot vessel to the island of Molokai.
Time Magazine featured the SAME cafe in Denver which serves food “So All Might Eat.”  The cafe’s menu has no price structure other than “Pay what you can.”  Diners can choose to work in the garden, wash dishes or sweep floors in exchange for fresh soups, homemade breads, and entrees.

Tucson News Now tells us that the North American Aerospace DefenseCommand's “NORAD Tracks Santa” website,, officially launched on Dec. 1, as it does every year.  In keeping with technological advances the site features a mobile version, a holiday countdown, new games and daily activities for kids.
The website is available in English, French, Spanish, German, Italian, Japanese, Portuguese, and Chinese.
Starting at one minute after midnight (MST) on Dec. 24, website visitors can watch Santa make preparations for his flight.  NORAD's "Santa Cams" will then stream videos on the website as Santa makes his way over various locations around the world.
NORAD Tracks Santa began in 1955 when a local Tucson advertisement told children to call Santa direct but misprinted the number.  Instead of reaching Santa, the phone rang through to the crew commander on duty at the Continental Air Defense Command Operations Center.  Thus began the tradition, which NORAD has carried on since. 
You’re welcome.

Hope your holidays are warm and sweet.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Kevin Bacon never forgets

Trying to remember…have I already written about Alzheimer’s disease?

No.  No, I haven’t.  I’m sure of it.  Pretty sure. 

This much is certain – I follow every trick and tip I discover to stave off that thief of noodles. 

That’s why I play Words with Friends.  It’s not a deadly time-killer that beckons its victims to the Qi at any pause in their action-filled lives.  No!  No it’s not.

WWF is ‘way more than a silly electronic game of Scrabble!  On the contrary, WWF constitutes a pointed effort to hop up the hippocampus.  Oh my yes! 

I can’t tell you how happy I am to find that my compulsive pastime plays a preventive role in saving synapses.

It’s good to find evidence to back up my here-to-fore defenseless argument about why those little yellow lettered squares mean so much.

I learned it at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference, 2014.

OK.  I didn’t go to the Alzheimer’s Conference.  Couldn’t find my car keys.  Forgot to mark my calendar.  Missed the flight to Copenhagen.  Yuk yuk yuk groan.

But here’s the good news for us addicts of WWF – not to be confused with the World Wrestling Federation, which, most likely, is bad for your brain – straight from the AAIC:  Traditional pastimes like playing card games and working puzzles help to increase brain volume! 

Evidently when it comes to brains, size does matter.

And these findings build on previous studies which have linked playing video games to larger brain structures. 

Would someone please tell Mr. Plath?  He makes a point of needling me at every opportunity just because my fingers twitch whenever my iPhone plays that tinkling notification that one of my nemeses has sent me another WORD! 

I cannot not respond…!

On the other hand, please don’t tell my boomerang son who plays video games, or more accurately, a particular video game, with the fervor of a young suitor pursuing the woman of his dreams.  He lives for long stretches in that virtual world where an actual woman is unlikely to materialize.  Unless perhaps, she also has heard the Call of Duty.  A mother can hope.

On the bright side, his brain must be bulging against his ear drums.

Another favorite game, Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon, builds brain power too. 

Oh you may think of Six Degrees as an exasperating exercise that movie buffs use to clear a room.  It works well for that; but it is much, much more.

Six Degrees is a memory exercise that constructs a web of actors, their playlists, full movie casts and connections over time in Hollywood history.  That’s an elegant metaphor for a neural network! 

Case in point:  Just this week I happened upon a snippet of “Footloose” starring Kevin Bacon; and guess who costars in it?  John Lithgow! 

Instantly, my dementia defiant system of associations kicked into gear like a Rube Goldberg machine:  My memory mouse ran down that 1984 “Footloose” ramp, hopped onto the Ferris Wheel, swung around and jumped into a canoe.  From there, she paddled up to the ladder leading to 2014’s “Interstellar” starring Matthew McConaughey and, wait for it…John Lithgow!

So, “Interstellar’s” entire cast:  McConaughey, Jessica Chastain, Michael Cain, Matt Damon, Ellen Burstyn, Anne Hathaway and lots more – all connect to Kevin Bacon via John Lithgow.

That spans generations of movies and dozens of second-degree connections!  All those actors’ playlists!  I couldn’t wait to explain all this to you! 

Isn’t it just so cool?!!

Oh.  OK.  I get it.  You’re not a movie nerd.  But you get the brain-building analogy, right?  I mean, it’s at least as good as pinochle.  Come on!  You have to give me that!

And Kevin Bacon is more interesting than Super Mario!  In another study cited at the AAIC, German researchers had people playing Super Mario 64 – a 1996 video game from Nintendo – for 30 minutes a day over 2 months and then compared their brain volumes with those of a control group.

Guess who had larger grey matter structures in areas of the brain associated with memory, spatial navigation and strategic planning?  John Lithgow!

Wait!  No!  I meant Kevin Bacon!  No!  No!  What was I doing?  Where was I going with all this?

Oh yeah.  Defeating dementia through distracting diversions.

See?  It works!

Friday, December 5, 2014

Silver Linings Makeover

I am so done with self-improvement.

Thank God.  It was exhausting!  What with the constant recognition of my shortcomings, the seeking of remedies, the futile attempts at changing ingrained behaviors and personality traits, and of course, the forgetting of what I started only to blunder into another reminder of my imperfection.

I really hate being a work-in-progress at my age.  Truly, truly, I do.

But that’s OK.  They’re all in the past now, my foibles.  Something to chuckle about over a snifter of brandy.  A fleeting wisp of whom I once was.  A ship smoke on the horizon (thank you Pink Floyd).

But how can it be, you might ask.  How can someone so faulty, so incomplete, so blemished, so, so… Hey!  Watch yourself!   

But it’s a fair question.  How can a person be so swiftly transformed?

Easy peasy!  Modern science has relieved me of the burden of trying!  I’ve learned that I need only quit struggling and live my life without further concern for those around me.  Other people can just deal.  Take me, my idiosyncrasies and faux pas for what they are – signs of my bright, charming and capable alter-self.  Ha!

Oh yes.  Science to the rescue! 

Researchers in the Psychology Department at New York University report that holding a “silver lining theory,” that is a sort of common-sense belief that being socially inept, for example, holds a hidden benefit of some sort, actually proves itself to be true!

That’s right, according to these guys:  Believing that a negative personality trait has a positive ‘silver lining’ is enough to boost performance in that area.

Psyblog reviewed the results of the study in their article entitled, “How to Turn Character Flaws into Strengths with One Easy Mental Trick.” 

It’s perfect!  It plays right into my strong suit – mind games.  I fool myself all the time:  This bite-sized Snickers won’t lead to another; no one notices my white roots; Words with Friends is a worthwhile use of my time.

I couldn’t wait to start hoodwinking myself right out of my imperfections.  Better living through chicanery!

“People know that a weakness can also be a strength but these results show that if we actually believe it, we can use these beliefs to our advantage.” 

So says Alexandra Wesnousky, the study’s lead author, who probably believes that her penchant for flimflam is a virtue:

In her experiment, participants were manipulated into believing they were impulsive.

Then half were told that there is a scientifically proven link between impulsiveness and creativity.  The other half were told the link was rubbish.

In fact, until this study, there was little evidence either way — the ‘science’ was fabricated to help people believe – or not – in the connection.

But then get this – The results of the experiment showed that participants who accepted the association between impulsiveness and creativity performed better than those who did not on a subsequent test of creativity!

Go go go, you implusive you!  You can invent anything you want!

Now this study only tested the silver lining relationship between impulsiveness and creativity, but participants freely advocated all sorts of unseen benefits to personal traits they thought of as negative. 

For example, those characterized as careless claimed a hidden benefit of being good-natured.  OK…

Your mom says you’re lazy, but no!  That’s not the whole story.  Lazy’s happy ending is patience!  Yeah, that’s the ticket!

You annoy your co-workers by being over-analytical?  Ha!  At least you’re thorough, unlike some others unnamed here.

Pessimistic?  Realistic!  Shy…modest.  It’s all good.  No character development required!  My kind of problem solving.

It’s not important whether the silver linings are ‘true,’ just that people believe that they are. 

Oh, I believe.

And that’s the scientific Zen of my makeover – recognizing that I’m already there.  My flaws are virtues:  My tendency to know-it-all is counterbalanced by my generous habit of correcting others.

Take that, you smug self-help gurus!  So what if I blurt out the truth in situations that call for a polite white washing of the uncomfortably obvious.  That only means I’m insightful.

The beauty of my penchant for procrastination?  An enviable ability to live in the now. 

Socially inept?  So what?  The merits of solitude are many.

And the upside of being a curmudgeon?  Isn't it obvious?  An irascible sense of humor!