Thursday, September 27, 2012

Anti-Obesity Ads Rile Some--But Empower Most

Some people are irate that a new series of short TV ads by Blue Cross in Minnesota, aimed at getting parents to think about the food-related example they're setting, implies Moms and Dads are to blame for their kids' overweight. They say a parent's ephiphany about his influence amounts to "shaming" them. I disagree.

One of the controversial ads, below, notes how children mimic their parents. A second ad in a fast-food restaurant (called "Eating Out") shows a dad bringing his heavily-laden tray to the table, catching his son and friend bragging about the amounts their fathers can consume. The underlying assumption is, of course, that obesity is an epidemic and scourge that will lead to all sorts of health problems for children, and that its cause is too much unhealthy food, provided by parents. That may be erroneous, but the theme of the ads is "today is the day:" Now, rather than later, is the time to improve.

I'm writing a book on the obesity issue, and my work leads me to conclude that the nation's expanding girth cannot be attributed to junk food. I've found there are dozens of possible causes for the rise in obesity rates that started in 1980 and leveled off in 2000. It's unlikely that, as in the following ad, people's shopping carts overflow only with cookies, chips, sugary cereals and soda pop (and nothing fresh).

 But no one can debate the notion that parents are powerful models for their children, and good parents want their children to emulate healthful behaviors. I say there's nothing wrong with reminding parents that their actions shape their children.

Being a "good example" is a worthy goal in every aspect of life. Considering the idea--and its immediacy--can relate to myriad spheres. Moms can ask themselves if they're modeling for daughters desirable ways to talk to a spouse; fathers might wonder if they're conveying to their sons what a husband should be. Everyone can watch their interactions with others to be sure they're kindly--e.g. Are phone conversations polite?

No parent on earth thinks junk food only is a healthy diet, though I've nothing against junk food, as long as a person chooses it in response to his own body's signals--in which case it's likely to be but a small part of an overall picture. Well-meaning authorities' pronouncements or emotional issues can interfere with the natural connection to one's physical nutritional needs; we're programmed to be omnivores. Unfortunately, our culture tells us to disregard that in favor of some program or rules devised by an expert.

My research suggests that most overweight and obese individuals are not to blame for their sizes (there are many hypotheses about cause, including a cold virus, environmental toxins, genetic and hormonal changes). It's cruel and harsh that our society confers diminshed respect on its larger members, often denying them recognition or even common courtesies because of unfair disdain.  Embarrassing or shaming are unacceptable approaches to anyone--but these ads really don't do that.

Instead, they offer empowerment. Some people just don't consider the effects of what they're doing, and they could.  The mom whose shopping cart is filled only with junk food is probably a fantasy, and how many kids get in verbal war about whose dad can eat more? But that's not the point of these messages. They let parents pause to consider their role as teacher in their everyday behavior, and take it a step further by urging adults to improve now.

By the way, taking responsibility is a theme in the health-promoting Blue Cross ad series. Nobody's complaining about the one that chides people for their own lack of discipline, using a parody of the song "Tomorrow" from the play "Annie" (below). I don't see much difference between taking responsibility for one's own unhealthy choices (smoking, being sedentary, pigging out) and a parent taking responsibility for the food environment of his children at home. I do not think parents should force any food choices on children, but at the same time, a parent realizing where she can make positive differences in her family's lives today is motivating and uplifting.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Eulogy for my 106-year-old Aunt

Frank and Aunt Bo a couple of years ago, at the organ
My Aunt Bo's funeral was Saturday. She died in her sleep at age 106. For the past thirty years, she'd been living in sin with her boyfriend, Frank, age 105.

I couldn't make the funeral, as it was 1,200 miles away and on the Jewish Sabbath, which I observe. Aunt Bo wasn't Jewish, though she'd been married to my Uncle Milt, who passed away in 1983, for 52 years.

Our family's claim to Jewish fame was that my grandfather, the father of Uncle Milt and my dad, founded the first Jewish newspaper in Southern California, in 1897. At that time, there was a small Orthodox Jewish community in Boyle Heights but the choice of most Jews in the Southland was Reform Judaism, a branch that had developed in Germany as an embrace of the Enlightenment only a few decades earlier.

Jews in nascent Southern California tended to cluster in Santa Ana, the community where as a young man my grandfather began his paper. He brought his enterprise to LA when Wilshire Boulevard Temple was built, a magnificent structure that rivalled the grandeur of any church. Previously, it was called Temple B'nai Br'ith (temple of the children of the covenant), and so when my grandfather started his paper, he called it The B'nai Br'ith Messenger.

It was through the publication's non-Jewish advertising saleswoman, Byrdie Baker, that my uncle met her daughter, Bo. The dynamic Byrdie, who eventually rose to editor, was frail and old in my memories, a fixture at early family holidays, along with her second daughter, my Aunt Fern, whose son had been a famous singer in the 40's and had died before the 50's began. Talking about Ernie (Fern's son) seemed taboo, so I never learned about his untimely death, though in Aunt Fern's home hung a large photo of the handsome youth, hair slicked back, at a large microphone that said CBS.

Aunt Bo spent her working life at a desk at a local small business that sold tools, doing their accounting. She managed to obtain some jeweler's pliers and wire cutters for me, when I was in my teenaged jewelry-making phase. I never asked her about her worklife, about who sat at the other few desks, or whether she enjoyed the job. My uncle Milt was a traveling salesman, representing a company that manufactured cake decorations. You know, those little plastic ponies, birthday-candle holders, flowers and brides and grooms. He had a big case of samples he toted in his Southern California territory, and was always home on weekends.

On Sundays, my family drove the familiar 10-minute route to Aunt Bo and Uncle Milt's house for bar-be-ques, where hamburgers sizzled on a kettle grill with buns singed to perfect brown. In those days, a healthy meal always contained meat, and no one disparaged the hot dogs blackened on one side to what we now consider a carcinogenic char. I recall that my entire childhood was punctuated by these weekly patio meals at either Uncle Milt's or our own home, a custom my two younger siblings and I accepted as the rather boring norm.

My aunt and uncle never had children, an aberration then, though it was whispered that Aunt Bo had suffered four miscarriages. As the years passed and they moved into retirement, they travelled locally and took great pleasure in their social clubs, Sciots, an Egyptian-themed division of the Masons, and its women's counterpart, the Zag-a-Zigs, which provided its series of parties and meetings, the friendship network of their lives.

After my uncle's heart problems worsened and he passed away, I recall sitting at his funeral, the first and only I've attended with the coffin open. It was so peculiar to see dear Uncle Milt lying there, looking perfectly normal, as if asleep. I was told that my Aunt Bo, too, wanted to be "viewed."

It was few years after my uncle passed that Aunt Bo got together with Frank, and they lived together in her home for another thirty years. He survives her now and is apparently handling Bo's death well. I'd visit them occasionally, and Frank was always jovial, retelling his stories from his decades as a musician with jazz bands, often singing some of their standards, lyrics he knew perfectly. Aunt Bo and he would sit on their twin Lazy-Boy recliners and watch TV; they'd go to their weekly seniors meetings and have friends over to play the organ that was a major feature of their living room. Frank was driving until just a couple of years ago, deciding it was finally time to quit at 103. He still brags about his physical shape; he's strong and walks confidently, unassisted.

In the last several years I've taken several videos of Frank entertaining my children and me with his tales. Aunt Bo was conversational, but let Frank hold the limelight. Each time we'd ask the secret to their longevity, they'd answer in unison with a smile: "Keep breathin'!" Aunt Bo would inquire about everyone's activities, and tick off her own calendar items, though in the last year a fall suffered while getting out of bed to go to the bathroom left her with a fractured femur (successfully repaired in surgery) but unable to really walk.

The inclination is to ascribe import to the very unusual situation of two extremely elderly people living independently, flouting the odds by their very existence together. But my Aunt Bo and the two men in her life were plain people, unremarkable except for their mere physical tenacity. Everyone who lives is loved; every person allots his time to activities of one sort or another. Aunt Bo spent forty years at a desk in a windowless office, and enjoyed having friends sit at her home bar sipping cocktails. She liked playing the organ and making padded hangers as a Zag-a-Zigs charitable project. She loved her garden and noticed every rose. She was pleasant and cheerful and had no explanation for her longevity other than she kept living, noting, "it's better than the alternative!"

She wasn't particularly religious, though she went to her neighborhood church sporadically; she wasn't especially political (though a lifelong conservative) or excited by any field of academics or studies. She was competent, ran her affairs, was kind and generous to her friends and family. She was one thread in the fabric of Los Angeles, and outlived nearly everyone she knew.

Rest in peace, dear Aunt Bo.

Friday, September 14, 2012

In a 'tough world,' there's still food and fashion

Egyptian anti-Muslim film protester dodges tear gas, Voice of America photo
Today's Friday, the day of prayer for Muslims, as well as their riots against America. The disgusting YouTube video by a low-life criminal in Cerritos, California isn't the real impetus for the frightening and dangerous manifestations in Tunisia, Sudan, Indonesia, India, Pakistan, Lebanon, Malaysia and even Germany. Deeper hatred fuels the anger that would eradicate every power and faith that isn't Muslim. (And as the world has seen, branches of Islam can be equally violent against those in differing sects.)

President Obama won't need to launch an "October surprise" to boost his leadership profile; he's placed in that position presently and so far has yet to impress.  We hope and pray that the coming days will bring strong denunciation of the violence rather than placating apologies for offense. Ours is a land with freedom to speak, even if the content insults another. The world stage is not so generous.

Meanwhile, my daughter who lives in New York City can no longer purchase a 16-ounce soft drink, lest her petite frame become obese. Mayor Bloomberg proudly touted his city's restriction on large-sized sugary drinks as "“the single biggest step any city has ever taken to curb obesity,” adding, "we believe that it will help save lives.”

I'm all for saving lives, and if Mayor Bloomberg can show that unlimited refills in smaller-sized cups, enforced by a cadre of health inspectors, will either reduce obesity or keep citizens going, I'm willing to toast him with my, um, Venti Frappuccino (373 calories). I don't get many of them, but when I do, it's because I'm really thirsty and probably didn't have breakfast. The Starbucks frappuccino, by the way, is in controversy since drinks with more than 50% milk are exempt from the ban. If the ice-to-milk ratio is dropped, my venti could be safe. Sound silly to you?

If not, perhaps this news item will. A New York Times "Front Row" column in the Style section a week ago discussed the virtues of Michelle Obama's sparkly dress as a prop with a message for her address to the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte. Eric Wilson approved of the Tracy Reese design, noting that Ms. Reese "who happens to be black," designed a creation that "from a distance...had a shimmering effect...but in closeups, viewers could practically study the pattern of the gold brocade."

The message of the dress: A boost to the middle class. Why? "Ms. Reese's prices are also in the middle ground...which fits perfectly with the Democratic pitch for the middle class." Middle ground, ie, middle class dress prices for pieces by Ms. Reese run $200-500. The zinger at the end of the article was the single sentence, "Mrs. Romney's dress cost $1,990."

OK, Mrs. Romney wore a readily-available Oscar de la Renta red taffeta belted dress for her boffo speech to Republican conventioners (from the pre-fall collection). Ms. Obama's dress, one-of-a-kind and designed specifically for the first lady, is not available. Of course, it's being rushed into production, and according to reports will sell for "less than $500."

Now, no middle class woman I know--and certainly not I--would pay $500 for a dress. Nor $400. Nor $300, or $200 or, I will admit, in my own case even $100.  Middle class women shop at Nordstrom Rack or Target, and like bargains more than labels.  At least that's true for everyone in my sphere. If they do wear a label--maybe on a pair of good denim jeans--they want to get it on sale. I often wear hand-me-ups from my daughters from Forever 21.

I sometimes wonder: who are the women who buy from designer shops? There must be enough of them to support the fashion industry, but if they're not the wealthiest 1%, they're definitely in the richest 5%. You don't need to buy a $500 replica of Michelle Obama's dress to announce you're in the middle class.  And you don't need to diss Ann Romney for her (expensive) choice.

My take-away message: Democrats want to demonize success. Rather than cheering those who achieve, and making way for more to follow, the tack is to channel last year's Occupiers and chastise the Romneys for making it to the top.

The suggestion that wearing a custom-made dress from a mid-priced designer shows some fidelity to the middle class is here just another rap from the very biased press.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Warning: "Bachelorette" Movie too Disgusting to Watch

Yes, I'm immersed in politics now, and want to write about Pres, Obama's abysmal attempt to counteract his "You didn't build that!" blunder through his speech to the Democratic convention. But--I have to interject a strong warning about a new movie that might mislead my friends into wasting money for it.

The headline that occasioned this post was in today's USA Today: "The new 'L' word: Lewd, for the Ladies," with the sub-head, "Gross-out comedies could gross well." But "Bachelorette" won't. I started watching it, and walked out. It's that awful. It's about four friends reunited for the wedding of one of their high school band (Kirsten Dunst, Isla Fisher, Lizzy Caplan and Rebel Wilson), none of whom has come close to fulfilling her potential.

Do you like to see nice-looking young women snorting coke? Do you like wedding toast insults about the bride's size? How about if the rudeness is so ripping it halts the performance of a male stripper?

Or the scene that caused me to exit: girlfriends high on said coke decide to take the bride's gown and fit two of them inside to make a "hilarious" Facebook post? Yuck it up, stupid producers. You don't think highly enough of your audience to show women acting sanely, and I predict you'll be the only ones left in the theater.

Tell your friends to avoid this flick. Now, back to what will really make a difference for the future.

Three Democratic Convention Speeches with the Same Cringe-worthy Meme

These three know some businesses succeed and others fail
Last night I was in the car with my husband. You know, the political junkie who controls the radio dial whenever we're driving. He insisted on listening to the Democratic Convention speeches.

Within a few minutes I was begging--in vain, I knew--for him to give me respite and turn the darn things off. The speeches I heard that irked me were by a trio of victims of greedy Mitt Romney and Bain Capital, people who proclaimed their work-places had been shut down due to takeovers that not only led to their plants and factories closing, but more emphatically, to a rich guy lining his pocket from their suffering.

Aside from the ridiculousness of the proposition--companies Bain Capital couldn't rehabilitate were failures for investors and led to less rather than more profits to line those greedy pockets--I was struck by a nearly-identical phrase repeated within just a few-minute span by all three speakers, listed as former employees of companies controlled by Bain Capital.

Randy Johnson, a worker at an unidentified "plant," said "On July 5, 1994, Mitt Romney and his partners at Bain Capital fired me and more than 350 of my coworkers" without warning.

He qualified, "I don't fault him for the fact that some companies win and some companies lose. That's just a fact of life."  Keep that phrase in mind. Its sentiment is repeated by two more speakers offering testimonies about Mitt's heartless lack of ethics.

Randy Johnson followed his qualifier with, "What I fault him for is making money without a moral compass. I fault him for putting profits before working people like me. But that's just Romney economics." Boo, hiss.

The second Bain Capital victim, Cindy Hewitt, former employee at Miami's Dade Behring plant, decried "Mitt Romney and his partners" for "driving our company into bankruptcy," and with it destroying 850 jobs. How Romney and his evil crew profited from the loss of their investors' money is unknown, though "they ultimately walked away with more than $240 million," according to Ms. Hewitt.

"Of course I understand that some companies are successful and others are not--that's the way our economy works," she noted, quickly adding, "But it's wrong when dedicated, productive employees feel the pain while folks like Mitt Romney make profits." 

Now, a devious company can perhaps get away with losing investors' cash in a buyout bankruptcy once, but if they do it again, they're not going to stay in business. Especially when it's public that they somehow squeezed $240 million out of the deal for themselves. But what I noticed was the strangely-inserted aside about some companies being successful and others not. Sounded like the same speechwriter who penned Randy Johnson's "some companies win, some companies lose" line.

Then the qualifier popped up again. The third victim of "Mitt Romney and his partners," David Foster, a worker at Kansas City's GST Steel, told his tale of woe, in which "promises" by Romney and Bain Capital to plant workers were dashed when they borrowed money against the mill "to pay themselves millions," ultimately forcing the company into bankruptcy.

"Now, some companies succeed; others fail. I know that," echoed Mr. Foster. And then the zinger: "But I also know this: We don't need a president who fires steelworkers or says 'Let Detroit Go Bankrupt.'" The Washington Post fact-checker blog, by the way, found that Romney never used that term, though in a 2008 editorial suggested the way for auto-makers to beat their financial crisis was through a "managed bankruptcy" from which they'd emerge leaner and more efficient. The Post added that GM and Chrysler did, in fact, go through managed bankruptcies in order to survive.

But, we quibble. Everyone knows that some companies are successful, and others not. And that some companies win and some companies lose. Everyone agrees that some companies succeed and others fail. And some speeches just make me cringe (and others make me wince).

Please, turn off the radio! I've had enough Mitt-bashing and want to hear some new ways our future leader will create jobs and get rid of the debt and deficit. I don't begrudge households earning more than $250K the tax cuts everybody else is getting. I just want to know the innovative, concrete steps that will take our country out of this financial mess. I heard Mitt give five steps, in his speech to the Republicans. Now, Mr. President, it's your turn.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Make My Day: Republicans Ecstatic at Convention Finale

Clint Eastwood talks to the empty chair at the RNC
I'm sick of reading all the left-leaning press' k'vetches about Clint Eastwood's surprise performance on the last night of the Republican National Convention in Tampa. I was there, and can vouch for the universally-delighted reception of the Harry Callahan-appreciative audience, and the pumped-up kicks generated by presidential nominee Mitt Romney.

Eastwood was billed as the "mystery guest" for the RNC's last evening, though really the unidentified participant was the occupant of an empty chair placed next to Clint's podium, standing--er, sitting-- in for President Obama.  Eastwood then carried on a natural-sounding one-sided interview, in which Clint raised amused eyebrows by responding to the chair, "What's that? No, I couldn't do that to myself..."  Later in the talk he paused and asked, "What do you want me to tell Mitt Romney?" A beat. "No, I can't tell him that! I can't tell him to do that to himself!  You're absolutely crazy. You're getting as bad as Biden!"  The crowd went wild. He added, "Of course, we all know Biden is the intellect of the Democratic party. Not much more than a grin with a body behind it." The cheers continued.

Eastwood is a Hollywood icon, worthy of respect for his varied and extensive resume, but lib reporters didn't hesitate to skewer him. He's 82 and seems slightly frail, but his mind and mouth are fully functional. He challenged listeners to consider Obama's failures, including Guantanamo's not-quite-closure, the lack of jobs, spilling the target date for withdrawal from Afghanistan. Nobody expected stand-up comedy in the Convention, much less from Clint Eastwood, but coming right before Marco Rubio's introduction of Romney, Eastwood's humor relaxed the mood.

Media reactions by like-minded liberal reporters for the major TV networks, watching together in their aerie, reinforced each other. Sure, the 12 million viewing at home on their computers and TVs could form their own opinions, but the rest of the public, and that's the bulk of the population, was handed an opinion it had no way to dispute. Needless to say, Colbert and Stewart had a field day, (and they're the main source of news to college students) but that's to be expected. Jay Leno chimed in, calling the appearance "bizarre." Rachel Maddow called it "the weirdest thing I've ever seen at a political convention," and "a political disaster" for Republicans. Roger Ebert called it "sad and pathetic." By far the most common term for the sketch was "rambling." That's a pejorative when applied to an elderly person, btw.
Romneys and Ryans (right) applaud Marco Rubio

After Eastwood, Marco Rubio wow'd the crowd with his punchy, powerful delivery, introducing Mitt Romney who worked his way shaking hands down a side aisle to the stage. An earlier series of videos and testimonials by people helped or touched by Romney primed delegates and friends, who received him with near-reverence, though his humility disarmed that quickly. Mitt was personal and intimate, direct and dynamic, and by the time balloons dropped from overhead nets and confetti wafted onto participants, the jubilant group was positive their man would beat his failed opponent.

Balloon drop after Mitt Romney's speech a the RNC
My husband and I watched from seats on the side of the Tampa Times Forum good enough to see the nearly spring-loaded jumping to their feet thrilled audience members repeated. The vast disconnect between what appeared in newspapers and on websites and the reality of sitting among people who cared enough to attend was frustrating, gaping and again showed media to be far, far from objective.

But we partisans had a great time, because we realized that Romney got it. The "it" is not just the plight of thwarted citizens prevented from ease or encouragement in business, home-buying, tuition-paying or child-rearing. "It" is that Romney knows how to communicate his superiority as a candidate; he knows the questions to ask, and the insecurities to tap. Romney has clearly been a super-achiever, turning around companies and the Olympics and even public opinion after his 2008 primary losses. And his tenacity, commitment and record combine to fuel enormous relief and optimism that he can turn around our nation, and turn it away from the grim and dour "we need more time; we need more of your money" we keep hearing from the White House.

(All the photos in this post are mine, taken from my seat in the Tampa Times Forum during the convention proceedings.)