Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Archive for September 18th, 2011

Food and Not-food

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That title pretty much covers it, with whatever “it” you choose. I’m reminded of a good math professor I had at the U of Iowa who was telling us, in a functional analysis course, about some amazing property of linear functions in a particular type of space, and he said, “But linear functions are already a very special kind of function. Dividing functions into ‘linear’ and ‘non-linear’ is like dividing the universe into ‘bananas’ and ‘non-bananas’.”

I’m actually talking about an odd food experience I had this afternoon. I went to Whole Foods for, among other things, cream of balsamic vinegar (“grub sauce”). I was sort of peckish so I had my mid-afternoon plum shortly before I left, and that took the edge off.

Still, I found myself going up the sushi aisle, just to see what they had, when I saw something interesting: slices of seared albacore tuna, with two sauces. That looked good—and pretty much simply protein, which my dinner was a little short of. (I planned to put an over-easy egg on top.)

And then I saw a shrimp tempura roll: shrimp tempura wrapped in thin layer of sushi rice and thinly sliced fish wrapped around. That looked even better.

I was standing there, holding the things, about to put them in my cart, when I asked myself, “What’s going on? First, the albacore: I don’t need food, I have food at home waiting. I don’t need protein, because I have an egg to put on top. So why am I going to get that?” And then the other: That one was not only an escalation, it was something I didn’t really need—all that sushi rice—and, to make the point again: I didn’t need the food. I had food at home.

I suddenly realized: This wasn’t about food at all. It was about something else. So why was I holding food? I put it back and got out of there. I was told long ago by a wise friend that when I felt confused, I shouldn’t stick around and try to figure it out, I should get out of there: Get away. Beat it. Go think about it somewhere else. Feeling confused is a warning sign.

I think we may have been talking about car salesman in that specific instance, but it applies all over the place, to situations romantic, practical, friendship, and business.

This one I still haven’t figured out, but the dinner I had waiting at home was indeed perfectly satisfactory, and I have no idea what that interlude at Whole Foods was about, but whatever it was, it wasn’t food.

Written by LeisureGuy

18 September 2011 at 5:35 pm

Posted in Daily life, Fitness, Food

Writing the story of your life

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This article by Alix Spiegel of Morning Edition on NPR reminds me somewhat of the Pennebaker book The Secret Life of Pronouns, a very interesting read. A podcast is at the link; the article begins:

For several decades, psychiatrists who work with the dying have been trying to come up with new psychotherapies that can help people cope with the reality of their death. One of these therapies asks the dying to tell the story of their life.

This end-of-life treatment, called dignity therapy, was created by a man named Harvey Chochinov. When Chochinov was a young psychiatrist working with the dying, he had a powerful experience with one of the patients he was trying to counsel — a man with an inoperable brain tumor.

“One of the last times that I went into his room to meet with him, on his bedside table was a photograph of him when he had indeed been young and healthy and a bodybuilder, and it was this incredible juxtaposition of these two images,” says Chochinov.

So in the bed there’s his patient — this skeleton of a man — very pale and weak. On the bedside table, there’s this portrait of a glistening, muscled giant. And Chochinov says that sitting there, it was very clear to him that by placing this photograph in such a prominent position, the man was sending a message: This was how he needed to be seen.

As Chochinov continued his work with the dying, he confronted this again and again — this need people have to assert themselves in the face of death. And he started to wonder about it.

“Why is it that how people perceive themselves to be seen should have such a profound influence? How does that make sense? What does that mean?” Chochinov says.

So he tried to answer those questions. As a psychiatrist at the University of Manitoba in Canada, he did study after study trying to tease out exactly what troubled people most about dying. What he found was that what people found most assaulting and annihilating was this idea that who they were would completely cease to exist after their death. And so Chochinov decided to do something about it.

“If the idea of having something that will outlast even you matters for patients that are near the end of life, then we need to do something that will create something that will last beyond … the patient,” he says.

A Patient’s Narrative

The something that Chochinov decided to create was a formal written narrative of the patient’s life — a document that could be passed on to whomever they chose. The patients would be asked a series of questions about their life history, and the parts they remember most or think are most important. Their answers would be transcribed and presented to them for editing until, after going back and forth with the therapist, a polished document resulted that could be passed on to the people that they loved.

Chochinov named this process dignity therapy, and for the past 10 years he has used it with the dying. And one of the things that has struck him about the process is this: The stories we tell about ourselves at the end of our lives are often very different than the stories that we tell about ourselves at other points. . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

18 September 2011 at 12:39 pm

The fading opportunity of artisanal shaving supplies

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As the bulk of the population leaves traditional wetshaving for multiblade cartridges and canned foam, as the market for the old tools and methods shrinks, we have seen a blossoming of artisanal vendors of shaving supplies: shaving soaps, shaving creams, shaving brushes, aftershaves, and even razors. Thanks to the Web, artisans can now show and sell their wares to widely dispersed customers so that it becomes realistic for them to devote their time, energy, and skill to artifacts of, say, quirky appeal. As I look at their wonderful and unique offerings, I wonder why I buy commercial versions at all.

I think my focus will increasingly be on the artisans. Those will be the unique items. Of course, some offerings are made by people with good intentions but insufficient skill and talent, but the best of the artisanal items are works of art for the long term (brushes, razors, pottery, and the like) or the short (shaving soap, shaving cream, aftershaves, and the like). But in each category there are superb offerings and often at very good prices.

I was thinking about this as I looked over the vendor list in the 5th edition and realized how many 1- or 2-person operations were present, and how much I like some of the unique items I acquire from artisans.

Written by LeisureGuy

18 September 2011 at 12:36 pm

Posted in Daily life, Shaving

Shakespeare

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Pretty cool, done by Becky of London. Story here.

Too bad about “baited” breath. But perhaps that’s the Navajo idea of including a flaw so you know it was done by hand. Still: made me wince.

UPDATE: Wait a minute! “Dead as a doornail”?! That’s Charles Dickens, I believe, from A Christmas Carol. I am now dubious of some of the others. — Oops. Just looked it up. Shakespeare did use it, but he wasn’t the first. See this article.

Written by LeisureGuy

18 September 2011 at 10:11 am

Posted in Daily life, Writing

Pension theft

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Companies like money. As the character played by Danny de Vito in Heist exclaims, “Of course you want money! Everyone wants money! That’s why they call it money!!”

I’ve always loved that explanation. And it sure seems true: companies like money so much that they’ve decided simply to take money entrusted to their care—tough noogies to those who planned to live on those pensions.

Thomas Rogers interviews Ellen Schultz about the theft in Salon:

America is in the midst of a retirement crisis. Over the last decade, we’ve witnessed the wholesale gutting of pension and retiree healthcare in this country. Hundreds of companies have slashed and burned their way through their employees’ benefits, leaving former workers either on Social Security or destitute — and taxpayers with a huge burden that, as the baby boomer generation edges towards retirement, is likely to grow. It’s a problem that is already affecting over a million people — and the most shocking part is, none of this needed to happen.

As Ellen E. Shultz, an investigative reporter for the Wall Street Journal, reveals in her new book, “Retirement Heist,” it wasn’t the dire economy that led these companies to plunder their own employees’ earnings, it was greed. Over the last decade, some of the biggest companies — including Bank of America, IBM, General Motors, GE and even the NFL — found loopholes, abused ambiguous regulations and used litigation to turn their employees’ hard-earned retirement funds into profits, and in some cases, executive compensation. Schultz’s book offers a relentlessly infuriating look at the mechanisms they used to get away with it.

We spoke to Schultz over the phone about the companies’ deliberate deceptions — and what they mean for the future of the country.

How did you first discover this “retirement heist” was happening?

In the late ’90s I noticed that many companies, including a lot of the largest companies in the country, were hiring experts to change their pension plans. They all claimed they were doing it to make themselves more modern and better for the mobile workforce, but it struck me as unlikely that a lot of companies would be doing something that was apparently costing them money just to make employees happy. I ultimately figured out that they had found a way to use the accounting rules to profit from cutting benefits.

Even after reading the book, I’m  a little bit confused by how this actually worked. It was so sneaky.

It took me a long time to find an expert who could explain to me how these accounting rules worked, but when I finally pieced it together, it was enormously simple. Think of pensions as a . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

18 September 2011 at 9:58 am

How Whole Foods primes you to shop

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As one would expect, well-run businesses devote considerable thought and effort to creating conditions to encourage you to spend money. This article by Martin Lindstrom in Fast Company presents an interesting example:

Derren Brown, a British illusionist famous for his mind-reading act, set out to prove just how susceptible we are to the many thousands of signals we’re exposed to each day. He approached two creatives from the advertising agency Saatchi & Saatchi for the “test.” On their journey to his office, Brown arranged for carefully placed clues to appear surreptitiously on posters and balloons, in shop windows, and on t-shirts worn by passing pedestrians.

Upon their arrival, the two creatives were given 20 minutes to come up with a campaign for a fictional taxidermy store. Derren Brown also left them a sealed envelope that was only to be opened once they’d presented their campaign. Twenty minutes later, they presented and then opened the envelope. Lo and behold, Derren Brown’s plans for the taxidermy store were remarkably similar to the ad campaign, with an astounding 95% overlap.

An interesting experiment, you may say, but hardly a trick you’d fall for. But bear this in mind–it’s more than likely you were well primed the last time you went shopping.

Let’s take for example Whole Foods, a market chain priding itself on selling the highest quality, freshest, and most environmentally sound produce. No one could argue that their selection of organic food and take-away meals are whole, hearty, and totally delicious. But how much thought have you given to how they’re actually presenting their wares? Have you considered the carefully planning that’s goes into every detail that meets the eye?

In my new book Brandwashed, I explore the many strategies retailers use to encourage us to spend more than we need to–more than we intend to. Without a shadow of doubt, Whole Foods leads the pack in consumer priming.

Let’s pay a visit to Whole Foods’ splendid Columbus Circle store in New York City. As you descend the escalator you enter the realm of . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

18 September 2011 at 9:43 am

Posted in Business, Daily life, Food

Ireland takes a look at the Catholic church’s actions

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The words from the Catholic church—at least the public words, not the private instructions to bishops to cover up crimes committed by those pedophiles in holy orders (lay pedophiles are, I presume, fair game)—are generally quite reassuring. Their actions, however, speak even more loudly. I believe that the scales have fallen from the eyes of many in Ireland, including the prime minister. Sarah Lyall reports in the NY Times:

DUBLIN — Even as it remains preoccupied with its struggling economy, Ireland is in the midst of a profound transformation, as rapid as it is revolutionary: it is recalibrating its relationship to the Roman Catholic Church, an institution that has permeated almost every aspect of life here for generations.

This is still a country where abortion is against the law, where divorce became legal only in 1995, where the church runs more than 90 percent of the primary schools and where 87 percent of the population identifies itself as Catholic. But the awe, respect and fear the Vatican once commanded have given way to something new — rage, disgust and defiance — after a long series of horrific revelations about decades of abuse of children entrusted to the church’s care by a reverential populace.

While similar disclosures have tarnished the Vatican’s image in other countries, perhaps nowhere have they shaken a whole society so thoroughly or so intensely as in Ireland. And so when the normally mild-mannered prime minister, Enda Kenny, unexpectedly took the floor in Parliament this summer to criticize the church, he was giving voice not just to his own pent-up feelings, but to those of a nation.

His remarks were a ringing declaration of the supremacy of state over church, in words of outrage and indignation that had never before been used publicly by an Irish leader.

“For the first time in Ireland, a report into child sexual abuse exposed an attempt by the Holy See to frustrate an inquiry into a sovereign, democratic republic as little as three years ago, not three decades ago,” Mr. Kenny said, referring to the Cloyne Report, which detailed abuse and cover-ups by church officials in southern Ireland through 2009.

Reiterating the report’s claim that the church had encouraged bishops to ignore child-protection guidelines the bishops themselves had adopted, the prime minister attacked “the dysfunction, the disconnection, the elitism” that he said “dominate the culture of the Vatican.”

He continued: “The rape and torture of children were downplayed, or ‘managed,’ to uphold instead the primacy of the institution — its power, its standing and its reputation.” Instead of listening with humility to the heartbreaking evidence of “humiliation and betrayal,” he said, “the Vatican’s response was to parse and analyze it with the gimlet eye of a canon lawyer.”

The effect of his speech was instant and electric. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

18 September 2011 at 9:29 am

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