Tuesday, 31 May 2011

Grand Rapids, Michigan ain't dying! (video)

This is the amusing story of a city - yes, an entire city - fighting to retain its honour and reputation in the face of the bleak forecast of its future made by a major national magazine. On January 21, 2011, Newsweek published an article entitled "America's Dying Cities". Noting that in the first decade of this new millennium the U.S. population had its smallest rate of growth of any time since the Great Depression and labelling it another sign of the financial woes of the country, Newsweek set out to find out which metropolitan areas with a population exceeding 100,000 suffered the steepest population decline in the same period. In looking ahead to the future of these regions, the magazine looked at the drop of those under the age of 18 as an indication of an even greater decline in these areas due to a lack of young people.

The article consisted of the 10 cities with the steepest drop in overall population and the largest decline in the number of residents under the age of 18.

10. Grand Rapids, Michigan
down 2.1 percent; youth population dropped 2.2 percentage points

9. Flint, Michigan
down 10.8 percent; youth drops by 2.5 points;

8. South Bend, Indiana
down 3.9 percent; youth down 2.5 points

7. Detroit, Michigan
down 4.2 percent; youth off 2.6 points

6. Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
down 6.8 percent; youth down 2.7 points

5. Cleveland, Ohio
down 9.7 percent; youth off 3.1 points.

4. Rochester, New York
down 5.7 percent; youth down 3.1 points;

3. Hialeah, Florida
down 3.3 percent; youth off 3.1 points;

2. Vallejo, California
down 1.8 percent; youth down 3.2 points;

1. New Orleans, Lousiana
down 26.8 percent; youth off 5.1 points.

MLive.Com, a online web site representing various Michigan newspapers, fired back with an article on January 21, 2011 listing various good things happening in Grand Rapids which indicate anything but a dying city.

The label of Dying City is hard to swallow, based on developments on the ground. Here's a half dozen big events that show Grand Rapids is very, very alive:

1. Just-opened Helen DeVos Children's Hospital;

2. A LaughFest this spring

3. Remember ArtPrize?

4. Record ticket sales at Van Andel Arena;

5. 50,000 tickets sold at both art museum's Diana exhibit and public museum's “Bodies.”

6. Meijer Gardens listed as one of world's most frequently visited museums;

Three out of the ten cities are in Michigan and yes, the state has had more than its fair share of the financial pain due for the most part to the decline in the auto industry. Okay, this seems kind of glum. The beginning of the end? Well, it seems that one of the above ten cities decided to not take this lying down and carefully planned out a rebuttal that is now is the process of going viral on YouTube.

Grand Rapids and local sponsors came up with approximately $40,000 to pay for the production of a video highlighting the good points of the city and advertise that the city was not dying but very much alive. Produced and directed by promoter Rob Bliss, the video features a tour of the downtown, crossing the Pearl Street bridge and ending at the Gerald R. Ford Museum. Various locals are out dancing and lip syncing to the song American Pie by Don McLean and the effort is being billed as the largest professionally produced lip dub in the world. - A lip dub is a type of music video that combines lip synching and audio dubbing. - The project's overall goal was to paint Grand Rapids in a good light and with the video nearly a million hits on YouTube; people from all over the world are now hearing about Grand Rapids, Michigan.

The single shot 10 minute video features more than 3,000 people with marching bands, dancers, weddings, and motorcades. Local news reported that the video featured familiar faces, including entertainers, political figures, media celebrities surrounded by hundreds of football players, musicians, cheerleaders, police and firefighters, swing dancers, kayakers and more, adding that many of the faces probably aren't familiar unless you're familiar with Grand Rapids.

Obviously the video made its point as Newsweek itself responded on a Facebook page dated May 26, 2011:

To the Grand Rapids crowd:

First off, we LOVE your YouTube LipDub. We're big fans, and are inspired by your love of the city you call home.

But so you know what was up with the list you're responding to, we want you to know it was done by a website called mainstreet.com--not by Newsweek (it was unfortunately picked up on the Newsweek web site as part of a content sharing deal)--and it uses a methodology that our current editorial team doesn't endorse and wouldn't have employed. It certainly doesn't reflect our view of Grand Rapids.

Uses a methodology that out current editorial team doesn't endorse? *sound of a horn beeping* Too late! However, Mainstreet.Com has issued a response as of May 27/2011:

As we noted in the original piece, because the numbers are based on a 10-year period, they may not always paint the most up-to-date picture. New Orleans, for example (spoiler alert), ranked as the #1 dying city, due to the number of residents who were forced to move away after Hurricane Katrina struck in 2005, yet the city’s population has actually begun to grow again in recent years. Since the total population is still far below what it was in 2000, it tops the list.

That said, we stand firmly behind the methodology used in this study and believe it provides a valuable glimpse at population and demographic changes throughout the country. The results were in no way intended to pass judgment on the people or the quality of life in each of these cities.

The energetic response from Grand Rapids residents in producing all of the videos, articles and Facebook pages in support of their city should serve as proof that with a bit of energy and creativity, any shrinking city can band together to defy the demographics and show off its true vitality.

Other cities should take note.

Newsweek may be distancing itself from Mainstreet.Com but Mainstreet stands by its article. However, I think Mainstreet hit the nail on the head in saying that numbers are one thing, but with a little gumption, one can beat the odds. Britain's Daily Mail has an article on the Lip Dub video. Gawker's article is amusing entitled "‘Dying’ Michigan City to Newsweek: Drop Dead" and the Hollywood Gossip says "Grand Rapids, Michigan to Newsweek: Rank This!". In Salon's article "Grand Rapids' lip dub versus Newsweek", the author Drew Grant raises the interesting question as to why would Newsweek publish an article it didn't agree with. If the article is published, wouldn't anybody assume that Newsweek's editorial approved it? Should publications like Newsweek post articles from other publications "not endorsed" by the editorial team? Or do different ethical guidelines apply for the Internet content of a magazine than for its print version?


May 26/2011
The Grand Rapids LipDub (New World Record)
The Grand Rapids LipDub Video was filmed May 22nd, with 5,000 people, and involved a major shutdown of downtown Grand Rapids, which was filled with marching bands, parades, weddings, motorcades, bridges on fire, and helicopter take offs. It is the largest and longest LipDub video, to date.



Final Word
Hey, Newsweek, if you don't agree with an article, don't publish it. Oh, and one other thing. Don't mess with Grand Rapids, Michigan!!!


References

Wikipedia: Lip dub
A lip dub is a type of video that combines lip synching and audio dubbing to make a music video. It is made by filming individuals or a group of people lip synching while listening to a song or any recorded audio then dubbing over it in post editing with the original audio of the song. There is often some form of mobile audio device used such as an MP3 players. Often they look like simple music videos, although many involve a lot of preparation and production. Lip dubs can be done in a single unedited shot that often travels through different rooms and situations within a building. They have become popular with the advent of mass participatory video content sites like YouTube.

Wikipedia: Grand Rapids, Michigan
Grand Rapids is a city in the U.S. state of Michigan. The city is located on the Grand River about 40 miles east of Lake Michigan. As of the 2010 census, the city population was 188,040. In 2010, the Grand Rapids metropolitan area had a population of 774,160 and a Combined Statistical Area, Grand Rapids-Muskegon-Holland, population of 1,321,557.

Facebook: The Grand Rapids LipDub Video

Twitter: @GRLipDub

Newsweek - Jan 21/2011
America's Dying Cities
We used the most recent data from the Census Bureau on every metropolitan area with a population exceeding 100,000 to find the 30 cities that suffered the steepest population decline between 2000 and 2009. Then, in an attempt to look ahead toward the future of these regions, we analyzed demographic changes to find which ones experienced the biggest drop in the number of residents under 18. In this way, we can see which cities may have an even greater population decline ahead due to a shrinking population of young people.

The Chicago Sun-Times - May 29/2011
Roger Ebert's Journal: The greatest music video ever made

Thanks to Annie Parker (Twitter:@bitterdivorcee) for pointing this out.

2011-05-31

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Monday, 30 May 2011

Movie Review: Potiche

This French-Belgian comedy was released in France and Belgium in November 2010 and has now made its way to North America. Starring Catherine Deneuve with Fabrice Luchini and Gerard Depardieu, the film tells the somewhat amusing story of a submissive wife, a supposed "trophy wife", who finds her wings by taking over her husband's umbrella factory when he is incapacitated. The French word potiche is a decorative vase which also means a person who is pretty but without importance or power.

Based on a play written in 1980, the film was made completely in Belgium in 2009 and premiered on September 4, 2010 at the 67th Venice Film Festival. Part comedy with some farce thrown in, the time period of the story being 1977 also reflects the spirit of women's liberation in the business world. It is not without some amusement that we see the connection between the husband becoming incapacitated and his workers going out on strike. Is there anything more French than a strike? I remember being warned before my first visit to France years ago that la France likes to take up the cause of the worker and employees being out walking the picket line was a regular occurrence. My experience is that every cliché is based on fact and yes, France does seem to have more than its fair share of strikes.

The producers have managed to recapture 1977 alright with the clothes, the cars, and the general look about the entire film, although at times, I had the impression I was looking at a setting which was older than that. Is it me or at times did this seem more like the late fifties or early sixties? Maybe I'm just confusing this with the office comedies of Doris Day and Rock Hudson. Okay, that dates me.

I'm being probably picky if not unfair, but seeing Deneuve and Depardieu together today and thinking back to 1980 when the two of starred together in The Last Metro by François Truffaut, well, there's no comparison. Age is great for a wine but not necessarily so for us humans. I had to look twice to confirm that Deneuve was in fact Deneuve and Depardieu has changed, ah, dramatically. Nevertheless, the two of them work together flawlessly on the screen. Pro is pro and that is clearly in evidence here.

It is sometimes a little puzzling watching a film with subtitles. Okay, if you don't speak the language at all, you can skip listening to the dialogue and focus on the text. However, if you do speak the language even a bit, you get distracted. Do you listen to the dialogue or read it? Sometimes you're reading and miss what's being said and sometimes you're listening and miss reading. It can be confusing and you just have to tell yourself to focus on one or the other, but trying to do both can throw you for a loop. Hmmm, would this be a good spot to say "merde"?


Trailer



Final Word
This is not your profound art film like my other recent review, Certified Copy; this is supposed to be a light hearted comedic romp. Rotten Tomatoes gave it a rating of 83% which is pretty good, but I would have rated it less than that. I classify it as average maybe good however you would do better to wait until it comes out as a rental. If you restrict yourself as to the number of films you pay full pop for at the cinema, I would advise you to shell out for something else to get your money's worth.


References

Rotten Tomatoes: Potiche: 83%

Wikipedia: Potiche

official web site: Potiche
[Mais oui, c'est en français. À quoi d'autre vous attendiez-vous ?]

2011-05-30

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Sunday, 29 May 2011

Optimism: we are hardwired to ignore defeat

Hope springs eternal as the old saying goes and we humans seem to be forever optimistic that things are going to work out. No matter what the hardship, no matter what the failure, we are perpetually coming back with the sunny idea that next time things will be different. Albert Einstein supposedly said, "The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results." Are we nuts?

In the May 28, 2011 edition of Time Magazine, Tali Sharot, a research fellow at University College London's Wellcome Trust Centre for Neuroimaging discusses our proclivity for optimism as a probable survival mechanism hardwired into our brains by eons of evolution. While it may seem that an overly sunny view of the future may be unrealistic or sometimes just plain delusional - okay, stupid - Ms. Sharot suggests that our brains deliberately push aside negative thoughts in favour of the good ones as a means of surviving, of finding the will to carry on. If not, what? We roll over and die?

Despite the news about violent conflicts, high unemployment, tornadoes and floods, we may collectively express pessimism but individually, when thinking about our own futures, we seem to remain resilient. The author mentions a 2007 survey which found that 70% thought families were less successful than their in their parents' day yet 76% of the respondents were optimistic about the future of their own family. Go figure.

Overly positive assumptions can lead to disastrous miscalculations — make us less likely to get health checkups, apply sunscreen or open a savings account, and more likely to bet the farm on a bad investment. But the bias also protects and inspires us: it keeps us moving forward rather than to the nearest high-rise ledge. Without optimism, our ancestors might never have ventured far from their tribes and we might all be cave dwellers, still huddled together and dreaming of light and heat.

To make progress, we need to be able to imagine alternative realities — better ones — and we need to believe that we can achieve them. Such faith helps motivate us to pursue our goals. Optimists in general work longer hours and tend to earn more. Economists at Duke University found that optimists even save more. And although they are not less likely to divorce, they are more likely to remarry — an act that is, as Samuel Johnson wrote, the triumph of hope over experience.

Ajit Varki, a biologist and the associate dean for physician-scientist training, co-director of the Glycobiology Research and Training Center at the University of California, San Diego supports the argument that optimism is part of evolution. Being able to imagine the future but do so with the idea of success, allowed our ancestors to survive. Sharot uses the expression "irrational optimism" which seems amusing in light of our own mortality but points out that ignoring our own mortality permits us to continue without seeing that it all may be fruitless. Varki and others concur with this notion.

Sharot, along with neuroscientist Elizabeth Phelps, conducted tests about optimism using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). Volunteers were asked to imagine various possible future events, some desirable (a great date or winning a large sum of money), and some were undesirable (losing a wallet, ending a romantic relationship) while the researchers recorded their brain activity.

We observed [enhanced activity ] in two critical regions of the brain: the amygdala, a small structure deep in the brain that is central to the processing of emotion, and the rostral anterior cingulate cortex (rACC), an area of the frontal cortex that modulates emotion and motivation. The rACC acts like a traffic conductor, enhancing the flow of positive emotions and associations. The more optimistic a person was, the higher the activity in these regions was while imagining positive future events (relative to negative ones) and the stronger the connectivity between the two structures.

Sharot goes on to explain how our emotions can shape the future. Pessimistic people, like those who may be clinically depressed, have negative expectations and may very well not do what is necessary to avoid a negative outcome. Conversely, those who are optimistic will do what's necessary or even more in order to succeed. Indeed, being optimistic or pessimistic can literally shape our futures.

Sharot explains another test where volunteers were primed with certain keywords before performing some cognitive tasks once again using MRIs scans to see what's happening in the brain. To induce success, the researchers spoke with college students using words like smart, intelligent and clever before the test and to induce expectations of failure, they used words like stupid and ignorant. The students performed better if primed with success words but the brain scans revealed some interesting data. If primed for success and a student made a mistake, the brain activity shot up indicating that the brain was trying to learn from the mistake so as to correct the error in the future. Those primed for failure showed little or no brain activity when making a mistake. In other words, they were not learning from their mistakes; they were being self-defeating in their outlook. To succeed, to overcome the odds, to learn from one's mistakes, the brain must be active. This connects back to the idea that being optimistic is a survival mechanism. Being primed for success means more brain activity when faced with a mistake as the brain wants to learn to do better next time.

Ms. Sharot talks about optimism as being a means of transforming situations from bad to good, of finding the silver lining in the storm clouds. As an example, she talks about a friend who is at Heathrow Airport waiting to get on a plane to Austria for a skiing holiday. His plane has been delayed for three hours already, because of snowstorms at his destination. "I guess this is both a good and bad thing," he says. Waiting at the airport is not pleasant, but he quickly concludes that snow today means better skiing conditions tomorrow. His brain works to match the unexpected misfortune of being stuck at the airport to its eager anticipation of a fun getaway.

She goes on to discuss an experiment where volunteers are asked to choose between various bad scenarios, like would you rather have a broken leg or a broken arm. Invariably, given some time to think about it, the volunteer would find some way of painting the problem in a good light. "With a broken leg, I will be able to lie in bed watching TV, guilt-free." Optimism means we are going to succeed no matter what.

Final Word
Ms. Sharot ends by saying that this tendency towards optimism is both good and bad. Good in the sense it helps us to continue. Bad in that we tend to overlook the obvious signals of failure. She amusingly points out that we can hear a success story like Mark Zuckerberg's of Facebook and imagine ourselves being rich one day and yet, upon hearing that the odds of divorce are almost 1 in 2, we can't imagine our own marriages ever failing.

The research seems to indicate that we all have this innate ability to see the sunny side of the street. Even in the most hopeless of situations, we still find hope. To quote Charlie Sheen, "Defeat is not an option." It would seem that optimism is a survival mechanism. It gives us the courage to carry on... or the hope that marriage number two is going to work.


References

Time Magazine - May 28/2011
The Optimism Bias by Tali Sharot
[Adapted from The Optimism Bias, by Tali Sharot. Sharot is a research fellow at University College London's Wellcome Trust Centre for Neuroimaging]
We like to think of ourselves as rational creatures. We watch our backs, weigh the odds, pack an umbrella. But both neuroscience and social science suggest that we are more optimistic than realistic. On average, we expect things to turn out better than they wind up being. People hugely underestimate their chances of getting divorced, losing their job or being diagnosed with cancer; expect their children to be extraordinarily gifted; envision themselves achieving more than their peers; and overestimate their likely life span (sometimes by 20 years or more).

Wikipedia: Optimism Bias
Optimism bias is the demonstrated systematic tendency for people to be overly optimistic about the outcome of planned actions. This includes over-estimating the likelihood of positive events and under-estimating the likelihood of negative events. Along with the illusion of control and illusory superiority, it is one of the positive illusions to which people are generally susceptible. Excessive optimism can result in cost overruns, benefit shortfalls, and delays when plans are implemented or expensive projects are built. In extreme cases these can result in defeats in military conflicts, ultimate failure of a project or economic bubbles such as market crashes.

Amazon
The Optimism Bias: A Tour of the Irrationally Positive Brain by Tali Sharot
From one of the most innovative neuroscientists at work today, an investigation into the bias toward optimism that exists on a neural level in our brains and plays a major part in determining how we live our lives.

Psychologists have long been aware that most people maintain an often irrationally positive outlook on life. In fact, optimism may be crucial to our existence. Tali Sharot’s experiments, research, and findings in cognitive science have contributed to an increased understanding of the biological basis of optimism. In this fascinating exploration, she takes an in-depth, clarifying look at how the brain generates hope and what happens when it fails; how the brains of optimists and pessimists differ; why we are terrible at predicting what will make us happy; how emotions strengthen our ability to recollect; how anticipation and dread affect us; and how our optimistic illusions affect our financial, professional, and emotional decisions.

With its cutting-edge science and its wide-ranging and accessible narrative, The Optimism Bias provides us with startling new insight into the workings of the brain.

Nature, Vol.460 - Aug 6/2009
Human uniqueness and the denial of death by Ajit Varki
The late Danny Brower, a geneticist from the University of Arizona, suggested ... that with full selfawareness and inter-subjectivity would also come awareness of death and mortality. Far from being useful, the resulting overwhelming fear would be a dead-end evolutionary barrier, curbing activities and cognitive functions necessary for survival and reproductive fitness. ... In his view, the only way these properties could become positively selected was if they emerged simultaneously with neural mechanisms for denying mortality. ... Brower’s contrarian view could ... steer discussions of other uniquely human ‘universals’, such as the ability to hold false beliefs, existential angst, theories of afterlife, religiosity, severity of grieving, importance of death rituals, risktaking behaviour, panic attacks, suicide and martyrdom. ... we should be looking for the mechanisms (or loss of mechanisms) that allow us to delude ourselves and others about reality, even while realizing that both we and others are capable of such delusions and false beliefs.

Wikipedia: Ajit Varki
Ajit Varki is a physician-scientist who is currently distinguished professor of medicine and cellular and molecular medicine, associate dean for physician-scientist training, co-director of the Glycobiology Research and Training Center at the University of California, San Diego (UCSD), and co-director of the UCSD/Salk Center for Academic Research and Training in Anthropogeny (CARTA). He is also executive editor of the textbook Essentials of Glycobiology and Distinguished Visiting Professor at the Indian Institute of Technology, Madras. He currently serves on the National Chimpanzee Observatory Working Group and is a specialist advisor to the Human Gene Nomenclature Committee.

New York University, Press Release - Oct 24/2007
Study Reveals How the Brain Generates the Human Tendancy for Optimism
A neural network that may generate the human tendency to be optimistic has been identified by researchers at New York University. As humans, we expect to live longer and be more successful than average, and we underestimate our likelihood of getting a divorce or having cancer. The results, reported in the most recent issue of Nature, link the optimism bias to the same brain regions that show irregularities in depression.

On second marriages: "The triumph of hope over experience."
- Samuel Johnson, from Boswell's Life of Johnson

2011-05-29

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Saturday, 28 May 2011

Microsoft Windows, the Ribbon, and Jerry Seinfeld

I don't normally blog about computer technology which I suppose is surprising. My day job sees me working in the field so Monday to Friday, nine to five, and even after hours I am dealing with every @#$%^&* thing connected to computers. Obviously with blogging and such, I am working on a computer whether writing or doing research over the Net and it would be a fair statement to make that my waking moments are never far away from a keyboard. The only thing missing would be having the jack in the back of my head like in the movie The Matrix so I could truly be plugged in. Ha!

A few years ago I and a lot of people migrated to Microsoft Office and the Ribbon. We were all totally thrown for a loop by this UI innovation and while I'm guessing the jury is still out on whether or not all us old fuddy-duddies will ever properly make the break with the past and embrace this new visual presentation of the software, the next generation of users having nothing else to compare it with will accept this without protest. Being a bit of a nut about learning speed keys, I try to operate anything without taking my hands off the keyboard as I find moving my hand to a mouse to click on buttons and menu options to slow me down considerably. That meant my conversion to the ribbon may not have been as problematic as those who insist on always using the mouse.

If I may add this amusing observation: I have over the years stood back and chuckled at people's frustration in dealing with computers. Why? Nobody bothers to take the time to consult Help. I have heard numerous people voicing their anger about being unable to find something or how something has moved because the UI has changed but never bother to look it up in the help system. When Office 2007 arrived and I couldn't make a header in a Word document, I consulted Help, read over the steps and where to find the various options controlling Headers on the ribbon then went about making headers. Others just complained and complained and complained until I explained what to do. They just never read the help.

Another amusing observation. I have read that Microsoft has taken on the goal of providing new versions of Windows on a regular basis, sort of like the car manufacturers coming up with their models for the new year. This means that in order to entice us all for fork over the dough, they have to do something to "make it better" which in many cases means making it different, not necessarily better. I wrote about this phenomenon in My [blank] review of Firefox version 4. I like Firefox, don't get me wrong, but I talked about how they moved the Home button from the left hand of the screen to the right hand side of the screen. I read their rationale about how this was a terrific improvement for a cleaner interface. For over four years now I have moved my mouse to left and all of a sudden I had to go to the right. Now I know that somewhere, some developer is sitting somewhere thinking up these brilliant ideas to make the software and my life just so fantastic. Dear kind well-intentioned sir: f**k off. I have a list of responsibilities today and with a list of well-defined goals and none of those things involve re-learning a piece of software because some lonely genius in a cubicle somewhere decides arbitrarily and unilaterally how I should conduct my business. My business is not learning software. My goals do not entail mastering the latest and greatest. Please leave my freakin' stuff alone so I can go about my business uninterrupted. I have clicked on the home button on the left hand side of the screen for over four years and there is absolutely no rational, explainable, or justifiable reason to put it on the left. Yes, you did give me the option to move it back to the left hand side - I thank you for that - but would you for the love of God stop messing with my work day? Maybe your entire life is devoted to playing with computers but for me, the computer is merely a tool in the pursuit of my life dreams. Keep your cotton-picking hands off my stuff.

Okay, enough venting. My mentioning of the ribbon is linked to the announcement of the next version of Windows, "Windows 8", slated to be out in mid-2012. Some screen snapshots have been leaked to the press and show that Internet Explorer is going to have the ribbon. Speculation is that Microsoft may decide to start using the ribbon everywhere, even in the UI for the O.S. If the public was upset about what they did with Office, they're going to be tickled pink to see the decision made to foist this on all of us in all aspects of the Windows operating system. Thanks Billy. I appreciate your meddling. Not.

In reading over various articles about all this, I ran across an oldie but goodie which makes us all ask ourselves from time to time just what the heck is Microsoft doing.

Jerry Seinfeld and Bill Gates
Back in 2008, Microsoft decided to counter the series of very innovative and hilariously funny commercials from Apple, I'm a PC, I'm a Mac. The results of this counter-attack, which were original, quirky, and very much a reminder of Seinfeld's raison d'être in his comedy series, that is, "it's about nothing", left the world perplexed about just what the message was supposed to be. Did this raise the estimation of Microsoft in the eyes of the world? Did these ads successfully counter the Apple commercials? Whatever the opinion, we were all left scratching our heads. Out of it, Jerry Seinfeld was paid a reported $10 million.


Jerry Seinfeld and Bill Gates Buy Discount Shoes Windows



Jerry Seinfeld and Bill Gates live with a New Family



2011-05-28

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Friday, 27 May 2011

Happy Guys Finish Last

Go figure. While a smile seems to be a ticket to a friendly social interaction, it may not be the preferred facial expression for attracting the opposite sex. Jessica Tracy, a sociologist at Vancouver's University of British Columbia, teamed up psychology graduate student Alex Beall to study the question of why "Happy Guys Finish Last" and published their results online in the latest edition of the journal Emotion.

They discovered that women find pride more attractive than a smile with men while men find a smile more attractive than pride with women. The third emotion, shame, seemed to illicit about the same reaction in both sexes, being relatively attractive. So, for women, men should be proud and confident or moody and ashamed while for men, women should be smiling and happy but not proud and confident.

“While showing a happy face is considered essential to friendly social interactions, including those involving sexual attraction – few studies have actually examined whether a smile is, in fact, attractive,” says Prof. Jessica Tracy of UBC’s Dept. of Psychology. “This study finds that men and women respond very differently to displays of emotion, including smiles.”

The study involved more than 1,000 adult participants who viewed and rated hundreds of images and rated the sexual attractiveness of the person in the photo. These images showed universal displays of happiness (broad smiles), pride (raised heads, puffed-up chests) and shame (lowered heads, averted eyes).

“It is important to remember that this study explored first-impressions of sexual attraction to images of the opposite sex,” says Alec Beall, a UBC psychology graduate student and study co-author. “We were not asking participants if they thought these targets would make a good boyfriend or wife – we wanted their gut reactions on carnal, sexual attraction.” He says previous studies have found positive emotional traits and a nice personality to be highly desirable in a relationship partners.

The reasons explaining these results have been suggested by other studies as centuries of evolutionary and cultural forces. Females are attracted to male displays of pride because they imply status, competence and an ability to provide for a partner and offspring.

According to Beall, the pride expression accentuates typically masculine physical features, such as upper body size and muscularity. “Previous research has shown that these features are among the most attractive male physical characteristics, as judged by women,” he says.

Past research has associated smiling with a lack of dominance, which is consistent with traditional gender norms of the “submissive and vulnerable” woman, but inconsistent with “strong, silent” man, the researchers say. “Previous research has also suggested that happiness is a particularly feminine-appearing expression,” Beall adds.

Displays of shame, Tracy says, have been associated with an awareness of social norms and appeasement behaviours, which elicits trust in others. This may explain shame’s surprising attractiveness to both genders, she says, given that both men and women prefer a partner they can trust.

Final Word
As the press release stated, maybe the study is going to cause guys to smile less on dates and update any of their profile photos with something less smiling and more proud and confident. Gee, is this why the chicks go for those brooding bad boy types? Maybe I'm going to buy myself a leather jacket and start scowling. Or I could walk about being ashamed of myself; that might be easier. But no smiling!

Of course, let's not forget that the researcher said the study was merely looking at first impressions. If we all went with our very first impression, I imagine there would be a lot fewer second dates. But, let me add a personal story as I'm sure you're going to like this little bit of romance. A guy I know who has been married for over 30 years, told me he met his wife at a party and after one hour, told a buddy he was going to marry that woman. Hmm, did she smile?


References

University of British Columbia - May 24/2011
Media Release: Happy guys finish last, says new study on sexual attractiveness

UBC Emotion  & Self Lab - Jan 24/2011
Happy Guys Finish Last: The Impact of Emotion Expressions on Sexual Attraction
by Jessica L. Tracy and Alec Beall, University of British Columbia
Abstract
This research examined the relative sexual attractiveness of individuals showing emotion expressions of happiness, pride, and shame, compared with a neutral control. Across two studies using different images and samples ranging broadly in age (total N = 1041), a large gender difference emerged in the sexual attractiveness of happy displays: happiness was the most attractive female emotion expression, and one of the least attractive in males. In contrast, pride showed the reverse pattern; it was the most attractive male expression, and one of the least attractive in women. Shame displays were relatively attractive in both genders, and, among younger adults, male shame was more attractive than male happiness, and not substantially less than male pride. Effects were largely consistent with evolutionary and socio-cultural-norm accounts. Overall, this research provides the first evidence that distinct emotion expressions have divergent effects on sexual attractiveness, which vary by gender but largely hold across age.


University of British Columbia: Dr. Jessica L. Tracy
Jess Tracy is an Assistant Professor of Psychology in the Social-Personality area at the University of British Columbia, in Vancouver, B.C., and a Michael Smith Foundation for Health Research Scholar. She received her Ph.D. in social-personality psychology from the University of California, Davis, and her B.A. from Amherst College, in Massachusetts. She grew up in Washington DC.

2011-05-27

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Thursday, 26 May 2011

Mr. Mister: Kyrie


The wind blows hard against this mountain side
Across the sea into my soul
It reaches into where I cannot hide
Setting my feet upon the road

My heart is old it holds my memories
My baby burns agem like flame
Somewhere between the soul and soft machine
Is where I find myself again

*CHORUS*
Kyrie Eleison
Down the road that I must travel
Kyrie Eleison
Through the darkness of the night
Kyrie Eleison
Where I'm going will you follow
Kyrie Eleison
On a highway in the light

When I was young I thought of growing old
Of what my life would mean to me
Would I have followed down my chosen road
Or only wished what I could be

Oh...Oh...Oh
Oh...Oh...Oh
Oh...Oh...Oh
Oh...Oh...Oh


References

Uploaded by LuiscmckI on Nov 27, 2007

Wikipedia: Kyrie (song)
"Kyrie" was a #1 hit song by the 1980s pop/rock band Mr. Mister, from their 1985 album Welcome to the Real World. Released in late 1985, it hit the top spot on the Billboard Hot 100 charts in March 1986, where it was #1 for two weeks. It also hit the top spot on the Billboard Top Rock Tracks chart for one week, and was the band's only #1 single on this chart. In the UK the song peaked at #11 in April 1986.

Kýrie, eléison means "Lord, have mercy" in Greek, and is a part of many liturgical rites in Eastern and Western Christianity. Kýrie, eléison; Christé, eléison; Kýrie, eléison is a prayer that asks "Lord, have mercy; Christ, have mercy; Lord, have mercy". According to Page the entire song is, essentially, a prayer.

Wikipedia: Welcome to the Real World (Mr. Mister album)
Welcome to the Real World was the second album by American pop band Mr. Mister. Released in 1985, it climbed to #1 on the Billboard album charts during early 1986. Two singles from the album, "Broken Wings" and "Kyrie" both went to #1 on the US singles chart. Another single from the album, "Is It Love," was another top 10 hit for the band, peaking at #8 on the Billboard chart. A Remastered 25th Anniversary Edition of the album was released as a Digipak on April 20, 2010.

Wikipedia: Mr. Mister
Mr. Mister is an American pop rock band most popular in the 1980s. The band's name came from an inside joke about a Weather Report album called Mr. Gone where they referred to each other as "Mister This" or "Mister That", and eventually selected "Mr. Mister." Mr. Mister may be considered as representative of the melodic sound of 1980s pop rock. The band consisted of Richard Page on vocals and bass guitar, Steve George on keyboards, Pat Mastelotto on acoustic and electronic drums and Steve Farris on guitars.

2011-05-26

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2011 Playboy Sex Survey

In the magazine's issue of June 2011 on page 68 - I mentioning that to prove I actually purchased a copy - we have the Hefner lead initiative to put together the latest and greatest in statistical analysis of our most fundamental of drives and darkest of secrets. Right off the bat, I have to smile at the editors first pointing out how a polling firm last year asked 1,074 adults, "If you had to choose, would you give up sex or the Internet?" and revealed that thirty-five percent couldn't decide. The editors commented, "It's come to this?"

It seems that this 2011 effort is the magazine's effort to put together their own numbers as a current day follow up to their last such effort. In 1983 the magazine surveyed 65,396 male and 14,928 female readers and together with these latest numbers, Playboy reports on the latest with a comparison to the state of our affairs circa the early 1980s. This year's survey is actually two surveys. The first consisted of 8,002 male and 2,001 female visitors to Playboy.Com and the second involves surveying non Playboy readers online, 1,210 men and 1,100 women.

The editors in their introduction to the survey make this observation which most certainly shines the spotlight on the differences between the world of 1983 and the world of today.

Certainly a number of factors have changed how we view and practice sex since 1983—AIDS and Viagra come to mind. But a great amount of the new data we collected points to the influence of internet porn. This includes a huge leap in the number of people who report watching adult movies (78 percent today, 40 percent in 1983). Both men and women masturbate more while having less intercourse. In 1983 we didn't ask if people shaved their pubic hair—who would do that? Now more than half the respondents in our survey are trimming. We also noticed a boost in the incidence of reverse cowgirl—woman on top, facing away—a position popularized by porn.

Need more evidence? The security cam and gonzo porn genres are phenoms supported by the huge increase in readers who say they have had sex in public or other risky places (up to 76 percent from about 35 percent). And what's one to make of the fact that 70 percent of female respondents have been photographed nude and nearly 50 percent while having sex? Thanks to digital cameras and smartphones, you no longer need to develop the film. That's progress.
(Playboy: introduction to the survey)

Selected highlights
Here are some of statistics from the survey. Remember that the current survey is compared with the previous survey done in 1983.

Sexual Frequency
The category "2 or 3 times a week" has dropped while the categories "once a week", "once a month", and "less than once a month" have gone up. This would seem to clearly indicate that couples are having less sex. Well, less sex together. - FYI: From previous reading, I would take once a week, maybe twice as being closer to the national average.

How frequently do you have sex?
  • At least once a day: 5% (Male 4%, Female 8%)
  • 4 or 5 times a week: 13% (Male 12%, Female 17%)
  • 2 or 3 times a week: 28% (Male 28%, Female 30%)
    1983: 33.5% (Male 30%, Female 37%)
  • Once a week: 22% (Male 23%, Female 21%)
    1983: 13% (Male 13%, Female 31%)
  • Once a month: 14% (Male 14%, Female 11%)
    1983: 4.5% (Male 4%, Female 13%)
  • Every other month: 4% (Male 4%, Female 3%)
  • 2 or 3 times a year: 5% (Male 5%, Female 3%)
  • Less than two times a year: 6% (Male 7%, Female 4%)
  • Decline to answer: 3%
Do you find this frequency of sex satisfactory?
  • Yes, the frequency is satisfactory: 32% (Male 30%, Female 41%)
  • No, I'd like have sex more often: 67% (Male 69%, Female 56%)
  • No, I'd like to have sex less often: 1%
  • Decline to answer: 1%
Masturbation
The categories "at least once a day"and "a few times a week" have gone up while the other less frequent categories have remained pretty much the same. Once again, we have a clear indication and that is more solo sex.
  • once a day: 19.5% (Male 23%, Female 15%)
    1983: 14% (Male 19%, Female 9%)
  • few times a week: 40.5% (Male 44%, Female 37%)
    1983: 25% (Male 31%, Female 19%)
  • once a week: 13% (Male 12%, Female 14%)
    1983: 13% (Male 14%, Female 12%)
  • once or twice a month: 12% (Male 10%, Female 14%)
    1983: 15.5% (Male 13%, Female 18%)
  • less than once a month: 11.5% (Male 8%, Female 15%)
    1983: 13% (Male 10%, Female 16%)
Then again, solo sex doesn't necessarily have to be solo. 55% of those surveyed have watched each other masturbate (Male:53%, Female:64%).

Have you ever...?
Interestingly enough, "cheating on a spouse" has dropped. Are we being more faithful? Or are we finding other outlets for our primal urges?

But the other categories have gone up: "talked dirty during sex", "used a vibrator", "tried bondage", and "watched porn". We are experimenting more now than we were thirty years ago.

watched porn: 78.5% (Male 78%, Female 79%)
1983: 40% (Male 38%, Female 42%)


Virgins
40 percent of adults between 18 and 24 years old have not yet had sex while 5% of those between 35 and 44 are still virgins. This is backed up by a study from the National Center for Health Statistics which concluded that teen sex has dropped. (see Teenagers and sex: More chaste, less chased) Despite all this talk about sex, we may not necessarily be going to hell in a handbasket.

Pubic hair is out
Back in the 80s, nobody thought to ask the question. Today 30% of men and 32% of women are trimming or shaving their nether regions.

STDs
I noted that several sites commenting on the Play survey were a little upset at the results concerning Sexually Transmitted Diseases. People are not doing enough to protect themselves from STDs and seem to be taking a lackadaisical attitude to it: if it happens, it happens. Come on, folks! You can do better than that! Heck, you need to do better than that. Then on top of it, if you catch something you don't inform your partner!?!

The following questions were asked of respondents who've had sex:

What do you do about protection from sexually transmitted diseases (STDS) the first time you have sex with someone?
  • I use some type of protection: 47 percent (Male 53 percent, Female 22 percent)
  • I offer to use some type of protection: 14 percent (Male 16 percent, Female 4 percent)
  • I insist on my partner's using some type of protection: 11 percent (Male 4, Female 41)
  • I don't worry about protection: 10 percent (Male 10 percent, Female 11 percent)
  • I ask if my partner is using some type of protection: 6 percent (Male 5, Female 9)
  • I say nothing and hope for the best: 6 percent
  • I don't believe in protection: 1 percent
  • Decline to answer: 6 percent (Male 5 percent, Female 8 percent)
The following questions were asked of all respondents:

Have you ever been diagnosed with a sexually transmitted disease (STD)?
  • Yes: 11 percent (Male 9 percent, Female 18 percent)
  • No: 87 percent (Male 90 percent, Female 80 percent)
  • Decline to answer: 1 percent (Male 1 percent, Female 2 percent)
When you were diagnosed with the STD, did you inform your current and/or new partner(s)? [asked of those answered yes to previous question]
  • Every time: 64 percent (Male 63 percent, Female 68 percent)
  • Most time: 8 percent (Male 9 percent, Female 7 percent)
  • Sometimes: 5 percent
  • Rarely: 3 percent (Male 4 percent, Female 2 percent)
  • Never: 12 percent (Male 13 percent, Female 11 percent)
  • Decline to answer: 7 percent
Have you ever been tested for HIV/AIDS?
  • Yes: 52 percent (Male 49 percent, Female 66 percent)
  • No: 43 percent (Male 46 percent, Female 29 percent)
  • Not sure: 4 percent
  • Decline to answer: 1 percent
Birth Control
The above questions cover STDs but what about babies?

The following question was asked of straight people who've had sex with opposite gender:

What do you do about birth control the first time you have sexual intercourse with someone?
  • I use some type of birth control: 39 percent (Male 38 percent, Female 44 percent)
  • I ask if my partner is using some type of birth control: 17 percent (M19, F3)
  • I don't worry about birth control: 12 percent (Male 11 percent, Female 15 percent)
  • I offer to use some type of birth control: 12 percent (Male 13 percent, Female 3 percent)
  • I insist on my partner's using some type of birth control: 10 percent (M7, F24)
  • I say nothing and hope for the best: 5 percent (Male 6 percent, Female 3 percent)
  • I don't believe in birth control: 1 percent
  • Decline to answer: 5 percent (Male 4 percent, Female 7 percent)
Who's having an orgasm?
There two sides the coin here: people saying whether they've had an orgasm or not then whether they think their partner has had an orgasm or not. And just so you know, 31% say they have faked an orgasm (men:24%, women:59%). Keep that in mind as you look over the percentages.

During sex, would you say that you have an orgasm…
  • Always: 55 percent (Male 61 percent, Female 30 percent)
  • Usually: 32 percent (Male 31 percent, Female 36 percent)
  • Sometimes: 8 percent (Male 5 percent, Female 19 percent)
  • Rarely: 3 percent (Male 1 percent, Female 10 percent)
  • Never: 1 percent (Male: less than 1 percent, Female 5 percent)
  • Decline to answer: 1 percent
During sex, would you say that your partner has an orgasm…
  • Always: 40 percent (Male 32 percent, Female 73 percent)
  • Usually: 42 percent (Male 47 percent, Female 23 percent)
  • Sometimes: 13 percent (Male 16 percent, Female 2 percent)
  • Rarely: 3 percent (Male 3 percent, Female less than 1 percent)
  • Never: 1 percent
  • Decline to answer: 1 percent
BDSM
A walk on the wild side? Bondage and discipline, sadism and masochism, covers a spectrum of dominance and submission role-playing. I'm reading the book Shameless by Pamela Madsen and she touches upon the rewards of this usually hidden part of one's psyche. Don't knock it until you've tried it. (Wikipedia:BDSM; Shameless by Pamela Madsen)

Spanking: 54% (Men:51%, Women:66%)
Bondage: 24% (Men:22%, Women:32%) - 1983: 14% (Men:11%, Women:17%)
Choking games: 12% (Men:10%, Women:20%)
Had “rough” sex: 62% (Men:58%, Women:76%)
Used a blindfold during sex: 32%t (Men:30%, Women:37%)


Pornography
As the editors pointed out, with the availability of pornography over the Internet, it would seem that more people have watched it or are viewing it and as such, it has had an influence on what we do. As previously stated, 78.5% of the respondents watch porn (Male 78%, Female 79%) as compared to 1983 when it was 40% (Male 38%, Female 42%). 63% of the respondents have watched pornography together (male 62%, female 70%).

In the past five years have you done any of the following?
  • Visited a hardcore online website: 71% (Male: 74%, Female: 54%)
  • Visited a strip club: 46% (Male:48%, Female:35%)
  • Paid for a lap dance: 30% (Male:33%, Female:17%)
  • Paid to view a sexual pay-per-view movie/event on television: 20% (Male:21%, Female:18%)
  • Paid for access to hardcore online website: 12% (Male:14%, Female:7%)
  • Subscribed to a premium adult television channel: 10% (Male:11%, Female:8%)
  • Paid for a sensual massage: 7% (Male:8%, Female:5%)
  • None of these: 16% (Male:14%, Female:27%)
  • Decline to answer: 1%
Do you have any sexually explicit material on your computer?
  • Yes: 59% (Male 63%, Female 41%)
  • No: 39% (Male 35%, Female 58%)
  • Decline to answer: 1%
Buying the magazine
The survey was published in the June 2011 issue of Playboy so I purchased a copy of the magazine so I could read all the details first-hand. It was a personal sacrifice for the sake of journalism.

I bought a copy which represented the first time I had bought any explicit material in 20 years. - Gosh, am I out of touch or what? - But after I bought it, I realised I should have brought my briefcase as I was then obliged to walk around carrying the magazine and even had to walk back to my office with it. I felt like an embarrassed teenager hoping nobody would catch me with it. Ha!

I know everybody's going to chuckle at me saying this, but I always remember Playboy as a quality publication merely with tasteful pictures of naked women. I said that if you took out the photographs, you would have a magazine on par with something like Harper's or Atlantic Monthly. In other words, I would have bought it even if it didn't have the pics. It was a good read.

Final Word
I discovered that the on-line version of the survey has a more comprehensive list of the survey than the magazine does. - I didn't have to buy the mag at all. - Below you will find links to the Playboy web site and can read over all the questions. I did not exhaustively cover everything and there are more interesting and titillating numbers to peruse about our collective sexual proclivities. I don't know if there is any conclusion to be made like the situation is worse now than it was in 1983 when Playboy conducted its first survey, but it seems that things are different.

I know that there is a vocal minority who are saying Internet pornography represents the Four Horses of the Apocalypse, however like everything with the Internet, this means everybody has more access to more information, information that was previously denied them. With the good comes the bad and I am sure this will sort itself out sooner or later. I strongly believe in sex education and it is because of ignorance that we end up in trouble. Well educated and fully informed people make better choices.

Sex remains pretty much a taboo subject. While we talk about it more today, we probably still don't talk about it enough; we have a lot of misinformation. Surveys like this shed a little light on what we collectively are doing and if nothing else, we might feel just a tad less ashamed of ourselves when discovering that we are not as perverted as we think. Thanks, Hef.


References

2011 Playboy Sex Survey: Introduction

Playboy Reader Survey
Responses from 8,002 male and 2,001 female visitors to Playboy.com
[At the bottom of the page, there are links to click to all 5 pages of the survey.]

Playboy/Harris Survey
Online interviews 1,210 men and 1,100 women
[At the bottom of the page, there are links to click to all 6 pages of the survey.]

official web site: Playboy.Com

Playboy Magazine

my blog: Sex in the Digital Age
For the past three years, the magazines Shape and Men's Fitness have teamed up to do an annual sex survey.
Would you rather give up your cell phone or sex for a year? 61% of the women and 78% of the men said they'd give up the cell. Okay, but I have to reflect on the other 39% of the women and the 22% of the men who could not give up their cell phone. I guess you only need one hand for a cell.

my blog: Teenagers and sex: More chaste, less chased
In 2002, in the age group 15 to 24, 21.9% of females and 21.9% of males reported no sexual contact with another person. In this latest study, females were 28.6% and males were 27.2%. In the group of teenagers, aged 15 to 19, 41.6% of the males have never had sexual contact with the opposite sex while for females, the number was 46.8%.

my blog: Pornography: an investigation
10 articles; 1 set of conclusions; 58 pages; 22,000 words; 4 weeks of research

2011-05-26

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Wednesday, 25 May 2011

Cool Beans

Surf around the Net. Click here, click there. You run across the darndest things. Ms. Annie Parker, blogger (The Bitter Divorcée), raconteur (raconteuse?), and funny person, gave this link to the Onion, the satirical news network, while writing, "Just got my Despondex Rx filled. Too bad it is too late to have saved my marriage."

Watch this amusing video and listen as the female announcer starts off by saying,

The first ever prescription depressant hit the shelves today. Approved by the FDA last month, Despondex is intended as a treatment for the approximately twenty million Americans who are insufferably cheery. Tests prove that the drug is effective at reducing a range of symptoms from squealing loudly when a friend calls, to use of the phrase cool beans, and excessive hugging.


Uploaded by TheOnion on Feb 12, 2009
FDA Approves Depressant Drug For The Annoyingly Cheerful
Made by Pfizer, Despondex is the first drug designed to treat the symptoms of excessive perkiness.



I stopped dead in my tracks when I heard "cool beans". What? I have never heard that in my entire life. I had no idea what it meant and being the inquisitive soul I am, I looked it up.

Urban Dictionary gives this definition:

A slang term that actually began it's use in the late 60's/early 70's. Popularized by the pop culture of the time. Used to describe something very favorable or pleasing. Great. Very nice.

The web site then provides several examples of the expression being used in a sentence.

Cheech: Hey man, look at this car made out of weed!
Chong: Oh cool beans, man!


Hmmm, I guess I didn't see all the Cheech and Chong movies. - Gawd, how old am I? Anybody under 30 has no idea who these guys are!

"Hey, dude, I won the lottery."
"Cool beans!"


"I just got that girls number!"
"Cool beans!"


I shake my head again. Never heard of this. * chuckles* But where did it come from? What is its etymology? Wikitionary explains:

The phrase ‘cool beans’ dates back to the early 1700's when French fur trappers roamed the American Midwest. After a successful outing they would say, "course bien" (pronounced 'cur'), meaning good run. When English-speaking pioneers started moving westward, they heard the trappers use course bien in a positive way after a hard day’s work, but mistook it as the phrase "cool beans."

It resurfaced in America during the late 1960s. Hits of acid and ludes were dubbed "cool beans" for their bean-like shape. They were also referred to as "whacky beans" or just "beans." On top of that, there is the homophone connection between the food "chili beans" and "chilly beans", literally meaning "cold beans".

I have gone through numerous web sites claiming to give the origin of the this expression and all of them refer to the drug culture of the 60s and 70s. No other source makes reference to French fur trappers and I note that Wikitionary itself labels this part of its entry with "reference needed" so whichever contributor added that to the definition has failed to provide any confirming notation. I guess that for sure we can say it dates back to the 60s drug culture but further back than that seems to be conjecture.

Wikitionary goes on:

Interjection
cool beans
1. okay; a humorous and light-hearted nonsense phrase indicating approval or mild excitement
1985 - It's cool beans!" That's what Betsy always says when she thinks something is fantastic... (from Grandpa Ritz and the Luscious Lovelies, by Marlene Fanta Shyer)


J.E. Lighter "Historical dictionary of American Slang (Vol 2)" (New York: Random House Publishing 2007; ISBN 978-0195174182).

Catcher in the Rye
I ran across a note where somebody said that the character Holden Caulfield in J. D. Salinger's book The Catcher in the Rye uses this phrase. I read that book as a teenager but don't remember the phrase. Is this in fact true? I can't find anything on the Net. This book was published in 1951 so if it does use the phrase, it pre-dates the 60s drug culture so this would confirm the origin of the phrase goes further back than the 1960s.

Final Word
Cool beans? I sometimes jokingly say that I have lived a sheltered life, but I sometimes wonder if I really have lived a sheltered life. Then again, the world is a big place - and I mean a really big place - so can I expect to know to all?

It is curious to realise that regionalisms (If connected to an entire country is it a nationalism?) may have never made it to my home town so discovering it now makes it for me brand spanking new. Then again, this may be more a case of "ageisms", that is, expressions which are used in a specific age group and don't migrate well to us old fuddy-duddies.


Reference

Wikitionary: cool beans

Urban Dictionary: cool beans

Wikipedia: The Onion
The Onion is an American news satire organization. It is an entertainment newspaper and a website featuring satirical articles reporting on international, national, and local news, in addition to a non-satirical entertainment section known as The A.V. Club. It claims a national print circulation of 400,000 and says 61 percent of its web site readers are between 18 and 44 years old. Since 2007, the organization has been publishing satirical news audios and videos online, as the "Onion News Network". Web traffic on theonion.com amounts to some 7.5 million unique visitors per month.

Ms. Annie Parker
The Bitter Divorcée
Facebook: Annie Parker
Twitter @bitterdivorcee

Google search: "cool beans"
[A drink with a web site, a magazine, records, etc., etc.]

Google image search: "cool beans"

Google video search: "cool beans"
[SNL cast member Andy Samberg with Jorma Taccone from the movie Hot Rod rapping the phrase ad inifinitum? Of course, I stopped watching SNL regularly years ago. Just not funny to me.]

Google news search: "cool beans"
[It appears in the news?]

Yes, I do lead such a sheltered life. :-)

2011-05-25

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Tuesday, 24 May 2011

Laura Munson: Save a marriage by doing nothing

Laura Munson is a writer or was an unpublished writer. Over the years, she had suffered rejection notice after rejection notice and ended up with over a dozen unpublished books. Nevertheless, she had a happy marriage, two kids, and a farmhouse on 20 acres of land in Montana. Then out of the blue, her husband announces he no longer loves her and wants to move out. Her response? Do nothing.

Munson tried to approach this problem the same way she had been dealing with the professional rejection she had gotten as a writer. She knew her husband had suffered a career failure, was drowning in debt, and was afraid losing their farm. As she wrote, she decided to give him space to work through his issues. While he took his problems to nature, fishing, camping, and hiking and was distant, unreliable, and sometimes cruel, Munson did not take it personally just like she didn't take it personally with her writing career. Rather than, as she put it, succumbing to the victim supposedly unloved by her husband, she forced herself to "let go" and go back to focusing on herself, her children, and her own life. She found peace and eventually her husband found his. The two of them worked through the crisis and their marriage survived.

She wrote an article in the New York Times about her ordeal which generated a great deal of interest in her secrets; how had she managed to survive the crisis without getting a divorce. This developed into the 2010 book "This Is Not The Story You Think It Is: A Season of Unlikely Happiness" and ended up on the New York Times Best Seller list (#18 - April 25, 2010). From there, her dream has come true: a book tour, national television, and is now being taken seriously as an author.

The Beginning of the Crisis
The New York Times published an article by Munson called "Those Aren’t Fighting Words, Dear" on July 31, 2009:

"I don’t love you anymore. I’m not sure I ever did."

His words came at me like a speeding fist, like a sucker punch, yet somehow in that moment I was able to duck. And once I recovered and composed myself, I managed to say, "I don’t buy it." Because I didn’t.

He drew back in surprise. Apparently he’d expected me to burst into tears, to rage at him, to threaten him with a custody battle. Or beg him to change his mind.

So he turned mean. "I don’t like what you’ve become."

Gut-wrenching pause. How could he say such a thing? That’s when I really wanted to fight. To rage. To cry. But I didn’t.

Instead, a shroud of calm enveloped me, and I repeated those words: "I don’t buy it."

You see, I’d recently committed to a non-negotiable understanding with myself. I’d committed to "The End of Suffering." I’d finally managed to exile the voices in my head that told me my personal happiness was only as good as my outward success, rooted in things that were often outside my control. I’d seen the insanity of that equation and decided to take responsibility for my own happiness. And I mean all of it.

She gave him space. She set the table for four and he had the option to show up or not. There were no ultimatums, only options. Apparently she had given him six months, but he only needed four. His sister was diagnosed with cancer and after going to look after her, he came back a changed man.

And one day, there he was, home from work early, mowing the lawn. A man doesn’t mow his lawn if he’s going to leave it. Not this man. Then he fixed a door that had been broken for eight years. He made a comment about our front porch needing paint. Our front porch. He mentioned needing wood for next winter. The future. Little by little, he started talking about the future.

It was Thanksgiving dinner that sealed it. My husband bowed his head humbly and said, “I’m thankful for my family.”

He was back.

He figured out and came back. But figured out what exactly?

I saw what had been missing: pride. He’d lost pride in himself. Maybe that’s what happens when our egos take a hit in midlife and we realize we’re not as young and golden anymore.

When life’s knocked us around. And our childhood myths reveal themselves to be just that. The truth feels like the biggest sucker-punch of them all: it’s not a spouse or land or a job or money that brings us happiness. Those achievements, those relationships, can enhance our happiness, yes, but happiness has to start from within. Relying on any other equation can be lethal.

The critics
Munson is a doormat. Munson should have booted him to the curb from the beginning. A comment in the NY Times:

As a longtime reader of the Modern Love column, I don't recall ever cringing as much as I did when I read Ms. Munson's contribution. Despite her assurances to the contrary, there is clearly a mother-child dynamic between the spouses. In the end, the errant child returns to the breast of the saintly, long-suffering mother. My skin still crawls just thinking about it.

Love Yourself
In the original NY Times article, Munson wrote: happiness has to start from within. In her Huffington Post blog Munson added, I stopped letting things outside my control ... define my well-being or self-worth. What had Munson hit on? Her books are rejected but instead of taking it personally, she continues looking for the right opportunity. Her husband tells her he doesn't think he loves her anymore but instead of taking it personally, she gives him the time and space necessary to resolve his own issues. Today she is a published author and she's still married.

Final Word
Laura Munson did something unusual. She did nothing. Her husband was in crisis and rather than take it all personally, react, and possibly irrevocably alter not just her life, but the lives of her children and the entire family, she chose a path ofttimes overlooked. People sometimes do things which look totally crazy. Nevertheless there is usually a good reason. Nobody starts out wanting to be crazy and nobody would want it to go on record that they were crazy. Given time, anybody - okay, 99% of the people - will eventually come round to not being crazy. I think of this quote from the television show House: Everybody does stupid things; it shouldn't cost them everything.

Munson says in a Time interview: It was a philosophy to preserve my well-being. ... I was faced with a choice: I was going to let this take me down, or I was going to learn to base my happiness on something that was within my control.

I must confess that upon reading about Laura Munson I immediately thought of Molly Monet and all that she has described about her divorce. (Postcards of a Peaceful Divorce) Get mad, declare World War III, irrevocably alter the lives of everyone around you, or take a deep breath and deal with it as something other than your own life, your own self-worth, and your own well-being.

Would this method, what Laura Munson did, work in all cases? Not all of us are the same. Nevertheless her story raises the question of seeing ourselves as an independent being who is not defined by outside success. Whether we get published or not, whether our significant other stays or goes means that we can't base our personal happiness on things entirely outside of our control.

It’s not a spouse or land or a job or money that brings us happiness. Those achievements, those relationships, can enhance our happiness, yes, but happiness has to start from within.


References

New York Times - July 31/2009
Those Aren’t Fighting Words, Dear by Laura A. Munson
[This is the original article which started it all.]

official web site: Laura Munson

The Huffington Post: Laura Munson's blog

Time - May 9/2010
How to Save Your Marriage by Not Doing Anything By Belinda Luscombe
So is it accurate to say that your strategy for handling this situation was to do nothing?
It was not a strategy to stay married. It was a philosophy to preserve my well-being. For 20 years, I've been in a lot of pain, because I love to write but I now have 14 unpublished novels. That's a lot of rejection. With the death of my father and a big publishing deal falling apart simultaneously at the last minute, that's when it really peaked. I was faced with a choice: I was going to let this take me down, or I was going to learn to base my happiness on something that was within my control. I'd been working with this philosophy for several years before my husband had his own crisis.

More Sex Daily
Author Laura Munson on ‘mixed-messagy’ sex in the middle of a marital crisis
[Laura] says “I understand the irony of two people who are having an impossible time connecting emotionally and verbally yet they can still connect physically. It’s not like we were having a whole lot of sex, but it happened, and it did make me feel confused. I remember one time I said to him “that is so mixed-messagy” and yet we still ended up having sex.”
...
Laura recognises that “most women in my situation would probably have said I’m not going anywhere near you”, but it is also true that had she shut the door on her husband physically, she might, simultaneously, have shut the door on the possibility of reconciliation. Though it is often confusing at the time, couples who manage to sustain some form of physical intimacy through a marital crisis are more likely to knit their failing relationship back together again.


The Huffington Post - Apr 8/2011
Choosing Your Emotions Instead of Letting Them Choose You by Laura Munson
I stopped letting things outside my control like the publishing industry, and then later, my husband's love for me, define my well-being or self-worth.

Amazon.Com
This Is Not The Story You Think It Is: A Season of Unlikely Happiness
Amy Einhorn Books/Putnam (April 1, 2010); Hardcover: 352 pages

When Laura Munson's essay was published, The New York Times was so flooded with responses that they had to close down the comment feature. Readers wrote in saying that they had sent the column to all of their friends. Therapists wrote Munson to tell her that they were passing it out to their clients.

What did Munson write that caused such a fervor?

Laura detailed what happened when her husband of more than twenty years told her he wasn't sure he loved her anymore and wanted to move out. And while you might think you know where this story is going, this isn't the story you think it is. Laura's response to her husband: I don't buy it.

In this poignant, wise, and often funny memoir, Munson recounts a period of months in which her faith in herself-and her marriage-was put to the test. Shaken to the core after the death of her beloved father, not finding the professional success that she had hoped for, and after countless hours of therapy, Laura finally, at age forty, realized she had to stop basing her happiness on things outside her control and commit herself to an "End of Suffering." This Is Not The Story You Think It Is... chronicles a woman coming to terms with the myths we tell ourselves-and others-about our life and realizing that ultimately happiness is completely within our control.

Amazon: Customer Reviews
[It is interesting to read the various reviews/comments from the readers. Some are for it; some are against it.]

ABC News - Apr 5/2010
Excerpt: 'This Is Not the Story You Think It Is' by Laura Munson
Probably the wisest words that were ever uttered to me came from a therapist. I was sitting in her office, crying my eyes out over my then unsuccessful writing career and my husband's challenges at work, and she said, "So let me get this straight. You base your personal happiness on things entirely outside of your control."

2011-05-24

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