Sunday, June 29, 2008

Child sacrifice? Hmmmmm

During the week of Fourth of July, our community has a church service in the park.

The danger of that is combining the solemnity of worship with the temptation of swings and slides less than 100 yards away.

As the two youngest boys - ages 6 and 3 - ignored repeated warnings and threats to be quiet, my wife gave in an took them to the playground. (Or maybe she was trying to get away from the service? Hmmm.....)

I contemplated the punishment that awaited the youngest offenders. I mentally tallied the times we urged them to not talk aloud - about 347 at last count - and planned to keep them in time out until next year's church service.

Then the minister started his sermon.

He talked about God telling Abraham to sacrifice Isaac. "OK," I thought. "God is telling me how to punish my kids." While I was thinking how to explain to the police my divine intervention, the minister switched gears to talk about how we need to let our kids be kids: i.e. - baseball is supposed to be fun, not a life-or-death career path.

The minister also talked about making sure our kids are responsible and live faithfully in the world. Those magazines' and their ideas on beauty? Not important.

In the end, there was no punishment. No sacrifice. Just a stern talking to with a warning on how to behave at the next public event. Then we let them loose in the backyard. To have fun.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Swimming in the polar region

For the first time in recorded history, one thing may be missing from the normally frigid North Pole : Ice.

Scientists are predicting a thin layer of ice may disappear by August or September.

It's unclear yet what impact this may have on the planet. Does this mean the climate is changing more rapidly than earlier predictions? Or is the Earth going through normal ebb and flow in its polar regions?

I'm not a tree-hugger, per se. But I do use the low-energy light bulbs, keep the AC at a respectable temperature, walk or bike when I can and recycle, recycle, recycle. The U.S. Department of Energy has a list of tips for people interested in saving energy.

One person alone can't make a difference. But one person times a few million - better yet, a few billion - can have an impact.

Whatever happened to the good old days when the worst thing we worried about were starving kids in Third World countries if we didn't eat our peas and carrots?

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Taking a spin around town

Remember when the cool thing in a big city was a rotating rooftop restaurant? Indianapolis has one, and other cities do, too.

The tiny, but rich, city of Dubai - part of the United Arab Emirates - is going one better: An entire building that rotates. Actually, it's not even the entire building, but each floor can rotate independent of the others.

But what's really cool about this building is that it will use wind and solar power that not only generates enough power for itself, but for 10 surrounding sites.

Dubai is becoming a paradise for architects with some of the most innovate construction projects anywhere. In the process, it's becoming a hot international tourist spot. It's a smart move for a small country to position itself for the future when the oil runs out.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Heave! Ho! Oh, no!

Father's Day is supposed to be a day of relaxation for dad, right?

Wrong! My wife decided it would be a good day to head to Menard's to buy patio bricks (we don't even have a patio) and mulch for the yard.

I loaded up the large utility cart with 45 brick pavers (approx. 10 to 15 lbs. each) and eight bags of wet, heavy mulch.

When showering that night, I noticed a large bulge above my belly button about the diameter of a half dollar and protruding about a quarter-inch outward. My nurse-trained wife and I figured it was a hernia, and did a little research to find out more.

It didn't hurt, although there was some mild discomfort. Still, I went to my doctor, who referred me to a surgeon, who said, "Yeah, we're going to have to repair that." This hernia is basically a tear in the abdominal wall.

The main concern - as we found online and confirmed by the surgeon - is that the hernia could interfere with the bowels and possibly causing a serve infection. So guys, there are worse things than surgery for a hernia - such as gangrene in your bowels.

My only beef with the surgeon was when he asked about pain. I said there was mild discomfort, but no big deal. Then he proceeded to push his hand about three inches into my midsection and asked how that felt. I'm sure that wouldn't have felt good with or without a hernia.

Surgery is scheduled July 16, so I'll let you know how that goes. Depending on what type of painkillers I'm on, it could be an interesting post.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Teen preggers: An update

The story of whether a group of Massachusetts teens made a pact to be pregnant may be unfounded. The story now is that the teens got pregnant, and then decided to form a type of support group since they were all in a similar situation.

That's certainly a better story than planning to get pregnant together.

In a way, these kids may enjoy their 40s better than some of us. At least their kids will be grown up and out of the house (assuming they stop at one). I'd boot my kids out, but the local child protective service folks wouldn't like four pre-teens wandering the streets.

Monday, June 23, 2008

The Sandberg Game

Twenty-four years ago - June 23, 1984 -I was sitting in Wrigley Field watching the Cubs play the St. Louis Cardinals.

For most of the game, it was miserable. The Cubs trailed 7-1, then 9-3. A bunch of us Cub fans sitting under the upper deck overhang on the third base side of stand had to put up with a loud-mouthed Cardinals fan during the game. The Cubs rallied to make it 9-8, but the outcome looked dismal as the Cardinals featured one of the game's best relievers, Bruce Sutter.

Leading off the ninth inning was Ryne Sandberg. The young Cub had been making some noise that year after a productive, but not exciting, two years in Chicago. But today would be a turning point in his career.

Sandberg deposited a pitch from Sutter into the bleachers in left field to tie the game at nine. Wrigley got LOUD! But in the top of the 10th inning, the Cardinals scored twice to take a 11-9 lead.

With two outs, Bob Dernier walked, bringing up Sandberg with the tying run. Everyone was hoping - and only the most desperate would have bet money - that Sandberg could hit another homer.

The folks watching at home - a nationwide audience thanks to a rainout of NBC's other game that day - were watching the credits role. NBC announcers already named Willie McGee - who hit for the cycle and drove in six runs - as its player of the game.

Then it happened.

Sandberg blasted another home run near the same spot he'd hit the first one. If Wrigley was loud before, it was at another level now. The Cubs eventually won the game 12-11 in 11 innings. Sandberg - with two home runs and seven runs batted in - was named player of the game. Cardinal manager Whitey Herzog (perhaps in a fit of hyperbole) proclaimed Sandberg as the greatest player he ever saw.

But maybe Whitey was on to something. When Sandberg did hang up his cleats 14 season later, he was rewarded for his outstanding career with election to the Baseball Hall of Fame.

I've been to some great games in Wrigley, but this one tops them all.

George Carlin - R.I.P.

Whether you say any of the Seven Words You Can Never Say On TV (warning: they are listed on the link), George Carlin - who died this weekend at age 71 - had comedy that anyone could enjoy.

He could be as raunchy as anyone. And he could be as clean as anyone. Carlin was probably one of a few comedians who could perform before an outlaw biker group and a ladies church social and have both audiences laughing. One of my favorite Carlin routines is a skit he did comparing football and baseball.

If you've got kids, you may have seen Carlin in a very un-Carlin-esque role as Mr. Conductor on the "Thomas the Tank Engine" show.

The world is less funnier today - but don't worry: We still have politicians.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

You're 16, you're beautiful and you're pregnant

By now you've probably heard about the teenage girls in Massachusetts who made a pact to get pregnant.

This one certainly falls in the "what were you thinking?" category.

The story references the pregnancies of Jamie Lynn Spears as well as the Oscar-winning movie "Juno." While it cautions against blaming those influences, you have to wonder that if a.) these girls are not bright to begin with, if b.) they would see the nightly "ET" updates on Jamie Lynn or the acclaim given to Juno and say, "Hey, that looks pretty good."

The obvious followup question is: Will the commonwealth of Massachusetts end up footing the bill for the birth and upbringing of these kids? Stay tuned.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Hope you live here

Kiplinger.com has issued its list of the 10 best places to live, work and play.

There are various criteria that go into this selection. Click the link to learn more, but here's the top 10 (and maybe a comment or two from me).

1. Houston - Never been there, but it seems too hot.

2. Raleigh - Not been there either, but close to the ocean.

3. Omaha - Nope, too Nebraska-ey.

4. Boise - Uh, no. Sounds nice, though.

5. Colorado Springs - Ding! Ding! Ding! My sister lived there in the 70s and we went there on a family vacation. Pike's Peak. Beautiful parks. Loved it.

6. Austin - No, but maybe not as hot as Houston?

7. Fayetteville - Go Razorbacks! But, never been.

8. Sacramento - Near wine country and halfway between the Sierras and the Pacific. If I were moving to California, that's where I'd want to go.

9. Des Moines - Too wet (sorry, cheap shot).

10. Provo - Not been there either.

OK, so I'm no help. Check out the link - and if you're close to one of these cities, check them out (or feel free to post your views in the comments section on this entry).

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Paper, not plastic, for gas stations

For everyone who grew up on Visa and MasterCard, there's a potential hitch in the plans when it comes to filling up at the pump.

The Associated Press is reporting that some gas stations are refusing to take credit cards. The reason, the story says, is the transaction fee that credit card companies charge on transactions. The fee is a fixed percentage of the sale, which means the higher the transaction, the higher the total fee. But the gas station owner in West Virginia says that rising fuel costs don't keep up with profit margins.

Disregarding the economic argument for the station owner, let's look at how this would impact consumers. If you've got a mini-van, a full tank of gas is about $100 right now. Heck, a mid-size car is going to be close to $50 for a fill-up.

With a generation that is reliant on credit cards, a switch to "cash only" means added trips to the bank - do people even visit banks in an era of direct deposit? - or to the ATM.

Let's play devil's advocate. Gas station owners nationwide say, "I give up" and will accept only cash. If Joe and Jane Consumer are paying $50 to $100 cash to fill up the car, that means they're walking around with $50 to $100 cash. Will thieves begin targeting gas stations to rob customers for quick cash, or the stations themselves that will be flush with cash?

And what if the practice expands to other businesses? Individual and businesses will be in a position where there will be large amounts of cash being carried around or sitting in cash registers (or store vaults).

There's not a lot of value for a thief to steal a wallet or purse if it's filled with credit cards. But a wad of cash is not traceable.

The one positive of a credit-less society is it place more responsibility on people to spend wisely and spend only what they have.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

You are getting sleepy, sleepy, sleepy .......

With four kids, work and, other commitments, my wife and I find keeping a schedule difficult. One area that we've struggled with this summer is getting to bed. No, not that "getting to bed." I mean sleep.

The cause has been a mix of youth sports, aggressive yard work (mulch and brick pavers - more on that topic in an upcoming post), and general busyness. Another factor is Indiana's decision to get in step with the rest of the U.S. and follow Daylight Saving Time. We now spring forward and fall back. Before we stubbornly kept our clocks the same and let the rest of the civilized world figure out what time it is here.

As a result, there's still a fair amount of daylight now at 9:30 p.m. - which makes it tough to stick to the school year bedtime of 8:30 p.m. The kids are in bed at 10 p.m. at the earliest, which means my wife and I - after tending to straightening up the house and other mundane tasks - have little interest or energy in anything else besides getting to bed. As in sleep.

In between yawns and spoonfuls of cereal an the morning ritual of watching "Arthur" on PBS, my wife found an article discussing the healthy benefits of sleeping. The passage I found interesting - although not surprising in retrospect - is that Americans slept an average of 10 hours per night in 1880, the year Thomas Edison invented the light bulb. Today, we get 6.9 hours a night on weekdays and a whopping 7.5 hours a night on weekends.

My inner clock already tells me I need more sleep, but I need get it in sync with the outer clock that is Eastern Daylight Time and get to sleep at a decent hour - which may result in "getting to bed" more often. But I digress.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

WWCG (What will Conkrite get?)

Tim Russert was a great journalist. I don't get a chance to watch TV news programs every Sunday, but when I do, it's "Meet the Press." He's a tough interview and doesn't go in for the screamfest that inundates the bulk of what passes for dialogue on the cable "news" networks.

That said, was Russert enough of a media icon to warrant the hours of coverage devoted by NBC and its army of cable networks? Let's hope they didn't do it for ratings.

Jim McCay, who was a one-man ESPN before ESPN was around, about a week earlier. He received scant notice, especially compared to Russert. This for a man who is synonymous with ABC's "Wide World of Sports" and ultimate sports/news crossover story of Israeli athletes being murdered at the 1972 Olympics in Munich.

My question is: If Russert deserves suspending programming for the night, special tributes on Saturday and Sunday, and a parade of remembrances on Monday, what will happening following the death of Walter Conkrite - the dean of TV journalists?

Peter Jennings, who was retired when he died, got a break-in regular coverage announcement and a two-hour prime time special. Tom Brokaw is retired and probably will get the same treatment. Dan Rather is still alive, but his career died after CBS gave him the boot.

News division occasionally do stories about the celebrity culture and ponder why America is so fascinated. The next time NBC does a story on that topic, it should first review it's own coverage on the death of a news employee.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Schools are key piece in autism puzzle

There are two recent stories in the Whittier Daily News and the Cincinnati Enquirer about students with autism who recently graduated from high school. There are uplifting articles about individuals who have overcome difficulties associated with this condition.

I have four children who have been diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome, which is on the autism spectrum. Three are in the local public school system and one is still in pre-school.

Asperger's is arguably the mildest form of autism. With my kids, they seem "normal" (as if any kid can be labeled normal). But it's when you engage with them in discussion that you see some of the social quirks kick in - i.e. lack of eye contact, lack of basic conversational skills, hand-wringing (my son sometime licks his hands).

But they perform well in school. The two older students are in a more rigorous academic program geared toward the gifted and talented students. In academics, the Asperger's can present problems during timed testing - sometimes there's a lack of urgency to get the test done - as well as following some basic classroom rules.

The key for us in the school system has been to meet with the school regularly. In our district, the Asperger's diagnosis puts our children in the special education category, which means a thorough individual education plan (IEP) for each child. Input into this plan comes from the parents, the classroom teacher, the school's special education coordinator, and any other staffers - i.e. speech therapist, physical therapist - who assist with their education.

These meetings, as well as other communication during the year, keep you plugged in to the school system. That line of communication is critical to keep the home and school on the same page.

It's important to know what rights you have as a parent. Yes, it sounds bureaucratic. But it helps protect the child and guarantees a proper education.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Happy Father's Day

Just a quick post to say Happy Father's Day to all the dads out there. Enjoy the day and we'll blog you later this week.

(Did I just write "blog you later?")

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Are you ready for some (virtual) football?

If you're like me and you've got some time on your hands (read: like to waste time) and you like football, the folks at Goal Line Blitz might just have the game for you.

It's free to sign up and free to keep playing. If you want to invest some disposable income, you can purchase points to help upgrade your players. You can also purchase and operate teams.

From a player standpoint, it's been neat to build your players for the week in, week out games. Your players get better via a combination of training and "leveling up," which improves their numbers in 14 physical attributes and football skills depending up their position.

From a team owner standpoint, I've not tried that, but you build your stadium, set ticket prices, sign players, set up how you want the offense/defense to perform.

The games are simulated remotely (you can't view them live), but you can go back and look at the play-by-play which is depicted with small circles moving about a gridiron.

It can be mildly addictive, so beware. Otherwise, have some fun.

Friday, June 13, 2008

It's a tie at best

From almost the dawn of time until the 20th century, the basic household ritual stipulated that men hunted and gathered while women nested.

It wasn’t always that way. For a brief time, women hunted and gathered, too. At least until Eve picked the wrong apple. Then Adam relegated her to menial duties of childbirth and the kitchen. (Isn’t that why history is “HIS story”?)

Settle down, ladies. I’m joking.

Women bolted to the workforce in a huge way during World War II. My mom quit high school to be a Rosie the Riveter during WWII. Three decades later, 43 percent of the nation’s women were employed. Today – with more than 60 percent of the female population (ages 16 and older) working – the two-parent household usually means two parents are employed. And when the day is done and both of you have come home after a long day of work, it’s mom who’s (usually) expected to make supper, do the laundry, clean house, bathe the kids and still look fabulous.

And when it comes to raising children, doesn’t the bulk of the duties fall to mom there, too? Sure, dad can give tips on hitting the ball, how to tell a lousy joke and impart that unique skill in watching a televised sporting event and know which referee requires an eye examination.

Empathy? Compassion? We’re not programmed for that. But we can grunt in 15 different pitches and tones to express varying emotions.

We can criticize, correct, cajole and carouse with ease. But offering a kind word or positive encouragement is like a foreign language.

Mom at child’s baseball game: "Good job honey! You almost hit the ball!"

Dad at child’s baseball game: "Get your elbow up. Spread your feet. Watch the ball. Tote that barge. Lift that bale."

You get the idea.

Somehow, despite our shortcomings, there is Father’s Day. It seems unfair that we get the same one-day special calendar designation as does a mother.

So when a tie or coffee mug comes my way, I gladly take it. The way I see it, we dads are lucky to get anything at all.

(Note: Check out the National Fatherhood Initiative for far better advice than I can give).

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Paying through the hose

As gas prices officially busted the $4 mark here in Indiana ($4.19 is the standard figure today - luckily I filled up at $3.92 yesterday), it got me thinking about a cross-country trip with my dad some 30 years ago.

We went from Indiana to Colorado to Alabama to visit various relatives. One thing that sticks out from that trip is using my pre-glasses vision to spot the gas signs from the highway. The goal: Find that gas station that had gas under 60 cents a gallon.

My first memory of gas prices came from that trip. The cheapest gas I recall was 56 cents (OK 56 and 9/10 if you want to be picky). The high point hovered between 60 and 65 cents. Those stations didn't get our business.

The trip down memory lane is jarred back to reality when it hits the pothole of today's gas prices.

Looking back 30 years to prices in 1978, gas was 63 cents a gallon; a new home cost $62,500; a dozen eggs was 82 cents; a gallon of milk was $1.71; a first-class letter cost 15 cents. The median income in 1978 was $15,064.

Flash forward to prices in 2008: Gas is $4.06 (6.4 times the price 30 years ago); the average home - could find new home price - is $206,200 (3.29 times the price); eggs are $2.59 (up 3.15 times); a first-class letter is 42 cents (up 2.8 times). The median income is $61,500 (4.08 times).

So prices in general have tripled while the median income quadrupled. If gas were triple the price, we should be paying around $2 a gallon. That would be a bargain, considering that experts predict the national average to hit $4.50 later this year.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Poll: Hillary out of veepstakes

In the Obama veepstakes, visitors to this blog said Barack Obama should not choose Hillary Clinton as his running mate.

Among those voting in an unscientific poll on this site, 45 percent said Obama should not choose Hillary. Of those, 27 percent said they lack the chemistry to work together, while 18 percent said her negatives would drag Obama down.

Hillary supporters wanted the former First Lady at a 36 percent clip. Of those, 27 percent said Obama would need her supporters in November, while 9 percent felt it would be like having two presidents.

Another 18 percent – perhaps sensing a McCain victory – said they would leave the country with Susan Sarandon. She might be 61, but she’s holding her age quite well. I wouldn’t leave the country with her, but maybe a weekend would be nice. (I don’t think my wife would agree to that).

Next up on the poll: Gas prices.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Legislation fuels talk on gas prices.

Senate Republicans today blocked legislation to take a bite out of oil companies' profits. While I'm all for the free market system, government intervention makes sense.

Why can state attorneys general go after gas station owners for gouging consumers at the pump - remember $4/gallon gas after 9/11 - but our federal government can't go after corporations for gouging the American public?

It's not just filling up your tank that's hitting the wallets hard. The high fuel prices are driving up the cost of food and other products.

The oil companies are single-handedly driving a wedge between Americans for whom high gas prices are a minor inconvenience and those who have to save every penny so they can drive to work AND pay the bills.

Let's look at it like this. If you're stuck in a low-paying job (let's say $10/hour) and you drive 20 miles one-way to work, you're spending about 10 percent ($8 out of $80) of your pre-tax wage on transportation. By the time you take out taxes and insurance, the percentage is likely 20 percent or more.

Thirty years ago, everyone talked about how we need to conserve and come up with alternative energy sources. Wind and solar energy - along with other green technologies - are becoming more common. But two of our nation's largest industries with fuel interests -the oil and automobile companies - have been negligent in tackling the problem.

Our next president has an opportunity to set an agenda on this issue. But look to local officials as well. Put pressure on school boards and city and county governments to put some green technologies in new building projects. Whatever we do as a nation will require a collective effort, but we need our elected and business leaders to lead.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Griffey Jr. joins 600 club

The Kid is in some manly territory now. Ken Griffey Jr. surpassed a high-altitude mark with his 600th home run on Monday in Miami vs. the Florida Marlins.

I saw Griffey play in person only once and was treated to a home run. It was in Milwaukee when he was still with the Seattle Mariners. The ball took off like a meteor down the right field line, banged off the foul pole (which is in fair territory - shouldn't it be called fair pole?) and caromed close to center field. The force of the shot had the pole wobbling for several seconds.

At one time, it was assumed Junior would not only get to 600, but probably 700 and perhaps be the person to top Hank Aaron's career mark. Injuries slowed the former Seattle Mariner and current Cincinnati Red on his quest.

Griffey, 38, has been a class act in baseball ever since stepping on field at the young age of 19. His dad had been a member of the Cincinnati Reds' Big Red Machine of the 1970s, and the younger Griffey grew up around the park.

A durable, acrobatic player earlier in his career, Griffey joined the Reds after 11 years with the Mariners. His first year in Cincinnati, in 2000, Griffey belted 40 home runs. He would hit only 63 more the next four seasons, as injuries took their toll, and Griffey limped into the 500 HR club.

A resurgence put Griffey back on track from 2005-07 as he hit 35, 27, and 30 HR.

Ahead of Griffey on the list are Barry Bonds (762), Hank Aaron (755), Babe Ruth (714), Willie Mays (660) and Sammy Sosa (609).

The good folks at Major League Baseball have a nice tribute page to Griffey reaching the 600 milestone.

Wet Monday

A line from Samuel Taylor Coleridge seems appropriate for today: "Water, water, everywhere."

The country's midsection is taking a wet sock to the gut over the past several days. Here in Indiana about half the state seems to be flooding (not where I am, thankfully). Some areas haven't seen it this bad in 90 years and rainfall totals exceeded 7 inches in some areas. Add to that toradoes - one which nearly literally wiped the towns of Moscow (Indiana) and possibly St. Paul (Indiana) off the map - and Hoosiers are hurting along with other states.

While people dry out and wonder how they'll recover, here's an interesting story about a man whose house survived Hurricane Katrina.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Good luck graduates

Nothing much to say today: Just a hearty congratulations to all high school graduates. Go out and make the world a better place!

Friday, June 6, 2008

D-Day turns 64

The Allied invasion of Normandy began 64 years ago today.

For most of us in our 40s, our parents or grandparents would have been the closest generation to fight in the war. My mother - who was 41 when I was born - quit high school to work in a factory that manufactured shells.

The Ken Burns series "The War" or the opening sequence of "Saving Private Ryan" is about as "in your face" as war can be without having experienced it. Even then, screen images are a poor substitute for the real thing. Fortunately, though, that's as close as most of us get.

That invasion ultimately helped turn the war in the Allies favor. Other notable battles dot the landscape, but D-Day is the one that gets the attention.

Looking at our current situation in Iraq, it's difficult to tell what the "turning point" reference will be 60 years from now when people review the conflict. Maybe it hasn't happened yet, or maybe it has and we haven't realized it. Military commanders and regular folk in 1944 may not have grasped the impact of D-Day while living in the moment. We can only hope the tide-turning moment is in our favor.

'Swing'-ing into summer

The temperature is up here in the heartland - and it's not just the mercury.

CBS debuted "Swingtown" on Thursday night. The first show was enough to get me hooked to tune in next week. The cast looks like regular folks - good-looking regular folks is what I meant.

If you missed it, the first show went like this: Couple moves into upscale neighborhood, meets new neighbors (who opened the show by having a threesome). Uptight old neighbors drop by and attend a party in their friends' new neighborhood and are shocked at the drugs and sex. Show climaxes (snicker) with the couple and their new neighbors swapping parnters (the actual sex is not shown; it is network TV).

Other developments are the promiscuous daughter (will she and the teacher hook up?); the son and the wierd next-door neighbor girl (not sure what her deal is yet); and the wimpy kid of the uptight parents who got beat up by a girl.

It's set in Winnetka, Ill., an upscale Chicago suburb. The Chicago Tribune had a nice piece about the show's creator. Could be must-see TV for the summer.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Men's only diet

I'm a person whose dedication to health is questionable at best.

My breakfast sometimes consists of a cup of coffee (times 3), and occasionally I'll have a lunchtime dessert - minus the lunch. Exercise is a foreign word (although I need to do something about that.)

But I do read lables more carefully now, trying to cut out the fat where possible. While I used to be a frozen dinner junkie, I'm convinced that a skull and crossbones should appear next to the nutrtional information on some meals.

But 18 months ago, I got tired of the spare tire I carried around my waist. I was by no means obese - 5' 10" and 205 lbs. isn't bad if you're carrying muscle (I was not). But my waistline started approaching my age; I found myself slightly out-of-breath going upstairs in my house; my gut pinched me when I sat.

Then God intervened - or at least I was at His house when it happened. The Lenten season approached and a friend challenged the congregation at my former church to give up soda and coffee for Lent. No way could I give up coffee, but I could probably do without those three to five 32.oz convenience store sodas that I chugged out of habit each week (and who knows how many 12.oz sodas).

My other conscious decision was to cut out late-night eating. In my previous newspaper job, I worked evening hours. I might get home around midnight or 1 a.m. and have a slice of pie, a bowl of ice, half a bag of chips - or sometimes all three.

By the time Lent ended, I was down 20 pounds. Right now my weight fluctuates between 175 and 180, and I'm not tired going up the stairs. Best of all, I feel I have more energy than before.

My wife (and other women I know) were jealous, of course. "Only a man could lose weight that way," they said.

I did no research beforehand, but I later saw a diet book that supported the no-soda theory. I also found a story on CNN that discusses the link between no soda and weight loss.

I have the occasional soda - maybe one per month. I'm probably preserving my teeth a little longer by avoiding all that acid and sugar.

And if this blog disappears soon after this post, you'll know that the Coke or Pepsi mafia got to me. Look for my body somewhere is a shallow grave. Just follow the trail of empty soda cans.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

President and President 1A?

The Democratic race is over. Regardless of Hillary Clinton's claims of winning a.) the popular voting, b.) states that matter (which not be any state she lost), or c.) winning states with an even number of consonents in the second half of the alphabet, the simple fact is Barack Obama is the Democratic presidential nominee.

The $64,000 question (or maybe the $20 million question for Hillary) is who will be No. 2 on the ticket? And if it's Hillary, is the No. 2 slot really 1A?

The former first lady brings a ton of positives to the slate: Millions of people voted for her in the primaries. She's got great name recognition. Veep candidates typcially wallow in the mud a little more during the general election season, and nobody is more suited than transplanted Razorback Hillary C.

The negatives? Former President Bill Clinton - the once Democratic savior-turned-albatross - needs to be muzzled or at least sent to a strip club for the next five months. Republicans would open a double-barreled attack on both Obama and Hillary, slinging the mud that would have been reserved for her presidential run. And most pressing is Hillary's controlling nature. How hard will it be for her to tout Obama's position on health care, foreign policy, etc., when she (at least in her mind) believes her ideas are better?

Obama faces a tough choice. Weigh in on the poll at right or toss out your suggestions for Democratic VP choice.

Note: Given the title of this blog, it's worth noting that Obama is 46. A hearty congrats to a fellow 40s member!

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Pain in the back - literally

My posture has never been the best. While my knuckles aren't dragging the ground when I walk, my slumped walk may predate the Neanderthals.

One thing that probably doesn't help my posture or my back in general is my habit of crossing my legs at the computer. I read somewhere recently (though I can't find the reference) that this is bad. While I will attempt to adopt better posture - difficult since I've already uncrossed my legs twice while writing this entry - some simple exercises can be helpful as well. And if we can shed a few extra pounds, that's even less pressure on the spine.

I'm not a doctor (nor do I play one on TV), but back pain seems to get a little worse as we age. Knees, too, but that's a topic for another day. If yours is more serious than mild discomfort, the American Spinal Decompression Association has some information on non-surgical ways to help.

Maybe we'd all have been better off if we listened to Mom or our teachers when they said, "Sit up straight." I still have my doubts starving children in third world countries would have wanted to eat cauliflower.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Rules are rules (unless they are not)

Let me see if I've got this straight:

- All the major candidates running for the Democratic contest agree to the rules that Michigan and Florida will not be counted.

- One of the major candidates - after a disorganized campaign blew its built-in advantage of name recognition and a huge lead in the polls - decided that the voters (and, though not said out loud, the delegates) must be counted in those two states.

- Supporters of that major candidate cry foul when the DNC Rules Committee awards half delegates in the disputed states (as opposed to zero, which would have been the case).
According to the Clinton math, Hillary is leading in the popular vote, if you include the disputed states. She's also leading the delegate count in states that begin with letters in the second half of the alphabet and have even numbers of vowels, not to mention her overwhelming lead in the "important" states. If you're keeping track, the important states are those won by Hillary.

It's 3 a.m. The phone rings in the White House. Who's going to answer it? Hillary - because the only time Obama is going to let her within granade-throwing distance of the Oval Office is when he's not in there.

Hillary's not upset that Obama came in and "stole" the nomination. The Illinois senator likely swiped the big prize: The presidency. In her mind, the weak GOP choice - McCain - is very beatable, and an Obama win means she's out of the running for the presidency until 2016.

All of this is moot if Hillary takes her ball and goes home, sabotages the election for Obama, and re-emerges as the person to beat in 2012. Stranger things have happened...

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