Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Food for Thought

THIS month, I join millions of my fellow Americans in what has become a mid-winter tradition that is as predictable as snowfall in Maine.

It may be football playoff season, it may be presidential primary season, but I'm willing to bet more people participate in this activity then all the punts and pundits rolled into one.

I speak, of course, of dieting.

This column has complained loudly in the past about people who gobble up double cheeseburgers by the bagful and then sue McDonald's because they packed on an extra 100 pounds.

And this column has insisted that personal responsibility is the true path to dietary health.

This column doesn't always practice what it preaches.

While I haven't fallen into the grotesquely obese category yet, it wouldn't hurt me to drop 20 pounds, to use a nice round figure which also describes my current body configuration.

I don't suppose it does much good to blame your weight gain on outside forces.
But what the hell, I'll do it anyway.

Reason No. 1: Tailgating. We have been UCLA football season ticket holders at the Rose Bowl for 25 years. It used to be a hot dog and a beer before a game. But tailgating has taken on all the trappings of a cordon bleu competition. Now, it's a salad course, a main course with side dishes, a dessert course all accompanied by three kinds of wine.

Then there's a post-game dinner, which, considering the performance of the UCLA football team
over the last few years, involves lots of comfort food.

Reason No. 2: Thanksgiving. Somebody told me that turkey is good for you. So I eat lots of it. So do most of my friends. Which brings up an interesting point.

According to a study by the New England Journal of Medicine, obesity can spread from person to person, much like a virus. When one person gains weight, close friends tend to gain weight, too.

The researchers reported that people were most likely to become obese when a friend became obese. That increased a person's chances of becoming obese by 57 percent. It did not even matter if the friend was hundreds of miles away, the influence remained. And the greatest influence of all was between close mutual friends. There, if one became obese, the other had a 171 percent increased chance of becoming obese, too.

Clearly, I need more skinny friends.

Reason No. 3: By the time we get to Christmas, we're in capitulation mode. Any thoughts of dietary sanity are postponed until after Jan. 1. After all, isn't that why we have New Year's resolutions?

I did read one helpful hint about how to survive holiday feasting:

Simply tie a piece of string around your waist before the meal - under your clothes. It shouldn't be too tight. You should be able to get a fist between it and you. When it starts to draw blood, you should probably stop eating.

Reason No. 4: I love to eat. I also believe that if you eat something and no one sees you eat it, it has no calories.

So how to drop a few pounds?

Well, there's the Evo Diet. As part of an experiment for BBC-TV, a group of volunteers set up a tent in a zoo - and ate like the apes for 12 days. A nutritionist devised a "three-day rotating menu of fruit, vegetables, nuts and honey."
The results were impressive: Cholesterol dropped an average of 23 percent. Blood pressure fell from a level of 140/83 to 122/76. An unintended side effect was weight loss: 9.7 pounds.

The bad news is that you have an unsaitable desire to live in a tee.

Then there's the cabbage soup diet, the chocolate diet, the lemonade diet, the chicken soup diet and the Russian air force diet (guaranteed to help you lose the Cold War), all of which can be found on the Internet.

You've got to be careful, however. Prolonged dieting can lead to depression, reduced sex drive, fatigue, irritability, sinus problems, muscle atrophy and bloodshot eyes. Come to think of it, you can develop those same symptoms with prolonged exposure to journalism.

On second thought, I think I'll just exercise more and eat less, secure in the knowledge that the National Institutes of Health says that the commonly recommended program of reduced caloric intake along with increased physical activity has a long-term failure rate of 90-95percent.

Or, as Jackie Gleason once said: "The second day of a diet is always easier than the first. By the second day, you're off it."

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

What We Meant to Say....

When you look back at the dubious achievements of 2007, it's like surveying a giant buffet table.

I mean, where do you start? Subprime loans? Paris Hilton and/or Brtiney Spears? Lead tainted toys from China? Don Imus? Airline travel? Michael Vick? Donald Trump? Major League Baseball? The Coliseum Commission? George Bush? Nancy Pelosi? Larry Craig? Rosie O'Donnel? Any of the presidential wannabes?

What a feast.

But when this column set out to say so long to 2007, we decided to view it through the prism of newspaper corrections.

There's no deep significance in it. Indeed, after more than 40 years in the profession, it still amazes me that a group of people can produce a lively record of the day's events, usually flawlessly, in 12 hours or less. And then do it all again the next day. It's not called the daily miracle for nothin'.

But mistakes do get made. More often than not, they let us laugh at ourselves. Maybe it's best to look back on the year with a smile.

So, culled from Internet sources (including a website called Regret the Error), here are my favorite corrections of the year:

Running Mates: "A front-page article yesterday about the role that Barack Obama's wife, Michelle, is playing in his presidential campaign rendered incorrectly a word in a quotation from Valerie Jarrett, a friend of the Obamas who commented on their decision that he would run. She said in a telephone interview, 'Barack and Michelle thought long and hard about this decision before they made it' ---not that they 'fought' long and hard. (The New York Times).

Was There Anything Correct in This Story?: "Following the portrait of Tony and Cherie Blair published on 21 April in the Independent Saturday magazine, Ms. Blair's representatives have told us that she was friendly with but never had a relationship with Carole Caplin of the type suggested in the article. They want to make it clear, which we are happy to do, that Ms. Blair has never shared a shower with Ms. Caplin, was not introduced to spirit guides or primal wrestling by Ms. Caplin (or anyone else), and did not have her diary masterminded by Ms. Caplin. (The Independent Saturday (UK) magazine.

Why We Fight: "In an article in Monday's newspaper, there may have been a misperception about why a Woodstock man is going to Afghanistan on a voluntary mission. Kevin DeClark is going to Afghanistan to gain life experience to become a police officer when he returns, not to shoot guns and blow things up. The Sentinel-Review apologizes for any embarrassment this may have caused. (The Sentinel-Review, Woodstock, Ontario).

Who's Sorry Now: "A headline in Monday's Daily News, 'He regrets his role in Postal Vid,' implied that Richard Marino, the subject of a YouTube video, was sorry for an incident in December at a Brooklyn post office. Marino, in fact, is not sorry. (The New York Daily News).

Flag It: "An article in Wednesday's Calendar section about an English-language newspaper in Mexico City referred to the many U.S. ex-patriots who live there. It should have said expatriates." (Los Angeles Times)

You Say Tomato..."Our story on the price of tomatoes last week misquoted Alistair Petrie, general manager of Turners and Growers. Discussing the price of tomatoes Petrie was talking about retail rate not retail rape. We apologise for the misunderstanding." (Sunday Star-Times, New Zealand).

Bird Brained: "In Friday's article on Liz Hurley's wedding it was wrongly stated that the actress is holding a pheasant shoot on the Sunday after the ceremony. Game shooting is of course illegal on Sundays and the pheasant season ended on Feb 1. We apologise for the error and accept that if any shooting is to be done it will be by the paparazzi, who have no season and do not observe the Sabbath. (Daily Telegraph, UK).

Who's Sari Now: "A report 'From Bombay to Rajasthan'... stated that actor Elizabeth Hurley will wear a 4,000-pound sari by designer Tarun Tahiliani during her wedding in March. While one reader wondered how she would be able to lift the 1,800 kg sari, another reader said there are possible fears about the bride being reduced to pulp by its weight. It was an error. The word 'pound' was used instead of the currency symbol for pound sterling. The Hindu

Par for the Course: "In a report about the Scottish elections, an editing error led to us wrongly suggesting that John Swinburne of the Scottish Senior Citizens' Unity Party had been accused of allegedly causing a breach of the peace by running amok in a polling station with a golf club. We apologise to Mr Swinburne for any embarrassment or distress caused." (The Guardian, UK).

How Many Words for Error? "An item in the Sunday Magazine referred to a popular but unfounded notion that Eskimos have dozens of words for snow, in this case 40. The item failed to note that the assertion has been debunked by linguists and others. " (Chicago Tribune).
Talk Show Hosts All Look Alike: "A Newsmakers item on Page A2 Sunday incorrectly attributed a quote to the Rev. Al Sharpton. The item should have said that nationally syndicated radio host Don Imus described Rutgers women's basketball players as 'nappy-headed hos' during a segment of his show Wednesday. Austin American-Statesmen.

It Sure Sounded Correct: "A Nov. 19 article about a new study indicating that Detroit is the most dangerous U.S. city incorrectly stated that Detroit has seen nearly one million people killed since 1950. In fact, that number represents the overall decline in Detroit's population since 1950, not the number of people killed." (Toronto Star).

Was There Anything Correct in This Story, Part II: "An article about Lord Lambton...falsely stated that his son Ned (now Lord Durham) and daughter Catherine held a party at Lord Lambton's villa, Cetinale, in 1997, which degenerated into such an orgy that Lord Lambton banned them from Cetinale for years. In fact, Lord Durham does not have a sister called Catherine (that is the name of his former wife), there has not been any orgiastic party of any kind and Lord Lambton did not ban him (or Catherine) from Cetinale at all. We apologise sincerely to Lord Durham for the hurt and embarrassment caused." (Sunday Times, UK).

Thanks for Clearing That Up: "No test samples were sent to Cork University Hospital. And that's all we're telling you." (Irish Times).

An Immigrant's Tale

There are stories of the immigrant experience in the United States that sometimes make me downright emotional about this country, its freedoms and the people who through grit and sacrifice have made it what it is.

They remind us that we remain the land of opportunity, a beacon of light that shines brightly in the darkest corners of the world.

Such a story concerns a man named Tom Lantos who has spent his life overcoming overwhelming odds.

Unless you're a political junkie, you may not have heard of Lantos. He's a Congressman from the Bay Area who has served since 1981.

Lantos is low on flash but high on substance. He's chairman of the powerful House Foreign Affaris Committee and a Democrat who commands respect from both sides of the aisle as an expert in his field and a tireless advocate for human rights.

But it's the story of his journey to Capitol Hill that captivates us.

Lantos came to Congress by way of the Holocaust.

Born to a Jewish family in Budapest, Hungary, he was part of the resistance movement against the Nazis when they invaded his country. As a teenager, he was placed in a forced labor camp but escaped what was essentially a death sentence and was able to find shelter in a safe house in Budapest set up by Swedish humanitarian Raoul Wallenberg.

He survived but his family did not.

In 1947, Lantos was awarded an academic scholarship to study in the United States on the basis of an essay he wrote about U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

In August of that year, he arrived in New York City after a week-long boat trip to America on a converted World War II troop ship. His only possession was a Hungarian salami, which U.S. customs officials promptly confiscated when he arrived. Just a few weeks after he left Hungary, the Communist party seized control of the country.

In a documentary called "The Last Days," which chronicled the fate of Hungary's Jews at the end of the war, Lantos described his experienceaboard the ship.

As he lined up for his first meal, he was astonished to see wicker baskets filled with oranges and bananas. When he asked a seaman if he could have one, he was told, "Man you can eat all the damn bananas and all the damn oranges you want."

"It was then I knew I was in heaven," he said.

He attended the University of Washington in Seattle, where he received a B.A. and M.A. in economics. He moved to San Francisco in 1950 and began graduate studies at the UC Berkeley, where he later received his Ph.D. in economics. In 1953, he became an American citizen.

Lantos married his childhood sweetheart Annette and they settled in San Mateo County. He spent 30 years teaching economics at San Francisco State, served as a foreign affairs analyst on public television and won a seat on the Millbrae school board. When other Democrats passed on the chance to challenge GOP incumbent Rep. Bill Royer in 1980, he rose to the challenge and narrowly won.

Lantos and his wife had two daughters, both of whom promised a gift of grandchildren to their parents.

They now have 17.

"Because my wife and I were survivors of the Holocaust, because our own families were killed, the gift to us was to give us as many grandchildren as possible, to keep alive the names of those who were lost," he told the San Francisco Examiner.

"Our cup runneth over."

He is now face-to-face with cancer. Based on his past record, I wouldn't bet against him.

But he's 80 years old now with another tough obstacle to overcome. So he announced his retirement from Congress this past week. He received the cancer diagnosis from his doctors the week before Congress recessed in December, but spent two weeks consulting with doctors, his wife, Annette, and other family members before making his decision, aides said.

At a time when the economic, social and political aspects of immigration have caused controversy, Lantos' story underscores the fact that we are a nation of immigrants and they, or we, are our strength.

"It is only in the United States that a penniless survivor of the Holocaust and a fighter in the anti-Nazi underground could have received an education, raised a family, and had the privilege of serving the last three decades of his life as a Member of Congress," he said.

"I will never be able to express fully my profoundly felt gratitude to this great country."

That gratitute goes both ways.

From Barack to Britney

Once around the news cycle:

It's January, when the nation's media converge on two places that usually fail to capture the undivided attention of most Americans: (1) New Hampshire; (2) a trade show in Las Vegas.

Once every four years, the state of New Hampshire becomes the scene of more political intrigue than the Roman Senate. That's become it's home to the nation's first primary which draws approximately one presidential aspirant for each five residents.

All you need to know about New Hampshire: It ranks 44th in total area and 41st in population in these United States. It's known as the Granite State because that term correctly reflects the facial expression of most of its residents.It has given us Horace Greely and Adam Sandler.

Its Mt. Washington claims to have "the worst weather on earth" due to hurricane force winds that buffet it on an average of every three days. Average annual snowfall ranges from 60 inches to more than 100 inches across the state.

You think the Clintons and Obamas and Huckabees and Romneys look forward to campaigning in California next month?

Then there's the consumer electronics show in Las Vegas which appears to draw every journalist in the country who is not in New Hampshire. Their job: discover a lot of quirky products with a high gee-whiz factor that most of us will never use.

This is the industry which has, over the years, given us Pong, Nintendo and voice activated car radios all of which have served to make the world a better place.

This year, for example, rap star Dr. Dre will be there to introduce an entire line of home and auto audio electronics sure to come equipped with woofers that will set off car alarms in the next county. He hopes to do for hip-hop what Emeril Legasse has done for frying pans.

But so far, the hit of the show is the world's largest plasma TV set, at 150 inches, or 12 1/2 feet, measured diagonally. It's 11 feet tall, and brought to you by Panasonic.

Just imagine watching "Dancing With the Stars," extreme fighting or the Cartoon Network larger than life in surround sound and high definition.

No price yet but the high rollers in Hollywood are already lining up to buy one. Too bad they won't be able to watch the Golden Globe awards on it.

That particular awards show has been canceled because of the writers strike. Instead of the usual self-congratulatory pap, NBC will broadcast a "news conference" in which the winners will be announced. Any resemblance to actual news will be purely coincidental.

Rarely does anything good come out of a protracted labor dispute but in this case, axing a manufactured egofest is a real plus. Who knew they needed writers for this drivel?

Speaking of show business, the AP bureau in Los Angeles has finally discovered Britney Spears, reports the website LA Observed. According to a memo to the staff from AP's assistant bureau chief, "Now and for the foreseeable future, virtually everything involving Britney is a big deal. That doesn't mean every rumor makes it on the wire. But it does mean that we want to pay attention to what others are reporting and seek to confirm those stories that WE feel warrant the wire. And when we determine that we'll write something, we must expedite it."

She's a big deal, to be sure, but not because of her boozy escapades. She's a story because she's a young woman in dire need of professional help who while in a fragile emotional state is being relentlessly pursued by a ravenous pack of paparazzi.

And who's there to offer her a hand? None other than the warm and fuzzy TV shrink Dr. Phil who, mindful of his own ratings, tried to engineer a show featuring Britney's parents.

He later canceled, because "the Spears situation is too intense at this time, and out of consideration to the family." "I've been working with this family behind the scenes for a long time, longer than you can imagine," he said.

If so, he's been something less than a great help. Britney has been married, divorced, lost custody of her children, been involved in a series of bizarre public episodes and has a 16-year-old sister who proudly announced her pregnancy recently.

While the family may not appear with Dr. Phil, they could pop up on the Jerry Springer show any day now.