Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Employers Offer Incentives to Lose Weight

I found this article to be a bit disturbing (click HERE for link).

Apparently a local firm is offering incentives to lose weight because they think it will lower their health care costs. There are a few things that bother me about this kind of program:

  • There is no evidence that it will actually lower their health care costs. In fact, I would even go so far as to say that there is a likelihood that this sort of program could even raise a firm's health care costs. There are a lot of ways to lose weight and not all of them are healthy. In fact, most of them are not. Even the more healthy weight loss programs can put a lot of stress on a person's body which is only worth it if the person maintains their weight loss. There is solid evidence that shows that around 95% of people who lose weight do not keep it off. So really, this sort of program is actually encouraging something harmful.

  • I know this will sound silly but it almost doesnt seem fair to those people who are already very fit. What if you dont need to lose 25 pounds, reduce body weight by 15 percent or reduce body fat by 15 percent?

  • This is just another example of our culture's hatred of fatness. It is clear that this company probably would rather not have fat employees. Maybe this is an alternative to simply firing overweight employees? Whenever I read stories like this, I just think that it is soooo lucky for me that weight is a protected employment class in Michigan.

Now, I can understand why an employer might want to reduce health care costs and also why they might want to encourage healthy lifestyles among their employees. But it seems to me that there are better ways to go about this. I would suggest that a firm who *really* wanted to improve their employee's health go about it by actually encouraging healthy BEHAVIORS rather than encouraging something like weight loss which may or may not be a result of healthy behaviors. Encouraging healthy behaviors probably would result in some or many employees losing weight but, more importantly, it would probably actually improve their health. So this is what I would suggest an employer do if they really wanted to encourage healthy employees.

  • Provide showers at work. That way people could be encouraged to walk or ride their bikes to work.

  • Provide bike racks in a sheltered and secure place.

  • Build an excercise room onsite or give employees free memberships to a local health club.

  • Heck, *pay* them to excercise. Give everyone an extra half hour break once a day to take a walk (the people who dont want to walk wouldnt get the break). Just doing that would probably make a huge difference.

Isnt it too bad that I dont rule the world? ;)

Monday, December 26, 2005

Happy Holidays

I hope everyone had a nice holiday. I did the usual thing where I went to my Aunt Nancy's house on Christmas Eve and did the traditional Russian Christmas Eve dinner thing. It was yummy as usual. Then, on Christmas, I went to my Aunt Ann's house and had a good time.

I dont know how much I will be blogging in the next week or so. I havent really felt much like writing lately so I think a break might do me good. I'll see you all in the new year though :)

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Where's Santa?

I just wanted to take a moment on this Christmas Eve to wish everyone a happy holiday. I volunteered to work today so I dont have much time to write too much but I would like to share this fun webpage. Did you know that NORAD tracks Santa???

And all this time, I didnt think Santa was real. I'll bet the Bush administration is keeping us all safe by monitoring his phone calls too. ;)

Friday, December 23, 2005

The Missing Computers

Today at work, I was talking to a co-worker who has been given the task of tracking down some missing computers. He has found all but two which is pretty good. Still, he has spent a bit of time on the task. I kind of thought that the effort was a bit much for some old computers that cant possibly be worth much. So I went onto ebay to see how much these systems were going for. I found a bunch of similar systems selling for $1. ONE DOLLAR! That totally made me laugh. Now, of course, that is just the starting point and these systems had no bidders and still had a day or so left for bidding but still. It made me laugh. I had to print out *that* ebay page and pass it around the office.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Don't Think of an Elephant

Like a lot of people on the left, I find myself confused when faced with certain neocon positions. I listen to them talk about things like this war in Iraq or about education or marriage and I cant fathom where their views come from. That a good number of people in this country share their views scares me.

I was commenting at work to a co-worker about how I just couldn’t get these neocons and my co-worker lent me a book that had some pretty interesting ideas in it. The book is Don’t Think of an Elephant by George Lakoff. It is the first book I have read that has a plausible sounding explanation for the world view of the neocons. Some of it was new to be but some of it was a reinforcement of what I already believed.

Lakoff talks a lot about how people think and about how people think in frames. It turns out that people will reject information that doesn’t fit their frame (and I am sure we progressives do this too). He also talks a lot about how language helps us form our frames and how today’s conservatives have become very good at presenting their ideas in frames that a lot of people can relate to.

Lakoff says that our frames come from how we view the world. That people have frames based upon how they view the nation as a family metaphor. Progressives come from a nurturing parent point of view and neocons come from a strict father point of view. All of this is explained really well at the Rockridge Institute’s webpage about the nation as a family

All in all, it is a good read.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Christmas Gifts of Breakdown Kits

Last August, I went camping with Shannon, Caleb, and their family. On the way there the car broke down. We had some warning that it was going to break down so before it did, Shannon and I were talking about breakdown kits to have in the car. Since in this day and age, no one ever really is able to fix their own cars by the side of the road, breakdowns usually involve waiting for a towtruck...sometimes for hours. So we thought that a good breakdown kit would have the stuff you *really* need when your car breaks down and not stuff like screwdrivers and other tools and stuff like that.

So for Christmas, I am making some breakdown kits for folks. Here are some of the things I am going to put in.

  • A book to read: I thought The Worst Case Scenario Handbook would be a good choice.

  • Chocolate

  • A pack of cigarettes and a lighter (for the person who smokes, the others dont get this.)

  • A deck of cards

  • A leash and some dog treats (for the person who has a dog)

  • Some of those little bottles of booze like they have on airplanes. I figured that once the car is broken down, the driving is over so it would be ok to have a cocktail by the side of the road.

I need some other things though. I am hoping folks can help. So if you were stuck by the side of the road: What would you want?

Friday, December 16, 2005

Thoughts on Writing

One of the parts of my job that I dislike is the requirement that we have that we document all of our knowledge. I guess I just don’t like technical writing. Which is something for me to keep in mind when I look into changing jobs. Technical writing is just a form of writing with about the least amount of autonomy one can find. It always has to conform to some form or another. Personally, I think people in the tech industry get too hung up on that but I guess ultimately it makes it easier for the people who have to actually use the documentation which is, after all, the point of it. I still don’t like writing it.

I do like other forms of writing though. I occasionally write bad poetry full of clich├ęs and such and I really like writing that although I would prefer to write good poetry. I have written only one or two good poems in my whole life. I wrote one when I was a senior in high school and I had a creative writing class. The class went on a field trip to downtown Ann Arbor and our assignment was to write a “catalog poem” where we wrote what we saw almost in a list form. I was out sick that day.

The weekend before, though, I had spent an evening with some friends at a park in Grosse Pointe. And I still remember some of what I saw: Lovers holding hands as they walked under street lights, a freighter’s lights out on the lake, a wedding at the War Memorial building. There were crickets singing and the occasional car going past on Lake Shore Drive.

I remember that wedding the best. We stood outside in our Brooks Brother’s Oxford shirts which were all the rage fashion-wise with my group of friends for some reason. There was a yellow pool of light on the ground to our right. It had crisscross patterns from the shadows of the window panes. Inside we could see people dancing and we could hear the sounds of a very elegant string quartet playing a waltz while the people inside danced and laughed.

And the bride! She was just a dream in one of those fluffy dresses that were common then. She was a Calla Lily waltzing in a bouquet of roses and carnations. Inside, the room was filled with light and laughter and family and love.

Outside, three bored teenagers stood looking.

It is funny how that one moment has stuck with me for so long. I don’t know why really. I don’t even remember the name of one of the two people I was with and lost track of the other over 15 years ago. But that poem I wrote about it was great. Even my mother, who was hyper critical of everything I did at the time liked it. I don’t know what happened to it. When the time came for our class to publish our poems in a teenaged literary magazine, my teacher asked me to bring it back it but it was gone. I never found it and never could remember quite what I wrote. (And part of me knows that is probably a good thing because at least this way, I can remember it better than it probably actually was).

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Year in Review

I am feeling kind of lazy about the whole blogging thing today so I am going to do a little meme I have seen around. Basically, I have taken the first line from my first post of every month and have created a blog "year in review" which is interesting if somewhat incomplete.

January - Tonight is my last night here on Oahu

February – I have been thinking a bit about the front page of today and the questions it raises about self-esteem and how one might go about achieving it.

March - Grr. Huge windy snow storm today.

April - Worker #1: Are you serious, you have never had a mullet?

May – Dear Cookie, Sometimes I hate my job because I hate the way my bosses are on some kind of power trip.

June - Worker 1: [mumble mumble mumble]

July - *sigh* TBLOG, my blog host, is running as slow as molasses

August - The news story that caught my eye this morning was a ruling by the Michigan State Supreme Court that makes all great lakes beaches public property.

September - I have to admit that I havent been paying close attention to Katrina and the aftermath this week since I have been too busy playing in the California sunshine.

October - I went with Kate to see Serenity on Friday.

November - I actually left on time this morning for a change so I figured I would take Michigan Ave even though there is construction at Huron.

December - I have found that my brain isnt working at it's normal high capacity.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Brokeback Mountain

I have never had a passion for writing. Like, when I dream of becoming an author and running around Paris drinking absynth in dirty backstreet cafes, it is the *Paris* part of the fantasy that gets my motor running. Ok, that, and I think I look good in a beret.

But every now and then, I read a story that makes me jealous of the author's ability to create something wonderful. Something so good that reading it almost feels like opening presents on Christmas morning...where each paragraph is there all wrapped up and shiny and all one has to do to get to it is to pluck the ribbon from the top.

And it is with Annie Proulx's "Brokeback Mountain." A friend emailed me the link to the old archive version in The New Yorker and I have had to spend a good long time keeping myself from crying here at work on my lunch hour because this story is just THAT beautiful and sad. And now Ang Lee has done the film version? I cant wait to see it!

Monday, December 12, 2005

Some Thoughts about Lost Characters and Tookie Williams

I have been thinking a bit about what a weird culture we live in.

I am a big fan of Lost and one of the things I like about it is the complexity of the characters. I think there is a place in entertainment for “good guys” without flaws and “bad guys” who cant be redeemed but I also like characters who are more well rounded. At any rate, I have my favorite characters on Lost and I generally find all of the characters on the island to be likable and, more importantly, redeemable. Which is interesting since there are no fewer than three of them who have committed murder? And I am not alone in finding these characters likable. A lot of people do.

And then, on the other hand, we have that high profile Tookie Williams death penalty case in California where people are suggesting that redemption of character is an issue. Now, I certainly think redemption of character *is* an issue that should be considered in death penalty cases or rather, it is a major reason I generally don’t support death as a punishment in our society. I have never met him but I cant believe that he was ever a “bad guy” in the Hollywood one dimensional sense. I don’t believe he is some monster who needs to be killed as punishment or to make our society better or whatever. I also think that people can change and grow and that the person being put to death 24 years after being sentenced to death is probably not the same person they were then. And now, we might find that it isn’t some monster we are putting to death but a person who just might have something to contribute.

What strikes me as odd, though, is the number of people who are able to find fictional characters likable and to accept that such characters are redeemable while at the same time viewing a real man as simply a monster who must be put to death. I am sure that some of them make a strong distinction between fiction and reality in the sense that they believe that Williams killed a real person and thus, should be punished while on a TV show, it doesn’t matter if the characters get punished. But I suspect that still others simply haven’t bothered to learn anything about Tookie Williams or the person behind the name and so he is just a name to them. A name of a murderer. Perhaps it is easier to support the death of such a person if they are nothing more than a name connected with a crime that occurred decades ago.

It is also interesting to me that one man who made a career of playing one dimensional characters now finds himself with another man’s life in his hands. Schwarzenegger got where he is because of American’s love of seeing things in black in white; guilty or innocent; “good guys” or “bad guys”. Now he has the opportunity to show that Americans are capable of seeing things in shades of grey. That some of us, at least, are able to see that a criminal’s life can have value. Let’s not kick this one off the island lest we find we need him to shoot down some polar bears or something.

Related Links

New York Times article that mentions Lost characters

NPR Tookie Williams Timeline

Sunday, December 11, 2005

A Case of the Lonlies Brought On by "The Thin Man"

I have holed up in my house for the second weekend in a row. I think I needed the break from all the holiday activity but it is still a little lonely. Which is ok really because there is nothing like a day of feeling a little bit lonely to make one appreciate all of the really wonderful people in one’s life. I have plenty, I just need to poke my head up out of my hole and get on with some holiday cheer :)

Loneliness can be funny though. I think I started feeling lonely yesterday night while I was curled up in my pajamas and engaged in one of my favorite “alone time” activities: watching old movies with a nice hot cup of tea and a snuggly cat on my lap and snoring dogs at my feet. Normally, I don’t feel lonely at all when I am doing that but I was watching one of those “Thin Man” movies with William Powell and Myrna Loy and there is something about the chemistry between those two that made me miss having that kind of connection with someone else on a regular basis.

And OK, I admit it, I thought the idea of being a rich heiress with a funny ex-detective husband who is a little bit of a drinker to be a pretty good fantasy. And in these movies, they get to take their dog anyplace they like which is another thing I am envious of. Plus movies from the 30's are always so glamourous....**sigh**

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Hibernation and the Economics of Winter

It is really cold outside. Thursday's snow is still pretty. My furnace works and although I got my first big bill of the season, it isnt going to break me although I am pretty worried about the next couple of months which tend to be the coldest. I have decided to spend today putting up some of that horrible plastic sheeting over some windows in the hopes that it might help me keep my heating costs down.

I have a really old furnace. I think a new one might cut my heating costs by 1/3 but a new one would cost around $3000. Still, my bill last month was $200 and it will only get worse as the winter gets colder and still worse in the coming years as natural gas gets more expensive. But even if I could save $600 a year in heating costs it would take five years just to break even.

I could probably get better insulation in the attic which would help some but a lot of the cold comes in from my leaky windows and from my walls. All I have to do is touch my cold walls to know that they arent keeping all of the heat inside. But probably it is the windows that are the worst thing as far as leaks go. I have an old house and old single pane wood frame windows. I cant get new windows because I live in a historic district and the requirements for new windows make them far too expensive for me. Still the drafts from the windows are so bad that when the wind blows, I can feel it through the windows. And that plastic sheeting is cheap (around $20 per window) but so ugly. I guess I have to choose: ugly but warm or fabulous but freezing.

I am going with the ugly but warm but I think I'll put a copy of my DTE bill in my pocket so I can look at it everytime I look at that plastic on my window and hate it.

"Man, I HATE that plastic on the window. It is soooo ugly!!!"

**reaches into pocket and gets out bill**

"Oh yeah...riiiiiiight"

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Welcome to Tech Support Hell

I am still having trouble putting things into words. It is weird because I have the same problem when I am depressed but then my cognitive deficits are accompanied with a strong desire to slit my wrists. I have not been using anti-depressant medications but have been using the full spectrum light for an hour or two per day. I have to say that considering how much cheaper the light is, I’ll live with a winter time problem although it can be honestly frustrating sometimes.

Yesterday my team at work had a meeting. During the meeting I suggested to my team mates that they aren’t always very nice to other teams. People on our Level One team have mentioned to me that they have felt patronized when talking to people on our team. So first these guys get very defensive which is understandable but then, in the same breath they were defending themselves, they said “But we are only asking them to do stuff that is common sense” in that TONE that is almost a stereotype for horrible IT help desk people. The tone you might get if you were to call tech support and have some arrogant jerk tell you that OF COURSE your computer isn’t working and if you had just looked at the hexadecimal value of the discombobulator in C:\PROGRAMS you would have known what to do. Sheesh!

So there I was accusing these guys of being arrogant pricks and their response was to BE arrogant pricks while asking me for specific examples of the behavior people were having a problem with and a normal person would have said “Listen to yourselves! LISTEN you Dogbert tech support wannabes. LISTEN”

But I didn’t. Instead I got into an argument about if it is common sense to get a phone number from a caller. They said it was and I said it wasn’t because 99% of the time we already have the caller’s phone number so people aren’t in the habit of asking and then I ended up concluding the whole thing with “Just be nicer” which is too vague to be any use to anyone.

Oh well, at least the guys have a sense of humor about the whole thing. Today when I went to a meeting with the team, I walked in and they said “Hey Level One Lover” so I guess they aren’t too mad about it. And maybe they’ll make an effort to be nicer but considering that the issue is more their tone of voice than what they say, I doubt they are even conscious of what it is that makes people on other teams feel they are being talked down to. *shrug*

Monday, December 05, 2005

No getting away from Monday

I stayed home from work today because I woke up with just about the most horrible menstrual cramps I have had in a long time combined with some pretty bad lower back pain. I am not sure if that is period related or a result of my snow shoveling activities yesterday. But it turns out that staying home does not mean one gets to escape Monday.

I found that I had no Tylenol or Advil or anything of that sort and I needed some of that action in a serious way. But when I went out to go buy some, I found that a tire on my car was completely flat. I swear! I get more flat tires. Is someone going around Ypsilanti dropping nails on the street or what? Ugh. I managed to use my foot pump (best $10 I have ever spent) to inflate the tire enough to drive on it and went to the drug store and then to the tire place. I was very very irritable while in the tire place even though they had good magazines and the Advil started working while I was there. I found that I wanted to yell but I didnt.

I did have to laugh as I was leaving. They couldnt figure out how to get my car in reverse. VW has this thing on manual transmissions where you have to push the shifter down before putting it into reverse because you know, VW’s are cars designed for dumb people like me who might accidently put the car in reverse when they want first or something. My car also will not allow me to lock driver’s side door except from the outside with the key which is why it is the first car I have ever owned where I havent ever locked the keys inside.

My mom borrowed my “dummy proof” car once a long time ago and she couldnt figure out how to put it into reverse either. I guess it isnt intuitive for people who havent driven VW’s. It is funny how things are designed sometimes. Like, on Thanksgiving, I almost burned the rolls I was heating up because my mother has a kitchen timer that requires a person to move the dial all the way past 55 mins and then *back* to whatever they want to set it. I just set it at 5 mins and it never dinged. I guess like my car, it isnt a very intuitive design.

I am sometimes fascinated about how things are designed. Things like cars. I especially notice such things when I am driving a rental car or borrowing a car from someone. It is sometimes very easy to figure things out and sometimes one needs a manual just to figure out how to turn the wipers or the headlights on.

Friday, December 02, 2005

Ashes to ashes

I am going to go pick up Crissy's ashes tomorrow. That got me thinking a bit about death and afterlife and such. It is funny because in my grief, just after Crissy died, I found that I had all kinds of little daydreams about heaven and seeing her again and hanging out.

But today, now that my sadness has faded some, I find that I just dont believe in an afterlife. Deep down, I believe that when we die, that is that. And it isnt too scary but it isnt really comforting either.

I havent decided what to do with her ashes. The rose bush thing sounds good but I am so terrible with plants that I fear I will kill the rose bush I plant and then I'll get sad about that. But then, I honestly cant think of a single other thing to do with the ashes. Oh well. For now, I think I will just stick them in my attic and decide what to do later.

I am not so sure about all of these death rituals. When my cat Fred died, I never did anything. I had him cremated but didnt have the ashes returned to me. I dont regret that because, at the time, I didnt need to do it. I am not sure why I need to have Crissy's ashes this time though. I mean, I dont need a funeral to make it more real...her absense is real enough. *shrug*

I suppose it is possible that just this once, I can simply let myself need to have her ashes without pulling out my emotions and figuring out every possible reason I might have to want and desire such a thing.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

What I've been up to

I have found that my brain isnt working at it's normal high capacity. I feel stupid but I figure it is just some sort of cognitive depression similar and perhaps related to the more common emotional depression I often have but dont seem to this year (yay grow light!). So I have been reading various articles and other people's blogs and such and they are still making me think about the things I usually think about when I read them but I have found that I am having a very hard time putting those thoughts into words. In a funny coincidence one of the things I read lately was an article written by someone who claims that language is necessary for a lot of our higher thought but I am having the opposite problem. I can think about the nuances of certain issues but cant verbalize them well.

So...I am on sort of a mental vacation. I am not forcing myself to write down my thoughts or talk about them. I am just letting them sit while I focus on more concrete things in my life.

Tonight I am going to go see some guy named Nadir play over at TC Speakeasy's. I hear he is really good and plays "Southern Fried Funk," whatever that is. It sounds like it could be fun though. It has been a really long time since I have gone out to a bar to see a band. I think it will be a good use of my time and it is one of those social things that isnt really social because generally the music is too loud to allow conversation. But one is still out of the house and in the company of others and there is the whole shared experience thing which is always nice because next week or next month or next year or whatever, we can all do the whole "Hey remember when we saw that guy Nadir" thing.

So...come on down if you want.