Monday, April 23, 2018

Health Tidbits: Hearts, Brains, Stress and More

It’s been awhile since I’ve done a potpourri post, but I’ve been collecting health tidbits for months. I’m now sharing these for your enlightenment, in case you missed them.

In the general health category: drinking can reduce the risk of death. This was reported in the September 4, 2017 issue of Time magazine. The snippet cited the finding in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology. Light to moderate drinking correlated to a 20% reduced risk of death (vs. no drinking at all). “Light to moderate” was defined as 14 or fewer drinks per week for men and 7 or fewer for women. Looks like I need to uncork a bottle of vino more often. There goes that diet where I count calories…

About a month later another report in Time informed us that the American Heart Association found evidence that meditation lowers blood pressure or stress hormones. The net takeaway? Lowered risk factors for heart disease. I’m a big believer in meditation. But now I’m stressed because when I’ve had a glass or two of wine, I have difficulty focusing well enough to meditate. Choices, choices.

This same issue promised that just an hour or two of exercise each week could prevent depression. Based on my experience, so can a few glasses of Chianti Classico. The American Journal of Psychiatry studied 33,000 people for this report. Those who didn’t exercise were 44% more likely to develop depression during the 11-year follow-up phase. No guidance was provided on what constituted “exercise,” but I doubt that it was lifting a wine glass every evening.

This next tidbit from a double issue of Time in July 2017 came as no surprise to me: “Forgetting things can make you smarter.” I did a blog post on a related topic in July 2013—“Why We Forget More As We Age.” Time reported an item in Neuron that claimed forgetting the old stuff “clears out details that don’t matter,” making room for newer (and presumably more useful) info. My post provided a scientific basis for this. For starters: Similar to the way that a woman is born with a finite number of eggs in her ovaries, our brains have a finite capacity for the number of things we can remember.

My explanation continued. Once our hippocampus is full (usually as we approach retirement age), there’s no more room for new stuff. Depending on your sentiments and the type of brain you have, you either fail to store any new information, or the new information bumps out something older that’s already in there. I then launched into an explanation of the accounting methods LIFO (Last In, First Out) and FIFO (First In, First Out) and how to control your brain type. I won’t bore you with where this went. If you want to know, read the 2013 post:

I will, however, share this suggestion that I made: Scientific advancements enable a woman to use a donor egg to create a baby. We need to co-opt that science for gray matter in order to counteract the forgetfulness that comes with aging. We donate blood. We donate bone marrow. Is it too much to ask to be able to donate a few cells from one hippocampus to another?

Finally, the Healthy You column in the August-September 2017 AARP Magazine was titled: “When Your Brain Has A Mind of Its Own.” In it, Stanford neurobiologist Robert Sapolsky provided some insight into how our previous experiences can influence the way we interpret current life situations. He contends, “Our most impulsive actions aren’t always determined by the moments when they happen.”

He further explained why some people feel more stress than other folks. His most useful (but not earth shattering) observations: If you have no control over what’s going on, you’ll be stressed. Ditto if you don’t have any outlets for your frustration and you lack social support. I think Sapolsky is missing a significant causal factor for stress in our lives: the absence of a fine glass of wine when we really need one. He also missed one foolproof way to reduce stress.

Here’s my quartet of anti-stress advice: get a hobby, cultivate a few good friends, and stock up on fine wine or a nice IPA craft beer. Then grab one of the cats that you adopted form the local shelter for a relaxing, purr-filled nap.

Friday, March 23, 2018

Countering Facebook Trolls

By now you’ve heard that Cambridge Analytica hacked into the Facebook accounts of some 50 million Americans. After gaining access to their private information, Cambridge profiled them using advanced data mining techniques. Then they manipulated them with propaganda disguised as social messages and trending topics. The essence of this manipulation is not new; only the scope and sophistication are notable. Nielsen has been segmenting target audiences based on lifestyles for decades using its Prizm software.

What I found particularly disturbing is this. Even if you didn’t take the bait of their free personality tests (or whatever, and I never did), you were at risk. If anyone of your FB friends took the tests (and some did), they provided the trolls with access to your FB account via their friends network. Good news for all of us. I have a way for Facebook users to fight back against this profiling.

Shortly after I retired, I blogged about the ads that appeared in browser windows and emails. I was on the Internet more often and that behavior apparently was driving the ad content. Over time, companies seemed to refine their algorithms to better target my surfing. (Maybe they started using Prizm.) In an effort to take control of my browser screens, I Googled things that I would enjoy looking at and bookmarked those pages. I visited each of the sites I marked just before I shut down my browser each day, moving them up in the ad hierarchy. In short, I controlled many of my ads.

This concept can easily be modified to confuse the trolls snooping through our Facebook pages. Here’s how it will work. For every post you make or meme you share that skews liberal or conservative, make an equally strong post that skews the other way. “I love Hillary (still)!” but “Hillary really is crooked.” “Trump is the best thing since sliced bread!” except that “Trump is a moron (still).”

Apply this same technique to any posts about food. “Just found a yummy gluten-free recipe for muffins!” followed by “Try this easy-to-bake whole wheat bread from my mother’s recipe box.” “I’m having great success with the paleo diet.” And then “To hell with those cavemen; give me death-by-chocolate cake any day.” You get the idea.

This can even work to confuse shopping bots. Post photos of petite, size 4, figure-hugging styles side by side with plus size tunics and caftans. Drive the software really crazy by giving a phony birthdate and then celebrating it with a birthstone ring from an entirely different month. Here’s your chance to pick the horoscope sign you wish you were born under.

I encourage you to get really creative with your posts. Have fun with them. Share a diagnosis from your psychotherapist about your supposed schizophrenia. “Dr. Splitzenmensa identified yet another personality in our last session. He said that makes seven now. Can’t wait to see who I’ll be at next week’s appointment.”

Just imagine how frustrated the analysts will be trying to figure out what’s going on with you. Are you an outlier? Or did their programmers make a fatal miscalculation in their code? Is your FB-sourced record the only one that’s so messed up? Or are they at risk of providing flawed recommendations to their most lucrative clients?

I wish I could be a fly on the wall while the tech geniuses behind the Facebook manipulation try to debug their software. Revenge is sweet. Or it’s sour. And it’s best served cold. Or hot.

Copyright 2018 Elaine M. Decker

Monday, March 12, 2018

Assault Rifle Regulations—A Modest Proposal

In an effort to find middle ground, I facilitated a discussion about gun control, with the suggestion that we no longer say “gun control,” but rather “assault rifle regulations.” Gun enthusiasts worry that those who favor “gun control” want to take away all their firearms. I focused on assault rifles. It was a challenge to keep the dialogue civil, but I learned a lot about gun enthusiasts and even more about rifles. I’ve done so much on-line research that I’m sure I’m now on a government watch list.

I admit to having liberal views, but I’ve put together a proposal that lands somewhere in the middle. I expect that it will be disliked equally by those on the left and on the right. If so, I’ve found that middle ground. I’ll get to my proposal after some context that informs this debate.

The first issue is Communications. People are using “guns” and “rifles” without regard to how they differ. To a certain extent, “semi-automatic” and “automatic” are also misused. In the center of all of this is the AR-15, in which the AR actually stands for ArmaLite Rifle, after the original manufacturer. It has become a generic for assault rifle, but we need to look beyond that.

I suggest defining an “assault rifle” as one that enables the shooter to kill or injure scores of people in minutes. It likewise prevents most people who have just a handgun from disabling the shooter easily. More on this later.

The second issue is our culture, especially a Culture of Violence. Our passion for guns probably began with the wild American West. Gun owners are generally hunters or sportsmen or they have them for self defense—all uses that my proposal seeks to preserve. The violence has crept into our culture for who-knows-how-many reasons. Video games and violent movies have certainly played a role. However we arrived here, there’s a romantic allure to “bad boys” that contributes to the problem. That helps explain why it’s only boys who perpetrate these crimes. Well, that and testosterone. “Bad girls” conjures up easy sex, not weapons.

I won’t attempt to address the need for a culture shift away from violence. It’s a mistake to try to fix 100% of the causes in one attempt at compromise. If we can reduce a major contributor to this problem, that should be celebrated. If we can chip away at multiple causes—there are many—achieving modest progress on each, they’ll add up to a significant reduction in deaths.

The third background piece has to do with Statistics. The U.S. has far more civilian ownership of firearms per capita than other developed countries. According to one study, in the U.S. it’s 88.8 per 100; Canada, France and Germany each have around 30. Ditto for data on mass shootings and firearm-related homicides—3.5 per 100,000 in the U.S.; Canada is 0.38; France 0.21; Germany 0.07. Mental health issues, while important, are not commensurately more prevalent per capita in the U.S. with 26.4% (vs. France at 18.4% and Germany at 9.1%.) Another study pegged both Norway and Switzerland at 27%.

Countries and states that have implemented stricter weapon regulations have seen a reduction in horrific events. In Connecticut, the “permit-to-purchase” law was passed in 1995, and gun homicides were reduced by 40 percent between 1996 and 2005. For now, I leave to others how to learn from this and to set goals to improve the U.S. statistics for firearm-related deaths per capita.

This brings me to the Technical side of my education on regulating assault rifles. Here’s what I’ve learned, and if not 100% accurate, I’m confident I have the essence. The AR-15 is the sportsman’s semi-automatic equivalent of the M16 military rifle. The M16 is fully-automatic; it won’t stop shooting until the trigger is released or it runs out of ammunition. It has a lever that allows the shooter to set it to a semi-automatic mode. That means the trigger must be pulled for each shot to be fired. The U.S. Army has determined that firing accuracy is better on semi-automatic. It therefore trains soldiers to use the M16 in that mode rather than fully automatic.

I’m using AR-15 here as a generic for any similar rifle. With a high capacity magazine, an adept shooter can pull the trigger rapidly enough to get off hundreds of rounds in just minutes. After-market devices, like bump stocks, can turn an AR-15 into a virtually automatic rifle.

You’ll notice that thus far, I’ve covered rifles with trigger mechanisms. There are also ones with lever (or pump) actions and bolt actions to engage a round of ammunition. As I understand it, these take longer to reload and therefore cannot be fired as quickly as trigger-driven rifles. Even if not, my proposal will address these products as well. Also worth noting: most experts say that a handgun is a better weapon for protection inside a home or shop than any type of rifle.

Let’s get back to those high (or large) capacity magazines. The expired federal Assault Weapons Ban and several state laws define these as ones that hold more than 10 rounds. Magazines are available with 40, 60 and even 100 rounds. A shooter can do a lot of damage in a short timespan with one of those.

I’m putting on my liberal cap now. I can understand that a hunter would prefer a lightweight rifle such as the AR-15 that can shoot more than one round at a time. But if he can’t take down an animal in the woods with ten shots, he needs to spend more time at a rifle range. Spraying Bambi with 40 bullets is hardly sportsmanlike.

Speaking of sportsmanship and rifle ranges, this is one place that higher capacity magazines might be acceptable. Many gun/rifle owners enjoy going to a range to test and improve their skill. With my liberal headgear off, I accept this as a legitimate argument for large capacity magazines. I’d allow them subject to specific regulations.

Those regulations are part of my Modest Proposal. It assumes there’s universal agreement that preventing mass shootings is an important goal. The use of high capacity magazines is something that virtually all those shootings had in common.

I propose a ban on magazines that hold more than ten rounds, the rifles that can use them and any after-market modifications that get around the ban. An exception would allow those items to be owned by and kept locked and used at licensed firing ranges or gun clubs. The right will protest: gun owners want their weapons in their own possession. They can still have them, but only if those weapons aren’t capable of using large capacity magazines. That’s part of meeting in the middle.

What do we do about all those assault rifles out there now that can accommodate larger magazines? The existing weapons will be sold to the shooting ranges and gun clubs or bartered for access/membership. There could also be a government buyback or trade-in. We can look into what Australia did after their 1996 ban.

How do owners get a rifle that conforms to these new regulations? Here’s what my proposal predicts. Gun manufacturers will design the new rifles and new magazines to fit them. They present an entirely new market for those companies. Every existing owner will need to buy new weapons and the ammunition they use. That’s millions of sales and a profit bonanza.

Commerce drives a lot of the gun control debate. If manufacturers see the opportunity to make money off new regulations, they’ll support them. Businesses are already paying attention to this issue. DICK’S Sporting Goods no longer sells assault style rifles and high-capacity magazines in any of its stores, including Field and Stream. Walmart soon followed suit re the rifles. Both companies raised the minimum age for all gun sales to 21.

I’m not naïve enough to think my proposal will be foolproof or easy to implement. But it provides a way for rifle owners to maintain access to weapons without their being mayhem-enabled. Enthusiasts can use the same weapons they have today by going to a licensed shooting range or gun club (safer than firing at tin cans in a suburban back yard). They can still hunt with something similar to their favorite rifle, but more fairly for Bambi, with an incentive to improve their skill. Surely that will be more satisfying.

Gun control activists will feel this doesn’t go far enough and will take too long to implement. But it will make a dent in the problem if we can get all parties to agree. Can we at least get a dialogue going?

Copyright 2018 Elaine M. Decker

Monday, February 26, 2018

Smarter Glasses

The other night I dreamed that I was walking thru a mall when a woman came up and gave me a big “hello.” Though she called me by my name, I had no idea who she was. I mumbled something about not being able to see who she was because I didn’t have on my “facial recognition” glasses. We chatted a bit and went on our separate ways. I still had no clue who she was or how I knew her.

This dream was odd for several reasons. For one thing, I’m almost never in a mall. More likely we would have met in a supermarket, but you can’t control your dreams. And I’ve never heard of those glasses (which I doubt even exist). Even stranger, in the dream I thought: “This could make a good blog post,” and I actually remembered that when I woke up.

So here it is. I have reading glasses (aka “cheaters”) and driving glasses. But there are other uses for which neither of these is quite right.

Take watching TV for instance. The TV is too close to be in driving range. But some of the type that sometimes crawls along the bottom is too far away for cheaters. Glasses tailored specifically for TV would be a godsend.

Ditto for using the computer. My eye doctor suggested using cheaters that are slightly weaker than my reading ones when I’m on the computer. That helps, but I’m sure there’s a way to improve on this.

How about the mice type on medicine bottles and the RDA panels on groceries? My cheaters need to click into overdrive for me to read those and I’m still left squinting.

And of course, there’s the “facial recognition” ones that started all of this. Someone needs to miniaturize the smart phone technology and pair it with eyeglasses. These "smart glasses" would “talk” to a database of faces, names, and the context of how you know the person. The deluxe model could include names of their family members and pets, birthdays and such. A lot of sales people would pay a bundle for those. They’ be the ultimate “cheaters.”

No one wants to have a half-dozen specialized eyeglasses hanging around their neck. That means the ideal glasses will have all of this technology merged into one pair. It could have a menu that could “drop down” inside your eyelids. You’d blink at the functionality desired and voilà! Customized vision enhancement.

The final feature I’d like to see would be a self-tracking beacon, so I could find where I left the glasses. Or maybe they could walk on their “arms” and find me.

I’m not holding my breath for any of these to become available. So if I don’t recognize you the next time our paths cross in the mall or market, please forgive me. My eyesight and my memory are both on that downward trajectory that comes with age. If you delicately slip into our conversation your name and how I know you, I’ll be glad to tell you all about my idea for smarter glasses.

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Therapy Pets

In case you missed it, a peacock named Dexter was not allowed to board a United Airlines flight with his owner, who claimed he was her emotional-support companion. Over the past few years, passengers have discovered this fine print as a way to avoid paying to have their pets travel with them. Businesses have popped up on-line where for just $30 you can purchase a psychological diagnosis. Present this at check-in and save the $100-plus fee ($200-plus RT) for your Dexter. Or Fido or Fluffy.

The idea of using pets for emotional support is not new and recent studies have confirmed that owning a cat can reduce your risk of heart failure. Earlier studies found the same for dogs, though in that case, the frequent dog walking was a contributing factor. This is no surprise to me; I’ve found that the more cats I have, the more relaxed I feel (except when it comes time to change the litter pans).

Unfortunately for animal lovers, many landlords and condo associations limit the number of pets to two per household. I sometimes point out that if my parents had only two children, I wouldn’t be here. Some of my friends have noted that this could be an argument in favor of limiting a household to two pets.

In any event, Dexter has inspired a way around this restriction. Have a “psychiatrist” prescribe emotional-support animals for each of your psychological issues. Normally, you’d get a diagnosis and choose a companion to match it. For this purpose, you first decide what type of pet you want. Then you search out a diagnosis to support that. Let’s look at examples of how some of these would match up.

If you claim to be bipolar, you’ll need a companion to lift you out of your depression. Kittens are particularly useful for this. Who can stay sad while watching a little, fluffy creature chasing a laser light, batting at a bird that's dancing on a wand, or mauling a fuzzy catnip mouse? Want a kitten? Get diagnosed as bipolar.

Being bipolar will also help you justify a different feline to bring you down from your manic high. If you love a lap cat, this diagnosis is for you. It’s important to “test drive” a cat to make sure that it fits on your lap and that your cushioning syncs up with their preferred lap positioning. Ideally, look for one with a loud purr, a bonus in helping you calm down. This second one will also serve as a companion to the first when it runs out of steam.

Chances are you also suffer from ADHD. It seems like everyone does these days. So you’ll need a third pet to keep you focused. Cats are generally better at distracting their owners than in helping them focus. A dog, on the other hand, will often sit patiently, leash in mouth, waiting for you to pay attention, thus teaching you by example. If you’re a dog person, ADHD is the disorder you’ll want.

Speaking of dogs, what better reason why you’d “need” a French Poodle than being neurotic? Your (hypothetical) neurosis will pale in comparison to that of your fluffy companion. It’s why I stand next to folks who are heavier than I am so I’ll look thinner in photos.

Are you paranoid? (If your landlord or association “police” are snooping around your home, you should be.) This definitely justifies adding a very large (and loud) dog to your brood. Your “doctor” can point out how having such a guard animal in the household will mitigate your “illness.”

Once you’ve adopted several therapy animals, you’ll need yet an additional one to deal with the legitimate PTSD caused by the others. No matter how careful you are in your adoption process, having multiple four-legged creatures in one household will certainly result in some dust ups. You’ll want to add a senior addition to the pack to keep the rest of them in line. Or you might consider a different species altogether for this. A militaristic parrot perhaps?

The crazier you claim to be, the more pets you can justify. Those who know me will not be surprised that I could qualify for an entire cat colony. Please visit your local shelter to find your emotional-support pets. They should have one for each of your psychological needs and it will be a win-win situation.

Be assured that this essay is social satire. It is in no way meant to demean those who suffer from actual psychological problems. As someone pointed out: Many people need their emotional support animals. The presence of some abuse does not mean the system should be dismissed entirely.  I do seriously suggest trying at least one therapy cat or dog. They really can work wonders. Just look at what they’ve done for me. Or maybe don’t…

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Memories of Sisters Past and Future

Because my sister, Barbara, and I have a seven-plus year age difference (we were eight grades apart), we didn’t have many sisterly adventures in our youth. Ones that included our entire family, to be certain, but not a lot with just the two of us. Our sisterly memories are more recent and also ahead of us, I hope.

Barb had two knee replacement surgeries in 2016. I spent two weeks in Vermont with her each time, helping her through the initial rehab. One of my roles was to help in putting on and taking off the compression stocking, a workout for both of us. It took at least ten minutes to put it on. We had to position the toes just right and make sure the heel piece would wind up in the back and not on the side or in front. We joked that it was a bonding experience. I said I was glad she didn't have a third knee.

Barb and I made our first vacation trip together, just the two of us, this past September. We went to Puglia, Italy, one of the few areas that she had never visited. I’d been to the larger cities, but that was it, so I was willing to go anywhere. Barb did all the research and planning. She’d been studying Italian for a few years and it proved to be more useful than she anticipated.

We visited a wide variety of churches and ate many excellent meals. The towns on our planned itinerary were closer than we expected, so we tacked on some smaller ones. They proved to be delightful additions. We took turns driving, alternating days. The weather wasn’t fabulous, but the heaviest rains seemed to come overnight or while we were in museums or having a lengthy meal. We rarely opened our umbrellas.

The photos I took show me that we made some great memories to look back on in future years. They also tell me I need to practice taking selfies. Or get my arms stretched, or else buy a selfie stick.

The notion of future memories took on new meaning for me recently as I looked at Facebook posts of some of my female friends. A college classmate posted a photo of a wedding party she was in a week after we graduated (fifty years ago). She’s a native of Hawaii and that’s where the ceremony took place. One of her other FB friends commented on how beautiful my friend’s sister looked in the photo. It brought tears to my eyes because I knew that her sister, with whom she was very close, died fourteen years ago.

Another friend posted some photos this fall of a trip to her family’s lake cottage in Michigan, where she’d spent summers with her twin sister. The property was being sold, which meant all the childhood treasures—birds’ nests and such—had to be disposed of. It was a bittersweet task, especially because her twin died unexpectedly ten years ago. She was discarding not just her own memories, but her sister’s as well. The two were as close as sisters could possibly be, even though they lived on opposite sides of the country. The nests may be gone, but many wonderful  experiences remain to be cherished and shared on Facebook.

These Facebook posts from my friends merged in my mind and I had a realization. It’s true that when we lose someone we love, especially a sister, we still have our memories to sustain us. But what we lose is not just the person who helped us make those memories and could have shared them with us. We’re also being deprived of the chance to make future ones. That’s a loss that cannot be measured. As much as we cherish the past, we’ll never know what we might have done together in the future.

I’m fortunate to still have my sister in my life and to be able to look forward to making more trips with her to reminisce about in the years to come. I plan to take advantage of this as much as she’ll allow me to. I just hope that none of the new adventures involve compression stockings.

Copyright 2018 Elaine M. Decker

Monday, January 1, 2018

Banned Words and Phrases for 2018

As we round the bend into 2018, it’s time for my annual list of banned words and phrases. I had hoped that, in a departure from last year, they would not be inspired by the presidential election or political mayhem. Fat chance. That influence is inescapable. However, unlike the CDC in Trump’s administration, I’m not forbidding the use of science-based, evidence-based, transgender or diversity. I also chose to take a pass on killing ‘covfefe.’ That’s so over already anyway.

The first word on my 2018 list is ‘sad,’ especially ‘so sad,’ and (worse yet) ‘sad, so sad.’ This word has become so overused that it’s at risk of losing all meaning. We need to save what’s left of it for things that are real tear-jerkers, like six-hankie movies. Or the Syrian and Rohingyan refugees. Consider those uses exempt from the injunction.

Fie on any compilers of 2018’s banned words who don’t include ‘fake news.’ Our president sees two types of news: sympathetic articles that agree with him, and fake news. Certain media outlets are never in his favor and hence are always assumed to be purveyors of fake. So there’s no need for him to call them out on that.

Another phrase that Trump uses ad nauseam that I’m tossing onto the ash heap of lexicography is: ‘That I can tell you.’ In 2017, I dispossessed folks of ‘believe me.’ ‘That I can tell you’ became its replacement, often followed up by ‘I have proof,’ but that professed proof is never presented. You might as well give up ‘I have proof,’ too. That will save me having to ban it in 2019.

Last year I took ‘rigged’ away from everyone. This year I’m following up that prohibition with one against ‘crooked.’ Consider this as punishment for those who continued to use ‘rigged’ against code. I dare you to find another similar word for me to go after in 2019.

I refuse to let anyone say ‘collusion’ in 2018. I put this word on my banned list even before the president used it 16 times in his end of December interview with the NY Times. I don’t care which side of the political aisle you’re on; you need another way to describe it. I’m not naïve enough to think we can live without the concept of collusion. How about using ‘secret cooperation’ instead? I can always outlaw that next year.

It may come as a surprise that I’m also forbidding ‘#metoo.’ While I support the movement, the generic hashtag has become a cliché. It’s been applied to such a broad spectrum of offenses that it’s lost it’s meaning. Harassment is a serious problem. We need to focus on the most egregious examples if we expect to create change. If folks want to hashtag a personal experience, let them be more specific, as in #mepinched or #mebuttslapped.

I’m also done with ‘tipping point.’ Too many bad behaviors reached tipping points last year—fraternity hazing, sexual predation. Likewise for climate change—the California fires, hurricane flooding, polar ice melt. The idea that we don’t pay attention to these issues until they reach a tipping point is unacceptable. If I ban ‘tipping point,’ there’s a chance we’ll address such problems as soon as they arise and not wait for them to tip out of control.

By now we should all have had our fill of the meme inspired by the Bud Light medieval-themed commercials. I’m referring to ‘dilly dilly.’ I’ve always enjoy the refrain when sung in “Lavender Blue,” the 1959 hit by Sammy Turner But the meme has gotten out of hand. Ben Roethlisberger even used it as a snap count in a November NFL game. Really? Admit it. Dilly dilly has become silly silly.

Here’s a phrase that I can do without, and you have CNN correspondent Dana Bash to thank for this one. In 2018, you will no longer be able to ‘put a button on it.’ Find another way to say that you’re summing up the conversation or debate. By the way, ‘put a button on it’ just barely edged out ‘put a pin in it’ for this year’s list.

Finally, say goodbye to ‘pleasure’ when it’s used as a verb, as in “to pleasure oneself.” The images this conjures up make me gag, especially if it’s Harvey Weinstein doing it. It also ruins the word 'pleasure' when it’s used as a noun, and that’s a perfectly good word.

With mid-term elections taking place in 2018, I expect to collect some treasures to ban in 2019. But for now, let’s just put a pin in this.

Monday, November 27, 2017

Perverted Pleasuring

There’s one aspect of sexual harassment that has me scratching my head. It’s all these reports about men getting their rocks off by forcing their victims to watch them get their rocks off. Surely these men don’t think women are turned on watching men “pleasure themselves.” Or if they did think this on their first outing, wouldn’t they eventually have figured out that the ladies’ facial contortions did not reflect the throes of ecstasy? After all, based on the reports, these aren’t one-off occurrences.

Obviously it’s the men who are turned on, and the logical explanation is that it’s about control; it’s a power trip. I let this notion percolate a bit. Then I asked myself: If I were a predator and wanted to force a male to watch me do something he’d find repulsive, what might that be? It didn’t take me long to come up with a list. Needless to say, none of the items involve me “pleasuring myself” sexually. That would no doubt be a turn-on for these offenders. My pleasures lie in things sufficiently abhorrent to qualify as payback.

First, I’d make him sit with me to look at chick flicks on the Hallmark romcom channel. If I were in in a really spiteful mood, I’d then turn to COZI TV and subject him to four back-to-back episodes of the original Will & Grace sitcom. In my area, that show runs from 10 pm to midnight. This seems like an ideal window for a predator to stalk prey, which means a double whammy of two hours of gay humor combined with missing out on prime opportunities for his own predation. I get a tingle just thinking about this torture.

Next, he’d have to look at me eating a huge helping of Breyers vanilla bean ice cream with dark amber maple syrup drizzled all over it. If this sounds like a turn on to some of you, you’ve never seen me dive into a container of ice cream. I don’t have the patience to wait for it to get soft. I attack it with a metal scoop. It’s not pretty. And I don’t share.

If I were feeling particularly perverse, I’d log onto my computer and force him to watch me enter data into the Excel spreadsheet I’ve set up to track what I spend each month. I get excited just thinking about spreadsheets. My columns run all the way to AF and I have close to 1000 rows already. I’d provide a running commentary while formatting breakouts within categories that can be tax deductible (at least until the Republicans pass their new tax plan) and insert subtotals. If your eyes are glazing over right now, just imagine having to sit through it.

At this point, I’d move on to a yoga session. Seeing me wrestle my yoga pants onto my rolls and love handles may not be as revolting as the sight of me excavate myself into a pair of Spanx, but what would come next would be a surefire turn off. My go-to exercise would be the Pawanmuktasana, or as I like to call it: the Breaking Wind Pose. It helps get rid of excess stomach gas. You lie on your back, arms and legs extended; draw your right knee tightly to your chest and clasp your hands around it until you break wind; straighten leg. Reverse and repeat. And repeat and repeat… You get the idea.

Finally, I’d tie him up and practice my saxophone for at least an hour. Ten minutes of this would be observing me wet my reed. While this might get him aroused at first, the next ten minutes while I try to affix that reed to the mouthpiece just so would leave him softer than the reed would be after all that sucking. The remainder of the time—when I would actually be playing—would do him in completely.

Oh, yes. I’m prepared to subject any sexual predator who crosses my path to repulsive pleasuring of my own. I guarantee it will be a long time before he can give himself a happy ending again.

Copyright 2017 Elaine M. Decker

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Sexual Harassment: Shades of Gray in #metoo

The recent spate of accusations of sexual harassment has me assessing where I fit into this conversation. I can’t claim to have been sexually harassed. Discriminated against because of my sex, certainly. But harassed? I don’t think so. A few cases in the media seem like an over-reaction to me, with the indignation out of proportion to the offenses. I’m sorry if that doesn’t sound very feminist. I deplore sexual harassment, but I also see some gray areas in the #metoo campaign.

Truth be told, I may have contributed to language and behavior that some women are now calling harassment. I enjoyed—and shared—raunchy jokes as much as my male colleagues did. I worked in marketing for a Fortune 500 corporation and frequently traveled with the field sales force. Raunchy came with the territory, but I didn’t feel forced into listening. I thought of myself as “one of the guys.”

In my twenties and thirties, I was what could have been described as hot. I began my career during the sexual revolution. Even though I worked in “sophisticated” Manhattan, I was partial to miniskirts. At just shy of five-feet-two, I didn’t have length to work with when it came to my legs, but their shape more than made up for it.

I remember one lunchtime when I was walking past a construction crew in midtown. As I passed their work site, one of them called out: “I think I’m gonna come in my pants.” Since I wasn’t 100% certain there wasn’t someone hotter behind me (with a shorter skirt, if that had been possible), I kept walking and said nothing. What I wanted to do was to answer back: “Better in yours than in mine.” We would have all laughed and I would have won that exchange. I didn’t feel harassed; I was flattered. I suspect most #metooers would take issue with my feelings about cat calls.

I’m now in my seventies and definitely more fat than phat (look it up). Which is probably why I look back fondly on the attention I received in my salad days, especially compared to today. You could graph my receptivity as an inverse bell curve. The attention itself, however, is a steeply declining straight line. Does the fact that I could feel flattered while others might be offended make me complicit?

That sexual revolution I mentioned had us all feeling our way in the business world. I was young and naïve, as were many of my sisters, all of us plodding along in professions that were often men’s domains. I was probably a tad too flirtatious, but I deflected unwanted advances deftly. I didn’t slap someone after an unsolicited kiss (received more than once, but never from the same man). I stated simply and firmly that it was not to happen again. And it didn’t.

If I found myself on the receiving end of an ambiguous touch, I moved away and let my body language and facial expression convey my displeasure. That worked for me. I’m not sure why. Perhaps being “one of the guys” earned me special consideration. Once I moved into a position of power myself, this type of behavior stopped.

What does all of this say about my role in the culture that produced #metoo? In today’s work environment, it seems that nothing sexual is permissible in language or behavior. I don’t know where the line should have been drawn between harmless flirtation and predatory behavior in the sixties and seventies. A young man who worked for me once gave me a box of condoms to take on my vacation to a Club Med. He handed it to me in a brown paper bag and my entire team thought it was hilarious. Would that make him a harasser today? Or me one, for accepting the gift? (Never used, by the way.)

I think we should save our outrage (and media coverage) for the truly dangerous predators. Unfortunately, there’s no shortage of those. Here are my clear signs it’s harassment. You keep saying “stop it” and he keeps doing it. His position of power makes you afraid to say “stop it.” You start comparing notes in the ladies room and discover you’ve all had similar encounters. Persistence. Power. A pattern of behavior. These can all be indications that there’s a predator in your midst.

But if he stops when you tell him to, can’t we just move on instead of texting #one-strike-you’re-out? And if he’s ninety and in a wheelchair when he pats you on your fanny? How about instead of telling the media about it, you pat him back (gently) and sidle out of reach. When you get to be my age, it might be one of your fonder memories.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

What I Learned on My Italy Trip

Coming soon, photos and a mini travelogue of my recent trip to Italy with my sister. In the meantime, here are some things I learned on the trip.

1.     If, on your flight to India two years ago, you thought you had quite a bit of time left on your passport, “quite a bit” will turn out to have been less than two years.
2.     Yes, you can get a passport renewed within 24 hours in the metro New York area, but only if you have an extraordinary nephew and wonderful good friend who live in Westport and Stamford, CT, respectively.
3.     Yes, your sister will still be speaking to you when she has to go on ahead without you for a day and drive back to the airport to pick you up when she is still jet lagged from her own flight. (You need to co-sign the car rental papers in person.)
4.     Those who said you don’t need an International Driver’s Permit, just a U.S. driver’s license for a car rental were 100% correct. Which is too bad, because that photo they took at AAA was awesome. (The one taken at the CVS in Stamford at 11:30 pm for the emergency passport renewal, on the other hand, looks exactly like how you felt at that point.)
5.     Those who told you not to get Amex Travelers Checks because no one accepts them anymore were also 100% correct. (And, yes, they are the same people who nixed the idea of an International Driver’s Permit.)
6.     If there is a seat on a regional flight that is below the cubby with the equipment for the flight attendant’s emergency demo and opposite the cubby with two oxygen tanks, it will be assigned to you. Since you boarded early, you were able to find an empty overhead for your carryon that was still in the same aircraft. But that inch you shrank over the past two years was enough to make you struggle to reach those bins.
7.     If there is a seat on the transatlantic flight that has a broken footrest, it will be yours. Ditto for the hinky electronics that won’t let you easily drag a playing card where you want while playing solitaire.
8.     If you ask five people in Puglia (Tabacchi shop owners, hotel concierge, postal clerk) how much it costs to send a postcard to the U.S., you’ll get five different answers.
9.     If you bring postcards home to mail them after you get back, you’ll need to trim them to get the postcard rate. It turns out most Italian postcards are slightly larger than the USPS template allows. Or at least the ones you bought.
10. You can still have a fabulous trip even if it started out with a fiasco of your own making. But that’s only because your sister has been studying Italian and was willing to be your travel agent, trip planner, banker, accountant and translator.