Tuesday, March 30, 2010

But Who Speaks for the Weather?

Today’s topical Tuesday entry is a response to today’s article in The New York Times titled “Among Weathercasters, Doubt on Warming” by Leslie Kaufman, March 29, 2010.
Link to article here: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/03/30/science/earth/30warming.html?th&emc=th

It appears that the global warming theory is taking hits from an unlikely source: the nation’s weathermen and weatherwomen. According to the NY Times article “Among Weathercasters, Doubt on Warming” by Leslie Kaufman, a recent study revealed that “more than a quarter of the [nation’s] weathercasters…agreed with the statement ‘Global warming is a scam.’”

Naturally, this is of great concern to those who believe in global warming. Why? Because poor, simple-minded saps all over America—myself included, I suppose—are sitting on our couches eating potatoes and trusting our TVs to tell us what to think. And our TVs are inhabited by a large portion of weather-people who don’t believe in global warming. We are in great danger that these people may express their right to freedom of expression by telling us their opinions. We poor, simple-minded Americans might actually consider two sides of the story instead of just one. And we might even form our own opinion instead of letting someone else form our opinions for us.

This would be a bummer for Al Gore if he hadn’t already won his Oscar. And personally, I would expect it to be a bummer to researchers who were hoping to get money to study something like—oh, I don’t know, cancer?—and had to study Al Roker instead. But I digress.

I know the global-warmers are going to demand a solution for this problem in public opinion. I, for one, am a little disturbed by what I expect that solution to be. But it’s inevitable. Soon and very soon, I am going to tune into the news for the local weather report, and I’m going to find myself staring into the eyes of Sean Penn. He’ll be standing in front of a thermostat that reads 95 degrees, and he’ll wag his finger at me in shame and say, “It would be a lot nicer tomorrow afternoon if it wasn’t so sunny and if you weren’t using so much hairspray.”

I feel tremendously guilty already, and it’s not even summer yet. And I live in Tulsa and it’s really windy here, and I need my hairspray. But I guess I’ll just have to stop caring how I look in order to be “environmentally friendly.” If I look like Michael Moore next time you see me, please don’t be disappointed. Without hairspray, there’s only so much I can do. Blame Sean Penn. Not me. Thanks for understanding.

Copyright (c) 2010 by Michele Chiappetta. All rights reserved.

Friday, March 26, 2010

What Constitutes a Bad Day

It's philosphical Friday again, but I'm not feeling philosphical. Honestly, I'm struggling for a subject today...perhaps because I'm tired. You'll see how that fact connects to my topic as you read today's entry.

I might categorize today as a "bad day." Please, don't worry! I don't mean that in the worst sense, not at all. I mean that in a casual sense. It's not a horrible day. Not a crisis. Not a trauma. Not an emergency. Just a normal, mundane, average "bad day."

What do I mean? Well, I'm tired. I stayed up late last night reading (nerd that I am), and as a consequence I had to drag myself out of bed this morning. (And it's approaching that time of the month...sorry to any male readers if that's too much information.) I'm just not energetic, and I'm never at my best when I'm feeling tired. That's just that way it is. Which means that while it's not a horrible day, it's not great either, because I'm not performing at top capacity.

What constitutes a bad day? For me, it's a day in which I'm just not getting much done...not at my best...waiting for the day to be over, but the hours are dragging... A day of "blahness."

I imagine other people would define their "bad days" differently. Isn't that interesting? We define so many ideas through our own points of view, our own strengths and weaknesses, likes and dislikes. It's easy to assume we're agreed on the meaning of terms, when in fact we're not. I don't think anyone agrees of what makes a bad day. But if we talk about it, we can understand each other better. That's a cool thought, isn't it? We can draw closer to one another through communication...even if we don't agree. (And that really is philosophical.)

So, what constitutes a bad day for you? And for that matter, what constitutes a good day for you? After all, I hate to leave you (and myself) on a negative note. So, what is a good day? For me, a good day is filled with energy, peace, accomplishment, and connection to God and other people. (And good food...because I like to eat.) A good day is when I feel centered, when I feel like I'm being exactly who I'm supposed to be, and I'm at my best.

Funny...As I'm writing this, I'm feeling more energized, more optimistic, perhaps because I'm being the writer that God made me to be. See what I mean? Doing what I'm good at, and doing it well enough to satisfy me...It makes me feel good, and suddenly, it's a good day.

I've waxed philosophical long enough. I've managed a blog entry today, despite my mild fatigue. And I'm remembering just how much I love to write and communicate my thoughts to others. Hmm. It's not such a bad day, after all.

Copyright (c) 2010 by Michele Chiappetta. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Why You Will Never Lose Weight

Today's topical Tuesday blog springs from an article in the health section of MSNBC's online news. Why am I always picking on MSNBC? Because I'm on that website at least once a day, and their articles often crack me up, for reasons I'm about to spell out.

According to the most recent pointless, federally sponsored health study to make the news, flabby older women aren’t going to lose their flab if they don’t work out enough and don’t cut calories.

Duh. (But at least you now know where your federal tax dollars are going.)

It takes an hour of moderate exercise a day for women of a certain age to maintain their weight without dieting, according to the study’s lead author, Dr. I-Min Lee. I’m not sure where Lee is, or why the doctor is there, but I guess that’s not important. What is important is that approximately 87% of the 34,079 women who participated in the 13-year study couldn’t maintain their weight. These poor, mass-increasing mamas were around 54 on average when the study began, which means they were around 67 when it ended, and over 13 years, they gained an average of 6 pounds.

That’s right. Just 6 pounds. And these ladies are in their 60s. But we’re not giving them any slack for suffering the slight increase in weight that is a result of natural aging. Oh, and did I mention that only women were included in the study? So we don’t find out what happens to the average weight of men between the ages of 54 and 67. (Please ignore the paunch under the tee-shirt just like you should ignore the small man behind the curtain.) Well, I suppose I should consider this choice to study only women “fair.” It’s only the weight of women that matters, right? No one cares if men are fat, right? (Except for their poor wives!)

Please don’t make any judgments based on your visits to Grandma and Grandpa. What you see with your own eyes isn’t sufficient to form an intelligent opinion. That requires science… pointless science in this case…since it is pretty obvious that if you don’t work out enough to work off the excess calories you eat, you’ll get fat. I think we all know that, right?

Actually, we don’t. MSNBC offers links to its related health content. These three articles are titled (and I quote):

  1. “Interval training can cut exercise hours sharply.” Good. Now those old ladies don’t have to work out more than an hour a day after all.
  2. “Is exercise worth your time? Genes tell.” Good. Now those old ladies don’t have to waste time working out if their DNA says not to bother.
  3. “Too much exercise can lead to overuse injuries.” Bad. Now those old ladies who are working out enough to maintain their weight are doomed to get injured, which will result in their being laid up in bed, which will result in their gaining weight.
It seems to me—simple-minded lay person that I am—that all these studies and experts are negating what Dr. I-Min Lee’s study just proved. But I guess that’s just me. John Foreyt, a behavioral medicine expert from Baylor, disagrees with me. He says that the study “reinforces in a nice, clear way the idea of how difficult it is to maintain a healthy weight in our society.” I’m so glad it didn’t reinforce the truth in a muddy, confusing way, and heaven forbid, in a mean, vindictive way. I hate mean, vindictive studies. Our federal tax dollars should never be used for them.

All these conflicting studies just go to show the real reason you will never lose weight: because you will never know what to do if you listen to the results of the studies. And you probably do listen to them. So you’re doomed. Sorry to be the bearer of bad news.

Now, I’m not nearly 54 yet, so I don’t have to worry about the results of this study for several years. But I don’t think this study applies to me anyway. If I can’t keep off the flab when I’m older, I already know the reason: my addiction to Cheeze-Its. When will someone fund a study about these delicious crackers? Only time will tell.

Copyright © 2010 by Michele Chiappetta. All rights reserved.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Redefining the Past and Letting Go

Today is philosophical Friday. It’s a serious post, folks. A life lesson I’m in the process of learning and mastering. May it give you some sort of insight.

It’s funny how memories of the past can take on a life of their own. If you’re cursed with the bug of self-recrimination, as I have been for much of my life, you tend to rehearse the past and try to find out where you went wrong.

Reviewing past events is not always a bad habit. Without any self-examination at all, how would you grow? How would you change for the better? Christian psychologist Dr. Henry Cloud describes repentance as “getting it,” and then because you “get it,” you make a change. I agree with him. I don’t think you can have an a-ha moment without taking a second look at events that didn’t go so well for you.

But excessive rehearsal, as though you can fix the past, is futile. I am learning to let go of this behavior and give myself a break. Right now, I’m more inspired than ever to do so.

Not too long ago, I lost my brother. As part of my grieving process, I am looking at my past to identify anything I still need to grieve. That’s the overachiever in me—get it all over with at once. I’m doing some exercises designed to help me grieve and let go. One of them made me remember the first church I attended after I gave my life to Jesus Christ.

This church seemed fine on the surface, but underneath the surface it was very messed up. The pastor was abusive to his wife verbally and physically. He was abusive to his children, mostly the stepson from the wife’s previous marriage. He was a control freak who demanded total obedience and ostracized those who rejected his control. It was a real bad mess. I ended up getting kicked out of the church, although I was planning to leave anyway. The pastor just insisted on beating me to the punch so he could feel good about himself.

Over the years, I’ve regretted some of my time there. I've felt that I was far too trusting, took things way too much at face value, and didn’t speak up for myself enough. I’ve beaten myself up over it. You know the drill: “I should have done this. I should have said that. I should have refused to put up with that.” But I'm looking at this past experience differently now, because I had an a-ha moment. I got it.

I asked myself (as part of my grief exercise), “How would things have been different if...?"  What an amazing question! It occurred to me that if I had been less trusting and left that church sooner, I would also have left disillusioned and cynical about God. I would have concluded that all pastors are liars and the Christian faith is not worth much. I might never have set foot in a church again, on the assumption that “spiritual” people are lunatics. I’d have quit.

But my youthful idealism led me to be trusting. As a result, I stuck around the church, and I got to know God and the Bible pretty well. When I left the church, I left with my faith and my relationship with God intact. I think that’s impressive. God preserved me, right in the midst of the abuse and madness. And then He delivered me out of it.

When I realized that, I also realized that He preserved my parents too, and my brother. God kept us all safe in His arms, and none of us quit on God. That’s an amazing achievement in the face of a harsh truth about that particular so-called pastor. That man was a mess. But God isn’t a mess. Somehow, my entire family—myself included—has kept the truth about God in our hearts, and it has enabled us to persevere in our faith.

This is an a-ha worthy of completely redefining how I view that time in my life. Yeah, the mess happened. But it didn’t destroy me. I was preserved in the mess. My faith endured, because it’s real. I can actually be proud of myself for that. And thankful to God too. I can let go of the self-recriminations and move on with my life.

I got it.

*Insert smiley face here*

Copyright © 2010 by Michele Chiappetta. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

What Makes Good TV? And Why Aren't I Tuning In?

Today's topical Tuesday entry looks at what makes good TV, at least according to Entertainment Weekly.

Apparently, I have no taste.

I have come to this conclusion after reviewing Entertainment Weekly's list of the 10 best shows on television right now and realizing that I don't watch any of them.

Now, I'm not one of those Christians who watches no TV, or only religious TV, or only the news, or only one movie every six months. Of course, I'm not in front of the TV all the time either, but I do turn it on throughout the week, and to regular network channels too, like the rest of the world. So I thought that I'd find at least one of the shows I like on Entertainment Weekly's list—in other words, at least one validation that I'm an intelligent TV viewer with good taste. At least one of ten shows. A ten percent chance. Alas, no luck at all. I have no taste.

In case you're interested, the shows that made the EW list are as follows: 10. Caprica, 9. Damages, 8. Southland, 7. Glee, 6. Modern Family, 5. Fringe, 4. Friday Night Lights, 3. Lost, 2. Breaking Bad, and 1. The Good Wife.

In my defense, I have to say that four of these shows are on cable, which I don't have right now. I saw Southland once or twice while it was on network TV and thought it looked promising, but it quickly moved to TNT so I can't watch it anymore. I've missed so many episodes of Lost from previous seasons that I'd need five weeks on a deserted island just to get caught up and pretend that I know what is happening on the show right now. I've watched The Good Wife and it seems good, but I don't catch it often enough to say I'm a regular viewer of it. And I would have tried Glee by now if I hadn't seen those unfortunate Xbox commercials featuring Glee's weird female coach. Dude, that woman creeps me out in a bad, bad way. Choosing to tune her in once a week? I shudder.

Just what makes good TV anyway? The EW critic mentions what he likes about each show on his top 10 list, but there's not enough information to help me see why he didn't choose any of the shows I like. Why didn't Chuck make the list? It's very funny, but is it too nerd-specific? What about NCIS and NCIS: Los Angeles? The writing on both is excellent—snappy dialogue, and characters with edges who still manage to perform well as a team. Burn Notice is smart, funny, and entertaining. The buddy relationship in White Collar is one of my favorites ever—classic in the way that The Odd Couple was classic. Why didn't any of these shows make the list?

I thought I was discerning, in the caliber of the most brilliant media minds of our day. Like Roger Ebert. Or maybe even Al Roker. But the EW list has lumped me in with those people who watch The Bachelor or Deal or No Deal. I feel like a TV viewing failure. And I don't know how to cope, except to put on my fuzzy slippers, wrap myself in a blanket, and comfort myself in the way that most Americans comfort themselves—with some popcorn, soda, and...oh, I don't know...some TV?


Copyright (c) 2010 by Michele Chiappetta. All rights reserved.

Friday, March 12, 2010

The Art of Discipline…and the Art That Comes From It

This blog post is inspired by both the lateness of this post, and by my determination not to allow that lateness to make me break my word to myself to post on Fridays. So, enjoy!

It is now 8:05 p.m. on Friday night, and rather late for me to preparing a post for my blog. My current goal is to write my blog twice weekly, uploading a new post on the mornings—yes, the mornings—of Tuesdays and Fridays. Clearly, 8:05 p.m. is much, much closer to Saturday morning than it is to Friday morning. I’m more than slightly past my deadline.

So I thought it might be appropriate to write a post on discipline. Although, to be honest, I didn’t write this particular post on time because I had three major work projects this week that afforded me a good amount of overtime, while stealing away the time I need for my personal writing. But to be even more honest, I can’t claim discipline as my strongest talent. And it makes a good topic for a philosophical blog post. So here goes…

According to the Merriam-Webster online dictionary, the word discipline is defined as:
(1) Punishment
(2) Training that corrects, molds, or perfects the mental faculties or moral character
(3) Control gained by enforcing obedience or order; orderly or prescribed conduct or pattern of behavior; self-control
(4) A rule or system of rules governing conduct or activity

Ah, yes. That’s why I struggle with developing discipline. It feels like punishment, because I don’t want to follow the rules!

I jest. But seriously… It is not easy to train ourselves, to mold ourselves with enough patience, forethought, and perseverance in the face of pain until we perfect our mental faculties. And moral character? Ha! That’s even harder. For while I do believe that God can help us in this arena of developing discipline and especially moral character, I also know that He never promised that process of developing self-control would be a stroll in a rose garden. It’s not even a stint in a weed garden. It’s more like a marathon trek through the Amazon jungle. To carve out a path, you need to get out that machete and start hacking. And expect to sweat.

Blogging is proving to be a wonderful way to discipline myself to the act of thinking, developing ideas, writing them down, and publishing them for an audience. I will never say this is easy, because my goal isn’t just to write something, anything. My goal is to write something meaningful, to hone my skills and my writing voice, and to eventually gain an audience who will buy books when I write them. This is no little trifle. This is a means to an end.

And as such, it truly does require discipline. I do need to perfect the mental agility in all things connected to effective writing. And I definitely need to mold my moral character, because if I intend to say things that are meaningful, I also want to say things that are helpful and healthy, and I believe that requires morality. It requires a good, strong heart…the kind that comes from becoming more like God, not less. And that sort of character only develops through training, because left to our own devices, we all tend toward the path of least resistance. And that path is never the most moral.

So I have bent myself to the training wheel of discipline. I have finished my blog post for tonight. It is going up now at 8:30 p.m. Friday. Not as early as planned, but on the right day as planned. And I am not at all sorry I spent my evening writing this post. I think my writing is worth it. And for the four or five people who read this blog regularly right now, I know you’re worth it too.

Copyright © 2010 by Michele Chiappetta. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Headlines not exactly heady

Today’s topical Tuesday blog post...My thoughts on some of the current news stories (mostly headlines, one quote) on MSNBC. Just because they're "Head"-lines doesn't mean someone used their brains to write them.

1. A top story headline reads: “Public pension funds are ‘going to Vegas’: States, government bodies are increasing investment risk to raise returns.” This headline doesn't need much explanation. Local governments are behind in funds, so they're making riskier investments. But don’t you wish they had worded that headline differently? We all know that what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas. My tax money is like Elvis. It’s left the building and it isn’t coming back.

2. In an article about Israeli-U.S. relations, Joe Biden is quoted as saying, “There is no space between the United States and Israel when it comes to Israel's security.” Maybe it’s just me. But if I’m Israel and I’ve got Joe Biden pressing the flesh with me, I have to say I’d want my personal space. A little more room here, please? Please?

3. How about this headline: “Detroit wants to save itself by shrinking”? Can you shrink a city? Can you get Rick Moranis to help you with that? A reboot of the “Honey, I Shrunk the Kids” series could help Hollywood and Detroit at the same time.

4. I see they’re comparing the “Hurt Locker” win over “Avatar” at the Oscars to the fight between David and Goliath. Umm…Not quite.

5. Simon Cowell is engaged. The headline reads: “Is the world ready for little Simon Cowells?” I guess we’re supposed to imagine little kids being sarcastic, rude, and disrespectfully honest. I’m thinking that if we ask any elementary school teachers we know, they’ll say their classrooms are already full of kids like this, without Simon Cowell’s help. Just the world we live in today, right?

Copyright (c) 2010 by Michele Chiappetta. All rights reserved.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Shallow Lyrics...A Sign of the Times?

This is philosophical Friday. And I admit this read may be a bit of a downer, but the subject matter makes me sad. I worry about the lack of critical thinking in our society. I worry about the selfishness and the inability to see life objectively instead of subjectively. It only breeds problems for us, and it'll only grow worse, I think. But we still have to fight it.

I visited with a friend last night, and she was telling me about a minor dilemma that she's facing. She has been looking for some good Christian music to add to her CD collection. But she can't find anything that is both musically excellent and lyrically edifying. In other words, either the music stinks, or the words don't provoke her to think, to grow, to feel encouraged, or anything else that you'd like from lyrics that are labeled as "spiritual."

It seems to me that this problem infects non-Christian music too. Lyrics are shallow. They're self-referential. Self-involved. Self-ish, to be more accurate. Even so-called spiritual music is just as self-centered as the non-spiritual stuff. Why is this?

My friend and I tossed some ideas around. Maybe Christian singers today don't have time to read their Bibles. Maybe they don't know much about what the Bible says. Maybe they don't study, or don't know how to express theological ideas. But I don't think that's it. I think young people today, whether they are practicing Christians or not, are so hung up on themselves and their personal experience of life that they have no perspective of the big picture. And how could they? We haven't taught them to see.

I've noticed this problem as I've taught freshman writing classes at community colleges on the East Coast and in Oklahoma. Students are so totally convinced that they know everything, it's hard to teach them how to write a critical analysis paper or an argument essay. They can't really understand or emphathize with those who don't see life their way. They see only their own side of things. What a dangerous way to think!

But it's what they've learned... It's not just encouraged, it's mandatory to go through life as if you are the center of your universe. But there can be only one center of the universe. Not millions. Not billions. So, billions of people can't all be the center of things. What happens when we realize this? We tell ourselves that we're the real center of the universe, and everyone else is mistaken. Unfortunately, when you think you know the right way and you think everyone else is wrong, you become a source of destruction instead of life.

I'm troubled by shallow lyrics these days, because I think they are a sign of the times. And it's not a good sign. It's a warning sign...Bridge Out Ahead. I wonder how many people will recognize the sign and stop in time. And I wonder how many people will plunge ahead and fall?

Copyright (c) 2010 by Michele Chiappetta. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Dim Bulbs Equal Dumb Research

In today’s Topical Tuesday entry, you’ll find out that dim bulbs and dishonesty go hand-in-hand. And no, I don’t mean “that” kind of dim bulb…

You’ll be glad to know that the trend toward “dumb” research continues. “Dumb” research is the name I’m giving to scientific studies that waste precious money and precious time to find out something that everyone already knows.

This week’s dumb research report made it onto the MSNBC website on March 1, 2010, in a piece titled “Dim light makes people dishonest, study finds.” The study in question concluded that people are more likely to engage in immoral behaviors when they feel as though they are hidden. A stunning revelation! (http://today.msnbc.msn.com/id/35647898/ns/health-behavior/)

(In another stunning revelation, the article neglects to cite the first experimenters to discover the connection between hiding and the decision-making process. I’m referring to the well-known scientific husband-and-wife team known as Adam and Eve, who not only tested hiding for themselves but also marketed a short-lived, ecologically “green” clothing line in conjunction with their study.)

Today, however, scientific studies are conducted in a more professional and far more rigorous manner with the most effective test subjects known to science—college students.

In one test, 84 students were put in dimly lit or brightly lit rooms, asked to do math, score their results, and then reward themselves by paying themselves 50 cents for each correct answer. In the dimly lit room, more students took more money than they were entitled to. Personally, I suspect the kids in the study paid themselves the wrong amount because they don’t know how to add without a calculator. But I’m not paid the big bucks to conduct scientific studies, so what do I know?

In another study, students wearing sunglasses were more likely to cheat people out of money than students wearing clear glasses, because the dark glasses made them feel more anonymous. Believe it or not, this finding actually confirms the results of a previous study, which proved that when people wear hoods, they’re more likely to engage in crime. I’m not sure if the “hood” study was conducted on a college campus or at the local police department, but I suppose that detail doesn’t matter.

While no practical applications from the aforementioned studies have been officially released, I’d like to offer my own, unofficial suggestion for concerned citizens throughout this great country of ours. If you find yourself in a dark room with someone wearing a hood and sunglasses, run like hell!

(I think that earns me my 50 cents for today.)

Copyright (c) 2010 by Michele Chiappetta. All rights reserved.