Thursday, June 30, 2011

Another Viewpoint on the National Debt

I first encountered Fareed Zakaria on ABC's Sunday news show, This Week With George Stephanopoulos. I was struck by both his clarity in thinking and in articulating his thoughts. Frankly, when he left the show, I missed him more than I did George Stephanopoulos, who turned the hosting job for This Week over to Christiane Amanpour last August.

Zakaria was born in India, but came to the U.S. to attend Yale, where he earned his B.A. degree. He later went on to earn a PhD from Harvard. He was formerly the editor for Newsweek International and is currently the editor-at-large for Time as well as the host of the CNN show Fareed Zakaria GPS.

Foreign Policy magazine has begun doing an annual list--one in 2009 and another in 2010--on the Top 100 Global Thinkers. Zakaria was included on both lists.

I say all this as a lead-in to an interview Terry Gross did with Zakaria on Fresh Air this morning. The title of the show was "What Does a 'Post-American World' Look Like?"

Terry asked Zakaria, "... if the U.S. does not raise its debt ceiling, if we end up defaulting on debts, what impact do you think that would have on the U.S. and the global economy?"

Zakaria responded:

"I tend to think it would be catastrophic. And I think that, more importantly, there is a high enough risk here that this is surely a game we don't want to play. What have we learned over the last three years--whether you look at Lehman Brothers and the effect that that collapse had on the world economy? It's that there are these kinds of things that economists call low-probability, high-impact events that you don't want to test. You don't want to see whether this is one of those things that is an unlikely situation, but once it happens could have a huge seismic global effect, because then the cost of dealing with that--the after-effects--is just cataclysmic.

"I think it would be huge. The United States has never defaulted on its debt. It is the leading country in the world. It has the reserve currency of the world, and I think it is madness for us to be doing this when Congress is, in effect, already mandated that we borrow more money. This is what I don't understand. By choosing to spend money at a certain level and setting tax revenues at another level, a lower level, what Congress has implied is we're going to have to borrow the difference, right? So raising the debt ceiling is the logical consequence of Congress's decision to spend a certain amount of money and to tax at a lower level.

"How can you have second thoughts about this when you, Congress, was the one that set these levels in the first place? And besides which, it's unconstitutional. The 14th Amendment very clearly says the validity of America's credit and its debts cannot be questioned. I don't have the exact phrase, but it's about as clear as you can get. And so for people who believe in the Constitution, it is to me, beyond bizarre that they're doing this. And I think that President Obama should if he is forced to assert that what Congress is doing is unconstitutional and simply use his a executive authority to do what he needs to, to make sure that the United States makes good on its debts."

To listen to the entire interview, go here.

Monday, June 27, 2011

e-Book Reader Ownership Doubles in Six Months

The Pew Internet Project began keeping track of e-reader use two years ago in April, 2009.

Today they reported:
The share of adults in the United States who own an e-book reader doubled to 12% in May, 2011 from 6% in November 2010 ...

Both e-book reader and tablet computer adoption levels among U.S. adults are still well below that of other tech devices that have been on the market longer. Cell phones are far and away the most popular digital device among U.S. adults today, followed by desktop and laptop computers, DVRs, and MP3 players.
Go here to read the report.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Finding a Home for Grendel

Okay, I'm back again.

A challenging month. One made worse by my habit of acting like the Florence Nightingale of the animal world. This tendency of mine becomes more pronounced during hot weather. I've picked up a strange dog during June or July for the past three years.

A week after my surgery, on my way home from work, I saw a very large yellow lab on the road. He appeared to be trying to find a specific driver; he kept approaching moving cars near the driver side window.

I got half a mile down the road, arguing with myself. On the mind-your-own-business side: he was huge, didn't have a collar and I knew nothing about his temperament. On the other hand: he clearly was in distress and wanting help, it was dusk and soon to be dark and he was sure to get killed if he continued to stay in the middle of the road.

At the next opportunity, I turned around and headed back. I'd decided my involvement would be determined upon on whether he came when I called to him.

I stopped my car on the shoulder, rolled down my window and called to him.

He came bounding across two lanes of traffic toward me. I opened the door, and the fool animal tried to climb into my Toyota across my lap. I shouted, "No!" and he recoiled.

I climbed out of the car and offered my hand for him to smell. He sniffed once and immediately leaped into the car, settling himself into the passenger seat.

I was appalled. I guesstimated his weight at approximately 100 lbs. My vet later weighed him in at 110. He was so big, he knocked my transmission out of gear on the way home.

The next week was a blur of activity. I christened the behemoth "Grendel" for the monster in Beowulf. He was a mass of contradictions:
  • Friendly but not needy. He was content to lie quietly nearby wherever I was.
  • Obedient but unaware of simple commands. Fortunately, he was VERY food-oriented. He learned "sit" in about twenty minutes.
  • Beautifully kept but without a identity chip. I realized pretty quickly he had a nasty ear infection. He was also at least 30 lbs overweight.
  • A purebred lab who had been neutered at a very young age.
I took him to my vet to be scanned for a chip, weighed and treated. My very wonderful vet gave us 30 minutes and charged me only $19--the cost of the ear medicine. He told me Grendel was clearly a purebred who had been a house dog. His fur and paws showed no sign of his ever being an outside dog. He hypothesized that Grendel had belonged to an elderly person who overfed and didn't exercise him.

Being a writer, I took that story and ran with it. "An ill person might not have noticed the beginnings of his ear infection. Maybe Grendel's owner died or had to be hospitalized, and a relative put him in the backyard. He figured out how to open my gate in about five minutes. I'll bet he escaped from wherever and got lost."

The vet nodded. "He probably tried to return to his owner's house."

The bad news was that my vet told me Grendel could not be left in my yard. "He has no experience as a yard dog. With his weight, this heat will kill him."

That complicated my life unbelievably. My roommate was already furious. Undeterred by Grendel's size, my little 12-lb. cat took every opportunity to leap out and attack Grendel. The first time I shouted, "No," Grendel figured out his continued residence in my home was dependent upon getting along with this tiny, nasty, spitting creature. He studiously ignored Bob from that moment forward, which only infuriated my little kamikaze feline. Bob would slash at Grendel at every opportunity. Fortunately, the lab's thick fur protected him.

Leaving Grendel inside meant I had section the rooms off so each animal had his part of the house. It also meant I had to come straight home from work to let the dog out. Because of the heat, I confined our walks to 6:15 in the morning and 10:30 at night.

Nighttime was a nightmare. My bedroom became the battlefield. Grendel abandoned his calm exterior at bedtime. He WANTED to sleep in my bed. Of course, my four-poster belonged to Bob.

Like Solomon, I made an executive decision which offered a compromise to all parties involved. Grendel might want to sleep in my bed. I would allow him to sleep beside my bed. The bed belonged to Bob, who spent every night with his little triangular head hanging over the side of the mattress, hoping for a chance to slash at Grendel from above. I slept badly, waking up every couple of hours to see what was going on.

Desperate to get my life back, I hung "Found Dog" signs all over the neighborhood in which I'd found Grendel and knocked on doors, showing his photo to homeowners, hoping for a clue. I haunted the Internet. I contacted local vets. All to no avail. No one knew Grendel, and no one appeared to be looking for him. That only reinforced my belief that his owner had died.

After a week, I switched my efforts from "locate owner" to "locate new owner." I sent emails to a couple of people who belong to large, networked church communities in Dallas. Within two days, I began to do phone interviews of potential new owners. Last Sunday, I surrendered Grendel to a young minister at one of the largest churches in Dallas. He was originally looking for a dog for his sister, but during my home visit when his setter bitch and Grendel fell in love, he began to wonder if he should keep him.

Grendel and Sami played happily together while we watched, smiling. I got up to leave, and Grendel immediately followed me to the door. I kissed him goodbye, and his new owner held the lab tightly while I slipped outside.

Came home and collapsed into my bed with Bob purring contentedly beside me.

Wednesday, June 08, 2011

A Quick Note

I had my surgery on Tuesday. Arrived at the surgeon's office at 9 AM and was home by 2 PM.

At the moment, my left eye is still nearly swollen shut. Since I have monovision contacts, it is difficult to read without my left eye.

I've been applying ice packs for about ten minutes of every hour and am hoping that tomorrow the swelling will be down enough that I will be back and posting again.

Friday, June 03, 2011

Beginning a Healthy Life

On the weekends, I'm going to start keeping a diary of my efforts to move toward a healthier life style. I want a written record for myself and decided some of you might be interested, too. If not, just skip the weekend blogs.

On March 1, I rejoined Snap Fitness, a local gym that is part of a national chain here. Snap Fitness has several things in its favor:
  1. It's not far from my home.

  2. It's open 24/7, which means I can work out after 9 PM at night--a time when I am wide awake and physically loose.

  3. I didn't have to sign a year's contract with all kinds of ugly clauses. I go month-to-month for about $35, and I can ask them to not bill me for several months if I know I'm not going to be able to attend.
I decided early on that I would do a mile a day on the treadmill and then mix up other exercises in addition. My internist recommended changing my routine every three weeks to keep my body from settling into a rut. She also recommended working out four or five times a week for 30 to 45 minutes.

After three months, I've found my pattern. Two weeks of the month I do five nights a week and, two weeks of the month, I do four nights a week. Which nights depend on my own schedule and preference. I'm not rigid about it. Right now I'm spending an hour each time I work out. I started at 40 minutes a visit the first month, went to 50 minutes the second month and am now at 60 minutes.

Diabetes doesn't run in my family; it gallops. I am controlled by diet with a pill a couple of times a day. I have made small changes to my diet over this three months. Initially, I started by having oatmeal with cinnamon and blueberries five days a week. Then I added a 10:30 AM snack (usually a Kind bar--they are fabulous--see here) and a 3:30 PM snack (usually an apple and cheese, or a banana and guacamole. I HATE peanut butter).

Lunch is where I concentrate my day's carbs. I'll have a loaded baked potato or--another favorite--Jimmy John's roast beef sandwich with lettuce, tomato and mayo.

The hardest thing for me has been giving up processed foods. I'll talk about that another time.

I started listening to my body more and learned that I NEED to eat between 5:00 and 6:00 PM. I usually have some protein (veal scallopine--the easiest thing in the world to make), or a piece of chicken or beef fajitas. If I'm going out to dinner with friends, I have the same thing.

I like a snack before I go to bed. I don't care if all the experts say you shouldn't eat before you go to sleep. My body demands a snack. My three most common snacks are the Kind dark chocolate and cherry cashew bar, or pineapple cream cheese on Ritz crackers or just grapes.

In three months, I've lost 15 pounds and overall about 12 inches. I do my own measurements so that the gym isn't giving me hooey in an effort to keep me as a member. I've gone down three pants sizes.

This is kind of a sad story to tell on myself, but here it is:

About six weeks into my little program, I noticed lines forming under my rib cage on either side. I realized they were the beginnings of abs. I started calling them my "baby abs." Each week the lines became more pronounced. My abdomen also started hurting almost all the time (largely because, during the day while I was walking or driving, I would suck in my gut and hold it for the count of 30).

This week, I got out of the shower and realized there was a vertical pouchy place in the shape of a diamond between my two horizontal ab lines.

I panicked. I thought, "Oh, my God, I've herniated myself!" Then I stared at it closer and ran to the Internet to pull up a diagram of a set of abs (see here). I quickly realized it was my linea alba making its first appearance. The linea alba is a long strip of fascia--fibrous tissue that runs down the middle of your abdomen, splitting the six-pack into its sections. So now I have a vertical baby ab in addition to my horizontal one.

Of course, I've been pulling up my shirts all week to show my baby abs to my nearest and dearest! My loved ones have been very tolerant.
That's it for this week.

Thursday, June 02, 2011

The Book Expo YA Buzz

BookExpo America 2011 took place last week in New York from May 23 to the 28th. One of the most popular sessions is the Young Adult Buzz panel where editors from various houses promote their upcoming books. This year's panel included five editors who summarized their books:

1) Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor
Alvina Ling, editor at Little Brown and Company

Alvina described the book as a story told backward with this tag line: "Once upon a time, an angel and a devil fall in love. It did not end well."

2) Carrier of the Mark by Leigh Fallon
Erica Sussman of HarperCollins

Erica explained that the book begins with Megan moving to Ireland with her father. She learns she carries the power of the element Air. She falls in love with Adam, who carries the mark for Water. She also meets his brother (who has the mark for Fire) and his sister (who has the mark for Earth). Megan and Adam are told that carriers of the mark cannot be together without disastrous consequences.

3) Au Revoir, Crazy European Chick by Joe Schrieber
Margaret Raymo from Houghton Mifflin

Margaret said the tag line for this humorous YA novel is "Ferris Bueller Meets La Femme Nikita." Perry is a senior in high school whose mother persuades him to take a Lithuanian girl named Gobi to the prom. He discovers to his horror that Gobi is really an assassin who has five targets on her hit list for the night.

4) The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer by Michelle Hodkin
Courtney Bongiolatti of Simon & Schuster

Mara Dyer is at a sleepover where she and her three friends play with a ouija board. She wakes up in a hospital with no memory of how she got there and why she is not harmed although her friends were killed.

5) Down the Mysterly River by Bill Willingham
Susan Chang of Tor Forge

Susan described this book as a fable about a boy scout who wakes up in a woods where he meets a talking badger, barn cat and bear. The four are chased by a group of hunters known as the Blue Cutters (because of their swords).

It's pretty telling that four of the five books have paranormal themes and three of the five books have female protagonists. If I had to pick one of the five to read it would probably be Au Revoir, Crazy European Chick.

I'll talk about the Adult Buzz session later.