Archive | January, 2012

Top Stawar News Stories for 2011

28 Jan

As 2011 came to an end, it’s traditional for journalists to review the most important new items of the past year. On New Year’s Eve,  our local newspapaer, published its annual list of the top ten Southern Indiana news stories. The closure of a major bridge across the Ohio River, the Floyd County prosecutor’s removal from a controversial murder trial case, and the failure to renew a local School  District’s Superintendent’s contract all topped the list.

The impact of these stories on the day-to-day lives of local residents, however, is debatable. Some things like the bridge closure might be important for many of us, but other stories probably have little, if any, relevance. Perhaps a more useful endeavor would be to examine the top stories for smaller groups, such as specific families. The paper said that “It was a year of stops and starts for Southern Indiana”. Likewise it was a year of ups and downs for the Stawar family. To that end below are the top ten news items impacting the Stawar family for 2011.

Top Ten Stawar News Stories of 2011

#10. Granddaughter Signs up for Basketball Team Again, Hoping She Will Actually Make a Basket this Year: Our middle granddaughter signed up to play basketball in a church league next year. In 2011 was she was a rookie and it was very rough. She never made a single basket all year (including in practice). This year it looks like she’ll be able to finally sink a few. Stawar athletic hopes spring eternal.

#9. Cat-tastrophy,  Family Feline Trapped in Spare Bedroom for Four Days.  This summer we went on a short trip and planned to leave  our cat, Claus, at home. Just before we left Claus snuck into the spare bedroom that we had  set up as a home office.  The door was shut, not knowing that he was hiding in there. For four days the cat did not have access to his litter box or food and water.  Claus somehow survived the ordeal in fine physical shape. For some reason, however, he chose to do all his business on the office chair, saving the carpet, but   totaling the chair.

#8.  Family Dispute over Purchase of a Male American Girl Doll for Grandson. In anticipation of a trip to the Mecca of the American Girl doll phenomena, the American Girl Doll Store in Chicago, we bought our four year-old grandson, a male American girl doll. More than secure in his masculinity, he liked Mac, but this did not sit well with all family members.

#7. Gutter Finally Cleaned: One Stawar highlight took place on the   365th day of 2011 when the front gutter was finally cleaned. When the house was last appraised,  the report  noted that gutter needed to be cleaned  and mentioned that there appeared to be a tree growing in it. My wife Diane risked her life to do all the difficult work, precariously perched upon a wobbly ladder. My job was to anchor the ladder and dodge the gutter debris that routinely missed the bucket.

#6. Stawars, All Toilet-Trained at Last: 2011 saw the culmination of the successful, but rather excruciating toilet training of our fourth and youngest grandchild. Along with the changing table, the highchair also bit the dust this year. As she will readily tell you, she’s a big girl.


#4. Unnamed Stawar Relative Eligible to have Record Expunged in March: The family also learned this year that enough time has passed that one family member (whose name is being withheld) will be eligible to have his or her record expunged, finally yielding a completely clean slate.

#3. Backyard Brush Pile Depleted, Homeless Snakes Despondent: After months of diligent effort, the pile of yard trash, brush, and branches, I foolishly placed near the house, receded. The pile had become a habitat for a variety of terrifying creatures, including a large snake that we discovered sunning itself on the hand railing on our back porch.

#2.  Spelling Bee Winner Starts Texting:   This year our 10 year-old granddaughter received a cell phone for Christmas and immediately started practicing her “tween” texting  skills. Her older uncles seem very annoyed at her frequent,  “What are you doing?” texts and incessant  demands  for a response.

#1.   Stawars: Beached Again:  Finally, a major tragedy struck in the summer of 2011,  when the 90 horsepower Mercury outboard motor, on the Stawar Pontoon boat, threw a rod,  effectively dry-docking the “Kokomo” for the rest of the season, as well as the foreseeable future. Operator error is suspected and highly probable.


Based on a column appearing inthe Southern Indiana News-Tribune


Magic Cookies: The Placebo Effect

18 Jan


 Our expectations  can be remarkably  powerful.  The magic feather that Dumbo, the flying elephant, was told would help him fly,  is a classic example of what is known as a placebo.  The word placebo is Latin for “pleasing” and refers to an object that has no actual effect, other  than to bolster our expectations.  

In the early 70’s when I was a brand new psychology  student,   my study group was assigned to devise  an experiment involving preschool  children. I believe it was Thurmond Culpepper, a member of our  group, who proposed that we study expectations and  preschoolers’ memory for  pictures.  This evolved into the “Magic Cookie Study”.

In step one of our study,  all the children were to be given a rather  odd looking cookie to eat. This sugar cookie, covered with  marshmallow and sprinkled with pink  coconut, was to serve as the  placebo. 

Half of the class was to be  told that the cookie was magic and would help them remember things perfectly.  The other  half of the kids  were told that  it was just a snack.  Then we planned  to  test them  by  showing    pictures of   animals , and then recording how many  of the animals they could  recall five minutes later. 

It turned out that most of the kids hated the cookies and not only  refused to eat them but  physically  threw them at Thurmond while making  fun of his name. Evidently coconut is not very popular with the  preschool set,  as  many complained vocally  about the pink  hair on their cookies.

Also, it was  nearly impossible to get them to  sit down long enough to  look at the animal pictures. And when it came  time to telling us what animals they remembered,  few subjects  felt that this boring  task was  worth their time or effort, especially compared  to throwing cookies or  grabbing  the experimenter’s stopwatch and dashing madly  about the classroom. We did  not demonstrate  the  placebo effect,  but  we did  discover that   our study group needed someone who actually knew something about kids.     

Newsweek magazine science editor Sharon Begley has reported on a  new placebo study  published in the Archives of Internal Medicine.    Daniel Cherkin  at theGroup Health Center in Seattle  compared the effectiveness of  acupuncture,   simulated acupuncture,  and  standard treatment on back pain. The researchers found that pain decreased  significantly for 60% for both acupuncture groups,  but only 39 % for the standard care patients.  Although the results  were used to support alternative  approaches, like acupuncture, the most intriguing  finding, as Begley points out,  is  that   fake acupuncture (randomly getting poked with toothpicks)  worked as well  as real acupuncture,  and twice as well as standard procedures.   

A survey of Chicago area internists   revealed that half  of  them  used   placebos with their patients. Twelve per cent, however,  had ethical qualms and said that placebos should never be used. Most physicians, who used placebos, were somewhat  cagey in what they actually told their  patients– not wanting  to lie outright, but also not wanting to diminish  the benefits of  positive expectations.

According to Fabrizio Benedetti of the Universityof Turin, a pioneer in placebo pain research, positive expectations  can lead to the release of natural pain killers in the brain. The greater the expectations, the greater the  relief  that people feel.  About 30% of the population  appears  capable  of a   strong placebo effect and   magic cookies not withstanding, children have a greater response than adults.

 According to MIT behavioral economist  Dan Ariely,  we  associate the cost of medicines  with their  efficacy and this  may be why expensive placebos work best and  people  claim that generic medications do not work as well as brand names.   Placebo effectiveness is also  related to factors such as  exoticness,  intrusiveness,  and technological sophistication.   Injections, for example  are more potent that capsules, which in turn  are better than tablets. Procedures   associated with   elaborate scientific looking equipment or arcane devices, also tend to have greater credibility. 

One mental hospital used an impressive looking electroconvulsive shock machine to successfully  treat depressed patients for many years. However a technician found  that the  machine had never been plugged in properly and it’s success was purely placebo effect.        

 The size of a  pill is also related to its  placebo value. As you  might  expect,  if a  little is good,  a lot is great.  When they feel bad,  most people want the maximum strength  possible.  As comedian Jerry Seinfeld said,   “We want them to figure what dose can  kill  us and then back off just a little.”     

Placebo saline injections even helped some Parkinson  patients in  a study at   theUniversityof British Columbia.  The very brain chemicals that placebos stimulate, may actually help  reduce some  Parkinson Disease  symptoms, such as stiffness and rigidity.  

Placebos  may also be  effective  when people  learn, through association, that a particular experience is routinely followed by a  specific  response. This is known as classical  conditioning.   In a 1999 study,  patients   received several  injections  of a substance  that quickly depressed their respiration. Later  the  injection of an inactive  substance produced the same results. The  nervous system  had learned to associate all  injections with the depressive response.  

Similarly  when kidney transplant patients were repeatedly given a strong  anti-rejection medication, along with a  distinctly flavored drink,   the drink alone began to have the same beneficial effects as the medication.   Begley says  that this “was like finding that Kool-Aid can prevent organ transplant rejection”.  

            Harvard psychologist Robert Rosenthal and school principal Lenore  Jacobson  wrote a controversial book in 1968 entitled  Pygmalion in the Classroom about their  study  in which teachers were told  that certain (randomly selected) children had been  scientifically identified as  “late  bloomers”  and would show tremendous academic  progress  in the next school year . The teachers’ expectations were a self-fulfilling  prophecy and the designated  children  showed a tremendous gains in achievement.

This  research demonstrates that, not only our own expectations, but those of others, can result in a significant placebo effect. The story of the unplugged  shock machine also dramatically displays this effect.   In addition to the machine, the expectations of the attending staff  influenced  patients to the point that they  exhibited sham seizures, when they thought shock was bring administered.

The placebo effect is a real testament to the  power of our expectations. It also explains why I still want a big  antibiotic pill every time  I catch a cold,  even  though I know it doesn’t work on viruses.  Maybe I should just eat a cookie instead.

World’s Oldest Flugelhornist

14 Jan


Eat Your Hearts out Chuck, Chet, and Terry


A few summers ago my wife Diane and I  discovered another great thing about living in Kentuckiana–  the performances that marked the conclusion of the annual Jamey Aebersold Summer Jazz Workshops. One of the performances   was at the old Masterson’s Restaurant before it was demonished and featured some great jazz talents  including one of my   favorites, the  world renowned jazz trumpet and flugelhorn player, Bobby Shew. Seeing him play triggered a flood of memories and envious feelings.

When I was 11 years old I began playing the cornet in the school band.  The cornet is a trumpet-like instrument, that has a beautiful mellow tone,  except when I play it. Being essentially tone deaf and having no sense of rhythm, I reluctantly admit that I was always a lousy cornetist.

Fortunately my school band was not very competitive, so I was banished to the third chair, playing the same two notes over and over again, along with other musically challenged dilettantes. There we stayed for six years playing, as Jane Austen would put it, “very ill indeed”.

All of the  half-way serious musicians  passed me up to second, first, and solo chairs. But because of my seniority, I became the acknowledged third chair leader. I took some pleasure in tormenting my chair-mates who were, of course, the only musicians in the world worse than me.  Poor players, such as us, are always lost. In particular we are unable to accurately count rests, so we never know exactly when to start playing. As the leader, my colleagues would look to me for guidance. As often as not, I would be lost myself, but I would pretend to start playing. The others would then, in a panic,  make a loud and inappropriate entrance.  I would immediately  put down my horn  and get ready to shrug my shoulders and slowly shake my head when the director glared at us.

In  high school  my highly sensitive football coach did not appreciate me missing a practice to go on the annual band trip. I believe he said something like, “Waddaya  want us to do next Stawar, stop the blankety blank football game, so you can prance out on the field and toot your little horn.”

And so my music career went. Once in a while, the band director would give us flugel horn music to play.  A flugelhorn is like an oversized cornet (or half of a baratone) and since our band did not have one, the third chairs played this music. The flugelhorn parts were nice, easy-to-play melodies for the most  part, so I decided that I was really meant to be a flugelhorn player instead of a cornetist. That lousy cornet was the real problem. I imagined  that one day I would get a flugelhorn and become “The World’s Greatest Flugelhorn Player”—  just like Clark Terry,  Chet Baker,  or even Bobby Shew.  

A few years pass. Well,  actually 38 years pass and here I am,  inSouthern Indiana. On a whim I bought a $25 trumpet at a Goodwill Store and start playing again and decide now is the time to make my move.   On e-Bay I found I could buy a flugelhorn fromIndiana  for only  $1.71 and about $900 in postage and handling.  After a lot of  research I finally bought one.   It is basically a Booby Shew Flugelhorn knock  off  and looks great,  but somehow it is not as easy or wonderful as I imagined.  In fact it sounds a lot like my old crummy cornet.

Our former church music director, who was  a profession musician, heard that I had bought a flugelhorn and asked me if I want to play with the church brass group.  Excited, I agreed and went to the first practice. All of the other players were  high school students. I automatically slid  into the last chair position and regressed to age 16 and almost broke out in acne. Besides me,  there were four boys who all seemed to have approximately the same name.  I could never tell them apart.

Also I soon learned the flugelhorn parts were not as easy as I remembered,  so the director dumbed them down enough so I could play them. Soon I was basically playing the same two notes over and over again—just like high school. The rehearsals at the director’s house were also quite embarrassing as I constantly  humiliated myself,  committing one faux pas after another. I forgot to bring the proper pencil. I opened my spit key on the director’s carpet. I didn’t  know where the tuning slide was on a flugel horn, and I ignored the sharps and flats on the first  piece we played. The director explained that sharps and  flats  were like road signs on the highway. If we do not obey these signs there will likely be a horrendous accident. I think I was then cited for reckless fingering.

At the  performance the director humorously introduced me as one of the “new kids”  and  told everyone I bought my horn on e-Bay. Within a few months  I found myself casually replaced by a teenage flugelhorn player with a lot of hair. Another one of those Ians or Jason I suspect. In all fairness I was out of town a lot and  missed several performances. Can I help it if none of the other musicians had to visit their grandchildren?

As we chanegd churches  another phase of my  dubious musical career closes, I have to admit   I obviously wasn’t the world’s greatest flugelhorn player. But Idid feel like I was possibly the world’s oldest flugelhorn player

Grandpa’s Image

13 Jan




For the most part being a grandfather is a good gig.   Parents and grandmothers shoulder the real responsibilities like civilizing the  little darlings and  changing dirty   diapers.  That pretty much leaves the good stuff like  playing games, reading stories, or generally goofing off. My only complaint about the job is that collectively we have such a  lousy   image.

Whenever my granddaughters draw a picture of me a few things stand out. First of all grandma rules. I am always much smaller than my wife Diane and my hands and arms are drawn stunted and ineffectual  compared to hers.  While my actual wardrobe may leave much  to be desired, they seem  to think  I exclusively wear primary colors of the clown persuasion. However, the unkindest cut of all  is that my hair is symbolized by a  white vertical line slashed above each ear— nothing on top. There is a certain elegance that even Picasso could admire in  being  able  to so thoroughly insult both the color and quantity of my hair in two simple strokes. I can live with this visual image but what deeper meaning does it represent?

Let’s face it, the media has not been very kind to grandparents  in general and grandfathers in particular. For us baby boomers, the grandpa archetype was firmly established by actor Walter Brennan as Grandpa Amos McCoy on the television series The Real McCoys. Bib overall wearing and politically incorrect Grandpa McCoy was crotchety and interfering and if he wasn’t insulting his long suffering  daughter-in-law, Kate,  he was racially insenstive and verbally abusing the hired help– Pepino.

 Real McCoy’s writer Paul Henning, who should be on the AARP’s hit list, is also single-handedly responsible  for the rowdy  grandfather on the Bob Cumming’s Show,  Granny from the  Beverly Hillbillies and  worse of all “That’s Uncle Joe, he’s a moving kinda slow” from Petticoat Junction. Thanks a lot Paul.

Grandpa McCoy was  just one in a long line of curmudgeon grandfatherly types whose gruff exterior usually melts in the presence of some curly-haired waif. This  theme is repeatedly seen in  works of literature like  Heidi, Silas Marner, Little Lord Fauntleroy, The Little Colonel,  and a host of  others.

I suppose I prefer the curmudgeon grandparent  to the comically incompetent or mildly brain damaged one  we sometimes see in characters like the senile Grandpa Simpson the or the impulsive Sophia Petrillo from the Golden Girls.  Charlie Buckett’s Grandpa Joe from Roald Dahl’s  Charlie and the  Chocolate  Factory is a slight improvement. Although feeble and somewhat feckless,  he is at least affectionate, supportive,  and apparently slightly more sane than Willie Wonka.

Even better, however,  are the suave pipe-smoking grandfathers dressed in tweeds in movies like Disney’s The Parent Trap. At one point  in the original version the granddaughter says “Grandfathers smell like  tobacco and mints”. I have to admit that would be an improvement  over most grandfather’s I have  actually smelled, including myself.   Realistically   the best case scenarios  is  beer, brats,  and  perhaps 30 weight motor oil.

In the newspapers, grandfather’s have a positive but vulnerable image.   Bill Keane’s Family Circus featured a ghostly grandfather   and worried for month’s when  Lynn Johnson was  fixing  to kill off Grandpa Jim in her For Better or Worse  comic strip.  Jim was  an admirable  and resilient character who loves to dance,  played in  a band,  and was a respected war veteran, but the last strips he was in   focused  mostly on his  deteriorating health.  It was looking for  a long time that  Grandpa Jim would soon be meeting Farley, the family dog that Johnson previously dispatched to such great effect.    

Some where in the middle of all this is Donald Crisp’s sympathetic  portrayal of Grandpa Spencer in the  popular 1963 family film Spencer’s Mountain.  I can only remember one scene from the movie, and that is where Grandpa Spencer finds his old piggy bank laying on the ground and he starts shaking it,  trying to see if it still contains money. While he’s doing this,  he is crushed  by a large falling tree. Evidently his hearing was so poor he did not hear the tree or the warnings shouted by his son (Henry Fonda).  It may just be me, but I don’t think this movie was very grandfather friendly. It was written by Earl Hamner, Jr.   and became the basis for the saccharine  television series  The Waltons.   

Of course we baby boomers have to take some of the responsibility for the current image of grandparents since we invented the culture  of youth and took perverse pride in not trusting anyone over thirty.  The chickens have come home to roost. We also cling to the  belief that we are perpetually young and reject many traditional beliefs including how we approach grandparenting.  This  was aptly demonstrated by the character portrayed by Dyan  Cannon  in the 2001 sitcom Three Sisters.   She insisted that her grandchildren call her “goddess” instead of “grandma”. 

Perhaps  now is the time to reconstruct the image  of  grandfathers and make them more positive than just curmudgeonly  hillbillies, incorporeal ghosts,  or self-absorbed yuppies. Maybe grandfathers could even change a few diapers now and then. Just remember to be alert for falling trees,  somewhere out there is a sycamore  with your name on it.

The Dirty Job of Adulthood

13 Jan

Mike Rowe

Just how bad do you think your job is?  The Wall Street Journal annually publishes a list of the worst jobs, based on things such as pay, benefits, and safety.  Perennially included are many romantic sounding occupations such as lumberjack, fisherman, and even cowboy. But for the really disgusting ones,  you  have to  catch the Discovery Channel program called “Dirty Jobs”.  In this show, Mike Rowe the talented but unfortunate    host profiles some of the slimiest jobs possible and then personally tries his hand at them. Rattlesnake catchers, pig sloppers,  and  septic-tank technicians are just some of the occupations that might make you feel better about what you do.

Or perhaps you would  like to work for Aftermath, Inc. inPlainfield, Illinois. They specialize in crime scene cleanups.  According to their advertisement, they feature cleanup services for homicides, suicides, unattended deaths, human and animal feces, discharges of guns, home invasions, filth (unspecified) , accidents,  self-inflicted wounds, meth labs, tear gas  and as they put it “much more. I personally don’t  think  I could bear much more. offers  another list of  losers, that  includes occupations such as Porta-Potty Cleaner, Gastroenterologist,  and the ever popular–  Odor Judge.  ”.   

Granted that most of us would not take   a position in which we had to manually remove colonic  polyps,  routinely rate the noxiousness of  halitosis samples, or Pin-Sol® a mass murder site.  However, we all occasionally get stuck with terrible jobs or  least lousy assignments.


           Discussing what it takes  to be an adult best selling author, Robert Fulghum   says,  “A willingness to do your share of cleaning up the mess is a test.  … taking out the garbage of this life is a condition of membership

in the [adult] community.” He goes on to list some of these  every day ordeals:  

  1. cleaning the sink strainer
  2. plunging  out the toilet
  3. cleaning up babies when they poop and pee
  4. cleaning ovens, grease traps, and roasting pans
  5. emptying  the litter box
  6. burying dead pets when they get run over

Below are my three nominations for his list.

Collecting Money 

Whether it is theUnited Way, the coffee fund,  or even collecting to send flowers to a  sick co-worker, getting other people to pony up their share is always a challenge.  People blame the messenger  and you may  have to gently remind them at times. “Hey I did not personally make her  sick, I am just collecting the flipping money!”  Some are suspicious and act like you are going to take the whole $39.50 and fly toRio.

Cleaning the Office Refrigerator

Office refrigerators, like public restrooms, suffer from a lack of  personal ownership. They truly can become a Pandora’s box of horrors. The second place winner in CNN’s Grossest Office Refrigerator contest came from  Louisville  and featured “the sandwich that time forgot”.   

Besides food at various stages of decomposition, some of the  things actually found in office  refrigerators have  included  human stool samples, an ancient mastodon’s partially digested meal,  and cow manure specimens .    

Sooner or later someone gets so disgusted they take it upon themselves to clean the  refrigerator,  likes Hercules cleaning the Augean Stables.  These stables housed three thousand oxen and had not been cleaned for thirty years. So it was quite similar to your average office refrigerator.   Hercules had only one day and he managed to get  the job done by diverting the course of  a river. Perhaps if you work by theOhio Riveryou can try this with your office refrigerator.  I suggest throwing it in. When Hercules was done he hung up the first sign saying,  “Clean up after yourself, Oedipus. Your mother doesn’t work here.”

Doing the Newsletter

My wife, Diane and I once foolishly volunteered for this job in an organization we had just joined.  They disguised it by calling it the Vice-President for Communications— but it was really the newsletter.   It involved being tortured by a temperamental copier, hunting down the guy with the mailing labels, folding thousands of pages,  and learning the totally incomprehensible intricacies of bulk rate mailing.

After a year of unappreciated blood, sweat, and paper cuts, we finally quit. No one else would take the job. In a highly insulting gesture, the president said that from now on the officers would meet for just a “few minutes” each month and take care of it.  These people  were close to requiring  the services of Aftermath, Inc. We did not see another newsletter for over a year. 

But perhaps the worse thing about the job was getting people to send in their articles. It was harder than pulling polyps.

The Inhuman Zoo?

4 Jan

Although attendance is reportedly down a little, about 175 million people visit zoos annually. I have mixed feelings about these places, being both attracted and repelled by them.

They are undoubtedly fascinating, and perhaps even educational, but they also possess an uncomfortable resemblance to prisons, concentration camps and junior high schools. Sociologist Erving Goffman called such settings — “total institutions” — “places where all aspects of life are subordinated to the authorities of the organization.”

Most zoos define their mission as promoting education, research and conservation. And in these times of shrinking natural habitats, no one can dispute the worthiness of preserving biodiversity. Many zoos have marketed themselves as the equivalent to Noah’s ark, although some animal rights groups maintain that DNA banks may be a more realistic, cost effective and humane solution.

While I’m no animal rights fanatic — I eat meat, wear fur-lined gloves and have actually yelled at a dog or two in my life — I can understand advocates’ concerns about the exploitation of animals and their quality of life. And there remains the question about the necessity of exhibiting captive animals at all.

I was taken to the famous St. Louis Zoo often as a child and every spring my elementary school was transported there for the day. The big draw was the animal show, which rivaled any circus. The star attraction was a chimpanzee, Mr. Moke, who was billed as the world’s only talking chimpanzee.

Mr. Moke was the stage name for a East African chimp named Moko. I heard him actually say “no” and “momma,” although not very clearly. He was more adept at jumping through hoops and riding small bicycles to the delight of us third-graders. A curious thing happened to Mr. Moke in 1959. His former owner wanted him back and when the zoo refused to sell him, he abducted the chimp.

“Talking Chimpanzee Kidnapped!” read the enviable St. Louis headline and the story made the pages of Life Magazine. When the chimp was returned two years later, it was learned that during his absence, he had co-starred, incognito, in the Jerry Lewis movie, “The Bellboy.”

My wife, Diane, says that when she was a little girl, her mother would meow to the lions and tigers at the zoo and the big cats would answer her back. I remember my own father teasing the chimps and once they answered him back, by flinging excrement at him. It wasn’t quite the same.

Since that time, zoos have improved at lot, with their larger, natural-looking environments for animals. Early this summer, we visited the New Zoo outside of Green Bay, Wis., and I was impressed by how spacious it was. However, the small underfunded parks bother me.

We visited one of these facilities recently while on vacation. The small, shoddy cages and tiny exercise areas were sad. There was a lot of boredom-induced rocking and pacing, but I couldn’t help it, I was just anxious to return to our hotel room, which wasn’t much larger than the animal cages.

In this zoo, you could feed all of the animals, which didn’t seem right. Ponies would come right up to you and kick the fence repeatedly, demanding to be fed — like prisoners banging tin cups on the bars of their cells. There is something demeaning about a noble black bear being reduced to panhandling for peanuts.

Some animal rights group had unsuccessfully tried to get the chimpanzee in this park sent to a chimpanzee sanctuary in Florida. According to the park’s literature, the chimp was raised as a pet and thought of himself as a human. He might miss his favorite TV shows and human friends if placed in a sanctuary. We caught a glimpse of him — rocking back and forth.

There is always a temptation to anthropomorphize animals — imposing human motives and feelings to them. For example, the owner fed this chimp hamburgers and french fries, which I suspect is not part of its natural diet.

Time Magazine just reported that the Jane Goodall Institute is pressing for legislation to prohibit people from owning primates as pets.

Goodall says, “Very rarely can they [private individuals] give them a good life.”

Jeffrey Masson’s book, “When Elephants Weep: The Emotional Lives of Animals,” clearly demonstrates what anyone who has ever had a pet already knows, that animals are more than nonfeeling automations. But to consciously try to humanize them seems more for our amusement than for their benefit.

The Louisville Zoo is accredited, but fewer than 10 percent of the 2,400 animal exhibitors licensed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture have been surveyed by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, or AZA. According to the AZA, accreditation increases public confidence that an institution meets standards; signifies excellence in animal care, conservation and education; and distinguishes accredited facilities from ‘roadside zoos.’”

I have always thought that the best of part of visiting the zoo was hauling around a toddler and pointing out the animals. Aside from this, however, how are zoos doing in their public education mission?

Dale Marcellini, a curator at the National Zoo, found that visitors’ conversations rarely dealt with the animals and when they did, the majority of comments were derogatory. The exhibits were simply background.

Most of the time in the zoo was taken up by walking — 60 percent — and eating — 10 percent — leaving less than a third of the total time for resting, using the bathroom, shopping and actually viewing animals.

Visitors averaged only eight seconds per snake and one minute looking at the lions.

In the London Times last year, primatologist Goodall described the Edinburgh Zoo’s new primate enclosure as a “wonderful facility,” saying that the animals are probably better off than those in the Congo, where they are commercially harvested for food.

However, in her more recent interview, she criticizes facilities where animals lack a proper social group. She believes such animals don’t have things to do and can’t educate anyone, because they don’t behave normally. You might as well look at a photo or a stuffed example … because you won’t see any natural behavior.”

I remain conflicted, but I think I’ll at least stop visiting nonaccredited zoos, such as the one Diane and I saw upstate a few years ago. The lions and tigers were covered in sores and displayed those depressing stereotyped self-stimulating movements. Too bad we can’t teach those animals to say “no,” like Mr. Moke.

Based on a column originally  appearing in the Southern Indiana News-Tribune.

The Lazy Husband: Fact or Fiction

4 Jan


When it comes to household chores, most men share the philosophy of a youth pastor at a former church — “Start slow and then ease up.”

I’m not very good at most household tasks and that’s the truth, although I am not above occasionally feigning incompetence to avoid work. My wife Diane and I have divvied up our chores, but I’m under no delusion that I do anywhere as much work as she does.

Although I am betraying my gender, I’d have to agree that the stereotype of the “lazy husband” is pretty accurate, at least based on my own behavior and that which I’ve observed in others.

Household chores are a major source of conflict in most relationships. A 2007 Pew Survey asked married couples, “What makes marriage work?” Sharing chores came in third, behind faithfulness and sex. The Boston Consulting Group also asked couples what they argued most about and chores were the second most frequent topic, ranking just behind money.

 Men and women have very different perspectives on household chores. In a 1999 MSNBC survey, 74 percent of men said that the household chores were equally shared; while only 51 percent of women agreed. Only a quarter of men said that all the household chores were done by one person, but twice as many women felt this was true.

Recently several research studies have been published which question the notion of the “lazy husband.” In an Aug. 8 Time Magazine cover story titled, “Chore Wars”, writer Ruth Davis Konigsberg describes the history of the “the lazy husband.”

Back in the 1960s, Nobel prize winning economist Gary Becker predicted that as women gained greater access to the work force, there would eventually be a point in which the genders would equally divide making money outside the home and doing household chores.

However, by 1989, despite the growing number of two-career families, the predicted march toward equity stalled. University of California sociologist Arlie Hochschild interviewed 50 two-career families in depth and summarized her research in a popular book entitled the “Second Shift.”

She concluded that although women entered the paid work force, in most cases they remained the primary home worker, in what she called the “second shift.” This “second shift”, consisting mostly of parenting and housework, added up to about 15 additional hours of work each week for women.

In many families Hochschild studied, there was a lopsided division of labor, in which the husband took responsibility for some narrowly defined task — making pies, maintaining the car or caring for the dog — which was inexplicably interpreted as balancing out the myriad of other domestic tasks assigned to the wife. Both husbands and wives conspired to rationalize such arrangements as being fair. Also in most instances the wife’s paid work was seen as “just a job” while the husband’s was seen as a “career.”

All of this reinforced the already suspected stereotype of “the lazy husband.” Since 1989, however, at least three major studies have re-examined the second shift conclusions.

When all types of paid and unpaid work are accounted for, men apparently make more of a contribution than they are usually credited, according to a study at the London School of Economics. The study found that women tended to reduce their paid work hours after having children, while men often compensate by working additional hours. British men and women were both found to work an average of only eight total hours a day in both paid and unpaid work.

London School of Economics sociologist Catherine Hakim has said, “This data overturns the well-entrenched theory that women work disproportional long hours in jobs and at home in juggling family and work”

An American study yielded similar results, as the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that when all work hours were combined, American women averaged eight hours and 11 minutes a day and American men averaged eight hours and three minutes. For couples with children, women had an additional 20 minutes of work each day that men did not have. Women still did the vast majority of cooking, housework, and childcare, but men did almost twice as much paid work.

The amount of time men participated in domestic chores like cooking, housework and child care also has significantly increased since 1965. For example, the time fathers spend in child care has almost tripled since 1965, but it is only 6.4 percent of their time, compared to mother’s 12 percent.

Data on working hours from a third study at the University of Michigan is consistent with the other studies. Author Warren Farrell says that this study argues against the notion of “the second shift woman and the shiftless man.”

Despite all this evidence of equity, why am I still unconvinced? First of all, this whole field is riddled with complications. There is the glaring fact that all work is not created equal, as both men and women consider housework less desirable than paid work. Also, is that extra time men spent on the job actually comparable to the domestic work in which women are engaged? Are American men staying late at the office, gossiping with friends or playing fantasy football just to avoid housework or childcare?

There is also the fact that women frequently multitask, combining childcare with recreational and other household activities. How is this work time classified? And lets face it, you can goof off on a paid job and often get away with it , but not so with domestic work. It still has to get done.

 San Francisco psychologist Joshua Coleman also believes there are still plenty of lazy husbands around and has written “The Lazy Husband: How to Get Men to Do More Parenting and Housework,” in which he offers practical advice for wives with recalcitrant husbands.

Coleman describes three basic types of lazy husbands, 1. The Boy-Husband, who wants to be taken care of and pretends to be incompetent. Ultimately he’s just another child to care for; 2. The Perfectionist Husband. This type wants the house and kids to be perfect, but won’t help. We knew a fellow who insisted that his wife completely clean out the refrigerator every week, which I think is not only grounds for divorce, but also for justifiable homicide; and 3. The Angry Husband. This type keeps his wife at bay with rage and intimidation.

Coleman says that lazy husbands’ need to experience the natural consequences of their lack of responsibility. He advises wives who want their husbands to share responsibility to be assertive, communicate clearly, and with their spouses, jointly develop a plan for completing chores.

I’m only hoping that those three fudge and two peanut butter pies that I make each year pretty much make up for the rest of my slacking off.


Based on an article that originally appeared in the Southern Indiana News-Tribune

Note: The original  version of this article was criticized for ignoring the fact that many women simply  choose not to work,  as well as  the anger that some women show when men have meager incomes and still refused to help with housework. I have been called ” a man who wants female approval so much that he is willing to always throw men under the bush [sic]”. I can only say, “Duh!”


Dig that Garbage

4 Jan



  Novelist William Gibson once wrote,  “It’s impossible to move, to live, to operate at any level  without leaving traces…”.   The most obvious of these traces are photo albums and home movies. When arranged chronologically, we can actually see ourselves moving through time and space,  sort of like those time-lapsed  science movies back in school, showing how  plants grow. Looking at old images of himself, talk show host, Jay Leno, seems proud of how he looked as  a young comic and David Letterman jokes about his full head of curly hair.  Sometimes, however  this can be more like watching the picture of Dorian Gray deteriorate  before our eyes.

I remember we  once watched a compilation of Barbara Walter’s past  interviews on television, and the thing that stood out the most was  how her hair  styles changed over the years. As she commented herself,  it was   mostly a retrospective of  hair-dos.    

In a  sense such  photos and films serve as  the  illustrations in   the ongoing stories of people’s  lives,  showing  where they have been,  and perhaps where they are going.  Family therapists occasionally use such media to explore family relationships and dynamics, following  the lead of  Canadian psychologist Judy Weiser, who pioneered photography in  psychotherapy back in 1970s.         

                There are  also other personal traces that we leave behind.  A. J. Weberman  invented and popularized the word “garbology” to describe his study of Bob Dylan’s garbage in 1970.    In the 1970’s University of Arizona archaeologist William Rathje  begain a program of systematic research  to study how  our garbage can be used to gain insight into our behavior and relationships.    He  found that  the things people tell  interviewers are often inconsistent with the record  that their trash  leaves behind.   For example, people frequently claimed they eat lots of fruits and vegetables, but their garbage tells a very different story.   Rathje says that garbage never lies.  In his book, Rubbish ! The Archaeology of Garbage, he calls the tendency to  underreport the amount of  junk food consumed, and over report the amount of low calorie foods eaten,  the “Lean Cuisine Syndrome”. Most people admit to drinking only about half the amount of alcohol they actually consume, according to their garbage. In the “Good Provider Syndrome”,  heads of  households overestimate the total amount of food that their families consume.     

                I find myself constantly throwing away important documents, necessitating  digging through our garbage. We rarely drink coffee, but is seems like every time I have to rummage through  the trash, to find the water bill,  there is an abundance of coffee grinds. Also it appears that much of our diet consists of eggs and things covered in tomato sauce. Poking around in your trash gives you some insight into your diet, purchasing habits, and family priorities.

                “Middens” is the technical name that archeologists have given to such informative trash heaps. Besides looking at the photographic record and plowing through the garbage, there are several other middens  that are “ripe” for practicing what’s  been called “domestic archaeology.

                Things like a loaded dishwasher or a  pile of dirty laundry can serve  as mini-middens. Sorting your dirty clothes can tell you all sorts of things about what you’ve been up to, over the past week. How hard did you work? Did you go anywhere special? What was the weather like? Or in my case, what did I have for breakfast on Tuesday morning? All of these questions and much more can be answered in the laundry room. You can even tell if it is cold or allergy season by the amount of shredded Kleenex that ends up strewn over the clothing.    

                As technology has advanced, digital  middens are now  found in many places, such as    e-mail archives,  browser histories,   computer recycle bins,  as well as records of text messages and cell phone calls.   Recently the state of Alaska released more than 24,000 pages of e-mails sent and received by Sarah Palin during her tenure as governor. In this case, however, few   revelations have been forthcoming, other than Palin’s complete and utter surprise at being asked to be the vice-presidential nominee, and some surprising   admiration expressed for a speech of  Barrack Obama.

                  Among the most important of  everyday middens are people’s financial records. General George Washington’s hand-written expense account, published in 1970 can be instructive. At the beginning of the Revolutionary War,  Washington,  refused to take a salary, settling instead for having his expenses covered. However, at the end of his service he presented an astonished Congress with a detailed bill for what would be the equivalent of   $2,665,096.03 today.

According to  author Marvin Kitman,  Washington’s  purchases included personal items such as  fine carriages and the costs of entertaining important dignitaries, as well as military expenses  such as  reconnaissance and even his own army’s retreat. Throughout the war, despite the blockade of English ships, Washington continued buying his favorite gourmet green tea. Just as it is possible to follow the events of the Revolution through Washington’s expenditures,  we can also experience a personal retrospective  through our  checkbook registers. When my wife Diane and  I balance  our checkbook, it’s   like symbolically re-living the month. Each separate entry is a  memory, that shows where we put our priories.   To paraphrase Matthew 6:21,  “Where your debit card  is used, there your heart will be also”.  

Writer Kimberly Danger suggests reviewing your check register and receipts for a month to see if anything stands out.   She asks,   “Is it an accurate portrayal of what you value in life and where your priorities are? Like our garbage, our checkbooks also never lie, they show precisely where our money goes, rather than where we intend for it to go.

The website  asks the hypothetical question,  if the world were destroyed  and aliens came  to earth and discovered your checkbook,  “What would they think?” Does your checkbook reveal your inner self and personality?

 If those aliens ever get a gander at my check register, they will probably think I was being blackmailed by someone named Sallie Mae.

Based on a column that appeared  in the Southern Indiana News-Tribune

The Accident Prone Zone

3 Jan



            I’ve never considered myself to be accident prone, but whenever I work with tools or sharp objects,  I seldom escape unscathed. Just the other day I had my fingers slammed by a car door. I don’t have a lot of major accidents, mostly just small mishaps related to carelessness and lack of attention.  

            Recently, I came home from a trip and sat my overnight bag  by  the kitchen door. It immediately fell over,  knocking  over the kitchen trash, spilling garbage  all over the floor.  It seems like I do these kind of things all the time.

             Of course it certainly could be much worse. According to the National Safety Council, there are about 120,000 accidental deaths every year. Unintentional injury is the fifth leading cause of  death.  Every year a bout 35 million Americans (approximately one  out of nine)  receive  medical care for nonfatal accidental injuries.

            In the 1920s  a British researcher coined the  term “accident proneness” and defined it as  “a personal idiosyncrasy predisposing the individual…  to a relatively high accident rate.” The concept has long been controversial. Interest in the concept originally peaked in the 1950’s, so that by the 1960’s, emphasis had shifted to human factors research, ergonomics,  and product safety measures,  which proved  more a more useful approach to accident prevention.   

            However, in a  recent resurgence,  Dutch researcher Ellen Visser, from Groningen University, analyzed the accident  patterns of  almost 150,000  people  from 15 countries. Data revealed that one person in 29 can be considered “accident prone”. While the majority of repeated accidents are due to  bad luck,  accident prone individuals have  a  50% greater probability of  being in  an accident than the general population.   

            It’s been said that fatigue is the primary cause of injuries in sports and physical activities. Fatigue decreases muscular control, while reducing the ability to focus attention. My wife, Diane says that she gets clumsy, when she’s tired.  When fatigued I’m even more careless than usual. My hand just healed from when I  raked a handsaw  across a couple fingers, while I was cutting wood. I especially worry about using the chainsaw when I’m tired,  since there’s  little margin  for error when it comes to a 20 inch Stihl Farm Boss.     

            Being accident-prone can be a symptom of deeper issues according to Samantha Dunn, the accident-prone author of   Not by Accident: Reconstructing a Careless Life. According to Dunn, factors such as stress, depression, and anxiety also make us more vulnerable to mishaps.    

            Visser believes that accident proneness  is a manifestation of self-destructive urges. Accident prone people engage in more  high-risk behavior such as aggression, substance use,  and also have a higher prevalence of mood and anxiety disorders than  the general population. They fall on a self-destruction continuum, between normals and people who intentionally injure or even kill themselves, according to Visser.

            In 1949, Canadian psychiatrists W. A. Tillmann and  G. E. Hobbsfound that a small subgroup accounted for the vast majority of accidents that  occurred among professional drivers. As children these individuals had  unstable childhoods,   behavior  problems,   court involvement, and a disregard for authority.   As adults they had spotty employment histories,  were frequently fired from jobs, and often had   police records, apart from traffic offenses. They were described as being inordinately materialistic and consistently  sought immediate gratification, with little concern for the future.  As drivers, they were described as aggressive, impulsive, and lacked respect for rules and authority,    characteristic of  their lives in general. 

            In 1989 researchers  studied school-related injuries among more than 50,000  children in theTucsonSchool District. They  found that 17%  of   injuries occurred  to   1 % of the children.  Junior high boys, athletes, and pupils in alternative programs, were most likely to be accident prone.

            Many years ago our children played with a neighborhood boy and his little sister. These children were often unsupervised and the girl was constantly getting hurt. She would routinely get bit by a dog, smash her fingers in the car door, or fall off a sliding board and injure herself.    At first I thought she was accident prone, but after a while, my wife Diane and I decided that  it was  attention-seeking behavior. Ironically it was her older brother who lost an eye, when a nail he was hammering, flew back and struck him.

            I had a similar close call when I was about ten years old.  I was in our garage straightening out the old rusty nails my father insisted on saving. I struck the nail with my hammer, saw a spark, and the point hit me squarely in the throat. It didn’t hurt,  but it did bleed profusely.  I must have scared my mother to death.  Everyone thought I’d hit  my jugular vein. Actually I just missed it, and the bleeding stopped by the time we arrived at the emergency room.

            My pediatrician looked at the X-ray, of a bullet-shaped projectile lodged in my throat and asked my mother, “Who shot Terry?”  They never were able to remove the nail fragment. When metal detectors were introduced at airports, I worried that my shrapnel might set them off.

            Usually self-esteem is thought to be a good thing, but excessive confidence can put  you at risk,   if you put themselves in situations far beyond your capacity.  A 1995UniversityofIowastudy found that accident prone children habitually overestimate their physical abilities. Believing they can run faster, jump higher, or climb farther than they actually can,  they constantly put themselves in jeopardy.   They also typically fail to stop and consider the possible dangers associated with their actions. A case in point is the broken arm, my brotherNormanreceived, when he jumped off our garage roof.  

             Of all my mishaps I suppose I hate stubbing my toe the most. Toes contain a lot of nerve endings making them extremely sensitive and there’s nothing to cushion the blow.  In our house we have a wrought iron railing by the staircase, that’s ideal for stubbing. If you manage to do it just right, the metal piece that braces the railing, jams the tender area between your toes. It seems like some medieval torture device. Instead of ‘The Iron Maiden’, you might call it the “The Iron Flip-Flop”. I’d confess to anything if threaten with that.



2011 in review

3 Jan

The stats helper monkeys prepared a 2011 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Syndey Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 28,000 times in 2011. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 10 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.