Monthly Archives: August 2014

BEST BOOKS OF THIS LAST YEAR

Here’s a summary of the best books I’ve enjoyed reading this last year.

The Skies Belong to US:  Love and Terror in the Golden Age of Hijacking by Brendan Koerner.  An unusual but interesting story of two young people who meet in Coos Bay, Oregon, go their separate ways and then reconnect and concoct a somewhat bizarre plan to hijack a plane.  Through the path of this relationship, we are treated to a history of plane hijacking in the late 60’s and early 70’s.

Strange Stones:  Dispatches from East by Peter Hessler.  Stories mostly about life in China at the end of the 20th century.  Peter Hessler is a staff writer for the New Yorker and served as Bejing correspondent for seven years.  An interesting read.

To The Moon & Timbuktu.  A trek through the heart of Africa…an interesting memoir by Nina Sovich of her travels to see and experience West Africa and to find her core values and beliefs, then to settle down as an urban housewife and mother.

Sweet Salt Air.  Barbara Delinsky is a N.Y. Times best-selling author with more than 15 novels.  This one is a moving story of the cooking process of people on an island off Maine, intertwined with the medical problems of one MS inhabitant.  More of a chick novel, but interesting nonetheless.

Blood & Beauty:  The Borgias; a historical novel by Sarah Dunant.  An interesting, imaginative take on the interactions of the Borgia family around the year 1500.  It traces the role of the strong political Pope and his loving children Cesare, the cardinal warrior, Lucrezia, Juan and Jofré; their many marriages, liaisons and tangled political intrigues.

Still Foolin’ `Em:  Where I’ve Been, Where I’m Going and Where the Hell are My Keys? by Billy Crystal, a comedian, actor, producer, director, author and nine-time Oscars host.  This is a fascinating and interesting journey of a man who found and brought joy to many people doing many different things.  A little unevenly written but a vicarious trip through a consummate performer’s life at his midpoint.  You’ll enjoy it.

David & Goliath is another interesting read from Malcolm Gladwell.  Not quite as good as Outliers or The Tipping Point, but a typical Gladwell explanation of what on the surface seems obvious but turns out to be more nuanced than your think.  Enjoyable.

My Promised Land by Ari Shavit, a leading Israeli journalist, who has presented a fascinating history of Israel through the eyes and responses of its leading participants as well as a close examination of the six internal and external problems facing the nation.  Very interesting read.

The Bully Pulpit:  Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft and the Golden Age of Journalism.  An interesting chronicle of the lives and inter-relationship of two engaging presidents by Doris Kearns Goodwin, albeit a bit tedious because of her sidetracks into other contributing players in their lives.

These Angry Days:  Roosevelt, Lindberg and America’s Fight Over World War II by Lynne Olsen.  This is the fascinating and illumiating, behind-the-scenes story of the turbulent years of 1939 through 1941 between the over-cautious president and the isolationists over America’s support of Britain and entry into the great conflict.

The Color of Water by James McBride.  This is the fascinating story of the author, growing up with 11 siblings with a Jewish mother and a black Christian father.  It is also the concurrent story of his mother, Rachel, nee Ruth, and how she evolved from a rural southern hamlet.  A really good read.

Showtime:  Magic, Kareem, Riley and the Laker Dynasty by Jeff Pearlman.  The inside,  back story of the trials and tribulations of the stars and lesser lights who made the showtime era of Lakers basketball the exciting achievement of five NBA championships.  Of particular interest was the influence of Magic Johnson, not only on the court but in the management decisions during this  phenomenal period.  A great read if you have any interest in this era.

In case you’d like some other choices, here’s the list from last year:

Crazy Brave by Joy Harjo

*The President’s Club by Nancy Gibbs

Fridays with Art by Dick Wooten

*Unbroken by Laura Hildenbrand

A Natural Woman by Carole King

Hamilton, a Biography

*Killing Kennedy by Bill O’Reilly

In the Garden of the Beasts by Erik Larson

*Bull by the Horn by Sheila Blair

*Outstanding

ArtSchwartzSig

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FOUR MORE LESSONS IN MANAGEMENT

Here’s another in our series of serious, thought-provoking management lessons

Lesson One:

A turkey was chatting with a bull.  “I would love to be able to get to the top of that tree,” sighed the turkey, “but I haven’t got the energy.”  “Well, why don’t you nibble on some of my droppings?” replied the bull.  “They’re packed with nutrients.”  The turkey pecked at a lump of dung and found that it actually gave him enough strength to reach the first branch of the tree.  The next day, after eating some more dung, he reached the second branch.  Finally, after a fortnight, there he was proudly perched at the top of the tree.  He was promptly spotted by a farmer, who shot the turkey out of the tree.

Management lesson:  Bullshit might get you to the top, but it won’t keep you there very long.

Lesson Two:

When the body was first made, all the parts wanted to be boss.  The brain said, “I should be boss because I control the whole body’s responses and functions.”  The feet said, “We should be boss as we carry the brain about and get him to where he wants to go.”  The hands said, “We should be the boss because we do all the work and earn all the money.”  And so it went on and on with the heart, the lungs and the eyes until finally the asshole spoke up.

All the parts laughed at the idea of the asshole being the boss.  Promptly, the asshole went on strike, blocked itself up and refused to work.  Within a short time, the eyes became crossed, the hands clenched, the feet twitched, the heart and lungs began to panic and the brain fevered.  Eventually, they all decided that the asshole should be the boss, so the motion was passed.  All the other parts did all the work while the boss just sat around and passed out the shit!

Management lesson:  You don’t need brains to be a boss—any asshole will do.

Lesson Three:

A little bird was flying south for the winter.  It was so cold that the bird froze and fell to the ground in a large field.  While it was lying there, a cow came by and dropped a load of hot, steaming dung on it.  As the frozen bird lay there in the pile of dung, it began to realize how warm it was.  The dung was actually thawing him out!  He lay there all warm and happy and soon began to sing for joy.  A passing cat heard the bird singing and came to investigate.  Following the sound, the cat discovered the bird under the pile of cow dung.  The cat promptly dug the bird out, killed him and ate him.

Management lesson:  Not everyone who drops shit on you is your enemy.  Not everyone who pulls you out of shit is your friend.  And when you’re warm and happy in your pile of shit, keep your mouth shut!

Lesson Four:

The bull was desperately attracted to this really cute cow in the field but he knew she was dating someone else.

One day the bull got so frustrated that he went to her and said, “I’ll give you $100 if you let me have sex with you.”  The cow looked at him and said, “No!”  The bull said, “I’ll be real fast.  I’ll throw the money on the ground, you bend down and I’ll finish by the time you’ve picked it up.”  She thought for a moment and said that she would consult with her boyfriend, so she called him and explained the situation.

Her boyfriend said, “Ask him for $200, and pick up the money really fast.  He won’t even be able to get his pants down.  Call me when it’s over.”  She agreed and accepted the bull’s proposal.  Over half an hour goes by and the boyfriend is still waiting for his girlfriend’s call.  Finally, after 45 minutes, the boyfriend calls her on her cell phone and asks what happened?  Still breathing hard, she managed to reply, “The SOB had all quarters!”

Management lesson:  Always consider a business proposition in its entirety before agreeing to it.

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THE CURRENT STATE OF OUR UNION

A new Wall Street Journal/NBC poll of 1,000 American adults offers evidence that our country is in trouble.  This poll has been historically friendly to the president, but this time the stats are somewhat grim.

Here are the highlights:

  • Do you feel confident or not confident that life for our children’s generation will be better than it has been for us?
    • 21% of Americans feel confident about that; a whopping 76% are not confident
  • Do you think things in the nation are generally headed in the right direction or are off track?
    • 22% say right direction; 71% wrong track
  • Do you approve or disapprove of the job Barack Obama is doing as president?
    • 40% approve; 54% disapprove; 6% not sure
  • Do you approve or disapprove of the job Congress is doing?
    • 14% approve; 79% disapprove; 7% not sure
  • How do you feel towards Republicans in Congress?
    • 19% positive; 24% neutral; 54% negative
  • How do you feel towards Democrats in Congress?
    • 31% positive; 21% neutral; 46% negative
  • Are you satisfied or dissatisfied about how the United States is dealing with immigrant children from Central America?
    • 11% satisfied; 64% dissatisfied; 20% don’t know enough

Here’s what I think the poll tells us:

Americans do not believe the country is being run effectively.

In Congress, they blame Republicans more than Democrats, but both parties are scorched.

And, finally, President Obama receives low numbers on just about every vital issue.

That’s very bad news for liberal Americans, who continue to support the president.

(I wonder if NBC will run a story on the poll they sponsored?)

In a recent interview, liberal commentator Dan Rather said:

“President Obama’s not using the power of the presidency.  The basic power of the American presidency is the power to persuade—to persuade your own people to follow your leadership and persuade those overseas to follow as well—and there’s no magic wand that President Obama can wave to make up for his lack of persuasion.”

Dan Rather seems to be saying that Barack Obama is stymied primarily by the problems he inherited.  That simply is no longer true.  And there’s no need for a magic wand when you have six years to improve things.

Ronald Reagan inherited a mess from Jimmy Carter and turned it around.  Abraham Lincoln walked into incredible chaos—largely the fault of James Buchanan—but prevailed.  President Obama did inherit a terrible economy, but a fairly stable foreign situation.

Not only has Mr. Obama failed to significantly improve the economic story, but on his watch foreign policy has nearly collapsed.  By nearly every measure, things are worse in America than when Mr. Obama took office.

The Politics of Distraction:

President Obama and his administration have proven to be consummate campaigners.  Their current talking points as well as the 2012 election campaign was based on the assumption that if you can’t promote your accomplishments—DEFLECT and deflect is in full throttle!

Here’s a capsule of the deflections to watch over the next few months:

  1. America is not in decline or getting weaker. We are just “re-aligning” in a changing world.  If you believe that, I have a bridge I’d like to sell you.
  2. Impeachment—Republicans aren’t talking about impeachment; Democratic politicians and fundraisers are.
  3. The economy is improving. We’re adding more jobs every month.  Unfortunately, the jobs are low paying jobs.  Overall, wages continue to decline and we’ll be $20 trillion in debt by the time Obama leaves office.
  4. As each malfeasance exploded in the Fast & Furious episode as well as the IRA, the VA, Obamacare and Benghazi, we were assured that each was deplorable and the president would make sure people would be held accountable. Did he mean in our lifetime or the hereafter?\

In our foreign relations, there isn’t even an attempt to deflect.

Putin plays us like a child and we can’t persuade anyone to join us in mounting meaningful sanctions.

The red line in Syria came and went and so did our believability.

The ISIS terror army is on the verge of taking over Iraq; and after a year of “study,” we’ve finally launched a limited effort to halt their advance albeit without any long-range strategy to crush this insidious extremist crusade.

Yes, we will survive the worst of our presidents, but we will pay a steep price to overcome the malaise and the debt this one will leave us.

In 2012, the mantra was GM is alive and Osama Bin Laden is dead.  Today, that needs to be changed to Al Qaeda is more alive than ever and our economy is on life support.

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MENTAL HEALTH CRISIS – PART III – THE DOUBLE INDEMNITY OF DESPAIR

We’ve taken a broad overview of the mental illness problem in our first blog (6/11) and outlined how the problem breaks down by the numbers in our second blog (7/9).  Here we’ll try to take a more specific look at the major mental illness conditions that affect the most people; anxiety, depression, schizophrenia, and their “kissing-cousin” bipolar.

ANXIETY AND DEPRESSION

Anxiety affects over 40 million American adults in any given year.  Depression affects another 20 million.  Mood disorders are the third most common cause of hospitalization in the U.S.

Anxiety disorders include panic disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), and phobias (social phobia, agoraphobia, and specific phobia).

o   Panic disorder as well as social phobias typically develop in late adolescence or early adulthood

o   The first symptoms of OCD often begin during childhood or adolescence

o   About 30 percent of Vietnam veterans experienced PTSD at some point after the war and more won’t seek help

o   GAD can begin at any time, though the risk is highest between childhood and middle age

o   Individuals with OCD frequently can have problems with substance abuse or depressive or eating disorders

Depression and anxiety might seem like opposites, but they often go together.  More than half the people diagnosed with depression also have anxiety.

Either condition can be disabling on its own.  Together, depression and anxiety can be especially hard to live with, hard to diagnose, and hard to treat.

“When you’re in the grip of depression and anxiety, it can feel like the misery will never end, that you’ll never recover,” says Dean F. MacKinnon, MD, an associate professor at the Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore.  “But people do recover.  You just need to find the right treatment.”

The Symptoms of Depression and Anxiety

Depression can make people feel profoundly discouraged, helpless and hopeless.  Anxiety can make them agitated and overwhelmed by physical symptoms—a pounding heart, tightness in the chest, and difficulty breathing.

Treatment for Depression and Anxiety

Depression and anxiety can be harder to treat than either condition on its own.  Getting control might take more intensive treatment and closer monitoring, says Ian A. Cook, MD, the director of the Depression Research Program at UCLA.  Here are some tips:

  1. Give medicine time to work.  Many antidepressants also help with anxiety.  It could take time for the drugs to work—and time for your doctor to find the ideal medicines for you.
  2. Put effort into therapy.  Although many types of talk therapy might help, cognitive behavioral therapy has the best evidence for treating anxiety and depression.  It usually works within a few months, or not at all!
  3. Make some lifestyle changes.  As your treatment takes effect, you can do a lot on your own to reinforce it.  Breathing exercises, muscle relaxation, and yoga can help.  So can the basics, like eating well, getting enough sleep, and exercising.
  4. Get a second opinion.  When they’re combined, depression and anxiety can be hard to diagnose.  If you have any doubts about your care, it’s smart to check in with another expert.

SCHIZOPHRENIA (affects about 24 million adults)

Schizophrenia is one of the most confusing and disabling mental illnesses.  The symptoms fall into three broad categories, including positive symptoms, such as hallucinations; negative symptoms, such as apathy and social withdrawal; and cognitive symptoms, such as memory problems.  People who have this condition often require medication to control the most troubling symptoms.

Schizophrenia does not mean “split or multiple personality.”  Although people with schizophrenia are often portrayed as violent on television and in movies, that is seldom the case.  Schizophrenia is one of the most disabling and puzzling mental disorders in existence.  Just as the term “cancer” refers to numerous related illnesses, many researchers now consider schizophrenia to be a group of mental disorders rather than a single illness.

What Causes Schizophrenia?

Generally, schizophrenia begins in late adolescence or early adulthood.  Research indicates a genetic link to the development of schizophrenia.  A child who has one parent with schizophrenia, for example, has about a 10 percent chance of developing the illness, compared to a one percent chance if neither parent has schizophrenia.

Current research suggests that schizophrenia is related to abnormalities in both the brain’s structure and biochemical activities.  Researchers also tend to agree that environmental influences may be involved in the onset of schizophrenia.

Unlike people with anxiety disorders, who know they have a problem but are unable to control it, people with personality disorders generally are not aware that they have a problem and do not believe they have anything to control.

People with schizotypal personality disorder display a combination of odd behavior, speech patterns, thoughts, and perceptions.  Additional traits of people with this disorder include:

  • Dressing, speaking, or acting in an odd or peculiar way
  • Being suspicious and paranoid
  • Uncomfortable or anxious in social situations, emotionally distant, aloof or cold
  • Having few friends and being extremely uncomfortable with intimacy
  • Tending to misinterpret reality or to have distorted perceptions (for example, mistaking noises for voices)
  • Having odd beliefs or magical thinking (for example, being overly superstitious or thinking of themselves as psychic)
  • Being preoccupied with fantasy and daydreaming

BIPOLAR DISORDER

According to the NIH, over seven million people are affected.  Bipolar disorder, also known as manic-depressive illness, is a brain disorder that causes unusual shifts in mood, energy, activity levels, and the ability to carry out day-to-day tasks.  Symptoms of bipolar disorder are severe and can result in damaged relationships, poor job or school performance, and even suicide.  Bipolar disorder has many elements of both depression and schizophrenia but can be treated, and people with this illness can lead ful and productive lives.

Drug Treatment

In 2012, Americans filled 49.2 million prescriptions for anxiety medication Xanax and 43.8 million prescriptions for sleep aid Ambien.  That represents billions of dollars to the pharmaceutical manufacturers.  Mental illness causes so much suffering and we spend so much money on it.

In Part IV next month, we’ll take a look at the two mental illnesses that in some ways affect the caregivers almost as much as the patients:  children and suicide.

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