Friday, January 15, 2010

I Misspoke - Your Television IS Lethal

I know the other day I kind of made fun of the researcher who wanted to assure us that our televisions were not lethal "in and of themselves." You might die earlier because of all the sitting still, he said, but the tv itself won't kill you.

Turns out, he was wrong.

According to that bastion of journalism and British consumer safety (The Midsussex Times), your tv might just kill you. Or your child. Or, by extenstion (they don't actually say this), a small animal.

"The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA) has highlighted a US study that estimated that 8,000 children in the US are injured by televisions every year." (Thanks Robyn for forwarding me this article: )

First of all, I have a large British contingent reading this blog . . . there is a royal society for the prevention of accidents? Really? I have to do some research - is there a US equivalent . . . perhaps the presidential committee for the prevention of falling? the senate judiciary committee with responsibility for the oversight of stubbed toes?

"How common are these incidents in the UK?" the article continues on. "The RoSPA states that it is aware of four cases in the UK since July 2008 in which children under the age of four have been killed by a television falling on them."

I guess now that televisions are as big as pool tables, a toppling tube could wreak some serious damage on a small animal or child.

So, I declare today, Friday January 15th, 2010, television safety day. And I plead with you, fasten down those child-killers! Or take a moment and anchor your 127" 5400p beasts to the foundation of your home!

Or maybe just get rid of your television.

Have a great weekend.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Book #10 is . . .

Coming up with my top ten novels of all time is no easy task. And I'm sure once my list is complete I'll remember others that I enjoyed more, or wished I would have included because their inclusion would have made me sound so much smarter. Oh well.

Book #10 on the all time list almost didn't make it due to almost being non-fiction - listed as a novel but actually a retelling of a true life story, What is the What by David Eggers is the tale of a boy soldier from the Sudan. The frame of the story is Valantino Achak Deng's sponsorship by an Atlanta church and his ensuing move to the States. But the American city is an alien world to him, and his attempts to find work, succeed in school, and live in an apartment with a roommate are humorous/painful to watch. Humorous in that he doesn't know what to do with some of the food that is given to him and sticks the peanut butter in the freezer. Painful because, in his innocence, he allows just about anyone into his home and ends up the victim of burglary and assault.

But his reflections on growing up in Africa are even more eye-opening. When I was a kid my biggest fear was missing the bus, or showing up to school in my underwear. But Deng lives in a world where soldiers arrive as if out of no where and destroy his world. Fleeing through the desert at night with a troup of other orphaned kids, he witnesses a lion race through their line and carry off two boys. The remaining orphans freeze in their path, scared to move. Eventually they sit down, holding their breath, listening to the lion devour the children it took, hoping the lion would not still be hungry when it had finished.

Eggers storytelling, from the perspective of an adult Deng, is remarkable. If you care at all about the plight of the boy soldiers and refugees in Africa, this is a must read, ranking right up there with the documentary Invisible Children.

Highly recommended.

Join us next Thursday when the curtain will be pulled back on my 9th favorite novel of all time.

Now on to the contest winners. First I must apologize for the lack of organization. And also for the fact that some of the answers were on my profile page. Ha! Anyway, the winner's are John Perella and Stephen. If you guys could let me know your addresses, I'll mail a copy of Think No Evil to you.

Happy Reading!

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

If You Watch TV You Will Die

First, an announcement (and then an explanation for the title of today's post). Now that I'm not watching television I'm getting a lot of reading done, so for the next ten weeks Thursdays' posts will cover my top ten favorite novels of all time, counting down from 10 to 1. Time for a little contest - whoever can guess the most books on my top ten list will win a copy of Think No Evil, a book I helped write about forgiveness and the Amish school house shooting. I know, I know, random. How do you have any idea what my favorite books are? Well, you could try listing your top ten and see if we have similar taste. Guesses need to be in before book #10 gets posted on Thursday morning.

Okay, so now on to why you are going to die if you watch tv. I know that we're all going to die anyway so I just as well could have written "shop at Abercrombie and you will die" or "Eat Healthy and you will die" or "read Shawn Smucker's blog and you will die (of boredom)". But check out some of these interesting findings from a recent article on CNN Health (thanks to Bryan Allain of for forwarding me this article - check out his blog - he's much more entertaining than I am - just don't start reading his blog instead of mine - okay, on to the article):

Too Much TV May Mean Earlier Death (I'm guessing they'll only report this online and not on their television network)

1) The more time you spend watching TV, the greater your risk of dying at an earlier age -- especially from heart disease, researchers found.

2) The study followed 8,800 adults with no history of heart disease for more than six years. Compared to those who watched less than two hours of TV per day, people who watched four hours or more were 80 percent more likely to die from heart disease and 46 percent more likely to die from any cause. All told, 284 people died during the study.

***Hold on a second . . . 284 people died during the study?!?! Did they die from heart disease or from "any cause"? Did the "any cause" include researches sneaking up on the 4-hour-or-more tv watchers and clubbing them on the head in order to pad their numbers?

3) Each additional hour spent in front of the TV increased the risk of dying from heart disease by 18 percent and the overall risk of death by 11 percent, according to the study, which was published Monday on the Web site of Circulation, an American Heart Association journal. (The study will appear in the Jan. 26 print edition.)

***This gives a whole new significance to the decision about whether or not to watch one NFL playoff game or two (by the way BA, your comments about John Gruden have been duly noted and we will throw down about that at a later date)

4) Television isn't lethal in and of itself; the real problem appears to be that sitting is the "default position" for TV viewing . . . "Prolonged watching of television equals a lot of sitting, which invariably means there's an absence of muscle movement," Dunstan says. If your muscles stay inactive for too long, it can disrupt your metabolism, he explains.

***"Television isn't lethal in and of itself" . . . who wrote that line? Did anyone actually think that one potential result of picking up the remote and pressing power was instant death???

5) The amount of television a person watches is a good index of the overall time they spend sitting, Dunstan says. But there's also some evidence that watching TV may be unhealthier than other sedentary activities, says Peter Katzmarzyk, Ph.D., an exercise scientist at the Pennington Biomedical Research Center, in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

"Reading or doing homework doesn't seem to be associated with risk factors as much as television viewing," says Katzmarzyk, who was not involved in the study but has studied the health effects of sitting time.

Thank you CNN for taking up my cause.

So, the next time you pick up that remote, think twice. There might be a television-hating researcher waiting to sneak up behind you and club you on the head, just so that they can list your death under "any cause".

Don't forget: ten favorite novels. Take a guess. Tune in tomorrow for book #10 on my all time favorites list and the winner of the contest (Maile, you are not allowed to guess).

In Memory of Jeni . . .

Happy Tuesday morning everyone. By the way, it's good to be back in PA. I hope you all enjoyed Maile's posts over the weekend - if you didn't get a chance, make sure you check them out today.

Well, another weekend without television, and the world has not crumbled. So what did I do this weekend? I'm glad you asked - I went to West Palm Beach, Florida and hung out with some dear friends, Jim and Susan.

Jim has a daughter Jeni. She would be a little older than me. She lived in Washington State where she worked at a cancer research center and was the mother of two beautiful boys.

In the summer of 2002 Jim's daughter Jeni had finally reached the point that many do, and decided that she needed to get out of the abusive relationship she was in. Her two sons were 5 and 2. Not too long before, they had both ridden in the ambulance with her to the hospital after her husband kicked her in the face and broke her jaw.

Jeni began making preparations to leave. I think her husband must have found some evidence of her impending departure, so he confronted her one night as she was on her way out the door. We don't know exactly what happened at that point, but we do know that at least one of her two young sons was upstairs, awake, as her husband continued shouting, made his way into a side room, came back, pushed Jeni to the ground and shot her in the back of the head. She died instantly.

The man tried to clean up the mess he had created, rolled Jeni up in a carpet and put her in the garage, no doubt waiting for the right time to dispose of her body. A local store's security camera shows him, that night, going into the store with one of his young sons on his shoulder, buying some beer and hanging out as if nothing had happened.

Fortunately the police discovered Jeni. I won't go into the weeks and months that followed, or into the lengthy court case where the defense tried to trash Jeni so that the defendent's claim that she committed suicide would be believed. I won't describe in detail the feelings in the courthouse when he was handed a 25 year sentence.

What I do want to talk about is what we can do. First of all, think about spending an evening with friends . . . without turning on the tv. We don't do this enough. Jim, Suzy and I had such a great time, reflecting on their experience and remembering Jeni. It was a tv-less weekend, and I treasure the hours we shared.

Secondly, think of your friends and family today and thank God for each and every minute that you have with them. As too many have experienced during this holiday season, nothing is guaranteed. Our tickets can be punched at any time, so as you start off on this (cold) Tuesday morning, I challenge you to live this week like it's your last.

Finally, please please please think about your family and friends. Do you know someone traveling Jeni's road? Do you know someone in an abusive relationship? Have you wanted to say something for a long time but didn't want to appear nosy or irrational? A serious intervention may have been able to save Jeni's life. A warning from you might save your friend's life. Maybe, if you can't work up the nerve to confront them, you could just forward this post. It may make them stop and think.

It may keep them alive to enjoy another year.

See you tomorrow.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Television = Emotional Porn?

Happy Monday morning to you all.

I was just wondering this morning, why has the television become such a success, available in 98% of American homes, watched for over three hours a day by the average American, eventually eating up almost nine years of our lives? What is it about tv that has so captivated our imaginations?

Here are the top five reasons I think we love the idiot box:

5) We Just Can't Look Away - yes, whether it's the excess and ensuing conflict of Housewives, or someone eating a bowl of cereal on Big Brother, or the 130 pound tumor with teeth and hair and a partially formed ear, sometimes we just can't look away.

4) Knowledge - some folks just like knowing stuff. I think most of us do. So whether it's in order to feel informed (World News) or smart (Jeopardy) or the opposite of naive (20/20), the television feeds this basic desire in us to be in the know.

3) Entertainment - let's face it, most of us spend our lives in a cubicle, staring at a screen. By the end of a long day of emails and meetings and work, we want something different. We want our emotions to be stirred. We want to laugh or cry or feel something, anything, and the deeper the better. Anger, horror, disgust, joy . . . these things awaken in us when we watch television in a way that seems not to happen very often in our normally pedestrian lives.

2) Comraderie - how many shows now have us choosing sides, rooting for someone, taking a team on as our own and then following the result? Survivor, American Idol, Biggest Loser, every single sports league, all those makeover shows? We trash talk other people's favorites if they are not ours. There is something in all of us that wants to choose a side, and win along with them. Example - I recently trash-talked an Eagles fan, mentioning "our 6 Super Bowl rings." What? Our rings? Last time I checked, I don't have a single Super Bowl ring.

And the number one reason I think most people watch television . . .

1) Anesthetic - this may sound like the complete opposite of #3, but hear me out. I think a lot of folks watch television because real life can be so messy and tiring and painful, and at the end of a long day, surrounded by our troubles, sometimes the easiest thing to do is let an outside source entertain us and help us forget about what's going on. Which would you rather do, spend time working on a messy relationship or watch a two-hour program that helps you forget about it and then go to bed? Spend a few hours talking to your spouse when you know things aren't going so well, or safely, without communicating, watch a bunch of relational freaks on tv that make your marriage feel not-so-bad? Engage your teenage kids and find out about all the crap they're involved in, all the tough stuff they're facing, or watch television together and feel like a family? Work out for months so you're in shape enough to compete in a local sports league, or just sit around and let the NFL stimulate your need for competition (ouch, that one hit close to home)?

In some ways, I think television satisfies our need for emotional stimulus the same way many people use pornography to stimulate their sexual desires. Both allow us to escape real life and experience something we want to experience from a safe distance, in a predictable way, and all in a medium over which we have complete control and can turn off whenever we want. The alternative takes too much effort or requires a level of vulnerability we are not prepared to encounter.

Hey, I don't know, maybe I'm completely off base. What do you think are the real reaons we watch television? Having a good laugh? Excellent script-writing? Engaging television shows? Something more innocent than having a base human desire fulfilled?

Sunday, January 10, 2010

And the Verdict for NoTV2010 Week One is...

I'm really loving this. Honest. I'm not just trying to candy-coat this in hopes of recruiting others into some sort of miserable cable-less, HD-void hell; I'm being very truthful when I say "I love not watching TV".

But I would be lying if I said I didn't miss it at all or that there weren't some very low points of which I am not all proud, for instance the two bowls of ice cream I ate down in the kitchen while Shawn's parents watched "The Biggest Loser" up in the loft, coming down in between commercials to report that "these people are just huge; you should see them", but of course, I can't, which I think is what pushed me from bowl one to bowl two. And, please, someone answer me this: why does everyone I know who watches Biggest Loser religiously always, I mean always, eat a bowl full of ice cream or some equally waistline-damning snack while these poor souls on the screen go through grueling workouts and are forced to wear lycra weigh-in outfits that, let's be honest here, are just plain cruel? I am as guilty as anyone of doing this so I'm not pointing fingers here, but a little psycho-analyzing might be in order (Aunt Kate, any thoughts?).

Anyway, that is all beside the point that I did indeed really miss watching "The Biggest Loser", and yesterday, when it was just me and the kiddos widdling away the hours of a Saturday, well, I wouldn't have minded having the t.v. on, just to veg out while the babes were napping or for a bit of background noise, but those are probably the only two times I really missed it.

I think the reason I am really loving this experiment right now is for two main reasons: 1. more sleep and 2. more time. Maybe this is a condition only reserved for parents of small children, but I tend to be a very tired, overwhelmed sort of person, who crawls out of bed in the morning counting down the hours till I can crawl back in, scrambling through the day trying desperately to check enough off my to-do list to feel like a semi-productive human being but inevitably I run out of time. But since living sans tv, well, I'm getting to bed at a decent hour, and finding that I'm getting a lot more done, since I'm not wasting two to three hours in front of the boob tube every night. I know, I know "All work and no play make Jack a dull boy"; I'm not saying I'm just a "to-do list" machine, rifelling through chores and errands like a domestic engineer Terminator. I just find that when I do relax in the evenings with a book or a game, I do it in a much more peaceful state of mind, not lamenting all the things I didn't get done today and how tired I'll be tomorrow. I guess I just feel a bit more in control of my life.

Please don't get me wrong. I don't think this experiment will cure my life or anyone else's of its daily woes, but it is at least easing mine a little at the moment and I'm thankful for that. Granted, we're only a week and a half into this. My tune may be diffent in a couple of months or, for that matter, next week. We'll see how this bad boy plays out but for now, it's all good (except, of course, for the potential weight I will gain if I can't shake the Biggest Loser binges on Tuesday nights...) This fulfills my duties as this weekend's guest blogger; thanks for tuning in!