Think the Answer’s Clear?

Look Again

That’s a headline from the NYTimes this morning. Subtitile: Scientist at work: Dr. Donald A. Redelmeier.

As an Internist who works at Sunnybrook Hospital in Toronto, Canada’s largest trauma center, he’s figured out that talking on a cell phone while driving is just as dangerous as driving while intoxicated (I knew that).

He’s also figured out that changing lanes is not a good idea – those other people are not really going faster than you, it just looks that way (I didn’t know that and I still think they are going faster, but I’ll think about it).

And be careful about driving on Election Day or Super Bowl Sunday, because there are more accidents on those days (OK, that’s news to me).

Other things he researched and learned — If you are applying to college, don’t go for an interview on a rainy day (I don’t have to worry about that).

And Academy Award winners live longer than the runners up (I don’t have to worry about that, either).

But, more than what he came up with, I am more interested in how he comes up with it and what he’s derives from his discoveries.

“He’ll go totally against intuition, and come up with a beautiful finding,” said Eldar Shafir, a professor of psychology and public affairs at Princeton University, who has worked with Dr. Redelmeier on research into medical decision-making. (Next time, I have an intuition about something, I think I’ll try going the other way on purpose…).

“Life is a marathon, not a sprint,” Redelmeier said. “A great deal of mischief occurs when people are in a rush.” (Slow down. Slow down. Slow down. How many times do I have to tell myself that?)

And how about this?

In 1990, he and Professor Tversky published a paper in The New England Journal of Medicine showing that when physicians make a medical decision for a single hypothetical patient, they favor more expensive treatments than when making a decision for a group of hypothetical patients with similar symptoms. And in 1996 the two scientists found that increased arthritis pain had nothing to do with the weather. They attributed the misperception to the human tendency to look for patterns even where none may exist. (Next time I go to the doctors, I’m going to say: “I need to know this (or that), because all my friends have this problem and they need to know what to do…”)

And what about this?

Dr. Redelmeier takes the results of his research seriously. He rides his bike to work, and when he does drive, he resists “small temptations to change lanes.” (I’m going to try that in real life.)

This particular study intrigued me, too, because, in the past, I’ve thought long and hard about it.

Dr. Redelmeier is currently looking at attention deficit disorder among teenage drivers, and whether, like epilepsy, the disorder should be considered a medically reportable condition.

I saw that one clearly when my youngest daughter was learning to drive. I thought it was a no-brainer that kids with ADD or ADHD shouldn’t drive, and talked to her driving instructor, an ex-cop, about it.

He said, “Nah, she’ll be ok. Just get her to take her medicine.”

I wanted her to turn her license in. Of course, she said, no. It was many accidents later – thank god, not serious ones – that she finally got the message to slow down, and not to drive on top of the car in front of her…

So, thoughts to take away? I am not driving in the wrong lane. I am not going slow, and I should be going slower. Intuition is not it’s all cracked up to be, beware of patterns, I’m making it up, and, next time I interview, I’ll cancel if it’s raining.

Long Jim

Long Jim

I was dreaming of Long Jim Russell the other night. He was teaching a class on something interesting, although I can’t remember what, and I had the pleasure of being one of the teacher’s pets – but, of course, everybody in that class was teacher’s pet. (And his name was not really Jim Russell, but it might as well have been.)

At one point during class, we all had to do a little play on a story-book character. Me, about midway through the presentations, I said out loud, (right after someone else who wasn’t prepared had just taken his seat — and was going to get a talking-to by Long Jim later – on the phone – bad form to dress someone down in public).

I said, “Who am I supposed to give my presentation on?”

Long Jim looked at me and mouthed, “Jim Russell.” I couldn’t make it out, and turned to a classmate for help.

“Jim Russell,” my fellow classmate said.

Thank God, I knew about Jim Russell. And now that I think about it, I could make up anything I wanted about him, anyway…

…And it would be true.

The thing is, I had been reading a Time magazine article about him — it had been swiped before I was able to finish, but I had read enough to get by (and I wanted the magazine back). The part that I sort of remember reading was that Jim had piloted a biplane into a living room, and had plowed into a life-sized leather sculpture of a cow that was perched on the grand piano.

He was that kind of guy, you know. Sort of out of Great Gatsby, without the depression, or Indiana Jones, the archeologist who could fall into a pit of poisonous snakes and make it out ok.

So, I could say, “Well, everyone knows Jim Russell – We have our very own rendition lazing about teaching our class. Look no further.”

Thank god, I’d be able to manage, even though I’m having the “Here-I-am-again, in the old I’m-late-for-class – there’s-a-test-today, and I-haven’t-studied dream.

But who gives a damn? You don’t have to prepare, if you are going to give your presentation on Jim Russell!

Jim sent me down the hall to look for someone, and while I was at it, I searched for the magazine, but I couldn’t find it.

Oh, well.

But enough side-tracking. “Sure, I can give my talk,” I said to Jim. “No problem.” And I started for the front of the classroom.

“Not now. When I call you,” Jim said, dashing my hopes of getting the darn thing over with – he was going to call me last – or next to last. That’s what happens when someone thinks you are less scared than the others because you’ve done it before – so everybody else gets the break – know what I mean?

Anyway, at some point, I had heard that there was a teaching position open at a small college, and I knew that Jim was going to be offered the job. I told Jim about it — warned him you could say — and he had just rolled his eyes in disdain.

And then, there we were, Jim and I at lunch with the college president, who was obviously looking for a lead-in. I gave it to him.

“I heard there’s a job opening at the college,” I began… the college pres jumped right in. “Yes, he said and, I finished for him, “And you want Jim to take the job.”

“Yes,” the college pres said.

Jim started gesturing with his hand, like he was trying very hard to coerce a “yes” out, but couldn’t. He’d open his mouth and close it. Looked very sorry. But no words were coming out.

“The answer is obviously, No,” I finished for Jim.

I had a great deal of fun. It’s terrific to be teacher’s pet, especially when he’s dashing, handsome, fortune’s child, and dressed in Lauren and Gucci.

Ps. Jim is a friend of Jack Daniel and Johnny Walker. Did you know that? I definitely have a crush on him, but, of course, would never tell him…

How to eat a cupcake

Eating cupcakes

1. Choose a pack of small cupcakes, that way you can eat more without feeling guilty.

2. Pick one, preferably with the most icing on it.

3. Peel off the paper (unless you like paper).

4. Bite off the cake part.

5. Then, eat the icing all by itself.

6. Lick your fingers.

7. Repeat

Winter never goes south

Dark winter days are depressing. Brick buildings look horribly dead under gray skies and surrounded by denuded sleeping trees. All the world is overcast, and, I remember — looking out the hotel window —  that I wanted to cry. I feel waves of sadness just thinking about it.

All seems like misfortune with no promise of change. Maybe it’s the stillness that is so sad. Maybe it’s the fact that life, when it is completely colorless, is flat and not worth living.

Florida garden without the green

Maybe it’s that there are no shadows. No contrasts. Nothing green. Everything is dead, and there is absolutely no promise of spring. The word does not exist. The concept does not exist.

Caught in that dead place, I felt stuck, and thought that I would be looking out of that hotel room forever.

I am struck by that even today.  Although I live in a place that is eternally green, I find that I rarely make the time to enjoy it —  I do glance out occasionally and appreciate the  beautifully blue sky, or at sunset, with brilliant splashes of color spilling across it. Uplifting! No wonder people  return to Florida each winter!

Winter, I realize, does not have to be so damned. Looking at a country scene, cleansed by snow, winter is beautiful. It’s the city scapes that frighten me — the time before the snow, or after, when the dirt mixed with water makes the world feel like mud, a kind of wet, cold, clinging dirtiness that is horribly unpleasant.

Well, now, I was thinking about death and knowing that I was going to die…

Slowly, I saw my parents rid themselves of life. My mother especially. I watched her disassociate and come to accept her death. She didn’t know that she was dying, that’s the strange part.

My father, always quiet, became even more quiet. At the end, his arms and hands flew around, like they no longer belonged to his body. I thought he was afraid, and I wanted to quiet him, but the hospice nurse told me that moving like that was a part of death. I did not see that with my mother. My dad had a harder time dying. There was more pain, more knowledge, and a harder acceptance.

Me, I’ll probably be like that old lady I saw in Rome — the mean one dressed in a long black dress with the cane. She walked down the street  cursing (even though I don’t know Italian, I knew she was cursing). Rather than use her cane as a crutch, she used it as a weapon, flailing it around in front of her, parting the crowd. Making way.

A grumpy old woman. That’s what I’m afraid I will become.

Which reminds me. This year, I will direct my cane with precision, and, if I fail,  I will go to Oregon and get a job at a grocery store. End of story, and, now that I think about it, not a bad ending, at all!

Blending, processing, juicing

If I were dispensing advice, I would say, take care of your blender… my comments follow the video…

You know, maybe my son is right. Maybe, I am the one who keeps him here, although I surely didn’t do it on purpose.

In a way, he is amusing. Or I should say, interesting and thought provoking, because no way do I understand him.

Here is a guy who doesn’t have the money to get his car out of the repair shop. And everybody knows how a guy feels about his car…

And what does he do? He buys a blender.

Makes perfect sense, doesn’t it?

It’s got five speeds! He enthuses. What power!

Then, do you know what he does? He loses it.

How do you lose your brand new blender?

So, then what does he do? He uses my food processor, of course.

And overheats the darn thing, flipping it out, and it refuses to work…

Where is your blender? I ask him.

Oh, I left it someplace, he said, nonchalantly.

(Oh where would you take two pieces of a three-piece blender? Maybe you know. I certainly don’t)

Fearing for my food processor, I say, Do you want me to take you to get it?

Nah, he says. Did you say you had a juicer somewhere?

This morning, I see, the blender is sitting next to my coffee pot on the counter.

I am glad.

I take care of my things, even my stupid food processor. Is that a female thing? Taking care of what you care about? And why the heck do I care about my stupid food processor, anyway? You can only “pulse” it. Turning it all the way on get’s it excited and makes it poop out. And it completely lacks the power of my son’s blender…

I see now, that, not only do I not understand my son, but I am a total mystery, too. Maybe I Do keep him around on purpose.

ps. the video, by the way, was passed on by my friend, Dennis Vogt, right after I wrote this. So, I put them together — it’s a blender thing.

Another, what the

I saw him sculpting

I dreamed of a Far Eastern boy. Chinese or Japanese? Chinese, I think.

While being transported, something went wrong, and the whole group he was with were either killed or scattered. He, though, was somehow saved and protected.

First, he was used to carry secret messages, and at one point, saw someone from his ill-fated group who recognized him – she was working as some sort of tour guide for wealthy clients.

I also saw him painting and sculpting — getting the attention from his teachers because of his skillful execution.

What will this boy become? He is special. Observant. And has an unnamed gift that he has not yet developed – I think he has the ability to behold god.