Thursday, November 29, 2012

Stepping Away From That Cliff

Dear Madame L,

Let's say even if it's true what you wrote about how all Congress has to do is pass a law early next year making the tax breaks retroactive, so the so-called "fiscal cliff" isn't a problem after all: 

So, even if that's true, I read somewhere that if Congress does let the economy go over the fiscal cliff, then we will still have all kinds of problems because of people getting discouraged, losing their jobs, and all that, kind of like what led us into the financial mess we're just starting to recover from.

What do you have to say about that?


Seriously Disillusioned 

Dear Disillusioned,

Madame L agrees with that idea you've read, not because she's such an expert on these things, but because she has also been reading the same kinds of gloomy forecasts.

For example, the website writes that unless Congress can agree with the President by the end of 2012, "tax rates will increase [even if only temporarily] for everyone" and "budget cuts that are set to be implemented if no action is taken" will force government agencies to fire or lay off staff. 

This article concludes that "...Although both measures would reduce the nation’s deficit, such a confluence of events would threaten to tip an already-soft economy into a recession."

Pres. Obama announced yesterday (Nov. 28) several initiatives to urge people to let their members of Congress know how they feel about their intransigence on these budget issues. 

“If there’s one thing that I’ve learned, when the American people speak loudly enough, lo and behold, Congress listens,” Obama said. “My hope is to get this done before Christmas. But the place where we already have in theory at least complete agreement right now is on middle-class taxes.’’

Obama's budget office figures that if the current tax rates remain for the great majority of Americans, those earning less than $250,000 per year, while rates increase on those earning more, the budget problem will be solved.

Republican members of Congress, though, are still sticking to their old party line.

If you would like to let your Senators and Representative know how you feel, you should post your message on their Facebook page, send them a tweet, and/or send an email or snail-mail message to their offices.

Look just above and to your right on this page for the box called "Contacting Congress" for information on how to get your message across.

Best wishes,

Madame L

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Weird Word of the Week: Shy

     "In social psychology, shyness (also called diffidence) is the feeling of apprehension, lack of comfort, or awkwardness experienced when a person is in proximity to, approaching, or being approached by other people, especially in new situations or with unfamiliar people."

The article goes on to assert that shyness may be genetic, environmental, and/or related to experiences of growing up (i.e., again, it's environmental). It might even be a symptom of mercury poisoning (though that's unlikely in today's world and was even unlikely for anyone but hat-makers in olden times). 

The article goes on to make a lot of repetitious and sometimes absurd assertions about how children learn to become shy, how shyness is influenced by culture, and even how the length of the days during the mid-point of gestation of a child is correlated with the child's shyness. 

As Madame L's readers can imagine, Madame L was delighted with that idea, which confirms her ideas about astrology and about 90 percent of social and psychological research (at least as it is reported and understood in the popular press).

Dear Reader, are you shy? And if you are, do you know why? Have you been told (and do you believe) that you would be happier if you were gregarious and outgoing? Do you feel your shyness has affected your life unfavorably? Were you somewhat shy as a child but less so now? 

Madame L found out about the etymology of the word "shy" on Wiktionary:  'From Middle English shy (shy), from Old English sċēoh (shy), from Proto-Germanic *skiuhwaz (shy, fearful). Cognate with Dutch schuw (shy), German scheu (shy), Danish sky (shy).'

Madame L will soon be reviewing a book which deals comprehensively and humorously and intelligently  with the issue of shyness or introversion: "Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking," by Susan Cain. (Yes, as you guessed, the very shy and introverted Madame L is enjoying the book very much.)

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

What Fiscal Cliff?

Dear Madame L,

Everybody is talking about how we're going to go over the so-called "fiscal cliff" at the end of this year if Congress won't agree with Pres. Obama about the automatic ending of tax cuts then. Can you please explain?


Not Ready for a Cliffhanger

Dear Not Ready,

Fortunately for you and Madame L and the rest of this country, the so-called "fiscal cliff" is no cliff at all. Maybe a bump in the road. Maybe a curb. Here's the deal:

The tax cuts instigated by Bush II will expire at the end of the year, meaning that people like you and Madame L and 100 percent of the people in the U.S. will suddenly have to pay much higher taxes than we've grown accustomed to paying...which will be a hardship for you and Madame L and 99 percent of the people in the country but a mere drop in the bucket for the 1 percent.

Except:  Even if Congress and the President don't agree by the end of the year, Congress can fix it all retroactively when they re-convene in January, at which time they will also not be a lame-duck Congress.

Madame L personally hopes that Pres. Obama will call the bluff of Rep. Boehner and all the Tea Party idiots who are making a big deal about this.

Let the tax cuts expire. Then make a new law giving tax cuts for those earning less than $250,000 per year (or $200,000 for single people) and NOT giving tax cuts for those people who don't need them and who do need to start contributing to the economy, i.e., the 1 percent (who, by the way, are not only not paying their fair share in taxes but are also not doing anything for job creation or anything else to help the country whose infrastructure has given them their wealth). 

And, by the way, Madame L thinks all Republicans in the House and Senate should continue to give this message to the lobbyist behind the tax bluff and tax idiocy that's keeping our economy from expanding now:

"It's over, Grover."


Madame L

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Coach Laura: Tips to Enjoy Your Thanksgiving Meal!

As you know, being healthy isn’t just about exercising. After all, you’re only as good on the outside for what you’re putting on the inside. With the holiday season upon us, and on the eve of a day of feasting, I want to share some tips with you so that it can be a truly joyous, celebratory season, not one filled with guilt and over-indulgences.

To begin with, put aside the anxiety and stress of eating. First of all, you won’t have any fun, and the stress of worrying about food causes your body to go into fat storage mode – the exact opposite of what you really want to accomplish. Let’s take Thanksgiving as an example. If you wait until the one big meal to eat, you’re doing yourself and body a disservice. Your body will go into famine mode, and when it’s time to eat, you’ll more likely overeat. When that happens, your body, since it was in famine mode, grabs all those calories and turns them straight to fat.

Start first by changing your mindset. Instead of worrying about what you’re going to eat, be grateful  that you have a wonderful event to go to where there will be wonderful food. That’s better for your metabolism. Another great thing for your metabolism is to keep it fueled throughout the day.

So on Thanksgiving morning, have a healthy breakfast. It doesn’t have to be huge (nor should it be!), but healthy. Fruits, whole grains and a protein are great options for that. Then throughout the day until the big meal, have small protein snacks. Examples of that are jerky, or a hard-boiled egg, or hummus with vegetables. Eat lots of vegetables, but especially protein, and especially animal protein, which is the most easily absorbed. This will keep your blood sugar stable and your muscles will have fuel to store any extra sugars (like the pie for dessert) as glycogen instead of fat.

That way your body is getting more and more excited for the big event and will be more able to use the food properly and convert it the way it should rather than just turn it immediately into fat. You’ll be hungry but not famished, and this will help the fat-burning hormones in your body to be primed and ready to handle the delicious food that’s been prepared.

This is a holiday of giving thanks and of feeling gratitude. Don’t put a shadow on the day by feeling guilty for over-eating. If you’re like me, you’re feeling blessed and have a lot of reasons to give thanks. Above all, enjoy the day, count your blessings, and enjoy your food!

To your health and happy eating,

Coach Laura

Monday, November 19, 2012

Abortion and Politics

Dear Madame L,

In your posts leading up to the election you wrote a bit about abortion. You kept writing that although you opposed it in general, you thought it was up to a woman to decide for herself. 

But don't you worry about people using abortions as a backup birth control method or something like that? Don't you think we should have some kind of guidelines that would limit abortions to cases of rape, incest, or health of the mother?

And doesn't your own church teach that abortion is wrong?


Glad My Mother Gave Birth to Me

Dear Glad,

Madame L is also glad you were born. Yet Madame L still thinks it was up to your mother, and should not have been decided by some hypocritical  male politician.  

Madame L used the adjective "male" because she doesn't generally care what men, who do not undergo pregnancy and childbirth and usually do not endure the difficulties of primary child care, have to say about birth control and abortion.

Madame L used the adjective "hypocritical" deliberately because she is well aware that many prominent abortion opponents think abortion is wrong for other women but okay for their own wives, girlfriends, mistresses, and/or daughters (case in point: Rep. Scott DesJarlais). 

In fact, Madame L agrees with Amanda Marcotte's statement that "... the 'pro-life family man' motif has always been just a genteel cover for base sexism, a way of putting a positive spin on the belief that women are a second class of human, put on earth to serve men." 

Madame L agrees that banning abortion outright (while, again, hypocritically, denying access to health care including birth control) tends to increase incidences of attempted abortions, while driving it underground, where it is still accessible to rich women and wives of members of Congress while even more dangerous for poor and desperate women. 

Thus, Madame L believes, the current anti-abortion rhetoric by conservative politicians is just another weapon in the wars against women and the 98 percent.

Here is the official statement of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on abortion. For a deeper discussion on the church's beliefs and social presence, you can browse through the "Commentaries" section of the church's website,


Madame L

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Book Review, Sunday, November 18, 2012: The Signal and the Noise (Again)

Madame L's very own copy of "The Signal and the Noise" arrived in yesterday's mail, so she hasn't had a chance to sit down and enjoy it yet, but she has a few teasers for her Dear Readers, with the promise that she'll write more about it before this year is up.

---Why does the U.S. Geological Survey say it can't predict earthquakes, but Nate Silver say you can forecast them?

---Why did Nate Silver's predictions about the outcome of the 2012 elections come closer to the actual results than the prediction and poll results of every other polling group and bloviating commentator?

---Why did Nate Silver go wrong in Montana, the only state where he missed a bet?

Madame L is excited to read more about Mr. Silver's statistical methods and his great stories about the history of statistics and why Bayesian theory works, and then to report to her Dear Readers.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

A-E* Pants on Fire # 3: The View

(*A-E = After Election)    

Dear Madame L,

Here's one more example of a media bias against Mitt Romney and his religious beliefs. It's not that I object to the "soft"  interview the women of "The View" gave to First Lady Michelle Obama, but I do object to the questions asked of Ann Romney and the way they were asked.

For example, Barbara Walters's first question to Michelle Obama was: "In an interview just recently, you said, and I quote, that you are sometimes unsure if you are a classic First Lady and if the things you do are okay. So why do you feel this way and who is your idea of a classic First Lady?

In contrast, Barbara Walters's first question to Ann Romney was: "So we have been talking primarily about the women's issues and one of the thigns your husband said was that when he was a governor, he was pro-choice and now is against abortions except in the case of rape and incest and the life of the mother. I wonder where your views are. Were you the same way when he was governor? Have you changed?

Whoopi Goldberg's first question to Michelle Obama was "Does he [your husband] tease you?"

In contrast, Whoopi's first question to Ann Romney was: "As First Lady if you get the job, it's going to entail a lot of things, and one of those things is going to be talking to the mothers whose children are coming home in bags, you know, from wars. Now, I know, I believe, that your religion doesn't allow you to go fight?"

Ann Romney replied, "No, that's not correct."

Whoopi said, "Okay. So---"

Ann Romney said, "We have many, many members of our faith that are serving in the armed services."

Whoopi said, "Okay. Well, I say that because when I read about your husband, what I had read, and maybe you can correct this, is that the reason he didn't serve in Vietnam was because it was against the religion. That's what we--that's what I read."

And so on.

Madame L, I'm not writing you all this to be accusatory toward you or toward anyone, but just to point out that there IS a bias against the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and there IS an amazing ignorance about the religion and its teachings. I don't think anyone on TV news or commentary or talk shows would dare to make such incorrect and unresearched "talking points" about any other major religious belief, but they don't hesitate to state their false assumptions and prejudices toward the LDS Church (and then ignore the interviewees' attempts to answer their questions).



Dear Bothered,

Madame L thanks you for raising these points to make all her Dear and Gentle Readers, whether they are members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints or not, aware of the prevalence of this ignorance and hypocrisy in approaching the church's beliefs and its members.

Madame L hopes that you and other members of the church will continue to be active in your communities, reaching out to people of other faiths, so they will know who the "Mormons" really are and what we believe.

Remember --- no, you don't remember this, as you weren't born then --- but Madame L remembers when Jack Kennedy was running for president, and the lies and stupid things that were being said at that time about him because of his religion. And he changed that, so now even some of those ignorant commentators who blather on about the LDS Church are Catholics themselves, and apparently oblivious of their hypocrisy.

Hang in there,

Madame L

Friday, November 16, 2012

Is My Cell Phone Really "Going Public"?

Dear Madame L,

I just got an email message from a friend of a friend saying everyone's cell phone is "going public" and we'd better watch out and put our cell phone number on some kind of national registry or else we'll start getting calls from telemarketers and we'll have to pay long-distance charges for these calls and a whole lot of other scary stuff. 

But I got a message like that from a different friend of a different friend a couple of years ago, so I'm wondering if this is true.



Dear Averse,

Madame L just now did what your friend-of-a-friend could have done before forwarding that message: she checked online and found the following:

According to the Urban Legends website, "This online rumor has been circulating continuously since September 2004. Despite a very small grain of truth at its core, it's mostly false, outdated, and misleading."

In fact, cell phone numbers aren't about to "go public," which was what people were worried about when some wireless phone companies said they were going to establish a universal cell phone directory. (And even if that had happened, it was only going to be available to people who called a directory assistance number, and was only going to give cell phone numbers of customers who agreed to have their numbers listed.) 

Still, if you want to keep from getting telemarketing calls, you can add your cell phone number to the National Do Not Call Registry. 

Madame L recommends that you go to that government website to check out all the information they provide there, and hopes you'll continue to ask her these kinds of questions, instead of forwarding those emails from those well-intentioned friends.

By the way, you can check out urban legends yourself at Madame L's favorite urban-legends-fact-checking site,


Madame L

Thursday, November 15, 2012

A-E* Pants on Fire # 2:

(* A-E = After Election)

Dear Madame L,

Thanks for your comments on Lawrence O'Donnell. Now, here's another one I'm wondering about. I've noticed that sometimes you reference in your posts. Didn't you realize that it also has an anti-Mormon bias?

For example, if you do a search on the website for "Mormon," here are the first five results you'll find, all of these written during the 2012 presidential campaign:

1. "Sins of a good Mormon boy, Sep 14, 2012 ... Each year, the church asked me the same question: "Do you touch yourself?" Each year I lied, and hated myself more…
2. “The Book of Mormon’s foggy origins” - Aug 12, 2012 ... The Book of Mormon's foggy origins. This article is an excerpt from the book " Falling in Love with Joseph Smith: My Search for the Real Prophet ...

3. “Who really wrote the Book of Mormon?” - Oct 31, 2012 ... Members of the church have long held that it's Joseph Smith. The answer may be slightly more complicated.
4. “Is Mormon underwear magic?” - Jul 7, 2012 ... To outsiders, there is little more fascinating about the Mormon religion than the secret underwear.
5. “Anti-Mormon Prejudice vs. racism” - Jul 29, 2012 ... But prejudice against Mormons is not a defining and constituting fact of American life, the way slavery and anti-black racism (which is the .. .

Don't you think, Madame L that this indicates a certain anti-Mormon prejudice---and is somewhat disingenuous to claim there's no prejudice while showing that very prejudice?  I don't see writing articles like that about the Catholic church, for instance, or any other church. Only the Mormons. 


Still Fuming

Dear Fuming,

Madame L  thanks you sincerely for bringing this to her attention. She has noticed this prejudice, too; although  just now, searching on it for "Mormon" and in another search for "Catholic," she has gotten no hits, just a little "working" dot going around and around and around for more than five minutes.  On the other hand, Madame L long ago stopped reading those columnists whose anti-Mormon writings are particularly virulent.  (Madame L does not name them or link to them here because she's not interested in making them better known and accessible to others.)

Madame L does not defend or any other website that participates in this kind of demagoguery. As with Lawrence O'Donnell, she finds access to other writers and commentators and ignores the offensive material. 

Madame L hopes you'll continue to search for accurate and interesting reporting in every news venue and continue to alert her and her Dear and Gentle Readers to issues of bias and prejudice.


Madame L

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

A-E* Pants on Fire # 1: Lawrence O'Donnell, Unbigoted and Fair Commentator

(*A-E means After-Election)

Dear Madame L, 

Is it true you watch MSNBC and read for news and commentary on political issues? 

If so, I'm extremely disappointed. Are you aware that Lawrence O'Donnell of MSNBC's "The Last Word" is not only a religious bigot but also a laughably delusional hypocrite? 

Here are two quotes from him. Most recently, he said shortly after the election was called for Barack Obama, early in the morning of Nov. 7, 2012:  

"Let's just remember the reason his religion was discussed in political terms by analysts at any point was the Bible-thumping side of the Republican party, and that's where anti-Mormon feeling resides. It doesn't exist in the Democratic party. If he was running in Democratic primaries, it never would have come up as a factor."

If that were true, then good for him for pointing it out. But it's NOT true. He himself made a big point of talking about Mitt Romney's religion repeatedly even while proclaiming proudly that he didn't think religion should be an issue in American politics (and while talking about his own upbringing in the Roman Catholic church, the fact that he doesn't drink alcohol, and so on --- as if anyone cared). Here's one of the defamatory and untrue things he said during the Republican primary contests in April 

"Mormonism was created by a guy in upstate New York in 1830 when he got caught having sex with the maid and explained to his wife that God told him to do it. Forty-eight wives later, Joseph Smith's lifestyle was completely sanctified in the religion he invented to go with it. Which Mitt Romney says he believes."

So, Madame L, what do you have to say about that?


Bugged by the Hypocrisy of So-Called Liberals

Dear Bugged,

Madame L agrees with you that Mr. O'Donnell has expressed some hateful, mean, bigoted and hypocritical views about the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and Gov. Mitt Romney, and she does not excuse him for that. 

In fact, Madame L called him out for those hateful expressions, both here on her blog and by sending him e-mails. Madame L also knows that Mr. O'Donnell supposedly apologized for his lies about Joseph Smith, although his so-called apology was far from real or sincere.

 You may also want to read Michael Scherer's confirmation of the way Lawrence O'Donnell used a bunch of lies to hide behind so he could express his personal animosity toward the LDS Church and Mitt Romney; Mr. Scherer also points out that Mr. O'Donnell's so-called apology was only saying he wished he hadn't said that, not really apologizing for having said it and not explaining the truth. Mr. Scherer writes:

     "So O’Donnell was factually incorrect. But that is not the sum of what happened on his April 3 program. In mentioning Smith’s polygamy, and then connecting it to “what Mitt Romney says he believes,” O’Donnell seemed to be doing what he has condemned in other contexts. He was raising a question about Romney’s own judgement and values based upon his religious beliefs, which would be out of bounds in the context of other religions. [Emphasis added.] I am Jewish, for instance, and I have been a guest on O’Donnell’s show. O’Donnell would certainly never suggest that Abraham’s apparent willingness to murder his own son, Isaac, reflect on my own judgement and values."

Mr. Scherer also points out that Mr. O'Donnell had on several other occasions maligned the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, mis-stated its teachings, and made fun of its members. Mr. Scherer quotes what Mitt Romney said about the issue of his religion, comparing it to the issue of Jack Kennedy's religion when he ran for president:

     "Almost 50 years ago another candidate from Massachusetts explained that he was an American running for president, not a Catholic running for president. Like him, I am an American running for president. I do not define my candidacy by my religion. A person should not be elected because of his faith nor should he be rejected because of his faith. Let me assure you that no authorities of my church, or of any other church for that matter, will ever exert influence on presidential decisions. Their authority is theirs, within the province of church affairs, and it ends where the affairs of the nation begin."

Does all this mean that Madame L has stopped watching "The Last Word"? No. Madame L sometimes records the show and then (occasionally) watches the bits she thinks will be useful or interesting, for instance, Mr. O'Donnell's interviews with public figures. (In practice, this means that Madame L fast-forwards through the opening bits in which Mr. O'Donnell grins exuberantly while saying mean and hateful things about the people he has decided to criticize that evening, and then through his other introductions to interviewees, as well as the commercials.)

However, and here's the sad fact for Mr. O'Donnell and his opinions: 

Neither Madame L, nor you, nor anyone else, can ever really trust anything Mr. O'Donnell himself says, not only about Mitt Romney and his (and yours, and Madame L's) religion, nor anything else, can we. 

Thank you for giving Madame L another chance to address this issue. 


Madame L

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Coach Laura: The Plank - Not Just For Walking

We all know that exercising is important. We probably get guilty just thinking about it, in fact, because we hear it all the time, and if we’re not as diligent at is as we hear we’re supposed to be, the guilt sinks in. It may seem too daunting to start, or if you’ve started, it might seem as though you’re not seeing results, or maybe you worry that you’re doing the wrong thing at the wrong time, or not enough of the right thing, or…the list is endless.

No matter what phase of your exercise program you’re in, there’s one thing you can start doing or add to your routine that will increase your flexibility, strengthen your core muscles that support joints, and even make you look better. Interested? 

The plank – so simple and easy to do, yet complicated and difficult. No, I don’t mean to make it sound confusing. It IS simple, although doing a plank well when first starting off is challenging, and that’s part of what makes it fun. It’s the perfect exercise for any person at any phase of physical fitness. It can be modified for beginners and challenging for experts while still giving you all the benefits. 

To perform the plank movement, lie face down on the floor, hands underneath your shoulders. Inhale and brace your core by sucking in your abdominals and rolling your shoulder blades back and down. Exhale and lift up onto your hands and toes, keeping your body straight and not allowing your hips to rise up or sag. Keep your head aligned with your spine by looking at a spot on the floor about 6 inches above your hands. Hold for as long as you can, aiming for a 30-second hold.

If resting on your fingers is too difficult, you can modify the move by resting on your forearms instead. 

Holding this position for one minute will work your abs more than you think (almost 66 percent more than crunches, according to research). If you can’t hold it for one minute to start off with, that’s okay. Practice makes perfect, as they say. Time yourself and watch yourself improve. As you practice regularly, you’ll surprise yourself with how quickly you will improve.

If holding a plank for one minute is already no problem, try for two or three at a time. As an added challenge, and to really carve your core, try reducing your stability by raising one arm, one leg—or both—and holding the plank position for 30 to 60 seconds. Just make sure you don’t allow your core to move or rotate (that’s cheating).

Even just being aware of how you hold your basic core and practicing each day on proper core and body alignment will give you many of the same benefits of a plank. In my indoor cycling classes, even though we’re merely sitting on a bike and pedaling, I emphasize core awareness and posture and alignment. One of my students told me that in the two months he’s been coming regularly to my class and being self-aware of his core, even by the basic things I do in my class, he has increased his weight lifting program by 30%. Yes, you read that right – he can now bench press 30% more now than he could two months ago, simply by strengthening his core. And this is a man in his late 60s!

Instead of putting yourself on a guilt trip for watching TV instead of exercising, just take the next commercial break you have – give yourself the best 30 seconds you’ll have all day.