Laughter & The Heart

If I seem a bit pre-occupied with heart attack issues, it’s only because I had one.  This recent feature, sent to me by Risa, is good for a laugh.

Laughter is the "Best Medicine" for Your Heart

By Michelle Weinstein
University of Maryland Medical System Web Site Writer

Can a laugh every day keep the heart attack away? Maybe so.

Laughter, along with an active sense of humor, may help protect you against a heart attack, according to a recent study by cardiologists at the University of Maryland Medical Center in Baltimore. The study, which is the first to indicate that laughter may help prevent heart disease, found that people with heart disease were 40 percent less likely to laugh in a variety of situations compared to people of the same age without heart disease.

"The old saying that ‘laughter is the best medicine,’ definitely appears to be true when it comes to protecting your heart," says Michael Miller, M.D., director of the Center for Preventive Cardiology at the University of Maryland Medical Center and associate professor of medicine at the University of Maryland School of Medicine. "We don’t know yet why laughing protects the heart, but we know that mental stress is associated with impairment of the endothelium, the protective barrier lining our blood vessels. This can cause a series of inflammatory reactions that lead to fat and cholesterol build-up in the coronary arteries and ultimately to a heart attack."

In the study, researchers compared the humor responses of 300 people. Half of the participants had either suffered a heart attack or undergone coronary artery bypass surgery. The other 150 did not have heart disease. One questionnaire had a series of multiple-choice answers to find out how much or how little people laughed in certain situations, and the second one used true or false answers to measure anger and hostility.

Miller said that the most significant study finding was that "people with heart disease responded less humorously to everyday life situations." They generally laughed less, even in positive situations, and they displayed more anger and hostility.

"The ability to laugh — either naturally or as learned behavior — may have important implications in societies such as the U.S. where heart disease remains the number one killer," says Miller. "We know that exercising, not smoking and eating foods low in saturated fat will reduce the risk of heart disease. Perhaps regular, hearty laughter should be added to the list."

Miller says it may be possible to incorporate laughter into our daily activities, just as we do with other heart-healthy activities, such as taking the stairs instead of the elevator. "We could perhaps read something humorous or watch a funny video and try to find ways to take ourselves less seriously," Miller says. "The recommendation for a healthy heart may one day be exercise, eat right and laugh a few times a day."

In addition to helping your heart, laughter offers other important health benefits. "People become healthier from laughter," observes Judy Goldblum-Carlton, a humor therapist at the University of Maryland Hospital for Children’s Division of Pediatric Hematology/Oncology. "It improves circulation. When you laugh heartily, every organ is being massaged including your heart, lungs and digestive system. Headaches can just go away. When you laugh the endorphins released make you feel this elation. It makes those big decisions seem so much less important."

"A Southern Baptist, a Moslem, and a Mormon walk into a bar.  Bartender looks up and says, "What is this, some kind of a joke?"


MY SISTER’S BOOK

The first person in my immediate family to become a published author was my sister, Janice. The book, THE STATUE OF LIBERTY IS CRACKING UP, was a clever compendium of observations, advice and one-liners about failed marriages, and recovering from them. The book had a schizophrenic voice — two women of vastly different styles sharing the same binding in a book about broken bonds. Jan’s material was clever and quirky; her co-author’s  material, while well written, tended toward the mean-sprited and resentful. In retrospect, I think Jan’s wit and wisdom, appropriately packaged and promoted  could have produced one of those "forever in print" self-help standards of the industry — the kind of book that never goes away, elevating the author to Dr. Phil status as some sort of pop culture icon of advice.  Too bad it didn’t happen that way. Yet, my sister has managed to share inspiration and encouragement to many people over the past several decades via her newspaper features, and more recently on her Curran Events blog on-line.  Sometimes, a few good words at the right time can make a major difference in someone’s life. I know for a fact that my sister’s efforts to help others deal with Lupus, chemo, and other challenges have been of significant value. I  get Christmas cards every year from a friend who credits Janice’s supportive encouragement, shared years ago, with helping save her life. There is an old expression: "If you save one person, it is as if you have saved all mankind."  So, maybe her first and only book didn’t become a best seller, but the author’s dream of having a positive and lasting impact on the lives of others became a reality, and that’s worth more than any royalty check. Besides, Janice becoming a published author assuredly contributed to the "writer mindset" manifested in her offspring. There are no "pre-published" authors in the family.  Download jans_book.jpg

Oh, please start learning Japanese. My forthcoming book, STEALTH will be released October, 2005 in Japan. I’m writing it in English; it will be translated into Japanese and released to coincide with the debut of the film of the same name.  Sadly, the American audience will be denied the joy of reading Burl Barer’s STEALTH — unless they read Japanese. So, start learning!

GEORGE BUSH AS BATMAN

"Batman Begins" is a big budget, big action, big fun re-telling of the Batman origin story — how Bruce Wayne becomes THE BATMAN!  The events in the film take place prior to the Michael Keaton/Jack Nicholson face-off , and there is a delightful anticipatory reference to that film similar to the "Silence of the Lambs" set-up at the end of "Red Dragon."  The only problem I had with Batman Begins is that the actor who plays Bruce Wayne looks like George Bush!!! He does, honest. Look at the mouth. It’s creepy. Everytime Batman would get all Batmanian and intone his neurotic fear-based ramblings, I kept hearing George Bush saying "I’m a war president. I wake up everyday thinking about war."  Now we’re talking about something really batty!

Michael Caine, who plays Alfred the butler, once again steals every scene. Gene Hackman and he share the commonality of being better than most of the films in which they appear.  Have Caine and Hackman ever co-starred in a film together?  Caine, despite his age and perhaps being not that familiar to the younger movie goers, was the only character to get cheers and applause from the audience during the packed screening I attended last night. No cheers for the car, the batsuit, etc – but for Michael Caine.

The following picture has nothing to do with Batman, but it does have to do with George W. Bush, our current President of the United States. I have never met the fellow, and I stay aloof from partisan politics as it is divisive. I must admit, however, that I found this amusing:

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Little Black Sambo

I always wondered why people got so uptight about the name of Sambo’s restaurants.  What was so offensive about that well dressed little kid in India outsmarting some tigers, and turning them into butter for his breakfast?? As my sister brought it up, i did some research:

Sambo’s is the name of a former American restaurant chain, started in 1957 by Sam Battistone (who later became the owner of the Utah Jazz of the National Basketball Association) and Newell Bohnett. Though the name was taken from portions of the names of its founders, the chain soon found itself associated with The Story of Little Black Sambo. Battistone and Bohnett then sought to capitalize on the coincidence by decorating the walls of the restaurants with scenes from the book, including a dark-skinned boy and tigers; once critics began voicing objections, the use of the boy’s image was eliminated but the tigers remained. By 1979, Sambo’s had 1,200 outlets in 47 U.S. states, but two years later the company went bankrupt, having changed the name of some of the outlets shortly before going out of business to "No Place Like Sam’s," apparently in response to complaints about the name "Sambo’s" from African-American organizations. Today, only the chain’s flagship restaurant in Santa Barbara, California still exists.  In its last days of existence Sambo’s was sued by Dr. Pepper for allegedly plagiarizing the latter’s popular television commercial in a spot Sambo’s ran to promote its newly-established senior citizen discount program — and even more interestingly, was also sued by non-white employees and applicants who were alleging discrimination in hiring and advancement decisions. Battistone’s grandson, Chad Stevens, expressed a desire to revive the chain at various times in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

The Story of Little Black Sambo (1898) by Helen Bannerman, was the story of a boy named Sambo who outwitted a group of hungry tigers. The setting of Bannerman’s story was clearly in India – as can be seen by the presence of tigers and the reference to ghee – and thus it is likely that the "Sambo" character began life as an Indian boy.  Today the book has been renamed, The Story of Little Babaji, and the illustrations that reflected the character’s Indian origins in a non-marginalizing manner.

Which remind me — this may sound spooky, but did anyone see THE HUMAN STAIN starring Anthony Hopkins and Nicole Kidman? What a horrid name for a book/movie. Good movie, I thought. Anyone read the book? Well, obviously SOMEONE read the book — i mean did YOU read the book?

DRACULA’S DOG — HOUND FROM HELL!

Lee Goldberg, who’s daughter is the same age as the University Village Barnes & Noble, asked if HIGH TENSION ranks right up there with DRACULA’S DOG when it comes to fine cinematic experiences.  First of all, as many movie pundits have previously discussed (ie Michael Medved’s "Dracula’s Dog and the Pawing Liberals’ Attempt to Elicit Affection by Rolling Over and Playing Dead" published in "You’ll Never be Semi-Rational at Lunch in this Town Again Quarterly" — a 25cent publication dedicated to absurdist nuevo-orthodox critics who got busted selling good reviews for bad movies and had to leave town and attack Hollywood — small subscription base, but dedicated) Dracula’s Dog was also released with the alternate title: ZOLTAN, THE HOUND OF DRACULA.  If both these films are featured on a double bill, you may notice similarities in cast, production, script, and all aspects except title sequence.

Lee remembers Dracula’s Dog (and Dracula’s grand-dog — a red eyed puppy destined to be denied the sequel the world feared) because we saw that film at the drive-in movie the same night we saw Bruce Springsteen live. Well, in truth, we had 10th row center seats for The Boss for his concert at the Paramount Theater in Seattle but we left early so we wouldn’t miss a moment of Dracula’s Dog!  Good thinking on our part! You notice that Bruce is still hanging around doing concerts and putting out CDs, but have you seen any tours of Zoltan? Didn’t think so. We saw the Dog on the Dog’s only Zoltonic Tour performance.

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High Tension

To keep my heart calm, Jordan and I went to HIGH TENSION — the gory French psycho film featuring a non-stop creep-out of straight razor murder, dismemberment, and mental perversity that is beyond the beyond.  It is so disgusting, Norman Bates wouldn’t take his mother to see it.  Of course, I loved it.  The movie has occasional subtitles, but mostly is dubbed in English for wide American appeal. Jordan was unimpressed. "The actors in that movie were lip-syncing," he complained. "And they didn’t do a very good job."  Now that I’ve seen it, I want to catch it on video to see the "clues" to the revelatory ending.  It was far better than Boogyman — the movie sooo stupid, the entire theatre audience yelled insults at the screen and the projectionist had to run for his life.

Yes, it’s true — there IS a movie entitled ROSCOE’S CHICKEN AND WAFFLES!  I have eaten at Roscoe’s, and the chicken/waffle combination is excellent.  I’m thinking of starting Burl’s Beef Steak & Pancake Restaurant, but I’m too busy right now writing STEALTH and polishing "Secrets of a Hollywood Private Detective."

MORPHINE & EDWARD G ROBINSON

It’s hard to believe that this morning, before breakfast, I was shot up on morphine and watching Edward G. Robinson in Damon Runyon’s "A Slight Case of Murder."  I enjoyed that tremendously.  Before that, I watched a new digital remix/restoration of AFRICA SCREAMS starring Abbott and Costello.  Also featured were Joe Besser and Shemp Howard. Shemp would later rejoin the Three Stooges, and following his death, Joe Besser would take his place.  It was a treat to see Besser, Howard, and Costello working together.  Very funny, of course. 

It is not my normal routine to get shot up on morphine and watch old movies — i had a medical procedure at Swedish Hospital in Seattle (3 stents in the heart), and the chest pain from the wire being shoved in there earned me the morphine shots….made the Edward G. Robertson film sooooo dreamy. LOL

The procedure went fine, from what I hear.  They said I can have S-E-X in FIVE DAYS! YAY…I must remember to call them and find out who it is I am supposed to have sex with, as they didn’t write down anyone’s name on my instructions.

WHY WORRY?

Three Stents in my Ticker — not exactly Three Coins in the Fountain — is on my agenda for Wednesday afternoon.  The doctors say it is a piece of cake. Nothing to worry about. They do it all the time.  Of course, I am worried. 

Why Worry? I dunno.  If it were sudden and life threatening as it was on the 23rd, then I would have no apprehension. Now, however, I have anticipation/apprehension. I didn’t see it comming on the 23rd, but I can watch the clock as the event approaches today.  I’m not worried about being dead — dead i can deal with. I worry about some screw-up with anesthesia that wipes my brain’s A-drive or something. It happened to Mark Tobey. He went in for a piece of cake hernia operation and could never paint again.  This is the type of thing that scares me. What if i come out of this and I can’t type, write, dictate or think, but I can play the violin? I don’t own a violin, so I would never know that I could play it.  This is very troubling.  Stan (my brother) and I are going fishing in the morning. I think a trout or two will calm my nerves.

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IMPORTANT NOTICE: I would love to compliment every friend, family member, and former co-worker who has be so kind as to inquire into my health and well being in the past few weeks. It really means a great deal to me.  Some folks, however, don’t feel comfortable being praised in public. So, I WON’T MENTION YOUR NAMES — YOU KNOW WHO YOU ARE, AND I LOVE YOU. 

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Remember when Karen fell in the Lake?

I must have watched my neice Karen step out of our fishing boat a hundred times, but I remember with absolute clarity the time she stepped out of the boat and missed the dock!  Sploooosh! We laughed so hard at her sudden and unexpected exploration of Loon Lake’s shallow dockside. When you look back, the events that leap out are those that rise above the predictable, the normal, the "uneventful." 

Pizza Hut has delivered numerous pizzas, yet the ONE i remember is the one that came with only crust and pepperoni because when they asked "what do you want on your pizza," we answered "Just Pepperoni" and that is EXACTLY what we got – a pizza with no sauce no cheese — JUST PEPPERONI.  Because it was out of the ordinary, i remember it.

Experts link this "out of the ordinary" business with keeping a good working brain in your old age.  The more diverse experiences an old person has, the younger their brain stays.  After all, when you are young, everything is new to the brain. When you are older, you need more diversity of experience for your brain to bother remembering it! So, if your memory is starting to fade, start doing things that are different and therefor memorable. I do not suggest, however, ordering a JUST PEPPERONI pizza.

ZIPPO SEZ: BE AFRAID!

My friend Zippo, famed not only as an award-winning newscaster, but also for being in several of my books (both fiction and non-fiction), is a virtual Sam’s Place of paranoia.  He recently suggested that homicidal stalkers and sex perverts could track down, for example, my nephew Tod Goldberg, famous author, and do kinky things to him.  These same sickos could show up at one of Lee Goldberg’s signings of the latest Diagnosis: Murder paperback and make rude noises by slapping their cupped hand under their armpit.  Zippo is right.  It is to help people such as he sleep better that we have the Patriot Act that says, in essence: “We the people of the United States, fearful of losing something, hereby give up everything.”

It is true that bad people can do mean things to nice innocent people. I know about that stuff. I write true crime books, remember?

I also know that being a Public Person means you take certain risks. I have already had my “Play Misty For Me” obsessive fan, complete with standard issue cliché dialogue, “if I can’t have you, no one can!” (cue Bernard Hermann score), and the babbling inane emails from self-published authors who want to know what I would charge to turn their non-selling book into a hit movie. If I had the power to “turn a book into a hit movie,” I assure you that I would start with at least four or five of my own books, all of Tod’s and Lee’s and Jan’s and Linda’s and Karen’s before I started working my magic formula on books by people whom I have never met, and who have never helped me catch a trout or de-hook a tinch. Yes, I know the Bush family has given nepotism a bad name, but I proudly admit that I value family and friends, and if I could shower them all with blessings equal to the love I have for them, it would be my greatest joy.  Devoid of such magic powers, however, I content myself with blog reading, posts of encouragement, and augmenting my personal library with their literary accomplishments.