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There are some news stories which sound like hoaxes but then you find out that they’re true.

When I first heard about the Foreign Accent Syndrome , it sounded like a joke . As a matter of  fact , it is a rare medical condition, the side effect of severe brain injury resulting from trauma or stroke. People suffering from this syndrome suddenly find themselves talking in a foreign accent. An exceedingly rare phenomenon, less than 60 cases of the syndrome have been reported worldwide. 

It was first identified during the closing days of World War II ; a Norwegian woman who was hit on the head by shrapnel woke up from her coma speaking with a German accent. As can easily be imagined , she was ostracized by her neighbors.

A typical case is that of Bronwyn Fox (59), a New Zealand woman from Invercargill on the South Island, who has suffered from multiple sclerosis for the past 25 years. Two years ago she suddenly found herself speaking in an accent which she later identified as Welsh. This was very strange since , inspite of her Welsh first name, she has never been to Wales. Hospital tests showed that she had developed two lesions in her brain probably triggering the change in her accent. Her family has adjusted to her new accent and her husband even said it makes a boring day interesting.However, the Welsh accent also has it’s drawbacks.When Bronwyn Fox calls friends who haven’t heard from her in awhile, they cant believe it’s really her and they hang up the phone. Bronwyn says ” My family have grown used to it but the worst thing is friends I haven’t seen in a long time. If they ring me up, they don’t believe it’s me on the phone. Even my best friend from Christchurch hung up on me.” 

Several of these FAS cases have been reported in England. In 2006, a woman from Coventry was recovering from a stroke when she began speaking with a Jamaican accent.In 2007, Chris Gregory ( 30) was recovering from surgery to correct the life threatening rupture of a blood vessel in his brain . While still in his hospital bed at Sheffield’s Royal Hallamshire Hospital, he burst into a rousing version of the popular Irish ballad ” Danny Boy” and began speaking in an Irish brogue much to the consternation of the nurses and his family. His wife said ” His Yorkshire accent disappeared completely and he was talking like an Irishman all the time. ” Gregory  has since recovered his previous speech patterns and teases his wife that she should have recorded him singing ‘Danny Boy ‘ ! Then there’s Sarah Colville (35) of Devon , England who suffers from migraines. Early this year, she suddenly found herself speaking with a Chinese accent after a particularly severe headache. It must have made for some interesting situations !  

 There is even a case of FAS in America .Three years ago, Robin Vanderlip , a single mother of two, was attending a 4-H conference in Chevy Chase MD. when she fell backwards down a flight of stairs and wound up in hospital. She was unable to speak for awhile , but when she regained her speech she found she had acquired a Russian accent.  She is now suing the conference organizers for a million dollars claiming that she is  mortified to go out in public  now and it’s their fault because a  “dysfunctional handrail” was partly responsible for her fall.

I guess a million dollars should make  things all right again.

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The recent locker-room incident involving Gilbert Arenas and Javaris Crittenton of the NBA’s Washington Wizards has justly been condemned by many commentators. For those of you who are not sports fans , this , in brief, is what happened: Arenas, a star guard, and Crittenton, a little -used reserve ,had  issues with each other. Arenas allegedly brought four , unloaded, guns to the Wizard locker-room and left them in front of Crittenton’s locker with a note that said ” Take your pick.” Crittenton responded by pulling  out a pistol of his own  and loading  it with a clip. Thankfully, the incident did not go any further.

 One wag reminds us that the Washington Wizards were formerly known as the Washington Bullets and another joker says the team should be called the Washington Guns and Bullets. But this is no laughing matter.  Over the years, there have been a number of unsavory incidents involving pro athletes and this is merely the latest, if potentially the most serious.The NBA has suspended Arenas indefinitelywithout pay  while it continues to investigate  the incident. Crittenton meanwhile denies that anything  happened .

Today’s Washington Post features a column headlined ” Celebrities and athletes offer a Poor example on Guns and Violence .”Here are some  excerpts.   Can you guess who wrote these words ? Hint: It’s a well known black activist.

Guns are not a joke. Violence and recklessness continue to be treated as acceptable and even heroic behavior by part of our society……

I also feel a keen sense of guilt that black leaders have not raised our voices more dramatically. If the assailants in these incidents had been white, we would have been marching, but because this is same-race behavior, we shake our heads, say a few words and allow it to continue.

None of us — not the government, private industry, clergy, civil rights leaders or parents — has responded with the needed urgency. It is a crisis that youth today think they have more in common with Scarface than with Martin Luther King Jr., or look up to mobsters more than to Malcolm X. All of us must deal with the romanticizing of gunplay and denounce the idea that it is acceptable to resolve differences with destructive behavior. Our society cannot continue to reward commercial success while telling people that their private misdeeds have nothing to do with their public images. We must have and enforce a standard for American heroes.”

I agree with everything that he writes except the last sentence. I don’t consider any pro athlete a hero. But I digress.

The column was written by Al Sharpton! Al Sharpton !! I still cannot quite believe it. After all , this is the same Al Sharpton who has been notorious for playing the politics of race , most infamous for pushing the Tawana Brawley case even after it was widely conceded to be a fraud. The same Al Sharpton who has been a self-seeking publicity hound during his entire career.

At a time when some commentators are calling this a symptom of a societal problem and characterizing Arenas as ” immature”, I’m glad to see that Sharpton  is stepping up to the plate and saying what needs to be said. Bill Cosby tried to do the same some years ago and ran into a firestorm of criticism . I hope that this time these remarks are seen as constructive and not derogatory. Kudos to Sharpton for saying the right things.

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About 25 years ago, an elderly gentleman came to my office to ask why his product was no longer on our approved list. When he handed me his business card, I noticed that his name ( Kellogg) was the same as that of the manufacturer of the product.When I remarked upon the “coincidence”, he replied that it was not a coincidence and that he himself had started the company some 50 years earlier ! Futher conversation revealed that he was 94 years old and still went to the office daily though he had reduced his responsibilities. Unbelievable ! He was nattily dressed ,sharp as a tack and looked like a man 25 or 30 years younger.He passed away a few months later after a long, productive life, doing the things he wanted to do right till the very end.

As we grow older, such stories are a source of inspiration since that is what we would wish for ourselves…to be healthy, active and productive as long as we live. There are not a few such examples. For instance, the Australian writer Jon Cleary ( author of the Scobie Malone mysteries) and champion jockey turned mystery writer Dick Francis  have continued to write well into their eighties. Then there is the Manhattan socialite, active in charity work , whose name I can’t recall but who , when she turned 80, wrote an article about how the previous 10 years were the best of her life. Ten years later, when she turned 90, she wrote another article about how her eighties were even better !

However the best role model for those interested in living long , productive lives is a Japanese physician Dr. Shigeaki Hinohara who is still practising , though he is 97 going on 98.He sees patients at St. Luke’s International Hospital in Tokyo ,teaches at St.Luke’s College of Nursing and is on the Board of Trustees of both institutions. Since the age of 75, he has published 150 books , one of which , ” Living Long ,Living Good” , has sold more than 1.2 million copies.These are some of his precepts for a long and healthy life:

Energy comes from feeling good, not eating well or sleeping a lot. When children are having fun, they often forget to eat or sleep. As adults , we should keep the same attitude.

If you would live long, control your weight. There are no overweight old people ! For breakfast, Dr. Hinohara has coffee, a glass of milk and some orange juice with a tablespoon of olive oil added to it. Lunch is milk and cookies — or nothing, if he is busy. Dinner is veggies, a bit of fish and rice and , twice a week, 100 grams of lean meat.

Always plan ahead. Keep busy.Dr. Hinohara’s schedule is all booked up until 2014 !

No need to ever retire but, if you must, put it off as long as you can.The retirement age of 65 was set earlier when people did not live much beyond it.

Share what you know. The Doctor gives some 150 lectures a year, speaking for 60 minutes to 90 minutes , standing , to stay strong. Sometimes he addresses 100 elementary school kids  and  other times , up to 4500 business people.

To stay healthy, always take the stairs and carry your own stuff. The doctor himself takes the stairs two at a time !

Doctors can’t cure everyone. If a doctor recommends you take a test or have some surgery, ask him if he would have his spouse or children have the same procedure.

Pain is mysterious; having fun is the best way to forget it. When a child with a toothache gets absorbed in a game, he forgets his pain. You can be the same way.

Don’t be crazy about amassing material things. Remember, you don’t know when your number is up and you can’t take it with you.

 Science alone can’t cure or help people. Science lumps us all together, but illness is individual. Each person is unique, and diseases are connected to their hearts. To know the illness and help people, we need liberal and visual arts, not just medical ones.

Find a role model and aim to achieve even more than they could ever do. Dr. Hinohara”s father was one of his heroes.When he is stumped, he asks himself how they would deal with the problem.

It’s wonderful to live long. Dr. Hinohara says “Until one is 60 years old, it is easy to work for one’s family and to meet one’s goals. But in our later years, we should strive to contribute to society.” Since the age of 65, he has  worked as a volunteer and still puts in 18 hours, seven days a week and loves every minute of it.

Dr. Hinohara says that one of his inspirations is Robert Browning’s poem ” Abt Vogler”, which his father used to read to him.” It encourages us to make big art, not small scribbles. It says to try to draw a circle so huge that we can never finish it while we are alive. All we can see is an arch: the rest is beyond our vision but it is there in the distance.”

So , there you have it , Dr. Hinohara’s  secrets to a long and healthy life. No doubt, we have heard many of these same precepts uttered by others. One thing which was somewhat different was the importance that Dr. Hinohara attaches to having fun. The difficulty lies in being able to follow these rules on a consistent basis. For one thing , I know that I , as a foodie , would never be able to stick to such a spartan diet , even for a week! Ah, well, I guess I’ll have to settle for living to age 80 !

( Much of the information about Dr. Hinohara was taken from an article by Judith Kawaguchi that appeared in the Japan Times.)

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Paul Newman( 1925-2008), A Tribute.

Paul Newman, who passed away last Friday, will long be remembered not just for being a good actor but for the grace with which he lived his life. Blessed with strikingly handsome features he was more, much much more than just a pretty face. Women might have initially been attracted by his impossibly blue eyes and men may have admired him for his exploits on the racing circuit but they all  continued to idolize him   for his other attributes: his fundamental decency, his innate modesty, his refusal to take himself too seriously, his philanthrophy and his penchant for living life to the fullest. Pauline Kael, the NYT film reviewer, wrote of his performance in  Cool hand Luke  that ” There are some men who project such a traditional , heroic frankness and sweetness that the audience dotes on them , seeks to protect them from harm or pain.” She was writing about his performance in a movie but that comment could very well be applied to his real life persona.

I was surprised to read that , early in his career, Paul Newman was often mistaken for Marlon Brando but I then realized that I was comparing them as they were in later life. Brando, a man of large appetites, became gross-looking , but Newman continued to look handsome even as he aged. He wore his good looks lightly , allowing his hair to turn first grey then white, but always had that twinkle in his baby blue eyes. There is an apocryphal story about a woman who glimpsed him in an ice cream shoppe in Westport and was completely entranced by him. Still befuddled, she walked out of the store and found herself standing on the sidewalk clutching her cell phone but without her ice cream cone. As she was wondering where she had put it, Newman emerged from the store , walked up to her and smiled ” It’s in your handbag.” Even if this is an urban legend, it’s a story we can very well imagine ,one which we we would like to be true.

Ironically, Newman’s good looks worked against him earlier in his acting career as movie critics discounted his acting skills , perhaps believing that his appeal was due more to his charm and looks rather than his skill as an actor. He, however, always considered himself  a character actor and eagerly sought out meaty , often edgy, roles finally garnering an Oscar for the role of fast Eddie Felson in ” The Color of Money” (1987). His wife of more than 50 years, Joanne Woodward, was herself a consummate actress, winning an Oscar for her role of a woman with split personality in ” The Three Faces of Eve ” (1958). It is a testament to the quality of their marriage that Newman never felt threatened by his wife’s early success. Indeed, he was later to produce several films showcasing his wife’s talents, good roles for older women being few and far between.

Perhaps what gave Paul Newman and his wife the most pleasure was the success of their charitable efforts. In partnership with the writer A.E.Hotchner ,Newman, in 1981, began a food venture ,all the profits of which were donated to charity. The company was a success from the start making Newman’s Own Salad dressing, and alsopasta sauce, salsa, popcorn, lemonade and wine.To date it has raised more than $ 220 million for charitable causes such as summer camps for seriously ill children, cancer , drug awareness etc. Even when his son Scott tragically OD’d on Valium and alcohol, Newman dealt with his grief and started a foundation to educate people on the dangers of drugs. Through it all he had a realistic view of himself and retained his sense of humor. When the profits from Newman’s Own topped the $ 100 million mark, he said that he was overjoyed but also confessed to feeling a little embarassed beccause Newman’s Own  Salad Dressing had outgrossed  Newman’s Own films!

Newman nad Woodward were long time residents of  Westport, CT and people there are full of stories of him, his unfailing good nature, his joie de vivre and how he always conducted himself as a regular guy rather than a famous Hollywood icon. No one had anything but good to say about him . “Likable”, ” good humored”, and “unassuming” were the words most often used to describe him.

He is gone now and we will not soon see another like him .

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The Independent, a British newspaper, recently conducted a very unusual poll when it invited its readers to select  the Angriest person in the world.

Before you read any further, just think whom you might have voted for.

Surprisingly, many of the top vote getters are well known to Americans. The top vote choice , with 28% of the vote, was Heather Graham, the ex-wife of Beatle Paul McCartney.Among the also rans were supermodel Naomi Campbell (12%) and bad-boy actor Russell Crowe (5%). Singer Amy Winehouse was high on the list but I forget how mant votes she polled.

 That Heather Graham ‘won’  wasn’t surprising. She’s been in the news lately as a result of her trying to gain a larger share of Sir Paul’s fortune in  a divorce settlement. The court proceedings have been acrimonious and even though she won a $ 50 million settlement , she’s not satisfied and has announced her plans to hire a forensic accountant in an attempt to win even more. Naomi Campbell too has had her share of flare ups and meltdowns and doesn’t seem to have learnt her lesson. A news item this morning said that she had been arrested for causing a disturbance in a British Airways plane and escorted off the plane in handcuffs. Russell Crowe has been well behaved lately as far as I know.

News of this poll led me to speculate whom I would have voted for. I’m not much for entertainment news and gossip so I had to think hard. My vote would go to Mike Tyson who was never able to exorcise the demons of his horrific childhood and completely messed up his life. My runner-up would be Dick Cheney, our reclusive Vice-President, who seems to be perpetually mad at everyone.

Who would your choice be ?

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I am an unashamed foodie. Before there was a Food Channel  I used to watch Iron Chef , without subtitles , on a Japanese tV station. Once the Food Channel made it’s debut I spent many happy hours watching Iron Chef, Ming Tsai , Bobby Flay and other chefs display their culinary skills. Over the past couple of years, my addiction to the Food Channel has lessened primarily because of two people : Emeril Lagasse and Rachel Ray.

It seemed like whenever I switched the TV on , Emeril was hosting a cooking show. I never liked his shows , not even when he was a novelty. People who have eaten at his restaurants  say that his food is great. Maybe so, but I never cared for his cooking show. I got fed up with his shouting “BAM” and throwing yet another handful of pepper or spice into his dishes while talking about ” kicking it up another notch”. The musicians were a hoot but it was difficult to take Emeril seriously.

Rachel Ray initially was a breath of fresh air. Perky and irreverent, contantly smiling her wide mouthed smile she exuded a sense of fun as she went about her tasks. She looked so wholesome  and cute as she chopped and sliced and sauteed. But too much of a good thing is bad and I soon realized she was on the air as much as Emeril.In addition to “30 Minute meals” she was also the host of two other food-cum-travel shows. My appreciation for her culinary skills  took a dive after I saw her in an episode of Iron chef. That particular episode had her partnering Iron Chef Bobby Flay in a contest against Giada De Laurentis and Iron Chef Mario Batali. I had thought that the ladies skills were almost on a par with those of the Iron Chefs but I was sadly mistaken. As the contest wore on it was evident that they were not even in the same league. I stopped watching the Food Channel and was away on vacation for all of December which gave me a respite from Rachel’s  relentless cheerfulness.

When we returned in January, we found ourselves changing our exercise habits. The cold made it difficult to get up at 6:00 in the morning so we found ourselves getting up later and going to the Y at 10 AM. And that’s where I ran into Rachel again…

In the gym, there is a row of TV sets along one wall so that you can keep yourself occupied as you exercise on the treadmill. And guess what’s on at that time in the morning ? Yup. Rachel Ray’s talk show. For me, this is even harder to take than her cooking show. She’s perky and cute and wholesome and I’m sure she’s a very nice person but… can anyone be that upbeat all the time ? She’s not a very good interviewer and I wish she would not fawn quite so much on her celebrity guests. I know that her core audience consists of women and they adore her how so I will say no more… except that I wish she would use some variety in her language. She’s always talking about ‘these guys’ as in ” Let’s put these guys aside for a minute ” ” or ” Let’s sprinkle these guys with some salt and pepper”. Rachel , can’t you please call these guys by their proper names ? Call them what they are….. pork chops, broccoli, whatever. Last week was a new low. She was preparing some sort of stuffed loaf and had wrapped it in foil. ” Let’s put this baby in the oven ” she said as she did just that. Put this baby in the oven. C’mon. Rachel. Surely you can do better than that.

Already the weather is getting better and it’s easier to get out of bed in the mornings. In a couple of weeks, we’ll be going to the Y at our regular hour. When that happens  it’ll be time to say ” So long, Rachel.”

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To the question ” How should a man handle getting old ?” Jack Nicholson responds thusly

” When I turned 70, it was the first time since 50 that I felt young for my age, literally. Sidney Poitier told me years ago  – because I was moaning – ‘Jack, don’t worry about it. The wildest thing happens when you hit 70. You get this tremendous burst of energy for some reason’. So for , like 15 years,it’d had been the only positive thing I’d heard about that milestone, and maybe it worked.” ( From an interview in Men’s Journal, January 2008)

That’s something to look forward to , isn’t it ?

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