Shortcut Nation

From the September 29th, 2011 Wall Street Journal:

Reebok International Ltd., a unit of Adidas AG, agreed to pay $25 million in customer refunds to settle charges of false advertising brought by the FTC over the shoemaker’s claim that its “toning shoes” could work better than normal footwear to whip muscles into shape.

Its TV commercials featured women with shapely legs prancing around in the shoes while doing everyday activities such as walking, vacuuming, browsing a bookshelf and cooking.

Such shoes were one of the footwear industry’s smash hits, generating more than $1 billion in revenue last year though sales have slowed this year.

“The FTC wants national advertisers to understand that they must exercise some responsibility and ensure that their claims for fitness gear are supported by sound science,” said David Vladeck, director of the FTC’s bureau of consumer protection.

Sound science?! Does that mean Rick Perry can’t lace up his toners and run for the Republican presidential nomination?

Amazingly, the FTC didn’t find proof for Reebok’s claims.

Mary Lee Wagner of Fairfax, Va., bought into the craze four years ago, paying $230 for a pair of sneakers. The 58-year-old wore the shoes religiously for six months with hopes of shaping up her thighs. “There was no difference whatsoever,” she says.

She decided to give toning shoes another try after they went mainstream, reasoning that bigger companies had figured out a way to develop a more effective shoe. Two years ago, she bought a pair of Skechers Shape-ups for $75. After three months of use, she switched back to her $35 Ryka walking shoes. 

And dig this. Different article, same paper, same day. Can’t make this stuff up:

Scented products, including crystals you sprinkle on your food and products you inhale before eating, can trigger your body to think it’s full, aiding weight loss, say companies who sell the products. Nutritionists and doctors who specialize in weight loss say the research conducted so far isn’t convincing.

SlimScents LLC of Marlton, N.J., sells a $50 set of three pen-shaped inhalers, which it says last four to six weeks before losing their scent. Glacier Point Solutions Inc., of Long Beach, Calif., sells an $18 package of three Happy Scent jars—peppermint, banana and green apple—which it says last a year. Both products are designed to be sniffed five minutes before eating.

Another method is crystals you sprinkle on your food before eating. A six-month “starter kit” of Sensa crystals, from Intelligent Beauty LLC, of El Segundo, Calif., costs $289. The kit includes a new set of two types of crystals—one for sweet and one for other food—each month. On its website, Intelligent Beauty says the crystals, which it calls tastants, are designed to “trigger your ‘I feel full’ signal.”

The idea that scent can help you lose weight is “intriguing,” says Louis J. Aronne director of the Comprehensive Weight Control Program at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center in New York. But the research done so far is “not adequate” to show the currently marketed products work, he says.

Better name would be Louis J. Killjoy.

Intelligent Beauty says participants lost an average 30.5 pounds over six months in a 1,436-person study conducted by Alan Hirsch, a scientist it describes as the “founder” of its weight-loss system. However, Intelligent Beauty—which puts Dr. Hirsch’s photo on its Sensa packages—declined to answer questions about the study or whether Dr. Hirsch is on staff at the company, whether he has an ownership stake or whether he receives financial compensation from sale of the product. Intelligent Beauty initially set up a phone interview with Dr. Hirsch and then cancelled it, citing an “urgent matter.” Dr. Hirsch, an assistant professor of psychiatry at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, didn’t return a call seeking comment.

James O. Hill, co-founder of the National Weight Control Registry, a database of more than 6,000 people who have lost an average of 70 pounds and kept it off for six years, says there is no quick fix for people who successfully lose weight.

No. Quick. Fix. Damn you, James O. Hill.

Registrants exercise a lot and are “conscious of every morsel they put in their mouths,” says Dr. Hill, who is executive director of the Anschutz Health and Wellness Center at the University of Colorado in Denver.

That doesn’t sound like much fun.

Steve Jobs

John Gruber of Daring Fireball quotes Steve from his 2005 Stanford commencement address:

Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything — all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure — these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.

Puts the negative press coverage of the iPhone 4S in perspective. We forget we’ll be dead soon and lose sight on what is truly important and instead focus on the status phones provide, stock prices, and market share.

[Besides the commencement address, fav read from last night—The Steve Jobs I Knew by Walt Mossberg]

Groundhog Day: Surprised Again By A Star Athlete’s Flaws

Jeff Pearlman’s book, Sweetness: The Enigmatic Life of Walter Payton, was released yesterday. Payton played professional football for da’ Bears from 1975-1987. The Walter Payton Man of the Year award is given annually by the NFL honoring a player’s volunteer and charity work, as well as his excellence on the field. Prior to 1999, it was called simply the NFL Man of the Year Award. Shortly after Payton died from cancer in 1999 the award was renamed to honor his legacy as both a great player and a humanitarian.

A humanitarian who, according to Pearlman, was in a long-standing close relationship with another woman besides his wife (who insisted not only on attending his Hall of Fame induction ceremony, but sitting in the front row), was addicted to pain pills, and seriously contemplated suicide. Apparently Pearlman spends twenty to thirty of the four hundred pages on the unseemly underside of Payton’s private life.

Payton’s coach, Mike Ditka, is leading a backlash against Pearlman’s book. “I’d spit on him,” he said recently. “I have no respect for him.”

In which case I have no respect for Ditka who needs a primer on the first amendment.

Dan Patrick, my favorite sports media person, recently discussed the controversy engendered by the book. His question was, “Do you the fan want to know the truth about the athletes you follow?” Patrick said he did. Others on his show said they did not. Patrick went on to say the fans don’t realize athletes are human beings. Ordinary human beings, a mix of good and bad, like all of us.

Wouldn’t it be nice if they were more like us. If we limit the discussion to professional basketball and football players (versus professional marathoners, swimmers, or amateur athletes for instance) from the last decade or two, there’s ample legal evidence that their behavior, on average, is far worse than the ordinary human beings that pay to watch them play.

Why? Some possibilities:

1) If power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely, the same is probably true for money. I suspect, especially in cases where someone grows up without any, mad money blows those teetering on the fence of adhering to society’s norms off onto the “laws don’t apply to me” side.

2) Public adulation is another wind blowing those teetering on the fence of society’s norms off onto the “laws don’t apply to me” side. The star professional athlete’s classic line when pulled over, “Don’t you know who I am?”

3) In the case of football at least, the more violent the player is on the field, the more successful. Maybe it’s hard, when the stadium and television lights are turned off, to throw the non-violent switch.

4A) Some athletes blow through their money while playing short careers, don’t have enough of an education to fall back on after retiring, and turn to the “informal” economy to get by. See Lenny Dykstra. 4B) Some suffer from public adulation withdrawal. The Dennis Rodman effect. They’re committed to staying in the public’s conscience even if they have to repeatedly get arrested to do so.

5) Sociology. You are the company you keep. Middle school students aren’t the only ones susceptible to negative peer pressure. Locker rooms no doubt have tipping points.

Of all people, Ditka should know that every athlete is a one-person public relations firm. There are lots of faithful, law-abiding professional athletes making worthwhile contributions to society off the field. Just not as large a percentage of the readers of this blog.

Developing In-depth, Intimate Friendships

Who knew there’s something really nice about driving to swim meets way out on the Kitsap Peninsula. Or more specifically, driving home from them.

Four years ago, following the South Kitsap meet, Nineteen and I started out listening to National Public Radio, and then as the sun set on Commencement Bay and the Narrows Bridge, talked about the world, her world, our worlds. Not a top-down father-daughter talk, a balanced adult one.

Last week, as Sixteen’s (S’s) passenger, I was in the right place at the right time for another thoughtful and memorable conversation. I mostly listened as she described a moving letter she had received earlier in the day from a close friend who struggled with anxiety last year. The friend wanted S to know how important her help had been and how much her understanding presence meant to her. Her other friends, she explained, ran a little hot and cold, which made her especially appreciative of S’s consistent care.

“What I like about A.F. is she’s vulnerable,” S reflected while hugging the right line of the two lane highway. “She’s not afraid to admit everything’s not all right. That gives me the opportunity to help.” She explained how good it felt to help her friends, to share insights from the serious difficulties she experienced as a middle schooler. It gives purpose to that especially challenging chapter of her life.

S’s story reminded me of two important steps in developing in-depth, intimate friendships—admitting one’s vulnerabilities and humbly asking for help.

Taken together, sometimes saying, “I’m afraid. I’m anxious. I’m lost. I’m stuck. Can you help me?”

Knowing that doesn’t mean I do it well. I don’t. At all. I probably inherited my stubborn, sometimes self-defeating self-sufficiency from my parents who grew up in barren eastern Montana on the heels of the Depression.

Paradoxically, I enjoy helping my friends whenever they ask for help, but I don’t like inconveniencing them. At all. A tip of the iceberg example. I spent twenty minutes in the garage last week unsuccessfully trying to tighten a bolt, while holding a washer, and screw in a very awkward position because I didn’t want to inconvenience the wife. Finally threw in the towel, asked for her help in applying pressure to the top of the screw, and had everything assembled in less than a minute.

More significantly, I’m almost always resistant to counseling, yet the few times I’ve committed to it, it’s proven helpful.

Obviously, everyone has to be somewhat self-sufficient, but there’s a point of diminishing returns, a point I cross fairly regularly. I’m not sure how to explain my stubborn, sometimes self-defeating self-sufficiency. It’s irrational. If I could throw a “start depending upon others more on occasion” switch, I would have already.

I’d ask you for help, but I don’t want to inconvenience you.

Maybe I’ll just groove some more to Bill Withers in the hope it’ll eventually sink it.

Thanks S for the inspiration.