Tuesday, February 14, 2017


Richard Eisenberg
By Richard EisenbergMoney & Work Editor

When planning for retirement, people tend to focus on whether they will have saved enough. But it’s equally important to pencil out how much you expect to spend.
And that brings me to some disheartening news: After reading several recent studies plus Medicare forecasts, I’m convinced there’s a good chance you’ll need to count on spending more out-of-pocket for health care in retirement than you expect. Which means — sorry — there’s a good chance you need to save even more now.

Financial advisers often say that retirees should have enough income in retirement to replace about 80 percent of their pre-retirement income; that 80 percent is known as the Income Replacement Ratio or IRR. The money pros use that percentage because some costs tend to drop or disappear in retirement (things like work-related expenses).

Underestimating Health Costs in Retirement

But a new study from HealthView Services, which provides retirement health cost data and planning tools, says this guideline severely underestimates retiree health care costs — which amount to roughly 13 percent of annual spending for people 65 and older. Click here to continue reading.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Movie Review—Hidden Figures

Hidden Figures
Three women standing in the foreground. In the background a rocket is launching.
Theatrical release poster

by Peter J. O’Connell 

Hidden Figures. Wide release: Jan. 2017. Runtime: 127mins. MPAA Rating: PG for thematic elements and some language.

Three women have skills, skills in higher mathematics. They want to exercise their skills and advance as far as the exercise of those skills can take them. These desires are simple, natural ones, but they make the women pioneers in three epochal developments of the 20th century: the space race, the civil rights movement, and the women’s equality movement. The three women do not devote much thought to themselves as pioneers. They are too interested in just doing their work and doing it well. And for years society does not give much public recognition to their historic role.

Recently, that situation has changed. Margot Lee Shetterly’s book Hidden Figures and the current hit film of the same name based on it, directed and co-written by Theodore Melfi, have brought this important piece of “hidden history” to light. That hidden history is the story of Dorothy Vaughan (Octavia Spencer), Mary Jackson (Janelle Monae), and Katherine Goble Johnson (Taraji P. Henson)—three African-American women who work at the space agency, NASA, in the early 1960s, as the U.S. struggles to take the lead in space flight away from the Soviets. The three work as “computers”—human ones doing complex calculations—for electronic computers are not yet functioning satisfactorily enough for NASA’s purposes.

The women work at NASA’s research facility in Virginia, where that state’s segregation laws are still enforced. A computing group composed of African-American women works in an area separate from the main facility. Dorothy Vaughan has been functioning as a supervisor of the women there for some time but is denied the title and increased pay that should go with that functioning. Her immediate superior, standoffish Vivian Mitchell (a composite character well played by Kirsten Dunst), who is white, says that there never has been a “colored” supervisor. Hurt, Vaughan nonetheless continues her de facto supervising and also
teaches herself—and later other women—electronic-computer science.

Mary Jackson aspires to be an engineer but is denied the needed additional education because the only nearby school offering such classes refuses to accept black students. Eventually, she persuades a judge to let her attend night school to get the needed classes. Along the way she makes helpful suggestions to NASA engineers.

Most of the film’s attention is on Katherine Goble, a math prodigy. When Mitchell asks Vaughan to recommend someone who knows analytic geometry to join the Flight Research Division, Vaughan chooses Katherine. At her new job, Katherine finds herself in a room full of white men in white shirts. Her work is brilliant, but she still has to deal with the indignities of sexism and segregation, such as a half-mile hike to the “Colored Ladies Room.” And she has prickly relations with fellow mathematician Paul Stafford (a composite character well-played by Jim Parsons), who resists giving her credit for her achievements. But Katherine does gain fair play from the Division manager, Al Harrison (a composite character well-played by Kevin Costner), who mitigates some of the segregationist restrictions at the facility.

Eventually, Katherine earns the respect of astronaut John Glenn (Glen Powell), who calls on NASA to “get the girl [Katherine] to check the numbers” before he makes his orbital flight that finally brings the U.S. even with the Soviets in the space race. (In 1962 the term “girl” was used to refer to females of all ages and races.) Mary Jackson also plays an important role in connection with Glenn’s flight.

Hidden Figures is not “edgy and experimental cinematic art” with “probing character development,” “complex themes,” and “subtle, subdued performances,” all directed at sophisticates. Nor is it a superhero/special events spectacle directed primarily at adolescents. It is a movie that everybody can enjoy. It’s clearly and cleanly directed, about important matters but without preachiness, deification or demonization. Dorothy, Mary and Katherine are heroines, but not saints. Refreshingly, the film’s main focus is on them as achievers rather than as victims. And Vivian and Paul, while imperfect, are not stock villains. The film’s acting by its three terrific lead performers is grounded in realism but with just enough “showiness” to be very crowd-pleasing. Hidden Figures is both inspiring and entertaining. See it!

Margot Lee Shetterly, author of the book Hidden Figures, is an African-American woman, daughter of a NASA scientist and a college professor. Of the women she writes about, she says: “What I wanted was for them to have the grand, sweeping narrative that they deserved . . . . Not told as a separate history but as part of the story that we all know.” That story is the epic that is American history.            

The legend of St. Valentine

Image result for st valentine

The history of Valentine’s Day–and the story of its patron saint–is shrouded in mystery. We do know that February has long been celebrated as a month of romance, and that St. Valentine’s Day, as we know it today, contains vestiges of both Christian and ancient Roman tradition. But who was Saint Valentine, and how did he become associated with this ancient rite? Click here to continue reading.

How Pink Noise Can Protect Your Hearing

Image result for 2017 mercedes e class

Although most of us probably cannot run out and buy the new 2017 E-Class Mercedes-Benz (suggested retail price: $52,150 and up), there’s some interesting new technology in it that you may want to know about. According to IEEE Spectrum, when this Mercedes detects the car is about to crash, it deploys a burst of “pink noise” causing an inner-ear muscle called the stapedius to contract and brace the eardrum for the earsplitting noise of the crash itself.

Pre-crash safety features in cars are not new (IEEE Spectrum cites seatbelts that instantly tighten or sunroofs that instantly close when a crash is predicted), but the notion of pink noise as a means of protecting hearing is novel. Mercedes describes this feature as “Pre-Safe Sound” (you can hear it yourself in Mercedes’ video).

IEEE Spectrum reports that the pink noise being used is approximately 80 decibels — “about equal to that of a dishwasher and completely safe.” Car crashes, IEEE explains, are potentially deafening and usually register around 145 decibels. “Worse still — and this part is not emphasized by Mercedes-Benz or any other carmaker — is the noise created by the near-instantaneous deployment of the airbag: around 165 dB,” writes Philip E. Ross. “It’s estimated that 17 percent of the people who are exposed to airbag deployment suffer some degree of permanent hearing loss.” Click here to continue reading.

Friday, February 10, 2017

Movie Review—Split

Split (2017 film).jpg

by Peter J. O’Connell

Split. Released: Jan. 2017. Runtime: 117 mins. MPAA Rating: PG-13 for disturbing thematic content and behavior, violence and some language.

The abduction and imprisonment of a young woman (or women) by a disturbed individual has been a plot situation of horror and thriller films off and on since The Collector in 1965. Recent examples include Room (2015) and 10 Cloverfield Lane (2016). Now writer/director M. Night Shyamalan has given us Split, a film about young women abducted and imprisoned by 23 individuals—well, not exactly “individuals,” let’s say “personalities” or “alters.”

You see, teenagers Casey (Anya Taylor-Joy), Marcia (Jessica Sula) and Claire (Haley Lu Richardson) have been seized and held in a labyrinthine underground complex by “Dennis,” one of 23 personalities inhabiting the body of Kevin Wendell Crumb (James McAvoy), a victim of childhood abuse with severe dissociative identity disorder (a/k/a “split personality” or “multiple personality disorder”).

Psychiatrist Dr. Karen Fletcher (Broadway veteran Betty Buckley), over the years that she has been treating Kevin, has found him to be generally stable, with the personalities controlled by one of them known as “Barry,” a sketch artist with a Boston accent. And Kevin has cooperated with Dr. Fletcher as she researches her belief that psychological imbalance can cause physiological changes.

But now it seems that Dennis, who has obsessive/compulsive disorder and violent tendencies, is beginning to supplant Barry as Kevin’s dominating alter. There is also “Patricia,” who dresses as a woman and speaks with a British accent. Patricia hints to the three girls that they will serve a “greater purpose.”

And “Hedwig,” who has a female name but claims to be a nine-year-old boy, confides to them that they may be sacrificed to “The Beast,” a possibly emerging 24th personality of great strength and ferocity. Hedwig also performs a manic dance, the most hilarious/creepy terpsichorean endeavor since that done by Ralph Fiennes’ character in A Bigger Splash (2015).  

As suspense intensifies, the three girls, particularly Casey, a victim of child abuse herself, make various attempts at escape before The Beast is unleashed. Anya Taylor-Joy, so good in The Witch (2015), is also good here, but everything in the film pales in comparison to the astonishing performance of James McAvoy. His absolute mastery of gesture, movement and voice empowers him to create the various personalities convincingly—and instantly, shift between them seamlessly, have them converse with each other, and, at times, even have them pretend to be one another.

Shyamalan, auteur of The Sixth Sense (1999), Unbreakable (2000) and The Visit (2015), is known as the master of the “twist” ending. Let’s just say that, gripping as Split is, the twist at its end is not as tightly tied as in those previous films.

“Footnotes” to the film: (1) Split has been praised by many film critics, but it has been castigated by various organizations dealing with the mentally ill for associating mental illness with violent behavior. And the International Society for the Study of Trauma and Dissociation has issued a statement saying that the film was made “at the expense of a vulnerable population that struggles to be recognized and receive the effective treatment that they deserve.” (2) Dissociative identity disorder (DID) is a controversial subject in the medical and counseling community. Many claim that it is not really a disorder in its own right. (3) The first case of DID is thought to have been described by Paracelsus in 1646. Fewer than 200 cases of DID were diagnosed by 1970, but a peak of 40,000 such diagnoses was reached by 2000. Since then, the number of diagnoses being made has declined. (4) Whatever the attitude toward DID in the medical and counseling community, it has been portrayed with remarkable frequency in books, films and television shows—ranging from the “doubling” stories of Poe, Dostoyevsky and Stevenson in the 19th century through the purportedly true accounts in the book and film The Three Faces of Eve in the 1950s and the book and miniseries Sybil in the 

People Who Drink More Coffee May Live Longer

Image result for coffee
For those of us who need a jolt of Joe to get the day started, who might sneak in a cup or two in the afternoon and have even been known to brew some dark roast late in the evening, it may be time to shed some of the guilt. Coffee could have a big upside.
A Stanford University School of Medicine study in Nature Medicine last month is the latest to perk up the worried coffee drinker. It reported that caffeine consumption counters the chronic inflammation responsible for more than 90 percent of many cardiovascular and other age-related diseases such as cancer, Alzheimer’s and other dementias.
Put more simply, coffee can slow down a widespread cause of human aging.

Coffee and Inflammation

It’s been known that coffee drinkers live longer than abstainers, but it wasn’t altogether clear why.
“What excites me is that we now know that aging, or more specifically age-related diseases, can be avoided or delayed by behavioral means,” says the study’s lead author David Furman. “One mechanism associated with chronic inflammation can be easily inhibited simply by increasing caffeine intake.” Click here to continue reading.