Phyllis Sherman 2009
Phyllis Sherman photo

Phyllis' Findings

Tis the gift-giving season. We’ll probably, as usual, get many things we neither need nor want. This is inevitable. People buy for friends and relatives, what THEY like … and what they can afford. We must, of course, be gracious and appreciative no matter what goodies are forthcoming. How many chic designer bathrobes or coffee table art books does one really need? I saw a cute Xmas wreath made entirely of garlic bulbs at Costco, a must have for the Xmas cook. Rand McNally has a package of 50 old-fashioned luggage stickers from the 30s and 40s with artwork from hotels and cruise ships and, of course, they carry lots of world atlases … a home should never be without one. One ingenious idea is to save all your old maps from your world travels … have them laminated … and use them for interesting place mats! There are many inventive gift ideas and so it’s never too early to speak up and tell your dearly beloved folks what it is that you need and want. Not that you’re sure to get it, even then, but at least you’ve given it a try.

I had a teacher in my first grade back in New York City who always got what she wanted … and not just for Christmas. Never forgot her … her name was Mrs. Louden … short, squat, white haired, and she was an especially acquisitive type. She never heard of the expression “Less is More.” I couldn’t blame her really when you think about it....teacher’s salaries being pretty abysmal. (Not that they’re much better today.)

She had a unique system. She would say, “Row One was very good today. Every one clap for Row One.

Tomorrow Row One may bring me cakes … I just love chocolate cake.” Row One was ecstatic.

Or … “Hurray for Row Three. Everyone clap for Row Three. Such a wonderful row! Tomorrow Row Three may bring me plants. I especially like Rubber plants and Philodendrons.” (No matter that we had problems pronouncing it...she wrote it on the blackboard and we copied it.)

For whatever reason, the students liked her very much and so the mothers let her get away with her extortion. Every day plants, cakes and assorted other goodies arrived. We felt sympathy for twins Dolores and Sydelle, whose mother had to send in two presents when they were in the ‘lucky’ row.

Another Mrs. Louden ploy went, “David, what does your Daddy do for a living?”

“My daddy sells ladies’ stockings.”

“How nice! You tell your Daddy I wear size 9 1/2.”

Several times during the week you’d see a “selected” little boy schlepping a shopping bag with Mrs. Louden’s largess down the street.

Now there’s a lady who spoke up and got what she wanted. Don’t be shy.

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By the time you read this, Obama will be on his way to sending 30,000 or more troops to Adghanstan with the purpose of stabilizing the country (they’ve been trying for eleven years). The cost of one soldier going to Afghanstan is priced at one million per soldier. Imagine if those funds could be used for health care. Obama is listening to his generals instead of the people who voted for him. He speaks of “finishing the job.” Afghanistan is huge, mountainous, and totally corrupt and the people have a 10% literacy rate. President Karzai will try to do “something” about the corruption, of which he is the leading corrupt individual. Extrication doesn’t sound like a potential possibility for a very long time. Regardng health care, the chances of getting any reasonable policy in the near term is extremely doubtful.

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The reality show”The Biggest loser” is now in its eighth season. It’s one of NBC’s most-watched prime-time programs with an estimated 10 million viewers each week.More than 200,000 people a year submit audition video-tapes or attend open casting calls for the program. It also has spawned a license merchandise business that will generate an estimated $100 million this year. Doctors, nutritionists and physiologists not affiliated with the show express doubt about the program’s regimen of sever calorie restriction and up to six hours of strenuous exercise, which cause contestants to sometimes lose more than 15 pounds a week. At least one contestant has confessed to using dangerous weight-loss techniques including self-induced hydration. On the first episode this season, two contestants were sent to the hospital, one by airlift after collapsing from het stroke during a one-mile race. Medics advise against losing more than about two pounds a week. Rapid weight loss can include many medical problems including a weakening of the heart muscle. irregular heartbeat, reductions in potassium and electrolytes.Contestants are required to sign a document that they believe themselves to be in excellent emotional, physical, psychological and mental health. Getting contestants to talk openly about the environment of the progam is difficult. Shortly after a reporter startedcontacting former contestants about their experiences, a talent producer on the series set an e-mail message to many former contestants reminding them about the “serious consequences” of ever talking to a reporter without the show’s permission. To do so could subject them to a fine of $100,000 or $1 million, depending on the timing of the interview. Any interviews are conducted with an NBC publicist listening in .According to the trainers on the show, they say they happily accept a 50% success rate.The goal lof the show is to inspire people in America to make a change in their lives.

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A woman goes into her local newspaper office to put an obit in the paper. He asks the price and is informed

that it’s $3.00. Ok. “Billy Bob is dead. Here’s $3.00.” “Sorry,” she’s informed. “There’s a 7 word minimum.”

“Ok.” she replies. “Billie Bob is dead.’ 83 pick-up for sale.

December 2009

According to reports, most people’s greatest fear is speaking in public. Somehwere on the list, however, is fear of being audited by the IRS. Well, some weeks ago I received the ominous notice: We selected your Federal Income Tax return for the year shown below to examine the items listed at the end of this letter. Please callus at the number shown above to arrange a convenient appointment.” Fear strikes the heart. My return was prepared by a CPA...so naturally a call to that office was appropriate.

My call for help was to no avail. I was told in no uncertain terms to please find another accountant. She was too busy with other tasks. I called another firm who at least helped fill me in (after reviewing my return) on what supporting data to bring to the audit. Most helpful of all, however, was Nolo’s Press’ book, “How to Handle an IRS Audit.” I was up until 2 AM the night before my appointment reading the specifics. It’s quite comprehensive and not at all unwieldy. Among the many items of advice was, “Never attempt to bribe your auditor.” Ha! What shall I bribe her with? An ad in the Westside Observer?

I arrived with all the data I’d been told to bring. Among the caveats from the book was... “even though they request you bring your return for the year before and the year after, don’t do it.” So, I didn’t, and fortunately they weren’t requested. My auditor, a nice young woman from Oakland, attempted to put me at ease and we talked about my return for over two hours. She was amazed at some of the error considering the return was, ostensibly, professionally prepared. She ate a Tootsie Roll while we were talking, and offered me one, admitting she was addicted to them. “Hmm...I thought...and even asked her “Could I bribe you with a box of Tootsie Rolls?” We both laughed.

To make a long story short. I must send in some cancelled checks, verification of certain expenses, verifications of certain insurance payments, etc...plus, a healthy amount of money. Nevertheless, my initial trepidation and anxiety were unnecessary. The anticipation was worse than the reality. The experience was not as bad as a poke in the eye. It’s only money.

My advice if it happens to you: Ask, and make sure your accountant will assist you BEFORE you have your return prepared. Get it in writing, get Nolo’s book on IRS Audits. It’s a pretty good read considering the subject matter. Incidentally, when you need an accountant, I would avoid a firm on Vicente Street...they charge more than any other firm I’ve ever used and left much to be desired! They asked few questions and merely copied data from the previous year’s tax return.

Check for more Phyllis on the Web: www.westsideobserver.com

November 2009

LAD, HO

Single women are always complaining about the lack of interesting single men in the Bay Area. They say single guys are like parking spots...they’re either already taken or they’re handicapped. Well, I’ve got an idea for you single gals...the rest of you can stop reading now. Have you checked out Craigslist...women seeking men or men seeking women?

If you’ve got a few bucks and are planning to take a cruise...Craigslist has over 200 cities all over the world where men are seeking women. Let’s say you’re sailing out of Vancouver, Canada. Did you know that there are 30 men in Vancouver listing themselves on Craigslist searching for someone like you? I checked it out...specifying only the over 50 year olds. You could arrive in Vancouver a few days early, write to the guys in advance and have several dates set up before you take off on your cruise.

OK...if you don’t have time for Vancouver or are leaving from another city, check out where the liner makes stops. There are usually City tours lined up for passengers, but if you check out Craigslist for your port in advance, you might be able to have your new boyfriend show you around. I checked several foreign cities...and this is what I found out.

There’s a Russian lady in Seattle who’s put an ad for a boyfriend for her Mom who’s moving to Moscow...she wants a man who’s 50 to 63 and has inserted a photo of her Mom who looks more like 60 to 73. She said she’ll translate for her Mom who only speaks Russian.

In Buenos Aires there’s a 59 year-old guy who’s seeking a nice female. There’s an ad in Frankfort put in by a fellow in Austin, Texas who is offering citizenship to anyone. In Berlin a man advertises that he likes German women. And in Amsterdam a 56 year old Dutch guy seeks relocation to wherever you live and he’d

Like to start another family. Here’s your chance! A 49 year old in Rose is seeking a big-breasted Italian woman to spoil him with money so he can race motorcycles. He’d like good cook also. So if you’re busty and can come up with a good spaghetti sauce, he might be the answer for you. Another 40 year old in Rome is seeking a Sugar Mommy. Don’t knock it til you’ve tried it.

I found five eligible men in Madrid, ten listed in Mexico City, lots of 40 year-olds in Shanghai (so what’s wrong with a younger man?) Cougars pay attention! There are twenty-two agile (hopefully) men in New Orleans...many still doing some Katrina relief work who need a female for some relief. This is just the surface of what’s available overseas and in the U.S. too. Of course if you’re visiting friends or family in Albany or Chattanooga or Mobile, Alabama, you’re on your own. I didn’t check out those cities, but who would want to visit them anyway...and what kind of eligible men would you find there? Good luck. I’d love to hear a report of your adventures and conquests.

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If you haven’t visited the STONESTOWN FARMER’S MARKET (in back of Macy’s) I suggested you try it. It’s open year round on Sundays from 9 to 1PM. Delicious and healthy food (and great samples) of all the nourishing food you should be eating. When you check it out, go visit Steve at the HOME CHEF PRODUCTS booth. He sells high quality sea salts and spices. I tried some Porcini infused salt that was unusual and not available in most super markets. Adds a lovely mushroom flavor to anything you use it on.. There are dozens of unusual ethnic spices, dry rubs and herbs from all over the world. You can also find them at www.homechefproducts.com. Worth a visit.

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On the entertainment front...my most recent film was a delight....”MY ONE AND ONLY” with Renee Zellweger as a woman who drives down the Eastern Seaboard in search of a wealthy man to take care of her and her two sons.It take place in the 1950’s and is completely charming with terrific performances.

At ACT, England’s kneehigh Theater makes a wonderful local debut with the American premiere of director Emma Rice’s endlessly inventive two-hour show of a classic Noel Coward’s BRIEF ENCOUNTER. The vaudeville bits are hilarious and a creative cast walks in and out of film clips and song-and-dance routines which brings to life Coward’s memorable comic tale of a thwarted love affair in a 1930s raliway station cafe. It is thoroughly delightful and I could see it several times! Playing through October 11.

The arrival of long-awaited SOUTH PACIFIC by Rodgers and Hammerstein has finally come to the Golden Gate Theater.This 3 hour production features a 25 piece orchestra and tells of a challenged racist romance in the midst of World War II combat. I originally saw South Pacific with Mary Martin and Ezio Pinza many years ago but still appreciated the familiar, memorable music and it’s a not to be missed musical for theater buffs.

FIRST DAY OF SCHOOL by Billy Aronson is a hilarious sex farce at the SF Playhouse on Sutter Street. Comic absurdity, volcanic passions and even awkward silences are part and parcel in the hands of a talented ensemble and inspired design team .The director, Chris Smith, has done a spectacular job directing writer Aronson’s play with precision, imagination and power. Running through November 7, you’ll laugh your heads off! Susi Damilano (Producing Director) and Bill English (Set Designer and Artistic Director) have done it again!

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END JOKES: Two mothers were talking about their sons. The first said, “My Patrick is such a saint. He works hard, doesn’t smoke, and he hasn’t so much as looked at a woman in over two years.”

The other woman said, “Well, my Francis is a saint himself. Not only has he not looked at a woman in over three years, but he hasn’t touched a drop of liquor in all that time.”

“My word,” the first mother said. “You must be so proud.”

“I am,” the second mother replied. “And when he’s paroled next month, I’m going to throw him a big party.”

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Sadie goes to visit a fortune teller who is going to read her palm. After they sit down, the fortune teller holds the Sadie’s hand and reads, “My goodness. You have a very close relationship with someone who is going to suffer a violent death!” Sadie looks aghast and asks, “Will I be exonerated?”

October 2009

HOW TO SMELL A RAT

The FIve Signs of Financial Fraud

Most people have become aware that Americans lose billions of dollars to a myriad scams each year. People are lured to investment seminars with free lunches and then pressured into making bad decisions. Dubious charities pull at our heartstrings. Coin and collectibles salesmen tout their goods as alternatives to stocks and bonds. Clever Ponzi scheme perpetrators like Bernard Madoff persuade investors to keep sending in money. Job losses and other challenges of the recession make us more susceptible to schemes like work-at-home and mystery-shopper opportunities that promise to provide quick income, sometimes using well-known brands like Google in their names. Such victims aren’t necessarily uneducated and gullible, or naive seniors. The typical investment-scam victim is an optimistic married man in his late 50s who has a higher-than-average knowledge of financial matters and deep confidence in his own judgement, according to research. They also believe that scams only happen to someone else and tend to feel somewhat insecure about their own finances.

Recently, the COMMONWEALTH CLUB hosted KEN FISHER, CEO of Fisher Investments and columnist for Forbes who spoke about his book “How to Smell a Rat: The Five Signs of Financial Fraud.” Fisher believes nearly every investment scam ever perpetrated was actually easily detectable and avoidable. He offered timely advice on what investors need to look for - how to be sure investment choices are sound by asking the right questions, noticing red flags and breaking down complicated jargon.

Here are the five signs your adviser might now be or could evolve into a swindling rat:

1. Your adviser also has custody of your assets —the number one, biggest, reddest flag.

2. Returns are consistently great! Almost too good to be true.

3. The investment strategy isn’t understandable, is murky, flashy, or “too complicated” for him (her, or it) to describe so you can easily understand.

4. Your adviser promotes benefits like exclusivity, which don’t impact results.

5. You didn’t do your own due diligence, but a trusted intermediary did.

The number one sign above means “Always make sure the decision maker (who will decide what you should own, like stocks, bonds, mutual bonds, etc.) has no access to the money—meaning they can’t get their hands on it directly. Simply said, when you hire a money manager, you yourself should deposit the money with a third-party, reputable, big-name custodian wholly unconnected to the money manager or decision maker. That custodian’s job is to safeguard the security of your assets. Do that, even if you do nothing else, and you can protect your money from being “Madoff” with.

If your adviser has access to the money because he controls or is somehow affiliated with whoever has custody of your assets, there is always the risk he carries your money out the back door. Maybe he’s pure of heart and won’t, but why risk it? Don’t give him a chance.

How to Smell a Rat is an informative look at recent and historic examples of fraudsters, how they operated, and how their scams could have been avoided. While Bernard Madoff may be a criminal, the greater crime is that investors continue to be swindled for no reason. Read Fisher’s very readable book and learn how to protect yourself as best you can from financial fraud.

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An 80 year-old woman goes out on a date with an 85 year-old man. When she gets home her daughter asks her if she had a good time. “I had to slap him three times.” “What happened? Did he get fresh?”

“No, I thought he might be dead.”

September 2009

Single women are always complaining about the lack of interesting single men in the Bay area. They say single guys are like parking spots—they’re either already taken or their handicapped. Well, I’ve got an idea for the single gals—the rest of you can stop reading now. Have you checked out Craigslist—women seeking men or men seeking women?

If you’ve got a few bucks and are planning to take a cruise, Craigslist has over 200 cities all over the world where men are seeking women. Let’s say you’re sailing out of Vancouver, Canada. Did you know that there are 30 men in Vancouver listing themselves on Craigslist searching for someone like you? I checked it out, specifying only the over 55 year-olds. You could arrive in Vancouver a few days early, write to the guys in advance and have several dates set up before you take off on your cruise.

OK, if you don’t have time for Vancouver or are leaving from another city, check out where the liner makes stops. There are usually City tours lined up for passengers but if you check out Craigslist for your port in advance, you might be able to have your new boyfriend show you around. I checked several foreign cities and this is what I found out.

There’s a Russian lady in Seattle who’s put an ad for a boyfriend for her Mom who’s moving to Moscow—she wants a man who’s 50 to 63 and has inserted a photo of her Mom who looks more like 60 to 73, or more. She said she’ll translate for her Mom who only speaks Russian.

In Buenos Aires there’s a 59-year old guy who’s seeking a nice female. There’s an ad in Frankfort put in by a fellow in Austin, Texas who is offering citizenship to anyone. In Berlin a man advertises that he likes German women. And in Amsterdam a 66 year-old Dutch guy seeks relocation to wherever you live and he’d like to start another family. Here’s your chance! A 49 year-old in Rome is seeking a big-breasted Italian woman to spoil him with money so he can race motorcycles. He’d like a good cook also. So if you’re busty and can come up with a good spaghetti sauce, he might be the answer for you. Another 50 year-old in Rome is seeking a Sugar Mommy. Don’t knock it ‘til you’ve tried it.

I found five eligible men in Madrid, ten listed in Mexico City, lots of 50 to 65 year-olds in Shanghai (so what’s wrong with a slightly younger man?) This is just the surface of what’s available overseas and in the US too. Of course if you’re visiting friends or family in Albany or Chattanooga or Mobile, Alabama, you’re on your own. I didn’t check out those cities, but who would want to visit them anyway, and what kind of eligible men would you find there? Good luck. I’d love to hear a report of your findings.

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Things are different in China. Thanks to its 30 year-old population-planning policy and customary preference for boys, China has one of the largest male-to-female ratios in the world. Using data from the 2005 China census—the most recent—a study published in last month’s British Journal of Medicine estimates that there was a surplus of 32 million males under the age of 20 at the time the census was taken. That’s roughly the size of Canada’s population.

Now some of these men have reached marriageable age, resulting in intense competition for spouses, especially in rural areas. It also appears to have caused a sharp spike in bride prices and betrothal gifts. The higher prices are even found in big cities such as Tianjin. The males seem to have an above-average savings rate, even after accounting for factors such as education levels, income and life-expectancy rates. Areas with more men than women, the study notes, also have low spending rates—suggesting that many rural Chinese may be saving up for bride prices. 14,000 people located in central China’s Shaanxi province has over 30 men of marriageable age, but no single women. As in other parts of the country, village customs dictate the groom’s family pay the bride’s family a set amount—known as “cai li”—while the bride furnishes a dowry of mosly simple household items. I’ll tell you next month what problems begin to exist. Let’s just call it “runaway brides.”

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ENDJOKE An elderly man has just moved to a new town when he is taken ill and decides that he needs to see a doctor.

In the waiting room he tries to find out a bit about the doctor. He asks the man sitting next to him if the doctor’s fees are expensive. The man says:”Well, he is and he isn’t. You see he charges you $1,000 for your first visit.” The man exclaims in shock, “A thousand dollars?” The man replies, “Yes, but all your visits after that for the rest of your life are free!” The man thinks about this, and then gets called by the nurse to go in to see the doctor.

On entering the doctor’s office, he says casually, “Hello doctor, here I am again!

July/August 2009

According to reports, most people’s greatest fear is speaking in public. Somewhere on the list, however, is fear of being audited by the IRS. Well, some years ago I received the ominous notice: “We selected your Federal Income Tax return for the year shown below to examine the items listed at the end of this letter. Please call us at the number above to arrange a convenient appointment.” Fear strikes the heart. My return was prepared by a CPA...so naturally a call to that office was appropriate.

My call for help was to no avail. I was told in no uncertain terms to please find another accountant. She was too busy with other tasks. I called another firm who at least helped fill me in (after reviewing my return) on what supporting data to bring to the audit. Most helpful of all, however, was Nolo Press’ book “How to Handle and IRS Audit. I was up until 2 AM the night before my appointment reading the specifics. It’s quite comprehensive and not at all unwieldy. Among the many items of advice was, “Never attempt to bribe your auditor.” Ha! What shall I bribe her with? An ad in our paper?

I arrived armed with all the data I’d been told to bring. Among the caveats from the book was, “even though they request you bring your return for the year before and the year after, don’t do it.” So, I didn’t, and fortunately they weren’t requested. My auditor, a nice young woman from Oakland, attempted to put me at ease and we talked about my return for over two hours. She was amazed at some of the errors considering the return was, ostensibly, professionally prepared. She ate a Tootsie Roll while we were talking, and offered me one, admitting she was addicted to them. Hmm..I thought...and even asked her “Could I bribe you with a box of Tootsie Rolls?” We both laughed.

To make a long story short, I must send in some cancelled checks, verification of certain expenses, verification of certain insurance payments, etc...plus a healthy amount of money. Nevertheless, my initial trepidation and anxiety were unnecessary. The anticipation was worse than the reality. The experience was not as bad as a poke in the eye. It’s only money...which these days isn’t worth a helluva lot.

My advice is if it happens to you: Ask, and make sure your accountant will assist you BEFORE you have your return prepared. Get it in writing. Secondly, try to keep meticulous records and thirdly, get Nolo’s book on IRS Audits. It’s a pretty good read considering the subject matter.

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An interesting article in a recent NY TIMES column by Nicholas D. Kristof, starts out with the headline, WOULD YOU SLAP YOUR FATHER? IF SO, YOU’RE A LIBERAL.

If you want to tell whether someone is liberal or conservative, what are a couple of completely nonpolitical questions that will give a good clue?

How’s this: Would you be willing to slap your father in the face, with his permission, as part of a comedy skit?

And, second: Does it disgust you to touch the faucet in a public restroom?

Studies suggest that conservatives are more often distressed by actions that seem disrespectful of authority, such as slapping Dad. Liberals don’t worry as long as Dad has given permission.

Likewise, conservatives are more likely than liberals to sense contamination or perceive disgust. People who would be disgusted to find that they had accidentally sipped from an acquaintance’s drink are more likely to identify as conservatives.

The upshot is that liberals and conservatives don’t just think differently, they also “feel” differently. This may even be a result, in part. of divergent neural responses.

Apparently for liberals, morality derives mostly from fairness and prevention of harm. For conservatives, morality also involves upholding authority and loyalty—and revulsion at disgust..

Psychologists have developed a “disgust scale” based on how queasy people would be in 27 situations, such as stepping barefoot on an earthworm or smelling urine in a tunnel. Conservatives systematically registered more disgust than liberals. (To see how you weigh factors in moral decisions, take the tests at www.your morals.org.)

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Hey, folks,,,you know those GREEN bags they’ve been touting that are supposed to keep your fruit, flowers,and ther produce for days longer? Well, they don’t! Green bananas turned black as soon as they were placed there. Didn’t work for even two days! Don’t waste your money

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ENDJOKE...Three elderly ladies were having a conversation about how their bodies had begun to shrink. The first one said, “I used to be 5 foot 7 and now I’m 5’ 6”. The second woman said: “I used to be 5 foot 6 and 1/2 and now I’m 5-5. The third woman, turning to the second said “Gladys you should live to be 5 foot 4!”

June 2009

If you remember correctly, many years ago the slogan, “Less is More” was popular. I could never really understand that. “Less” is not “more.” At least it wasn’t years ago. Today may be a different story. In those days, “More” was “more.” Mother always said “never throw anything away...it will always come back.” But how long must one wait? And where to put it all?

Even if the peplum skirt were to become the rage again...or those bulky shoulder pads were still popular...the skirt will be outgrown, the shoulder pads merely weighty. The only one who wears Harlequin glasses is Dame Edna (who’s still around and popular in Florida,) but who wants to emulate her? Remember snoods? And what they used to call “bell bottom trousers” and now referred to as “boot pants.” Saddle shoes have staged a comeback of sorts and even uncomfortable girdles are now designated with a more appropriate title — “gentle shaping, moderate controllers.” They don’t do the same job, but at least you can breathe.

Many years ago, Philip Roth wrote “LETTING GO,” in which he attempts to describe the frenetic contest between one’s sympathies for others and one’s instinct for self-protection. Only at the end of the novel are we able to see the hero “letting go” and plunging headlong into the confusion of human life.

Most people hang-on too long and are dreadfully fearful of letting go. That goes for more than just old clothes. It also concerns outmoded attitudes and ideas ... and papers ... there’s just no end to the paper wars.

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To attempt an attack on the paper wars, I hired an Organization Maven who showed me how to file, organize papers, throw out and generally simplify my life. I knew I could --and should-do this on my own, but I didn’t. I needed her to show me the how, what and where to put things, and which things to discard. And I discovered, that “yes, less is absolutely more.” Things are easier to find when there aren’t so many of them. There are very few documents that can’t be retrieved from the original source if absolutely necessary. All that stuff you file...how much do you ever go back to? Well. that’s fine..but that was THEN...and this is NOW and it looks like I need another organizer.....and the Yellow Pages are full of them.

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The Golden Gate Receptor Observatory needs Hawk Migration Counters. They’ll train anyone over 15 years old how to do this. Information is at Fort Mason and you can call them at 331-0730 or email GGRO@Parks Conservancy.org. Here’s your chance to identify, track and monitor birds of prey. Weren’t you looking for a new interesting hobby?

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Theatrically speaking, I wasn’t as absorbed as reviews would suggest for two recent productions. “Rabbi Sam” with Charlie Varon on stage was a two hour production at the Marsh Theater. Charlie plays 12 different characters and details the problems as a small Jewish congregation copes with its messianic new rabbi. Varon is voluble and forceful in his role but the solo performance dedicated to creating 21st century Judaism was only somewhat amusing...early Woody Allen, it wasn’t.

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The Berkeley Rep is currently showing THE LIEUTENANT OF INISHMORE and employs “explosive Irish dialogue and a perfectly oiled plot that is brutal, bloody, yet irresistibly funny. As part of an I.R.A. splinter group, Padraic thinks nothing of murdering and mutilating his enemies--but the sudden death of his beloved cat leaves him heartbroken.” There’s plenty of carnage and LOTS of blood. A farce about terrorism, it left many of the audience with a problem trying to decipher the Irish dialect. Playing through May 17.

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Still the best of the Berkeley Rep was the recent VIBRATOR play which is heading to Broadway. Les Waters is directing Sara Ruhl’s new comedy for Lincoln Center Theatre. That comedy about marriage, intimacy and electricity was a winner and drew raves.

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END JOKES: A Doctor was addressing a large audience in Tampa: “The material we put in our stomach are enough to have killed most of us sitting here, years ago. Red meat is awful. Soft drinks corrode your stomach lining. Chinese food is loaded with MSG. High fat food can be disastrous. Long term harm caused by germs in your drinking water is another. Can anyone here tell me what food it is that causes the most grief and suffering for years, often after eating it?” After several seconds of quiet, a 75 year-old man in the front row raised his hand and softly asked, “Wedding cake?”

May 2009

There’s an educational nonprofit in Sacramento that has been using the My Health Manager website provided by Permanente, to access a patient’s electronic medical records When a patient has her cholesterol checked, or one of her kids is tested for strep throat, the patient goes there to click on links that explain the test results. She regularly e-mails her doctor with routine questions on anything and everything health-wise. The system has led to a significant shift in the ability to be an advocate for her own health care.

When I e-mailed my doctor with a question at UCSF, I was told not to e-mail her...that she doesn’t always read her e-mails but that instead I should call her office, give the question, or any information to one of the clerks, who would routinely insert it into the doctor’s box and eventually, when she got to reading it, I’d hear from her. As she doesn’t work full time, who knows when she’ll read my query? The trend, known as information therapy, involves delivering reliable health information directly to patients to help them manage their conditions and make treatment choices .It sounds like a more efficient system than the one espoused by UCSF (and my doctor). Fewer than a quarter of doctors in private practice have full fledged online record systems. There’s also a secure website where patients can see their records and communicate with their doctors. The system uses computerized health-risk to determine if a patient has any potential areas of concern. Progress can be checked over time and, for a teaching hospital such as UCSF, it’s time that they approved such a system. Harvard Pilgrim Healthcare, a nonprofit health plan in New England, recently began offering on its website, one of Health-wise’s coaching programs called Information Therapy Conversations. Check out the site at harvardpilgrim.org/conversations. It deals with sleep problems, depression and lower-back pain. Also try uptodate.com. It offers lots of options for a myriad of conditions. (There’s a charge for the latter site.) Both the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal have written about the use of online records and it’s probably only a matter of time before the service becomes common. E-mailing your physician could save many office visits...perhaps that’s why some facilities are loath to endorse it.

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The Latest in Mental Health: Working Out at the ‘Brain Gym...San Francisco has a new “gym for the neighborhood”...you can work out three times a week at a new computer “Visual Processing” program for helping you find your car keys faster or sharpen your tennis skills. VIBRANT BRAINS has attracted about 200 members December, 2007 according to its owners. Patrons pay $60 a month to work out on 20 computer stations loaded with “mental fitness” software, including a “neurobic circuit” that purports to stretch the brain. There’s an art-auction game that displays a dozen Monets for purchase. Then they’ll intersperse them with other Monets and you have to tell them apart. Sessions are spent doing mental nutrition games, cognitive training, genetic workshops and the like. The sites are getting popular throughout the country. I tried some of the games and they were fun. For more information, call 775-1138. They’re at 3235 Sacramento Street or call 650-378-2685. Ask for Lisa. Tell them you heard about it from Phyllis at the OBSERVER.

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On the theatrical front, highly recommended at the TRAVELING JEWISH THEATER at 470 Florida Street is Donald Marguilies’ darkly comic look at an older couple of Holocaust survivors settling in Miami with a problem daughter. Directed by Amy Glazer with Naomi Newman...THE MODEL APARTMENT plays through April 5. Info at: 292-1233.

Another winner is THE STORY at the San Francisco Playhouse at 533 Sutter Street...playing through April 25. 677-9596.

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ENDJOKES; A Polish immigrant went to the DMV to apply for a driver’s license. First, of course, he had to take an eye sight test. The optician showed him a card with the letters C Z W I X N O S T A C Z. “Can you read this? the optician asked. “Read it?” the Polish guy replied, “I know the guy.”

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Walking into the bar, Ronnie said to Charlie the bartender, “Pour me a stiff one—just had another fight with the little one.” “Oh yes?” said Charlie, “and how did this one end?” “When it was over,” Ronnie replied, “she came to me on her hands and knees.”

“Really,” said Charles, “now that’s a switch! What did she say?”

“Come out from under the bed, you little chicken s**t.!!”

April 2009

It’s too bad the Chronicle may call it quits after 144 years. Now that they’ve finally made some interesting changes and improved various parts of the paper, they’re almost about to call it kaput. The only other daily around is the EXAMINER which is not available in too many places. The CHRON publishes 339,000 issues, according to the NY TIMES but apparently it’s a losing proposition. We’ll just have to see. In the interim there’s the BAY GUARDIAN, the SF WEEKLY (weeklies) and our own sterling monthly, the WESTSIDE OBSERVER. What do the people do without computers? Anyway, enjoy while you may.

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According to the gurus that are supposed to know, the economy won’t get better until late 2009 or 2010. A market research firm polled people with more than $ 1 million in investable assets and 81% said they intended to take money out of the hands of their financial advisers who are supposed to look out for your interests, not theirs or their companies. Madoff’s Ponzi scheme was unique but the average investor doesn’t know where to go. Crooks send out statements too. Morgan Stanley’s CEO says he doesn’t take bonuses anymore & when I told that to my broker who had just returned from a week in Hawaii what his boss said, he said, he doesn’t have a young family!” Knowing financial principles are useful, but far from adequate to protect investors. The evidence is that most people make serious investment mistakes, which is why they should put their money into index funds and bond funds with low costs,” said Professor Steven Thel, who teaches securities law at Fordham University,” and not spend too much time trying to become financially literate.”

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Another problem is the vitamin business. Every day there’s another bit of information. One day coffee is great for you and the next day, someone details why more than 2 cups is hazardous. According to those who should know, a vitamin a day is a waste of time. Just get your vitamins from every day food. Recently the NY TIMES cited low blood levels of vitamin D may be associated with an increased risk of dementia, a/c to a British study. The vitamin D supplement is cheap, safe and convenient and may play an important role in prevention of cognitive impairment and play a role in brain development and the protection of neurons.

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Author John Podesta was a speaker recently on the 11 PM Charlie Rose show comparing Clinton to Obama. He spoke of Obama having a more disciplined mind... “a thinker with a great mind,” and Clinton as being a “literal” thinker. He also remarked that Republicans are very concerned about the majority in Congress. For you erudite folks out there who watch more than ER or American Idol, turn Charlie Rose on.

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I scroll through the TV channels myself and the other night Jay Leno, who soon will occupy a 10 o’clock spot on NBC, was spoofing the US Postal Service and he was talking to a “POST OFFICE COLONEL.” and they were talking about cutting out postal service one day a week. “What will a woman do whose mailman doesn’t come one day?” The Colonel said. “She’ll just have to fool around with the FED EX guy.”

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In brief, I thoroughly enjoyed Berkeley Rep’s “In The Next Room” (or the Vibrator play,) which is a very funny evocative comedy by Sarah Ruhl and beginning next week is Dotoyevsky’s CRIME & PUNISHMENT. Also, ACT’s SOUVENIR based on the life of Florence Foster Jenkins is a stunning presentation. Two terrific shows for theater lovers!

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END JOKES One day, a man came home and was greeted by his wife dressed in a very sexy nightie .” Tie me up,” she purred, “and you can do anything you want.” So he tied her up and went golfing.

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A woman came home, screeching her car into the driveway, and ran into the house. She slammed the door and shouted at the top of her lungs, “Honey, pack your bags. I won the lottery!” The husband said, “Oh my God! What should I pack, beach stuff or mountain stuff?” “Doesn’t matter,” she said, “just get out.”

March 2009

It was lovely watching Obama and Michelle’s beautiful dancing to Glenn Miller’s “At Last”...a special favorite of mine.The inauguration left the whole country glued together emotionally, one big American ball of hope. He’s hired an impressive group of competent Cabinet choices to help with the monumental tasks ahead. A BBC poll in 17 nations found that an average 67 percent believed that President Obama would improve America’s relation with the rest of the world: just 5 percent thought the opposite (or maybe feared that if they seemed critical of George W. Bush, they would be waterboarded) Everyone was impressed with Mr. Obama’s inclusiveness in his address...he even embraced atheists..only Thomas Jefferson did that once upon a time. Let’s hope the new President can remake America in a vastly different direction than previously.

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On a vastly different subject, but closer to home...I’ve read that more traffic tickets are issued during a recession as local gov’ts look to offset drops in sales and property-tax revenue, according to a study in the Journal of Law and Economics that looked at 14 years of data from 97 counties in North Carolina and elsewhere. Researchers say it’s reasonable to conclude that when times are tough, gov’t officials tell police that they need more ticket revenue. To corroborate that data, a friend of mine was driving on Dolores Street late at night a few weeks ago and came to a red “stop-and-go” light. He slowed down and then continued but was stopped almost immediately by a police siren. Apparently, he should have stopped completely and did not. I could not believe that the penalty was $488. And if he goes to traffic court, there’s another $40 due.

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The New York Times last week reported from San Francisco — "Amid the din of naysayers who insist that newspapers are on the verge of death, a new company wants to start dozens of new ones — with a twist.”

The Printed Blog, a Chicago start-up, plans to reprint blog posts on regular paper, surrounded by local ads. and distribute the publications free in big cities.The first issues of this Internet-era penny-saver will appear in Chicago and San Francisco this week. They will start as weeklies, but Joshua Karp, the founder and publisher, hopes eventually to publish free neighborhood editions of the Printed Blog twice a day in many cities around the country. “We are trying to be the first daily newspaper comprised entirely of blogs and other user-generated content,” he said. “There were so many techniques that I’ve seen working online that maybe I could apply to the print industry.”

“As pay newspapers lose readers to the Internet, where they can read the same articles without charge, many free papers have held their own” .He continues that the free newspaper business is still very workable as there’s a huge readership that wants the local news, and local businesses tend to increase their advertising in bad times because they have to capture people’s attention.He’s still aware of the difficulties of being successful in the newspaper business these days. The Tribune Company, which publishes The Chicago Tribune and its free daily, RedEye, filed for bankruptcy protection in December. Some free papers have even started charging for the paper because of falling advertising and the rising costs of ink and newsprint.Mr. Karp expects that each issue of his new paper will be distributed twice a day to 1,000 people. It sounds daunting and It will be interesting to see how things develop.

ENTERTAINMENT. There’s a brief overview of a few films I enjoyed recently: THE READER with Kate Winslet and Ralph Fiennes is an Academy Award nominee for Best Picture...very worth while for the sensitive moviegoer. Clint Eastwood does a double job of both acting and directing GRAN TORINO. DiCaprio and Kate Winslet in REVOLUTIONARY ROAD. It’s directed beautifully by Winslet’s husband, Sam Mendes. Meryl Streep is as amazing as ever as a tough nun in DOUBT. Philip Seymour Hoffman priest. DEFIANCE, Daniel Craig &Liev Schreiber act in a true story of the Bieleski partisans who fought the Nazis and rescued hundreds of Jews through the darkest years of war and genocide. Gripping and challenging. THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON with Brad Pitt is another contender for best picture and worth seeing although I doubt that it will win top honors. SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE or MILK with Sean Penn will probably take the honors...both exceptionally deserving.

Theater-wise, RICH AND FAMOUS written by John Guare can still be seen at ACT until February 8th and it’s lively and over-the-top. And, thinking ahead: one of the best dramas I’ve ever seen will be at Curran Theater in August. Estelle Parsons (at 81 years of age) is fantastic in Tracy Letts’ Pulitzer and Tony-winning the demanding role of the formidable mother in “AUGUST: OSAGE COUNTY.” You won’t easily forget this one.

Feb. 2009

Phyllis Sherman articles February '11 - December '11
Phyllis Sherman articles February '09 - December '10
Phyllis Sherman articles February '10 - December '09
Phyllis Sherman articles November '07 - December '08