Sociable

Monday, November 30, 2009

Thanks, Shopping, and Goats…

I gave thanks for many things last week. For football, family, friends, and my health, especially my kidneys. We also gave thanks for living in a land of plenty where a feast can be had and children can be educated.

Today is “Cyber Monday.” We all know about Black Friday, the “official” kick-off of the solstice-holiday shopping season. Cyber Monday began a few years back when most homes had mere dial-up connections for their computers. Monday at work, with a high-speed internet connection, folks would e-shop via those computers during lunch hour and other breaks (never on the company’s time, I’m sure).

Black Friday sales were up 11% this year, perhaps the result of steep discounts and promotions (although something really great would have to be free to get me dressed and at the store by 5am). Cyber Monday is unlikely to overtake Black Friday (or Christmas Eve) as the busiest shopping day of the year, in part because high-speed internet access is everywhere now. As Allan Sloan said on the radio this morning:

Black Friday is a sport and Christmas Eve is always the biggest day in terms of dollars, and that's just panic-driven. So Cyber Monday or Cyber-whatever will move up, but it's not going to rival these other things. But it's a great invention, and the marketing people who invented it should be proud of themselves, cause we're talking about it.

My spouse and I shopped yesterday, crossing a number of gifts off our list. I also made a decision to get my office people Goat235X235something small for a personal gift, but then do something charitable as well. 

I bought a goat.

This urge began last week when I heard a story about a girl in Uganda. Her family received a goat from Heifer International. That goat gave birth to 2 kids that they sold to build a home. The goat produced milk that the family sold to generate income. Soon they were earning enough money that they could send their daughter, Beatrice, to school. She did well, and has now become the first college graduate from her community. The goat subsequently produced a female kid that was passed on to another family in need (a Heifer tradition).

The Heifer International gift catalog includes livestock at all price points. In addition to the animals, the organization provides educational seminars so the families can care for the animals in an ecologically responsible way. They now include bees among their gift choices, as well as tree seedlings for reforestation programs.

Your kids will likely prefer Mr. Squiggles, a hot-selling Zhu Zhu hamster. But someone on your list might prefer a water buffalo

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

A Nephrologist Gives Thanks

Photoxpress_4779070

Tomorrow, The Great American Pig-Out, is not just a day for food and football. We should count our blessings and be thankful for them.

I am thankful for my loving husband, 2 healthy happy kids, and other supportive family members.

I have a career I (usually) love, that gives me fulfillment and allows me to participate in the progression of knowledge.

Most of all, be thankful that you pee. Until you cannot, you won’t realize how great it is to urinate.

Golden Thanksgiving, All!

Art courtesy of PhotoXpress.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Musical Meanderings

Over at the literary temple of the goddess, Isis has entertained her loyal subjects with a number of Lady Gaga videos in the past week. I also saw Lady Gaga on some awards show on Sunday (as my husband clicked through every station available in some lame attempt to watch… nothing long enough to understand it). He actually flipped back when he realized “some chick wearing almost nothing was playing a flaming piano.” He seemed worried when I knew it had to be Lady Gaga without any help from captions or the announcers (are you really listening to this stuff? And watching it online, honey!).

During my brief morning commute I enjoyed Christmas music from a station that goes 24/7 holiday this week through December 25. It’s often corny, but you just can’t help blasting out Rudolph and feeling alive! I now drive a car with a radio that let’s you know who is performing most songs, and I am often surprised by the artists who have burned Christmas albums. That, of course, got me thinking:

Will Lady Gaga do a Christmas album?

Turns out she has done a Christmas song,:

Christmas Tree by Lady Gaga

Play song from iLike.com

 

 

I think some other traditional songs need the Gaga touch. For example, I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas.

Just imagine what the Lady could do with this part:

“There's lots of room for him in our two-car garage
I'd feed him there and wash him there and give him his massage”

1967_Hippopotamus

I suspect Lady Gaga wouldn’t be nude, but would wear chain mail and/or leather. And hot stilettos.

I guess I should do some work now. But once you get “Lady Gaga and a hippo video” in your brain, you have to let it out before you can accomplish anything else.

Clicking on the photo will take you to its original posting site.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Moral Psychology and Political Leanings

Over the weekend I relaxed with the December issue of Scientific American. The Skeptic column by Michael Shermer explored the psychological differences between liberal and conservatives. We all know the stereotypes of these political entities; research can now explain some of the differences:

Like many other stereotypes, each of these contains an element of truth that reflects an emphasis on different moral values. Jonathan Haidt, who is a psychologist at the University of Virginia, explains such stereotypes in terms of his Moral Foundations Theory (see www.moralfoundations.org), which he developed “to understand why morality varies so much across cultures yet still shows so many similarities and recurrent themes.” Photoxpress_2554644Haidt proposes that the foundations of our sense of right and wrong rest within “five innate and universally available psychological systems” that might be summarized as follows: 

  1. Harm/care: Evolved mammalian attachment systems mean we can feel the pain of others, giving rise to the virtues of kindness, gentleness and nurturance.
  2. Fairness/reciprocity: Evolved reciprocal altruism generates a sense of justice.
  3. Ingroup/loyalty: Evolved in-group tribalism leads to patriotism.
  4. Authority/respect: Evolved hierarchical social structures translate to respect for authority and tradition.
  5. Purity/sanctity: Evolved emotion of disgust related to disease and contamination underlies our sense of bodily purity.

Liberals generally score high on 1 and 2 with lower scores on components 3, 4, and 5. Conservatives usually have similar scores for all 5 themes, with 1 and 2 lower than self-reported liberals.

Want to know how you stack up? Go to www.yourmorals.org and take the quiz! There are 5 “morality” quizzes (the one summarized above is fifth on the list). After taking each brief quiz you see your results and how they compare to others in the study population. A number of other studies and tests are included on the site as well.

An “informed consent” check box precedes each question set, so the site generates data for the group. Assist a psychologist with their research today!

My results? I am an admitted liberal who provided further validation of their findings.

Photo courtesy of PhotoXpress.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Pesky Patients Prevent Prose

I came back from a couple of national meetings with a bunch of ideas for this blog. One involved Varmus’ comments on the impact factor; I actually wrote that one last week.

Then my inpatient care service ballooned beyond one patient.Cheerful baby at the doctor. Kids were coming out of the woodwork wanting to see a nephrologist.

I hate when that happens.

Since handing over the service last night at 5, I have been trying to recover from 48 hours of everybody wanting my attention, and all wanting it NOW. I am just now feeling like I have my brain back.

It wasn’t enough to have a whole bunch of patients at once, though. We had our furnaces and hot water heater replaced during the same 48 hours. That just made those 2 days that much more special.

I will get my head back together and write more meaningful input. I promise.

Photo courtesy of PhotoXpress.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Valuing The Written Word

I recently attended an interesting lecture at the Annual Meeting of the Association of American Medical Colleges in Boston. Harold E. Varmus, MD, gave the Robert G. Petersdorf Lecture, entitled Publication Practices and Academic Values. The talk addressed the increasing pressure to publish in glamour journals, both for funding and academic advancement. Dr. Varmus pointed out that many of his most significant works appeared in “lesser” journals that served the appropriate audience for the science. Discussions after the formal talk centered on judging academic achievement on that standard.

Photoxpress_4928968

How did some scientific journals acquire biblical reputations?

Some have been around a long, long time. I have not found anyone who can remember a time when The New England Journal of Medicine was not the premier clinical research carrier.

How do we determine a journal’s worth? At the present time, the index of choice is the Impact Factor (IF). There is an excellent description of IF and its calculation on Wikipedia:

The impact factor, often abbreviated IF, is a measure reflecting the average number of citations to articles published in science and social science journals. It is frequently used as a proxy for the relative importance of a journal within its field, with journals with higher impact factors deemed to be more important than those with lower ones. The impact factor was devised by Eugene Garfield, the founder of the Institute for Scientific Information (ISI), now part of Thomson Reuters. Impact factors are calculated yearly for those journals that are indexed in Thomson Reuter's Journal Citation Reports.

Academics, especially scientists, love an objective numerical datapoint. During the 20 years or so that I have participated in these endeavors [has it really been that long?], the IF has risen dramatically in importance because it seems so objective. However, like all numbers, the IF can be gamed, and its validity has been questioned:

The impact factor refers to the average number of citations per paper, but this is not a normal distribution. It is rather a Bradford distribution, as predicted by theory. Being an arithmetic mean, the impact factor therefore is not a valid representation of this distribution and unfit for citation evaluation.[6]

Most journals try to improve IF by providing more review articles. Reviews receive more citations than original research, thus improving the IF. Other manipulations may also inflate IF:

Journals may change the fraction of "citable items" compared to front-matter in the denominator of the IF equation. Which types of articles are considered "citable" is largely a matter of negotiation between journals and Thomson Scientific. As a result of such negotiations, impact factor variations of more than 300% have been observed.[12] For instance, editorials in a journal are not considered to be citable items and therefore do not enter into the denominator of the impact factor. However, citations to such items will still enter into the numerator, thereby inflating the impact factor. In addition, if such items cite other articles (often even from the same journal), those citations will be counted and will increase the citation count for the cited journal. This effect is hard to evaluate, for the distinction between editorial comment and short original articles is not always obvious. "Letters to the editor" might refer to either class.

 

Several methods, not necessarily with nefarious intent, exist for a journal to cite articles in the same journal which will increase the journal's impact factor.[13]

 

In 2007 a specialist journal with an impact factor of 0.66 published an editorial that cited all its articles from 2005 to 2006 in a protest against the absurd use of the impact factor.[14] The large number of citations meant that the impact factor for that journal increased to 1.44. As a result of the increase, the journal was not included in the 2008 Journal Citation Report. [15]

The Wiki lists a number of alternatives to IF; however, complexity plagues them. PageRank algorithms (such as used by Google) cannot be explained in a simple equation. Increasing complexity may improve validity, but it zaps intuitive understanding.

Dr. Varmus plead for an end to IF insanity. He also works on open access, and has been a a major proponent of freely available online science. In 2006, Chris Surridge of Public Library of Science (PLoS) blogged on the IF and its irrelevancy to PLoS following an editorial in PLoS Medicine. In the Petersdorf lecture, Varmus bragged about reported the IF for PLoS Medicine (amusing but irrelevant, I guess).

So what is the answer? Clearly, the IF can be too easily manipulated. Other alternatives should be considered. Or, perhaps, we need to get over the idea of ranking stuff. Ranking journals and schools (that pesky US News and World Report thing) results in game-playing. We all know which ones are elite. The IF works about as well right now as the Bowl Championship Series algorithm does for college football.

In this internet-connected, computerized age, any paper in a peer-reviewed, indexed journal can readily be retrieved by interested parties. “Elite” journals increase early exposure, but those who need to see the work can easily retrieve it without personal subscriptions or press releases. Today, more than ever, the content should be the point.

Photo courtesy of PhotoXpress.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Masks, Hot or Not

“Why do you use your real name?”

Eventually most people who read my blog ask me this question. We all read other blogs written under pseudonyms, be they  a goddess or another fictional name. Many commenters also use pseudonyms. Working behind the veil of a screen name allows people to discuss things with candor; otherwise they might not feel free to open up for fear of reprisal or embarrassment.Venice carnival masks

Within my world of academic medicine, most bloggers hide their identity, at least to some degree. Some posts, although pseudonymous, include the author’s identity, or enough clues to figure it out. Others work hard to separate their real name from their blogosphere self.

Online identity is one of the first thing a new blogger decides. My own rationale for blogging came about because of my work. In starting a new magazine for the American Society of Nephrology, I needed to learn about social media and the role it could play with traditional media. The best way to learn this stuff is to jump in and do it. It did not make sense to have an anonymous online identity when I wanted these activities to compliment stuff I do offline under my real name.

Isis has posted her rules for pseudonymous blogging:

Anyone who could fire me/prevent my career advancement knows about my blog. I write with the knowledge that they may be reading it.  Some of them do.

I never, ever, ever write about my students.  Ever.

I never write about a colleague without their knowledge.  My immediate colleagues and collaborators know about my blog. 

I never write things about another scientist that I would not say to them openly and in public.

I don't divulge top secret MRU-related stuff.

These are good rules for any blogger no matter how they handle their identity, and ones to which I generally adhere. Given these rules, I feel completely comfortable being “out” on the web. Occasionally I get snarky, but not in a way that will cause irreparable harm to myself or my relationships.

I still remember the sense of freedom I felt when I turned 40. About that age I realized that other people really could not do that much to harm me. I bring that same attitude online now. Of course, I still have enough fear to give proper attribution to the photo-art supplier… cause FWDAOTI is cool, but stealing intellectual property is not.

Photo courtesy of PhotoXpress.

Friday, November 13, 2009

That “Special” Time of Year

‘Tis the season when a doctor’s fancy turns toward… re-credentialing. Not roasted turkey with family and football. Not jingle bells and candles. Just packet after packet from insurers and hospitals wanting to know all about you.

Credentialling

They all want the same information in different order:

  • Are you still licensed?
  • Are you still board certified?
  • Has anyone sued you?
  • Are you impaired in your ability to practice?
  • Have you kept up your skills?
  • Are you insured for malpractice?

Copies of your CV, your license, your DEA certificate, and your continuing medical education coursework accompany each form. You must also supply 3 to 5 peer references who are familiar with your practice. Also, your original signature (NO STAMPS) in 3 to 7 places.

Perhaps they would like a note from my kindergarten teacher? I believe she died, but a séance wouldn’t be much more work…

Repeat this process for each hospital or clinic at which you see patients. Fill out similar forms for every insurer. Then have your secretary make and keep copies (because at least one application will be lost).

As I struggle through this quagmire of paperwork, I wonder why this cumbersome process still exists. All of these parties request the same information; perhaps they could get together and come up with a single universal form. Even better, we could put that universal process form online. The amount of paper I am required to submit boggles the mind. The requirements can be interesting as well; some parties want only black ink while others specify only blue pens be used. (One year I used purple just to, perhaps, cause a bit of trouble.)

When you add up the cost in paper, time, and postage, we could put together a national online web-based process. Collecting these sorts of data is not rocket science. Of course, it would require some cooperation among competitors, but it is within reach. A bit of government guidance could make this reality! It would reduce administrative costs and reduce the hassle factor with a learning-curve less-steep than the electronic medical records funded by the stimulus plan!

Imagine filling out this stuff once… That would leave a lot more time for myself and my staff to enjoy family and football and bells and candles, not to mention actually taking care of patients and performing the rest of our academic duties.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

A Dish Served Cold

I rose before the sun this morning to get to the airport. The cab ride lasted all of 15 minutes- about a third of the duration inbound to Boston. I checked into the lounge for a bite of breakfast and a leisurely blog post.

Instead I read emails that have made me angry. I hate when another professional questions my knowledge. I really hate when I provide data to validate my knowledge and I am ignored by said professional. I REALLY REALLY HATE an email showing that said “professional” still seeks an opinion that shows me up.

My plane will board soon. I usually fall asleep quickly in a moving vehicle not under my control.

Today I may will plan revenge.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

More Information About GWIMS

In last evening’s post I described GWIMS, the Group on Women in Medicine and Science of the AAMC. Becoming an official group recognizes the importance of women’s participation in our academic enterprise. I now have some more “official”language about the role of GWIMS:

The GWIMS will serve as a national forum to advance women’s success in medicine and science by addressing gender equity, career advancement, awards and recognition, and recruitment and retention. Deans have been directed to designate institutional representatives who advocate for women’s advancement in leadership, education, research, clinical practice and administration to join the GWIMS. This new forum replaces the former AAMC Women Liaison Officer (WLO) network.

Each school should have one primary GWIMS representative serving as a point of contact to the AAMC. GWIMS is open to anyone who has an interest in advancing women’s success in medicine and science. If you are interested in becoming a member of the GWIMS or are a former WLO, please communicate with your dean that you wish to become a member of the GWIMS and have the dean’s office forward a comprehensive list of all those interested to the GWIMS office at gwims@aamc.org.

For more information about GWIMS, please visit www.aamc.org/gwims or call 202-828-0647.

Monday, November 9, 2009

A Group Becomes a Group

I serve lots of professional roles in my job. I see patients, try to run a lab, and edit a magazine. In another role, I design and implement development programs for our faculty to improve their skills in AAMCteaching, administration, and writing. As part of this role, I attend the meeting of the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC).

Today I attended an amazing gathering. In 1976 the AAMC gathered its first participants to discuss women in medicine. Over the past 30+ years women have gradually become half of all medical students. We are finally making some inroads into senior leadership positions as well. In all this time, Women in Medicine and their representatives, the Women’s Liaison Officers, have remained a lesser organization within the AAMC.

This year, we officially became a “group,” a formally recognized part of the AAMC. Moving from WIM to GWIMS (Group on Women In Medicine and Science) is a big step, and one long overdue. The additional “S” is welcome as well; many women serve in basic science departments, and their needs should also be served.

Each medical school dean appoints an official representative to GWIMS. Find out who represents your school and make your concerns known.

Someday sexism, overt and unintended, may be gone; until then, we need to pay attention to the needs of women.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

What I Am Reading

I have been saving this one for a trip. A few years back my spouse LostSymbolhanded me a tattered paperback he had just finished- Angels and Demons. I took it to the airport, and I did not close my eyes until I finished it. The mix of history, symbolism, science, and some anti-papacy undertones kept me reading into the wee hours of the morning. I then devoured The Da Vinci Code, a much weaker book that still kept me turning pages. I have been waiting since then for Dan Brown’s next efforts.

If you liked the first two novels, The Lost Symbol will provide a lot of the same. Massive conspiracies that could end civilization as we know it all come together along with Robert Langdon. The Harvard Symbologist (can you really get a degree in that?) has less than 24 hours to decode a complex mystery to save his friends and the world as we know it. Substitute the Masons for various Roman Catholic groups… you get the picture.

Sometimes I pick up sequels because I want more of the same. The Lincoln Rhyme novels provide procedural murder mysteries with a familiar cast but novel twists in each one. The Lost Symbol is too much of the same.

However, I did enjoy one aspect of this novel immensely. When I was a freshman in high school, during the year of our bicentennial, I researched a year-long report on the signers of the Declaration of Independence. What struck me, growing up in the heart of the Bible Belt, was the lack of traditional religion among this group of men. Most were deists; a creator exists but has little to do with the day-to-day issues of human beings. They believed in intellectual curiosity and seeking answers to the way the world worked, that the creator wanted us to seek these answers for ourselves.

In Angels and Demons, one early scene in the book (not included in the movie for some inexplicable reason) sticks with me. The dead physicist-priest and his adopted daughter have been using particle physics to attempt to provide scientific proof of the existence of god (sound familiar?). This hot female yoga-master physicist demonstrates the interaction of a teensy bit of anti-matter with matter, resulting in a brilliant explosion. After witnessing this feat, Robert Langton utters, “My god!” The woman replies, “Exactly.” I loved this scene because it suggests that the creator is a source of energy and initiation, not some judgmental bearded guy on some heavenly throne. Much more believable than anything I have heard in church.

The Lost Symbol entertained me through a couple of airports and plane rides, but the plot was too familiar. Robert Langdon still appeals, and there are still symbols to unravel. Freshen something up next time, please.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Sometimes You Have To Vent

On needs surveys, our faculty at University of Nebraska Medical Center consistently requested help developing writing skills. Given that the peer-reviewed paper is the coin of the realm, you might think that all training programs would include this skill. You would be wrong.

Research degrees include lots of writing (although more of a sink-or-swim approach is the rule), but your average medical school faculty member has not had to write anything more technical than a patient discharge summary.

A few years back some of us on the faculty development committee put together a workshop on manuscripts. Nearly 100 faculty participated, and they wanted more. The next workshop attracted nearly the same number of participants. We had a successful program on our hands.

The problem with success is that you are asked to repeat it, and the message here was pretty basic- write a lot. Keep writing. Get people to critique your writing. Never give up. Keep writing. Write some more.

Sometimes a message needs a different messenger. For our next effort, an expert will deliver the keynote. Paul Silvia,HowToWrite PhD, is an associate professor of psychology and author of How to Write a Lot. His research interests include motivation and goal setting, making him a perfect expert on faculty writing.

Before the workshop commences in 2010, I loaded up his book in the Kindle Reader in my iPod and used some airport time to read it (yes, I am reading the book before the speaker comes). The information is nothing new; its delivery includes enough humor to make it a quick read with a lighter feel than the usual writing manual.

So far, I have only found one portion I take exception to:

Sometimes, rejections are unfair, mean, and poorly reasoned. Sometimes you can tell that the editor or reviewers didn’t read your paper carefully. Resist the urge to complain to the editor. I have heard of people writing the editor an angry letter that denounced the reviewers as lazy incompetents. Those letters never work, probably because the editor is often friends with one or more of the reviewers. Some people recommend writing this embittered letter but not mailing it. That’s even more irrational—why waste your scheduled writing time with fruitless venting? Spend your time revising your paper instead. The world is unfair (p<0.001), so take what you can from the reviews, revise your paper, and send it somewhere else.

In general, this is great advice. You never want to send “that letter.” You should always make some revisions after a review, even if it just clarifies points the first reviewers missed. After all, they may be tapped to review the next version by the next journal editor. I know people who, upon receiving a request to review a completely unrevised manuscript for another journal, have submitted the content of all reviews from the first journal (so that pesky author can’t figure out which initial reviewer is repeating) and merely added “please revise as above.” Ouch.

No, my beef concerns not wasting time writing “that letter.” Sometimes authors get hung up and need to vent. If an hour or so putting these negative thoughts on paper (including your assumptions about the parentage of the reviewers and the quality of their eyesight) gets you over the hump and back to work, I say it is time well spent. [Of course, I usually just go shoe shopping as my stress-buster, but we all have our personal vices.]

If you need some help with your writing, or a book to recommend to your students, How to Write a Lot will likely fit your needs. I suspect Dr. Silvia will provide a motivating, mirthful workshop for us next spring.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Learning Never Stops

AAMC

Once again, I find myself in the Omaha airport using their free wi-fi to update my blog. Today I travel to Boston for the Annual Meeting of the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC).

This meeting is not sciencey.

This meeting features my hobby, faculty development. If we want faculty to perform functions not featured in their degree training, then we must provide opportunities to further their skills.  For example, no physician or scientist I know received administrative training during their formative years. Instead, the traditional route has been to promote them until they fail. This strategy actually worked out pretty well for awhile; if you can run a big lab or clinical section, you probably have the skills to lead a department. Unfortunately, the strategy also leads some people to failure.

I serve on a couple of committees that implement faculty development programs. Topics include educational techniques, leadership skills, hot topics like programmatic assessment, and more basic skills like writing. The chancellor provides a generous budget, and our sessions receive good ratings from faculty who attend. A 90 minute lunch-&-learn typically brings in 50 attendees, while the all-day institutes often draw larger crowds.

So I am off to ponder being a better faculty  member for a few days. Boston is usually fun, although nippy, and I know I will learn stuff. Stay tuned for updates.

Here is a question for any academic readers who wander by: What is the most important thing your institution needs to help you learn to succeed in all aspects of your job? Leave a comment and I will find programs that address the issue.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Observations In The Media

An ad shows up on TV while I prepared dinner this week. The first 30 callers are “guaranteed participation in this clinical trial.” The voice over goes on to describe how blood sugars may fluctuate “through no fault of yours” in diabetes, as well as the miraculous way this “natural” product will level them out.

The spot goes on for a bit about this breakthrough treatment to stabilize blood sugars.

I tried to find out more on the internet, but I can’t remember the exact name of the stuff.

I suspect there is no true clinical trial; they are likely “trying” to get you to buy this stuff. I mean, can you imagine writing this into an IRB application:

Entry criteria: Adult with diabetes who uses telephone quickly.

Exclusion criteria: Dials phone too slow.

?

Sometimes I am tempted to call the number. I don’t, though.

I have to get dinner ready.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Random Thoughts Between Road Trips

I feel a little overwhelmed right now. I just returned from Renal Week 2009, the major US nephrology meeting.

  • Work accomplished? Check-
  • New ideas generated? Check-
  • Good time had? Check-

Back at the homestead in Omaha, one might think I kicked back and relaxed; however, I find myself trapped between my dirty laundry and my empty suitcase. Yup, I head for Boston and the AAMC meeting this Friday.

TravelCollage

Of course, distractions presented themselves as well. My new glasses arrived, and yesterday the braces came off a whole 2 months early.

Last night we saw the stage show, Irving Berlin’s White Christmas. I truly believe that all of the world’s ills would be fixed if life were more like a musical. Of course, bursting into song at critical moments will likely get you committed- and those around you rarely join in and dance with you! White Christmas, the movie, does not make a lot of sense (a general retiring on the eve of battle? Give me a freakin’ break!), yet every Thanksgiving it goes in the DVD player while we wash the good dishes. The music swings,you feel warm and fuzzy, and who can resist those dance numbers with Vera-Ellen and Bob Fosse?

The stage version eliminates some of the movie’s problematic elements. General Waverly ships stateside for a war wound, and the minstrel show number is eliminated (though it is more politically correct than the black-face number in Holiday Inn, the flick in which White Christmas, the song, originally debuted). More pieces from the Irving Berlin songbook show up. The result is an evening that not only generates that warm-fuzzy holiday feeling, but leaves you humming and toe-tapping.

This fall I began tap lessons for the first time in my life. I now recognize the steps on the stage, and I have an idea how difficult those production numbers can be. Given the sweating after my hour class in shorts, I cannot imagine how hot those poor cast members are in ski sweaters and lights.

I should probably work now, or at least plan my wardrobe for Boston. A Big Thanks to the touring company of White Christmas- you made my evening! I will keep you in mind while I shuffle-hop-step tonight.

Photocollage created with images from PhotoXpress.