Monthly Archives: January 2017

1984 on Campus

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A few days ago I wrote about the claim that the Trump administration is establishing a new  version of Orwell’s 1984. I noted that Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway’s use of the term “alternative facts” is not an example of “Newspeak” from 1984; rather, it is a method used every day by lawyers, opinion journalists, and anyone else making an argument.

However, you will find examples of “Newspeak” and “Doublethink” on college and university campuses all over the country.  Jillian Kay Melchior cites some good examples in her article “Censorship Is Free Speech?” It Must Be the Class of 1984″ published in The Wall Street Journal. Take for example the spread of campus “free speech zones,” where  students are allowed to say whatever they want even in politically incorrect language. This is comparable to the areas where the “proles” live in 1984. In these areas, people are also allowed to do and say what they want. Left to themselves, they are distracted by sex-filled  films, football, beer, and gambling. They are thus no threat to The Party. The proles are comparable to campus “jocks” and fraternity boys who are less interested in protesting a president’s policy than they are in sports, partying, and having their way with the opposite sex.

Melchior also cites the “Language Matters” or “Inclusive Language” campaigns. Inclusive Language is a good example of Newspeak which Webster’s Dictionary defines as “…the inversion of customary meanings.” Inclusive Language  would normally mean tolerance for free speech even if such speech annoys or offends individuals or groups. But as practiced on campuses, it means the opposite: All language that annoys or offends individuals or groups is subject to being banned, which is enforced by both student harassment of offending students and teachers as well as by liberal administrators.

Free speech is replaced by politically correct speech that does not offend women, gays, races, the handicapped and many more. Examples are: “cripple” (offensive to the physically challenged), ” bum” or “tramp” (offensive to the homeless) and “illegal immigrant” (offensive to undocumented Americans).

I see none of this in Donald Trump’s language or actions. He is not trying to narrow the range of thought to suit his interests, no matter how offensive his words and policies may be to many around the world. But if you want to see real Orwellian behavior, you need only  look at our colleges and universities where individual students and groups are campaigning to narrow the thoughts of others.

Orwell believed that the ability to use words is the key to thinking. He once wrote: “If people cannot write well, they cannot think well, and if they cannot think well, others will do their thinking for them.” Therefore, if you can control the meaning of words, you can control thought. Trump is only trying to implement policies that he promised to accomplish during the campaign. These policies may be offensive to many people, but he is not attempting to control thought or limit free speech. Look to university campuses for that.

 

 

 

 

Kellyanne Conway and George Orwell

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Of all the over-the-top controversies about the Donald administration so far, the one I find most interesting is the reaction to Trump counselor Kellyanne Conway’s use of the phrase “alternative facts” to describe the difference between Trump’s estimate (opinion) of the size of the crowd at his inauguration as compared to the estimate of the size of Barack Obama’s crowd.

This atrocity occurred on Meet the Press when host Chuck Todd asked Conway, “Why the president asked the White House press secretary [Sean Spicer] to come out in front of the podium…and utter a falsehood about the size of Trump’s inauguration crowd.  Conway responded that Spicer “gave alternative facts to that.” Todd claimed that alternative facts are falsehoods. Conway’s use of the phrase alternative facts set off an explosion of outrage both in the media and the anti-Trump community. It also caused copies of George Orwell’s 1949 dystopian novel 1984 to fly off the book shelves both here and abroad; it rose to the top of the list of Amazon’s best sellers.

Trump critics claimed that alternative facts was synonymous  with either the Orwell- coined terms “Newspeak” or  “Doublethink.”  The website George Orwell: Nineteen Eighty Four – Appendix: The principles of Newspeak defines Newspeak as not only “a medium of expression for the world-view and mental habits proper to the devotees of [Big Brother], but to make all other modes of thought impossible…This was done partly by the invention of new words, but chiefly by eliminating undesirable words and by stripping such words as remained of unorthodox meanings, and so far as possible of all secondary meanings whatever.” An example: “The word free still existed…but it could only be used in such statements as ‘This dog is free from lice’..It could not be used in its old sense of ‘politically free’ or ‘intellectually free.'” Doublethink means the ability to hold two contradictory opinions at the same time and believing in both. Doublethink in 1984 was a method of controlling memories.

So how are Newspeak and Doublethink like Conway’s alternative facts? Not at all. Now I am sure that Obama drew a bigger crowd than Trump, and I don’t need  Park Police estimates or aerial photos or experts using the so-called Jacobs Method (Google it if you wish) to reach that conclusion. Obama was the first black president and had the support of the public service unions who are fabulous at turning out large crowds. He also had lots of adoring supporters in the Hispanic, black, youth, single woman, and intellectual communities among others. These folks love to attend such events. Trump’s approval rating was lower than Obama’s when entering office, and his supporters  are mostly  people who don’t have the time to attend demonstrations or inaugurations. Trump’s claims about the size of the crowd at his inauguration could be considered gratuitous and unnecessary.

So if alternative facts has nothing to do with Orwell’s inventions, what are they? Facts, true or untrue, are used to support an opinion. Every argument, whether in writing or conversation, employs facts for that purpose. But in any argument, there is also an opposite point of view. If there were no facts (let’s call them alternative facts) to support that different view, there wouldn’t be an opposing argument, although some people express opinions despite the lack of facts to support their opinions.

Authors, journalists, lawyers, and anyone else who has an opinion he or she wishes to argue deals in alternative facts. One of the rules for prosecutors and defense lawyers in criminal trials is that the prosecutor must share with the defense lawyer all the evidence (facts and informed opinion)  he has accumulated, both inculpatory and exculpatory. Of course,when they go to court, the prosecutor uses only the inculpatory evidence to support his opinion that the defendant is guilty, and the defense lawyer uses only the exculpatory evidence to defend his client. So the defense lawyer is using alternative facts.  Opinion journalists also know that there is an alternative opinion supported by alternative facts, but, again, they use only the facts that support their argument.

Sometimes people are unaware of some alternative facts when discussing an issue. A few years ago, I was in London visiting friends. One evening we discussed the Israeli – Palestinian conflict. They were pro-Palestinian. At one point I mentioned that former Israeli prime minister Ehud Barak had agreed to an extremely generous peace proposal devised by President Clinton. I also mentioned that Barak’s successor Ehud Olmert offered even more generous terms to the Palestinians. Both proposals were rejected by the Palestinian leaders. However my British friends were completely unaware of these facts because, I believe, they get their news and opinion exclusively from the anti-Israel BBC and the ultra- left wing newspaper, The Guardian.

Yes, Trump knows the crowd was smaller at his inauguration than at Obama’s. Why do he and his people keep harping on it?  Barton Swaim, a contributor to the Wall Street Journal  has one theory:

…A troll is someone who deliberately kindles acrimony by making outrageous, offensive  or confusing remarks. Often it’s used as a verb, as in: Donald Trump has spent the past year and a half trolling the news media.

And he has. But few journalists have appreciated the degree to which Mr. Trump’s entire political and governing strategy depends on trolling them. They’ve mostly assumed his penchant for exaggeration and invention was the result of psychosis, or just ego. By now, though, it ought to be apparent that he’s doing it intentionally, and strategically.

…Mr. Trump has little but contempt for the mainstream media. Or at least he wants the media to think so. He realized some time ago, as many a Republican presidential candidate realized before him, that most journalists covering his campaign would interpret his pronouncements and decisions in the worst possible light. Mr. Trump decided not to play their game. Instead, he would troll them. Constantly, mercilessly troll them.

The effect was to stop them from covering his candidacy in the usual ways—with the kind of one-sided analysis guaranteed to make his Democratic opponent look superior—and instead to send them off on crazy “fact checking” errands in search of intrinsically worthless data. Did “thousands and thousands” of Muslims celebrate the 9/11 attacks in New Jersey? Did he really oppose the Iraq war, and when? Is “The Art of the Deal” really the bestselling business book of all time?

Now that he is president, reporters assigned to Mr. Trump are in a tough position. They have to pay close attention to what the White House says, but they know the White House may give them garbage and dare them to spend an entire working day trying to verify or debunk it. Meanwhile Mr. Trump will make the ordinary decisions any president must make—court nominations, executive orders, negotiations with foreign leaders—while reporters are off trying to disprove some idiotic claim about the president’s approval ratings. They’ll feel as if they’re in an impossible bind, trolled into looking the other way, futilely insisting on their authority as the nation’s guardians of truth.

Swaim’s theory seems plausible to me. If Trump is clever enough to figure out what many in the country wanted in a president and then win the Republican nomination and the subsequent election, he is clever enough to come up with a new and possibly effective strategy to disarm the hostile news media. As Swaim says: “… Trump has decided, rightly or wrongly, that the press is not the people. A ridiculous ‘lie’ to the press, in his view, is not a lie to the people.”

Kellyanne Conway’s “alternative facts” may be a part of that strategy.

The March Without a Theme

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A 60s March.  My photo.

Looking at pictures of the Women’s March protesting President Donald, I noticed that almost all of the protestors I saw were smiling and looked happy; they were clearly having a great time. I remember the civil rights marches of the 60’s led either by the non-violent Martin Luther King and later the ones led by the pro-violence Black Panthers and the ironically named Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) led by first Stokely Carmichael, and then H. Rap Brown, who was famous for uttering the immortal words, “Violence is American as apple pie.” The only faces I saw in those marches were stern and angry; nobody smiled, nobody laughed. This was serious.

During the 1960’s, the golden era of demonstrations and protest marches, when I was on the Left, I marched in protests against the Vietnam War in New York in opposition to Lyndon Johnson (Hey, Hey LBJ! How many kids did you kill today?) and in Washington to protest Nixon’s “incursion” into Cambodia. What I remember most about them is that  everyone had a wonderful time.

Yes, during the Washington march, I saw the police dressed in full riot gear and I even had a whiff of tear gas, but despite that, I had fun. I saw the police arrest a few of the more aggressive marchers, but I am sure that those arrested found the experience thoroughly enjoyable.

One reason these marches were so much fun is they were a great way to meet members of the opposite sex. Many of the younger, unattached male marchers fantasized that all left wing women practiced recreational sex . I am sure that some of the demonstrators found what they were looking for. But even if you were unsuccessful in fulfilling that fantasy, the mere thought of it was exciting.

The other reason the demonstrations were so attractive is that they gave ordinary people a sense of pride that they were playing a part in a great historical event. Indeed, many of the marchers dined out on the experience for years and would probably do so for the rest of their lives. They would take any opportunity to tell their protest march stories to relatives, friends, and anyone else willing to listen.  It was not unlike the Woodstock music festival, which was also considered a seminal, historic event in the history of the youth culture, and attendees also regularly reminded others that they had been there. They were thoroughly convinced that the demonstrations and even rock concerts like Woodstock were a major, if not the major reason the war came to an end.

Because the 60s provided many opportunities for self-aggrandizement along with sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll, the succeeding generations longed for a 60s of their own. I remember a man I used to work with who was married, working, and raising kids during the 60’s, so he didn’t have the time to participate in any of the historic 60’s events. But after his kids were grown and out of the house, he and his wife decided to have a 60s of their own, even though it was, by that time, the 80s. He was bald and gray, but he sported a ponytail grown from the fringe of hair he did have. He took to smoking “grass” every day and  participated in the few demonstrations that occurred during the 80s. And many people who did participate in the events of the 60s longed for yet another 60s in which they could relive their youth before they pegged out.

Some observers believe the 60’s never really ended with our defeat in Vietnam. Those members of the left wing community simply moved on to other causes. Of course, the new causes were embarrassingly trivial when compared to the tragedy of Vietnam. But it didn’t matter; left wing community members need their 60’s like an alcoholic needs his drink.

What I find interesting is that none of the issues that produce movements and protest marches today were considered protest-worthy during the Vietnam War/Black Power era. Betty Friedan published her influential book The Feminine Mystique in 1963, and is considered central to the birth of the modern feminist movement. Yet I don’t remember any of the left wingers I knew during the 60s even mention a women’s movement. In fact, most of the male members of the left wing community I knew could easily be described as male chauvinists. Perhaps they were influenced by their black brothers-in-protest who were unabashed misogynists, a problem that continues today; just listen to almost any rap “song.”

The right to an abortion was another cause. Roe v. Wade was decided in 1973 and made abortion legal everywhere in the country. Obviously some women and their lawyers were working quietly during the 60s to bring the issue to the Supreme Court, and they won. Yet I don’t remember any demonstrations during the 1960’s protesting either side of the issue.

Finally, there is the gay rights movement.The event that is said to have kicked off that movement is The Stonewall raid and riots. This seminal event was a New York City police raid on a gay bar called The Stonewall Inn. What set the raid apart from similar raids is that the bar patrons fought back. The raid took place in 1969.  Again, none of my left wing protester acquaintances cared that gays were denied legal rights. Most of the left could easily be described as homophobic during the 60s decade, and the idea of gay marriage never entered their minds. If someone had brought it up, they would have found it absurd, as most Americans did at the time.

Andrew Sullivan’s book Virtually Normal was the first effort to make a case for gay marriage, and it came out, so to speak, in 1995. Even older gay men like composer Ned Rorem and  writer Quentin Crisp didn’t get the movement for gay marriage. Rorem said he was against both heterosexual and homosexual marriage. Crisp couldn’t understand why gays wanted to be like straights and enter into an arrangement that Crisp thought to be boring when compared to the exciting gay life of promiscuous and anonymous sex. He also despised the word “gay” as the politically correct term for homosexuals. Why destroy a perfectly good word, he said, that used to mean, according to Webster’s,”happily excited, merry, keenly alive and exuberant”? Hardly anyone would use the word gay in that way today. Crisp preferred “queer,” which today is considered a slur.

Winston Churchill once described a dessert he was served as not “having a theme.” The Million Women’s march was like Churchill’s pudding: it didn’t have a coherent theme, which could not be said about the marches and protests that came before, regardless of whether one approved or disapproved of them. This time they were protesting the victory of one person, Donald Trump, in the presidential election only one day after he took office and before he had done anything. It is difficult to imagine how the media and Democrats would have reacted if right wingers had marched to protest Obama’s election. After all, he also defeated a woman, the same woman that Obama defeated, and prevented her from becoming the first of her sex to occupy the Oval Office. And Obama had a close relationship with a racist, anti-semitic preacher, which many believed to be a major scandal and indicative of a serious flaw in his character. But nobody organized a protest against Obama’s victory.

So, some of those protesting Trump’s victory were deeply disappointed that a woman, probably any woman, would not occupy the White House this time. Some were there because they were offended by Trump’s reputed habit of molesting women. They seem to have forgotten that that bar had been lowered years ago by the revelations of similar behavior by Democrats Jack Kennedy and Bill Clinton. They forgot, for example, that a perfectly credible business woman named Juanita Broderick accused Clinton of having raped her. Broderick told her story to an NBC reporter and was never heard from again. As far as I know, she didn’t make a penny by exploiting her experience. She never appeared on television again, gave no interviews to other reporters, and wrote no book. Yet, no one in today’s left wing community cares about that. There’s also the charge made by another credible woman that, in the White House, Jack Kennedy ordered her to perform fellatio on one of his cronies while he watched. After those revelations, Trump’s sexual antics don’t seem so shocking to Republican and Independent voters.

Others last Saturday marched to protest what Trump might decide to do about abortion, illegal immigrants, Vladimir Putin, gay rights, race relations, Obamacare, education, the environment, Supreme Court nominations, whatever. And some of the paranoid, conspiracy-minded members of the community imagined that Trump would turn the country into an Orwellian, totalitarian state. I have probably missed a few grievances about Trump, but you get the idea.

It has been claimed that the Million Woman’s March was the largest in American history. I don’t know, but I do know that it was certainly the most incoherent. It had no theme. It was just a party.

 

 

Jackie

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I know that most of the movie critics loved the movie Jackie. I hated it.

First there is Natalie Portman’s impression of Jackie Kennedy. The first time I heard the real Jackie speak was in 1960. The iconic reporter and TV personality Edward R. Murrow interviewed Jack and Jackie at their home on the popular show Person to Person. When Jackie started to speak, I thought, she must must be kidding, nobody speaks like that. I would describe her manner of speaking as a breathy whisper of words spoken in a child-like manner. Really, her voice and the way she spoke are almost indescribable, at least for me.

I thought:  Was this supposed to be sexy, seductive, classy or what?  Was Jackie the embodiment of Scott Fitzgerald’s character Daisy Buchanan in The Great Gatsby whose voice the narrator describes as “low and thrilling”?  Was it “the kind of voice that the ear follows up and down as if each speech is an arrangement of notes that will never be played again.”  Did it “compel me forward breathlessly as I listened” because it was “glowing and singing”?  Was it “full of money”?  Maybe…  In any case, Natalie Portman’s imitation of Jackie’s speech is pretty good in that it is almost as annoying as the real Jackie’s.

The  actor who portrays JFK does resemble him, except that he is at least a head shorter. In one scene, he is shown next to Peter Skarsgaard, who plays Robert Kennedy. Skarsgaard towers over him; in reality Bobby was shorter than his brother. But because the movie concentrates on Jackie’s life in the immediate aftermath of her husband’s assassination, the JFK actor has a very small speaking part, and I don’t think he attempted to do JFK’s distinctive voice and speech. Peter Skarsgaard looks nothing like the real Bobby Kennedy and also doesn’t imitate his voice and speech. Thus Portman is the only one who impersonates the person she’s playing. That in itself makes Jackie hard to believe.

Portman speaks in a whisper, and for some reason, so does almost everyone else. Loud, portentous music is played during much of the dialogue. My hearing isn’t good, but I cannot believe that anyone could understand very much of the dialogue in Jackie.

The movie depicts Jackie Kennedy’s effort to promote what she wanted her husband’s legacy to be. Therefore, the movie doesn’t acknowledge any of the then top secret details we now know about Kennedy’s life: his many serious illnesses, his extremely dangerous and irresponsible act of having sex multiple times in the White House with Mafia boss Sam Giancana’s mistress, his affair with the mentally unstable Marilyn Monroe as well as his liaisons with many other women from White House secretaries to former debutante friends of his wife.

Also now known is that Ted Sorenson wrote Kennedy’s Pulitzer Prize winning book Profiles in Courage. We also know that Kennedy  employed mafia members to assassinate Fidel Castro; all that and more. In one scene, the reporter meant to represent Theodore White, who was the first reporter to interview Jackie after the assassination, urges her to promote Kennedy as  the “great man” White believed him to be.

So the movie’s purpose is to show how Jackie and Theodore White successfully placed Jack Kennedy in the pantheon of the great historical figures, rather than to show the real Kennedy, an extremely attractive and charming man, who in addition to being seriously ill and an irresponsible philanderer, made dumb decisions that brought us to the brink of nuclear war.  Not mentioned is how Kennedy’s indecisiveness made a fiasco of the Bay of Pigs invasion, which led to his fatuous and unsuccessful attempt to charm Nikita Khrushchev in Vienna, which, as I said before, brought us frighteningly close to nuclear war in the Cuban Missile Crisis. That series of unfortunate events produced our disastrous Vietnam involvement.  The war created the 1960’s culture of protests, young authoritarians, drugs, the black power movement, and race riots. As Zorba the Greek said, “the whole catastrophe.”

Kennedy’s decisions and murder also gave birth to the nutty conspiracy theory obsession we now live with as well as the trivialization and destruction of most of our education system–from the elementary schools to the universities.

The movie does not debunk the myth of “Camelot,” the fib made up by Jackie that the first couple used to play the music from the Broadway show Camelot each evening before bed, the purpose of which was to equate the few Kennedy years with some golden era of heroism, idealism, and cultural superiority.

And in addition to throwing a bouquet to Jack Kennedy, Jackie is boring and repetitious.

It also engages in voyeuristic sensationalism by re-enacting Kennedy’s murder, blood and brain tissue prominently included. It’s not as if we haven’t seen the real thing many times before.

Jackie once again tells us all the things about JFK that we already knew while ignoring all the sordid and unpleasant things we now know as well. The only thing that might surprise some viewers is that Jackie smoked when she was out of the public eye. Not very interesting.

If you want a true portrait of Kennedy, read the entertaining but sobering book President Kennedy by former New York Times reporter and author, Richard Reeves. Although I cannot say which party he supports, I can say from hearing him speak in person and from reading some of his works, that Reeves is definitely a liberal. Reportedly, Jackie Kennedy many years after the assassination gave her daughter Caroline, by then a grown woman, a copy of Reeves’s book and said, “If you want to know what your father was really like, read this book.” I can only speculate about the reason Jackie did this (if she really did it), but I believe she felt guilty and embarrassed about the monster she and the then deceased Teddy White had created and wanted to correct the historical record herself in a way she felt comfortable with – through her daughter, and perhaps after her death.  In any case, we haven’t heard a word from Caroline.

So the Kennedy myth lives on; it is indestructible.

 

 

My Experience With Depression

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In yesterday’s post, I mentioned my experience with depression a couple of times. I’d like to write about a few aspects of my experience that I hope will be helpful to others who have depression or might experience it in the future. And I hope it’s not too depressing. Also, I promise not to write about it again.

First, the psychiatric medicines. My first experience with serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) was about 17 years ago. I’d asked a doctor to recommend an internist, a family doctor. I didn’t have one at that time. At my first appointment, I expected nothing more than a general physical examination; but after the examination, he said, “You know, you look a little depressed.”

I knew that I wasn’t an easygoing, worry-free kind of guy, but I didn’t think I was depressed. Furthermore, the office visit took place after a day of teaching high school English in one of Philadelphia’s public schools. I am sure I looked tired and somewhat stressed, and besides, doctors make me nervous. He offered me a prescription for Zoloft, one of the new miraculous SSRI drugs at that time. I hadn’t heard of Zoloft, but I had read about Prozac, which supposedly had the magical power to correct a chemical imbalance in your brain and thus transform you into the real you, the person you were meant to be – happy, relaxed, intelligent, and likable. Some asserted that if everyone took Prozac, peace would break out the world over and everyone would be happy.

I hesitated to accept the prescription at first, believing that it was probably not a good idea to take a pill to cure an illness you didn’t think you had. But then I thought it would be like taking a mental vacation, and I never thought I would take it long term, so I filled the prescription.

Within days, I really did feel like a new man. Things that used to upset me now rolled off my back. And I really enjoyed the new me.  I didn’t worry about the idea of taking a pill every day, for this pill (I said to myself) merely corrected an abnormal condition in my brain and thus made me “normal.”  What could be wrong with that?  In addition, there were no unpleasant side effects that I could detect.

After a while, my internist sent me to a psychopharmacologist because he didn’t want to prescribe such drugs anymore. The new doctor, an expert in antidepressants, continued prescribing  Zoloft, saying that if I stopped taking it, my depression would return. I forgot that I hadn’t thought I was  depressed when I started on Zoloft, and that if I was depressed, it was a very mild depression. After all, I seemed to function satisfactorily before Zoloft. I managed to graduate from college, earn a graduate degree, stay married to the same woman for more than 30 years, help raise two wonderful children who now have families of their own, and function pretty well in a highly stressful job. But I couldn’t think of a reason to stop taking Zoloft.

Then, one day the Zoloft stopped working. I had heard about “Prozac poop-out,” but neither the internist nor the psychopharmacologist offered to talk about it. I remember asking the psychopharmacologist about it, and he said it wouldn’t happen. When it pooped out, I felt at first intermittent anxiety that, after a while, became almost constant. Clinical, major depression followed, and no other drug helped very much.

According to reports, one in ten Americans is on antidepressants. I assume that many of those people are not clinically depressed. One person I know takes Zoloft to fight what she calls “irritability,” which, to my knowledge, is not a disease or illness. Many who take antidepressants feel fine most of the time, but take the pill because they want to feel even better. Also there are lots of people on SSRIs who function normally but are mildly depressed, meaning they often feel unhappy. Should doctors promiscuously prescribe antidepressants to such people?  From my experience, I think not.

These people, I believe, should be advised to talk to a psychologist, psychiatrist, or even, if they are religious, their pastor. I know many doctors move patients on to another drug before the original drug stops working. But there is no guarantee that the new drug or any of the others will work.

Another problem one must deal with is doctors. I’d advise patients to be very assertive with their doctors when they prescribe antidepressants. My experience is that doctors can be less than forthcoming about a drug’s side effects. Demand to know all of the possible side effects, and ask your pharmacist to give you a list of them before you start taking a drug. Don’t be surprised if a doctor gets very annoyed by your questions. A lot of doctors can be arrogant and patronizing when questioned. A favorite comeback of my first internist was, “What medical school did you go to?” My psychopharmacologist has a repertoire of condescending insults.  Once when I complained about a drug’s very unpleasant side effects, he came out with “I’m biting my tongue,” which I assumed meant, “How dare you question me, you moron.  I’m dying to tell you what I really think of you and your inane questions, and I’m doing my best to restrain myself.”

I would also ask therapists if they have ever experienced depression. A skillful therapist who has actually experienced depression would be ideal, but probably hard to find.

Finally, stay away from hospital psychiatric units unless you are on the brink of suicide. One day, on my birthday it turned out, I went to a local hospital ER because I was feeling panicky about something and I thought an ER doctor might give me something to relieve it. Unfortunately, I had gone there a couple of days before with the same complaint. The first time, they gave me a tranquilizer, and I went home feeling better. The second time, a social worker was called in. I would advise anyone who goes to the emergency room for anything having to do with depression and/or anxiety to beware of social workers. She was there to interrogate me and her subject for the day was suicide: Did I ever think of suicide, did I have a “plan,” and had I ever attempted it? I stupidly responded that, yes, I had thought of suicide. The fact that I said, no, I didn’t have a plan and, no, I’d never attempted to do it didn’t matter to her. I cannot imagine that anyone with clinical depression doesn’t have thoughts of suicide; indeed, many, if not all of the drugs prescribed for depression can cause suicidal thoughts. From my experience, I would conclude that social workers are not trained in the skill of separating those who think of suicide from those who are likely to do it.

So the social worker strongly urged me to go to the psychiatric ward. As I understand it, they can keep you for only 72 hours and only if you sign off on it. She also described the psych ward as a small, homey place, sort of like a spa.  I remembered seeing ads in Philadelphia Magazine (probably in some doctor’s waiting room) that touted the intensive treatment provided  at the psych ward of this hospital . The way I felt, I thought, Why not? It’s only for a few days and I would get intensive therapy from experienced psychiatrists. So I signed the paper and was off for a few days of helpful therapy, I believed.

Almost as soon as I set foot in the ward, I knew that everything the social worker had said was a lie. My wife was also horrified by the place and we told the resident Nurse Ratched that we had changed our minds.  But the doors were locked.  No, she said, you signed the paper, you’re not going anywhere.

I was shown to my room where my roommate was snoring away in the middle of the day. He was obese, and when awake, walked around the place wearing too small pajamas with weird designs. The room next door held a young woman who screamed and cursed both night and day and argued with people who were present only in her mind.

Next they took away all my possessions, including my belt, shoelaces, and even the little strings that held up pajamas. I know they believed that this was a necessary precaution, but it was still demeaning and disheartening.

I spent the next 3 days sitting in a sort of common room trying to read, which was difficult because of the drugs I was given. Still, I was able to observe what was going on. I did see a few doors with psychiatrists’ names on them, but I rarely saw an actual psychiatrist. The only time I saw one was in the morning when they came in, wrote something in a loose-leaf binder, and left.  The only times I talked to a doctor was on the first day “intake” evaluation and the day before I left for discharge. Nothing that took place between us could be defined as treatment. And we met outside in the common room where everyone could hear what was being said. I never saw any doctor take an “inmate” into a private office for treatment.  Needless to say, I was amazed by their unprofessional behavior.

So most of the day, the inmates (mostly the younger ones) socialized with each other and at night watched television. Yes, there was something called “group therapy.” Out of boredom, I attended two such sessions. The first one was a group “project” in which we were supposed to make a truck or something out of pieces of cardboard. I stayed about 10 minutes. In the other one we sat around a table and were asked to identify and discuss our most “positive” experience. During this “group therapy,” the woman next to me continuously drew with her finger imaginary circles in the air. I left after 5 minutes. And that was it for three days, and I cannot get those days out of my mind. It was worse than prison; in prison at least, you are permitted to go outside daily for some fresh air.

So beware of social workers and other “mental health workers” who want to send you to a psych ward. And the ward in which I spent 3 days is reputed to be the best in the area!

To be fair, I have to say that there was one member of the staff who treated me like a real human being. His job was to order and dispense medicine to the inmates, but he did much more. He did everything he could to make me and others as comfortable as he could.  He understood that this was a very unpleasant experience for me and let me know that he didn’t think I belonged there.  He also asked me once why I was doing this to myself. An interesting and, I think, an important question that was the closest I came to therapy during my stay.

A lot of the time, nowadays, I am feeling better. I do things that I avoided before, like going out, talking to friends, and traveling. Writing this blog seems to be therapeutic as well. Still, it has been a rough ride.

Missy

missy

Missy, her sister, and her mother

Missy is my wife’s sister-in-law. She lives in Vancouver, Canada with her husband Allan. Raised in Southern California, Missy at first looked to my wife Eleanor and me to be sort of an airhead Valley Girl. It was probably the way she dressed and her hair style at the time. I think that, at the same time, she considered us to be East Coast, intellectual-wannabe snobs. Anyway, we didn’t like each other when we first met.

However it didn’t take long before we learned how wrong we were about Missy. The first thing I noticed was her wicked sense of humor. Then I discovered her warm smile and kindness. A couple of years ago, we visited Missy and Allen to attend their daughter Lindsay’s wedding. I was beginning to descend into a depression that made me feel that my family and friends disliked me. Missy and I talked for a couple of hours, and she convinced me (at least during that visit) that I was wrong. Her smile, her warmth, and her obvious honesty were amazingly therapeutic.

We also learned that Missy is an extremely talented folk artist. Christmas objects of art is one of her specialties. She crafts beautiful angels and incredibly detailed Santas (with all sorts of handmade miniature toys in his sack), as well as lots of other kinds of folk art. An expert seamstress, she makes clothing: shirts, dresses, and more. Most astoundingly, she is a skilled  woodworker; her bedroom set is just one example of the furniture she has made with powerful, often dangerous (if you aren’t skilled) tools.

But to me, her most impressive quality is her courage, what Hemingway termed “grace under pressure.” Six years ago we all got together in Palm Desert, California for my father-in-law’s 90th birthday (he’s still chugging along today). As I remember it, a couple of days before the party, Missy felt very ill. Allen took her to the hospital where the doctors discovered a tumor in her heart. A few days later, she returned to Vancouver where a surgeon removed a baseball-sized tumor, which was found to be malignant. Doctors gave her 14 months to live.

It was a year and half later that we flew to Vancouver to attend Lindsay’s wedding. And there was Missy–smiling, laughing, funny as usual. It was as if the surgery, the months of unpleasant chemotherapy, and the doctor’s belief that she would soon die had never happened to her. As I mentioned before, it was during that visit that Missy took the time to comfort me when I was moaning and groaning that nobody cared for me.

The wedding was beautiful.  Missy’s brother, sister and mother–all cancer survivors– were there; smiling, warm, and friendly. Just like Missy. Missing was a brother who had died from cancer years ago. Another of Missy’s brothers had had cancer surgery on his jaw, as I remember, and a part of the jaw had been removed, but it didn’t seem to affect his happy, warm demeanor.

Just about two months ago, Missy had a setback.  The tumor in her heart had returned and surgeons removed it again. A few hours after the surgery, Missy was out of her room and smiling as usual for the picture Allan sent us. But soon after, they discovered blood on her brain. They believed she had had a stroke. Whatever it was, she lost most of her peripheral vision. She also developed sarcomas on her scalp and had “spots” on her liver.

Meanwhile, Lindsay was close to giving birth to Allan and Missy’s first grandchild. Missy and everyone else hoped that Missy would make it long enough to see her. She was born recently and Missy was delighted.

This morning I awoke as I usually do since becoming depressed. I call it my morning rant, which the Webster Dictionary defines thusly: “to talk loudly and in a way that shows anger; to complain in a way that is unreasonable.” In the middle of my morning rant, my wife came in with her phone and showed me an email from her brother. Doctors had discovered another tumor, this time in Missy’s brain. The prognosis?  Days, not weeks. The email ended my morning rant of self-pity in an instant.

Allan reminded us that Missy had proven the doctors wrong before and he believed she could do it again.  One thing I know is that, if anyone can do it, Missy can.

A week or so ago, I spoke  on the phone with Allan.  He told me that Missy had said to him recently that the thought of suicide had passed through her mind.  Allan jokingly asked her not to mess up the bathroom.  Missy’s response:  That’s OK, the cleaning lady comes tomorrow.

 

 

 

 

It Was Obama, Not Hillary

Melania, Donald, And Barron Trump At Home Shoot

In my last post, I didn’t get into why I think Obama elected Trump. From Trump’s astonishing victory, I can only conclude that an awful lot of people in this country are utterly fed up with politicians.

Almost all politicians today say nothing that isn’t the result of “focus grouping” and polling. Obama put together his two victories by tailoring every word he publicly uttered to please the groups who came out in droves to vote for him.  Obama (and now all Democrats) suck up to the following constituencies: single women, blacks, gays, public service unions, “intellectuals,” and Hispanics, both legal and illegal. Members of these groups usually live off the government either partially or entirely with Democratic encouragement. Think about that cartoon put out by and promoting the Obama campaign that approvingly depicted the life of a woman under Democratic rule, living from cradle to grave on the taxpayers’ dime.

Obama, the one time social worker, knew how to press all the right buttons, and he never strayed from the “talking points” designed specifically for his voters. To be fair, almost all politicians speak only focus-grouped talking points. It’s just that Obama was really good at it; as they say, he was never “off message.”

This election means that a lot of people finally have woken up to the fact that ultra-liberal politicians like Obama were trying to create a different kind of country from the one they thought they lived in.  And they were fed up with it.

Trump’s brilliant (yes, brilliant) insight was that he recognized that the fed-up constituency could be mobilized by the right kind of personality into a force powerful enough to win the presidency. He understood that such a personality had to be not a little different from the usual politician; rather, he had to be flamboyantly different. Like Max Bialystock,  Mel Brooks’s character in The Producers said, “If you got it, flaunt it.” Well, Trump understood what was going on in the country; he knew he had what the fed-up wanted (a candidate with a lot of chutzpah), and he was more than ready to flaunt it.

Thus Trump never uttered talking points. His style was to be utterly spontaneous; whatever thought ran through his head came immediately out of his mouth – uncensored and uncut. This of course horrified the Obama constituency, particularly the very influential intelligentsia in the media and the universities. The more Trump horrified artistes like actress Meryl Streep (who I very much agree is overrated), the more Trump and his antics delighted Hillary’s “deplorables.” He responded immediately to all in the media who criticized him. The more insulting Trump’s responses, the better. Trump’s people felt, correctly I believe, that these obnoxiously biased media people have been getting away with murder for decades, and no one (even the hated Fox News Channel) could do anything about it. Fox presents an alternative to liberalism while maintaining a modicum of “dignity” traditionally considered appropriate for TV. Trump modeled his persona  on the conservative talk show guys like Rush Limbaugh and Mark Levin.

Besides the obvious favoritism Obama and Democrats shower upon their voters, the fed-up have had it with racial quotas, political correctness, and of course illegal immigrants. The fed-up saw racial favoritism in the schools, the universities, and even business. Even though various Supreme Court decisions seemed somewhat to limit such favoritism, the fed up saw no evidence that, for example,  the universities were conforming to these limits. Academia always seemed to have a way to get around any limits the courts might impose.  And few politicians had the courage to complain.

American style political correctness, as I remember, started up in the late 1980s and early 90s. As British historian Paul Johnson said, and I paraphrase: In the beginning political correctness seemed a minor nuisance, usually confined to certain universities. But before long, it descended on the West like a phosgene gas. As a result, many  parents were shocked to find their kids returning from college transformed  from teenagers mostly interested in sports and the opposite sex into fully indoctrinated authoritarians behaving like Leninists. These kids employed the new jargon of political correctness to beat the uninformed over the head. So cripples became the “physically challenged” and those we once called bums became “the homeless.” Writer Mark Steyn ironically coined the phrase “undocumented Americans,”  a politically correct term for illegal immigrants or (God forbid) wetbacks. Anybody who didn’t get with the new jargon could expect a tongue lashing. Public figures were especially vulnerable to attack when they spoke at universities.

Illegal immigration, Trump recognized, was an issue that really got to the fed-up. Few politicians were willing to do anything else but pander to the Hispanic vote. The usual talking point was, “Well, we can’t round up and deport thirty million people and their kids.” The fed-up believe, even if they don’t go around saying it, that there are lots of murderers, rapists, thieves and other nefarious types who get away with their crimes. As I have read, it is extremely difficult to get a jury to convict a murderer who is a gang member because witnesses know  the gang will go after them if they testify against the accused. The fed-up believe you can’t catch and deport every illegal immigrant just like you can’t catch or convict every murderer, but that doesn’t mean we give up trying to solve such crimes and punish the perpetrators. So the fed-up say:  Try to arrest and deport those here illegally because they naively believe that the law ought to be enforced. The fed-up are well aware that it is impossible to catch and deport every illegal immigrant. They say: Do the best you can.

Thus, the fed-up really don’t care about Trump’s vulgarity. They are tired of smooth -talking con artists like Obama. They are tired of the biased media and self-righteous movie stars.They are tired of youthful left wing enforcers of political correctness. And they are tired of a government that refuses to enforce the law when it offends their political supporters. They want someone in the White House who  will aggressively fight against the promoters of special interest, identity politics and who will concentrate on what they want: a strong, private sector economy; reasonable tax rates; vigorous law enforcement; free speech; and a culture based on merit rather than color and ethnicity. The fed-up think that of all the candidates running for President, Trump is the only one with the guts and independence to fight for that kind of political culture, for that kind of country. And as far as they are concerned, the more “offensive” tweets responding to the media and self-righteous movie stars, the better.

 

 

You Don’t Know What You’ve Got Til It’s Gone

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Donald Trump will become president in a few days and Barack Obama is leaving. Or is he?  Reportedly, Obama is staying in Washington where he will regularly blast his present and past opponents (in a “dignified” manner, of course) on CNN and MSNBC. Many believe that Trump won because Hillary was a bad candidate, that she is lacking both charisma  and honesty. I think that was part of it, but the bigger problem for her, I believe, was really Barack Obama.

But first I should mention that the Democrats are going through major depression and anxiety  over the thought of Trump as president. Their behavior is more extreme than at any other time I can remember when their candidate lost. Even Nixon’s comeback victory didn’t provoke such an unhinged reaction from liberals. My favorite is the idea that Trump will bring to America the Orwellian, European custom of the midnight knock on the door followed by  storm troopers dragging away some hapless “criminal of the state.”

Meryl Streep most prominently suggested this scenario on some TV awards show.  I didn’t see it, but I read that she singled out actor Ryan Gosling as an example of a prime target of the coming Trump Fascist state. Gosling’s problem, you see, is he is Canadian, so according to Streep, he’d better pack up and return to Canada now before  Trump’s Gestapo knocks down his door and drags him away to the concentration camp.

The other side of the liberal reaction to Trump is the over-the-top tributes and the rending of garments over Obama’s departure. One example is New York Times columnist Charles Blow’s canonization of our next ex-president:

 But there was a calm in the midst of the storm, a rock of familiarity and stability and strength: On Tuesday night, President Obama delivered his farewell address in his adopted hometown, Chicago, as a forlorn crowd looked on, realizing the magnitude of the moment, realizing the profundity of its loss.

As the old saying goes: You don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone.

I believe that “old saying” is from a Joni Mitchell Mitchell song from the 1960’s, but maybe Blow is young enough to think of the 60’s as the old days.

Still when I think of the Obama administration, the words “calm in the midst of the storm, a rock of stability and strength” do not come to my mind. Nor do I consider his leaving a moment of magnitude or a profound loss. First of all, Obama was probably the most divisive president I can remember. He spent almost his entire eight years campaigning around the country standing in front of worshipful groups of supposedly ordinary citizens where he would portray Republicans as obstructionist, Wall Street toadies and himself as a defender of the poor, the sick, the elderly, and the mostly Hispanic immigrants, illegally in the country as they may be.

That wet kiss for Obama wasn’t enough for Blow:

Whether you have approved of the Obama presidency as a matter of policy or not, it is impossible to argue that Obama was not a man of principle. Whether you agree with individual decisions or the content of his rhetoric, it is impossible to argue that he did not conduct himself with dignity and respect and that he did not lead the country with those values as a guiding light.

And the grand finish:

But none of those differences in opinions about strategy injured in any way my profound respect for the characteristics of the man we came to take for granted: bracingly smart, exceptionally well educated, literate in the grand tradition of the great men of letters. He was scholarly, erudite, well read and an adroit writer…And he was an orator for the ages.

A man of principle?  Remember: “If you want to keep your [health insurance] plan, you can”? Remember all the promises Obama made while negotiating tax policy which he always broke later and then blamed the Republicans for the collapse.

Furthermore, he did not conduct himself with dignity and respect. Remember the whisper to the then premier of Russia that after his last election he would be free to reverse himself on Russia policy? Was it dignified to do shtick with Jimmy Fallon on late night TV?

Finally we are told about Obama’s being “exceptionally well educated, literate in the grand tradition” [whatever that means], “erudite, well read and an adroit writer.” How does Blow know that Obama was well educated when we were never allowed to see any of his school records? Remember when Obama pronounced the word corps as corpse? Would an exceptionally well educated person, literate in the grand tradition and erudite do that? Unlike previous presidents Bush, Clinton, and Kennedy, for example, whose records were either voluntarily released or leaked to the press, Obama’s school records were apparently Top Secret. Also, his writing is not adroit; it is amateurish.

Donald Trump was not my first choice for the Republican nomination. He wasn’t even on my list. I was shocked by his victory and have a lot of doubts about him. But I don’t consider his election a catastrophe as the liberal community does.

Somehow I think Ryan Gosling and the “brave” Meryl Streept (because she attacked Trump on TV) have nothing to fear from Trump unless they are terrified that Trump will “tweet” that they are “overrated.”

As Tom Wolfe once wrote about liberal fantasies, “The long dark night of Fascism is always descending on America, but it always actually lands in Europe.”