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Thursday, July 20, 2017

How To Make Television Your Slave and Not Your Master

Since its inception in the middle of the last century television has proven very addictive.  Many people can’t get through a day without major time being spent in front of the set.  Some of this viewing is purposeful, but much of it is just habit.  The average American watches over 35 hours of TV a week, a number that goes up to 50 hours once you reach 65 or older.  When you consider how many mindless commercials you must suffer through or ignore, the waste of time involved, if added totaled over your entire life, is mind-numbing.  What a shame!  Couldn’t this viewing mania be brought under control?

Of course it can, but like any bad habit it will take some discipline and training.  But with that you can work a major change and end up with much more free time to do other things.

The secret to taming your television addiction is the use of the digital video recorder or, more commonly, the DVR.  Most of my readers, I trust, already have a DVR and use it.  I have advice for them too, but first a paragraph about the DVR for those who don’t currently make much use of one.

If you have a cable service it will offer you, for a price, a DVR which will enable you to program the cable box so that it records certain shows you particularly don’t want to miss.  This is not hard task to master.  Anyone can learn to do it in a couple of minutes.  If you are the sort of person who is afraid of technology, calm your inner Luddite, and vow “I can learn to record shows on the DVR, damn it!”  Have the cable company show you how, write down the instructions, or go to Google and look up the steps.  You can do this!

Once you have recorded the show (or an entire series if you so elect) you need to know how to find it in your cable system.  The cable company will show you where to look on your screen.  Mine is under a category happily named “DVR.”  Click on that and a list of recorded shows ready for viewing appears.  Click on the desired show and it immediately begins playing.

Now comes the best part: you are in control of the content completely.  On your remote control will be a number of buttons.  One is marked PLAY or is just an arrow shaped like this: 

Press it and the show starts.  But there is also a PAUSE button that typically looks like this:

So if you need to answer the phone, go to the door, take a bathroom break, just pause the action.

You can also hit STOP, which looks like this on most remotes:   

Now the show ceases to play but until you erase it will still be available to continue watching later.  When you hit STOP you are typically asked by the machine if you want to erase the program.  Unless you choose to do so it is automatically stored for later viewing.

Think of what this means for you!  You are no longer a slave to the schedule that the television industry has created for you.  Instead you get to choose what you watch and at what time you watch it.  Believe me: this makes an enormous difference in your life.  Your schedule is under your control.  Moreover you may decide, as shows pile up on the DVR list, that you don’t need to watch certain recorded shows after all, and just delete them.  Your viewing is planned, not haphazard, and you no longer miss things you wanted to watch but which were on at a time when you wouldn’t be home.

But wait!  It gets better! 

Your cable system will not only allow for PLAY, PAUSE, STOP as buttons on the remote but also for FAST FORWARD and REVERSE.  These buttons are usually marked as arrows pointing to the right (FAST FORWARD):

or left (REVERSE):

When the show is playing just hit one of these and the show will speed up in the desired direction.  Miss something that was just viewed because the phone rang?  Hit REVERSE and go back and view it again.  Want to skip the commercials?  Hit FAST FORWARD and then get right back to viewing the show. 

Each hour of television programming contains almost 15 minutes of commercials!  Skipping commercials and station breaks will really cut down on the time you usually spend watching TV, an obvious benefit.  Even better, these buttons can be hit repeatedly to speed up the FAST FORWARD (for example) in increasing increments of speed.  Thus if you watching, say, 60 Minutes but know that only the middle segment on squirrels tap-dancing is what interests you, you can skip right to that fascinating part and avoid the rest of the show. 

As readers of this blog know, I’m a great sports fan.  Let me tell you how I watch almost all sporting events (except OSU football games, which we watch live because we typically have many people in the living room who insist on that under penalty of death). 

Me and David at Cubs Game
Say I want to watch a Chicago Cubs game (and I watch about sixty of them a year).  I DVR the game and when I’m ready to watch I FAST FORWARD to the start of the game (unless there is some reason I want to hear pre-game stuff).  I plan to skip all commercials (and there are a lot of them), and that saves a lot of time.  But as I’ve gotten better at automatically pushing the buttons (a skill that, like any other motor movement, improves with constant use), I can also speed up other things: pitcher-catcher meetings on the mound, foul balls causing a break in the action, and even slow pitching.  If the Cubs start winning big, I start hitting the FAST FORWARD button at maximum speed when the opposing team is at bat and only pausing if that team get a hit, at which point I REVERSE, go back and watch the hit, and see what happens from then on.  If the opposition doesn’t get a hit, that half of the inning is over very quickly for me and I can go back to watching my Cubbies bat.  These days most major league baseball games take three or more hours, but I can watch the usual game in about an hour and a half.  Same thing with football, which has lots of moments one can FAST FORWARD through.  Basketball itself is a faster game, and for those games I usually just skip commercials and lengthy time outs.  The Olympics are much better with a DVR.  Much, much better.

One other thing: for the sort of events that typically exceed the scheduled time (sporting events going into overtime, awards shows, or coverage of news events of uncertain duration) make sure you record the shows that follow the main show, lest you miss something.

When people ask me what I think of a famous new commercial I look blank.  I haven’t seen it, and, yes it might be funny, but to find the gems you have to sit through hours and hours of mindless nonsense and that’s not a tradeoff I’m willing to make.  If interested I’ll Google up the commercial and appreciate it at leisure and not by happenstance.  Sure, I’m a control freak, but, hey, I have lots more time in which to do the things I really want to do because of my DVR and the tricks it performs at my command.

So here is my advice in short: become a wiz at using the DVR and then you’ll never go back to being that rudderless viewer we all were when first we turned on that infernal machine in our living room.  Life is short but TV shows are way too long!

Related Posts: 
“A Guide to the Best of My Blog,” April 29, 2013;
 The Many Faults of Douglas Whaley,” March 31, 2010;   
 “A Control Freak Turns 50 and Throws His Own Party,” May 2, 2011;
 “The Puppet Party,” June 17, 2011;
 “My Sad Tale of Being a Chicago Cubs Fan,” May 27, 2015;

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Is Trump Clinically Insane? The Goldwater Rule Revisited.

Senator Barry Goldwater
When the very conservative Senator Barry Goldwater ran for president against Lyndon Johnson in 1964, a time when liberalism was ascendant in this country, Fact Magazine published an article entitled “The Unconscious of a Conservative: A Special Issue on the Mind of Barry Goldwater.”  In it over two thousand psychiatrists responded to a poll and 1,200 of them said that the Senator was mentally unfit for office.  Goldwater sued for libel and was eventually awarded $75,000 in punitive damages.

This ugly incident led the American Psychiatric Association to adopt §7.3 to its Code of Ethics stating:

On occasion psychiatrists are asked for an opinion about an individual who is in the light of public attention or who has disclosed information about himself/herself through public media. In such circumstances, a psychiatrist may share with the public his or her expertise about psychiatric issues in general. However, it is unethical for a psychiatrist to offer a professional opinion unless he or she has conducted an examination and has been granted proper authorization for such a statement.

To the Editor:

Charles M. Blow (NYT Column, Feb. 9) describes Donald Trump’s constant need “to grind the opposition underfoot.” As mental health professionals, we share Mr. Blow’s concern.

Silence from the country’s mental health organizations has been due to a self-imposed dictum about evaluating public figures (the American Psychiatric Association’s 1973 Goldwater Rule). But this silence has resulted in a failure to lend our expertise to worried journalists and members of Congress at this critical time. We fear that too much is at stake to be silent any longer.

Mr. Trump’s speech and actions demonstrate an inability to tolerate views different from his own, leading to rage reactions. His words and behavior suggest a profound inability to empathize. Individuals with these traits distort reality to suit their psychological state, attacking facts and those who convey them (journalists, scientists).

In a powerful leader, these attacks are likely to increase, as his personal myth of greatness appears to be confirmed. We believe that the grave emotional instability indicated by Mr. Trump’s speech and actions makes him incapable of serving safely as president.

Beverly Hills, Calif.

[Dr. Dodes is a retired assistant clinical professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School. Dr. Schachter is a former chairman of the Committee on Research Proposals, International Psychoanalytic Association.  The letter was also signed by 33 other psychiatrists, psychologists, and social workers.]

Two weeks ago my husband David Vargo and I attended a 800 person black-tie event and I ended up talking to a psychiatrist who was seated at the same dinner table.  I mentioned the Goldwater Rule to him and asked for his private opinion as to Trump’s mental condition.  Having had a drink or two, the good doctor didn’t hesitate.  “Oh, he’s crazy!” was the immediate response.  He then listed many of the same traits mentioned above, and said it was all obviously true.  I was shocked (pleased?  scared?).  Hmm.

Trump's narcissism trumps even that of Kim Jong Un.  His private residences are filled with his own portraits, and it was recently revealed that he had a phony Time Magazine cover created years ago which he framed and mounted on the wall at Mar-a-Lago:

There have been serious blowbacks from all these psychiatric opinions.  For the most impressive of these see “Stop Saying Donald Trump Is Mentally Ill” by Steven Reisner, a psychoanalyst and founding member of the Coalition for an Ethical Psychology and adviser on ethics and psychology for Physicians for Human Rights;  Reisner points out that these experts are not giving their definition of “mentally ill,” a notably difficult issue, and cites respected studies coming to the uncomfortable conclusion that 25 percent of Americans can be considered to have a mental illness in any given year, and 50 percent can be diagnosed with a mental illness at some low point in their lives, adding that “that nearly 50 percent of presidents in American history met the criteria for a psychiatric disorder, and 27 percent exhibited the disorder while in office.”  He notes that mental illness is hard to define, and that eccentricity is not an illness at all.  He adds this:

Trump is evidently not suffering and he cannot be said to be impaired. We may not like his leadership style, but his personality seems mainly to have been an asset for him in the worlds of real estate and politics. And he seems constitutionally incapable of self-doubt or other kinds of personal distress, and perhaps even derives pleasure from his aggression and impulsivity. As Allen Francis, the psychiatrist who wrote the criteria for narcissistic personality disorder in the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, the DSM, put it, “He may be a world-class narcissist, but this doesn’t make him mentally ill, because he does not suffer from the distress and impairment required to diagnose a mental disorder.”

He finishes by concluding thatWhen therapists call Trump crazy what they are really saying is that Trump lives in a reality that they don’t like and don’t understand.”

Currently bonkers or not—and here’s what bothers most of us—it seems highly likely that Trump’s behavior will become more erratic and bizarre as the months (years?) go by.  I’ve speculated before that every night Trump gently places the nuclear football in his lap and toys with the buttons just to see how they work, and I’ve quoted former associates of his who flatly maintain that our president has the attention span of a kindergartener and regularly explodes into the temper tantrums of a two year old.  As I was writing this Trump went over the top with an attack on two CNN personalities, using vulgar language most unfitting for the leader of the free world, and when everyone, including major Republicans, said he was behaving childishly, our president made a major effort to show them he wouldn’t back down by creating a video in which he strangled a CNN-labeled human.

What do we do when one day he comes striding into the Oval Office naked?  Or grabs the pussy of a female international leader right on TV?  Then even his most ardent supporters will know that it’s time to give him the pink slip and escort him to a quiet, heavily padded place.  But how do we do that?

To our rescue comes the 25th Amendment of our Constitution, of which section 4 is the most relevant part:

Section 1.  In case of the removal of the President from office or of his death or resignation, the Vice President shall become President.

Section 2.  Whenever there is a vacancy in the office of the Vice President, the President shall nominate a Vice President who shall take office upon confirmation by a majority vote of both Houses of Congress.

Section 3.  Whenever the President transmits to the President pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives his written declaration that he is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office, and until he transmits to them a written declaration to the contrary, such powers and duties shall be discharged by the Vice President as Acting President.

Section 4.  Whenever the Vice President and a majority of either the principal officers of the executive departments or of such other body as Congress may by law provide, transmit to the President pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives their written declaration that the President is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office, the Vice President shall immediately assume the powers and duties of the office as Acting President.

Thereafter, when the President transmits to the President pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives his written declaration that no inability exists, he shall resume the powers and duties of his office unless the Vice President and a majority of either the principal officers of the executive department or of such other body as Congress may by law provide, transmit within four days to the President pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives their written declaration that the President is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office. Thereupon Congress shall decide the issue, assembling within forty-eight hours for that purpose if not in session. If the Congress, within twenty-one days after receipt of the latter written declaration, or, if Congress is not in session, within twenty-one days after Congress is required to assemble, determines by two-thirds vote of both Houses that the President is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office, the Vice President shall continue to discharge the same as Acting President; otherwise, the President shall resume the powers and duties of his office.

Section 4’s removal provision has never been used and it’s unclear how it would play out in the real world of today.  Vice President Michael Pence would have to take the initiative here, and while he’s a major supporter of Trump if his boss has clearly lost the ability to keep  both oars in the water then our country is in major danger and even supportive Mike would likely act.  It doesn’t hurt (from his point of view) that he would become president if the section 4 procedure works.

Ah, you might say, then we’d have the horror of President Michael Pence!  Yes we would, but as I’ve said before (see Related Posts below) Pence is many bad things but he’s not bat shit crazy as I believe Trump is.  With Trump I fear that the chance of nuclear bombs going off is more or less a given at some point during his tenure in office.  Sure that’s a worry with any president, but given the choice between President Trump and President Pence I’ll take the latter in a heartbeat and then count on defeating him in the next election.

Related Posts:

“A Guide to the Best of My Blog,” April 29, 2013;

 “Trump's VP Choice: Introducing Sarah Palin . . . uh . . . Mike Pence!” July 18, 2016;

“President Preposterous: Donald Takes the Helm,” November 14, 2016;

 “Careful What You Wish For: Making Trump an Illegitimate President,” January 20, 2017;

“Embracing Michael Pence’s Coming Presidency,” February 28, 2017;

Thursday, June 15, 2017

The Best Posts From My Blog

I have just finished updating the post that I created April 29, 2013, entitled “A Guide to the Best of My Blog”;  I had been neglecting it and consequently it was quite out-of-date.  Now I’ve reorganized it and, most importantly, put in links to all of the entries, making it easier to navigate the posts through the years (the blog started in late December of 2009 with a scary post called “Dog Meat” []).  I still need to add links to the ending of some of the individual posts and cleanup some duplications, all of which should happen in the next week, but for now the Guide is in much better shape. Here are a list of the topics with my favorite post from each as a tease (and it was hard to make these choices):

1.  The Heart Transplant and Other Medical Matters

“Mama Cat Saves My Life,” October 23, 2011; 

2.  Gay Issues

“How I Lost a Gay Marriage Debate,” April 29, 2010;

3.  Atheism, Skepticism, and Religious Matters

“An Atheist Interviews God,” May 20, 2010;

4.  My Own History

“Some Lottery Winners Score $400 Million”—An April Fool’s Day Joke," April 11, 2014;

5.  Family Stories

“My Competitive Parents,” January 20, 2010,

6.  Cats and Other Animals

"Teaching Cats the Rules of the House," July 16, 2013;

7.  Law and Stories About the Law

"Funny Law Professors," January 15, 2012;   

8.  My Philosophy of Life

9.  Sex and Sensuality

“Good Sex, Bad Sex: Advice on Making Love,” November 9, 2011;

10.  My Novels and Other Works

The Evil Big Birthday Song November 5, 2010;

11.  On the Stage

“My Husband, the Actor,” May 31, 2014;

 12.  Gambling

"Far Too High in Las Vegas," September 1, 2010;   

13.  My Ex-Wife Charleyne

"Charleyne and the Giant Cookie," September 16, 2010;

14.  Politics

“Ohio To Put Guns in Baby Strollers,” June 17, 2012;

15.  Odds and Ends

“I Hate Meetings,” October 31, 2011;

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Pious Ejaculations and the Flying Spaghetti Monster

I know, I know.  That title needs unpacking before it makes sense.  Let me do that.

The word “ejaculate” has fallen on hard times.  In its purest historical sense (and the one I’m using in this blog post) it simply means to express something suddenly and passionately.  Thus, anytime you’re surprised and say “Wow!” you are ejaculating.  Of course the more crude and therefore dominant meaning is to produce semen at orgasm, which is also a sudden and passionate demonstration of feeling, but let’s drop that meaning for now.

A “pious” ejaculation is what you exclaim when, for example, you hit your thumb while hammering and your exclamation has some religious connotation.  There are many examples: “Jesus Christ!”  “Oh, God!”  “God damn it!” “Holy Fuck”  Etc.   Doubtless you can think of many more (or will if you speculate a bit).  “Oh My God” has become a national ejaculation for almost any situation.

But here’s a major problem that I, along with many atheists, have.  When we strike our thumbs with a hammer we utter these same ejaculations since we too were raised in a society where . . . well, that’s what you say when your thumb is throbbing.  But when I hear myself exclaiming these things—the remnants of my Catholic upbringing—I’m annoyed.  I like to think I’ve exorcised God and all religion from my life—only . . . damn it . . . to be contradicted by my own reaction.  [Interestingly, in the Catholic Church short prayers are still called ejaculations.  Children are encouraged to say things like “Jesus, Mary!” and even repeat such ejaculations throughout the day, thus heeding St. Paul’s injunction to “pray without ceasing.”]

In my novel, an atheist thriller called “Imaginary Friend” (available on Amazon), the protagonist Franklin Whitestone is an atheist who is “outed” on national TV and whose life falls apart immediately thereafter.  Escaping from multiple troubles to the quiet of his own home after a veritable nightmare of a day, he decides to have a martini and gets out the ingredients, starting by slicing a lemon.  Here’s the relevant passage:

           Shortly thereafter he cut his thumb and immediately strung together three inappropriate religious references: “Jesus,” “hurt like hell,” and “Goddamn it!” One more problem, this one linguistic, to add to all the others.
           Now, he took a sip from the martini. Yes, yes, this might help. He staggered back to the living room and plopped down in his overstuffed easy chair, taking increasingly bigger gulps.
           What was going to happen to him? Kelly was pissed, his job appeared to be in toilet, and huge numbers of people were demanding his head on a pole. He remembered his prediction last night that today would be a better day than yesterday, and the thought made him snort in something like amusement.
           Happily, the trembling in his hands stopped as the martini did its job.
           With a sigh, he mumbled, “Oh, Lord!” and then immediately frowned. He’d done it again—an automatic religious response to a non-religious stimulus.
           Well, if he couldn’t solve any of his other problems, perhaps he could do something about this minor annoyance. What could he substitute—train himself to say—in situations where some sort of phrase was needed to express surprise, or dismay, or wonder?
           He tried to think of famous ejaculations used by others. Shakespeare’s characters said things like “odd bodkins” or “egad,” but those sounded too stilted. Little Orphan Annie was famous for “leaping lizards,” but Franklin was far too macho to imitate that sad child. Charlie Brown’s favorite exclamation was “Rats!” and Franklin experimented with saying that out loud a couple of times before discarding it. Part of him liked “Rats,” but another part thought it came across as forced, unoriginal. What I need, he thought, is a euphemism with punch. Something no one else says. Something individual to me, Franklin Whitestone.
           Perhaps he could invoke the names of now-discredited gods of old: “By Zeus!” for example, or “Oh, Baal!” Hmm.
           Then he remembered the alleged primitive belief that the world rests on the back of a giant turtle (which in turn sits atop a stack of other turtles, etc.). Perhaps there was a solution there.
           “Great Turtle!” he exclaimed out loud, and that made him laugh.
           When the martini disappeared over the course of the next twenty minutes, Franklin went to the kitchen to fix another. Of course, that probably wasn’t wise, but—truth be told—nothing else sounded better. He pictured his cleaning lady coming in tomorrow and finding him snoring atop a mound of empty gin bottles.
           “Turtles preserve us,” he muttered as he looked around for the remains of the lemon. 

At the time I wrote this passage I didn’t know about the Flying Spaghetti Monster and the religion worshiping this deity called “Pastafarianism,” but now that I do, I can see how that entity might come to my aid in this situation.  Let me tell you about the FSM. 
This cult began in 2005 when Bobby Henderson petitioned the Kansas State Board of Education to allow Pastafarianism to be taught in public schools along with “intelligent design,” pointing out that there was equal evidence for the validity of both.  For his highly-entertaining and informative letter explaining his argument in detail see  The Kansas dispute created much interest on the internet and Henderson’s starchy sect spread as a weapon in the battle against by religious organizations to take over public education.  He has since published a book explaining the Official Gospel of Pastafarianism

From the FSM Gospel Manual:
Behold the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster (FSM), today’s fastest-growing carbohydrate-based religion. According to church founder Bobby Henderson, the universe and all life within it were created by a mystical and divine being: the Flying Spaghetti Monster. What drives the FSM’s devout followers, aka Pastafarians? Some say it’s the assuring touch from the FSM’s Noodly Appendage. There are those who love the worship service, which is conducted in Pirate-Speak and attended by congregants in dashing buccaneer garb. Still others are drawn to the Church’s flimsy moral standards, religious holidays every Friday, and the fact that Pastafarian Heaven is way cooler. Does your Heaven have a Stripper Factory and a Beer Volcano? Intelligent Design has finally met its match—and it has nothing to do with apes or the Olive Garden of Eden.

Much has happened since then, and the photos below illustrate.

Some courts have allowed members of the FSM to have driver’s license photos taken with colanders on their heads, but in Cavanaugh v. Bartelt, 178 F.Supp.3d 819 (2016), a federal court refused a prisoner’s request to dress in pirate’s guard while celebrating his belief in the Flying Spaghetti Monster.  The judge ruled that this was not a sincerely held religious urge, but merely  participation in a self-confessed parody.  Hmm.  Probably just as well, since a prisoner dressed as a pirate with a colander on his head might have substantial problems relating to his fellow inmates.

But back to my main issue.  Might I solve my pious ejaculation problem by converting to Pastafarianism and using its terminology when I strike my thumb and mutter something out loud?  What would fit here?  “NOODLES!”  “PASTA!”  Might bystanders look at me askance?  Readers, feel free to comment on all this in the Comments segment appended to this post.

Maybe I’d be better off with a mildly offensive non-religious ejaculation when hammer mishaps occur.  A simple “Fuck!” should do it.

Related Posts:
“A Guide to the Best of My Blog,” April 29, 2013;
“Is Evolution True?”  July 17, 2011;
“If Humans Are Descended From Apes Why Are There Still Apes?” January 27, 2014;
“Atheists Visit the Creation Museum,” October 4, 2012;
“Intelligent Design, Unintelligent Designer,” May 12, 2012;