Looking for trees? Check my mailbox.

Our mailman does not seem to like us although Barb and I both consider ourselves to be as likeable as the next guy. Whenever I meet him at our mailbox, he doesn’t respond to my characteristic jolly greeting, but simply hands me my mail, grunts, looks straight ahead and drives away. Old habits die hard and this old psychiatrist still tries to understand aberrant behaviors. Consequently, I have attempted to understand what may have precipitated his apparent animus.


The Investigation: Why does my mailman hate me?
It is true that I forgot to leave his traditional tip in the mailbox at Christmas time, but of course that was several months ago.

There was also the Floyd incident, but I wouldn’t anticipate his blaming me for my dog’s exuberant behavior. Floyd loves to ride in the car and isn’t choosy about the type of vehicle or driver. Consequently, when the mail truck pulled up to mailbox one summer day, Floyd seized the opportunity. He leaped into the mail truck with excitement with big plans to accompany our mailman on his route. Unfortunately, in the process Floyd was forced to run through a gauntlet of boxes and crates of mail resulting in the rearrangement of their contents. However, the mailman was remarkably calm throughout the incident and accepted my apology, although I did note that he was muttering to himself as he restored order to the crates of mail.


My Epiphany! It’s not me. It’s those damn catalogs.
After all of these deliberations, I have concluded that the ire exhibited by my mailman has the same genesis as my own.

You see, just yesterday he delivered 23 catalogs in addition to two magazines and multiple solicitations from organizations, some of whom I have never heard of, and this was only a routine day. If history is any guide, the volume will increase as the holiday season approaches. Instead of emptying my paper recycling bin once a month, I now must empty it every few days. No wonder my mailman becomes frustrated since he must stuff all that stuff in my mailbox daily.


Nothing unites like a common enemy.
His pain is my pain! I sympathize with my mailman’s frustration. I get angry each time I have to unload that mailbox, cursing as I sort the scams from the legitimate mail. As a bona fide card-carrying curmudgeon I must tell you that I remember the day when if one wanted a catalog they asked for it. Today, if you order something  from a catalog, you will soon be buried in an avalanche of slick pictures of beautiful people wearing cool clothes and hawking gadgets I’m sure I need but know I’ll never use. Not only do I resent their audacity of sending the catalog without me requesting it, I resent that they believe they can convince me that I look as cool in those duds as the suave handsome dude who models their stuff.
Some of these catalogs feature stuff way beyond my pay grade. For example, I do not ordinarily shop for $1500 leather jackets, $600 sweaters, or $750 shoes. One such high end catalog featured of all things a $250 pair of jeans faded in all the right places to make them look old. I do occasionally browse and sometimes find interesting inventory. For example, one which featured home health aides also had a two-page display of dildos. I was surprised to find they came in so many different sizes, shapes, and colors. Barb vigorously denies having ordered the catalog, but I have my suspicions.


The good ole’ days of face-to-face relationships
It is no secret that there is a flourishing market for names and addresses of potential customers and that these catalogers have no hesitation in selling us to the highest bidder. I recall the time of the mom and pop stores when the relationship between customer and seller was built on mutual trust and therefore personal. The storekeeper was more interested in customer loyalty than making a sale, trusting that if his customer was “treated right” he would come back. Likewise, the customer trusted the salesperson to give an honest representation of the product sold. In many cases shopping was as much of a social event as a series of business transactions. I suppose that now as even we former Sears catalog devotees fade-away, we will become even more depersonalized as we become numbers in Amazon’s super computer. Our computers will order from their computers, our orders will arrive untouched by human hands, and one more avenue of human interaction will close.
Shopping: Art, Science, Disease, or Therapy?
Enter my beautiful, charming, and aesthetically gifted wife. She is a former shopkeeper one of the last to conform to those qualities I mentioned, and whose store continues to receive rave reviews from former customers. Among her other talents she is a world class shopper. As our daughter Molly (now deceased) said regarding her Mother’s shopping prowess: “when Mom gets the scent, you better get out of her way.” For Barb, Christmas shopping is not a project, it is a mission. She scoffs at the idea that it would be much simpler for her to give the kids money and insists on finding a gift (or unfortunately–gifts…plural) which are perfect for each one whether they realize it or not. Things to be considered include: hair and eye color, stature, personality, and consideration of their known personal preferences unless those preferences are in extremely poor taste.
Within the past year the last department store as well as the last men’s store in our town closed their doors. I recall a time when our main street hosted three department stores and multiple specialty shops which have all folded as the big boxes took over. Having fought and lost the good fight with the big guys, and since she places online shopping in the same category as those big box adversaries, the best Barb can do is to reluctantly shop via catalogs even though she disapproved of the one featuring dildos. I presume this change in her shopping habits is responsible in large part for the appearance of our names on a few hundred mailing lists.


The List Contagion: It’s a real thing
It’s not only the merchandisers who will pursue you. Barb is a sucker for those tear-jerking ads on TV, which has resulted in reams of solicitations for real and non-existent charities. I wonder if they make more money selling my name and address than from my feeble contributions. In my zeal to become a good steward of my government, I once made the mistake of contributing to a political campaign online. Now, I start my day by deleting pleas to contribute to this or that political cause or candidate. They assure me that without my contribution a worldwide calamity is immanent or that I will be to blame for the extinction of the white rhino.


On a more serious note, it has been said that with a few key strokes one can know more about me than I do about myself. This is undoubtedly true e.g. I don’t know where I ate a year ago but that info is available somewhere. Our privacy is said to have been eroded, but it is probably more accurate to say it is gone. Now, as more DNA results are collected not only will more be known about your behavior but your body and your relatives. Nevertheless, the blatant disregard of our rights to privacy as this little essay illustrates is only one small example yet enough to piss me off big time.


Ground Zero
Maybe my overzealous anger about the catalogs goes beyond the senseless time spent sorting and recycling and even beyond the invasion of my privacy. Maybe it’s a symptom of something bigger that concerns me. A change in our society that is worrisome. While many say technological changes make it easier than ever to connect with one another, it seems we are more disconnected than ever. Less human interaction. More loneliness. Clicking the chat button as you order gifts on the internet, or even talking to a live person when you order from one of the thousand or so catalogs, is a poor substitute for the process of old-fashioned shopping at the aforementioned brick and mortar establishments where you talked to retail clerks, shop owners, and even fellow shoppers.


A little over 100 years ago, a sociologist name of Emile Durkheim coined the term Anomie which he used to describe situations where societies in large measure feel a sense of alienation because their only feeling of attachment is to the system in which they don’t believe or feel a part of. He thought this came about due to division of labor (this was in the midst of the industrial revolution) and rapid change from a traditional society to a modern society.


The pace of changes which Durkheim witnessed were trivial compared to the last 50 years, and it change continues to accelerate at a speed almost beyond our ability to comprehend. Yesterday, I awoke to hear news of the second mass shooting in less than two weeks. I believe it noteworthy that most of the perpetrators of these horrible acts were described as people with few if any acquaintances and no one who was willing to call them a friend. They were described as quiet and uninvolved in their communities, in short: alienated.


It also seems noteworthy that in spite of relatively good economic times, suicide rates in the U.S. have increased 24% from 1999 to 2014. Likewise, murders increased 8.6% in only one year (2016). According to the non-profit that tracks gun violence in the USA, (www.gunviolence.org) incidents have increased each year since they started tracking statistics in 2014. Conventional wisdom is that our current President was elected and continues to have widespread support from those who feel they have been “disenfranchised.”


Who is the patient?
This all suggests to me that we need to look farther than individuals with mental illness as the major factor in gun violence. It may be that it is our society that is ill, and in need of treatment. Human connection, kindness, and compassion might not help cure all of society’s mental illnesses, but it can’t hurt.


P.S. Catalog UPDATE
By the way, I just now picked up today’s mail and there were only 18 catalogs, but an armload of solicitations for money, some bills, and a letter from my only friend who still writes via snail mail.  Remember to be kind to your mailperson (especially this time of year).  There may be other Floyds out there and I’m sure there are even more catalog targets like me and Barb on every mail carrier’s route.  (Break for reminiscing): When I was in college a couple of centuries ago I worked as a mailman during Christmas breaks, and occasionally someone would invite me in for a cup of hot chocolate on the coldest days.  I wonder if that happens anymore.

Editors Note: While editing eshrink’s blog, I found this non-profit whose mission is to help us cancel unwanted catalogs: Catalog Choice . However, I haven’t told eshrink yet because I don’t want to rain on his curmudgeon complaint parade…he’s on a roll and I think it energizes him! Love you dad.

Are We in Good Hands?

Experts in the field of gerontology report that reminiscing is a favored activity of old farts.  That may be true, but take it from one who has been there (and still is), we also like very much to complain.  Granted there is much fertile territory which one may exploit, but when there are no obvious items that deserve our complaints, we are perfectly capable of manufacturing new ones.  Most of us are retired, which allows us adequate time to search for items of which to disapprove.  In previous blogs, I have endeavored to establish my bona-fides as a complainer of the first order however; I now wish to digress and utter a few hopeful words about the future of our country.

The Children Are Our Future

The truism that our children represent the future of the country, or world is what gives me hope that some of the screwed-up policies of my generation can be corrected without destroying too many of its accomplishments.  Of course, I am referring to the recent demonstrations and walkouts by school kids throughout the country in response to our most recent school massacre.  The gun lobbyists, and other 2nd amendment guys insist that the kids are being manipulated and financed by those who would take their guns away leaving them and their families at the mercy of their government and other bad guys.  However; anyone who has reared teenagers would agree that they are better manipulators than manipulees.  Their idea of conformity is to follow the lead of their peers rather than some political activist.  I seriously doubt that adults convinced them to put their baseball cap on backwards or to wear baggy pants belted at a mid-buttock level.

Recently, as I watched some of the demonstrations I was reminded of an incident a little over 70 years ago (I told you I was old) when my high school staged a walkout (there I go again, sucked into that nostalgia stuff).  Nevertheless that was big stuff in those days.  We protested the failure of a levy to build a new school and a good time was had by all, especially after we discovered they couldn’t figure out ways to mete out a collective punishment.  In spite of the stern warnings that horrible retributions would result from a walkout (someone ratted us out), I suspect the teachers were secretly pleased.

It would have been laughable for my generation to presume we could ever effect changes at the national level, but these offspring of the baby boomers channeled their adolescent rebelliousness into a nationwide movement.  They demonstrated that when people (even kids) unite to pursue a common cause all things are possible.  The tool which was used to bring them together was of course social media.  They were able to show there were good uses for this same process that has also been used to undermine our democracy.  They chose to focus their efforts on those legislators who they felt were unduly influenced by the NRA and gun manufacturers.

Tis the time for TV to be awash in political ads and I recently noticed a couple of dandies.  The best was a video of a big guy in camo clothes with a camo colored large gauge shotgun which he proceeded to fire into a television set.  It turned out that the TV was no match for the 10 gauge rifled slug and this candidate for our state representative won that battle.  His qualifications for office also included an A+ rating by the NRA, lifelong support for the 2nd amendment, abhorrence of Planned Parenthood, and support for Donald Trump and his wall.  Now, I ask how could you not vote for a guy like that?  He seems a sure bet to be elected in this part of the country, where men are men and women love it, and machismo is not a dirty word.

History of the NRA

The National Rifle Association has a storied history. It was initially formed by two Civil War officers who were concerned about the poor marksmanship they observed by Union soldiers.  In those days guns were a necessity for many, especially those living in isolated areas, not only for protection but as a means to provide food.  The organization soon became popular.  They sponsored competitions and programs teaching gun safety.  They maintained a close relationship with the military.  In 1906, they were offered the use of the shooting range at the Army’s Camp Perry in Ohio for the NRA’s national marksmanship competitions.  This several-day event is still held there, drawing over 6,000 participants each year.

When the Thompson sub-machine gun became a favorite of criminals in the 1930s the NRA supported the 1938 bill banning the possession of fully automatic weapons; and sawed off shotguns.  They also supported the licensing of gun dealers.  It wasn’t until the mid-1970s that the NRA made a right turn and became a politically active organization.  They hired lobbyists, and the first presidential nominee they endorsed was Ronald Reagan.

Today’s NRA

They now number nearly 5 million members and have become among the most powerful groups in Washington, and the states.  According to October 2017 issue of Politifact, the NRA spent $203.2 million dollars on the 2016 election.  Add a few more million from the gun manufacturers and you could be talking real money, as the saying goes.  Their stated goal is to oppose any restrictions on gun ownership.

A tribute to their political power is evidenced by the lack of any significant legislation regarding regulation of guns in spite of the fact that a significant majority of Americans favor some limitations.  Since the recent mass shootings, there has been talk of limiting so-called assault weapons and bump stocks (which was a clever invention to bypass the statutes forbidding fully automatic weapons).  As in the past, Congress offers their heartfelt sympathies, but no action heartfelt or otherwise.

In the aftermath of the shooting of Ronald Reagan and his press secretary, the Brady bill was introduced, and a ban on assault weapons was put in place.  The NRA however; was able to use its clout to insert a 10-year sunset clause, and the ban was allowed to expire since there was no interest on the part of Congress to renew it.

It was the Supreme Court’s ruling in the Heller decision in 2008 which would frame the NRA’s talking points which persist to this day.  The decision rendered was the result of a lawsuit that challenged the ban on handguns in The District of Columbia.  The court ruled that the phrase “a well-regulated militia” in the Constitution was meant to include individual private citizens.  Now support for the 2nd amendment has attained almost equal status with “right to life” for nearly all republican politicians.

Back when I was a card-carrying member of the NRA

It is at this point in my discourse that in spite of my best efforts I feel compelled to once again regress back to those good old days for I can’t help but reflect on the time when I was proud to be a member of the NRA.  As a teenager, I looked forward to the monthly issue of the American Rifleman which I shared with my brother.   It was full of articles about all kinds of guns, recent innovations, tips on marksmanship and safety, the proper loads to use, antique guns, and gunsmiths who produced works of art.  Many of these men produced rifles and pistols capable of amazing accuracy.  They combined art, engineering, and craftsmanship in their work, often from basement workshops.

The few guns I collected during that phase of my life are now locked away and I haven’t been a National Rifleman Association member for nearly 50 years.  I do not sleep with a gun under my pillow nor do I have loaded pistols at my front and back doors as one of my very sane and otherwise sensible friend does.  Studies have suggested that having guns readily available to defend one’s home against an intruder is more likely to result in shooting the wrong person than a bad guy.

Good Guys with Guns Strategy

The usual response to these shootings by the gun lobby guys is “the only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun” and it appears that many buy into that approach for the shooting ranges are said to be crowded, and after each mass shooting the gun business skyrockets.  There are now 594,000 Ohio citizens with concealed carry permits and the number of new applicants increases each year.  There are enough guns in the U.S. to arm nearly every citizen, and that number is growing.  No other country in the world even comes close.  If the good guy/bad guy premise is correct, we should be the safest people in the world as we obviously have the most good guys with guns.

One example of an extreme position taken by gun lobbyists was the passage of a law in 2011 which forbade physicians from talking with patients or families about firearms in the home.   This was especially worrisome to pediatricians and we psychiatrists.  Pediatricians, well aware of deaths caused by access of kids to loaded guns, under this law, were prohibited from asking if guns in the home were safely stored.   As a psychiatrist, I was witness to several instances resulting in death from suicide or delusional thinking by guns in the home.  Under this law we were forbidden from advising family members to remove guns from the home.   The law was initially declared constitutional, but three years later common sense prevailed, and it was revoked by the state’s Supreme Court.

How many mass shootings does it take?

If those committed to the absolute ideal of no legislative limits on gun ownership or manufacture were not swayed by the Sandy Hook episode, it is safe to assume their beliefs will never change.  Gabby Giffords, the  2nd Amendment congresswoman who was shot in the head did change and became an advocate for sensible regulations.  On the other hand Representative Scalise who was shot, nearly died and remains crippled insists that he is more committed than ever to opposing any limitations.  He remains proud of his A+ rating by the NRA and supports a bill to allow reciprocity for state’s concealed carry permits.  He agrees with his fellow travelers that the solution to gun violence is more guns.

The more obvious solution of getting rid of all the guns is impossible for that horse has already left the barn and such an effort would be monumental. It would also be met with massive resistance even by people like me.  After all we have a long tradition of using guns to kill each other.  After we had successfully subjugated those Native Americans, we hadn’t killed, we had a Civil War in which 620,000 were killed.  Now we have fatalities over the drug wars and gangs of young people who seem to be spawned from the ranks of the disenfranchised.

Efficient Killing in Full Force

Now in the era of mass killings, we have much more efficient ways of killing people.  In the Parkland High School shooting, it took 6 minutes and 30 seconds to kill 17 kids while the Vegas shooter was able to kill 58 and wound 850 in 10 minutes with the aid of bump stocks on his rifles.  The AR-15 rifle is a favorite of mass murderers.  It is available with a 30-round magazine and can be easily converted to automatic fire which mimics the fire power of a machine gun.  It is patterned after the U.S. military M-16 rifle, which of course is designed to kill people.  It is not known for its accuracy and is not very good for hunting, unless one chooses to spray an area with bullets in hopes of hitting something.  Other than as a weapon, it’s only other use is as a toy for grown men to play soldier.  In spite of all this trauma, there is not even consideration for limiting the number of cartridges in a clip for either the AR-15 or pistols.

With each shooting, there is more talk of arming more people, most recently teachers, and even preachers.  Gun free zones are identified as soft targets, therefore, in need of more armed occupants.  Consequently, our Governor recently signed a law that allows concealed carry gun totters to enter churches, schools and bars.  What a great idea that now when we check into our favorite watering hole, we may be able to see a real gunfight rather than a boring fistfight.

The concealed carry laws concern me as I believe more guns are likely to aggravate rather than lessen loss of life.  I have witnessed first hand those of good character experience rage which overwhelmed judgement resulting in tragedies for victims and families.  Road rage has already taken on a different dimension; although, more guns may mean less flipping off of the aggravated.  There have always been accidents with guns, and children seem to be more prone or is it that such shootings are just more tragic?  There is also the problem of domestic violence which often gets out of control.  In this country self-inflicted gunshots are the most common and lethal of suicide attempts by men.  Many attempts are impulsive in nature, but there is no turning back after a bullet enters  the brain.  There is also the question of what effect all this gun stuff has on our police.   With all those people out there packing heat as the saying goes, if I were wearing a badge I would be especially wary and much quicker to draw my gun.

Back to our Future

Undoubtedly kids being kids some were probably enjoying the drama of the whole thing, but the maturity and discipline they displayed, along with the seriousness with which they pursued a lofty goal was indeed impressive, but even more so were the kids who gave speeches and were interviewed on television.  In marked contrast to the political rhetoric and propaganda which we usually hear, these junior orators responded to questions in a frank, unequivocal manner.  They showed no signs of discomfort at being in the spotlight of national broadcasts.   We can only hope they will not be swayed by less idealistic forces as they take charge.  Adult demonstrators would do well to emulate their offspring who chose to pursue their cause in a dignified and non-violent manner.  When one of the kids was asked how he hoped to change the political landscape, he replied “we will outlive you.”  Martin Luther King would have been proud of them all, but even more so of his nine-year-old granddaughter who led the chant at Thurgood Marshall Academy with “Spread the word!  Have you heard?  All across the nation, we are going to be a great generation.”  From what I have seen so far she might be right about that.









THE GUN BATTLE – Watch the Just the Facts Video

All those guys whom we elected to debate issues our country face have been locked in an adolescent food fight for several years. They are our employees, and are paid reasonably well. I contend they are not doing the job for which we pay them, but we don’t seem to be able to fire them. Statesmanship and decorum is lacking. Their so called debates have even included personal insults. It reminds me of the debates we had in grade school which were not designed to determine who or what was best, but rather who was worse. Most polls suggest that our congressional representatives are tied with each other for the honor of being the most inept, as they are the most unpopular congress in our history.

Independent thinking and deliberation are a thing of the past. On most substantive issues members of each party vote the “party line” with no apparent questioning of what is the most rational position on an issue. Since all Republicans think one way and all Democrats agree with each other, the whole lot would appear to fail the test suggested by Walter Lippmann that when “all think alike, no one thinks very much.” In that sense, they are more like a gang than a deliberative body.

It now appears that this august body has reached a new low in cynical disregard for the people who they are sworn to represent. The leadership has refused to deliberate or vote on a bill which is very important to a majority of their citizenry, apparently in order to avoid taking responsibility for their position. It is understandable that they would want to keep their positions secret since even a vast majority of republicans want a vote on this bill. The only logical conclusion is that the will of the NRA is more important than the will of the congressional representatives’ constituents.

But let us not forget the Democrat’s role in this subversion of the will of the people. Both parties will blame the other for refusing to negotiate in a civilized respectful manner, but no matter who is to blame (I suspect both are ) they don’t seem to talk to each other anymore. The Democrats have said to hell with decorum and are engaged in a sit in within the house chambers. Perhaps this is progress, an indicator that they have matured beyond preadolescence  and have adopted a strategy more popular with college age kids.

The current situation could possibly be resolved by luring the Republicans into the house chamber with the Democrats and locking the door with the admonition that could not come out until differences were resolved. There is the risk; however, that that this could degenerate into an out and out physical brawl which has some precedent in other countries.

Since facts about the issues surrounding guns are hard to find if one only listens to the politicians, I found a video that presents “just the facts.” Enjoy, and let your representative know what you think.

Indeed, a government by the people needs to hear from the people in order to be effective. Email, write, call your congressional representatives. Click this link for contact information.