THE PREVARICATOR’S HANDBOOK

Much has been said recently about the scarcity of truth telling especially in the political arena. Other less gentile words are often used for this phenomenon such as falsehoods, alternate facts, untruths, deception, or distortions. In some cases those who deliberately evade the truth are called liars, a term infrequently used since it is still considered insulting even though such behaviors are no longer uncommon. In prior generations truth was so revered that to call one a liar was construed such an assault on one’s integrity that it could result in mortal combat.
HOW CAN YOU TELL?
There seems little doubt that in recent years lying has become much more fashionable in political circles. The statement that “they all do it” is frequently heard when political candidates’ lies are discussed. If further confirmation is needed note that we now have a new industry called fact checking which continues to document massive numbers of untruths. I hesitate to call all of these falsehoods as lies since to qualify as a lie there must be a deliberate attempt to deceive. If one passes on faulty information through ignorance of the facts, or because he has been duped into believing someone else’s lie he could hardly be found guilty of lying. There is also the problem of drawing erroneous conclusions from factual data. It is well known that the human brain is capable of confusing biases with logic, and in any given circumstance we can never know if a person believes what he is saying is true.
YOU DON’T HAVE TO BE A POLITICIAN
Since lying has become a significant arrow in the politician’s quiver it occurred to me that a primer on the art of lying might be useful to those engaged in the great political debates of our time. As a matter of fact proficiency in the art of the lie is an effective tool applicable to any situation which involves human relationships.
You may be thinking that someone like myself who has spent a lifetime (and a long one at that) studying human behavior would be an expert on lie detection, but nothing could be farther from the truth. At one time or another I have been a sucker for every kind of con man on the circuit. These people whom we call sociopaths get their kicks from the con itself and monetary rewards are secondary. To get away with a scam is proof to them that they are superior. With that in mind when such people ended up in my office, I would assure them I would believe whatever they told me in hopes that would take the fun out of their deceptions.
YOU MUST HAVE THE RIGHT KIND OF FRIENDS
We can learn a lot about the art of lying from those with sociopathic personalities. After all they are the pros having practiced their craft for years. The constant ego enhancement gained from their perceived victories against we hapless suckers endows them with the confidence which is essential to being believable. While minor embellishments can usually be carried off with little training, an aura of absolute certainty is necessary if one expects to climb to the rank of teller of whoppers. There can be no equivocation, and the message must be delivered in a straight forward manner with no “ifs, ands, or buts”. When planning to deliver a major falsehood the wise liar will actually rehearse his lie.
DON’T EVER GIVE UP
With enough repetitions one can almost convince themselves that what they say is true, and there will be no non-verbal “tells”. This will also solve the oft quoted cliché that to be a good liar one must have a good memory. Once a lie is composed and memorized you will do well to repeat it at every opportunity. As with advertising the more a lie is heard the more believable it becomes. Always remember the first rule in lying is that people tend to believe what they want to hear therefore it is important that the attitudes and ideals of your audience be taken into account as you compose your lies.
COOL WAYS TO DECEIVE WITHOUT GETTING CAUGHT
The most talented of our politicians have found ways to pass out misinformation without need of a flagrant lie. A very effective ploy is to tell the truth, but not the whole truth. For example, an innovative liar can take an opponent’s statements out of context or leave out qualifiers which give an entirely different meaning to the quote. In a pure sense of the word he has not lied but gets the job done. The phrase “I don’t remember” is a bullet proof way to avoid perjury when testifying in an official investigation and can be helpful in other situations also. It is the perfect lie for who can prove you do remember.
GET WITH THE PROGRAM
Most of us have been taught to believe that honesty and truthfulness are virtues of the highest order. Such ingrained value systems must be navigated if one is to succeed as a competent liar and therefore a success in the game of life. Here again we find that those with a sociopathic personality have a significant advantage for a predominant characteristic of the sociopath is that he lacks a functioning superego (psych-speak for conscience).
Such antiquated moral codes can be a major impediment to one becoming a competent prevaricator. Feelings of guilt are difficult to hide and when present can cast doubt on the validity of one’s lies. You must learn to dismiss all those stories which promote the idea of lying as a sin. Forget about little George Washington and his stupid cherry tree. After all, he pulled off the perfect con by cloaking his confession into a lie with his famous “I cannot tell a lie” when everyone knows that all humans are perfectly capable of lying. If you find it impossible to shake these moral stumbling blocks, you may find ways around them by reviewing such works as Fletcher’s situational ethics or John Dewey’s relativism. Researchers have shown that repetition is most helpful in overcoming such compunctions. They have shown that frequent lying desensitizes one to guilt, so that the more one lies the easier it becomes. (Nature: Neuroscience Vol 19, #12, December 2016).
NO CREDIT UNLESS YOU KNOW IT IS FALSE
One should not claim lying proficiency simply because his perceptions are faulty. Of course, the extreme in such cases occurs in cases of psychosis in which a person may as a result of delusional thinking transmit information which is not only false but often bazaar in its content. Even those of us who are convinced of our sanity are limited in our ability to perceive reality by our special senses (vision, hearing, taste, and smell) and the ability of our brains to process the information which they transmit.
Multiple studies have confirmed that eye witness accounts vary greatly especially in emotionally charged situations. Recent studies of brain function has shown the brain is not static in its function, but possesses what has been labeled as plasticity meaning that it is constantly changing in ways information is processed. It appears that a person’s life experiences including our biases influence how information is processed and communicated. This is easily demonstrated in a well-known parlor game in which a person tells a story to one adjacent to him, and it is passed on through a group of people. Invariably in spite of their best efforts to relate the story accurately it will often be unrecognizable when it reaches the last person. This and other factors sometimes make it difficult to know if an untruth is a lie i.e. deliberately misleading or a misinterpretation.
THE VALUE OF SELF DECEPTION
There is also the enigma of the lies of those with narcissistic personalities. Are they really lies or do they actually believe all that grandiose stuff. In some ways they are the opposite of the sociopath in that the sociopath is attempting to prove to himself that he is the smartest, while the narcissist is already convinced that he is not only the smartest but the best at every thing he does. Nevertheless, we sometimes see people who seem to possess qualities of both disorders. The country song “its hard to be humble when you are perfect in every way” perfectly describes the narcissist. His exaggerated self-esteem is zealously protected, and failures are always blamed on other people or circumstances beyond his control. This often leads to the generation of conspiracy theories or paranoid ideation. Nevertheless, you will do well to mimic his self-confidence as it enhances believability.
HOW TO GO ON OFFENSE
As one progresses through the ranks from minor embellisher to Olympic class full throated liar, he needs to prepare for the inevitable challenges posed by those fact checkers whose goal is to denigrate the art of lying. It is good practice to anticipate exposure and be ready with an appropriate response. Naturally, one must never admit to lying, but find a way to skirt the issue. One time tested strategy when questioned as to the veracity of a statement is to go on the offensive by answering the question with a question. One can also question the motives of the attacker, become indignant, insulted, feign disgust or even sadness that one would sink so low as to attempt to sully a reputation for honesty and integrity. In a group situation such strategies if well done often enlist the support of the crowd. You must remember he cardinal rule to never give a direct answer to any question when interviewed. You will find that such obfuscation will stand you in good stead in future interrogations. A certain level of vagueness also provides wiggle room in case of later confrontation.
KEEP UP WITH THE LATEST TECHNIQUES
Our greatest liars are also innovators and a fairly new technique has evolved to fend off those truth seekers which is to “double down” i.e. to continue repeating that same lie over and over. Eventually, the challengers will be worn down, and repetition will produce true believers. There is also the old “taken out of context” excuse.
There may be times in your lying career when it may be advantageous to acknowledge that one of your statements is less than truthful in which case you will find it helpful to use the phrase: “I may have misspoken” without ever admitting to deliberate deception.
For those aspiring to become better liars, rest assured you have much company these days and the competition is fierce. Perhaps this introduction to the fine art of prevarication may be of help as you hone your skills.
I need to add the disclaimer that: “any similarities in this paper to people living or dead is purely coincidental”. Of course, you are free to speculate on the truth of that statement as everyone knows bloggers lie a lot.
EPILOGUE:
All spoofs contain an element of truth. Jefferson and others pointed out, that truth is absolutely essential for the survival of democracy. Many of our leaders seem to have little regard for it which leaves me to wonder: where is the outrage?
To add to my despair, as I was writing the last paragraph of this attempt to be funny, my phone bleeped with the message that the Supreme Court had just approved our state’s “use it or lose it law”. The gist of which is that if you do not vote in 2 consecutive elections you are removed from the voter rolls and must reregister. This has been said by many to be the most egregious of all the attempts to suppress voter turnout. It has been promoted as a solution to a voter fraud problem which doesn’t exist. The decision came about as the result of the usual 5 to 4 vote. It was written by Justice Alito who famously demonstrated his political bias by screaming “you lie” during President Obama’s state of the union address.

TRUMP FATIQUE

This morning I was struck with the realization that I am suffering from a horrible addiction complicated by an equally powerful revulsion of the subject of my addiction. Confused? So am I. Nevertheless, I will attempt to explain my dilemma. Perhaps a bit of personal history might be helpful in unraveling the chain of events that led me to such a no-win situation. As a responsible US citizen, I have always felt the need to be aware of current events both local and international, in order to be able to exercise my right to vote in a sensible manner. Since retirement I have been able to devote more time in the pursuit of such knowledge, and therein lies part of the problem.
THE GOOD OLD DAYS
In my earlier years I often did selective perusal of print media, augmented by nightly news broadcasts on radio. The broadcasters in those days were fastidious in their attempts to eliminate any appearance of political bias in their programs. I even recall one newscaster who said that he did not vote in any national or statewide elections as he was concerned that it might affect his objectivity. Newspapers likewise were careful to separate opinion from facts by relegating their interpretations to the editorial page. The print media in those days were very open about their biases, and there were papers with both liberal and conservative orientations.
GREAT PROMISE
But then along comes television. Initially most people could only get 2 or 3 stations unless they lived in a large city. The height of television antennas became the new status symbol, and the six o’clock news was now both seen and heard. I was now able to not only hear but see my hero Edward R. Murrow who was one of the few who challenged Sen. Joseph McCarthy during the senator’s communist witch hunt, and whose quotes are especially timely today https://www.brainyquote.com/authors/edward_r_murrow. One especially apropos in our current political climate even though 70 years old is: “I have an old fashioned idea that Americans like to make up their own minds on the basis of all available information”.
IT GOT BETTER
Of course, that would not be the end of it. The technology advanced so rapidly that one could barely keep up, much as is with the current electronic explosion. Color would soon be added, screens got larger and the ultimate boon for couch potatoes like myself was the invention of the remote. Now as more stations were added we could channel surf while needing to only exert the fingers of one hand. TV cameras were soon made small enough to be portable and along with the development of videotape it became possible to bring live news happenings to the screen. That may seem cumbersome now that we have trucks with equipment that send a live image directly back to the station, but it was big in those days. Many believe this ability to film live action in the field played a big part in the public renunciation of the Vietnam war. We who belonged to the fraternity of couch potatoes soon found it more satisfactory to get all our news by pushing a button rather than struggle with an unwieldy newspaper especially if we had to walk all the way out to the front yard to get it. True TV news only hit the high spots, but what the heck? Who had time to read all that stuff anyway?
NO MORE CLIMBING
The next big innovation was cable TV. All those antennas were either taken down or became flag poles. Then in 1980, just about the time that sitcoms were becoming really boring, along comes Ted Turner an audacious young dude who has inherited a small TV station, and decides to start a 24 hour TV news business called “The Cable News Network”. What a boon to us news junkies. Now we could stay up to date with little or no effort, and it was no longer necessary to make it to the armchair by six o’clock. When Turner’s crazy idea became successful there soon followed the formation of MSNBC, and Fox News.
THE WAR IS ON
MSNBC used the tag line: “The Place for Politics”, and it soon became obvious that they could have safely stuck the adjective liberal in there somewhere. Not to be outdone Richard Murdock a conservative international newspaper publishing baron established his competing network, Fox News, and compete they did. Fox and MSNBC see the world through different prisms. For example, this morning Fox blamed Obama for the recent killing of children in Syria with saran gas because he had not offered sufficient support for the rebels in the past while MSNBC placed the blame on Trump as he had recently announced he would pull out of Syria which they insist emboldened Assad.
WORK TOGETHER? ARE YOU KIDDING?
There seems little doubt that the animus between the two organizations has contributed significantly to the divisiveness which now plaques the country, but I am sure it also makes for good ratings. Studies have shown that we are influenced by what we see and hear on television. If that were not true, would companies spend millions of dollars on commercials? As a result those of a particular political orientation will likely migrate to the station which reflects their views, which will not only be confirmed but enhanced, the gulf grows wider and there is little chance of reconciliation.
I SAW THE LIGHT
In my younger days I was a card carrying conservative Republican who believed that government was too big, communism was our greatest threat, and those freeloading welfare bums would bankrupt the country. Shortly after I began my practice Medicare and Medicaid came into being and I was convinced it would be a disaster. As I came to know more about my patients I realized that Medicare and Medicaid were saving lives, people did not choose to be destitute, and the communist thing had been vastly overblown. Both parties decried all the wasteful spending, but did nothing about it so that issue was a wash. Eventually I fell in love with Jimmy Carter which cemented my transition.
HOMELESS
In spite of my becoming a tree hugging, soft hearted, wimpy democrat, I did hold on to a few conservative values consequently; I have always considered myself to be a middle of the road kind of guy. With that in mind I rejected the networks I felt to be extreme in favor of CNN which brings us to the root of my problem for you see CNN doesn’t do news anymore. In its stead they do Trump, and the President (ugh, that is hard to say) has made a fool of me. It has been well documented that Trump likes attention, and CNN is giving him all they have to give other than time out for commercials. To be fair, I must say they do use some time to report mass school shootings and such, but even then they find a way to bring him into the story.
NOT MY FAVORITE PERSON
In my writings, I have made no secret of my disdain for your President (I refuse to own him) which may lead you to ask why I continue to suffer those twinges of nausea all day long. The answer may lie in the fact that I am addicted not to CNN, but to that person. When Barb asks me why I am so eager to turn on the kitchen TV in the morning before I even get my coffee I answer I need to see what the asshole has tweeted now. From then on I am mesmerized as so called panels of experts discuss over and over his most ridiculous statement of the day. Perhaps it is similar to watching a horror movie which is really scarey, but you can’t stop watching.
NO WONDER I’M SO SCREWED UP
It is more likely that I continue to watch with the hope that something good will be announced much in the same way kids become addicted to their cell phones, gamblers can’t stop betting, or we play the lottery when the odds against our winning are monumental. After all it has been shown that intermittent positive reinforcement is the means by which addiction is produced. Ah Ha, that must be it, that Breaking News thing that keeps popping up on the screen every few minutes which 9 times out of 10 turns out to be broken news i.e. stuff they have been talking about for hours. Meanwhile I keep waiting for some good news to break, and since they only talk about Trump I leave it to your imagination to decide what that might be.
HOPE SPRINGS ETERNAL
With that new insight I believe I can overcome this problem. I have already taken to listening to NPR and BBC radio both of which stream real news, not Trumped up news (did you get that). Maybe I can transition to getting some print news online and eventually kick the CNN gig.

FRIEND OR FOE

Since my previous blogs have not gone viral nor resulted in the fame and fortune for which I had hoped, I have decided to follow the Maggie rule and write about a subject of which I am more intimately acquainted. With that in mind, I have decided to forego any feelings of embarrassment or inadequacy to admit that I have recently become the subject of 24-hour surveillance. Lest you think I am wearing an ankle bracelet or being surveyed by Alexa let me assure you that I am speaking of an up close and personal observer whom I have not been able to shake since he moved into my own home and almost immediately took charge of my life.
RODNEY DANGERFIELD IN MY OWN HOUSE
He has no respect for my privacy and feels no compunction about following me into the bathroom and even walking into the shower at will. He violently objects to my physical contact with others, even my own wife. His impertinence extends to total disregard for the rights to my own property. For example, I am now forbidden to sit in my favorite arm chair, and he seems to find joy in destroying various objects around the house including my shoes. When not engaged in some other nefarious activity he is usually indolent, but when awake he has no compunction about leaping onto my bed and burying his slobbering head in my pillow. He even sees fit to leap onto my lap while I am quietly reading which does not work out well since he is much too large to be considered a lap dog. The accompanying slurp across my face by that wet tongue I also consider to be ungenteel. His assumption of control of the house has been extended to include the surrounding yard and gardens. In addition to his relentless efforts to poison my shrubbery he tracks in large quantities of his excavations which he deposits on the carpet in spite of Barb’s strong admonitions.
WHAT ABOUT MY RIGHTS?
In this country we all are endowed with the right to come and go as we please unless we are under some legally determined prohibitions, but this guy insists on accompanying me wherever I go. He is possessed of some satanically inspired sixth sense which allows him to know when I plan to leave the house, and I find him perched in the front passenger seat before I even get one foot in the door. Last Sunday as is usually the case he managed to worm his way into the car as I was leaving for church in spite of my best efforts to slip away. I did manage to lock him in the car to prevent his following me into church and creating an embarrassing scene however; as I prepared to leave after the service he managed to escape and bolted in through the front door headed for the sanctuary. Fortunately, he was intercepted by a fellow parishioner before he was able to reach the communion table.
IT GETS WORSE
The church incident, although some might call it blasphemous, is only one of a series of embarrassing situations initiated by my so-called friend Floyd, the most recent of which has become known as the IHOP caper. I must confess that I have a strong if not pathological affinity for pancakes, and I believe that with a lifetime of experience in the matter it is not inappropriate for me to assume the title of connoisseur. In my search for the ultimate pancake, I have found the excellent reputation of the International House for Pancakes is well deserved (this is not a paid advertisement) and was pleased when a facility was opened in our small town.
It was only my second visit to the new IHOP and as usual my nemesis was with me. Barb and I were seated by a window with a view of Floyd starring directly at us from the car, obviously coveting my pancake as is his habit with any food of which I partake. Once again as we were leaving I was unable to contain him and he was out of the car in a flash headed for the IHOP front door.
Fortunately, the restaurant entrance leads into a vestibule with a second door which he was unable to penetrate and he was contained by a pleasant young lady who immediately sensed my plight. He was not to be denied his pancake and was determined to make a scene as I struggled to get him out. I managed to drag him by his collar out on the sidewalk after he shifted to a passive -aggressive strategy of rolling over on his back and refusing to move. As I was attempting to get him up he managed to slip his head through the collar and headed back to the door.
Since Floyd, due to his behavior, could never be misidentified as a service dog, even had he been wearing one of those sweaters so designating him, it was clear that he would not be welcomed in IHOP begging for pancakes. Consequently, having been outwitted at every turn it was imperative that drastic measures must be taken. With that in mind, I courageously ignored my physician’s advice to avoid heavy lifting, picked him up and carried him to the car. For those who may be concerned rest assured that to date I am tolerating the pain with only conservative treatment; although a lessor man would undoubtedly have required hospitalization.
NO GOOD DEED GOES UNPUNISHED
Those of you who recall my previous blog concerning misadventures with Floyd may remember his previous involvement in another plot to inflict serious injuries or worse. That assault resulted in a near amputation of my right ear which is just now finally healed. When one considers all that has been done for this animal including liberation from confinement and possible execution, it does not seem unreasonable to expect him to follow a few simple house rules, and evidence some concern for the health and welfare of his rescuers. To date there is no sign of compliance or of motivation to change his ways.
I SURRENDER
You must be wondering why in the world would I allow such a monster to continue to inhabit my home. The answer to that question is complex, but mostly evolves from Floyd’s expertise in carrying out false flag operations. He has perfected the use of those big brown eyes to convey messages of adoration which along with his plaintiff whines have captivated Barb and resulted in her having fallen hopelessly in love. He even works on me for approbation and acceptance. As a matter of fact he is now lying at my feet as I write this expose’e. When I look down upon him he catches my eye with that cherubic look professing undying love, and lapses into his “I will never be bad again Shtick”. He arises and proceeds to go through his entire repertoire as follows: he gets up, places his head on my leg, I scratch his ears, he lies down, rolls over on his back, and whines like a little puppy wanting to have it’s belly scratched. I am sucked in and realize that he is much better at what he does than I am at what I do, and I am stuck with him, besides the dog pound has a strict no return policy.

THE STATE OF THE UNION

The President “shall from time to time give to the Congress Information of the State of the Union, and recommend to their consideration such measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient.” Article II, Section 3, Clause 1.

This week, I watched some of the 21st century version of this requirement of our government, and concluded that it bore little resemblance to how I interpreted that constitutional requirement. It was a show for which P. T. Barnum would have been proud. It was preceded by daylong hype via the so -called TV news channels with hints of what might be said enhanced by releases of just enough information to stimulate curiosity in order to enhance the ratings very much as is done by other such productions. Many of the beautiful people were invited along with a few brave souls about whom tear jerking stories could be told. The show begins when the House Sergeant at Arms enters, and with the voice of a side show barker announces the arrival of the great one.
The trip to the podium is tedious, there is much handshaking, shoulder touching and ear whispering as our fearless leader proceeds to his microphone. One is left to wonder how many of those congratulants were the same ones who were insisting that Mr. Trump was unfit to fill the office a little over a year ago. But then as my Grandmother often said: one “needs to know which side of his bread is buttered”, and at this point in our history the butter is found on the right side of that aisle. Nevertheless, it is a great show, this year starring a very experienced showman. It does appear to me however that the message delivered in this latest show does not seem to follow the script as laid out in the constitution. In particular I noted the phrase “recommend to their consideration” denoting a humility and even submissiveness which was hard to find in this latest version.
Scholars agree that the office of presidency was initially meant to satisfy an administrative function. George Washington fearful that the presidency might be seen as authoritarian eschewed titles suggested by John Adams, such as his highness, his majesty etc. Having recently escaped from the grip of monarchical power, he insisted on being addressed simply as Mr. President, and I doubt that his State of the Union reports were in any way self-serving. The state of the Union requirement was usually satisfied by a written report until 1913 when Woodrow Wilson came up with the idea of using the radio as a means to garner public support for his agenda. With the exception of Herbert Hoover that practice was continued until 1947 when Truman discovered television, and the race toward pomp and circumstance was set in motion.
The process has evolved now to this carefully choreographed spectacle which competes with the Super Bowl for ratings. To say these things are politically motivated is an Olympic class understatement. I was struck with the responses of the audience as the democrats sat immobile while the republicans stood and cheered whatever Trump said. On the other hand, the democrats would not have agreed to applaud a statement in favor of motherhood or apple pie. Of course, when Obama was in office the reverse was true with the right side of the aisle doing cadaver impersonations while the democrats cheered their man except for the one instance when in Obama’s 2009 speech a congressman shouted out “you lie”! There was a time when such extremes were not seen, when there would be at least occasional applause from the other side of the aisle indicating that some thought independent of party affiliation was given to issues.
In spite of my continued bashing of partisanship, rest assured that I appreciate the value of a two-party system. Recently Mr. Trump gave another of his stump style speeches in which he called the democrats refusal to applaud his tax plan “treasonous”. Thank God in America such a form of dissent is not treason for in some places as in North Korea for example such behavior would be called treason, and result in a lot of hangings. In most communist or other authoritarian governments a “loyal opposition” is not tolerated, and without choice freedom does not exist. My complaint is that those whom we employ to run the country show more loyalty to their own political party than to their country. In the parties’ war with each other they seem to view negotiation as synonymous with surrender. Both democrats and republicans treat each other as evil, and diminish themselves with personal insults, thus disrespecting the office they hold. Meanwhile as the bickering continues many of the country’s problems are ignored, our friends are dismayed, and our enemies cheer.
Recently there has been talk of the potential for a constitutional crisis. Whatever that is, it sounds like serious stuff. This Presidential investigation has further widened the gap between the two parties, and it is difficult to imagine a positive outcome no matter what emerges. Mr. Trump has preempted any results unfavorable to him or his family with his conspiracy theories designed to undermine the credibility of the investigators, and has even gone so far as to demand an investigation of the investigators. Should it all end in impeachment of the savior in chief, who knows how his many loyal supporters would react? If he is vindicated Democrats will ponder the question as to how he got away with it. Meanwhile, the Russian interference in our elections which precipitated the investigation, and which is said to represent a real and present danger to our form of government is totally ignored (talk about Nero and his fiddle).
After having witnessed government in action for a good number of years, I have concluded that politics is all about power. Whenever we elect someone to office we are investing them with a certain amount of power. Humans being what they are, generally want more of everything, but especially power. The President of the United States is said to be the most powerful man in the world, and the question arises shouldn’t that be enough? History shows that it is not; therefor leading one to believe the hunger for power must be insatiable. There are some who have been willing to sacrifice bits of power for the common good, but that is uncommon enough to be noteworthy.
Feelings of helplessness among the electorate usually result in their willingness to cede power. Such feelings are fueled by crises which have allowed Presidents to become much more powerful than in the days of George Washington who took the job under duress, much preferring to get back to the farm. As commander in chief presidents were most powerful during wars. Other domestic crises such as the robber barons who Teddy Roosevelt took on, Franklin Roosevelt during the great depression, Reagan with the Iranian hostage crisis, and most recently the twin towers attack are examples of how people naturally look to someone who can take charge when things are not going well for them or they are frightened of things beyond their control. We now have a large group of citizens who feel disenfranchised, so it is little wonder that they search for someone other than a conventional politician, but rather one who will promise to fix everything.
Television has affected politics in much the same way as it did the state of the union address. Personality and personal appearance have become a much more important part of the political scene, so much so that politicians stand in line to appear on the news channels, and let us not forget those marvelous performances when committees manage to arrange for their meetings to be televised providing another opportunity for posturing and preening in front of the folks back home.
The creativeness of our political class was displayed just this morning when CNN greeted me with the heart warming news that your President (I deny ownership) has directed the pentagon to plan a military parade in D.C. There have been no decisions as to what date should be commemorated, but it is clear that it will be an opportunity for the U.S. to demonstrate our military might, and for your President to stand on a podium saluting the troops in the manner of an array of dictators such as Kim un Jong. The avowed purpose of such a parade is to honor the troops, but others suggest it is to show Kim that “mine is bigger than yours”. Some cynics even suggest that the primary purpose is to honor Trump himself rather than the military. They point out that he had made a similar request for such a parade for his inauguration.
Regardless of what crises occur or threats we face it has been made clear that “The Show Must Go On”.

FRIEND FLOYD

floyd-2.jpg

Those of you who read my Christmas letter may have noted that the Smith household has a newly adopted member.  Floyd came to us directly from our local dog pound following an intense campaign by myself and daughter Trudy to convince Barb of the benefits which would accrue from having a dog in the house.  Lilly, our beloved pit bull, had died over a year ago, which marks the longest time we had ever been without a dog. Trudy and Maggie had selected Lilly from an animal shelter, and Trudy had presented her to me as a birthday gift with the unambiguous promise that she would keep me young.  The problem with that rationale was that I was already old.  Barb objected to having another dog, but promptly fell in love with Lilly.  At Lilly’s death, we grieved as we always have when losing another “best friend,” and I eulogized her as the best dog we ever had, but Barb reminded me I say that about all our dogs when they die (Lilly was #10).

Barb had insisted that it was a bad idea for us to get another dog, and as usual she was right, but common sense has never been a priority for me.  Thus, Trudy and I conspired to get her out to the animal shelter to see a resident named Chloe, which Trudy had picked out for us.  We knew that if Barb would meet the dog, she would be hooked, for dogs were second only to babies as love objects to her.   Unfortunately, Chloe was adopted before we could get to see her, but I was not to be denied.  I proceeded to visit the dog pound looking for a likely candidate for adoption with the insight that the prospect of a dog threatened with euthanasia might promote Barb’s need to protect.

The strategy was successful.  I found a medium sized black and white dog of unknown lineage who was outgoing, affectionate and playful whom I coerced Barb into seeing.  When we arrived at the pound, Barb refused to go in as she did not want to see all those dogs locked in cages so I brought him out for her to meet him.  She reached out, he licked her hand, rolled over on his back presumably to get his belly rubbed, and it was love at first sight.  The attendant reported that he had been picked up as a stray and they had no information about him.  I remarked that he seemed frisky for a grown dog, and had also noticed that his paws seemed large for a dog of that size.  I reiterated my goals of having a full-grown dog who had outgrown the puppy phase, and who was unlikely to outlive us.  The attendant looked in his mouth, and with an air of authority she declared that he was certainly older.

I named him Floyd, after an uncle who I always thought was a bit strange.  I must admit, I had some concern about this dog’s compulsion to roll over on his back thereby exposing what was left of his genitalia with virtually every human encounter.  I could not find any literature about exhibitionism in dogs, but then whoever said that dogs couldn’t be perverts?  Someone told me that this behavior was nothing more than a sign of submissiveness, but when his chest or belly is rubbed he stretches out with a look of ecstasy in those brown eyes seeming to escape to another dimension of consciousness.  Is that weird or what?

Floyd adjusted quickly to his new environment and went from shy and submissive to controlling.  Thankfully, potty training went well, and there was only one accident. After, he was a model in that department, except for a couple of instances in which he was so excited to greet a visitor that, upon positioning for his customary belly rub, he produced a fountain of urine.  There was one near miss, but no direct hits.  His favorite site on which to lift his leg is unfortunately at my boxwood, which will undoubtedly suffer.  It didn’t take long for him to learn where the power lies in this house, and he soon was obeying Barb’s commands while ignoring mine.  He sits for her on command but not for me.  He has taken possession of my arm chair and refuses to leave when directed, but he will get out of hers on her command.

Extraction from my chair is a much different story.  Floyd is a devotee of the passive resistance strategy in such situations, and when asked to get down, he rolls his eyes, glances at me briefly, looks away and does not move a muscle.  Raising my voice to an authoritarian pitch likewise produces no response.  I am left with no alternative other than to forcibly drag him from the chair.  He offers no resistance, and falls to the floor in a lump as if totally paralyzed.  He reminds me of a sit-in demonstrator being dragged away.  He then lays there immobile as I stumble over him in an attempt to retrieve my rightful place.  Only after I am settled in does he finally get up and go to the couch where he is supposed to be, but not without a defiant stare.

floyd 1

Floyd has proved to be a picky eater, having initially refused the less expensive dog foods in favor of the grain free variety, but he has developed a voracious appetite for footwear.  He is partial to shoes, but if they are not available he will settle for slippers.  As a matter of fact, as I write this, Barb just came into my office to announce that one of her shoes is missing, and cannot be found.  Fearing the worst, we set out on a rescue mission, and sure enough, the missing shoe was found relatively undamaged on the patio.  We attempted as we always do to impress upon Floyd the seriousness of this crime, but he simply wags his tail and rolls over on his back with legs widespread, lacking even a shred of modesty.

floyd 3

Although shoes are his favorite, Floyd is every bit the classic omnivore.  Yesterday, he consumed a box of crackers we left on the counter.  He demonstrated his athletic prowess the other day by leaping nearly four feet to get some peanuts Barb had left for the squirrels on a pillar in the backyard.  He consumed the shells and all in short order, and this is the guy who is picky about his dog food.  Go figure.

Floyd definitely shows signs of having oral personality traits.  His chewing is not limited to shoes.  In our attempt to divert him from his favorite object, we have provided him with all sorts of chew toys, most of which he destroys in a matter of minutes.  I was told that dogs who chew excessively are usually bored and don’t get enough exercise.  To that end, as the weather recently improved I took him outside and threw a ball which he vigorously went after.  I encouraged him to bring it back so we could repeat the game, but he simply sat down and chewed it.

The chewing fetish seems to be unending.  He was recently interrupted as Barb found him chewing on the woodwork in the family room.  There are also less challenging items which he seems to enjoy.  For example, he was recently discovered on our bed surrounded by fluff and an empty pillow cover.  He has proven to be remarkably adaptable to his new environment and yesterday he was discovered opening the door to Barb’s closet.  He seems to know the location of every shoe in the house, but he must have thought he had discovered the mother load after viewing the contents of that closet.

Floyd seemed puzzled by automobiles initially, and we were forced to drag him into the car for his first ride, but he quickly became an enthusiastic traveler.  He prefers the front passenger seat where he gets a better view, apparently.  This causes some dissension between he and Barb, and he can become downright unruly when forced to the backseat.  He feels it is his inalienable right to be a passenger whenever the car leaves, and he makes that clear by leaping up and scratching at the side of the car whenever someone enters the garage.  On one occasion, he leaped in when I was reaching in for something and refused to leave.  Two hours later he was still there.

In spite of his defects I must admit that Floyd is very intelligent.  This is borne out not only by his ability to consistently outsmart me, but by an extensive vocabulary which I am convinced is unique to the canine world.  It is so varied that I have yet to translate his speech in detail.  Of course all dogs bark and whine to express themselves, but Floyd often opens his mouth as if yawning and proceeds to utter multiple sounds the like of which I have never heard come out of a dog’s mouth.  He also must have channeled from his wolf ancestors the ability to howl, for when he hears a siren or other distant sound, he points his head to the sky and produces a long mournful sound loud enough to be heard for miles.

You may recall that the Floyd misadventure began with Trudy’s well-meaning plan to help Barb and I delay senility.  Sadly, I must confess that although that grand experiment is still in its infancy, preliminary findings suggest that there may be many unintended consequences.  Of course, the stresses for Barb are intense as she sees her house destroyed, and selfish me, I don’t enjoy the fallout.  There was also the assault on my physical well-being by Floyd, for which he feigned contrition, but the incident did occur shortly after a strong reprimand from me.  It occurred as Floyd was lying in the doorway to my office, as is his usual habit.  While leaving, I was forced to step over him, but then he suddenly got up, causing me to trip over him.  As I was going down for the count, my ear collided with the door frame.  This was particularly traumatic as the anti-coagulant warfarin (aka rat poison), which I take, complicated the problem, resulting in a huge hematoma on my ear which subsequently became black.  I was born with famously large ears, but this was ridiculous.  The good news is that it seems likely that I will be able to avoid amputation.

As if on cue, Floyd has just entered this room with the remains of another pillow in his mouth, and trailing is a string of that fluffy stuff used to fill pillows.  He has that “look at what I have done” smile. He holds his head high and seems proud of his accomplishment.

Before concluding, I feel I must give the devil his just dues (yes, I sometimes wonder if that guy with the horns and pitchfork may play a part in this), for Floyd does have some redeeming social value. In between destructive forays he is very affectionate and displays that disarming smile that could melt the hardest heart. To know that a creature is awaiting your return and will greet you with unbounded joy may even be worth several pairs of shoes. Besides, they don’t accept returns at the pound.  With that in mind, I will start thinking about purchasing a larger crate (dog people don’t like the word cage), as his body has already inched toward matching those big paws. Yes, it appears that Floyd may be just a larger-than-usual puppy.

LOOK OUT WINNIE

A recent encounter with an old friend whom I had not seen in several years has left me scratching my head and questioning my abilities to understand people, a real downer for an old psychiatrist. You may find this anecdote either humorous or frightening depending on your point of view; for me, it was both. First, I feel the need to apologize for this topic since I am certain most of you are suffering from Trump fatigue or, more likely, Trump exhaustion, but this one is too good to miss and I do promise to be brief.

I arrived on the scene in the middle of the conversation between Barb and this friend. They of course in the manner of all mothers were exchanging information about family, kids, ex-spouses, etc. She greeted me with an apology because she had not been aware of our daughter’s death four years ago. I wondered if she had been living under a rock, for Molly’s death had been widely reported. Apparently she had, for she said she did not read newspapers and did not own a television. This came as a shock to me, for this lady has been very active in politics. As a matter of fact, she has been the leading spokesperson in our town for the Tea Party, and I would have assumed that she would be a Fox News devotee.

WHAT COULD SHE BE SMOKING?

The real shocker for me, however, was when Barb told me that the two had been discussing politics prior to my entering the conversation. Barb, always the decorum expert, later tells me that our friend predicted that Donald J. Trump would become the next Churchill and that she was not joking. Initially, I thought this was funny, then began to ponder the consequences. You may be thinking, “What kind of a doofus could think this stuff,”but this is not a stupid person. She is a white college graduate professional, the very demographic which was supposed to elect Hillary. Furthermore, she showed no signs of cognitive deficit other than for this statement.

WOULDN’T IT BE NICE?

Many have questioned Trump’s competence and some (including myself) his sanity. His supporters vehemently disagree with such assessments. However, nowhere had I heard of him being elevated to the status of one of the last century’s most celebrated and revered statesmen and leaders. Oh, that it could be true, for the world could use a Churchill right now. If POTUS were to make a right turn and suddenly don that superman cape which he pretends to own, I would be there to praise him, or would I? This is a question I have pondered since the encounter. Although this leopard is very unlikely to change his stripes and become Churchillian, remember Mr. Trump was also given less than a one percent chance of ever becoming president.

NEVER DID LIKE HIM

This brings to mind the interesting and important subject of belief. It will come as no surprise to you that I hold strong beliefs that POTUS is not only a jerk but incompetent, unfit for office, and probably nuts*. Such beliefs found their origins in observing his behaviors and publicity stunts even before he adopted his bouffant hairdos. I recall cheering when he was forced to sell his yacht during one of his bankruptcies after flaunting his wealth for years. I laughed when he hired people to cheer when he announced his run for President. I was appalled by his outrageous shenanigans during the campaign. I was amazed when he was elected. Now, I am frightened to think this guy, who I believe to be dangerous, is in the White House.

Obviously, my friend’s belief about Trump is about as contrary as one could get from mine. I did not have an opportunity to ask her why she holds Trump in such high regard, but I assume that much of her belief stems from biases in a similar manner that my belief is influenced by those biases which I have just mentioned. Beliefs are sticky things. According to Webster, “a belief is a conviction based on cultural or personal faith, morality, or values.” Thus, it is not surprising that we are attached to our beliefs and have trouble letting them go. We may become indignant and fight to defend our beliefs as if they are personal property, or perhaps it may be one of those ego things where we are insulted that someone questions our judgement.

DUMP TRUMP?

There are many who, convinced of Trump’s unfitness, cry for his removal from office. This may be a classic example of the admonition to be careful what you wish for. More than a third of the population provide unwavering support of Trump and are either ignorant or uncaring of his behaviors. In any event, their support appears to be unwavering. Trump attracts large crowds for his campaign style speeches which are met with messianic fervor. They apparently have bought into the mantra that he and he alone can solve their problems.

HE COULD FLIP OUT

Many of us who profess to have some knowledge about personality deficits, which we believe afflict our President, believe that if his narcissistic defenses are destroyed by his removal from office, either by impeachment or conviction of a criminal act, he would be at great risk of psychotic decompensation. This could result in impulsive, irrational behaviors with the potential for disastrous results affecting billions of people. We have been so concerned that we have felt compelled to speak out in spite of prohibitions by our professional organizations.

YOU THINK CHARLOTTESVILLE WAS BAD?

Should he become irrational, his more ardent supporters, who have already demonstrated their propensity for violent behavior, would likely rise up in a defense which might not be so peaceful. We also know that Trump has condoned and even encouraged violence in the past. He has already mounted a defense against any findings from the multiple investigations now underway by declaring neither the investigators nor the news media should be trusted and that the investigations are an unjustified attempt to undermine his presidency. If their past responses are any indication, these lies are apt to be accepted as true, further inflaming the passions of his devotees at a time when our country is experiencing the most divisiveness among the populace in over 150 years and when extremist political groups appear to be gaining strength.

CATCH 22

This all raises the most frightening question of all. Could all these events come together as a perfect storm to create irreparable damage or even a civil war? It also poses the question as to which would cause the most damage: the removal of POTUS or the finishing of his term. If I had the power to choose which option, I would probably flip a coin.

*Please excuse me for me for not using an authorized shrink term, but I just felt like getting down and dirty today,

TRUMP’S MENTAL HEALTH

Since his appearance on the political scene, there has been a great deal of speculation as to the mental health of our current president.  Mr. Trump was first seen by many, including myself, as a publicity seeking entertainer with a day job as real estate developer.  He has been very successful at theQ former, and eventually was successful at the latter with help from an army of lawyers and the bankruptcy courts.  I even heard one TV pundit defend Trump’s bankruptcies as simply “good business strategy.” It sickened me to think that it might be standard practice to make use of the legal system in order to avoid paying one’s bills.  I admit that debtor’s prisons were an extreme method of encouraging fiscal responsibility, but they must have been much more effective than is our current system.

NO LAUGHING MATTER

Many of us laughed when we learned that he had actually paid people who happened to be walking by his castle to come into the lobby of Trump tower, and cheer as he announced his candidacy, but we are no longer laughing.  With years of experience as a self-promoter, he would have been well aware that in advertising there is no such thing as bad publicity, and his outrageous behaviors garnered him many more times the amount of TV time than all his opponents together.  When he donned a baseball cap with a catchy phrase inscribed on it, this billionaire who grew up in privileged circumstances became one of the guys.  The kind of person with whom you would like to have a beer while you bitched about the government.

BIGGEST AND BEST

As he did during his campaign, he continues to always use superlatives to describe himself or his accomplishments both real and imagined.  Never mind the veracity of his comments e.g. his inauguration crowd was the largest ever, his would not be a great presidency but the greatest presidency ever, people whom opposed him were not merely bad but the worst ever to hold that particular office, that his would be the biggest tax cut ever and so on.  I grant you there is a long tradition of shading the truth in political discourse, but this president appears to be on his way to setting a new world record in that department.  He appears to be well on his way to developing a legacy as the lyingest president in the history of the republic.

TRUTH TELLER?

The Washington Post has been tracking via their fact checker, the falsehoods of Trump and reported 1628 false, misleading claims or flip-flops made publicly since his election which averages nearly 6 per day.  Bella DePaulo who was involved in research studying liars and lying while a Professor at the University of Virginia, found that the average person told a little over 1 ½ lies per day some of which were so called white lies designed to be kind such as the use of flattering comments and reassuring words.  Less than 10% of Trumps lies fit into that category.  The study of Trump’s lies of course included only his public comments leading one to believe he fulfills the requirements to be labeled a pathological liar.  As a matter of fact, DePaulo begins her assessment with the statement: “I study liars, I’ve never seen one like President Trump”.

DEFINITELY DIFFERENT

In addition to his Olympic class lying Mr. Trump’s other outrageous behaviors such as his grandiosity, lack of remorse, impulsivity, paranoia, narcissism, rage reactions, lack of empathy, unwillingness to take advice, and disregard of consequences have been excused by his supporters.  They use the word unconventional, and applaud his disregard for presidential decorum while others simply see him as “crazy”.  Eugene Robinson of the Washington post said it well in a column in which he wrote: “I used to think he (Trump) was crazy like a fox, now I think he is just crazy”.  Naturaly, Trump’s behaviors caught the attention of those of us experienced in the diagnosis and treatment of mental illness, and many quietly questioned his sanity.   It was not long before a book written by a group of 27 mental health professionals led by Bandy Lee M.D., M.Div. Assistant Clinical Professor at Yale   titled: The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump was published, and became an immediate New York Times best seller.  In the book Dr. Lee writes:

“At no other time in history has a group of mental health professionals been as collectively concerned about a sitting president.  This is not because he is an unusual person—-his presentation is almost typical for a forensic psychiatrist like myself whose patients are mostly violent offenders—but highly unusual to find such a person in the office of the presidency.  For the U.S. it may be unprecedented; for many parts of the world where this has happened before, the outcome has been uniformly devastating”.

She then goes on to say:

“Robert Mueller’s investigation is not just a matter of criminal indictments; as Trump feels increasingly walled in, his mental stability is likely to suffer, and hence the public safety.  Mental impairments and criminal- mindedness are not mutually exclusive, not only can they happen at the same time, when combined, these two characteristics become particularly dangerous. Trump has shown marked signs of impairment and psychological disability under ordinary circumstances, hardly able to cope with basic criticism or unflattering news.  Presumably, additional stressors will make his conditions worse.  So far, the signs have been almost too predictable.

DAMNED IF YOU DO AND DAMNED IF YOU DON’T

As you might expect, the book resulted in a great deal of controversy among mental health professionals.  There was immediate blowback from other psychiatrists who were quick to quote the  Goldwater rule, so named for a lawsuit filed and won by Barry  Goldwater in 1973, which led to the declaration of The American Psychiatric Association that to diagnose a public figure without having carried out an examination is unethical.  On the other hand, those who supported the conclusions of Dr. Lee’s book reference the Tarasoff decision rendered by a California court in 1976, which conferred on mental health professionals a “duty to warn and protect” anyone endangered by their patient, a classic catch 22.

As to the question as to whether Mr. Trump is suffering from significant impairment, it now appears that the ayes have it, as at last count there were nearly 80,000 people including myself who have called for an evaluation.  Admittedly it is not clear how effective or in what manner such an evaluation could be carried out, and an interview without a patient’s cooperation is problematic at best especially in the types of personality disorders alleged.

THE LABEL DOESN’T FIT UNTIL HE FALLS APART?

The most common diagnoses alleged are: Sociopathic personality, and Narcissistic personality.  Allen Franses MD a Professor at Duke University who wrote the criteria for the diagnosis of Narcissistic Personality in the American Psychiatric Association’s latest version of their diagnostic and statistical manual not only condemns the practice of “making a diagnosis from a distance”, but insists that Trump is not mentally ill.  In an article in Psychology Today he arrives at this conclusion with the following analysis:

“Trump’s consensus diagnosis among amateur, at-a-distant diagnosticians is narcissistic personality disorder.  They have reviewed the DSM definition (which I wrote) and found him to meet all the criteria: grandiose self-importance; preoccupations with being brilliant and successful; feeling special and having to hang out with special people; requiring constant admiration; feeling entitled; being exploitive; lacking empathy; being envious; and being arrogant.  Bingo.  Trump is all this in spades.  But they ignore the further requirement that is crucial in defining all mental disorders—the behaviors also must cause significant distress or impairment.  Trump is clearly a man singularly without distress and his behaviors consistently reap him fame, fortune, women, and now political power.  He has been generously rewarded, not at all impaired by it.

PRONOUNCEMENTS FROM THE IVORY TOWER ARE TOUGH

At a personal level, I was disheartened to learn that as a result of my dump Trump affiliations I am still an “amateur diagnostician” after a lifetime of suffering under the delusion that I was a professional.  I do take issue with his failure to address the likelihood of Trump reacting violently when cornered as predicted by Dr. Lee, an opinion with which I strongly agree.  It is this phenomenon which most frightens me.   I also find it difficult to understand why we must wait for him to fall apart to make a diagnosis.  There is also the question of how much distress or impairment is necessary to confirm the diagnosis via the Dr. Franses rule.  Some of Mr. Trump’s tweets suggest that he is quite distressed on those occasions when he is challenged.  As far as I am concerned the necessity of a personal examination is greatly overblown in these types of personality disorders.  Interviews are most often useless, and one must rely on witnessed behaviors and information from many outside sources in cases of both narcissistic and antisocial personality disorders.

THIS PERSON REALLY KNOWS HOW TO HURT A GUY

Dr. Franses is gracious enough to acknowledge that we who support Dr. Lee’s book “mean well”, but others are not as tolerant in their critiques.  One such person is Jeffery Lieberman M.D. who is chair of the Department of Psychiatry at Columbia University, and Past President of the American Psychiatric Association.  Dr. Lieberman, writing in Psychiatric News (a publication of the APA) in a disclaimer admits that he was a supporter of Hillary Clinton and served on her advisory council, but still in his heart of hearts feels bound to abide by the Goldwater Rule.  He points out the world’s history of using psychiatry in the service of totalitarian despots, and that we “are using our professional credentials to express a medical opinion when we have neither the right nor the evidence to do so”, a statement with which I strongly disagree. I believe we not only have the right, but the duty to lend our opinions.  Furthermore, Trump’s own words and tweets provide ample evidence of mental instability without the need for a personal interview.  In his review of Dr. Lee and her colleagues’ book he is even more critical with the following opinion: “Sadly, the Dangerous Case of Donald Trump is not a serious, scholarly, civic minded work, but simply tawdry, indulgent, fatuous, tabloid psychiatry”.  I think that means he didn’t like it, or perhaps he thinks the authors should be impeached.

NOT ALL MENTAL ILLNESSES ARE EQUAL

The pertinent issue in this controversy is Trump’s fitness to be president.  His mental health is only relevant as to the effect it has on his ability to carry out his elected responsibilities.   A psychiatric diagnosis of itself is not disabling as some of our most successful presidents such as Lincoln and both Roosvelts have suffered mood disorders of sufficient severity to satisfy our current criteria for psychiatric diagnoses.  One could even make a case that their emotional problems may have been an asset.  In Lincoln’s day Trump’s type of behaviors would have been seen simply as character flaws, and not given the benefit of a psychiatric diagnosis.  Although some behaviors we now find repugnant were widely accepted, veracity was highly valued, and liars were despised.   Now, Trump’s lying is excused by some with the statement that “all politicians lie”.  If lying has become accepted as the standard in political discourse, we are indeed in big trouble.

HE IS ONLY PART OF THE PROBLEM

Once again, “these are the times that try men’s souls”.  At a time when our country, and governing philosophy are under attack from several directions, we remain more divisive than at any time since the civil war, thus enhancing our vulnerability.   The maxim “united we stand and divided we fall” is as true now as it was in Ceaser’s day. There appears to be little effort from either of our political parties to promote the unity necessary for us to secure a bright future for succeeding generations.  Their focus on winning impairs their ability to govern.  Unification requires leadership and leadership requires inclusiveness, qualities now sorely lacking at all levels of our government.  Over  the last several decades the office of presidency has gradually accrued more power, and the thought of a president with impairment sufficient to affect his judgement is very frightening.

Trump’s mental health is likely a moot point at this time.  With a majority in congress, the requirement of the 25th amendment that expulsion due to impairment be initiated by his cabinet or congress, it is unlikely that his tenure will be shortened other than by criminal indictments resulting in impeachment.   I do find some comfort in the reported trend towards more involvement of the citizenry in political affairs with the goal of holding those we hire to run things accountable.  I also reassure myself with the thought that though democracy is fragile our country has survived and prospered following serious crises in the past.  Let us hope this time of political bitterness is only a period of rapprochement, and that statesmanship will become the norm once again.

IT’S NOT YOUR GRANDFATHER’S CAR ANYMORE

It has been suggested that since I am old I should write about old stuff. Perhaps this presumes that old buggers don’t know much about new stuff, and that presumption is validated by the time I spend trying to get all of these new-fangled gadgets to work. With that in mind, I recently have been doing even more reminiscing than normal for an old guy. The other day, as I was on my way to an appointment an hour’s drive away, and with Barb dozing next to me, I noticed how comfortable and secure I felt in my car. This was not always the case. For the past hundred years, thousands of people have devoted themselves to improving the comfort and reliability of the horseless carriage, and there I sat with the sudden realization that I was taking it all for granted.

Alice

My first car was a ’36 Ford 3 window coupe. It was two-toned green and, although 12 years old, was still the coolest set of wheels in town. I was working at an automobile agency at the time and got first dibs when she came in as a trade. I called her Alice. The previous owner was an auto mechanic whom I knew, and he had done all kinds of cool things to her, not the least of which was to outfit her with hydraulic brakes, a very handy addition since conventional wisdom was that you could stop a Ford by dragging your feet quicker than by using its brakes. He had also fitted her with a truck engine which increased her to a feisty 95 horsepower. There was a cool exhaust system, and she was issued many a challenge as she sat panting at a traffic light like a cheetah ready to spring. She never backed down, and was rarely defeated.

dads blog 36 ford
In spite of my affection for Alice, I must admit that life with her was not easy, especially at this time of the year. It was also a busy time at my father’s service station as winter approached. Alcohol was used as an antifreeze, and it required constant vigilance. Since it was volatile, it would evaporate quickly and leave the radiator and even the engine block at risk of freezing and even bursting. Consequently, with news of the approach of an especially cold night, there would be a line of cars coming in to add antifreeze. Since loss of the alcohol left the radiator short of coolant, one was at risk of being parboiled when he removed the radiator cap. We did not have pleasant thoughts about those “last minute Charlies” who showed up near closing time on an especially cold winter night. Some solved the problem by draining their radiators, then filling them with water when they wished to go somewhere.
Prevention of a vehicle from freezing up at night did not, however, guarantee that your car would start in the morning. As a matter of fact, when the temperature got down around zero, most unprotected cars did not stand a chance. Motor oils became more viscous  at lower temperatures, making it much more difficult for the 6-volt batteries of the day to turn the engine over fast enough to provide ignition, and cold rendered the battery even less powerful due to inhibition of the action of the acid it contained. In addition to that, the least amount of moisture in the distributor would cause it to ice and prevent ignition. Chrysler products were noted as being particularly “hard to start” in winter, though even in temperate weather, cars of that day were susceptible to stalling in heavy rainstorms due to water leaking into their electrical systems.

The Cars in the “Good Ole Days” Demanded Your Time

Back in those good old days, there were many other factors which would conspire to test one’s mettle. In winter, getting your car started was not necessarily the end of one’s problems. Since snow removal was not widely practiced, if one lived in snow prone environments he needed snow tires, and, in many cases, chains, the installation of which was not a really fun time. Speaking of tires, I should mention that to be able to get 10,000 miles on a set of tires was a minor miracle, while 60,000 is not unusual these days, and occasional flats were to be expected. The diligent driver would carry not only tools to change tires but rubber patches with which to repair punctured inner tubes.

dads blog blog service stationAutomobiles were definitely high maintenance, and the owner of one would soon realize that he needed to keep some tools and spare parts in his trunk. Most maintenance was available at the place one went to get gasoline. The term “service station” was an appropriate designation for these facilities. A routine stop for gasoline would also involve cleaning the windshield and headlight lenses, checking the oil, water level, and upon request, air in the tires. The customer would pay the attendant, receive his change and be on his way without ever leaving the driver seat. If it would have been discovered that I varied from that routine when working at Dad’s station, the old man’s wrath would not be pretty. He subscribed to the dictum popular in those days that the customer was always right, except in those instances where their obnoxiousness crossed a line which only he could set. In such cases, that mantra was dismissed and he would order the offender to “get the Hell out of my station and don’t ever come back.” This was most likely to occur when he noticed someone giving one of us worker bees a hard time.
Most routine maintenance was carried out at service stations. Oil changes were recommended every 1000 miles along with lubrication or what we called a “grease job,” which involved pumping grease into all the under-carriage moving parts. There were also wheel bearings to pack with grease and other routine inspections, i.e. tire pressure, radiator, brake fluid, etc. Cars of that era also required periodic tune ups which involved replacing or cleaning spark plugs, setting the timing, replacing various ignition parts, adjusting the carburetor, checking the battery, all of the engine belts, and the fluid levels in transmission and differential. We could also do minor repairs but would prefer the big stuff.

If one were to keep a car more than two or three years, he could expect major mechanical problems. Clutches, engines and transmissions all had a limited life, and the auto repair business flourished. There were backyard mechanics, back alley mechanics and main street mechanics in addition to automobile agencies who were specialized with their better equipped facilities. For example, at the dealership where I worked, there was one person who worked full time doing front end alignments, while others were transmission guys and so on. These guys were bent on fixing things rather than just replacing them, and there was plenty to fix.

If those were the good old days, I propose that these new days are better at least when it comes to personal transportation. It has only been one hundred years ago since Mr. Kettering invented the electric starter, which was the revolutionary high-tech invention of its time. Prior to that, engines could only be started by turning the engine over by hand using a metal crank inserted into the engine. Delay in removing the crank when the engine started resulted in a lot of broken bones. The method was still available for another thirty years in most cars as an emergency method to use when the starter failed. This is said to be the origin of the word “cranky.” There is very little comparison between those cars of yester-year and today. If back when I was working at Dad’s station I was told I would someday own a car that I would drive 85,000 miles with the only maintenance an occasional oil change and one change of tires, I would have laughed all the way to the gas pump.

No doubt, many will have little interest in the analysis of all this mechanical stuff from an emeritus grease monkey, but I am certain all will be able to relate to the idea of comfort. Reliability is a concept, but comfort is an experience. Nowadays, cars are so comfortable that falling asleep is a major cause of accidents. While driving along safely ensconced in my new car, it occurred to me that this pleasurable experience would have been an adventure had I taken the same trip in Alice. This would never be a spur of the moment decision and would likely be planned days in advance. I could never have imagined in my wildest dreams driving along with the speedometer set slightly above the speed limit, freeing my feet to move around, not to mention the ability to talk to the car and have it talk back, to tune a radio which actually works, and to guide me to any spot in the country. Nor would I have believed that it would ever be possible to make phone calls from a car. That would have seemed weirder than Dick Tracy of the “Funny Papers” and his 2-way wrist radio.

To step into a modern automobile is much like taking a 0.5 mg Xanax, for there is little to worry about. You can be confident that it will start, regardless of the weather, and that you can drive away without even waiting for the engine to “warm up.” It is no longer necessary to stare constantly at those gauges or worry about tire pressure, as you can count on your new car to keep you informed. There is no reason to worry about weather short of a tornado or blizzard, for this car will power through water or snow accumulations that would make Alice sputter and stall. Alice’s windshield wipers were operated by a vacuum pump with two speeds: slow and slower, while my new car relieves me of the physically taxing job of turning them off and on and will wash the windshield on command. Since the car is smarter than me, it won’t let me tailgate some laggard who is poking along in the left lane, but instead will automatically slow down or even stop if necessary (I didn’t say it was always fun to drive).
Now there is no need to get your hands dirty by adjusting the outside mirrors before you get in your car; just push a button. The tiring ritual of pushing the clutch in and out to shift gears is no longer cool unless you are one of those throwbacks who likes to pull up to a traffic light and go “vroom, vroom.” In Alice’s day, there was none of that sissy stuff like power steering and power brakes, and it took a real man (or strong woman, I don’t want to get in trouble here) to handle her in a sharp turn or to learn to double clutch a recalcitrant transmission.
Although larger, more expensive cars were designed to be comfortable, they fell far short compared to the one now sitting in my garage. The seats may have been a little softer, but the term climate control did not apply. Heaters were limited to preventing frostbite of feet, and one needed to dress as for a Mount Everest climb in order to ride any distance in the backseat on a cold winter night. The problem would worsen as one was forced to roll down a window in order to make a hand signal. Nope, no directional signals or electric window openers. Windows would frost, requiring a gloved hand to continually clear enough area to be able to see the road.
Summer presented a different set of problems, the most relevant being a lack of air conditioning, requiring windows to be kept lowered. In those days, there were many unpaved roads. To be caught in the wake of another vehicle on a gravel road left one the choice of death by particle inhalation with the windows down or heat stroke with them up. In the best of conditions, one could expect his or her face to become covered with a greasy, grimey layer of dust mixed with sweat after riding for any distance with the windows down. On very hot days, one was also in danger of failure of the engine cooling system, with sometimes disastrous results.
As I drove down a well-paved road, safely ensconced in the lap of this luxurious cocoon, I reminisced about those days when driving was a challenge and not for the faint-hearted. It also occurred to me that one day in the not too distant future, another old man will write a blog about the days when he had to stay awake, steer his car, set the speed, and remain alert to prevent accidents. His grandchildren are apt to be amazed there was once a day when he couldn’t read, watch a movie, or take a nap when traveling. They might be aware of the history of that old clunky internal combustion engine, which polluted the environment, but they will probably find it difficult to understand the adventures we found and the lessons we learned from those old clunkers.

WHO’D A THUNK IT?

REFLECTIONS

Reunions are times for reflection, and my medical school class reunion is soon. There has been much to reflect upon, as 60 years is a long period in one’s life even though it is a microdot in the history of mankind. There have been hundreds of thousands of personal experiences during that time, all of which have enriched my life, and indeed I have been blessed.

In addition to those times with patients, I have witnessed momentous changes in all aspects of medicine. Things that were undreamed of during our student days are now routine and taken for granted. Newly invented diagnostic procedures are more efficient and precise. Scans have replaced many previously unreliable and time consuming tests. Antibiotics were invented. Vaccines virtually eliminated many serious illnesses. Now, no mother would hold her child in her arms while watching it die of diphtheria as did my grandmother, and there are few doctors left who have ever seen diseases so common in our day that they were accepted as a normal part of life.

While we were still in medical school, anti-depressant and anti-psychotic drugs were marketed, and within two years, 70% of state hospital patients, many of whom would have otherwise spent the rest of their lives in institutions, were discharged. Cardiologists who were limited in their treatments by very few medications now actually are able to visualize occluded coronary arteries and unplug them by sticking a catheter through the heart and into the coronary arteries, much as your plumber opens a clogged drain. Even more unbelievable was the idea that organs, especially the heart, could be transplanted. If that isn’t ghoulish enough, now there is talk of manufacturing organs from stem cells. And we must not forget, like it or not, this is the digital age, and computers have become an indispensable tool in all aspects of medicine, with even robots now entering the picture.

One day many years ago, during my internship, I found myself assisting in surgery to repair an abdominal aortic aneurysm, the first such surgery to be performed in the state of Ohio. The body’s largest blood vessel was in the process of bursting, and the patient was brought into the OR literally screaming in pain for which massive doses of morphine had no effect. One of the nurses was kept busy wiping the sweat from the surgeon’s brow to prevent it from dripping into the abdominal cavity as he worked. After 6 hours and gallons of blood, the patient died on the table, and the surgeon was barely able to make it to the dressing room, totally exhausted. Today, that procedure is routine and can sometimes be done without even opening the abdomen.

IS IT ETHICAL?

As is the case with most major scientific achievements, there have been many unintended consequences, and we are confronted with ethical questions, most of which have no acceptable answers. There are all those end-of-life dilemmas such as when to “pull the plug.” In my day, death was the enemy, and we considered ourselves ethically-bound to preserve life at all costs. Death was defined as lack of a heart beat, but with life support systems now in general use, it is possible to keep a heart beating indefinitely. Today, families are faced with the heart rending chore of agreeing to the withdrawal of such support. I have seen family members whose grief is compounded by the irrational belief that they were complicit in their loved one’s death. This problem has found a solution through asking patients to sign notarized documents promising to die appropriately and in a timely manner.

On the other hand, our newly found technology may preserve a life of pain and suffering and leave the physician to question the preserve-life-at-any-cost dictum. This has contributed to a newfound focus on “quality of life.” As a consequence, there are now five states permitting physician assisted suicide. We old fashioned guys and gals were bound by oath and a code of ethics to always do our utmost to save lives and never, under any circumstances, to end them. Although, there were undoubtedly occasions when a physician may have been overly generous with his doses of morphine for a patient who was finding it difficult to die. I suspect a similar treatment plan is often used in the terminal stages of hospice care today.

It is not surprising that these changes have generated controversy. There are those who feel dying should remain in the hands of God, and to violate the sanctity of life, no matter the rationale, is a most grievous sin and should be illegal. Strangely, some of those same people may feel that capital punishment is justified. There is also the argument that to accept assisted suicide is to go down a slippery slope from which there may be no return. Proponents of that position are not impressed with the safeguards put in place to prevent it being misused e.g. for depressed mental patients or for those elderly infirm people who are made to feel they are a burden.

MO’ LIFE MO’ PROBLEMS

The successes of medicine have also been responsible for cultural and political problems. There have been remarkable increases in longevity. During my lifetime, life expectancy has increased nearly 20 years in spite of the adoption of unhealthy lifestyles by many of us. This longer lifespan has contributed much to the current problems with social security as the actuarial tables, used at its inception in 1935, grossly underestimated the increase in lifespans. A longer lifespan allows some to outlive their savings, resulting in the creation of “sandwich families” where parents find themselves caring for both their children and their parents.

It has been well documented that healthcare expenses increase drastically as a population ages. A Kaiser Foundation study reports that the average person’s medical expenses double at age 70, triple at 80 and increase five times at 90. It seems likely that the future will see the average person living even longer, and the problem will be compounded by all those baby boomers joining the ranks. It is little wonder that the bean counters are predicting a major crisis for Medicare. It is enough to make an old person like me apologize for living so long.

OUR MOST COMPLICATED FIELD

Of all the accomplishments in medicine, none holds more potential for raising ethical, moral, and religious questions, while at the same time promising the elimination of some of our most terrible diseases as does the field of genetics. The sequencing of the human genome was completed in 2003 after a 13 year period of collaboration by scientists worldwide. It was made possible by the development of extremely powerful computers, which were able to compile the huge amounts of data needed to identify and catalog the billions of DNA connections present in our genes. This has been hailed by many as the greatest scientific achievement of all time with the promise to unlock many of the secrets of life.

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This research has made it possible to identify the location of mutations responsible for many of the inheritable diseases, and now, even more remarkable, a procedure called CRISPR (an acronym for a string of big words that I couldn’t remember even if I tried) makes it possible to actually remove a portion of DNA from a gene and replace it with DNA which has not been corrupted by mutation. With the repair completed, the condition can no longer be passed on to the progeny. The unraveling of the make-up of the genome promises to result in discovery of many genetically influenced diseases and further our understanding and elimination of those illnesses that “run in the family.”It is also possible to use CRISPR to modify the genetic make-up of bacteria and trick them into becoming friends rather that attackers. There seems little doubt that these discoveries will revolutionize the practice of medicine and further increase human longevity.

MORE THAN MEDICINE

Genetic manipulation of this sort has been found to be useful in a variety of areas other than medicine, including chemistry, biotechnology, and the life sciences, but the development of genetically modified foods seems to have gained the most attention and criticism. Nineteen European countries have banned GMOs, apparently out of fear that some botanical Frankenstein monster might be created, thereby refuting scientists’ reassurances of their safety. Other experts insist no danger exists and point out that we have made changes to the nature of living things for a long time with a methodology both cumbersome and lengthy.

Since the Stone Age, man has used selective breeding to modify the genetic make-up of both plants and animals. Witness the number of breeds of dogs we have, all of whom are direct descendants of wolves. On the botanical side, it is said that corn evolved from a Mexican weed with a seed pod smaller than your finger, which, thanks to the selective breeding initiated by Aztec farmers 9,000 years ago, we now have a plant which is said to provide 21% of the world’s food. Production of desired changes by this process is time consuming, often requiring hundreds or even thousands of years. Now, there is the potential to produce those changes in a single generation. There are already instances in which resistance to drought, disease, and pests have been accomplished.

LOOK OUT SEX ED

Many say that the genome is a “blueprint of life,” and as such it does seem that caution is in order before beginning to tinker with it. It is theorized that it will soon be possible to have “designer babies,” who can be ordered with whatever characteristics that are important to the parents. Imagine what Hitler could have done with the help of CRISPR in his zeal to develop a master race. Since there is no aspect of a person that is not designed and controlled by genes, the changes which could be accomplished are limitless. An even spookier thought is the possibility that life could be created by man. After all, DNA has been synthesized and is readily available, and it is deemed possible to construct a synthetic gene. If the construction of one synthetic gene is possible, why not an entire genome?

TECHNOLOGY AGE

As with almost everyone else, I have dived headlong into this “Brave New World” of digital bliss. In a previous blog, I commented on warnings about artificial intelligence by a few guys who know about that stuff, and I also wrote about the replacement of people by machines. There has been speculation as to the effect of prolonged viewing of violent video games on kids, and recently evidence has been collected that kids’ attachment to their cell phones has all the qualities of addiction. I have also witnessed the birth of satellites, the internet, social media, space travel, atom bombs, jet airplanes, GPS systems, robots, television, and computers, to name few of the awesome things developed in the relatively brief time I have taken up space on this planet. Those few years have produced more advances in science and technology than happened through all of history. I am impressed and a little scared.

The ability for society to take advantage of all the marvelous achievements of our day without destroying itself, in my opinion, should be job one. It appears to me that our young people are strongly encouraged to learn technical skills and seek an education focused on math and science. Granted, there is great need for such occupations. Consequently, they are lucrative, but there is an even greater need for those who can view these changes from a distance. In that vein, I believe there has never been a greater need for a liberal arts education, yet it seems few share that view. We need philosophers, theologians, historians, artists, poets, writers e.g. professions not directly immersed in high tech stuff. I believe it is more important to know where we are going than how to get there. This is especially true during this time when events are changing so rapidly that there is hardly time to contemplate unintended consequences.

In medicine, when a new procedure or treatment is prescribed, physicians are taught to do a risk-benefit assessment. That is based on the premise that body parts are all linked together, so any changes in one organ are apt to result in changes somewhere else. In the case of the burgeoning technology which threatens to overwhelm us, I believe that it is important for those knowledgeable, but not directly involved in the research, to do risk assessments, also, in order to predict some of the side effects of technology. These ideas should be debated and become “Breaking News,” and perhaps even receive as much coverage as the rescue of a dog who fell into a well. In medicine, we have the FDA, which regulates drug and equipment development, but all that digital stuff, which I don’t understand, garners no press until it is out there, undoubtedly doing both good and bad.

Perhaps the greatest challenges facing generations to follow lays not in developing new technologies, but in learning to control those from mine.


Note from the editor: In case you were wondering, CRISPR stands for Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeat.

THE HERD MENTALITY PARADOX

Tattoos have become quite popular lately. The pallet available to the artists is rather limited. Since blue is not my favorite color, the products I have seen of their labors are not things I would want to hang on my wall or my body. Nevertheless, some of these guys produce remarkable drawings. I am not familiar with the tattooing process so I don’t know if the images are sometimes traced, but it is obvious that some are drawn freehand by people with talent.

THE HISTORY OF TATTOOS

My extensive research into this subject consisted of a brief look at Wikipedia, where I was surprised to learn that tattoos were found on the body of “the Iceman” (the five thousand year old mummy discovered in a glacier). I don’t have a tattoo; although it might not be a bad idea for we old codgers on the brink of senility to have our names, addresses and phone numbers tattooed on our person. It works for cows. A similar system was used on victims of the holocaust, i.e. an ID number was tattooed on their forearms, so even their identity was taken from them.

WHAT DO CRIMINALS AND SAILORS HAVE IN COMMON?

In my earlier days, tattoos were not cool nor even respectable. They were mostly associated with sailors and criminals. I have no idea how the tradition came about with sailors, but it was common for their visits to a foreign port to be immortalized by getting a tattoo, although body art was taboo for naval officers. When I was in the Navy many years ago, one of my patients with tattoos on both forearms approached me about having them removed. He had enlisted when young, had progressed through the ranks and had eventual become a commissioned officer. Summer whites had recently become less formal with short sleeves, and he was desperate to have his tattoos removed, a nearly impossible task in those days.

I wonder how today’s tattooed will feel when the fad runs its course, and they are stuck with unfashionable drawings on their bodies. I understand that there are now procedures to remove tattoos via lasers, but the process is slow, painful, and expensive. The good news is there should be job security for dermatologists in the post-tattoo era.

THE HISTORY OF PIERCINGS

The idea of punching holes in one’s skin in order to hang jewelry on one’s body is likewise an ancient practice, as Ötzi the Iceman was also found to have pierced ears in addition to his tattoos. Earrings were also found on a few several thousand year old mummies. The practice of piercing ears was resurrected in the middle of the last century, and is now perfectly acceptable having previously been seen as barbaric. Throughout history, there have been piercings of protruding body appendages for various reasons, including religious or spiritual.

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They also may represent a need to conform to one’s culture, or to rebel against it, as seems to be the case with many of our younger generation. Contrarians may actually think a ring hanging from a nose, lip, tongue, navel or other less visible structure may have an aesthetic value, but an old fogy like me is likely to be repulsed.

WHY?

Whenever I see a body adorned with drawings, writings or hardware, the first question that comes to mind is….

 

 

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WHY? WHY? WHY? WHY?

If the purpose is to gain attention, it is effective as I find my gaze fixed on the body art, but not the rest of the person. Could it be that rather than drawing attention toward themselves, they are actually diverting it away? Is the message “look at me” or “look at what I have done?” Prison tattoos are recognizable by their crudely drawn images often announcing to the world that they are a “mean motherf*****.” Others may be sending a message as to who or what they are or what they believe. Perhaps there are as many reasons for this need for body decorations as there are people who do them. Whatever the reasons, it must satisfy some basic human need as it has been embodied in cultures throughout history and beyond.

MAKEUP: THEN AND NOW

Some cultures have been able to satisfy their longings for ornamentation by using less permanent procedures by simply painting the surface of their skin. Makeup, like other ways to change or enhance appearances, has been in evidence for at least three thousand years; although, there appears to have been something of a hiatus during the Elizabethan years. With the arrival of the Flapper Girl in the 1920s, modesty took a hit, and the sexy look was in. You may recall that your Grandmother (OK you young whippersnappers think Great Grandmother) did not use any makeup.

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I recall our family being visited by an aunt from the big city when I was a kid. I noticed right away that her lips were very red, cheeks were pink, her eyelashes long, and when she sat I could see her knees. I thought she looked great (had I known what it meant I would have thought sexy), but her brothers and sisters all said she looked like some kind of “floozy.” Today floozies must abound, for the US cosmetic and beauty products industry raked in 64 billion dollars last year.

Although women seem to be concerned about their body image and prefer an idealized weight and form, their primary focus seems to be on integument (hair, skin, and nails). I recall my shock the first time I saw a woman with painted toe nails. I was accustomed to painted fingernails since they had been common since the nineteen twenties, but to paint one’s toenails was really far out and innovative. Now, I find the Chinese had been painting theirs for at least three thousand years. That scenario seems to characterize the circular nature of fashion trends, and it lends credence to the idea that “there is nothing new under the sun.”

THE BUSINESS OF BEAUTY

There is little doubt that when it comes to personal appearance, women spend the most time and resources on hair, either grooming or removing it. The hair salon industry brings in 20 billion dollars per year. The phonebook in my town of less than 30,000 people lists 45 beauty salons. In addition to maintaining an acceptable coiffure, there is also the removal of unwanted body and facial hair. In the sixties, some of the more dedicated feminists refused to shave their legs. Until then, I had no idea that women grew hair on their legs; although I should have realized that pink razor in the shower was used for something. Waxing assures that even stray strands of fuzz on the face is eliminated (for some reason, it is OK to shave legs but never the face).

The female perception of the status of her scalp hair appears to effect drastically her sense of self, mood, and confidence, consequently requiring her rapt attention. A bad hair day can mess up everything; conversely, the standard comment, “I love your hair,” is the ultimate compliment. Today’s long hair styles must require even more time and effort in order to remain beautiful and preserve self-esteem. In some cultures, hair seems to have some sexual connotations, for women are required to cover their heads in much the same manner as we insist women cover their breasts.

MEN’S “BEAUTY” PREOCCUPATION

Contrary to conventional wisdom, it may be that men are more preoccupied with hair than the opposite sex. Perhaps it is a sign of our country’s disarray that there are so many ways for men to deal with the hair on their heads.

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There is long hair, short hair, no hair, dreadlocks, ponytails, pigtails, and the most recent version of the obnoxious: the so-called “man bun.” There are also those deliberately designed to wig us out like the mohawk or spiked versions. Shiny hair is out, but in my day no man’s closet was complete without a bottle of Brilliantine. The recent trend of shaved heads should offer an honorable solution for those troubled by male pattern baldness, certainly more sensible and convenient than wearing one of those awful looking rugs.

In my day a hairy chest was something of which to be proud, signifying masculinity, now I am told some men actually shave their body hair. What could this world be coming to?

FACIAL HAIR HAS ALWAYS PRESENTED A PARTICULAR PROBLEM FOR MEN

A full beard could become a repository for the part of lunch which missed his mouth. In times of hand to hand combat, it could also put one at a disadvantage by providing another object to grapple. There seems to have always been some indecisiveness about how much to remove.

In 1901, Mr. Gillette marketed the safety razor, which greatly simplified the process of shaving. Though some, including my grandfather, still preferred the straight razor. Every Sunday afternoon grandad stroked that wicked looking instrument several times over the leather strop, which hung in the kitchen over a wash pan, and he proceeded to lather his face with a soft bristle brush. I was old enough to realize what the phrase “sharp as a razor” meant, so I was transfixed as he deftly scraped a week’s growth of whiskers from his face.

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These days, I note some men sport a few days of “scruff” much as did grandad, but then 16 hour days left little time to work on being pretty. Even so, beards were uncommon in those days.

My great uncle had a magnificent handlebar mustache which sagged sorrowfully at the ends during the week when it was saturated with sweat, but perked up with his Saturday night bath, and a tad of beeswax. Now, there seems to be much less consensus as to dealing with facial hair. Just about any type of hirsute sculpting seems to be in play these days. Maybe there aren’t enough role models available these days, or could it be that some are feeling more comfortable risking escape from conformity. I tried a mustache several years ago, but Barb threatened dire consequences if I didn’t remove it. Since retirement, I have become a devotee to the scruff movement of sartorial splendor which she tolerates, unless we go someplace where I will be seen. I have always disliked the idea of shaving every morning, but, like grandad, I still shave at least once a week whether I need it or not.

FASHION POLICE

Since I have already violated the Maggie rule to “keep it short” (I suspect this is particularly applicable to the stuff I write), I will not attempt to take on the subject of women’s clothing fashions. Suffice it to say I have witnessed hemlines rise and fall with great regularity through the years. Likewise, I have seen cleavages appear, disappear, then reappear, and I am still amazed at the ingenuity of those who have been able to produce so many different breast profiles. There have been corsets, nylons, pantyhose, bobbysocks, saddle oxfords, short heels, long heels, extralong heels, shoes of thousands of different designs, and even knee-high boots. There are an infinite number of ways they have found to cover their bodies, and conversely to exhibit their bodies. There is the bikini bathing suit (named after the atoll which was used to test the hydrogen bomb), and as a gift to we lecherous old men we now have skin tight everything. Unfortunately, short shorts have now become short enough to nearly reach the danger zone. Some women even cut holes in their jeans apparently in order to show some skin. I recall reading somewhere that women dress to impress other women rather than men. If that is the case there are some unintended consequences, for they certainly get this old man’s attention.

Although men also get sucked into being told what they should or should not wear, changes in men’s fashion do not occur as rapidly as they do with women. For the past 40 years, a box of neckties has resided on the top shelf of my closet, waiting to be resurrected when wide ties once again become fashionable. Hope is waning as ties seem to have changed little in recent years. I seldom wear a tie anymore, and more guys are going barenecked. If neckties are on their way out, it is not a great loss, as they were not very good at keeping necks warm anyway. Our dear President has introduced a new style of necktie which, although of standard width, is long enough to obscure his fly. I see no signs that it is catching on so far.

In my lifetime, I have witnessed the rise and fall of zoot suits, leisure suits, bell bottoms, white bucks, wingtips, loafers, argyles, suspenders, felt hats, paisley prints, madras shirts, knickers, car coats, pea coats, and trench coats to mention a few things absolutely necessary in the wardrobe of any well dressed man at various times. I recall the time when I would not dream of leaving the house without a key chain fastened to my belt which was draped down to my groin and into my right front pocket. It mattered little what was on the end of that chain if anything, but no thinking man could consider himself fully dressed without it.

WHEN THE DESIRE TO BE DIFFERENT TURNS INTO A FAD

(HATE IT WHEN THAT HAPPENS)

Of course my original question, “Why do we do all this?” does not have a ready answer. In some cases, hero worship or a desire to emulate someone admired probably plays a part. It may be to separate oneself from the herd in order to be noticed or to protest its rules.

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A recent example I have noticed is with the issue of baseball caps worn backwards. Baseball caps are a uniquely American invention devised to keep the sun from player’s eyes. To wear them backwards obviously defeats their purpose, but this was also initially seen by many as a defiant gesture. It is true that with the invention of the catcher’s mask it was necessary for the catcher to turn his cap around; however, it seems unlikely that our unwitting trendsetter who was the first to turn his cap around identified with baseball players. Little did he know that this simple gesture would be copied by millions of young people, thus a trend came into being which had nothing to do with its original meaning. Perhaps as backward facing ball caps no longer attracted attention, he was forced to move on to extremely baggy pants riding low on his hips and poised to drop to his ankles.

A friend who grew up in Africa and was educated in England told me that his first impression of the U.S. upon moving here was the rate of change. He felt that we were never satisfied or content, and that as soon as we achieved something we promptly set out to change it. It seems to me that this is even more true now that our digital world functions at warp speed. This may have some positive if it is responsible for fads like baggy pants to pass quickly.  This characteristic would also seem to benefit the fashion industry, allowing them to cycle from being in style to obsolescence rapidly.

We are by nature herd animals. We have survived and thrived by banding together in groups large and small.

As a member of our species, we face an existential dilemma. We have a basic need to conform in order to remain a member of the herd, while at the same time retain our individual identity. We want to be included, but we want to be noticed, to be the same but different. This is exemplified by the woman who, when choosing what to wear, wants something which is “in” but would be mortified were she to attend a social function and find someone wearing the same dress as hers.  We have an idealized image of what is a beautiful body which few of us inhabit; consequently, we attempt to hide our flaws and display our assets. When one is able to achieve those goals without violating societal norms, she is deemed fashionable.

BEAUTY IS IN THE EYE OF THE BEHOLDER

I am of the opinion that the human body is beautiful, that is before we set out to defile it with our bad habits. It is true that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but this beholder sees much of attempts to enhance its appearance as a travesty resulting in things which are unattractive or even repulsive. I am left wondering if the cute little girl with the ring in the septum of her nose who served me coffee the other day is convinced that hardware enhances her beauty. There is something to be said for accentuating the fine points of that which is beautiful. One of my avocations has been to frame pictures, paintings and such. There were times when the mat and frame chosen brought the subject to life and it was transformed to something one wanted to look at. That was very satisfying. The ring in that little girl’s nose didn’t do that for me. There is no way for us to know what she saw in her mirror. It could be that she saw something beautiful, so who am I to judge?