Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Fortuitous, coincidental or Divine Intervention?

During the past year to year and a half  I have been having a reoccurring problem with my neck and shoulder muscles. About once a week, more or less, these muscles would tighten up and cause a great deal of discomfort, sometimes it seems the discomfort would reach all the way to my stomach and make me feel a bit sick.  I didn't know if it had to do with the way I had been sitting all day in my office, or if it was that I had bought a laptop and sat differently over the keyboard.

The answer has become apparent because some of the keys on my MacBook, the "S", "W" and "2", all in a row, just stopped working.  I have had this laptop for about a year and a half, so that was why it was on the suspect list.  I really like Apples, before this I used a Mac-Mini for six years.

So I ran down to the "Genius Bar" at my local Apple store and was told pretty abruptly that yes, the keys don't work, and that even though I didn't spill any coffee on them since it was over a year and I didn't buy the extended warranty they could fix it, but I had to leave it for a week, and it would cost me $180.

I asked if there was any other solution, and the kid said that I could use another keyboard.

I was in a bit of a state of shock because I thought that Apple was such a magical company that they could just sprinkle fairy dust on the keys and they would work again.  I didn't make a decision what to do and took the machine back home.  On the way home I realized that I had used a wireless keyboard for the Mac Mini for years.  It was now way out of date, not the sleek, flat keyboard they sell now, but it was still an Apple, so I thought I would try that.

I went home and tried to connect the old keyboard and didn't have much luck.  Then I began to Google though ideas about how to get it to work and after half an hour searching around I saw that someone posted a solution.  Now, as you can tell since there are the letters "s" and "w'  in this post, that it works.

What has also become clear is that when I use this old keyboard in front of the laptop I sit up much straighter, I don't hunch over to reach the smaller keys of the laptop and my shoulder has not hurt me for three weeks.

So, taking this all a needless step further -- why did this happen to me?  Is this just good fortune that those keys broke?  Did I cause them to break because I was in such a bad position that I was banging away in a destructive manner on those letters?


Did the gods of laptops and backaches smile down on me, and since I am such a blessed soul in their eyes they decided to offer me a solution that I was too blind, too lazy, or too cheap to see.

I only propose this last idea because it is the kind of thinking that seems to be pervasive in both my patients and in some of our national politics.  It is the kind of sloppy, lazy, magical thinking that leads to trouble.  When a candidate for the office of President can announce that she feels that the tornadoes and hurricanes we have been having are God's way of telling America to cut the deficit, then things are getting pretty scary.

When people are able to say openly as Rick Perry does, that God approves of his running for President, or as one of my patients does, that the people living above her have invented a noise machine that goes on when she comes home, goes off when she leaves, and knows when someone else is with her so that no one else can hear it, and this is being done to her to make her leave the apartment because they disapprove of some of the things she had done in her bedroom, we are dealing with problems. People tell me they won't go out on days with certain numbers in it, or that she went back to the guy who broke her nose because he said he was sorry, again.   This is not good thinking.  There are more effective ways to link cause and effect.

But so much of what people think about is totally preposterous, from extra-terrestrials, to get-rich scams, to waiting for The Rapture, to talk radio, that people become accustomed to sloppy, lazy, distorted thinking.  It becomes easy to scapegoat minorities, to blame outside sources, to expect miracles, to get sucked in to advertising, and to be used, fleeced, manipulated and screwed, and then blame it on your spouse or the government.

In short, I don't think that God broke my laptop to keep me healthy, so that I could continue to keep typing and write such an illuminating blog.

I do appreciate the coincidence.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Irene is coming!

After a week at work we have returned to the beach house.  We are about 1/4 mile from the water, but our beach faces north, so we will get the back end of the storm.  We await the fury of nature. We feel we are ready, although we really have not done much besides bring in some of the things from outside.

Like most humans we tend to believe a little too much in the positive, overestimate our own abilities, and base too much on what happened in the past.  Last year we had similar, but not quite so dire warnings.  I went down to the beach and took a "before" picture.  The next day I returned to the same spot and took another picture  -- they were identical.

This time will be different.  But I am ready.  I am seasoned, I am tough, I am ready for whatever the gods of wind, rain and the sea have to throw at me.

I only hope that the power doesn't go off because then we won't be able to run the dishwasher or do laundry.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Back at work

I took three weeks off and came back yesterday. 
Being off was more difficult than I thought.  That is not a good thing.

Part of the problem is that we went down to the beach house and opened the doors and people poured in. All good friends, some we hadn't seen for years and others from around the corner.  Most stayed for a night, or two or three, even four.  It was great to see everyone but it was not the way I usually escape, which is to sit and make sure the tide is on schedule and not talk to anyone.

But that was only part of the difficulty.  The other part was that, while most of my friends are doing quite well, many of their kids are not. This seems to be common, and distressing and too much like work, except that I can't do much about it. 

These "kids" to which I refer, range in age from 24 to 38.  One needs an operation and had to scramble to get health insurance.  Another probably has the early signs of a chronic, debilitating disease.  Those situations are distressing.  But even more common are the kids who are struggling to find a decent job, to grow up and be independent.  The problems are much more economic than psychological, but they become psychological, and are very distressing to their parents. 

What becomes worse is that these kids either don't get married, because they can't afford it, or the marriages are falling apart, to a large extent because of economic pressure.  When the marriages fall apart many of the kids come back to their parents.  Many of them bring their very young children.

This is not good -- not good for the grand-kids, the kids or the people my age.  It's not good for the country or the world.  It didn't help the vacation.

Back in the office, I began seeing the patients I had been away from for three weeks.  I wondered if my business would last or if the recession would change things even for me.  But today, the second day back, I got several calls from people looking for help.  The issues they want deal with involved themselves and their grown or almost grown kids.  They needed to find their way in the world; they needed jobs, AND, to fight the boredom and depression many of the kids between 16 and 26 have been taking Percs and Oxys to ease the pain -- the psychological pain.

Things are not good out there , and once families begin to struggle the drop in quality of life can be swift and steep.  

This is not good.  But at lest in my office I can try, at least try, to do something about it.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

But, I thought .. never mind

I read in the NYT that big ideas are dead; no one thinks that way anymore. I guess there is no app for that. Naked celebrities getting divorced get more attention than the idea that there may be universes beyond our universe. 

Jarod Lanier, who is a bit weird but seems to know things about the Internet, has noted that we are now constantly being flooded with new information.   So many of my friends, relatives and even patients are constantly checking their mobile devices for news, texts, emails, Facebook updates, Tweets......
It has become annoying to be with them, because they are not with me. They are waiting for the word to come through the air, to tell them what to do next, what to think about, who to be.

It has become very difficult to pull all this information together in order to reach any kind of a well considered, thoughtful opinion because every second there is new information, and you may have to revise what you believe.

The stock market is up, and you're rich, an hour later it's down and you're poor .. because someone thinks that Ireland or Greece may have a bad quarter.  The river is polluted, an asteriod may be coming, it is 106 degrees, there is a tornado in Des Plaines, Michelle Bachmann is gay, another bombing in Iraq, the Red Sox won, now they lost, unemployment is up Obama will lose, now it's down and he is OK,  The Tea Party are idiots, nope, now they are morons, racists and homophobes. A kid was kidnapped, a kid drowned, a kid got sick and died,  another kid fell off his bike.  Does that mean I have to put a GPS and a helmet on my grandchild to keep her safe?

Too late for that -- parents are too hovering, nope they are too lax, nope they are putting too much pressure on their kids.  You can't eat sugar or fats, nope artificial sweeteners are worse, corn syrup is even worse, sugar is good, eggs are bad, eaggs are good again, bacon is bad, bacon is good, tofu is tasteless.

We're all gonna die someday, might as well smoke, drink and screw. Everything in moderation, but you only live once and can't take it with you.

The proof is in the pudding. It's in his kiss. I can see it in his eyes.

"Everybody knows the dice are loaded
everybody rolls with their fingers crossed
everybody knows the war is over
everybody knows the good guys lost
everybody knows the fight was fixed
the poor stay poor, the rich get rich
that's how it goes,
Everybody knows   "  

L.C. (1988)

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Tech 6, Past, Present and Future -- 1

 What is written below I wrote to post on a list for psychologists:  I am putting it up here too because, if I get off my ass, I expect to use this space to see if I can explain what I am talking about in a way that makes sense.  Almost everything runs differently in the world now than when I grew up. In most ways, the people in it are the same creatures they have always been, but it is still very unclear how we will all live and prosper peacefully, as the result of all these changes.

When I began to write this post I tried to explain the reasoning behind all my thinking. After about 4000 words I decided I may have to write that all for a different forum.  But here are some bullet points.

After all the screaming about debt ceilings and deficits is over in Washington, The USA will still be left with an uncertain economy, and the major difficulty that will remain is from high unemployment.

The underlying causes of the current high unemployment is not from the Democrats or Republicans, it is from  major changes in how the world works. 

The two biggest ones are globalization and, even more so from technology.  Every profession, and I use that word in its broadest sense,  in the world today is performed differently than it was even ten years ago because of technology.  Many professions have completely disappeared.  Many jobs in the professions that remain have been eliminated, and are no longer necessary.

We are living in a world that could produce all that needs to be produced by employing about half the people who are working now.  About 120 years ago 75% of American were farmers.  Today that number is 2%.  That is what is happening is many other professions.

Our job, which did not really exist during the last time of great unemployment, is probably one of the ones that is least impacted by technology.  We base our skills on dealing directly with people, not machines.

But we, in our profession, are going to have to deal with this increase in unemployment, underemployment, and with those who have jobs, but are pushed to the breaking point by their employers who know that people are desperate to keep their jobs.

Those hardest hit by this change are men, and mostly men who are not that educated.  Those are men who had jobs in manufacturing or in the trades.  The trades held up well during the housing boom, but now that too, is over.

A rise in long-term unemployment of middle and working class men will result in a domino effect of bad things:  depression leading to anger, leading to domestic violence, divorce, poverty, fatherless kids, addictions, lawlessness, and then more unemployed men.  This will be even more true for the less educated and racial minorities.  It is also effecting non-specialized recent college graduates, who have $70 or more in student loans and can only find work for $12 an hour.

We will see an increase in helplessness and hopelessness that may be labelled as psychiatric disorders but is really much more the result of social factors and global changes than it is an kind of inter-psychic or biological disorder.

There will be a much greater demand for treatment from people who will not be able to afford it.  The treatment will be much more difficult because many of the factors that underlie  the difficulties are way beyond the control of any therapist.

Perhaps I will be proven wrong, and things will improve and the advances in technology will somehow offer a way to keep everyone earning a living.
But, from what I am seeing in my own practice, what I have been reading, and even what I am hearing from my friends, the entire world economy is being restructured, and how this will effect this generation and the ones that follow is far from clear.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

beach thinking

It's beautiful on the beach.  The sun gets low late in the afternoon, the waves come in, the breeze is gentle.  A two-year old runs in and out of the water for an hour, giggling all the time.

I read my magazine.  I realize that I am either brilliant or trite, and I can't figure out which.  Many of the ideas in the magazine, quoting, of all people, Francis Fukuyama, are things I have written about here.

The reviewer of Fukuyama's new book, Mark Kingwell, who trashes on it, states that politics is largely the push and pull between personal desire and collective action, which is certainly what we are seeing, in it's extreme form, now.

There is also a discussion of "human nature" which includes this idea : "given the perfidy and at best thevery local, short-term rationality of humans, it can be no surprise that we often contrive to create systems that fail everybody and yet remain in place for many decades, if not centuries, until war, invasion, or Maltusian population crisis consigns them too the history book."


I would like to expand on how I agree with these ideas, and give examples from my practice and my life, that this is the way it is, but we have guests here at the beach, and right now I am helping a good friend go through the matches she has received from some dating web site.

Talk about short-term foolishness as a long-shot stab and long-term pay-off, this is it.

Sunday, August 07, 2011


There is an article in one of my magazines that is based upon a few long-term studies about human longevity.  The conclusion of the article is that there is a strong correlations between intelligence and longevity.  While I certainly am not surprised at this conclusion, I feel that this finding is a bit of a tautology.

My profession, Psychology, especially here in the US of A, has always made a big deal out of "intelligence"   It was the attempt to determine who was smarter than whom that first brought Psychology to prominence, as it was Psychologists who tested young men who were drafted in WWII to help pick the ones who seemed more qualified to be trained as officers.

America, more than other cultures I think, feel that "intelligence" is something you are born having more or less of, and that it is not something that can be trained, enhanced, or improved upon. Most Psychologists take it as a given that this quality, intelligence, is distributed across the population on a bell-shaped curve, with most people grouped in the middle, which is average, and the very smart, and very lacking, out at the edges.

My experience with all kinds of people has brought me to a different conclusion. I feel that there are some very few people with some very special abilities, and that their are some others who clearly, for clear biological reasons are lacking, but almost everyone has a wide range of talents that are unknown and untapped. I feel that most people could exhibit much more "intelligence" if they find a way to learn how to think more clearly.  They can be taught by clever teachers, they can learn from watching clever parents or friends, or they can learn on their own, from seeing what works, and what doesn't.  Usually, they have to be either pushed, encouraged, or somehow find themselves in a position in which they have to persevere  to solve problems.  To me, it is this trait of learned perseverance that really distinguishes who gets to called "smart" and who doesn't .

There are many things about our current culture that move people, especially kids, away from learning how to persevere.  This includes labelling a kid as either smart, or not so smart, and also giving kids a diagnosis such as ADD or ADHD.  Any time you put into someones head that they have some reasons to not succeed at something, anything, you diminish their chances of success.

For generations it was assumed that girls were not good at math and science and boys couldn't sew straight.  But these things are not true.  While it is true that everyone is born with a different brain, and some brains can more easily concentrate than others, and some can learn more quickly to spell,  I feel that in all but the most extreme cases, very extreme cases, that people can learn how to best use the brain they have to get where they need to go in ways that is best for them.

  Really, the whole concept of intelligence can be summarized in four words: "the ability to anticipate."  Smart people are the ones who can see what is happening, and from that, figure out what will happen next. Really smart people are the ones who can see what is happening, figure out what will happen next, and from that, have some fairly good idea of what will happen after that.  It is this third stage where most people fall down.

But, the point here is that the best overall indication of intelligence is survival.  The whole purpose of having all the different skills that make up "intelligence" is to survive, and to have your babies survive.

I really bothers me when someone tells me that someone is "really smart" but never got his life together, and is living in his parent's basement.  To me, either this guy is "really smart" in that he found a way to not care about the traditional trappings of success and is happy and content doing whatever he is doing in that basement. Or else, he is not really "that smart" because for some reason or other he could not figure out good answers to the puzzles of life.

Knowing what Shakespeare meant, knowing all the answers to Jeopardy, and being facile with calculus are certainly valuable and helpful skills, but it doesn't really make you "intelligent" in my opinion. Having those other skill could be very helpful, but not sufficient.

Being able to take good care of yourself, form and maintain good relationships, derive some real satisfaction from work and play, are better indications of being smart.   They will also raise your likelihood of living a longer, happier, more fulfilling life.

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

Moments of summer

Sitting, with friends, on deck, overlooking the harbor.   The sky a high blue with while clouds moving across, reflected in the water. Boats bobbing up and down slowly, a few under sail moving closer or slowly diminishing toward the horizon. A first drink finished, a second one going slowly, with the knowledge that too much more would tip the balance, and that the feeling of love, companionship, tranquility, insight, and faith in the future of the world will fade soon, no matter what I do.

The beauty and appreciation of the moment is mixed with melancholy, knowing that I am older, a bit damaged, and that many, but not all, of my most creative, dynamic days are behind me. The tide comes in very dramatically at this spot.  Many of the boats are older than I am; and they get to have several different owners and caretakers, but they don't care.  A great many fish have been taken from the sea.

My friends and I have been at this beautiful spot before.  Hopefully, we will all do this again, and laugh at the same silliness that is the world, knowing that we are a part of it.