Tuesday, February 28, 2006

A few recent Babble posts

I've been going to the internet forum Psycho-Babble by Dr. Bob for about 5 years, on-and-off, to get info unavailable elsewhere and to opine about human psychology, psychotherapy, psych meds, and books. Here's a few Babble posts I've spotted (some, I noticed, are by me):

•Someone complains that Dr Bob has cited her for including a vulgar word (frig) in a post, when all she was doing was discussing the name of the Norse goddess Frig. A compromise is reached to spell the sacred name by the alternative Frigg. Jesus Christ, civility is tricky. admin 613415

•Acceptance and commitment therapy and its creator, Steve Hayes, were profiled in Time magazine's Feb 13 '06 issue. I was surprised that virtually no interest was expressed in the Babble thread linking to the article. Maybe people are turned off because it sounds too much, at a cursory level, like Dr Laura-ish suck-it-up coldness. psycho 611694

•A poll: If you could ask your therapist anything, what would you ask? Many would want to know what the therapist “really thinks of me.” Many would want to know about the therapist's childhood traumas. psycho thread 611620.

•The degrees after a psychotherapist's name don't tell you much about his or her treatment philosophy. psycho 614260

•There's a link to a free downloadable (14 MB) 3-D brain physiology tutorial. babble 613711

Saturday, February 25, 2006

The death penalty

The State of California is having an awful time finding a medical professional who will help them kill Michael Morales. The professional won't even have to kill Morales, just help. (Hey, they could move him to Oregon!)

Lord, I apologize for that and be with the surfeited reactionaries down in Orange County. Amen...

There are murderers I'd be happy to know met an early, drawn-out, painful death. I can even give you their names, and the names of their victims, off the top of my head. Notwithstanding that, I am against the death penalty.

I am against the death penalty because it cuts off the possibility of redemption. I don't mean rehabilitation or making the con a productive member of society. I mean personal redemption of the person, like with his soul.

George Bush says he knows about redemption; he says he's been redeemed. But I don't know how anyone who's actually experienced such a thing himself could ever willfully deny that opportunity to another human being.

It is no good saying, "They've had years in prison to think about what they done. They've had their chance!" No one who understood what redemption actually means would ever turn it down. If they have not been redeemed, then they have not had the chance.

"These hard cases will never change!" Maybe that's true, though I don't know how you could say that for sure, if you really have yourself undergone any significant interior change. Your transformation was not big enough to be impress you?

I guess those Christians who clamor for executions believe each death-row criminal is the rock God made that's so big He can't lift it.

But I don't believe in God, or souls, or an afterlife. Just redemption: being freed from the torture chambers within our own skulls. A civic commitment to the possibility of redemption and responsibility is a common good — for ourselves and our non-criminal loved ones; and for our unloved ones and our disliked ones, too. Convicted murderers offer an opportunity to remind ourselves how important such an idea is.

I doubt that redemption is always possible. But I think providing that hope is not a bad use to which we can put otherwise useless murderers.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Guess where “Pinocchio” is...

My friend Nancy sent me a link to the homepage of a man who has covered his body with tattoos of Disney® characters. He had 1,700 as of April, 2005.

Bertrand Russell said he was just riding his bicycle one day, and BANG! he was not in love with his wife. For decades (I think) he loved her, and then, one moment later, he never loved her again.

What if that happens with this guy and Disney? Actually, it looks like his web site hasn't been updated in 10 months, so maybe the air's already gone out.

Would the tattoos prevent him from admitting that his cartoon tastes had changed? That huge, public, physiological commitment might force him to keep telling himself he still loves Disney, just so that he doesn't feel like a fool.

On the other hand, such strategies don't necessarily work too well with people who get tattoos of their human love objects and make public commitments to them. Adultery and divorce happen all the time. (Look at Bertrand Russell.)

A Freudian might say the guy really hates Disney, deep down. The tattoo display is reaction formation or self-punishment for his Disney-hating thoughts.

Freudians are so boring.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006


I had a deal on DVDs last week. These are just a few that I smeared my eyes over.

Finding Neverland (2004) DVD •½ I expected to love this, but God it was awful. I gave up after about 40 minutes.

The Great Train Robbery (1979) DVD •••• Michael Crichton is an arrogant fool when it comes to global warming (and much else besides, one suspects), but his writing and direction of this are awesome. A fun, luscious, hilarious romp. Listen to his commentary track about (well, all of it, but especially) filming Sean Connery on the roof of that train. No special effects! That's really Sean's head that almost gets opened by those overpasses at 50 miles an hour.

Grizzly Man (2005) DVD •••• There's an awful lot in this movie.

November (2004) DVD ••• Marvelous. First-time viewers may be put off, because you really can't figure out what's going on until the end, and even then you have to think about it quite a bit. I can give this much away without spoiling it: You know how they say that when you think you're about to die, your whole life flashes before your eyes? Well, it may not be your whole life. The entire movie takes place, without exception, in about one minute of real time on the evening of November 7.

Brian Doyle-MurrayCabin Boy (1994) DVD ••½ I'd always wanted to see this for David Letterman's appearance, which did not disappoint. The rest of the movie had its moments but was mediocre overall. Did you know that Brian Doyle-Murray is Bill Murray's brother?

The Yes Men (2004) DVD ••• Fun and sad, too. These are the pranksters who impersonate WTO economists. They say outrageously hideous things and the capitalist running-dog audiences just nod in blithe agreement. Are all of them gay? (I can ask that, right?)

Curse of the Were-Rabbit (2005) DVD ••½ This was okay, but it just lacked the charm and focus of the original shorts. I can understand why Richard Roeper gave it a Thumbs Down®, but I wouldn't go that far.

Child Star (2004) DVD ••• By Don McKellar, whose other work (as actor and auteur) I've liked. There's a commentary track on the DVD, but it's not listed anywhere on the menus, not even on the Special Features menu. Isn't that crazy? I'm glad I looked for it on my own. McKellar never comments on the irony, however, of actually using (i.e., exploiting) a child actor to make a movie about using (i.e., exploiting) a child actor to make a movie about using (i.e., exploiting) a child to save the President...

Monday, February 20, 2006

Blogger® don't know “blog”

The Blogger® spell-checker doesn't recognize the word blog.

People are doing the best they can

I want to start my blog on a hopeful note. I expect that 90% of my posts hereafter will be dispiriting, small-minded vitriol, so some inaugural hope will be good for balance.

My hopeful note is this: You can respond to others more effectively if you accept the principle that people are doing the best they can. The principle is pretty much an article of faith: I can't prove that people are always doing the best they can, and sometimes it's hard to see how it could be true. But the outcome of acting on that principle — better, effective living — is pretty easy to test. (And I'll leave that to you.)

I got the idea from Garret Keizer's 2004 book, Help: The Original Human Dilemma. Keizer got it from a local but insightful pediatric psychiatrist (Mike Moseley), who said it is an indispensable belief for people in the helping professions (p 123), where it is often hard to imagine that a person's effort is really optimal.

Keizer and Moseley don't specify what people are trying their best to do, but I think it's the obvious: contributing to the well-being of family and community, developing as a person, living a productive life, using resources efficiently, "being good", doing well, and so on.

Who benefits?

The biggest objection I imagine to the principle is that it seems to let bad behavers off the hook. Is Osama bin Laden really doing the best he can to be a good human being? Was Hitler!

But the principle doesn't let anyone off the hook, except the person who believes it. For example, a while ago I broke up with a friend. He was, for whatever reason, always ragging on me and making insulting jokes that were steadily getting louder and more vicious. He acknowledged the nastiness, but despite my requests, he didn't stop. So I wrote him a letter: "You're mean. I must stay away." Now, if he was doing the best he can, shouldn't I relent and get together with him?

Not necessarily. The best he could do was to be an asshole to me. That's sad and unfortunate, but it doesn't mean I need to spend any more time around him. It does mean I don't need to hate him or waste time fuming about his atrociousness or stewing in resentment. The principle allows me to focus on the harmful behavior instead of the man. It frees me to be open to new friends, who are also trying their best, and whose behavior may better fit my needs. If my old friend's behavior changes for the nicer, then I won't be blocked by lingering resentment from joining his company again.

The point is not that assholes and screw-ups can now escape justice thanks to my Pollyanna buzz. The point is that I am less caught up by furious indignation. I can think of more assertive, economical responses to the assholes and screw-ups who frustrate me. I no longer need to destroy them or convince them of their own stupidity.

Who can use it?

With a little imagination almost anyone can apply it, at least hypothetically, even to very upsetting miscreants. Consider all the unknowns of someone else's genetics and development and history, and the huge assortment of good and bad teachings they were involuntarily exposed to and absorbed from family and neighbors and friends and strangers and teachers and ministers and liberals and people on the news, AND the many unknowable influences of their current environmental stressors, rates of neural degeneration, insulin levels, and so on, and you can imagine how it might be true even in a very terrible case that people really are doing the best they can.

But the principle is still hard to apply. The real difficulty comes from the fact that using the principle results in the loss of righteous anger. That's a serious cost. We become afraid that if we don't hate bin Laden, we might end up tolerating his evil deeds or even agreeing with his philosophy, since we generally tolerate and at least politely agree with people we don't hate.

I am reluctant to imagine that the President is doing the best he can. I'm afraid that if I cant be angry at him, I might stop opposing his assaults on our civil liberties and economic security. But the opposite is actually the case. It isn't easy and it doesn't last, but when I get the idea that the President is doing the best he can, then I can concentrate on exactly those of his efforts that actually threaten me. All the rest that he is and does becomes irrelevant, no matter how colorful or salient those other features are. I become immune to distraction.

Maybe you are not as easily frustrated as I am. Maybe you never get so upset with a cruel or difficult person that your responses to her are less effective than they could be. Some people seem to be naturally temperate and open to others in this way.

But if you've never thought that both Bush and bin Laden are doing the best they can to achieve truly good ends, then you might benefit by trying this principle. It's an empirical issue, after all. You can test it in vivo, right now. I can almost guarantee it's reversible.

Picture of a swivel chair