Mel Lastman and the Bikers

Toronto Police Chief Julian Fantino nearly had a fit when he heard that Mayor Mel Lastman went down to a local hotel that was hosting a biker’s convention and shook hands with a member of a motorcycle gang.

Didn’t he know, by golly, that these bikers are criminals? What the hell was he doing shaking hands and smiling with a gang of known felons?

My question is, what was Julian Fantino doing sitting on his duff while known criminals were frequenting a Toronto bar? Why didn’t he get into his new police helicopter, race down to the hotel, and arrest them? Quick– before they hurt the mayor!

Possibly because the police didn’t happen to have any evidence that any one of these particular persons shaking the hands of the mayor had actually committed a crime.

In other words, these were merely unsavory characters, with whom respectable men– like Julian Fantino– would never associate.

Fantino knows that some members of biker gangs commit crimes. He also knows very well that some do not, just as we know that not all business executives cheat and lie and then sell off their stocks and retire with millions in ill-gotten gains. But I’ll bet Mayor Lastman doesn’t get any flack for shaking hands with Enron executives.

Mel Lastman should never have apologized. He should have said, look Fantino, if you have evidence that these people committed crimes, go ahead and arrest them. If you don’t, then respect the fact that like any other citizen they are entitled to the assumption of innocence, and to visit our fair city and spend their tourist dollars here like any other tourist.

The image of a supposedly respectable public person shaking hands with a felon, though, calls to mind an image from last year: Margaret Thatcher embracing Augusto Pinochet, Chile’s dictator and torturer-general.

I don’t care if you call it “stereo-typing” or “profiling” or any other euphemism for prejudice. It’s wrong. Fantino is the one who should apologize. His statement is the one that should be garnering loads of disapproval from the so-called liberal media.

You are Insane

According to two studies, the National Institute of Mental Health Epidemiologic Catchment Area Program (1980-85), and the National Co-morbidity Survey (1990-92), about 30% of all Americans will experience mental or addictive disorders in a given year and 50% will need mental health services in their lifetimes.

According to the February issue of The Archives of General Psychiatry, those numbers are too high. What a relief to find that out! The “correct” number of people who experience mental or addictive disorders in a given year should be about 18.5%. I didn’t see a corrected number for the second piece of data.

So if you ever thought that most people are nuts, you’re not too far off. The professionals agree with you.

Makes me wonder what would happen if the plumbers did a study showing that 50% of all homes need some plumbing. Would you rush out and hire a plumber to come in to check your house to see if it was one of the 50%? How likely do you think it would be that your house, indeed, was one of the needy homes, if you asked a plumber to check it?

Some car repair shops urge you to come in for free brake inspections. You bite. You bring your car in and wait twenty minutes while a repairman inspects your car. The repairman should probably be working on someone else’s vehicle up there on another lift, but he stops his work to look at your car. The impatient owner of the other car is reading three-month-old newsmagazines and drinking stale coffee in the waiting room. But they already have his car on the lift, so you get priority. Now imagine, if you can, that the mechanic comes back into the office and walks up to you and says, “everything looks hunky-dory down there.” Right.

Now you may believe that unlike car repair shops, psychologists and social workers aren’t after your money. They work in those professions because they want to help people. Right. And pop stars are in it for the love of music. And politicians because people begged them to lead. And lawyers because they love justice. I’m not saying they’re not. Necessarily. Just that their perspectives on the necessity of their professions might be influenced every so slightly by their pecuniary interests.

But psychologists, psychiatrists, and social workers are not plumbers. They do not work with fixed physical properties of objects. They work with your mind. They would like to believe that theirs is a “science”, beyond argument, and demonstrable with evidence and proofs. The assumption is that personal spiritual or philosophical values are secondary to the eternal and scientifically grounded principles of psychology and sociology. You can be manipulated. Fixed.

If about 20% of the population really does have a disorder, you would think that someone would realize that there is a serious problem in our society that needs to be fixed. There are too many casualties. If 20% of all airplane trips crashed or 20% of all ships sank, you can bet that all travel would be suspended until the problem was found out and solved.

The other possibility, of course, is that 80% of our society is nuts and 20% fully comprehend our predicament. Our predicament is that we have built a society that, in order to gratify the voracious appetites of the rich and powerful, has driven itself into a pathological system of destructive obsessive behaviors. The 20% understand that and have opted out and carry their belongings in shopping bags and fervently wish for a happy meal tomorrow. Beyond that, who knows?

The rest of us can just keep taking our medications.

Figure Skating Scandal at the Olympics

If I were in charge of the ISU, here’s how I would have solved the huge scandal over the pairs figure-skating competition. Call me crazy, but here’s what I would have done:

1. Convene all the judges for a press conference. Direct them to answer every question put to them by the world’s media. Have side-by-side videos of the two disputed performances on the screen to illustrate. Let them defend, in detail, their rankings and choices.

Issue these stern directives to all the judges:

– answer honestly, politely, and completely.
– take every question seriously
– don’t be afraid to admit mistakes

Oh. And remove your blindfolds before the press conference.

2. Have the two pairs concerned join the press conference and add their comments to the questions and answers. Were all the moves equally difficult? Which elements of your program did you think were more difficult than those of your competitors?

3. Acknowledge that the judges don’t like it when public perception is different from the scoring results. Don’t blame it on an ignorant public. Accept the blame for not doing a good enough job of communicating to everyone what the standards are. Encourage people to look closely at all figure skating results and make helpful suggestions where-ever possible.

I know the judges would read these suggestions in horror. You can’t expect ignorant peasants to understand the subtleties of figure-skating! And the judges would be right. Do you know the difference between a double-lutz and a double-axle? Me neither. But the public doesn’t know how ignorant they are right now. And they will know it even less the more you imply, with your actions, your secrecy, and your jealously guarded privileges, that you don’t give a damn about what anybody thinks, as long as you get your travel and accommodations and meals paid for.

Did Sale and Pelletier earn the gold medal? I think they probably did, but it’s not cut and dried. The Russians skated a powerful program, though they were clearly not as fluid and smooth as Sale and Pelletier were. The Russians say their skate was more difficult, but nobody can identify the particularities of this.

The real problem was that the actual skating at the competition didn’t seem to matter. The skaters, as in ice dancing, are locked into their positions early on and their free skates and long programs have almost no effect on their final position. The Americans certainly seemed to have skated better than the Chinese on their long program, but they moved nary a centimeter.

In ice dancing, Bourne and Kraatz will finish 4th, as usual.

Surgical Error

In some kind of documentary to be shown on television in the near future, a brilliant Toronto brain surgeon comments on how discouraging his work can be when so many of his patients die.

As discouraging as having a doctor give you an option with little real chance of a success, but a large probability of reducing your quality of life for what little time you do have left?

You know all those ads urging you– if you are a woman– to do a breast self-examination regularly? Check, check, check! Early detection will save your life!

Maybe. But then again, maybe not. A recent study conducted in Denmark showed that the results of therapies administered after “early” detection do not show a marked improvement over the results of therapies administered upon “late” detection. I suppose the latter refers to a situation in which a woman never checked herself until she experienced some obvious symptoms.

A few years ago, it was de rigeur to insist on DREs for men over 40. Digital Rectal Examinations. Then again a similar study came to the conclusion that early detection did not improve the chances of survival for the patient, though it certainly resulted in drastic changes to the patient’s quality of life.

Some people occasionally snipe at me for daring to question the wisdom of doctors. Are you a doctor? Then how do you know whether someone should have surgery or not? How can you possibly make a judgement like that?

Fine. So let’s consult a doctor. (But first, since you are so high on “experts”, what’s your opinion of Global Warming?) The trouble is, these new studies are conducted by the same “experts” that set us on the wrong path initially. Doctors vs. Doctors. Which ones are right? Doctors in North America are quick to install tubes when children develop repeated ear-aches. In Europe, they almost never insert tubes. Doctors used to like to have pregnant mothers lie on their backs on an operating table to deliver their babies. We now know– from other doctors– that that is about the worst possible position to be in to deliver a baby. Doctors prescribed Thalidomide and removed your tonsils and maybe parts of your brain and still perform triple-bypasses.

The vast majority of doctors probably do still believe in breast self-examinations. But established wisdom is often wrong (you can’t swim for one hour after eating?) and it gets entrenched, and it should not be surprising that it takes a few years for it to be dislodged.

Sometimes, a radical new idea has hallmarks to it. It “rings true”. It seems strikingly to address vacancies in the established wisdom. But the idea that any cancer should be surgically removed or bombarded with deadly radiation has the kind of simple logic to it that you just know might not make as much sense as it seems to at first glance. It flies in the face of something that seems more logical: do no harm.

For example, how do you explain this fact: the professional group least likely to consent to surgical treatment is…. get ready… surgeons!

You are getting ready to travel by air for the first time. Your best friend– a frequent traveler– has been urging you on. Maybe he even sold you the airline tickets. He escorts you the check-in desk.

Then he waves goodbye.

“Aren’t you coming?”

“Are you nuts? I never fly. I’m taking a boat.”

Hollywoodized Fantasies

And we really can’t expect Hollywood to give us the stark reality that we see in psychiatric hospitals or psychiatric outpatient clinics.

Dr. Glen Gabbard, psychoanalyst and author.

Why not?

And does it matter?

“A Beautiful Mind” is a wonderful film, if you like inspiring stories. It’s the story of John Nash, a brilliant mathematician who suffered from schizophrenia. In the movie, John Nash attends Princeton University, develops some brilliant theories about economics while skipping most of his classes, begins teaching at MIT, and marries a beautiful student, Alicia. Then his life begins to break up. He begins having delusions– he sees people who don’t exist. He becomes paranoid and irrational. Alicia supports him through all of his struggles, however, and, eventually– after twenty years– he pulls himself together. He is nominated for a Nobel Prize (for work he did as a student) and makes a speech in Stockholm thanking his loyal wife for standing so firmly behind him.

Wonderful story, isn’t it? On a Christian website, the movie is given almost acclamation, “thumbs up” for it’s “inspiring” story. Is it inspiring? Do you watch this movie and think, wow, it’s wonderful to know that his wife was so loyal and supportive– I know I could be like that? The fact that it is a true story makes it oh so compelling! And so uplifting! That’s the kind of film some Christians feel that Hollywood should produce.

“A Beautiful Mind” is mostly lies and blather!

Oh, it is a “true” story. Other than the fact that John Nash married and abandoned a wife (and a child) to poverty before he met Alicia. And other than the fact that Nash didn’t “see” people (he heard voices). And other than the fact that Alicia actually did divorce him. And other than the fact that he went to Europe and joined an anti-American organization for a time. And other than the fact that he was arrested for soliciting sex in a men’s room in San Francisco (and that’s why he was fired from “Wheeler” — in real life, the Rand Corporation.)

Yeah, other than a few small details…

Some people I know say, “I don’t care. I don’t care if it’s true or not– it’s a wonderful story. Why can’t I just enjoy the movie without having to know the truth?”

Then you’re going to tell me to keep my chin up– if I only look on the bright side of things, life will get better.

The trouble is, in a few years, the movie will replace the real facts of the life of John Nash, just as “Schindler’s List” has begun to replace the real facts in the life of Oskar Schindler.

The funny thing is, in both cases, the real stories are far more compelling, far more interesting, and more “inspiring” in a true sense than the ridiculous Hollywood versions.

It’s worth a thought or two about Spielberg’s revisionist “Schindler’s List”. The original book was labelled “fiction” by it’s publisher until after the movie was released. It is now labelled “non-fiction”. So, who’s going to sue over the difference? There is no Association for Honesty and Truth to finance a legal challenge to this arbitrary conversion from fiction to projection.

And after all, what’s wrong with Schindler’s list?

Spielberg’s villain, Amon Goeth, likes to shoot at Jewish workers with a rifle, from his balcony. You see that he is a monster. But …

To pathologize Göth as Sadist, to demonize him and make him a monster is precisely to miss the most disturbing knowledge we now have of the average Nazi perpetrator: that he was, in an overwhelming majority of the cases, not a sadist, a “deviant” or an “aberration,” but rather a dutiful, law respecting civil servant carrying out his orders.  Robert S. Leventhal

And that’s the truth.

Added 2024-02-05

I saw this wonderful example of exactly what Leventhal is talking about:

Who is the greatest movie villain of all time?
Ralph Fiennes as Amon Goeth in Schindler’s List has to be way up there.
There’s a scene where he’s sitting in a room with a rifle, killing people in the street for fun because he can yet is totally nondescript in his dealings with Schindler. His portrayal still makes my blood run cold when I watch the film. He is ruthless and unfeeling throughout the film until he meets his fate at the end: but even then he remains fanatical and without remorse.
What’s worse is there were plenty of fanatic Nazis like him. Scary thought.
I’ve watched attempts at copying devils like Slobodan Milosovich and Ratko Mladic from the Balkans Wars; and others like Mengele and Auschwitz commandants and savage guards. None come close. What Fiennes was able to accomplish is both exemplary and more than just a little unnerving. But credit to Fiennes for showing modern audiences what Holocaust survivors, families and murdered victims faced in that war.
There was no behind the lines with men like him roaming free.

From “Movie and Entertainment Sphere”, one of those obnoxious Facebook inserts from who the hell knows where.

For a really effective corrective, see “The Zone of Interest”.  It’s brilliant and does exactly what Leventhal asks movies to do.  It reveals, brilliantly, just how the worst evils in the world can be committed by people who outwardly appear to be “normal”, functioning, average people.  Like us, if we allow it.  Like Trump supporters who blindly parrot their leader’s idiotic blather and joyfully march in his grievance parade.

The Music Industry is Stupid

Yeah, I know. Kind of blunt instrument, that title. Sometimes, though, you want to call a spade a spade.

The music industry, fresh from their legal victory over Napster (although, true to copyright tradition, they settled out of court rather than wait for an actual finding), have decided to offer their own alternative to peer-to-peer file-sharing programs..

Logically, you would think that they would put all of their music on one site and allow people to sign up, and pay, so they could download the music they wanted when they wanted. You would think that they would be sensitive to the persistent charges that they rip off artists by making sure that everyone knew that they were paying the artists a fair share of these fees. See? It’s not about us. It’s about making sure the artist gets paid…..

You would think that. Well, maybe you wouldn’t.

The Dixie Chicks and many other performers are hopping mad. Seems that, firstly, the music industry isn’t asking permission of the artists to put their music up on the web site. They are acting as if that permission is already included in all the other egregious rights that they have extorted out of their artists. We’ll see you in court. (They now specifically include these rights in new contracts young, naïve artists are forced to sign if want industry support. If they had to add this clause, they obviously didn’t really think it was implied in their existing contracts, did they?).

Secondly, it turns out that the artists will be getting a mere fraction of a cent for every download. A big fat nothing. The music industry claims that it is just SO EXPENSIVE to distribute music over the internet. By golly, it’s so expensive that about 20 million people have been doing it for free for five years.

The music industry is also, apparently, including charges for CD covers, promotional copies, and distribution in their calculations. Of course, with downloading, there are no physical CDs, or promotional copies, or art work, or anything.

This is going to kill Morpheus? Ha ha ha.

The line-ups:

Pressplay: Universal and Sony

MusicNet: BMG, EMI, and AOL Time Warner with Real Network.

I am not sure, at the moment, if these companies will even be giving each other access to each other’s catalogues. If they don’t, they might as well fold their tents up right now. People are not going to be lining up to pay $20 a month to two or three or more different on-line services just so they can hear the music they want to hear.

The music industry is stupid. We know that. It took them years and years to respond to Napster. It will take bankruptcies and court rulings to finish the job.