Gordon Lightfoot’s Greatest Bestest All-time Hits of All Time

I buy a lot of CDs and I used to buy a lot of LP’s. I normally avoid “Greatest Hits” type albums, because you are not often getting a collection of the best songs by an artist; merely his most popular songs.

Gordon Lightfoot made a career by not issuing any albums whatsoever except for Greatest Hits Collections. It’s true. His first album, released in 1966, was called “Gord’s Greatest Hits”. Nobody knew who Gord was. He had no previous recordings of original material. But since he had a greatest hits album, and went by his first name, we all figured he must be important and we added him to the collection.

His next album was “Best of Gordon Lightfoot”, which was a collection of songs that were well-known for being on his “Greatest Hits” album. You had to have it. All of the songs sounded familiar, but then, after all, it was the same artist. Almost nobody noticed that it was exactly the same collection as the first album, because, after more than 30 seconds of any Gordon Lightfoot song, most listeners fall fast asleep.

Lightfoot’s third album was, “Solid Gold: Volume I”. These were songs that had become pretty popular because they were on his first Greatest Hits Album, but also included a few songs from the “Best of” album, for variety.

“Best Golden Treasures – Gordon Lightfoot’s All-time Greatest Hits” was released three weeks later. By this time, the scam was going so well, that there wasn’t even a vinyl album inside the cover– just a slip of paper saying that most of the songs would be available on the boxed set due to be released at Christmas, right after “Solid Gold: Volume II”. Gord’s career was going so well that nobody actually bought the album for the music; just for the cool picture of Gord holding his 12-string and gazing lustfully at Sylvia Tyson on the album cover displayed next to his on the record rack.

One year later, Gord issued “All Time Greatest and Bestest Most Treasured Hits Played Live With Previously Unheard Studio Cuts From His Early Albums”. That took a little nerve: I mean, how did Gord know that nobody was actually listening to any of his earlier albums and that, therefore, many of those records were previously “unheard”? But at least, this release contained some new material, consisting mostly of fake applause and assorted funky voices shouting “huh”, “get down”, “go for it, Gord”, and “hey, isn’t that Buffy Ste. Marie?”. Anyway, to make a long story short, with the assistance of my nubile intern/assistant Ms. Fricker, I was able to uncover the following facts:

1. Gordon Lightfoot issued 37 Greatest Hits Collections between the years 1966 and 1973.

2. During this period, he actually recorded 3 different songs.

3. Most of Lightfoot’s Greatest Hits albums consist of these same 3 songs arranged in different order and dubbed at different speeds, or, sometimes, backwards, or with fake audience sounds. In at least one case, a John Denver recording, “Leaving on a Jet Plane”, was inserted by mistake. Denver sued, but a jury awarded Lightfoot $6.3 after his attorney convinced them that some people in the future might see John Denver perform the song in public and think they were watching Gordon Lightfoot.

4. A careful study of archival video tapes and films reveals that Gord’s live performances also featured the same three songs performed over and over again, in different order, and, sometimes backwards, or a capella. At no time does the audience appear to have noticed the deception. Lightfoot is occasionally seen leaving the stage for a smoke as the music continues to the accompaniment of a metronome.

5. Desperate for a hit in the late 1970’s, after having exhausted all possible titles, including “Greatest”, “Treasures”, “Live”, “Best of”, “Classic”, “Golden”, “Big Hits”, “Big Big Hits”, “Classic Gold”, “Classic Treasures”, etc., and every other possible permutation, Lightfoot wrote a new song about a ship that sank, called “The Wreck of the Titanic”. However, after he discovered that James Cameron had copyrighted the word “Titanic”, and also that he was two syllables short, so he located a ship with a long name and paid members of Greenpeace to sink it during a storm in Lake Superior.

I would be ever so grateful if anybody reading this has a copy of the Ian and Sylvia album from the 1960’s in which Sylvia shows the best cleavage of any folk singer in the history of tragic Mary Hamiltons. Please let me know, and, if you could, send me a scan of the cover.

Pity the Republicans

Let’s see. There was an election for President in 1992. George Bush ran against Bill Clinton and lost. Then there was another election in 1996. The Republicans trotted out Bob Dole and once again, Clinton was victorious. The Republican’s had a majority in Congress though, so they tried to thwart Mr. Clinton at every opportunity. Still, the nation, in poll after poll, told everyone that they liked Clinton, they thought he was doing a great job, and Newt Gingrich should go suck a lemon.

Kenneth Starr, you might not remember, was appointed to investigate Whitewater. He spared no effort or expense, but found nothing. He asked for permission, from a judge, to investigate other things, while he was at it. Again sparing no effort or expense, he could find nothing. Clinton may well, to that point, have been the cleanest President the U.S. has had in 90 years. As friends and acquaintances of the Clintons have been saying, consistently, for years, the Clinton’s really don’t care much about money.

Finally, Kenneth Starr stumbled into Monica Lewinsky, through the good offices of the despicable Linda Tripp.

Monica Lewinsky was a young, naïve, White House intern. Starr had the FBI seize her, without necessarily following correct legal procedure, and threatened to lock her and her mother up if they didn’t come clean. Lewinsky was terrified. Finally, she agreed to testify in exchange for immunity. It is now obvious that Starr asked her incredibly intrusive and mostly legally irrelevant questions about the details of the sexual encounters. And now he has made them public for everyone to drool over.

Let’s keep this straight so that no one has an excuse for not knowing this:  Kenneth Starr arrested and bullied the victim (allegedly) of a politicians sexual “abuse”.  Because otherwise, he knew that she would not play the role he needed her to play to justify the Republican Inquisition into Bill Clinton’s sex life.

I don’t know if Starr really thinks what Monica and Bill did is an impeachable offense. They had consensual sex and lied to prevent people from finding out about it. If he does, he is a fool. More likely, he, like the rest of the Republicans, despises Bill Clinton for political and cultural reasons, and finally found something he thought could make a lot of trouble for him. Unlike the members of Congress, Starr is virtually answerable to no one. With impunity, he is able to dig up the most intimate details about this sexual relationship and make them public. When Clinton attacked Starr’s tactics, the Republicans rose up as one, an enormous repressed Greek Chorus, and screamed bloody murder. They have the advantage of not being personally accountable for the disclosures, while hoping to cash in the on the political fall-out. The general public is not fooled: given a choice between impeaching Starr or Clinton, there is no doubt, at this point, that they’d rather impeach Starr.

Blue Jays in 1998

Well, Cal Ripken finally sat down. He notified his manager 30 minutes before game time that, in his infinite grace and wisdom, he would sit out one game. Half of baseball was frantic. I even heard some sadly misguided fans talk about what a great, unselfish player Cal has been.

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Unselfish! What’s wrong with this picture: Cal Ripken tells his coach when he will and when he won’t play! For the record, aside from Ed Sprague and some no-name, Cal Ripken has the worst offensive stats of any third baseman in the league. I wonder if his manager thanked him for sitting out a game.

Anyway, we saw the “great” Cal Ripken live, in person, at the Skydome on Monday. There was some announcement on the PA and then everybody was supposed to stand up and cheer him. I stayed in my seat.

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We had decent seats, 15 rows back along the first base line, just beyond the infield. For four of us, that came to $117.00, including tax. Unlike most major league teams in the U.S., the Blue Jays pay their share of property taxes, $7 million for 1998.

We bought hot dogs and coke on the way, knowing we weren’t allowed to take cans of pop into the stadium. When I popped in one of the entrances to ask where we pick up our tickets, a nice man, a Jays official, offered to get us a cup for the coke. Very decent of him. You sometimes think professional sports organizations are rather tactless and ruthless about getting your money. They are, but at least the Blue Jays have the good sense to show a little decency here and there.

Most people spent the first twenty minutes in the dome looking at the jumbotron to see if the camera is zooming in on them. Fans in the nose-bleed sections will put on a show, take off the shirts, and dance. They have their reward. As soon as the game started, a steady stream of people began leaving their seats for the bathrooms or concessions. I estimate that I saw half of the first 30 pitches. A little boy to the right of us left his seat for the aisle, requiring us to stand up, 13 times. If I was his father, I’d tell him he could leave twice during the game, whenever he chose.

Shawn Green has an amazing ball-player’s body. If Norman Rockwell drew us a ball-player, and wasn’t joking about it, he’d come up with someone who looked like Shawn Green: tall, lanky, angular, with a whip for an arm and an easy, efficient gait. His cap sits low on his forehead just like a ball cap should. I love watching him.

Roberto Alomar, on the other hand, looks like a ballet dancer. Nothing wrong with that– he moves like a ballet dancer too. He’s probably the best all-round player in the game, when he’s not spitting at umpires. The home-plate umpire in this game, by the way, was the very same John Hirschbeck, and his strike zone is still pretty wide. Roger Clemens had 15 strike-outs on the night, not a few of them due to Hirschbeck’s generous zone. At one point, after a called strike that looked pretty low, Alomar turned to him and glared, but didn’t spit.

The Blue Jays are probably not going to make the wild card. At this stage, they would have to win all their remaining games and Boston lose all of theirs. Still, they have made a terrific race out of it after being more than 12 games behind at the end of July. The Jays have the major’s best record since July 31st, right after they dumped Randy Myers, Ed Sprague, Mike Stanley, and Juan Guzman. They were, supposedly, throwing in the towel, but something wonderful happened. Their “fall-back” outfielders, Stewart, Cruz, and Green did what many of us thought they would do two years ago: they ran down balls in the gap, hit the cut-off man, and brought some excitement into the field. They also began to hit up a storm, steal bases, and run up the pitch counts. Tony Fernandez, moved to third base where his defensive lapses don’t hurt as much, batted over .400 in September. Carlos Delgado is establishing himself as reliable RBI man. And Blue Jays pitching, including the young and untested Escobar and Carpenter, as well as the best pitcher in the League in Roger Clemens, began to smother opposition bats.

Everyone thinks the Blue Jays will do it next year. Well, hope springs eternal, but it is a known phenomenon that teams that improve dramatically one season often fall back the next. They would need to re-sign Canseco, but I doubt he will produce another 44 home runs, or survive the full season without injuries. Toronto’s pitching is solid, but I’m not sure that Person is going to be a great closer, and I wonder if Plesac and Quantrill can continue to work miracles out of the bullpen. Roberto Alomar has made it known he would love to play for Toronto next season. Alomar’s a cypher. What does he care about, other than baseball? Who knows? But he is, without a doubt, the best second baseman in baseball. If the Blue Jays were to sign him (he is a free agent at the end of the season), I would bet they will do very well in ’99. Alex Gonzalez is solid defensively, perhaps one of the two or three best shortstops, but he needs to cut down on his strikeouts. Behind the plate, the Jays are solid, if unspectacular. Santiago could have a great season. Then again, he could bat .240.

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Jays in ’99? Possibly. Jays in ’00? Given the same line-up with two more years of maturity– almost certainly.

Passion and Disorder

In the movie, Titanic, by James Cameron, lovely Rose De Wit, played by Kate Winslet, is forced to choose between her effete, elitist, rich, snobbish, dweeb fiancé Cal, or the all natural, refreshing, spontaneous, passionate, all-American, artiste Jack Dawson.    Combined with the fact that we know that the ship does sink at the end, there is not a lot of suspense in this film.

This dilemma is so familiar you’d think we’d be bored with it by now.   When Cal takes out a pistol and tries to remove his rival by force, we’re not surprised.  He’s fighting a rigid Hollywood code: simple fisticuffs would never have sufficed.

How close to reality is this?  All you women out there: did you choose your man because he was so spirited, imaginative, and “different”? Or because it looked like he could hold a job?

There is some reality to the idea.  The phrase “Stockholm Syndrome” comes from a real life case of a Swedish kidnap victim falling in love with her captor.  Wonder how that ended.  But, other than that, in real life, does it happen very often?  Let’s see.  I’ll make a list of women I have known over the years.  How many married for “passion” and how many married for logical, rational reasons that might include material benefits?  I’m going to have to use numbers instead of names, to protect the guilty.  I don’t know the answer myself– I’m just going off the top of my head here.  Let’s define “passion” as a case in which the woman chooses someone of whom her family would disapprove for the usual reasons.  “Rational” is when a woman chooses someone with a promising future, whom her family perceives as stable and mature and responsible.

Woman #1 rational
Woman #2 rational
Woman #3 rational
Woman #4 rational
Woman #5 rational
Woman #6 rational
Woman #7 passion (didn’t work out)
Woman #8 passion (didn’t work out)
Woman #9 rational
Woman #10 rational
Woman #11 rational
Woman #12 passion (didn’t work out)
Woman #13 rational
Woman #14 rational
Woman #15 rational

Hmm.  Do I see a trend?  Maybe I think the ones whose marriages didn’t work out must have been passionate because everything else about those relationships now seems so illogical.  Maybe those whose marriages seem rational now were married in the throes of a stormy passion they didn’t display to others.

There is another factor people who watch the Titanic and get all teary-eyed should consider:  some women marry for passion, but immediately set out to make the relationship rational by pushing their husbands into new jobs, education, promotions, investments, mini-vans, quality time with the kids, and so on.  So poor Jack Dawson, had he survived the sinking, probably would have taken a job as a commercial illustrator, or, more likely, a salesman, shortly after marrying lovely Rose and getting her pregnant.  Picture Rose in 1955, wearing an ugly pant suit to a Dean Martin concert in Las Vegas, while Jack wanders off in an ugly loud shirt and pastel slacks to waste a few quarters on a slot machine.  He bumps into a Marilyn Monroe look alike who gets friendly… and considers a moment of passion.

Lies and More Lies

Everyone seems very upset because Bill Clinton hasn’t apologized for ….

Well, what? For his affair with Monica Lewinsky? He owes her an apology, not me. For breaking his marital vows? He owes that one to Hillary. For lying under oath in the Paula Jones case? A judge decided that his testimony on Lewinsky was immaterial, so that offence doesn’t legally exist. But if it did exist, he did try to conceal a sexual relationship from a grand jury investigating a frivolous lawsuit brought about by a disgruntled employee and funded by a right-wing hate tank. So, maybe he should apologize to the right wing hate-tank for helping them waste their money.

Well, he shouldn’t apologize to the public. His relationship with Monica Lewinsky, so long as they were both consenting adults, is not now nor ever was the nation’s business. Kenneth Starr is a Republican flunkey out to destroy the Democratic Administration. When people say stupid things like “Clinton should have admitted it months ago and spared the nation this long ordeal…” they don’t seem to realize that it is Kenneth Starr and his Republican Henchmen in Congress who have decided that all the affairs of state and the general interest of the public is secondary to their own devious political agenda.

I wish Clinton had admitted it sooner. Are we a nation of adults? He could have said, “Yes, I’ve had affairs. And I might have other affairs, if I meet someone I like. But it’s none of your business, so buzz off.” Then the Republicans could have gone around making grim faces and talking about the moral decline of American presidents and all that bs and we could have been spared, at least, Kenneth Starr.

For the record, what is moral decline? America abides by this paradox: sexual sins represent moral decline, even though the people affected are consenting adults. On the other hand, actions that cause death and destruction and misery to millions of people as a side effect of ruthless materialism and greed are representative of moral progress. We get all lathered and upset and teary-eyed because the President had consenting sex with a 21-year-old gold-digger, but we all yawn when we hear about thousands of children and young women slaving away in sub-human sweat-shops to produce running shoes or sports wear for fat American arm-chair athletes to wear while they cheer millionaire athletes on television playing baseball or basketball in some far away city.

The Anacam

Privacy and Personality

If you check out this website–


[Or maybe not.  More information on Ana Voog.]

you will see real live pictures of Ana Voog, an artist in Minnesota, living her life. This is the Anacam. A camera takes pictures every 240 seconds or so and then feeds it to the Internet.

When I grew up, you would sometimes see a documentary on tv that claimed to show you someone’s real life. They followed him or her around at home, showed them eating, drinking, chatting with friends… and it was all completely phony. Even a child knew that this was all staged. For one thing, you couldn’t pick up these images with a television camera without a huge bank of lights taking up most of the living room. Everybody in the room certainly knew they were on tv. For another thing, you never saw anybody get undressed or go to the bathroom or pick his nose. Of course, that’s what you really wanted to see. More importantly, the program was never live. It was always taped or filmed first and then edited.

Last year, “The Truman Show” claimed to be about a man whose entire life is broadcast on tv, without his knowledge. But this movie didn’t show any of those real, personal activities that you think about when you think about the idea of watching a person live his life without him knowing about it.

The Anacam does. Well, it’s still selective, because you only see what Ana wants to show you, but Ana is far more willing to let you see everything than Truman was. And the Anacam exists in real time: no editing, no condensation, no cheating. I haven’t seen it myself, but I know that she has even taken her webcam into the shower. Is this pornography? I don’t think so. I’m not sure. I don’t think she’s out to titillate the viewer, but, on the other hand, she probably wants to attract as much attention as possible. Ana is an “artist”.

This is something to think about. How valuable is your privacy? We used to think that privacy was extremely valuable. But that was largely because privacy was so hard to violate. People you hardly knew wouldn’t let you come into their bathrooms to watch them go pee and pop a pimple. Well, at least not for the past 100 years. I have a feeling that there was a lot less privacy in the Middle Ages. For one thing, when you went to a hotel in the Middle Ages, everybody slept in the same big bed. I kid you not. You can look it up. And people tossed their garbage right out the window onto the street. People did not have bathrooms or even outhouses. So I don’t think there was very much privacy. Read Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales.

Why did this change? Think of the Victorian era in England. Suddenly, everybody wanted to hide anything to do with sexual identity. Women wore big, billowing skirts, with layers of undergarments. Bathing suits were big enough to camp in. Men wore long pants, jackets, and hats. Why did people suddenly become obsessed with keeping their privates private? A wave of piety and religion? No. How about this: privacy was valuable because it was rare.

Then more and more people acquired their own homes, with outhouses. They lived separately, as families, rather than communally with the entire clan. Clothes became cheaper to make. More and more people could afford to wear different clothes on different days. The hardworking bourgeoisie developed habits of thrift and restraint, and one of the things they wanted to restrain was their bodily functions.

Let’s jump into the mid 20th century: everybody’s moving out of apartments (at least, in North America) into private bungalows in the suburbs. At last they’ve got it: privacy. Nobody can even hear you through the walls.

Today, privacy is no longer valuable. What is the value of something that everybody has? Zilch. Why are the social and sexual values of the “third world” so much more conservative than those in Europe and North America? Because their “social economy”, the balance of scarcity and abundance of social values, favours privacy. Privacy hardly exists, so it is very valuable to them.

So why does Ana Voog let the world into her living room, her kitchen, her bathroom? Because privacy is so easy to obtain, that it’s no longer as valuable to her as other things, like, say, her desire to succeed as an artist.

Perhaps that’s also why fashions have changed so much. It’s the economy of sexual relationships. Until the 1950’s, it was in the woman’s best interest to be married to one man, who would provide everything for her until the day she died. A prospective husband would want to make sure that the woman he married would be loyal to him for life. So any indications that she could be available to other men would doom her. She could become a poor spinster, or be forced into prostitution to make a living. Thus, it was not economical for her to appear to be available, even if only for visual ravishment, to a large number of males.

It used to be uneconomical for a woman to be available for visual ravishment by a large number of males. Marriage was different, because social conditions were different. People were less mobile, less prosperous, less flexible. Marriage was for life as much for economic reasons as for moral reasons.

What happened? Why did the mini-skirt appear? Why so many people “shack-up” nowadays, rather than get married first?

What has happened to our society is prosperity. What has happened is that women now are able to earn a living independent of men. What has happened is that our society has adjusted. With the abundance of wealth, privacy, health, and mobility, people are probably actually behaving pretty well the way they’ve always wanted to behave, seeking some kind of emotional fulfillment in relationships, and leaving the relationship if it isn’t there.

We are going to know more and more about ourselves. We are going to watch people live their lives (just wait until the Internet improves to the point where we can have efficient, live streaming video and audio!). It will be a strange knowledge for many of us because we will have never seen these things before. We are going to realize how similar we all are. We all fart, belch, pick our noses, scratch where it itches… we’re just not used to not pretending that we don’t. Once we know that everybody does it, we may have a healthier knowledge of ourselves, and greater acceptance of our own fleshy existences.

Of course, many fundamentalists Christians have a different explanation for all this new behaviour. They call it moral decay. I have never bought that. I have just never believed that we are behaving a whole lot worse than our ancestors behaved, or wanted to behave.

I also have a broader definition of what is “moral”. The fundamentalists, and the American people in general, seem to consider sexual sin to be way, way more important than greed, materialism, or exploitation. What gets you more upset? A man and woman having a consensual sexual relationship outside of marriage, or a society that decides that we are going to turf welfare mothers and their babies so we can all afford a second VCR? Condoms or military aircraft? Swearing or forcing governments in Africa and Central America to close their hospitals before they receive aid from the IMF?

Sorry, James Dobson. I think it’s way more important to save human lives and prevent physical suffering than it is to stop sex between consenting adults. Why don’t you take your $185 million a year and feed the hungry, instead of lobbying against same-sex benefits at the Disney Corporation?

Cal Ripken Sit Down!

Cal Ripken is a decent player. I don’t think anybody would seriously mistake him for Brooks Robinson, but he used to hit pretty well for a shortstop. But his range was never very good, so they used to let the grass grow long on the Baltimore infield to slow those hard grounders down so Cal would have a chance at them. People used to say that he made up with intuition what he lacked in speed– as if speedy shortstops at the major league level didn’t have any intuition. Then they finally moved him to third base where his limited range was less of a liability. And he’s still a fairly decent hitter. Well, 12 home runs this year isn’t all that special for a third base man… I think Ed Sprague, God help us, has more.

Cal Ripken’s real claim to fame, of course, is the streak. Everyone in Baltimore, and sometimes around the league, raves about THE STREAK. Even Sports Illustrated, which usually has more sense, occasionally chips in with a little tribute to the STREAK.

And what is this streak? Consecutive hits? Consecutive 30-home-run seasons? Consecutive successful stolen bases? Consecutive game-winning RBI’s? Consecutive put-outs? Consecutive at bats without striking out? Consecutive games without an error? Consecutive games played without the use of steroids?

Nah. You see, those kinds of streaks actually help your team win victories. No, no, no– Cal Ripken’s streak is for showing up at consecutive games. That’s right: he shows up. More than 2,600 games in a row by now. Hey, there he is again, Iron Man Cal!

And interesting point here is that nobody else is even close. Why? Because IRON-man Cal is so much more durable than other players, and such a consistent hitter that he deserves to be in the line up every day, whereas poor old Mark McGuire has to sit out once in a while to stay effective?

Nah. Because no other manager in baseball is allowing any other player to develop such a streak. They don’t want it. They are deliberately sitting players out once in a while– even Mark McGuire– just so they don’t get any ideas in their heads about setting a new streak. The truth is that a streak of consecutive games played doesn’t help your team win, and, in fact, may even hurt your team’s chances. Your manager is forced, every day, to work his line-up around the one immutable fact of your streak. Try out a new, promising third-base man for a game or two? Oops, can’t. Try a left-handed batter against this strong righty? Not today, or the next day, or the next week. See if a bit of rest puts some juice back into his line-drives? Oh no, can’t break up the streak!

I told some friends about five years ago that I didn’t think Baltimore would ever win a World Series as long as Cal Ripken kept his streak going. So far, I’ve been right. Why? If Ripken is a decent player, and he is that– though he is vastly over-rated by most– why does the streak hurt the team? Baseball has become very competitive in the past few years. Teams like Cleveland, long the doormats of the AL, have built themselves into contenders. To maintain such a high level of competitive performance requires that the complete focus of the team be on one goal only: winning as many games as possible. Ripken’s streak robs the Orioles of that kind of focus.

Ripken, by the way, is not the saint he pretends to be. He’s smart and says all the correct things to reporters, but he’s also a prima donna who often travels separately from the team and stays in separate hotels. He pulled strings to get his brother, Billy, the job at second base– he hit about .200 with no power. The owner of the Orioles, Peter Angelos, loves Ripken and let his father manage the team until it became rather clear to everybody that he was in way over his head. Then he had to be fired, which created a lot of tension with Cal, and again disrupted the team’s chemistry.

Cal says, why should I sit out when I can still play? I got news for Mr. Ripken: there’s about 10 million other guys who all think they can play too, including your brother Billy. Until the Orioles show that they are willing to make decisions around the success of the team, instead of one player’s selfish statistics, the Orioles, and their fans, will be losers. If I became manager of the Orioles tomorrow, the first thing I would do is tell Mr. Ripken that the streak is over.

Doctor Impersonators

Stephen Kai Yiu Chung, 60, was arrested in Ancaster yesterday. Chung has been practicing medicine in Ancaster, Ontario for 15 years. I’ll bet you think he’s a respected member of the community and that everyone was shocked when he was arrested?

Well, not everyone. You see, the main problem is that Mr. Chung is not a doctor. He was licensed by the ever-vigilant College of Physicians until last month, but not everyone who is licensed to practice as a doctor is a doctor. They discovered that he actually had no medical training, no medical degree, and no qualifications to practice medicine.

Well, I’m not one to be picky. And who knows, if I ever lose my present job, I may want to go into medicine myself. Obviously, it can’t be as difficult as it looks. If Mr. Chung can get by for fifteen years without raising any suspicions, I figure I could last for five at least, maybe ten.

So how did they finally catch up with the ingenious Mr. Chung? Did someone finally notice him reattaching hands backwards? Did he prescribe expensive drugs of dubious medicinal value? Did he ignore his patients needs and see them only when it was convenient for himself? Did he recommend useless surgeries to pad his OHIP billings? Did he ridicule and attack cheap, readily available natural remedies? Did he recommend that his patients ignore the causes of their illnesses and just pay him for treatment instead?

No. You see, none of those things–aside from attaching the hands backwards– would have actually raised any suspicions about him actually being a doctor. Just as every person who tries to seek compensation for you after you have suffered grievous harm at hands of a heartless, criminally negligent corporation, and then impoverishes you with his own absurdly excessive billing, is not necessarily a lawyer.

No, they caught Mr. Chung by pure chance. It appears that some other guy in London, Ontario, named Roark, embarrassed the heck out of the College of Physicians by doing a little heart surgery on the side without having actually acquired any training to do so. After this public humiliation, the College decided to get right on top of things and try to find out exactly how many of our respected doctors are actually… “qualified”.

By the way, some woman has charged Mr. Chung with sexual assault. This happened five years ago. It’s nice to know that not only can you practice medicine without any qualifications for fifteen years without being caught in Ontario, but you can toss in a few assaults and forged documents while you’re at it.

Nobody will notice.

You’re Never Alone With a Schizophrenic*: The Myth of Sybil

More unconscious humour: at one point, the real Sybil (Shirley Mason) wrote a letter to Dr. Wilbur insisting that she did not have multiple personalities. Some critics have made much of the letter and Wilbur’s dismissal of it. But then again, which personality wrote the letter…. (To her credit, Dr. Wilbur published the letter in “Sybil”. )

Multiple Best Seller Disorder

About 25 years ago, I read a book by Flora Rheta Schreiber called “Sybil”. It was about a woman with multiple personality disorder. The good psychiatrist. Dr. Cornelia Wilbur, was able to identify 16 different personalities within the consciousness of one troubled young woman. Some of the personalities knew about the other personalities; some did not. The personalities came into being as Sybil’s way of coping with dreadful abuse at the hands of her own mother. It was an awesome book– I was fascinated.

The book created a sensation. It spawned a television movie starring Sally Field, and host of television talk show episodes. It was a big factor in the gradual popular acceptance of the idea of multiple personalities and repressed memories, both caused by child abuse, which, indirectly, led to a lot of the ideas about repressed memory syndrome and the Satanic Ritual Abuse scare in the 1980’s.

Some experts in the field have never accepted the idea of repressed memories, and, as more evidence emerges, many more people are beginning to have doubts. At the very least, most professionals have become cautious about it.

And now it looks like we should start to question the idea of multiple personalities as well: it seems that “Sybil” is a fraud.

First of all, a psychiatrist who worked with the real Sybil, wrote a book questioning the idea that she had multiple personalities. Now a psychologist, after listening to the tapes of the sessions Dr. Flora Schreiber had with Sybil, has concluded that the “multiple personalities” were actually constructions by the psychiatrist to help Sybil explain why her behaviours seemed so strange to herself. It seems that patient, doctor, and writer got carried away with the idea, and, hey, it made good television (and lots of bucks), so why not go with it?

It should be noted that Shirley Mason had read “The Three Faces of Eve”, one of the first books on multiple personality disorder (or Disassociative Identity Disorder, as the DSM called it for a while) before becoming multiple personalities herself.

Well, every time you get tempted to think we humans are pretty smart, it helps to think about something like this. A lot of people, educated and not so educated, were completely fooled by “Sybil”, and, to this day, there are a lot of psychologists out there eagerly diagnosing patients as having multiple personality syndrome or as having repressed memories, on the basis of bad science. And, remarkably, a lot of patients who insist they are MPD– remember– an acronym means it’s true– which of course makes ridiculous the claim that they are…. MPD.

*This title is borrowed from the album by Ian Hunter.

Update April 2008:

An impressive interview with Dr. Herbert Spiegel, a psychiatrist who treated Sybil for a short time, and refused to participate in the book. He observes that the idea of Multiple Personality Disorder only took hold in the U.S.

Links to More Information about the Sybil Myth

Other Hollywood Disorders
Recovered Memories

Update: May 2003

Someone reading this website recently asked me a few questions about this story. I confess that I didn’t provide enough details for anyone to check into the facts, or to do an intelligent search on the subject. Here they are:

Sybil’s real name was Shirley Ardell Mason. She was born January 25, 1923 and died of breast cancer February 26, 1998.

Her psychiatrist, Dr. Cornelia Wilbur, died in 1992, so she isn’t around to defend herself. But other analysts who have listened to tapes of her sessions with Mason say that Dr. Wilbur was suggestive in her therapy and that she used hypnosis.

Flora Rheta Schreiber, the author, also died in the early 1990’s.

The psychiatrist who also treated her and concluded that the multiple personality disorder label was a fraud was Dr. Herbert Spiegel. I read an interview with him in an interesting article in the April 1997 New York Review of Books, in which he stated that Sybil was merely a “suggestible hysteric”.

Another analyst, Dr. Robert Reiber, actually listened to tapes of the sessions between Sybil and Wilbur and concluded that
Wilbur planted the idea
of “multiple personality”
into Sybil’s head, possibly out
of some kind of misguided
therapeutic strategy, and possibly for dumber reasons.

Wilbur claimed that Sybil was “cured”– the book and movie both build up to that startling miracle moment when she “reintegrates” her personalities, but, as in so many similar stories that have been popularized on TV and books, that is not quite the truth. Shirley Mason followed Wilbur to Lexington, Kentucky, and continued to receive therapy for many years.

I would check the archives of the New York Review of Books.   [Wait a minute: has it been removed?  It would not surprise me.]

You could certainly argue that no popular book about mental illness has done more damage to more families than this one: Sybil. With the exception of the infamous medieval text Malleus Maleficarum.

Who profits? The royalties from “Sybil” were split three ways, between Sybil, Schreiber, and Wilbur.

According to the Associated Press, Sybil wrote a letter to Wilbur denying that she had multiple personalities.

“Wilbur had decided she was going to make the Sybil case into a book, because she couldn’t get it published in professional journals…” From an interview with Dr. Herbert Spiegel. My emphasis.

But then, Dr. Spiegel “believes” in hypnosis. But then, Dr. Spiegel describes hypnosis as something more like a some kind of self-induced “trance” state– not what you see in the movies.

Incidentally, in the same letter in which Sybil denies having multiple personalities, she also admits to making up the stories of horrendous abuse.

Where do you put that?

What a Karacter!

Robert Sibley, a columnist with the Ottawa Citizen, tries, as many Republican and conservative Christian leaders have tried, to argue that President Clinton has significant character flaws that make him unfit to govern.

Aside from this rather brazen snub of the electoral process– the voters have consistently indicated that they approve of his job performance– his argument is seriously flawed in one other significant respect: the greatest presidents of the 20th century all possessed character flaws similar to those of Bill Clinton. If you asked most American voters, and most American historians, who the most effective presidents of the 20th century were, they would almost certainly include Franklin D. Roosevelt, Dwight D. Eisenhower, and John F. Kennedy (though his term was cut short). They might also include Ronald Reagan, though he left the office after quadrupling the deficit, and Lyndon Johnson, who, in spite of his unpopularity in 1968, had the most aggressive and successful legislative agenda since FDR. All of these five are known to have been unfaithful to their wives.

Who were the worst presidents? Richard Nixon, Jimmy Carter, Gerald Ford, and George Bush. Unfortunately for Mr. Sibley’s argument, these four were probably, by his definition, the ones with the most “character”, and are believed to have honored their marital vows. Too bad they couldn’t lead.

Sibley goes on to blame Clinton for the nightly news reports on stained dresses and adulterous liaisons. The fact is that the media in Canada rightly regard such activities by Canadian politicians as outside of the public interest and do not report them. It is Kenneth Starr who has decided that the President’s private life should be invaded, and the U.S. media, especially CNN, dutifully– and gleefully– report the salacious details. The Canadian media, rightly and honorably, respects the fact that even politicians are entitled to private lives.

And by the way, isn’t righteous CNN host Larry King working on wife #5?

Neither Newt Gingrich nor Bob Dole, the leaders of the Republican Party, are married to their first wives. But hey, Mr. Sibley, Dan Quayle is! And he is reportedly optimistic that a Republican candidate can defeat Bill Clinton in the year 2000. That would be remarkable indeed, since Bill Clinton can’t run in 2000, having already served two terms.

Nobody likes what Clinton did, but most Americans at least have the good sense to tell pollsters over and over again that they don’t believe they need to hear about it. Maybe they believe that real character includes other attributes, such as respect for privacy, concern for the environment, sound fiscal management (Clinton has the deficit under control), and respect for the expressed wishes of the electorate. Rome is burning while Starr and his Republican satyrs play their twisted fiddles, hoping and praying that what they could not achieve in a fair election or honest discourse can be won with devious snitches and brazen hypocrisy.