Sunday, November 30, 2008

Give Carnage a Chance

According to this report:
"The Indian government is considering suspending a peace process with Pakistan following the attacks on Mumbai blamed on Pakistan-based militants, the Press Trust of India, or PTI, reported Sunday. There is a view in the government that India should suspend the peace process... to show that it is not going to take lightly the deadly carnage in Mumbai,"
The making of peace - the cessation of violence - does indeed require taking deadly carnage lightly. Personally, I have precious little interest in deadly carnage. But in times like these, we tend to trot out our deadly carnage aficionados, don't we? The german shephard-like individuals who believe that the answer to violence is not peace but a ratcheting up of violence all around, even if it means flailing a bit?

Will we human beings ever learn to react to extremism with enlightened moderation rather than with reciprocal extremism? Perhaps one day, like tree branches growing to create a canopy over a road, the good, tolerant majority of each antagonistic group will reach out to their counterparts, with whom they have more in common than with their more seething compatriots. 

When I was a kid during the cold war, I didn't fear ordinary Russians in the least. I'd have been pen pals with any of them if I could. I feared their rulers and their arsenal. Similarly, there are many Jewish/Palestinian and Pakistani/Indian friendships, and the potential for vastly more. The problem is that we, the peaceful majority, are always hostage to our societies' most aggressive element (and our pandering, posturing governments). Aggression drives everything, even evolution. In a pasture full of blissfully moo-ing cows and a few angry bulls, who's going to run the show?

One problem, of course, is that it's not all black and white. Kind-hearted, reasonable people can unknowingly act german shephard-ish. We all, in fact, possess an inner german shephard. A reader (who I know to have a good heart) left this comment regarding a Slog entry calling for political reconciliation:
"After eight years of hearing leftists called traitor and un-American who should be hung or deported, I'm really not in the mood for bipartisan cooperation."
One must suspend reconciliation if one doesn't take partisanship lightly! Obviously self-contradictory as it is, this is how we humans are wired. And the key is to be as aware of this as possible. Our instinctive response to provocation cannot be eliminated, only repressed and/or transcended (sort of like the impulse to club over the head and drag off to our apartments attractive strangers we pass in shopping malls). There are myriad such instincts we, the civilized, recognize in ourselves and refuse, with varying success, to act upon. This particular one is a biggie, and it's to blame for the vast majority of current suffering in the world, yet it remains almost completely subconscious for most people, even though a very smart guy, whom billions profess to revere, explained about it quite clearly 2000 years ago.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

The Myth of Reconciliation?

I can't seem to escape the chill that fell over me earlier today. Approaching a red light, I noticed that the car stopped in front of me had an "Obama" bumper sticker. But as I drifted closer, I spotted a red slash through the name. Not a big, goofy, cartoon-like slash. Rather, a thin, surgical hash; neat, understated, and scarlet red. No other writing of any sort.

I'd seen some pretty over-the-top bumper stickers and t-shirts about President Bush. But, searching my mind, I couldn't recall anything equally sinister. And, unlike Bush, Obama's not actually done anything yet, and so can't be disagreed with on issues of policy; only on the issue of existence. The driver in front of me had chosen to announce to the world his opposition on that one.

This happened not in Arkansas but in Danbury, Connecticut. And it made me recall an article (I can't remember where it appeared) observing that Democrats are under the bizarre delusion that the entire country feels a sense of reconciliation via the election of Obama. I suppose he was correct; I find it hard to imagine anyone feeling seriously negative toward someone as obviously intelligent, centrist, and level-headed as Obama, at least not at this point. Indeed, I've heard steely Republicans such as Ed Rollins making more than cursory vows to support the president in the unprecedented trials ahead. I thought we were enjoying a brief post-partisan lull.

But today it was driven deeply home for me that there are people, maybe even loads of people, who, for whatever reason (racism,
tribalism, campaign demagoguery or Rush Limbaugh) are feeling very very unreconciliatory.

(As for centrism - and Obama's appointments seem as centrist as can be - I recall that nothing infuriated Republicans more than when Bill Clinton adopted and advanced their agendas. They just hated that. Which illustrates that our nation's divide is, again, tribal.)

Friday, November 28, 2008

A Historic Turning Point re: Terrorism

The chief of the Pakistani intelligence service, ISI, will be traveling to India (a first for a ISI director) to assist with the investigation of the recent attacks. This is very, very good news.

At least one goal of these attacks is clear: to provoke India into confrontation with Pakistan. This would slog up the latter government's counter-terrorism push into its tribal regions, apply yet more destabilizing pressure on that shaky government (which fundamentalists would love to see fall), and generally provoke the sort of anti-Muslim counteractions that create more jihadists (this sort of provocation is the prime goal, though most of our leaders seem not to have gotten the memo).

But not this time. "The Indian prime minister stressed the need of intelligence sharing and evolving a joint strategy to counter terrorism." In other words, rivals will be working together to root out the bad guys rather than escalating their rivalries. That's not how it was supposed to work.

For a pragmatic and surprising look at dynamics in the Middle East, including a hopeful perspective on Iran, please watch this great video from CSPAN of a talk by Robert Baer, a retired CIA veteran who just published "
The Devil We Know: Dealing with the New Iranian Superpower". Really, trust me...don't miss it! Baer believes the jihadist movement is in decline because the tide of Moslem opinion has turned against those guys. For one thing, results have been very poor for Moslems. Baer notes that Moslem mothers have been turning their jihadist sons in to the police in Britain. With the glory gone, and enemies joining together in response to terrorism rather than lashing out at each other, terrorism really does look like a losing proposition.

Which will not, of course, put a firm end to it. Basque terrorists in Spain continue to ply their violent craft to the shame and horror of most Basques - who are mostly opposed or ambivalent to independence. And we'll always have our Ted Bundys and Manson Families, and their technological tool chest will continue to expand. But a few parties truly meriting the term "extremists", operating far out of step with the mainstream of their societies, is a vastly preferable scenario to massively expanded jihadist attacks on civilians.

Black Friday Deals

I'm a big fan of Canon's "Pixma" line of multipurpose printers (they print, copy, and scan), and there's a great Black Friday price of just $89 on the very highly-rated Canon Pixma MP610.

Amazon's price of $199.99 on the first generation
iPod Touch 16 GB is way low.

...and now I'm now out the door to shop for massively discounted
cashmere blazers and other Black Friday deals at Jos. A. Bank

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Hell Circle Du Jour: Cancelling Wireless Accounts

I've had occasion to cancel accounts with just about every major wireless provider. And the task has always brought a bag of hurt (a phrase which, by the way, just went over one million Google hits).

One doesn't simply cancel a wireless account. You must call a special phone number and speak to specialist personnel chosen for their psychopathic inability to register expressions of rejection. You will be asked to explain and defend your foolish decision. You will be offered things. You will be cajoled and niggled. After many minutes of spiel, deal, and distraction, your request will eventually be granted, but only after you've uttered the word "no" more times than JD Salinger's publicist.

Three cancellations ago, I tried to strategize the process. I told the representative "Look, I understand that it's your job to try a variety of angles to persuade me not to cancel. I know this, I understand this. You're just doing your job. But I want to assure you that by the time we hang up, my account will definitely be dead and gone. So...can we, like, move through the script as quickly as possible so neither of us needs to waste time?"

Fat chance. The rep settled in to his amiable patter ('So how are you doing today, sir?"), and I realized stronger measures than this are required to stave off The Full Treatment. He probed, questioned, bantered, and pushed with all his might. In the end, of course, my account was cancelled, but not before the company had extracted its pound of psychic flesh.

The next time I had to cancel a wireless account, and was asked my reason, I informed the rep that I was headed to prison. The unstoppable rep actually asked me what I was going in for. "Arson" I shot back, matter-of-factly. In the ensuing silence, I began to gleefully suspect I'd nailed it and found a shortcut through the torture. I fully expected to hear the magic words "Sir, I've cancelled your account; if you ever desire to reestablish service with our company, please don't hesitate to contact us". But I was wrong. After the awkward silence, the rep cleared his throat and offered me one thousand free minutes if I'd obligate myself for another year. And so on.

During my most recent cancellation, I told them I was dying of Lou Gehrig's Disease, and was too weak to hold a handset. That, in fact, I was draining my last remaining strength to make this phone call as part of my effort to put my affairs in order. They rushed things a tad for me, but only a tad. Scant mercy for a dying man. (When the deed was finally done, I informed the rep - who after all, I didn't mean to leave traumatized - that "today I feel like the luckiest man in the world.")

I'm currently with T-Mobile, and my locked-in contract period just ended. And it just occurred to me (I may be slow, but I'm not dumb) that I'd be a fool not to call, ask to cancel, and hear what they have to offer. Maybe I'll tell them I have my eye on a nice shiny iPhone over at AT&T. Let's see what juicy bribes and counter-offers I'm showered with.

I'll let you know how it goes. Though, with my luck, this time they'll immediately cancel me without protest, and I'll be completely screwed.

Bic Crystal Ballpoint Pen, Medium Point, Black

I wrote this prank review (inspired by this earlier review for the same product) several years ago, but I'm not sure anyone noticed.

Be sure and read the comments posted to the earlier one.

Monday, November 24, 2008

How to Enter Sensitive Passwords on Public Computers

Update: this tip is no longer as secure as it once was. It's now quite easy to install, along with the sneaky software that captures and logs keystrokes, software that captures and logs the content of clipboards.

That said, to evade run-of-the-mill maliciousness, this "bathroom door lock" solution is still reasonably effective. If 100 people use a (compromised) public computer in a week, your data will be by far the biggest headache to extract, and trolling for passwords is a "low fruit" sort of enterprise.

But in any situation where you feel you may be personally singled out (e.g. someone's after you, or you're the sole American customer in a 3rd world cybercafe run by dodgy characters), this may not be your best move.

Prudent people hesitate to enter sensitive data on shared computers (e.g. in Internet cafes). Such computers may have been maliciously set up with keystroke capturing programs that track each letter typed on the keyboard. The problem is, how do you log onto critical online banking, or personal email, when the only option is an untrustworthy public computer?

Here's a low-tech trick. Don't type paswords. Cut and paste them, character-by-character! Open a new browser window or tab, and go to any page dense with text (Google News works well). Then individually copy the characters of your password and paste them in to the appropriate field. You can save some hassle at little additional security risk by directly typing a few characters. 

Yes, it would be theoretically possible for a hacker to create a program that captures the screen location of each click, precise window location, plus a cached version of the fast-changing Google News page to know what was being clicked, but that would require vast technical accumen, massive storage and horrendous data-sifting headaches entirely unsuited to a low-fruit ploy like stealing passwords from public computers.

This does the trick when you're on the road and need to grab your mail in some scummy Kinko's!

Exciting Times for Smartphones and Cameras

There's never been a better time not to buy a smartphone. 

With its iPhone, Apple has again innovated an entirely new standard of quality and design...and, for the first time, drawn credible competition. The new Razr and the new Blackberry may not be perfect, but they offer a fancy touchscreen, slick interface, look real good, and have started to push forward with features notoriously missing from the iPhone (e.g. video, cut and paste, zoom, flash, removable battery). There's every indication that Apple will compete aggressively to defend their position...something they've never particularly had to do. And that can only mean a much better product at a much better price. To buy a smartphone now would be crazy; we'll be seeing amazing things in the next year (if we're not all too poor and unemployed to buy such things).

Same for cameras; Micro Four Thirds technology, recently introduced with Panasonic’s DMC-G1 camera (see David Pogue's review), allows S.L.R. quality and flexibility without the bulk and full expense of a reflex lens. The Panasonic is still pretty large, pretty expensive, and lacks some important features, but other manufacturers are busily working on the technology and in the next year we'll see some amazing products.

So...take good care of your smartphone and your camera. This is no time to replace them!

Saturday, November 22, 2008


It turns out I was suckered on that "George Bush Gets Snubbed by World Leaders" story, which I wrote about yesterday. Just before the video in that report, Bush had warmly greeted everyone present...and so did not need to do so again.

I thought I could trust a report from CNN. Rick Sanchez should be ashamed of himself. Not only is this wretchedly poor reporting, but it fuels the right's indignation about liberal media, about CNN simply being the left wing analogue of Fox News, etc, etc. And that line isn't mere bluster...the constant pressure placed upon "liberal media" is responsible for the sort of overcompensation that caused a lot of American mass media to stifle their doubts re: the Iraq War.

Far Better Than Netflix

Netflix isn't for me. I don't like time pressure on my leisure activities, I don't like having slim viewing choices at any given moment, and as someone who survived many years on very low income by learning to minimize overhead (and still must do so today, until I can finish and sell the books I've been working on), I'm very hesitant about adding yet another $$/month obligation to my monthly nut.

So here's what I do instead of Netflix. It's cheaper and better:

I buy my DVDs used, and, after watching them, I sell them secondhand for close to the same price. I get to hold onto titles for as long as I like, I have an even wider pool to choose from than Netflix offers, I don't get charged for those months when I'm busy or out of town, I get to enjoy the full packaging, and my net expense is never as high as $20/month. If I'm feeling over-extended, I can sell more aggressively, and if I want to languish with a bunch of unviewed titles, I can do that.

I buy mostly on, and from some Amazon Marketplace vendors (I tolerate lower vendor ratings on Amazon than on Half/eBay, because clueless consumers there rate vendors much more capriciously...always read the actual feedback on Amazon), sometimes from eBay, and buy new on Amazon when the price is right (they have tons of great DVDs for under $15; Amazon's new price sometimes dips below the prevalent used price, especially if you're an Amazon Prime customer, as I am, who gets free shipping). I also buy some directly from indie filmmakers, who rarely charge more than $20. I never buy popular titles until the first wave of purchasers starts flooding the secondhand market, bringing the price down. And when I sell, I always price 50 cents less than the competition to ensure that my DVD moves quickly. I keep DVD mailers handy so packing's not a hassle.

If I really like a film, I can keep it. And if the stock market ravages my savings, as it did this week, my DVDs are essentially liquid assets, easily sold off.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Why Things Suck

Leff's First Law: Things suck for a reason. Systems maintain a vested interest in preserving their sucky, dysfunctional status quo, and will tenaciously repel efforts toward improvement.

Fwiw, here are my other laws

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Michael Jackson's "Failing to meet The Ginger Man"

I just stumbled upon this absolutely lovely piece by my late friend Michael Jackson, the beer hunter. His prose is staunchly direct and simple, yet so nuanced and vividly evocative. 

Jackson gets credit for sparking the microbrew revolution (and for informing Belgians that their beer's great art...until he said so, they'd had no idea), but he never got the recognition he deserved as a writer beyond niche. If you'll read the above I think you'll agree that he was really something.

Did You Know Amazon Has a House Brand?

I'm an Amazonoholic, but I didn't know about their high quality house brand until I read a tip from an employee:
"Pinzon is an Amazon brand and everything I see at work that is Pinzon is really amazing - everything housewares, ovenware, etc. really well made brand."
Seems true enough...all the Pinzon products seem to rate 4 1/2 to 5 stars. 

The Pinzon throw blankets are particularly highly rated, though pricey....but they seem to frequently appear at drastic discount as part of Amazon's "Gold Box" program.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Salesmanship in Love and Politics

It's easily observed that the skills required to run for office don't have much to do with the skills required for the actual job. The hope, invariably vain, is that smarmy politicians will effortlessly transform into thoughtful, wise leaders when the time comes. 

Having recently managed to fumble away the latest in a string of potentially significant others due to my clumsy courting skills, it occurs to me that romance is exactly the same. I'm a vastly better boyfriend than a wooer. In fact, my wooing is woeful.

Really, it's unsurprising that so many people wind up in relationships with skilled suitors who make poor partners, or that electorates so often wind up with politicians who don't know how to govern. But I have a solution. My proposal is that every candidate for office or romance be permitted to appoint a "designated hitter," a glib smoothie who steps in with unsinkable confidence and brio...and steps out of the way once the deal's clinched.

Electorates, like potential girlfriends, always insist they're looking for values and quality. Steak, not sizzle. But, obviously, vast evidence belies that claim. Since the impression-making process is all about salesmanship, why not let sales specialists handle all that?

Update: Hmm...come to think of it, isn't this exactly the route Cheney/Bush took? Dick Cheney may not be your cut of beef, but there's no denying that he's more steak than sizzle! I wonder who Palin will be fronting for in 2012...

Fresh Air Interview With Bill Ayers

Interesting Fresh Air interview with Bill Ayers, who (unlike Rev. Wright) kept his mouth tightly shut during the campaign...but, unsurprisingly, has a lot to say now that it's over.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Colin Powell Speaks Yiddish???

Now this is bizarre. Did you know that Colin Powell speaks fluent Yiddish??
"In 1993 Mr. Powell visited the Holy Land. Upon meeting Yitzhak Shamir in Jerusalem, he greeted the Prime Minister with the words "Men kent reden Yiddish" (We can speak Yiddish). As Shamir, stunned, tried to pull himself together, Powell continued chatting in his second-favorite language. Colin Powell had never forgotten his early days in the Bronx."
Actually, he does look a little Jewish...

Extra bonus weirdness: Barack Obama
speaks Indonesian.

Monday, November 17, 2008

The Medusa Gruel

Various attractions pulled me back to Oaxaca last week, where I revisited the Zapotec village of Teotitlán del Valle, which I'd written about here.

I hadn't said a proper goodbye to my saxophonist friend, Manuel, and had no contact info for him, and there were some jazz recordings I thought he should hear. So I
 journeyed to his sprawling village with a bunch of compact disks, wondering how on earth I'd find the guy, given that everyone there is named "Manuel".

But as I checked into my
room, I heard a tuba player warming up in the distance. And then a trumpeter. Dashing down the hill toward the sound, I brazenly threw open a large metal door, and found the village band rehearsing in a courtyard full of billowing drying laundry. The guys remembered me, and thrust an old, barely-functional trombone into my hands, and, just like that, I was a part of the band (and even played a wedding with them the next day). Manuel wasn't there, but I was put in touch with him the next day, and headed over to his place to hand him my gift. He paid me the supreme honor by laying it down on his family alter, filled with flowers, photos, talismans, feathers, soda cans, and other seemingly random objects representing to him the divine nature of all things.

Then Manuel informed me that I was in luck, that it was the time of year for "atole de elote", and asked his wife to bring me a bowl of thick, steaming, grey-ish gruel. It was sweet, but only from lots and lots of fresh corn, grown in the family garden. As its sublime, all-embracing soulfulness penetrated every capillary, I became utterly lost within myself. The flavor simply would not fade. In waves, it permeated my internal universe, and I didn't realize I'd fallen into a stupor until Manuel came over and waved into my eyes and asked whether I was ok. It took effort to return to the conversation, as the afterglow still showed no signs of dimming, but I managed to wrench myself from its tendrils and resurface. Until, that is, my next sip, which again turned me to stone. I was eating very languidly, yet Manuel kept urging me, with a degree of urgent concern, to "¡Cálmate!", or calm down - which, even in my hazy state, struck me as an inapt instruction for someone who'd gone essentially catatonic.

The atole was served along with some ears of corn (the stubby kind, with great big starchy kernals) which, being merely delicious, seemed utterly vestigial. I asked Manuel how a dish consisting of absolutely nothing but corn could taste so much better than corn itself. He smiled, and explained that such was the magic of divinely inspired, loving human action. Manuel and I agreed that this is the very gist of what we humans do best when we're at our best. Like earthworms enriching soil, our love and care can invest with divinity all that we touch.

In terms of
my system for rating things on a scale from one to ten, I'd gone, for the first time, beyond 10 ("absolute certainty that no one at this moment, anywhere on Earth, is eating anything more delicious than what you're currently consuming"), and encountered an 11 (something better than anything anyone anywhere has ever eaten).

Saturday, November 15, 2008

A Muslim Writer's "Open Letter to Obama"

Read this (mostly) great "Open letter to Obama" by Aijaz Zaka Syed.

FYI, I've emailed his newspaper the following response:

I greatly enjoyed reading Aijaz Zaka Syed's beautifully stated open letter to President-Elect Obama. But one sentence disappointed me: "A Jewish chief of staff doesn’t necessarily mean you are anti-Arab or anti-Muslim."

The word "necessarily" implies that having Jewish chief of staff does at least increase the likelihood of infection with such sentiment. But it's just not so. How did we reach a point where it's assumed that merely having a Jewish person around stacks the deck against Arabs and Muslims?

I'm Jewish. And I have many Muslim friends, I love Arabic (and, for that matter, Berber, Pakistani, and Indonesian) music, I revere Kebir and Rumi, and, as a food writer, I deeply appreciate a great plate of foul madamas, baby camel, dum aloo or Palestinian kunefeh. The actions of crazy Israeli hawks anger and embarrass me, much as the actions of crazy Muslim hawks surely anger and embarrass the majority of your readers. After 9/11, I launched a campaign urging Americans to eat in Muslim-owned restaurants. Seeing the bigotry and discrimination ahead, it anguished me that these good people might lose their livelihoods as well as their feeling of being warmly at home in the American melting pot. We human beings never learn to react to extremism with enlightened moderation rather than with reciprocal extremism. It's our pivotal flaw as a species.

If the influence of Obama's chief of staff concerns Muslims, it may (or may not) be because Mr. Rahm happens to be avidly pro-Israel, but not because he's Jewish. Many non-Jews are avidly pro-Israel...and many Jews disapprove of Israeli actions. But in any case, to be Jewish is not to be anti-Muslim! And I certainly hope the reverse is true, too!

I'm reminded of another well-intentioned sentence uttered during our recent campaign. I cringed for days after someone in a crowd spat out the accusation that Obama is "a Muslim" and was corrected by McCain, who replied "No, ma'am, He's a decent, family man."

McCain's intention was conciliatory (and, in light of the roiling invective, conciliation was most welcome). And I doubt John McCain really believes Muslims can't be decent family men, just as I'm sure Mr. Syed didn't mean to imply that Jews can't respect Muslims. I appreciated the conciliatory intention behind his words, even if they conveyed an unfortunate and unintended assumption.

But please know that if 95% of Jews could blink their eyes and have every Muslim be deliriously happy, healthy, and prosperous, they wouldn't hesitate to do so. And many of us would be willing to work harder than just blinking!

As for the hateful 5%? Every group has a few of those. But we all know their tricks by now. And the good, tolerant majority of any group has more in common with the good, tolerant majority of other groups than they do with their own hateful 5%. Every kind-hearted Muslim is my brother or sister. And we're a huge and powerful family.

Jim Leff

Update: I've not heard back from either newspaper, so I guess my letter won't be published.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Eating By The Numbers

If you'll prep by reading my "Eating By The Numbers" article, I'll tell you in a couple days about something extraordinary I ate last week.

UPDATE: I fixed the URL...should be working right now.

George McGovern on Losing Big

Interesting quote from a fine McCain campaign postmortem by David Grann in this week's New Yorker:
"George McGovern, who lost to Richard Nixon in 1972, told me about the anguish he felt when he returned to the Senate—as McCain will soon do. “I thought everyone was either scorning me or pitying me,” McGovern recalled. In 1989, he said, he ran into Walter Mondale, who had lost in a landslide to Ronald Reagan five years earlier. “He said, ‘George, how long does it take to get over it after you’ve lost?’ I said, ‘I’ll let you know when I get there.’ ”

Two other must-reads: 

A landmark, epic piece entitled "After the Imperial Presidency" wherein the NY Time's Jonathan Mahler charts the recent expansion of executive branch power.

and David Remnick's "Race and the campaign of Barack Obama" (also in the New Yorker)

Thursday, November 6, 2008

A Poor Start, Alas....

The right is right (see good quotes in this USA Today piece): Obama's selection of Rahm Emanuel for his chief of staff is troublesome. I said in a previous entry that the hyperpartisan atmosphere in Washington was perfected by Bush/Cheney/Rove, but really started with Clinton. And Emanuel was well known as the guy most forcefully pushing Clinton in that direction.

If, as Obama says, he was offered the job strictly because of his ability to get things done, and if, as Emanuel says, he's turned over a new leaf, that all needed to have been made much more explicit right up front. The way this was handled - in addition to leading with all Clinton-era appointments - 
was all kinds of bad. And the application of band-aids later (e.g. a token centrist appointment, some back-stepping re: Emanuel's partisan past, etc) will be scant consolation to those hoping for a centrist, conciliatory break from the past.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Control Freaks

Why is it that control freaks are so rarely worthy of the control they demand?

The strategy for coping with a control freak is, of course, exactly the same as for surviving bear attacks: one must go completely limp and hope for the best. Those who have no choice but to enter a control freak's sphere of influence quickly find that their best bet is to shut their mouths, slump their shoulders, keep preferences and opinions firmly to themselves and learn to go along. The drill's quickly learned by observing the desexed, saintly, broken spouses of control freaks. Learn to yield...or risk Setting Her/Him Off.

It needn't be entirely ugly, however. Lemonade can be produced by duly submitting to the firm and relentless squeezing of one's lemons. There is, first of all, a certain pleasure in yielding one's autonomy. Infantilization, as cruise ship devotees will attest, has its attractions. And the ascetic discipline of detaching from personal preference is something people pay good money to learn at Zen retreats and such.

The fatal flaw, unfortunately, is that control freaks always seem to be about four notches less competent than they believe themselves to be. 

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Why the Rich and Powerful Might Get Substandard Medical Care

Slate just ran a great article written by two distinguished emergency physicians who make the case that extra vigilant medical care may not simply fail to improve health, but may actually harm it. The piece is well-written, and strewn with some very insightful points. 

I'm no hypochondriac, but my doctor has always brushed off most complaints I present to her. She rarely even orders tests. A few years ago, just when I was about to deem her callous, she said something interesting. In response to whatever hazy symptom I was reporting, she told me "Look, I could test you to see whether you have a brain tumor, but what will probably happen is they'll find no tumor but something else will be noticed that will call for lots more tests, and, inevitably, procedures. I try to keep my patients the hell out of the machine so it doesn't kill them." Such bluntness doesn't play well with many patients, but I appreciated the bracing slap of reality. 

"Modern" medicine is, in many ways, barely less primitive than the good old days of leeches and humors. It's an imprecise art where tests, much less treatments, are not without risk, and even the most benign procedures carry a small possibility of doing grievous harm. And once the machine swallows you and starts finding the slightest indication of problems - any problems (which, of course, it will), no doctor will ever pull you back out again. Imagine the lawsuit if you did turn out to have a brain tumor...and some test result nebulously hinted in that direction?

Of course, when you need doctors, you need doctors. And in those times, say the authors of this article (though not in these words), it's best to shoot straight through the center of the machine, following as closely as you can the tire tracks of the vast majority of patients who've been through before you. 

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