Thoughts from Prison

I have corresponded for years with a friend in prison. I thought an excerpt from one of his recent letters was interesting and pertinent to a discussion on racism. What do you think?

The recent stimulus to what I have to say, comes from an excellent book review on narcissism by Joan Acocella (NY, 5/ 12/ 14). She cites (p.17) the DSM –V traits of narcissism, a disorder of “grandiosity.” Narcissists “exaggerate their achievements… and are certain of future triumphs. They believe they are special and can be understood only by special people of high status. They feel entitled to extraordinary privileges. (They have the right to cut in line, to dominate the conversation, etc.) They show no empathy for other people. They envy them, and believe that they are indeed in return. They cannot tolerate criticism.” Obviously they see no need for therapy.

(Although) I believe we all have a few of these characteristics in greater or lesser degree, in the last six months I have stumbled on two inmates, both black, who have them all, fortissimo. First I’m curious if you know any such people with all of these habits and vulgar display? You can certainly see how such habits and the behaviors they mandate could lead to prison, so it’s no accident that prison should contain a high concentration of these people.

I wonder about their prevalence in the general population because I seem to notice this absolutist grandiosity popping up everywhere, even in Congress that won’t compromise. Do you stumble on such people?

I found two. One (Sampson) is the guy who’s bizarre handwriting I sent you **. Everyone, black and white, hates him, but foolish me, I persisted in trying to be civil. One day he told me (not asked me, but directed me) to analyze his personality using graphology, which we had discussed. He assured me he wanted the truth above all else. Silly me, I believe him. Like the wife who asked the husband if he thinks her butt is too big, there is only one answer, and I gave the wrong one. One hardly needs graphology to analyze his handwriting. From memory, you can probably concur with everything I told him. Briefly, I pointed out that his handwriting showed he wanted to call attention to himself, screamed it in fact. I delicately, but apparently not delicately enough, alluded to his grandiosity and to the other DSM qualities, even suggesting that such pomp masked low self-esteem. Okay, so you can’t tell anybody that s—- and expect him to like you, especially a narcissist. He, predictably enough, hasn’t spoken to me since that analysis and won’t return a book I loaned him BUT, oddly and perhaps significantly, he is quieted down a lot, which may indicate some self-awareness.

The other guy** is the one who did your card. He’s as bad as Samson, above. I have definitely decided not to let him illustrate my story, despite his obvious talents. The emotional cost of dealing with him is too high.

The Acocella article sites psychologists who believe narcissism is due to “a mother’s failure to support her child’s natural sense of omnipotence.” I wonder. I absolutely believe a child needs “affection and empathy” to develop high self-esteem, but I don’t feel that encouraging a sense of omnipotence is healthy. Narcissism is omnipotence internalized. If that’s what you learn, that’s what you do. Samson’s parents gave him for names, all pompous and grandiose. My guess is that his “sins of omnipotence” was encouraged from cradle to the rest. And I don’t think it’s racist to note that I found a sense of entitlement largely blacked. I understand (and sympathize) or that sense comes from. Parents whose children were discriminated against and never got fair or equal treatment wanted to instill in their progeny a feeling of quality, even superiority…which backfired. Some of these kids develop a sense of near absolute entitlement, which made them obnoxious and alienated them from the world.

Any thoughts on this assessment? I’d like to know where we differ, so I can get pissed at you for obliquely suggesting I’m less than omnipotent. They don’t call me Brill* for nothing.

I replied

I have no dog in this fight. Anyone who is as narcissistic as you site is someone I will be around once and then avoid like Ebola, so my observations of such a species is very narrow. Regarding the narcissistic black man – I can accept this as a valid explanation but I do not think that overreaching self-confidence necessarily has to come from a parent. I think it can come from role models in the media –Neon Deion, Muhammad Ali in his prime – or in life. In fact I think that is more likely the source than from a parent. Beat down generational poverty (and crime) seems to me the more likely outcome than narcissism. Maybe your assessment that they often end in prison is correct. 

Do I know any fortissimo narcissists – Jerry Jones! comes to mind but personally I do not. There was one fellow who used to show up at our house and tell us he was going undercover or on the PGA tour. The last time he came over he had been free basing something out of a plastic bottle that had reacted with his lungs. He was scared s—–s. I told him he’d be OK if he quit. Haven’t seen him since – he’s either OK or dead. Who knows? But he sure fit the definition.

*An explanation of Brill

From a letter from Bill:  “Say what you will Mr. Critic, but I still maintain that the Brad Pitt comparison is accurate. I have been told that many times, by whom I don’t recall.”

I replied: Now I see the likeness and henceforth ye shall be BRILL!

**

 DAvid Resized Drawing from Brill Sampson Handwriting. Narcissist

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Need and Hurt

The last few weeks have been instructive, if uncomfortable. Life often presents us with dilemmas, where neither choice is appealing and each has its downside. Many are of our own design or are unintended consequences of our own actions. In my recent blog Not Like Me I mentioned examples of what I considered prejudice – anti Islam, homophobia, and racism.  Two respondents seized on one sentence about the First Lady being called “Mrs. Buckwheat.”  One took me to task for implying that she was a racist for using the term. The other skewered her for being one.

I asked myself if I should have used the “Buckwheat” comment since its source (Anonymous) was recent and obvious. There is a large part of me that tries to avoid conflict and offending people. I often let some unimportant assertion slide even if I know it is incorrect. On the other hand I have a strong desire to correct opinions or assertions I deem untruthful AND prejudiced or hurtful. So when I heard the “B” comment my first inclination was to ignore it. Don’t rock the boat. You are her guest. But the more I thought about it the stronger my desire to point out its racist overtones. And so into the blog it went and back came the responses.

I apologized to “Anonymous.” I agreed with much that David Beron said but it was meant to hurt and it did. I was reluctant to post his lengthy and scathing response.  My dilemma hung there.   I waffled and emailed Mr. Beron outlining the problem. He mentioned that maybe I was new to blogging, I guess implying that controversy goes with the territory, and then he said, “You brought it up!”  Which I guess is another way of saying “if you can’t stand the heat get out of the kitchen.” So up it went on the blog and the world has not stopped turning.

 

A very wise man and wonderful physician recently died. Dr. Kenneth Timken was my psychiatrist for several years in the 80’s and taught me much about myself, medicine, and life. He once said something I have never forgotten.

“We need each other and we hurt each other.”

That is a truth of our human condition. It is a very different perspective from the uncompromising certainty of pronouncements that pervades so much of our discourse, both public and private. The more we see people as Not Like Me the more we feel entitled to default to the negative of judgment and hate. Our arrogance and hubris is killing us, more than our government, more than our corporations. We demand so little of ourselves and each other. We are drowning in fear and uncertainty and greed. Only when we demand higher behavior from ourselves and others will we be forgiven.

Click to view: Why I Think This World Should End

This video says it much better. I highly recommend that you watch it and share it.

True, true, and related?

At the end of my sophomore year in Medical school we took part one of the National Boards. A favorite way to phrase a question involved two statements. Then you were asked the following: Is each statement true or false? Are the statements related? Thus there were 5 possibilities

1) True, true, and related

2) True, true, and unrelated

3)  True, False

4) False, True

5) False, False

Examples:

Statement 1: The heart is a pump.

Statement 2: Heart failure occurs when blood pools in the lungs.

Ans: True, true, and related

or

Statement 1: The brain is the seat of consciousness.

Statement 2: Einstein was very smart.

Ans: True, true, and unrelated

 

 

With that in mind, consider these two statements: 

Corporations are people.

Money is speech.

Now I would bet you that a fifth grader would select 5). False, False

Our Supreme Court has selected 1) True, true, and related

 

In The New Yorker Aug 25  Jill Lepore discusses money and corruption in politics. She wrote

In 1904 the New York Life Company, “through J.P. Morgan & Co., sent the Republican National Committee” almost $ 50,000 “(about a million dollars, in today’s money). As the historian Robert E. Mutch points out in his thoughtful and well-researched study Buying the Vote, this proof of what had before only been rumored occasioned an outcry. ‘So long as great corporations are permitted  to send their checks for $50,000 to campaign committee Treasurers we shall have, or be in great danger of having, a Government of the corporations, not a Government of the people,’ the editors of the New York Times, a Democratic newspaper, wrote.

The city’s leading Republican paper, the Tribune, went further:

In the United States the government is intended to be a government of men. A corporation is not a citizen with a right to vote or take a hand otherwise in politics. It is an artificial creation,brought into existenceby favor of the State solely to perform the functions allowed to it by its charter. Interference by it with the state and attempts by it to exercise rights of citizenship are fundamentally a perversion of its power. Its stockholders, no matter how wise or how rich, should be forced to exercise their political influence as individuals on an equality with other men. That is the basic principle of democracy.

 

Since the current Supreme Court of the United States disagrees, let’s hope the US Senate tomorrow votes to nullify the Citizens United decision and bring some semblance of sanity and fairness to electoral politics.

 

Maybe I’m too old for the US Tennis Open.

From the time we got off the 7 Subway and began our walk to the Billie Jean King US Tennis Center our ears were assaulted by bullhorns loudly and harshly proclaiming

“If you have a backpack you will not be allowed in!”

“If you are carrying anything with two straps that fit over your shoulders, that is a backpack. You will not be allowed in.”

As we approached the complex another bullhorn, “Purses and bags to the left, no bags to the right.”  And we, who had no purse, much to my wife’s chagrin,(since the website said we would get in quicker!) were herded into a loading chute, where we stood for thirty five minutes until we were allowed to pass through one of two (TWO!) screening detectors. Then another line to have our tickets scanned by a harried attendant. We were in to the US Open! Where do we go?

“That way,” said a smiling US Open employee. “Just follow the crowd.”

An announcement “The 7 PM night session of the US Open is delayed. Evening attendees will be admitted 20 minutes after the current match ends.” We stood around and watched the “current match” end on a monitor and then followed the crowd (and I mean CROWD!) until we were stopped by our shear mass, packed as tight as sardines. Then we stood that way for 45 minutes. About 15 minutes into standing, another bullhorn. “Have your tickets out…Have your tickets out.” No information, no one circulating through the crowd with information.  Then we could see on a monitor Roger Federer and his opponent, Sam Groth, entering the court. Still we stood. Then they warmed up. Then they began play and the mass of humanity, thousands, began to move –  AWAY from the Arthur Ashe Stadium. We had to be routed around a fountain. Then finally we had our tickets scanned again and we were in. It was 8:30 when we arrived at our section. Section 120, row N, seats 7 and 8. But there are only rows to “M.”  So, two chairs on the walkway were provided for us. For $ 169 apiece we got to sit in the walkway. It was 3-3 when we finally started watching the tennis. At 6-4, 6-4, 6-4, a very predictable but entertaining match. We saw Groth hit a 147 mph serve. Impressive!

After an interlude, the Sharapova -Lisicki match began around 10:30. Not much of a match. Lisicki couldn’t match Maria’s power and consistency. As the second set began we thought it might be fun to sit courtside, as most were clearing out of the area.  We thought there would be no problem. Wrong! As we approached the entry to the lower level, we were told we had to have a free pass that they were giving out on the upper level we had just come from. By this time the second set was half over. So we went in search of the mythical “white pass.” We asked a member of the Event Staff. “She is around here somewhere but I don’t see her.” We gave up and expressed our frustration and were told to go to the office of Guest Services.  By this time Maria was well in control of the final set. “Oh! it’s too early to pass out the lower level passes, but please complain. We are so understaffed.”  Too early?? The match was almost over! We gave up and headed for the exit and were almost there when we heard the final roar of the crowd.

A few years ago we went to the Masters golf tournament. It is an experience that exceeded our expectations. We were greeted, informed, and made to feel special that we were there. That is missing at the US Open. If the US Open is going to charge exorbitant amounts for tickets and merchandise, it should at least be able to staff up and train the staff so that a memorable and pleasant experience is ensured. That is not the case. Much of it is our fault. We the public continue to buy into shoddy service and TV’s superficial glitter over substance. We continue to allow ourselves to be subject to mean, uncaring automatons (“We’re just doing our jobs”) while the Corporate Big Boys and Gliterati, unattached to the real world, collect and dole out the millions. Millions WE pay to tennis players who are granted the worship and adoration that real people who make a real difference in the world should receive. It’s our fault. As long as we accept being marginalized we deserve what we get.

Maybe I AM too old to go to the US Open!

Forgotten D.C. tragedy

The suspect in the high-speed chase between the White House and the Capitol Building was identified Friday by a law enforcement source as a dental hygienist from Connecticut with a history of mental issues. Oct 2013

Why did a 34 year old woman have to die? Was there no other alternative?

Situation – an unarmed woman in an Infinity with a child (admittedly both facts not know) driving erratically and dangerously leads to conclusion-“could be part of a violent terrorist plot.”

Response – Must be stopped at all costs. Kill her.

Rationalization – we didn’t know she was unarmed and had a child with her. Fair enough

More plausible conclusion and desirable scenario:

Situation – deranged individual in an Infinity driving erratically and dangerously -out of touch with reality i.e. psychotic.

More appropriate response – STOP HER – shoot out her tires, barricade, tire puncturing nails, surround her, etc.

Anybody with any sense could see from the outset that this was most likely an act of psychosis and a measured response was called for.

Are we so frightened as a nation that we will overreact to any threat? Shoot first and ask questions later?

Unfortunately the answer is yes. We have lost our way. When we begin shooting our own citizens, the terrorists have won.

(This faded from our consciousness and the news in a few days)

Mousetraps vs Cats

A friend of mine had a business building armored SUV’s. He had improved on those that were being used by our government in Iraq. More power and protection. He ran into a problem that little guys competing with the big guys often do. You may have a better mousetrap but the guy that owns all the cats will never let you prove it. He appealed to his elected representatives and was told, in so many words, by his senator’s office,” If you aren’t a contributor we can’t help you.”

Our politicians so often say,” That contribution had nothing with my vote.” How stupid do they think we are? Answer: not only stupid but apathetic and powerless. Money rules. Our Supreme Court has declared corporations are people and can contribute as much as they desire to political candidates and campaigns.

Justice Steven’s comment about McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission shows the fallacy.

“It’s a grossly incorrect decision. The very first sentence of the chief justice’s opinion lays out a basic error in this whole jurisprudence. He says that there is ‘no right more basic in our democracy’ than to pick our elected officials. But the case is not about whether individuals can pick their own congressman. It’s about giving lots of campaign contributions, picking other people’s congressman, not your own”                                                                                              The New Yorker April 24, 2014

The more you read and hear about tax and income inequality the more the possibility of an insurrection seems inevitable.  Marx said capitalism would implode on itself in a never ending drive for diminishing profits. Maybe,  maybe not. But when our CEO’s feel entitled to obscene amounts of compensation, at least 200 x the average worker’s salary, and we won’t even feed or give healthcare to all our citizens and our elected officials see nothing wrong with this picture something’s gotta give. Maybe not tomorrow, maybe not in my life time but if the arc of history bends toward justice; the recoil when it happens will shake us to our core.

 

Spin,spin,spin

SPIN,SPIN,SPIN

 As things continue to deteriorate in Iraq, I looked back 12 years to someone I heard and something I wrote. Had either been heeded, we would have avoided the tragic mess Iraq is today.

The person I heard was Scott Ritter, one of the UN weapons inspectors, speaking to the Dallas Peace Center in 2002. He was certain that there were no WMD’s (weapons of mass destruction) in Iraq. He’d been there, he’d looked. He gave compelling reasons for his assertion.  He was discredited. The fact that he was later convicted of soliciting a minor on the Internet has not helped his stature. But time has proven him correct. Why was he not heard?

In the run up to the “war” that began in March 2003 I made a TOP 10 list. Not totally prescient but close enough.

 TEN REASONS FOR NOT ATTACKING IRAQ 

  • It will inflame the Muslim world and increase the chances of retaliation through terrorism and making the world riskier.
  • It will cost $ 50 billion putting our country into further recession
  • The Iraqi people already suffer terrible hardship and depravation of water, food, and medicine.
  • We do not know what Saddam has – our intelligence is spotty and unreliable at best. If “The American People” are to support any action we must know the extent of the threat. “He could have…” or “He might do …” are not sufficient. 
  • Containment worked in the Cold War – it should be given a chance to work here.
  • Oil prices will shoot through the roof.
  • Attacking a sovereign nation without clear provocation sets a very bad precedent.
  • Our allies are opposed.
  • Attacking Iraq will increase not decrease the chances of use of biochemical and chemical weapons by Iraq.
  • Americans will die in an ill defined mission – remember Vietnam?

David Haymes                                                                                  September 22, 2002  Continue reading Spin,spin,spin