What About Social Media?

I read this article about social media last night, written by Rachel Young, PhD, Associate Professor, Undergraduate Studies.

It made me think about my WordPress blog and my YouTube accounts. I ask myself what I’m doing with them.

I like to think I’m doing the right things with them. I use a sense of humor and try to use common sense. I never drone on about politics because I feel bad about what’s happening with it most of the time. I don’t want to spread that around.

I stopped accepting comments on YouTube years ago because all I seemed to get were spammers. Frankly, I get a lot of that on my blog as well. But I also have commenters whose opinions I respect.

I used to have accounts with Twitter, Facebook (I guess that’s called something else now?), and LinkedIn. I dropped all of them a few years ago, mainly because all I did mostly was copy my blog posts to them. I found a web article, the title of which indicated there are more than 133 social media platforms.

Why?

Blogging is a part of social media. I don’t get much traffic. I don’t mind that so much when I realize how much of the traffic is negative and empty.

I blog because I really like to write; I always have. I kept one blog going for about 7 years and dropped it because I was unhappy with how personal information was being collected and what it might be used for.

I also didn’t think the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) didn’t treat hobby bloggers (like me) fairly. That was the main reason I dropped my first blog. I don’t collect anyone’s personal data. Hey, let’s be clear. Social media does that. I’m not trying to sell anything here. I’m just trying to have fun and share that with anyone who’s interested.

I wasn’t going to write this much about social media. I guess that means I’m ambivalent about it. I think that’s normal.

What do you think?

University of Iowa Psychiatry Residents Get Shout Outs

Recently, University of Iowa psychiatry residents worked hard enough to get shout outs. One of them was exemplary performance on the consultation and emergency room service. The service was following over two dozen inpatients and received 15 consultation requests in a day. This is a staggering number and the resident on the service did the job without complaints. In addition, the resident was the only trainee on the service at the time. Other residents were working very hard as well.

This high level of performance is outstanding and raises questions about health care system level approaches to supporting it.

I read the abstract of a recently published study about Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) compared to medication in treating anxiety in adults (Hoge EA, Bui E, Mete M, Dutton MA, Baker AW, Simon NM. Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction vs Escitalopram for the Treatment of Adults With Anxiety Disorders: A Randomized Clinical Trial. JAMA Psychiatry. Published online November 09, 2022. doi:10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2022.3679).

On the day I read the abstract, I saw comments which were cringeworthy. The commenter is an outpatient psychiatrist in private practice who had some criticisms of the study. He thought the report of results at 8 weeks was inadequate because symptoms can recur soon after resolution.

Another problem he mentioned is worth quoting, “A course of treatment that requires as much time as the MBSR course described in the study would be out of the question for most of my patients, most of whom are overworked health care professionals who don’t have enough time to eat or sleep. Telling people who are that overworked they should spend 45 minutes a day meditating is the “Let them eat cake” of psychotherapy.”

That reminded me of a quote:

“You should sit in meditation for twenty minutes every day—unless you’re too busy; then you should sit for an hour.”

Zen Proverb

I know, I know; I should talk—I’m retired. Actually, I took part in an MBSR course about 8 years ago when I noticed that burnout was probably influencing my job performance on the psychiatry consultation service. I thought it was helpful and I still practice it. I was lucky enough to participate in the course after work hours. The hospital supported the course.

The residents who are being recognized for their hard work on extremely busy clinical services may or may not be at high risk for burnout. They are no doubt extra resilient and dedicated.

And the University of Iowa health care system may also be offering a high level of system support for them. I don’t see that University of Iowa Health Care is on the list of the American Medical Association (AMA) Joy in MedicineTM Health System Recognition System, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t doing the kinds of things which would merit formal recognition.

Anyway, they all get my shout out.

A Day Without Glitches in the Matrix

Yesterday was the one of those days where everything seemed to happen for a reason. If we had arrived at Terry Trueblood Recreation Area a few minutes too early or too late, we would not have seen the mesmerizing rise and fall of the shore birds on Sand Lake.

I thought of the word “murmuration,” which refers to starlings flying in tight, swirling patterns. I checked the dictionary and discovered that the word “murmuration” refers to the murmuring sound similar to low-pitched noises starlings make as they fly in flocks, swirling this way and that, presumably to avoid predatory birds.

This led to my wondering if starlings were the only birds that form a murmuration.

I wonder of shore birds also do it because we saw them flying in a sort of swirling pattern when there were no visible predators.

We might have missed the light shining just right on a majestic American Sycamore in all its glory, festooned like a Christmas tree with its seed balls hanging from almost every limb. In fact, some people do make Christmas tree ornaments out of them.

We might also have missed the squirrel munching on his lunch in a tree. It was not eating American Sycamore seed balls, probably only because it was not sitting in an American Sycamore tree.

We have walked the Terry Trueblood trail often, in every season, including autumn. We’ve never seen the seed balls before.

And we might have also missed the Subaru Outback with Wisconsin license plates in the parking lot. It was covered with decals. And later I discovered that the word “decal” is short for “decalcomania,” which is exactly how I would describe how the car came to be so heavily decorated—from an episode of decal-co-mania.

A lot happened yesterday which seemed somehow just right. Some people see so-called “glitches in the matrix,” which are events that seem out of place and ill-timed, leading to the idea we’re living in a poorly run computer simulation.

What about the times we see and feel everything occurring so smoothly that we’re surprised by the flow? Maybe we don’t call attention to it so as to avoid interrupting the miracle.

Taming the Juggling Balls

As of November 7, 2022 it has been 22 days since I purchased the Learn to Juggle kit from Barnes and Noble. So far, my learning experience reminds me of a story by Mark Twain, “Taming the Bicycle,” which was published posthumously—obviously after he succumbed from his injuries in the attempt to ride the high-wheeled bicycle in the early 1880s.

Just kidding of course, about his death from the bicycle riding adventure. He did mention using about a barrel of something called Pond’s Extract, which was a liniment for scrapes and other wounds.

Twain was writing about learning something new—a thing all of us are called on to do many times in our lives. He didn’t try to learn to ride the bicycle until he was over 50 years old.

I didn’t try to learn how to juggle until was well past my mid-sixties. How do you account for decisions to embark on new hobbies, adventures, and other nonsense at an age when most people would be content vegetating on the porch or in front of the TV?

I just answered the question, in case you didn’t notice.

Anyway, I am making some progress as juggling, although it’s uneven. It’s hard to believe, but sometimes I think I juggle better as I wander around. I think it might be because there is a natural tendency to throw the balls away from you. That way, I look more adept simply because I’m making a frequently observed beginner’s mistake. But I seem to be steadier even when I walk backward a few paces.

 When I stand firmly in one place and attempt to juggle, I can often barely make it past half a dozen throws. Wandering a little, I have made thirty throws.

But then, randomly, the opposite occurs and the theory fails.

Counting the number of each throw seems to help—occasionally. I also notice that unscheduled, short practice episodes for 10 minutes or less work better than struggling along for a half hour or so at set times.

I don’t dread the practice sessions; in fact, I have a sort of itch to juggle at various times during the day. Sometimes I believe I do it to help me collect my thoughts, to keep my hands occupied, or just to pass the time.

I remember learning to ride the bicycle for the first time when I was a kid. I fell down a lot, just like Twain did—until I got the hang of it. Maybe juggling will turn out to be the same.

But I won’t need Pond’s Extract for juggling mistakes—as long as I don’t try juggling while climbing or descending stairs.

Evolutionary Thoughts

By now, you’ve probably read the digital news article describing how we’re all going to evolve into beings who resemble extraterrestrials (ETs) because of our preoccupation with digital technology.

The authors describe us as eventually developing another eyelid that’ll protect us from the blue light emanating from our gadgets. Our hands will become claw-like and permanently flexed because of the way we’re always gripping our smartphones.

You’ll also develop a third hand that protrudes from your butt so you can catch your cell phone as it slips out of the back pocket of your skinny jeans. Come to think of it, that’ll also give rise to a weird new meaning for the term “butt dialing.”

Of course, the article is a criticism of our preoccupation with our gadgets, but it’s still fascinating as speculation about how creatures, including humans, evolve in response to the pressures in our environment.

This kind of thing makes me wonder whatever happened to Neanderthal. The males were huge, especially their arms, which came from frequent arm wrestling with Sasquatch for the last shred of beef jerky. Neanderthal had a very prominent brow which developed to keep snow and pterodactyl droppings out of his eyes.

And this reminds me of the discovery of the fossil of a giant creature on the Greek island of Crete in 2003 (I think). The skull had a huge nasal opening in the center of the skull. That was probably for a trunk, as in elephant trunk. But paleontologists thought it might have been the explanation for why ancient Greeks came up with stories about the terrifying one-eyed cyclops.

And what about that carp with a human-like face on the top of its head? I saw that one a week ago on the show The Proof is Out There. I thought sure Michael Primeau, the forensic video analyst on the show, would dryly dismiss it (“This video is clearly faked.”). Instead, the other experts thought it was natural. Tony summarized it as an example of the “plastic” evolution, by which I think he meant phenotypic or evolutionary plasticity. These are changes in a creature’s appearance, morphology, or physiology in response to changes in its environment. Regarding the carp, one expert opined that the face would confuse its main predator, the eel, by confusing it.

I still don’t get that one. How would the carp species even begin the evolutionary process? Does the carp just think, “Huh, I think that eel might get confused if I had a face like a human”? I get it that the changes occur at the genetic level, but how exactly does it get started?

Could you google the answer? I couldn’t find anything specific, like x plus y equals human-like face on a fish that many humans would not care to eat.

And how about writing? I wrote this blog post longhand using pen and paper, something I gave up doing years ago but which I am sort of rediscovering gradually. I had an old typewriter for a while, which gave way to something called a word processor, which was a stand-alone device made writing and editing text, and eventually I got a computer—which really messed things up.

The thing is, I can remember getting something called writer’s cramp. If you remember that, then you probably recall how painful it was. Back then, did anyone ever wonder whether that would lead to the evolution of a claw like hand?

Could evolution have consequences pertinent to people who are always looking up at the sky looking for UFOs? Some of them, for some unexplained reason, never seem to have a smartphone with them. Anyway, could their eyes migrate, carp-like, to the top of their foreheads to counter neck strain? And could this lead to the evolution of a third eye in the center of the forehead? It would prevent falling into manholes. There are other consequences from evolving into a cyclops.

We would be adept at forging thunderbolts. We would be very talented at cultivating vineyards and herding sheep and goats. But our tempers would still be pretty bad, even worse. We would abandon courts of law and ignore justice. We would be violent giants, feasting on the flesh of ordinary humans. All this because we kept searching the sky, hoping to see UFOs and see ETs, which we would eventually resemble anyway because of our preoccupation with our devices.

I have a pretty good supply of pens and paper.

Thoughts on Birds Banging into Windows

The other day we heard this big bang against one of our windows. We both guessed what it was—another bird collision. A couple of years ago, one crashed into a window, got knocked out, lay on its side, and puffed really hard for a half hour or so.

Then it flew away.

This bird was not so lucky. It was hard to identify until we looked at the large flock of similar looking birds in the backyard trees. It was one of a large gathering of juvenile Cedar Waxwings. They didn’t have the red wingtips but they had sporty yellow tail feather tips and they had typical masks around their eyes.

Sometimes birds attack their reflections in windows. Several species do that but this one was not on the list. We think it was just an accident.

They were probably after the winterberry shrubs. There are a lot of articles on the web about birds getting drunk from eating fermented berries. I’m not sure how anyone knows, but some writers say it can cause birds to crash into windows. Have the birds undergone some kind of field sobriety test (“Okay buster, stand on one leg, and touch your beak with your wings.”)?

Cedar Waxwings are very gregarious, raucous, and rowdy birds who eat berries with gusto. The adults look a little like clownish (and maybe drunken) bandits.

We planted an Amaryllis in a pot to celebrate the bird’s life. I guess Amaryllis bulbs can sprout new blooms for several years, almost like being reborn many times.

A little story from Greek mythology says that a maiden named Amaryllis had a monster crush on a shepherd named Alteo, a first-class heel who ignored her but loved flowers. She tried stabbing herself in the heart every day with a golden arrow for thirty days but at first that only led to a lot of trips to the local emergency room. But on the thirtieth day, a gorgeous flower grew from her blood. That’s the only thing that got Alteo’s attention; can you believe that jerk? They got married and honey-mooned at Niagara where they both got smashed on fermented winterberries, jumped out of the Maid of the Mist boat, crashed into a rainbow which turned out to be a wormhole portal to another galaxy where they finally sobered up by eating beef jerky from Sasquatch, who is an interdimensional creature as everyone knows.

The moral of the story is you should close your window shades more often, which might deter some birds from crashing into your windows—unless they’re really drunk.

Sometimes Names are Hard

I was listening to John Heim aka Big Mo on the Big Mo Blues Show (radio KCCK 88.3) last night and he was talking about this time of year, calling it “Indian summer.” He second-guessed himself about calling it that and even wondered aloud whether it might be “politically incorrect.” Sometimes names are hard.

All of my life I’ve know that this time of year, which can be pretty warm and dry for autumn, has been called Indian summer.

Honestly, I have never given any thought to the term “Indian summer.” I looked into it and it turns out that the term can be offensive to Native Americans (indigenous peoples). One article pointed out that the American Meteorological Society removed the phrase from its official glossary in October 2020.

That was an eye opener for me. It also jogged my memory. I remember hearing about the name for the opposite time of year in North America when I was working as a land surveyor’s assistant and drafter for consulting engineers when I was a young man. It’s called Blackberry winter. According to the Farmer’s Almanac, it’s the time of year when there is a brief period of cold weather in the late spring about the time blackberries are in bloom.

It turns out there are a few other names for the season in which certain flowers bloom during the cold snap, like Locust winter and Dogwood winter.

Alternative names for Indian summer have been proposed; one of them is simply late summer or “Second summer.”

I guess Second summer is okay, although I wonder if we could come up with something snazzier and analogous to Blackberry winter. There are some flowers that bloom during that time of year. How about?

Marigold summer

Zinnia summer

Sunflower summer

I got these ideas from a web article entitled “Indian Summer Flowers; Summer Season Flowers in India.” I realize the meaning of the word “Indian” in this article refers to the country of India, which highlights another complexity of names. On the other hand, marigolds are the flowers a lot of people plant in their gardens in North America.

I also found a web site which calls the Black-Eyed Susan, “Indian Summer Black Eyed Susan.” This one didn’t connect the flower to India. I guess you couldn’t apply the same rule above to rename it to something like Marigold Summer Black-Eyed Susan—too confusing.

So, just call it a Black-Eyed Susan and leave it at that. Sometimes names are hard—which makes us think a little harder about the names we choose.

The Secret of Patience

The secret of patience is to do something else in the meantime.

Croft M. Pentz

A few days ago, Sena noticed a noise in one of the sunroom window shade wand controls. She can hear noises I can’t hear, which is a good thing. She wondered if the wand battery needed recharging. We have 3 window shades like this and they came with a recharger that works the same way a cell phone recharger does. You plug the small end into the back of the wand which has control buttons for raising and lowering the shade. You plug the two-prong end into a regular electrical outlet.

We had never recharged them. The instructions said that when plugged into the charger the wand indicator light would shine red. When fully recharged, the light should turn green.

I waited one hour, then two hours. I checked the red light every few minutes or so. Finally, I quit looking and did other things. I replaced the refrigerator water filter. I purged the system. I emptied the ice bucket. I did a load of laundry. I vacuumed the carpet in the house. I exercised. I sat in mindfulness meditation. The light was still red. I checked it after 5 hours—still red. I finally just forgot about it.

About 6 hours later, I passed by the sunroom, glanced at the window and didn’t see the red light. I looked at the wand and couldn’t see the indicator light very well. I got the magnifying glass out and caught the light just right. It was green! Sena said the noise was gone.

I plugged in another window shade wand. The red light didn’t turn green until 8 hours later. I checked it several times. There was nothing to do but be patient.

I finally just did something else. I checked my blog site and was amazed to find a comment from a colleague, Dr. Ronald W. Pies, MD. He is according to a brief bio: professor emeritus of psychiatry and a lecturer on bioethics and humanities at SUNY Upstate Medical University in Syracuse, New York; a clinical professor of psychiatry at Tufts University School of Medicine in Boston, Massachusetts; and editor in chief emeritus of Psychiatric Times™ (2007-2010). He is the author of several books. A collection of his works can be found on Amazon.

I had written a short shout-out blog post about the article he and Dr. George Dawson, MD had written and published on September 26, 2022 in Psychiatric Times, “Antidepressants Do Not Work by Numbing Emotions.”

What was unusual about Dr. Pies’ comment was that it actually turned up in my spam box! If I had not patiently waited a second to read it carefully, I would have automatically trashed it. That was close.

And I would have missed the golden opportunity to tell him that I consider both him and George my friends.

About a half hour before the wand control light turned the green, our cable TV and internet went out. Wow. I had been watching a TV show rerun, probably for the 100th time, so it was no great loss. There was the usual message you get when the service is out: Please wait while this channel is being restored kind of thing. You can’t do anything but just be patient. It was getting late in the evening and I usually don’t do much on the computer then.

A little later, after Sena had gone to bed, I thought of writing this post. I didn’t want to clack on the keyboard and wake her up, so I did something I haven’t done in years. I got pen and paper out and did some long-hand writing. I had skimmed some articles on the internet before it crashed about how reading and writing on paper were better for your brain than doing those on a computer.

It felt good to write. As I did in the distant past, I scribbled in the margins, drew arrows above lines and carets to corrections and notes. It was a mess—a partly satisfying mess.

I say “partly” because it was also not quite right. I didn’t try to type it that night or even the next day. In fact, I couldn’t post anything the following morning to my blog because the internet was still out. The cable TV came back sometime during the night. Obviously, there had been a service outage.

But because the internet was still out, I called the cable company. This was another exercise in patience. I don’t know if every other cable company puts those automated telephone recordings in front of you before you can reach an actual person. They are nuts.

Cable Company Voice (CCV): Hello, please hold on while I check your account. OK, there, I found it. Am I speaking with the owner of the account or Bozo the Clown?

Me: Nobody here but us bozos.

CCV: Great, how can I help you, Bozo?

Me: Was there a power outage in my area?

CCV: OK, I see you’re having a problem with your internet connection. I can help you with that. Are you in front of your computer now or on the roof of your house dancing the merengue?

Me: In front of my computer.

CCV: Great! Please unplug your modem and wait 3 millenia; then plug it into your toaster. This will reset the incoming signal. When you have completed this step, say “Continue.”

Me: Continue.

CCV: That was a rather quick 3 millenia. Which would you prefer: Going through another dozen more trouble-shooting steps with me or speak to an agent?

Me: Speak to an agent.

I finally got to an agent whose mere presence on the line seemed to lead to an immediate, magical restoration of our internet connection. When I specifically asked her if there had been a service outage, she said that, indeed, an outage in our area had occurred. She then arranged for an account credit to ensure we would not be charged for service during the time of the outage. Patience.

This post does not look much like the hand-written one. But waiting a while to let the thing simmer probably didn’t hurt.

Maybe We Need a Dose of Humor

Sena and I were listening to the Mike Waters morning radio show (KOKZ 105.7) this morning and his invitation to listeners was to call in and quote their favorite dumb question. One of the callers recited something which was actually a George Carlin joke. Neither one of us thought we heard it right, but it’s the same framework as the joke I found on the web (only the numbers were changed):

“If you’ve got 24 odds and ends on the table and 23 of them fall off, what’ve you got? An odd or an end?”

This is an example of his wordplay humor.

Carlin’s humor was also marked by satire on American culture and politics, the latter of which has gotten pretty rough. You’ll also find references on the web to Carlin’s past history of substance use, which reportedly included psychedelics.

That reminds me of an opinion piece published in the September issue of Current Psychiatry, by the journal’s editor, Henry A. Nasrallah, MD (From neuroplasticity to psychoplasticity: Psilocybin may reverse personality disorders and political fanaticism. Current Psychiatry. 2022 September, 21(9): 4-6 | doi: 10.12788/cp.0283).

I was a little surprised at Dr. Nasrallah’s enthusiastic endorsement of psilocybin for treatment of personality disorders and political extremism. He acknowledges the lack of any studies on the issue. In the last paragraph of his essay is a sweeping endorsement:

In the current political zeitgeist, could psychedelics such as psilocybin reduce or even eliminate political extremism and visceral hatred on all sides? It would be remarkable research to carry out to heal a politically divided populace. The dogma of untreatable personality disorders or hopelessly entrenched political extremism is on the chopping block, and psychedelics offer hope to splinter those beliefs by concurrently remodeling brain tissue (neuroplasticity) and rectifying the mindset (psychoplasticity).

While I’m not so sure about how effective psilocybin would be for this, I’m all for trying something to reduce the “visceral hatred on all sides.”

Maybe humor could be part of the solution. It doesn’t have to be exactly like that of George Carlin. Both parody and satire have been used by many writers for this.

I like the distinction between parody and satire in one article I found on the web. One recent example of satire (or parody; the distinction is sometimes hard to make since the story was listed as “Iowa Parodies”) was in the news and it apparently fooled at least a few people. It was about the Iowa football coaching staff. The title was “Brian Ferentz Promoted to University President To Avoid Having to Fire Him (Satire): The move was deemed ‘a way easier conversation than having him fired’ by the athletic director. It was written by Creighton M, posted September 5, 2022.

I think the story was originally printed without the word “Satire” in the title. I can’t recall seeing the heading “Iowa Parodies” either. A later version of the story added the word “Satire.”

The story might have been about nepotism in the hiring of Brian Ferentz (he’s the son of head coach Kirk Ferentz) as offensive coach. On the other hand, under Iowa law, it was not illegal to hire Brian Ferentz, who in any case reports to athletic director Gary Barta, not Kirk Ferentz.

I suspect the joke had more to do with negative public attitudes about the performance of the Iowa football offense early in the season.

Is it funny? I guess it depends on your perspective. The Iowa football coaching staff probably didn’t chuckle over it. But it more or less fits the definition of satire. It uses humor to expose flaws in the way we behave. And it avoids direct and nasty confrontation, which usually triggers antagonism rather than collaboration. Will it change the Iowa football program? I doubt it. They’re actually doing pretty good so far.

But satire as a strategy to inform and maybe change the public opinion will endure. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams is one of my favorite books and it satirizes governments and the foolishness of people. I first learned about The Onion newspaper while we were in the process of relocating to Wisconsin (a short adventure). It satirizes the Associated Press news style.

One of the most uproarious examples of parody is a TV show which is no longer available on cable television but still offered on a streaming service (I think), Mountain Monsters. It’s a hilarious sendup of all the Bigfoot hunter shows.

The added benefit of parody and satire and other such forms of humor is that they are safer than psychedelics—unless your target was born without a funny bone.

Look on the Bright Side

Yesterday was the first day of Autumn. Happy Autumn! Was that too cheerful? You know, I used to watch the show Monty Python’s Flying Circus years ago. I thought it was outrageously funny.

What reminded me of the show was Sena telling me that on Wednesday night, a member of the Flying Circus cast, Eric Idle, was on The Masked Singer, one of her favorite shows. I didn’t watch it. He was Hedgehog and sang the Beatles number, “Love Me Do.” Eric said something about how you should look on the happy side of life. He mentioned there was song with that title.

We looked it up and found “Look on the Bright Side of Life.” It’s a catchy tune and reminded me of Monty Python’s Flying Circus attitude. I guess Eric Idle wrote the song and sang it on The Life of Brian.

While the song seemingly is about looking steadily on the bright side of life, it has that slightly edgy, ironic attitude to it which was typical of the Flying Circus.

While some think that the Covid-19 pandemic is over (not mentioning names), there’s probably a more balanced way of looking at that and other challenges in life. The PennStateExtension published an article on June 12, 2020, “Realistic and Optimistic: Managing Mindset in Challenging Times,” by Suzanna Windon, Ph. D, Assistant Professor, Youth and Adult Leadership, and Mariah Stollar, Former Part-Time Research Assistant, Penn State University.

Their list of ways to look on the bright side while being mindful of potential pitfalls attributable to things like overweening pride and fantasy are good to remember in these trying times (see original article by the authors for full details):

  • Practice mindfulness. 
  • Observe and adjust your patterns of thinking.
  • Believe in yourself, but do not underestimate challenges. 
  • Look forward to the future, but be realistic things may not quickly change. 
  • Keep yourself informed, but limit media intake.
  • Reflect on messages you are sending to employees, volunteers, and loved ones. ” 

    In other words, look on the bright side but don’t kid yourself.

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