1 Corinthians 13:11

    Thursday, March 12, 2009, 3:25 PM [General]

     

    Today's Beliefnet epigraph, from e.e. cummings, couldn't possibly be more appropriate for today's post:  "It takes courage to grow up and turn out to be who you really are."

     

    Fitting, as even though I haven't been on Beliefnet for some two weeks, most of you know I recently hit the big "four-oh."

     

    It was quite an occasion; and being the same week as Carnaval this year, for Ana and my adoptive Brazilian family it was quite the party.  We had a dinner among the immediate family on my birthday; we had a larger party with the entire family on Saturday; and we spent an afternoon at the beach on Sunday.  (At "North Beach" in Miami Beach, literally in the shadow of the world-famous Fontainebleau and Eden Roc hotels.) 

     

    My presents were much needed -- from my family, money given my unemployment; from Ana, the boys, her mom and sisters, desperately needed "summer clothes" (as we used to call them in New York/New Jersey) to keep me looking Miami nice.  Among the presents were a cap and T-shirt from the official memorabilia of my late, fallen hero, the Brazilian race car driver Ayrton Senna.  I literally screamed like a kid when I opened them.  (Even better, the profits went to charity in Brazil, as Senna set up his estate as a philanthropic institution before his fatal crash in 1994.) 

     

    After all the celebrations, though, something odd happened.  Usually when I am away from the computer for a few days, voluntarily or otherwise, I terribly miss Beliefnet, Therese Borchard's blog Beyond Blue and the wonderful folks at the Beyond Blue social networking group.

     

    But this time I didn't. 

     

    Not at all.

     

    And I also had no desire to write in the Doxieman Blog.

     

    Now, granted, a lot of that has to do with the completely botched migration of Beliefnet's social networking groups, blogs, etc. from their clunky, slow platform to a MySpace-type platform (since Beliefnet is co-owned with MySpace).  You don't need to add my voice to the chorus to know that this has been a complete disaster, not only technically (my entries from the Doxieman Blog in February are still vanished in cyberspace) but also stylistically.  All we Beliefnet users wanted was a clunky, faster and more reliable platform.  (Indeed, my dear Ana wishes Beliefnet still had its circa 2007 look.)

     

    If I wanted to IM with my friends and trade hundreds of digital pictures a week from my camera and cell phone, rather than exchanging serious thoughts about adulthood, chronic disease and spirituality, I'd already be on MySpace. 

     

    And I'd also still be a teen-ager.

     

    But I'm not -- in fact, I'm now twice the age and then some of my high school days.  And the titular puppy of my blog is no puppy anymore, either -- she's 53 in "human years."

     

    So it's been a time of major reassessment in my life.  And -- just as my dear friend (and she is a wonderful friend) Therese Borchard, who shares my birthday, likes to do -- I began to center my thoughts around a Bible verse; in this case, 1 Corinthians 13:11:

     

    "When I became a man, I put away childish things."

     

    I started this blog almost a year and a half ago when my life was completely different -- in fact, so "childish" that I had been forced, after long-term unemployment, to give up my small college town apartment and move in with my mother and stepfather, the latter of whom began bitterly emotionally abusing me.

     

    Today, I live 1,000 miles away, in a new climate literally and figuratively (with a small sunburn to prove it, LOL), with the most amazing woman I have ever met (on this site, no less), living with her two sons and serving as at least a Big Brother figure and perhaps a stepfather figure as well.

     

    And, to quote another scripture for some - "Spiderman" -- "With great power comes great responsibility."

     

    Ana, you her friends as well as mine may have noticed, has already curtailed her Beliefnet involvement substantially.  Primarily, she keeps in touch with those close to her by e-mail (either Beliefnet or private), but she has little involvement these days in the Beyond Blue or other social networking groups, or Therese's Beyond Blue blog or other Beliefnet-sponsored blogs.

     

    One reason she has curtailed her involvement is the same reason I have been steadily (though far more slowly) curtailing mine.  It also becomes very complicated in talking about my new life -- our new life together -- in either the Doxieman Blog or on the Beyond Blue group.  Because that life now involves a family, and two of its members are minors -- and, though they both indeed have MySpace site and update them frequently, they have not consented (nor would or should they consent) to having their lives aired out on the Web sites of the adults responsible for them.

     

    And indeed, that would a childish thing for this adult to do. 

     

    Therese told me the great author and journalist Anna Quindlen has a rule about not writing about family life once her children turned 10.  Ana's sons are 12 and 17.  Food for thought.

     

    Also, most of you know I have not yet found a job in Miami.  Ironically, the Great Recession is so bad that, under President Obama's new stimulus bill, there is a lot more aid and potential resources for people who are unemployed.  So Ana and I are OK in the short-term, since she is an incredibly frugal mom anyway.  (And I've shown her a few tips of my own from one of my geeky hobbies, coupon-clipping). 

     

    But I must, MUST get a job as soon as possible.  And that itself is a full-time job.  And, though I've had interviews (and have one this week, wish me luck), this is an altogether different economy than any I've encountered as an adult.

     

    The only remotely comparable period during my lifetime was the Reagan Recession of the early '80s.  Everyone seems to forget that the unemployment rate when Reagan aired his famous "Morning in America" commercial, though dropping instead of rising, was far too high and not much different than it is today.

     

    My sister, mom, soon-to-be stepdad and I had to move into a drafty old house like something out of the small western Pennsylvania steel towns where my stepfather grew up.  They both were working, but it was a difficult time. 

     

    The wind whipped through our bedrooms in the winter.  Life literally felt gray.  And that was the time of my first suicide attempt, in the early spring of 1982.

     

    Today, though monetary needs are pressing, life feels much more sunny -- literally and otherwise.  There is hope for the future in this incredible new relationship, despite the stress of the times we live in and of the disease that terrible 1982 day presaged.

     

    I've always felt like Tom Hanks in "Big," a boy trapped in a man's body, for my entire adult life.  No longer.  (When ironically, my body is smaller than it has been for many years thanks to 50 pounds of lost weight.)  I joke that now no one can insult me when I say I love ABBA if I'm 40, but it's a lot more than that.

     

    I want to succeed for the boys.  For this extended family that has welcomed me with such open arms given my job status and my disease (which they know about). 

     

    And of course, for my lovely Ana.

     

    That needs focus.  That needs prioritizing.  And those are things I finally feel able to do, with the support of my soulmate. 

     

    And I will.

     

    Oh, I'll still have setbacks in my bipolar disorder -- I just had a big one, as most of you know.   But in experiencing a meltdown of that scale, which would have taken months if not years to recover from in the past, I now feel better in a matter of weeks.

     

    So it's time, I've decided, to not focus on myself as someone with a chronic disease who happens to have a lot of things to do and say, but rather to truly live up to my self-description on my profile -- as someone who happens to have a lot of things to do and say who just so happens to have a chronic disease.

     

    Which is to say, I am (yes) Beyond Blue.

     

    This will be the last entry in the Doxieman Blog, at least on Beliefnet.  I'll keep my account open to update everyone when things have stabilized for me jobwise and when I fully have caught up with the rhythm of being part of a household instead of a solo act.  And perhaps at that point I can open a Blogspot or Typepad account and actually keep it regularly updated.

     

    And I'll try to pop in and say hi when the technical glitches are solved on the social networking group.  Everyone interested has my Beliefnet e-mail and should feel free to e-mail me; I will certainly endeavor to respond.

     

    The Doxieman Blog has told a wonderful story the last year-and-a-half -- a story of hope, recovery, finding oneself, and finding one's purpose in life.  Even when you are doing none of the conventional things that society says are the markers of doing so.

     

    My story will go on.  My example may one day become part of the memoir I am still threatening to write -- especially now that it has an unlikely happy ending!  And I will forever be indebted to you, my readers, for your interaction and your example in letting me show my weakness to ultimately reveal my strength underneath.

     

    The social networking group is in good hands with Melissa "Melzoom" and Rev. Bob, the incomparable "Luthitarian."  Therese is now doing remarkable work not only here but in the Huffington Post and other outlets. 

     

    My work will be quieter -- that of solidifying a couple, blending a family, fortifying one's finances, building a life. 

     

    It's true that I couldn't have done it without Ana's unshakeable belief in me (and I've tried, unintentionally and sometimes quite intentionally, to shake it a few times).

     

    But I also couldn't have done it without you. 

     

    Beyond Blue has never been "childish" for me.  Quite the contrary.  Your support and (yes) love helped me become the man I finally am, if two decades later than one might expect.

     

    But it is time for me to go on and live up to these new responsibilities -- and the life I have been blessed to find.

     

    Thank you.  May G-d bless all of you. 

     

    And you still know where to find me if you look. 

    4.1 (3 Ratings)

    Three Kinds of Haters

    Friday, February 20, 2009, 10:50 PM [General]

    I haven't written in awhile, and those of you who know me best know I've been through a really rough time with my depression recently.  Ana has been wonderful -- and so have most of you -- and so I know I'll recover.  Ana wrote a typically exquisite and beautiful note of gratitude on her Beliefnet page.
     
    Alas, I write today not to praise Caesar but to bury him.  So this entry will NOT be addressed to the 98.6% of you who have been amazingly, remarkably supportive.  And it will be a bit dark, befitting my current mood.
     
    When one asks for support on Beliefnet -- a community where, no matter how well we know each other, we are still just abstractions on a computer screen unless we meet like Ana and I did -- one must acknowledge the reality that not all members will wish you the best. 
     
    Some, in fact, will not only wish you the worst but actively try to foment it.
     
    Ana's son, in the style (completely inexplicably to my mind) of most teen-agers, loves hip-hop music.  (Lil Wayne is his favorite ... ay yi yi.)  Anyway, besides "gangstas" and "hos" and "b*tches," one of the favorite epithets noted in hip-hop songs is "haters."  Those who will try to tear you down because they would rather do that than build themselves (let alone others) up. 
     
    So with that in mind, let me write a short guide to the "Three Kinds of Haters" you may find on Beliefnet when you ask for help and don't (albeit only in rare instances) get what you hope for.
     
    Type 1, the type that doesn't know any better, could be seen on my homepage until the Beliefnet moderators struck her comment down.  She is someone whose username expresses her complete devotion to G-d -- only her vocal and emphatic insistence on my being "100% crazy" in her comment (along with an incredibly snide graphic that all but said "eff-you") actually makes her the best argument for atheism this side of Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris or Richard Dawkins. 
     
    Really, when the problem is ignorance, all you can do is try to let the insult go and, perhaps, if you have the grace, use it as a teaching moment.  I told her that I hoped that I hoped her G-d could teach her to have a bit more compassion for those with chronic illness.  (At least, until she had my perfectly innocent response struck down as well, which tells you all about her "holiness.")
     
    Type 2 is the "they should know better but they don't" type.  In the middle of my current crisis -- which I related in poignant, sometimes minute-by-minute detail on the Beyond Blue social networking group -- someone I'll call "M." took it upon themselves to take the cries of agony I related at my worst and dumb them (and thus me) down into dime-store proverbs. 
     
    I can only conclude that the person thought, because I am normally, well, normal -- someone one would never guess had bipolar disorder IRL, in fact -- that I couldn't possibly be making existential cries for help out of true mental illness, but rather as some sort of joke.
     
    Therefore such writings, the person concluded, were worthy of vicious satire in turn.
     
    I enjoy satire and sarcasm as well as anyone (as Doxieman Blog readers well know) but not when it is done out of pure cruelty and malice rather than citing the follies of humanity from which we all suffer.
     
    The sad part is, I truly considered this person -- who I met on Beyond Blue, and who represents themselves as having depression -- a friend.  No more.  If they cannot have empathy for others with the same disease, I have to assert my own boundaries for my own emotional safety.
     
    Still, "M." has nothing on Type 3, which I will call "Iago" after the infamous conniver in Shakespeare's Othello. 
     
    The person who indeed knows better, and that is EXACTLY why they plot and scheme and try to destroy.
     
    "C." is someone who has been a member of Beliefnet longer than I have, and almost as long as Ana has.  "C." floats back and forth between heavy involvement and retreat from Beliefnet, at least as an active poster.
     
    But this person is always lurking in the shadows.
     
    "C." and I were friends for awhile, joshing about our mutual love of Barack Obama, when "C." did something which has happened to me on far too many occasions on Beliefnet -- using a Bnet e-mail account to send me extended, explosive, and manic tirades about what a horrible and evil person I am.
     
    (Yes, I have manic depression too, but please spare me the excuse that the person didn't know what they were doing so they should be forgiven.  Besides the fact that anyone, even someone with bipolar disorder, has to take responsibility for their his or her actions ... well, even if you are in blind rage from mania you still have to decide BEFOREHAND who you are going to target your rage at.)
     
    Fortunately for me, in most cases, people who have maniacally attacked me using Beliefnet have realized the error of their ways (eventually) and -- after often using some very personal, biting, and downright cruel words to intentionally hurt -- slinked away.  They will never be my friends again, but they have never flamed me again, either.
     
    "C." will not slink away.
     
    Oh, on the surface "C." did.  But "C." did something quite devious instead.  This person lurked (still lurks) in READING Beyond Blue posts, though not writing on the group.
     
    Then, like Iago did with Othello to make him fatally jealous of Desdemona, "C." has been e-mailing people behind the scenes about controversial and thus potentially hurtful things said on Beyond Blue, with a note (indeed, often a mere hint, like Shakespeare's great villain with Desdemona's scarf), "That must have been said about you."
     
    In other words, "C." is trying to set Beyond Blue members against each other using their own words.  Killing with kindness -- just like Iago -- all the way.
     
    I've had enough experiences with Iago types -- particularly "R.," who many longtime Doxieman Blog readers know as the man who tortured me (or, to be fair, I let torture me) suicidally for two decades -- to recognize them. 
     
    But I fear my fellow Beyond Blue members are willing to give one of their own with sociopathic tendencies the benefit of the doubt, because in our journeys from depression, we must learn to become more trusting and let down our guards. 
     
    Not too much, though, or we lose our healthy psychological boundaries as well.
     
    I don't think "C." -- or anyone like "C.", since no doubt there are other such types lurking in other areas of Beliefnet -- could even explain what motivates them (which is a hallmark of sociopathy).  To quote Iago himself, when asked after the fact why he plotted so horribly against Othello:
     
    Demand from me nothing, what you know you know
    From this time forth I never will speak word
     
    Pray that "C." never speaks word again in the way they have for many, many months now.  But somehow, I doubt that will happen.
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    Ten Thousand

    Monday, February 9, 2009, 11:37 AM [General]

    THANK YOU!!!

    As of this weekend, I have passed the magical number of 10,000 individual visits to my modest little Web page.  How humbling.

    Oddly, I've been tracking, and I've gotten a higher rate of visitors since I announced I would be cutting back my writing than I was getting before the end of the year.  And I have a theory about this (and not just that you somehow think each individual post is twice as good now, LOL).

    I set a goal in November to reach the 10,000 mark by the end of 2008.  It was selfish, it was silly, it was self-defeating.  You can't knock people out in cyberspace, and drag them into your Web page by force.  You have to let go of such goals and, to the extent you want to build a COMMUNITY in cyberspace, simply show people you have something to say and hope they will come.

    And lo and behold, once I let go, my traffic increased.  Hmmm.  (My girlfriend, no doubt, will have a field day about that factoid ...)

    One of my themes recently on the Doxieman Blog -- and really, one of the themes of my life, and certainly the one that most fascinates me in terms of literature and pop culture (e.g., "The Secret") -- is the idea that we have the power within our minds to make thoughts not only into actions, but into actual, concrete, material things.  And that this is not a good thing.

    This is a classic theme of Jorge Luis Borges, the Argentine who is my all-time favorite author, in his "ficciones" (short stories).  One of his classics, called "The Circular Ruins," is about a wizard who makes a deal with the Fire God to literally dream a son into reality.  (Gee, I wonder why I would meditate on this given my troubled relationship with my father and downright tortured one with my stepfather?)

    If you've never read Borges, stop reading right here and go get "Ficciones" in your local Barnes and Noble or Borders or neighborhood bookstore.  But for those who have, I include a sample to give one an idea of his style.

    Keep in mind that Borges neither cheerleads a la Rhonda Byrne, nor horrifies us like the legendary Twilight Zone episode "It's a Good Life"; no, he forces us to descend into existential terror with the true implications of such doctrine:

    The wizard suddenly remembered the words of the god. He remembered that of all the creatures that people the earth, Fire was the only one who knew his son to be a phantom. This memory, which at first calmed him, ended by tormenting him. He feared lest his son should meditate on this abnormal privilege and by some means find out he was a mere simulacrum. Not to be a man, to be a projection of another man's dreams--what an incomparable humiliation, what madness! Any father is interested in the sons he has procreated (or permitted) out of the mere confusion of happiness; it was natural that the wizard should fear for the future of that son whom he had thought out entrail by entrail, feature by feature, in a thousand and one secret nights.

     

    His misgivings ended abruptly .... For what had happened many centuries before was repeating itself. The ruins of the sanctuary of the god of Fire was destroyed by fire. In a dawn without birds, the wizard saw the concentric fire licking the walls. For a moment, he thought of taking refuge in the water, but then he understood that death was coming to crown his old age and absolve him from his labors. He walked toward the sheets of flame. They did not bite his flesh, they caressed him and flooded him without heat or combustion. With relief, with humiliation, with terror, he understood that he also was an illusion, that someone else was dreaming him.

    So why have I included this here?  Because I realize more and more each day that my creativity, my words, my dreaming (of course) and even my love for others ... all is but a conduit.  Not necessarily of G-d as the Western World (even Islam) imagines Him, but certainly of something larger than myself.

    And the something larger doesn't necessarily have to be divine.  It could be, say, a community of hundreds or even thousands which reads, which gives me feedback -- and where the feedback goes both ways.

    Ana said to me recently, "Do you realize that if you have saved even one person's life (i.e., through my depression activism), all your pain has been worth it?"

    Such a thought would have made me furious not very long ago -- and certainly not very long before I met Ana.  It still troubles me enormously. 

    What Being, what Essence decides what one person's pain and another's pleasure is worth?  Or are the concepts of illness, pain, pleasure, saving vs. costing a life, worth -- even Divinity itself -- illusions?

    And, to complete the circle, must we ground ourselves in illusions -- even if we suspect they indeed are illusions -- in order to avoid insanity?

    My existential terror aside, in the end I am not humiliated, but enormously humble.  (Which my take on the original Spanish in that amazing last sentence of Borges is anyway -- humility, not humiliation.)  Humble in this community and certainly humble in my place in the universe (Universe?).

    I am humbled not merely "beyond blue," but beyond belief, by all of you who rally around me every single day.  And this is my time to thank you (and You, too) for the literal inspiration that, I hope, I have channeled back into something positive for you and the world through my writing and through my postings.

    (And I have tears in my eyes as I finish writing this ...) Cry

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    An Atypical Attitude

    Saturday, February 7, 2009, 3:31 PM [General]

    (Expanding on a note from my last post ...)

    I think most Beyond Bluers know I side on the "pro-medication" side of the line when it comes to treatment of depression.  Contributors to BB in general are probably very mildly pro-medication -- whereas contributors to the Furious Seasons blog (http://www.furiousseasons.com), from Seattle-based journalist Philip Dawdy, are strongly anti-medication.

    Recently, though, there has been too much news talking about how the corruption of Big Pharma is literally polluting the care that those of us with depression receive -- because either we could use older, cheaper, and more proven drugs; or (in some points of view) because we don't need drugs at all.

    Dawdy's blog, of course, specializes in medication issues.  Therese Borchard's BB blog doesn't, but she did on Friday, with two interviews (one by her and one on a radio show) with the mildly med-skeptic Dr. Edward Shorter, author of the book "Before Prozac":

    http://blog.beliefnet.com/beyondblue/2009/02/podcast-kevin-keough-interview.html

    http://blog.beliefnet.com/beyondblue/2009/02/edward-shorter-before-prozac--.html

    IMO, Dr. Shorter pushes ECT too much (certainly not something he shares in common with strongly anti-medication folks), along with certain drugs like Effexor (which did nothing for me but make me more anxious, despite the favorable pharmacological profile Dr. Shorter features) and the addictive 50s and 60s sedative Miltown (which was, not Valium, the "mother's little helper" the Rolling Stones sang about).

    But for all that, Dr. Shorter's findings reflected findings Dawdy has been publishing in recent months on Furious Seasons;

    There is increasing, indeed overwhelming, evidence that SSRI's -- the drugs in the class of Prozac, such as Luvox, Zoloft, Cymbalta and Paxil -- which were hailed as wonder drugs when they came on the market 20 years ago, have been less effective and more dangerous than the "tricyclic" drugs such as Elavil which preceded them.  Indeed, Dawdy recently said only 10 to 20 percent of patients may actually benefit from SSRI's.  (Though Zoloft was actually TOO effective for me -- it pushed me into mania.)

    SSRI's may be effective for certain other disorders -- obsessive-compulsive disorder, even PMS -- but not depression.  One of my dear friends, Susan of the "Going Through Hell" blog (hollythecat on Beliefnet), is going through a hellish time with Cymbalta as I write.

    One problem, said Dr. Shorter, is misdiagnosis.  The FDA asks Big Pharma to come up with drugs to combat "major depression."  But that name, he notes, was decided in the DSM-III (the "Bible" of psychiatric diagnoses) in 1980 as a merger of two previous diagnoses, "melancholic depression" and "non-melancholic depression."  Dr. Shorter's contention is that the drug companies may, in an honest mistake, be trying to develop drugs to combat two illnesses, not one, yet not treating either effectively.

    One ominous implication of this is that "non-melancholic depression" -- which Dr. Shorter said needs to be treated with anti-anxiety drugs like Klonopin (which I take), not anti-depressants or mood stabilizers (though he endorses lithium for bipolar disorder) sounds an awful lot like bipolar disorder type II, first identified in the DSM-IV, and of course my diagnosis.  He also says this is an acute, not chronic condition.

    Does that mean I shouldn't be taking mood stabilizers like lithium and Lamictal?  That makes my head spin in more ways than one.

    Still, Dr. Shorter is far more sanguine about medicine -- at least the non-patented kinds, where the risks and rewards are by now extremely well-known, and which patients can usually get at a lower cost (not always, though) -- than Dawdy.  I'm about the only "pro-med" (though I'm simply in favor of being an informed consumer) contributor to the blog comments -- and the tone is certainly set from the top.  I certainly don't like something like Dawdy saying, as he did recently, that the term "chemical imbalance" is a bunch of garbage.   It may not be 100% scientifically accurate (is any term that describes the brain's inner workings?), but it's still the easiest non-stigmatizing way I've heard of to explain depression in the brain, even if the term doesn't meet strict scientific scrutiny.

    BUT ...

    Not only is Dawdy's work on SSRI's, despite my own initial skepticism, being increasingly vindicated, but he should get some sort of honorary blogger Pulitzer for his work on Zyprexa, made by Eli Lilly -- an "atypical antipsychotic" supposed to replace Haldol and Thorazine for treating schizophrenia (it didn't), and then subsequently marketed as a treatment for bipolar disorder.  Except Lilly hid what millions of patients now know -- that it promotes horrendous weight gain and can push its taker into diabetes type II.  And so do its related drugs such as Seroquel and Abilify.  (I gained 30 pounds in three months on Zyprexa -- can you imagine, even having lost a lot of weight, how good I'd look to Ana minus an additional one-and-a-half stone?) 

    Lilly is likely to ultimately have to pay off more than the $4 billion that Merck paid in the Vioxx scandal in order to settle all remaining public and private lawsuits.  And guess who, "The Insider"-style, uncovered secret documents that Lilly knew about the extreme effects of its drug on the human metabolism?  Dawdy.

    Naturally, the readers of Furious Seasons would like to bury every atypical antipsychotic drug ever made in a Yucca Mountain-type repository.  But you don't have to be "anti-med" to hate the atypical antipsychotics.  Just look at Beyond Blue's social networking group.  I'm starting to count at least twice a day where someone on Beyond Blue casually mentions, "Oh, I'm on Abilify (the newest of the "atypicals," which has helped save Bristol Myers Squibb as a company) and gained 26 pounds in a few weeks."  Or Seroquel (an Astra-Zeneca medicine) and 50 pounds in a few months.  (Dawdy himself suffered extreme weight gain from Seroquel.)  Or Zyprexa (STILL ON THE MARKET!!!!) and 75 pounds in a year.

    I'm beginning to think these drugs -- and more to the point, the way the FDA approved and Big Pharma marketed them -- are something close to evil.  Their ancestor drug is called Clozaril, which is fairly effective for schizophrenia but also can cause a life-threatening blood disorder that requires weekly blood tests.  If Clozaril was the ancestor drug for atypicals, and we know how dangerous and what devastating side effects that has (and the agonizing choices some are facing with potentially having to go on it anyway, as the "last resort" drug a la Cipro for infections), why would the chemical metabolites be all that much different?

    Bristol Myers Squibb is currently airing TV commercials arguing that Abilify can serve as a "booster shot" to your antidepressant.  A "booster shot" to your spare tire, maybe.  On this issue, my only dispute with Dawdy might be that he hasn't crusaded ENOUGH against that horrible, horrible Abilify commercial.  (Though Dawdy did recently publicize Abilify's latest issue -- it may cause liver problems.  Lovely.)

    All of this makes me thankful that all four of the drugs I now take are on generic, and that I can be appropriately skeptical about their side effects as well as their benefits.  Lithium is a wonderful mood stabilizer but causes potential long-term damage in the liver and kidneys.  (Along with nausea/IBS as constant companions.)  Trazodone, when marketed as Desyrel, was considered a wonder drug five years before Prozac, until (like Zyprexa with weight gain) its enormously sedative qualities became fully apparent.  But I use it as a sleeping pill, so that's fine.  Clonazepam (Klonopin) has Dr. Shorter's strong endorsement for use in anxiety -- despite its potentially addictive qualities.  His logic is that it is hugely effective for that purpose -- which in turn can lower depression -- and all medicines have some potential for dependence.

    Lamictal is perhaps the least known of the four -- yet the one that seems to have been most effective for me.  Now called lamotrigine in generic form, it was originally used (like many anti-manic agents -- Depakote, Tegretol) against epilepsy, but subsequently discovered to stabilize moods.  It can cause a rare but lethal skin disorder called Stevens-Johnson Syndrome; but if you don't get it in the first couple of weeks you take the drug, you won't. 

    The problem is, it is frightfully expensive, even in generic form -- almost literally worth its weight in gold.   It calls to mind, for someone like me without health insurance, the Heinz dilemma from the late ethicist Lawrence Kohlberg (who, with terrible irony, suffered depression and committed suicide).

    If you need medication that is too expensive, and you need it immediately, do you steal it (and risk legal sanction) or try to wait anyway and save up for it (and risk you or, in Kohlberg's scenario, your spouse dying)? 

    How much is your health worth?  Big Pharma, one supposes, tests us all the time.

    Borchard is much more nuanced than Dawdy about the fact that we shouldn't let Big Pharma's ills keep us from taking meds if they help us.  But we all know people will take information like Dawdy's (and Borchard's Friday) and say people who take meds are evil, wrong and weak.

    It never ceases to amaze me how we have fellow travelers, people suffering like we do, who think no differently than the Scientologists who would probably exterminate them (and us) if they could get away with it.

    Even so, the events of recent weeks have left me, well, atypically skeptical of medication -- and especially of heavily marketed, newly patented medication -- as treatment for depression.

    Just today, I saw a guy who was either a pharmaceutical rep or a doctor (and maybe one of the big problems today is that you can't tell the difference) with some "swag," a big totebag with the logo for Lyrica.

    The TV commercials for Lyrica say specifically it should be prescribed only for fibromyalgia, not depression.  So if you go to any depression support group meeting, guess how many attendees say they either are taking or have taken Lyrica?  I'd say 15-20%, at least.

    Caveat emptor.  Even with the doctors and medicines you are trusting to save your life.

    UPDATE:  I see the Scientologist types are already starting on me.  Any more and I'll unfortunately have to close down comments.

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    It's a Good Life

    Tuesday, February 3, 2009, 3:46 PM [General]

    So for a guy who loves politics and movies, and is a first-hand expert on depression, there's a lot to talk about.

    How is it that two of the titans of the Democratic Party, Tom Daschle and Bill Richardson, cannot get themselves confirmed to mid-tier Cabinet posts in the Obama Administration when there is a heavily Democratic Congress?

    How can the FDA continue to allow the barrage of TV ads for Abilify and Cymbalta, two psychiatric drugs which have seen recent studies show nightmarish side effects (including the ultimate "adverse outcome," death) for far too many patients?

    How can the Academy Awards continue its maddening approach-avoid dance with the greatest actress of her generation -- Kate Winslet -- who swept the Golden Globes' two acting awards (an incredibly rare feat) yet ended up with only one Oscar nomination, putting the (slightly) weaker of her two masterful roles in a category against the great Meryl Streep, the greatest actress (maybe not star, but assuredly actress) of all time?  Is Winslet, she of the six nominations and (so far) zero Oscars, doomed to end up like that other immensely talented Briton, Deborah Kerr -- always the bridesmaid, never a bride?

    (Come to think of it, how could Clint Eastwood be completely snubbed for a masterful acting performance in the most popular movie of his entire career?  And how did a Bollywood movie end up the favorite to take Best Picture?  Hey, at least Heath Ledger's family and loved ones look set to take home his much-deserved posthumous Oscar from "The Dark Knight.")

    But this column is about none of those things.

    It is said that feeling miserable makes one a wonderful writer, and feeling wonderful makes one a miserable writer.

    I plead guilty.

    Life here at Chez Ana has been remarkably, well, stabilizing for me.  My mood stays mostly steady from day-to-day.  While I've had a couple of anxiety attacks, neither of them were about my unemployment, an incredibly stressful thing to go through.  And I feel confident (given, of course, the hurricane-like economic winds blowing against me) that I am doing what I need to be doing.  I've seen numerous other job seekers' resumes here in Florida, for example -- trust me, I have a big advantage right there just in getting noticed by recruiters.

    Obviously, the weather -- virtually always sunny in the winter time, mild but rarely oppressive as it will be in hurricane season -- is an enormous help.  Bipolar disorder inevitably includes a component of seasonal affective disorder, and more than one person has remarked that I look far healthier with some color on me (even though, of course, I hasten to add, overtanning at 30 degrees latitude is extremely unhealthy).  I've also reversed the mini "plateau" weight gain I had, which has infuriated Ana (who notes, correctly, women always lose weight more slowly) with a lot of walking around the neighborhood.

    Ana's love, of course, is boundless and a treasure without measure to me.  (She likes Stuart Smalley-like sayings to help pick me and herself up, and with Al Franken now all but assured of becoming a United States Senator, who am I to argue?)

    But a lot of what helps me, I think, is structure.  Making sure to give the house a fairly thorough cleaning every week (even if I might do upstairs one day and downstairs the next to break it up).  Taking care of not only Schumie but also Yoshi the cat.  Learning to prepare simple foods and, as my Super Bowl "victory" showed (yes, the boys liked my dip more), gaining confidence in my cooking abilities.  Grocery shopping (not too heavy a load, since I have to walk, obviously) as needed at the local Publix supermarket.  (Yes, there are other supermarkets in Florida besides Publix and Winn-Dixie -- but you have to speak Spanish if you want to find what you're shopping for.)  Going to the library to print out resumes (in the same shopping center as the Publix; neither of our printers currently work).  Going to job fairs and temporary agencies.

    Watching favorite TV shows ("The Biggest Loser," which Ana has gotten me addicted to -- perhaps because two years ago I might have been a candidate) and sampling her copious DVD collection (many of which, because I've gotten away from going to the theater the last couple of years, I haven't seen).

    And then other rituals.  Walking around our beautiful (and amazingly, alligator-free) local lake at sunset with Ana.  Going to her oldest son's soccer games and her youngest son's swimming lessons.  Meeting the other "sports parents," some of whom have become dear friends of Ana's.  And of course, on big occasions, uniting with sisters, mom, aunt, cousins, niece, nephews, in-laws, etc. for carnavals complete with feijoada (Brazil's national dish) and caipirinhas (Brazil's national cocktail).

    In fact, sometimes I trip up when the rituals DON'T go as planned.  "The job fair was cancelled -- do we need to go shopping instead?"  That, I actually handled fairly well; but the point is, in a busy household with two growing teen-agers, something ALWAYS is in need of doing.  And when I have a busy schedule, I like to plan -- which works sometimes, but is a futile effort in the long run when you're dealing with three other people and their changing needs.  So -- ironically for someone who, before I was diagnosed, was considered an incredibly spontaneous person -- I've become in such NEED of structure that I have to let go a bit again and learn to be more flexible.

    As far as the topics above ... well, members of Congress (and no doubt the President's closest advisors) are calling him on his pledge to have an incredibly ethical Administration -- even if his closest political allies are the ones getting into scrapes. 

    The Academy has different rules than the Golden Globes for scoring whether a role is "lead" or "supporting"; it was decided Winslet's role in "The Reader" had too much screen time to be a Best Supporting Actress-eligible role -- and, unlike in the golden days of Hollywood, you can only be nominated once in a category, so the voters chose her role in "The Reader" over her equal masterpiece in "Revolutionary Road."  (I have no explanation for the various merits of "Gran Torino" vs. "Slumdog Millionaire" to the Academy, though.)

    And as for the drugs ... well, one can hope that Obama will enforce safety rules more aggressively (the fact Daschle, who had ties to drug companies, is withdrawing can only help); but for now, the current lapdog rules about testing and marketing stay in effect.

    It is instructive that I've finally evolved my medication regimen to the point where all four of my drugs are generic drugs -- that is, they've all been on the market long enough and tested long enough by patient experience that both their benefits and side effects (and they do have side effects ...) are well known.  But many doctors, who get "freebies" from drug companies, have too much selfish incentive to prescribe newer, more expensive -- and less tested -- drugs.

    Speaking of depression ... it's well-known that I'm an intense skeptic of "The Secret" and the Law of Attraction.  Shockingly, my girlfriend has an open mind on these subjects.  Though she hastens to add that she doesn't think you can wish things into existence; she thinks it takes hard work and focus, but that more often than not if you do you can get what you want, even despite setbacks.

    But my point is a different one.  Of course if you set goals, focus, and work hard, you will either get what you want or have a worthwhile experience that will still stand you well in your next challenge; every business book in America says that.  (Though trusting business books in the Great Recession is not the best thing to do, IMO ...)

    The problem is, how do you know what you REALLY want?  Movies and TV shows (my nightmarish favorite is the Twilight Zone episode "It's a Good Life" with Cloris Leachman about a sociopathic child) illustrate that if you could actually put into existence what you think you want, and what you think you want is negative, the consequences are utterly disastrous -- certainly for yourself (whether you know it or not) and others in your own life, and perhaps for the entire world.

    Once upon a time, I wanted the perfect wife and the perfect car and the perfect house in the perfect suburb with the perfect job and the perfect friends -- just like, well, Kate Winslet and Leo DiCaprio in "Revolutionary Road."  And I pretty much had it (well, except the car).

    And I had a nervous breakdown.  Because it was all an illusion, a facade.  And I hadn't realized (because I hadn't had enough life experience) that I didn't really want it, anyway.  And so I lost the perfect wife, and the perfect house in the perfect suburb, and the perfect job, and the perfect friends, because there is a law of repulsion, not attraction, between mental illness and perfection (or certainly those who obsessively seek it, since it can never be attained anyway).

    So I couldn't imagine the life journey that began a little over a year ago when I began communicating with a Beliefnet member I only knew as "Anap."  How could I have known that a single mom in Florida was who I wanted?  (How could she have known a charming but bipolar guy from New York was who she wanted?)

    But slowly, we fell in love.  And we realized (speaking of me needing to be more flexible), in John Lennon's words, "Life is what happens while you're busy making other plans."

    It may not be what I thought I wanted long ago.  But it is everything I ever dreamed of.  And I am so much happier for trusting my heart today, rather than my head (a head I know now does not always make the best judgments, quite literally due to illness) as I did so many years ago.371d36d75e05eda735858f8e467be99c
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    Today's Real Battle

    Sunday, February 1, 2009, 3:47 PM [General]

    It has been crazy around here in Miami -- mostly in a good way, and primarily with job-hunting -- so I apologize to the many of you who have expressed both concern and a bit of wistfulness that I haven't been writing here.

    (You can't say you weren't warned by my New Year's Resolution, though ...)

    But I did want to squeeze in a quick Super Bowl post before the Big Game, and promise to give a fuller update on my recent thoughts and activities this week.

    As for the game, while I'm rooting for Kurt Warner and the Cardinals (what a great story of redemption, literally for a guy who is a devout evangelical), I think the Steelers have way too many weapons (even with some of their injury issues) and will likely stomp the Cards all over the field.  This could be a 35-10 game, unfortunately.  Maybe we'll pay more attention to the commercials that way.

    Anyway, the real battle here in Miami will be between the Mexican dips.  Ana and I will be taste-testing her seven-layer, vegetarian Mexican dip from a Rachael Ray recipe versus my four-layer, meaty Mexican dip from an old family recipe.  (Yes, I'm cooking here, believe it or not.)  

    The judges:  Ana's two sons.  And even though Ana's youngest son loves Rachael Ray and has some semi-vegetarian tendencies, honestly, I think as long as I don't burn mine, it'll be about as much of a contest as the Steelers and Cards.  Sorry, my love Wink

     

    (Though I'm sure **I** will love Ana's dip, if no one else.)

    PS -- For anyone who missed my recent TV appearance here in South Florida, here's the link:

    http://www.sun-sentinel.com/news/local/palmbeach/sfl-flpgator0130,0,4037081.story

     

    Skip by the guy almost eaten by the alligator (this is Florida, after all) and go to "Broward County Job Fair," I think on page 2.  You'll see me on screen for 2-3 seconds under my name IRL (which most of you know) right at the beginning, followed by a 10-second voiceover about the need to sacrifice frills later in the piece.

    Someone told me I looked "hunky."  And it wasn't even my girlfriend Surprised

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    Shortest Entry in Doxieman Blog History

    Wednesday, January 21, 2009, 1:19 PM [General]

     

    WOW.

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    The Happiest Birthday

    Monday, January 19, 2009, 3:18 PM [General]

    Today Martin Luther King would have been 80 years old.

    To think if he were still alive ... well, our country's entire history would have been different (as it would have been if the other assassination victim of 1968, Robert Kennedy, had lived) ... but if somehow it had come back to the election in 2008 of a unifying leader who HAPPENS to be African-American ...

    Well, it's tough not to imagine him sitting in a place of honor at the Lincoln Memorial yesterday, listening to the massive concert at the site where he gave his most famous speech, listening in particular to Stevie Wonder saluting him with "Happy Birthday" (which would have slightly different lyrics, since national holidays are not dedicated to living people, but no matter).  

    "Happy Birthday," though written in a typically joyous Stevie Wonder melody, is in fact a protest song in anger at President Reagan for his threat to veto a national holiday in honor of Martin Luther King.  The spurious reason (besides the fact that Dr. King had never been president -- he never wanted to be, of course) was a charge that there are sealed papers in Martin Luther King's library that would prove King was a Communist.  And we can't give Communists national holidays, Reagan said.

    This from the man who was feteing Mikhail Gorbachev just a few years later.  Rich.  (Not to mention that Reagan's "source" was the virulently racist Senator Jesse Helms, now mercifully dead but most certainly in a different place than Dr. King.)

    But we DO have a holiday today, and it even has developed a non-racial focus over the years (fittingly, since Dr. King thought equality for African-Americans was but the first step to justice and peace for all those discriminated against and downtrodden) -- national service.

    Fittingly, because when Dr. King was murdered, he was in Memphis advocating on behalf of the local garbage workers who were on strike.  Yes, the majority of them were African-American, but the cause was unionization, and more broadly equal wages for equal work, in general. 

    "I Have a Dream" may be Dr. King's most famous speech, and the one that inspires the most people (and rightly so).  But to me his GREATEST speech is the one he gave the night before he died.  It summed up all the work he had done over the previous 15 years before he extemporaneously concluded in a terribly prophetic vision:

    What would happen to me from some of our sick white brothers?  Well, I don't know what will happen now. We've got some difficult days ahead. But it doesn't matter with me now. Because I've been to the mountaintop. And I don't mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I'm not concerned about that now. I just want to do God's will. And He's allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I've looked over. And I've seen the promised land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land. And I'm happy, tonight. I'm not worried about anything. I'm not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.

    Dr. King knew -- because he was a prophet, truly every bit as much as John the Baptist or Moses (and just as human, we now know) -- what was about to befall him.  He knew his mission was complete, and that the G-d he served would now find another way to fulfill it.  To bring his people -- which is to say, not (just) African-Americans, but ALL people -- to the Promised Land.

    When Barack Obama is inaugurated tomorrow, I don't mean to say all will be milk and honey.  There's no manna from heaven in 2009.  We are still in the Great Recession, and likely will be for years.  Obama will be forced by the crisis to postpone many of his campaign promises.  Nor is Obama a prophet like Dr. King was -- he is a political leader.  And nor should he be a prophet.  David served a different role in Judeo-Christian history than Moses did -- or Isaiah, or Jeremiah. 

    But of course, as we know from the Old Testament, it's not as if the Israelites were perfect once they got to the Holy Land, either.  Many of them worshipped golden calves and otherwise fell away from the path Destiny (G-d?) had seemingly set for them.  Yet their modest little land became a center of human history -- and still is, if sometimes, as with the current fighting in Gaza, for the wrong reasons.

    Obama, in any case, seems to have a temperament and intellectual ability few politicians before him have had, to at least have a chance to steer America away from the shoals.  In addition to, yes, being the first African-American president.

    But look at Obama's cabinet.  Just from the number of people of different backgrounds in major positions of power, we KNOW now someday there will be the first woman president.  (I didn't vote for her, but Secretary of State-to-be Clinton is right about her "cracks in the glass ceiling" chestnut.)  Someday there will be the first Latino or Latina president.  Someday there will be the first Asian-American president.

    Perhaps most fittingly of all, someday there will be the first Native American president.  And then we won't think in terms of "firsts" anymore -- and that will be part of the Dream, too.

    The Dream has not been reached.  In a sense, it never will or even can be, not because of our various skin colors, but because of the human frailties people of all backgrounds share.

    But one, very, very important stage of it has been.  And for that reason alone, I truly believe Dr. King is smiling wherever he is today.

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    Brazilian Butt Lifts (NOT About My Beloved!)

    Friday, January 16, 2009, 1:54 PM [General]

    (But I figured it was a better title than "Nip/Tuck," which is what actually inspired this post.)

    I'm starting to realize there's truly a reason why Dave Barry, Carl Hiaasen and John Grogan all got their start in South Florida -- it truly is a theater of the absurd at times. 

    The post title comes from an ad for a plastic surgeon in South Beach -- just like Sean McNamara and Christian Troy in the outrageous FX TV show, at least until The Carver drove them to La-La-Land -- touting a particular way of doing butt implants to make a woman particularly, um, firm and shapely in the rear.

    (With exquisite irony, having seen bathing-suit pictures of the beautiful Kelly Carlson, who plays Kimber Henry in the show -- her character a victim of more surgeries than real-life "Catwoman" Jocelyn Wildenstein, who is ironically of Brazilian descent -- I think Carlson is au naturel.  I think.  Or at least she had the good taste to make her work subtle -- and to advocate in real life for cleft-palate and other only-medically necessary cosmetic surgery.)

    Of course, the country that gave us "The Girl from Ipanema," inspired by the floss bikinis on the beach in Rio -- and a particular procedure that, while not plastic surgery, is necessary for a woman to wear said floss bikini -- is understandably obsessed with enhancing women's, er, assets artificially.  (Fortunately, its most famous expatriate here on Beliefnet has rejected such ways of adding to her beauty -- which of course is not possible, anyway.) 

    Brazilian women make up huge proportions of the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit models and the Victoria's Secret Angels in any given year.  In fact, much as many people fly to India to have major medical procedures done professionally but cheaply, so do many people fly to Rio or Sao Paulo to have their nips and tucks done on the sly, in the guise of a South American vacation

    But the Brazilian community, Ana and her immediate family aside, is actually not that large here in Miami -- it's actually bigger near Fort Lauderdale, where many of her cousins live -- so one must look to other causes of the ubiquitousness of plastic surgery here in Margaritaville.

    Cynics might say it's because of the recent finding that Miami is the fattest city in America.  And it's true that once you cross the causeway west from South Beach to Habana Pequena, you will see many gorditos y gorditas who may have hit the famed Versailles Restaurant on Calle Ocho a few too many times while waiting in vain since the Bay of Pigs for the Castro regime's overthrow.

    But most of the self-styled "beautiful people" of Miami live in Miami Beach or other towns outside the central city, anyway (though, like few other major American cities beside New York and Chicago, Miami does have a large population downtown).  So that survey was a bit unfair.

    No, the real reason that Miami is, it sometimes seems, one big collection of deep bronze Pamela Anderson wannabes, is the Latin ethic toward beauty in a city of course dominated by Latin culture.

    Think of Venezuela, for example (and the second-largest community of immigrants to Miami, besides of course Cubans, is Venezuelans). 

    Even before the quasi-Communist dictator Hugo Chavez (BFF of the Castros) took office, it was a point of pride for Venezuela to win the Miss Universe pageant every year.  It had won 4 times -- the most of any independent nation besides the U.S. -- before the Chavez regime, and this year Dayana Mendoza broke through again, winning the crown (now sponsored, infamously, by Donald Trump).  Mendoza has become the equivalent in her country of Olga Korbut in the old Soviet Union, which prided itself on women's sports instead of beauty contests.

    All of which means that beauty pageants in Venezuela (and much of the rest of Latin America) are as grueling and agonizing as Olympic training was in the U.S.S.R.  In addition to lots and lots of nipping and tucking (and the resulting double-D's), hair products and make-up can run into the thousands of American dollars per contestant -- to say nothing, alas, of the throwing up backstage.  Eating disorders are rampant.

    The problem is, in the machismo culture of Latin America -- which extends here to Miami -- no natural beauty is often good enough for many men. Women must be perfect.  So women who have the means (more than you'd think) often go to desperate measures to try to (yes) enhance themselves to grab or hold onto a man, whether through plastic surgery or falling into bulimia/anorexia.  (Or both.)

    As a result, in South Florida, the prevalence of women's bodies that could not possibly have been built by nature is so overwhelming -- and eye-catching -- that Ana has basically given me permission to "look but not touch."

    But I try not to.  And not just because it's horribly unfair to my girlfriend.

    Frankly, plastic surgery, strictly for its own sake (as opposed to repairing deformities/injuries) is creepy.  And while guys inevitably look at Barbies (of any ethnicity) like Pamela Anderson, fundamentally there is something unnerving about them.  It's the "train wreck" factor.  Something most guys are smart enough to realize during that sacred American ritual known as the bachelor party, when "LBNT" is no longer the rule, and the entertainment is often hired with "silicone or saline" in the requirements clause. 

    Is someone so obsessed with meeting men's ostensible standards of beauty who -- what -- you really want hugging you every night when you settle down and find the one who's right, as opposed to the one for right now?

    Ironically, in the age of J.Lo., Jessica Alba, Salma Hayek and Gisele, I think most American men would agree with me that women of Latin origin, if you simply go in terms of features lent by ethnicity/genetics, are already among the most beautiful in the world, no enhancements needed.  THERE ARE BEAUTIFUL WOMEN EVERYWHERE (look at Carlson, the opposite "type," so Nordic she has an authentic Minny-sooda accent in real life), but certainly countless Latin women with all-natural curves remain incredibly easy on the eyes.

    Well, one is for me, anyway ...

    PS -- Though Ana is nevertheless a huge fan of "Dr. 90210" -- the reality show about plastic surgery inspired by the fictional McNamara and Troy.  "Dr. 90210" is in real life -- what did you expect? -- Brazilian.

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    Villains and Villains

    Monday, January 12, 2009, 11:42 AM [General]

    One of the delectable pleasures in life that Ana has helped remind me of is (get your heads out of the gutter, people) watching a good movie.

    As someone on a tight budget, I had gotten out of the habit of spending $10 to go to the movies by myself.  A lot easier to justify $20 and change for a date, after all.  Plus, I didn't have a DVD player; and I didn't even really feel like giving money to the cable company for HBO, let alone "on demand."  Sure, every once in awhile, I might find a movie on basic cable that intrigued and captivated me (that's how I discovered the magnificent, exquisite "Breakfast at Tiffany's" and learned why America fell in love with Audrey Hepburn over and over again), but that was an unusual occasion.

    But now, with Ana's help (and that of the marvelous, free DVD library of the Miami-Dade County Public Library -- better than Netflix) -- I'm catching up rapidly.

    Just since I've been here we've seen "Seven Pounds" (Will Smith presenting important moral issues in a completely implausible Hollywood scenario -- a DVD rather than a go-to-the-theater for my mind) and "Marley and Me" (already reviewed), and at home "Love Actually" (for the umpteenth time, the multicultural, incurably romantic 21st century Christmas treasure), "Juno," "The Dark Knight" and "Little Miss Sunshine."

    SPOILERS GALORE FOLLOW ...

    I thought "Juno" (title character played with beats-even-Doxieman sarcasm by Oscar nominee Ellen Page) was overrated -- and one reason (thus the theme of my piece) is that there were no real villains.  It could have been the abortion clinic, except that scene played completely implausibly.  It could have been Juno's semi-boyfriend Paulie (Michael Cera) -- but he was so inoffensive that even her gruff dad said he couldn't blame him for her, um, state.  It could have been Jennifer Garner, but we learned (touchingly, I will give you) she was so fragile and brittle precisely because she had lost hope.  It ended up essentially being Jason Bateman -- and while he badly let down Garner's and Page's characters with his man-child act, it wasn't done out of true malice, and didn't ultimately affect the final plot developments.  Plus, for a would-be villain, he's still (and don't get me wrong, he's literally grown before our eyes as an actor) Jason Bateman.

    No villains can work sometimes, as it did in "Marley and Me," if the "villain" is simply the passage of time and advancing age in a slice of life movie.  But the way "Juno" seemed set to pin the tail on the donkey countless times -- then spun around and broke the pinata (or at least the water) instead -- was frustrating.

    (Plus, the music was too twee even for Ana, so you can imagine how I felt about it.)

    Then, of course, there was "The Dark Knight" -- and when you have a movie with brilliant actors like Christian Bale, Aaron Eckhart, Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman and Gary Oldman and they are left flat-footed on the screen (well, maybe Caine isn't), you know there is one serious villain.  And that, of course, is Golden Globe winner (and I hope they're engraving his name on the Best Supporting Actor Oscar right now), the late Heath Ledger.

    (And, BTW, the whole Peter Finch act was completely unnecessary in retrospect.  Honestly -- I love Philip Seymour Hoffman, and he did an amazing impression of Truman "Capote" -- but giving him the Best Actor Oscar over Heath Ledger in freakin' "Brokeback Mountain"?!)

    The great thing about the Joker as Ledger plays him (and BTW, Bale, Eckhart, Caine, Freeman and Oldman shouldn't feel bad -- Ledger also made a guy named Jack Nicholson completely forgettable in retrospect) is that the Joker isn't immoral.  He isn't even amoral.  In a very real sense, he is beyond morality.  All of the tests and "would you do this" examples from philosophy class in college don't apply to him.  He operates outside the rules -- as much for his ostensible "allies" (burning the tens of millions in cash financing his operation out of spite, for example -- not to mention one of his chief cohorts with it!) as for Gotham City.

    And Gotham (though played by Chicago, not New York) fittingly seems like a mix of the worst of 1970s "Fort Apache, The Bronx" New York and 1980s crack epidemic New York.  Every cop is corrupt (including Oldman's Commissioner Gordon for putting up with it -- honestly, do they have background checks in Gotham?), which admittedly makes the Joker's job easier.

    But the other villains are motivated by money (the corrupt cops, the made-equivalent-by-the-script street gangs and Asian financiers who help fund the Joker) or an overweening need to be a hero (Eckhart's character, who the Joker evilly transforms -- psychologically as much as physically -- into the villain Harvey Two-Face).  The Joker isn't motivated by anything, unless you count his childhood torture by his father.  He just ... well, IS.  And that's why only a vigilante like Batman, also playing outside the rules, can defeat him.  Indeed, as the Joker tells Batman several times during the movie, he doesn't really want to defeat Batman -- he NEEDS Batman to keep the game interesting.  And it is a game to the Joker.  Destroying Gotham is no fun if he is just hustling suckers.  That's too easy.

    But amazingly enough, the Joker was not the most evil villain I've seen in recent days.  (Like I said, "evil" is actually a complicated word to use for the Joker.)  No, that villain -- who makes Hannibal Lecter seem like a teddy bear in retrospect -- is a suburban dad from Albuquerque, New Mexico named Richard Hoover, played by of all people Greg Kinnear. 

    Who reminded me again, as I wanted to throw things at the screen and take out a contract on his character's life watching "Little Miss Sunshine," what an underrated actor he is.

    Kinnear plays a guy who has written a manuscript called "The Nine Steps," about how life is divided into winners and losers and, in Bruce Springsteen's words, "It's a town full of losers and I'm pullin' out of here to win."

    Of course he does "pull out of here" to drive his daughter (the adorable Abigail Breslin) to her creepy JonBenet beauty pageant in Redondo Beach, California (and people think this was a cute family movie?!).  But not, of course, before saying that only a full commitment to winning makes her a winner in life -- and if she eats ice cream as she is tempted, she will be fat and a loser.

    He bullies his wife (Toni Collette) despite the fact that, with everything invested in the book (from which he chants mantras to her), she is the only breadwinner.  And because family harmony is her priority, she takes the bullying.

    Oh, his gay brother-in-law (Steve Carell playing it straight, so to speak) is a loser who deserves his fate of depression and having tried suicide.

    His son (Paul Dano), on the other hand, is a winner, because he is showing "discipline" by taking a vow of silence for months on end.  Never mind that he's done it because, as he writes his uncle, he "hates everybody."  (Small wonder, at least regarding his dad.)

    Kinnear is so delusional as well as cruel that he detours the trip to Scottsdale, Arizona to confront his literary agent at a conference about the fact the manuscript has not sold.  When the agent (who is admittedly obnoxious) tells him it is because Kinnear is unknown -- and in essence, without saying so, the book is not good enough on its own merits to justify pitching a first-time author -- Kinnear's character says this just proves there are winners and losers, and that the agent is a loser.

    People remember the movie for the broken-down VW bus they ride and for the admittedly hilarious (and Oscar-winning) turn by Alan Arkin as Kinnear's father, who is foul-mouthed and snorts heroin but loves his granddaughter and teaches her a highly risque routine for the pageant without anyone else knowing.  The key plot twist, of course, involves an unfortunate conflict between the interests of Arkin and Breslin that is no one's fault (well, maybe Arkin's for his unrepentant bad-boy behavior) and how it is resolved in typical Hollywood madcap style -- surprisingly to my mind, given that "LMS" was considered an "indie"-style movie.

    To my mind, though, the key character is Kinnear.  And while he is given a tiny glimmer of redemption at the end (what did you expect?), it's about as superficial -- and unconvincing -- as putting lipstick on a pig.  I truly feared for his family as they piled back into the bus at the end of the movie.

    At least if the Joker was driving them, he'd slash their throats quickly to make sure they died relatively painlessly.  Life in the Hoover family, led by a disgusting bully, would be a slow death of a far worse horror.

    No wonder his dad did smack.371d36d75e05eda735858f8e467be99c
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