The Great Rivalry Goes On

In earlier blogs, I have said that one of the great attractions of televised sports is they don’t follow a script like Reality T.V.   If they became predictable, the tension and suspense one feels in watching team rivalries, indeed, would be lost.  One such rivalry that has existed for well over 100 years is the Boston Red Sox vs. the New York Yankees.

One of those surprising results that make the game that much more enjoyable to spectators occurred this past Sunday.  The two teams were completing a four-game series at Fenway Park, home to the Red Sox, in which the Red Sox had won two out of the first three contests.  Yankee pitcher, Domingo German, appeared unbeatable.  Red Sox fans had little to cheer for inasmuch as German was pitching a no hitter, through seven innings, with the Red Sox trailing 3 to 0.  By then the Yankee hurler had struck out 10 batters as the Sox hitters had been swinging at unhittable pitches way out of the strike zone.  The Sox players looked like bushwhackers waving their bats in the thin air.  Certainly, no fun if you were a Boston fan, as I am.

In the top of the 7th inning with the Yankees batting, it appeared that the game might become even more lopsided.  Yachsel Rios came in for Boston to relieve Martin Peres, and in the midst of striking out one batter, walked two Yankees and hit another.  This loaded the bases with only one man out.  Although a three-run lead is not insurmountable, any more runs this late in the game most likely would spoil any chances of a Sox comeback.  Alex Cora, the Boston manager, wisely lifted Rios and replaced him with the southpaw, Josh Taylor.  Later, Cora related to reporters he had told his team if “we can hold the Yankees to a 3-run lead, we will win this game.”  With that being said, Taylor went on to strike Giancarlo Stanton out and induce Rougned Odor, who had earlier hit a home run, to fly out to right field for the third out.  

With the Red Sox continuing to do nothing against Yankee pitcher, German, in the bottom half of the 7th inning, the picture still looked bleak for the home team.  To Cora’s dismay, the Yankees increased their lead by another run–in the top of the 8th inning–making the score now 4 to 0 in their favor.  One can only wonder what Cora was thinking at this point.

When the Red Sox came to bat in the bottom of the 8th inning, there was little noise in the background:  Red Sox players had given their fans little to root for throughout the game.  But as the bottom of the 8th got underway, Alex Verdugo promptly changed that when he ended the no hit bid of German by lining a shot into the stands for a ground rule double.  In came Aaron Boone, Yankee manager, who decided to replace German, thinking he had thrown enough pitches, since he recently had returned to the team from injured status.  Right hander, Jonathan Loaisiga, came in to relieve German.  Red Sox right fielder, Hunter Renfroe, hit his first pitch sharply down the left field line for a double scoring Verdugo.  Suddenly, the Red Sox had scored a run and, somehow, 4 to 1 looked a lot better than a shut-out. Christian Vasquez, Boston catcher, followed with a bloop single, that fell in between a group of Yankee fielders, scoring Renfroe. Now, with Vasquez on first base, the score was 4 to 2 and you could hear the roar of the Red Sox fans in the background.  Could the Red Sox come back from a 4-run deficit in the 8th inning?

The 9th batter, Franchy Cordero, usually the weakest hitter on any team, was due up.  Not a starter, but a utility player, Cordero, at the time of his at bat, was hitting a mere .180.  Because the last batter in the line-up is more often than not a poor hitter, he is a pitcher’s delight.  Cora decided to go with him rather than put in a pinch hitter, and, as has been the case so many times in the past, his instincts were right on:  Cordero delivered a ground ball single to centerfield sending Vasquez to second base.   With the score still 4 to 2, Kike Hernandez, the lead-off Boston batter, hit next.  Before one had time to take in the rapid turn of events, Hernandez smashed a double to left-field driving in Vasquez and sending Cordero to third base.  The score now was 4 to 3.

Loaisiga, who had relieved German, had given up four straight hits. Like the many fans at Fenway, I now became a believer.  Yankee manager, Aaron Boone, had seen enough of Loaisiga, who had failed to get anyone out, and brought in Zach Britton, a left-hander.  Part of the strategy by Boone was to bring in a pitcher who could produce ground ball outs.  Fly balls often advance runners, not what a pitcher wants to do when the opposing team has no outs and runners in scoring positions like the Sox had.  Alex Cora showed his coaching acumen when he brought in right hander Kevin Plawecki to pinch hit for Jarret Duran, rookie centerfielder.  Jarret had not played many games but he showed promise inasmuch as he started off hot but, more recently, had cooled off.  Duran, like many overeager rookies without a lot of experience, had been swinging at pitches well off the plate often striking out.   With men in scoring position, the last thing a manager wants to see is a strike out.

Plawecki hit just what the doctor had ordered:  A soft ground ball to the shortstop, bringing in Cordero and advancing Hernandez to third base, tying the score at 4.  At that point, the camera beamed in on poor Domingo German, who had not only lost his no hitter, but now, also the chance to gain the win for his great effort.  The Red Sox had the good fortune of having the very reliable Xander Bogaerts bat next.  With the Yankee infield in, what was needed was a ball hit out of the infield and, Bogaerts, being the team player he is, lifted an outside pitch to right field.  Hernandez, with the speed of lightning, barely beat the throw to home plate, giving the Red Sox a 5 to 4 lead in the bottom of the 8th.

In the top of the 9th inning, Cora brought in closer Matt Barnes, who has been nothing short of superb this season, to give the Red Sox the win. Fate had cast its ugly shadow on Yankee pitcher, Domingo German.  After the game, he was quoted as saying: “You find yourself on top of the world, and all of sudden you are free falling—and you fall fast.  It’s tough.  It’s so hard to process what happened.”  The baseball gods can be most cruel when least expected, but I believe it’s these inexplicable moments that make the sport what it is.

Happiness is Contagious

There are times when one’s expression of joy and happiness is so complete that it can encompass those near to that person.  I experienced that sensation recently.   My Spanish tutor, Stephanie, that I have been seeing online on Skype to maintain and improve my skills in Spanish, had suffered from the Covid19 virus with her brother and parents.  Although she and her brother recovered fairly quickly from the illness, her parents had contracted more serious symptoms from the virus.  They were both placed in intensive care with their situation classified as critical inasmuch as their breathing did not allow either of them to receive sufficient oxygen intake.  

During the course of their grave situation while in the hospital, Stephanie had to give up teaching to assist in her parents’ care with her brother.  When she resumed her online teaching, her parents’ condition was no longer critical, but she still had concern about how they would fair in the future.  As a psychologist, I congratulated her for handling a difficult time in her life quite admirably.  In the ensuing weeks, she would give me an update as to how her parents were progressing vis-à-vis their recovery.  Fortunately, although progress was slow, with her parents still manifesting symptoms, Stephanie reported that overall, both of them were doing better.

Then, I last had a lesson with Stephanie this past Thursday.  Her expression of joy and happiness was apparent as she described the fact that her father, the older of her parents, with her mother, was able to walk unaided by a cane.  I could feel the glowing gleam on her face from afar.  The distance did not matter.  It was spontaneous, so natural, like spring melting the darkness and gloom of winter by bringing more light and sunshine to flowers just blossoming. 

Her words matched the smile on her face.  Her facial glow retained its glow of happiness throughout the hour teaching session.  It was very evident that her heightened level of joy affected me as it would have affected anyone.  My own reaction to Stephanie’s good fortune reminded me of the power of one’s emotions; it was amazing that it was on Skype rather than in person.

Even if one’s life is not going according to plan, it can be uplifting to share in the good fortune of another human.  Viruses we know are highly contagious.  Wouldn’t if be nice if people allowed the positive emotions that their fellow humans experience spread like a contagion into their own lives?

To Vaccinate or Not

          

The reluctance many Americans have to receiving the Covid-19 vaccination is both puzzling and worrisome.  To date, more than 183 million Americans have received one dose of the vaccines approved by the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) for emergency use.  This comprises approximately 56% of the population.  Those who have received both doses and are, therefore, fully vaccinated are more than 158 million people that make-up about 48% of the population. 

Those most resistant to receiving the vaccine come from Republican states.  However, more puzzling, are the large percentage of blacks who are against becoming vaccinated.  In the case of the former, the many sources of news media much of which does not support scientific data, may be influencing their decision.  Because the black population does not, in general, vote like Republicans do, their resistance to receiving the vaccine comes from a different source.  I believe many blacks possess an overall distrust of the U.S. Government due to the way they have been treated in the past.  One example of this that comes to mind is the Tuskegee experiment in the 1930’s, where blacks thought they were being treated for some disease, but did not know which one it was. Without telling the black male “Volunteers” what they were investigating, the experimenters administered only a placebo to black males who had been diagnosed with syphilis.  As an incentive to take part in the study, the subjects were given free medical care and hot meals, both highly valued given the fact that during this time the Great Depression had blindsided the country. The underlying unethical manipulation of the black subjects, who thought they were being treated for some disease, was never uncovered until 1972, more than 30 years after the original studies had been conducted.

Young people who do not want to take the vaccine have different reasons than either Republicans or blacks.  Many view themselves at low risk for contracting Covid-19, and even if they catch the illness, they believe they can survive.  One young male, when asked whether or not he would take the vaccine, said “I just won’t go near my grandfather.”  Of course, the problem with this way of thinking is there are other people he may infect, especially, now that communities are opening up.

A further problem with refusing vaccination may allow the delta variant, the most contagious form yet of the Covid-19, to spread more rapidly.  Moreover, recent data have shown that the states having the greatest surge of Covid19 are Missouri, Nevada, Illinois and Arkansas. It is not a coincidence that the data from these states indicate a vaccination rate lower than the national average.  President Biden was hoping that by now 70% of the population would have been vaccinated, a number that would approach herd immunity.  Unfortunately, as indicated by the above numbers, this did not happen.

What can be done about the problem?  One suggestion is for the FDA to grant the vaccines available to the public full approval rather than the status of temporary or emergency use.  Prior to receiving FDA approval for emergency use, over 70,000 people participated in trial runs reviewed by the agency.  Now over 183 million people have received vaccinations resulting in a very low incidence of any serious side effects.  Typical side effects have been sore arms, minor headaches and in fewer cases, fever and chills, for about 24 hours.  Another reason to be supportive of the vaccine is that it will provide some degree of protection against the penetration of the delta variant of the Covid-19.

Those that are unsure of the risk factor of the vaccine need to realize the FDA was not remiss in clearing it for emergency use.  The decision-making process regarding comparable risk is simply not rational.  Political or not no one can deny that to date over 600,000 American lives have been lost due to Covid-19.  But what is not as clear is what is happening to those that survived the virus after actually contracting it.  The time that one recovers from Covid-19 appears to be a huge variable with a number of people revealing subsequent symptoms that render their everyday life much more difficult than previously.  Young people who believe they are invulnerable due to their age need to comprehend this more fully.

Because it is the mark of a free society that distinguishes us from countries like China and Russia, I agree with President Biden that federal employees should not be compelled to vaccinate. On the other hand, I believe that employers with their own businesses have the right to require vaccination of their workers to protect the spread of the virus by protecting their co-workers, clients and society at large.

Several months ago, ex-Laker basketball star, Kareem Abdul Jabbar, in an article in the Op-Ed page of the New York Times, wrote about the importance of celebrity idols explaining the value of the vaccine.   Now that it is safer to be in public, black stars of both genders could speak to black communities with the message of how vital the vaccine is.  Their emphasis on the benefits of vaccination would be enhanced by virtue of the fact that the black mortality rate of Covid-19 has been higher than that of whites. 

As for Republican resistance toward the vaccine, I view it as disheartening that political perspective has become more important than the scientific data presented by the medical world.  Former President Donald Trump was vaccinated.  He did publicly state on a Fox News Interview that he “would recommend the vaccine to a lot of people that don’t want to get it, and a lot of those people voted for me, frankly.”  Although one never knows what to expect from Mr. Trump, if he were to speak of the value of the vaccine to his supporters, I am sure many of his followers would change their minds about receiving the vaccine.  However, beyond Mr. Trump, the Republican Party, in its current torn state, lacks the power and influence to reach its advocates. 

Ohio provided an inducement to its constituents by offering a lottery to those who received their first Covid-19 shot.  The outcome of this idea produced promising results with a corresponding increase of people throughout the state vaccinated.  Oregon has decided to employ a similar lottery to its residents.  Hopefully, strategies like this in the future, will offset the strong doubts people have had about the vaccine.    

Baseball at Its Finest Moments

The twinkle in his eye caught my attention as I’m sure it did the thousands of other onlookers.  Shohei Ohtani, Los Angeles Angels pitcher and slugger, was on first base looking like a kid who was about to put his hand in the forbidden cookie jar before his elders could catch him.  He was sizing up the pitcher, Paul Fry of the Baltimore Orioles, a lefty, to see whether or not he could steal second base.  As most baseball fans know, it is harder to steal second base from a southpaw because when he delivers the pitch, his left-hand is aimed directly toward first base.   The camera focused in on the intensity, yet playfulness of Ohtani, as he carefully read every movement the pitcher made.  Baseball, after all, is a game that I, like many others, loved and played as a kid.  Ohtani’s antics, in front of a national audience, rekindled in me, as I’m sure many others, that childhood joy of having fun.

Because of batter interference by Anthony Rendon that nullified his steal, Ohtani had to try to steal second base a second time. But Ohtani was not going to be stopped.  After Rendon struck out, Ohtani stole second base on the first pitch thrown to the next batter, Jared Walsh.  Now on second base, when Walsh hit a single to right field, Ohtani took off, as if there were no tomorrow, and slid around the tag by the Oriole catcher to score the winning run by the Angels in the bottom of the 9th inning.

Scoring the winning run put a perfect ending to a great performance by Ohtani, who had already hit two home runs to drive in three runs.  The divisiveness in the body public of America, for a few precious moments, with each of Shohei’s home runs, appeared to have vanished.  Because Ohtani is Japanese, the many fans of Japanese heritage roared with delight after each home run.  But they were not alone in cheering for Ohtani as the whole ball park lit up with each homer.  The worries and grievances caused by both the pandemia and politics were put on hold as people of all different ethnic groups applauded Ohtani’s feats.  It was a pleasure to see.  America has invented different sports as a way of challenging and competing with one another without doing harm.  Hitting a baseball 400 to 450 feet is a lot less dangerous than firing a missile at another country.  And to many of us the thrill of a bat cracking a baseball reminds us of the beauty and innocence we experienced as children. It is the week-end of July 4th so let’s give thanks to the ideals and underlying spirit of unity, embodied by the Declaration of Independence, that we celebrate each year.  Similarly, Ohtani’s amazing feats in baseball, America’s pastime, brings us all together.

The Woke Standard

Back in 1980, I attended an interdepartmental meeting at Metropolitan State Hospital in Norwalk, California.  A staff member pointed to a situation where a person had acted in an obviously hypocritical manner so I commented on what he had expressed by saying: “That’s like the pot calling the kettle black.”  To my utter surprise, a black recreation therapist, named Cliff, who attended the meeting, told me that was a racist comment.  When I explained to him that in no sense did I have race in mind when I made the comment, he said that did not matter.  Because I had a good relationship with Cliff, I did not deem it necessary to defend myself any further but simply apologized if I had offended him.  I felt vindicated when several white staff members did not believe that the proverb had any racial connotations.

Let us now turn to present day.  A few weeks ago, journal reporter, Jason Riley, wrote that a Jeopardy contestant, Kelly Donohue, had made a gesture with three fingers extended during the show’s introduction.  Although he was merely indicating that he had been on the show for three consecutive days, many progressives that had been earlier contestants of Jeopardy, signed an open letting contending that his gesture, “whether intentional or not, resembled very closely a gesture that has been coopted by white power groups.”  Furthermore, Mr. Donohue’s explanation of the gesture was not acceptable to those that condemned him, and so he felt obligated to post an additional statement “regretting this terrible understanding” so he would not be rejected by the ranting of former progressive contestants.

Many of us who have made an effort in being liberal now have to be extremely careful on how we choose our words or we will find ourselves cancelled by those that consider themselves more in the know than we are.  There is no one currently that remains immune to the criticism of Critical Race Theorists (CRT). Even Rita Moreno, the famous Puerto Rican actress, when on the Steve Colbert late show, gave voice to defending Lin-Manuel Miranda’s choice of cast for the movie version of his play In the Heights, came under siege from the progressives.  The next day she withdrew her complimentary posture saying that her friend, Lin-Manuel, had erred by not having a sufficient number of blacks playing key roles in his movie.  Through all the bickering about equal representation in Miranda’s film, sadly, what appeared forgotten was the fantasy element in which the protagonist’s dream comes true, not in the Dominican Republic, but in a Latino neighborhood in New York City.  This fantasy evoked the possibility that people, no matter what their race or gender is, can still dream with successful results in America.

The woke generation of the political left reminds me of Minority Report, a movie Steven Spielberg directed in 2002.  In this movie, a special police unit is able to arrest criminals before they actually commit a crime.  Nowadays, progressives believe people are racially tainted if they have implicit thoughts (often defined as implicit bias) that might not fit the category of being an anti-racist.  In the past, when people stated they were “color blind,” it meant that they did not see others in terms of race.   Today, however, it has taken on an entirely different meaning:  One that is color blind does not understand the difficulties that those of color may have in a society the latter believe is rooted in systemic racism.  The next step will have thought censors deleting any thought that is not deemed congruent with identity or racial politics.  Any nano-aggression or implicit thought that a person may have will be ferreted out resulting in his/her cancelation.

I will not argue the validity of whether or not systemic racism exists currently in America, but rather will point out that the reality of racial progress in our country.  Back in 1970 when I was a Psychology Trainee at Marion V.A. Hospital in Marion, Indiana, the Assistant Chief Executive Officer of the hospital told me that anyone contemplating interracial marriage best not do it because the country was simply not ready for that type of social change.  It is a verified statistic where in 1958 4% of whites approved of intermarriage.  However, in 1995 45% approved and in 2013 84% approved of intermarriage.  In this same time period, the actual incidence of intermarriage has risen significantly.  I have no doubt that there are still people in America that are racists but clearly the problem has been greatly mitigated.  Steve Pinker, a cognitive psychologist at Harvard University, has labeled this phenomenon of progressive denial in race relations as progressophobia.

Moreover, the Oppressed-Oppressive binary way of seeing reality only applies to whites being the ones guilty of racism freeing people of color from any prejudice that they may have.  Thus, only whites can be considered as racists because of the strong and privileged position they have in American society.  I wonder what a poor, white Appalachian thinks about the “strong privileged” position they have in America. Identity politics weighs far too heavily on skin color rather than socio-economic class differences.

But throwing out the baby with the bath water is not my intention here inasmuch as I do not wish to discard all contemporary thinking on identity or race politics.  No doubt history today needs to be taught differently, with a greater focus on the legacy of slavery and how it fit into American culture.  But I don’t think the absolute vilification of America is an improvement over the omissions made by historians.  After all, America was not the inventor of slavery; it existed among black people themselves. Because young minds are very malleable to ideas, it is important that a balanced viewpoint be presented when the textbooks are rewritten for the grade school classes.   Slavery was prevalent in many West and Central African societies before and during the trans-Atlantic slave trade.  Everyone now knows how wrong slavery was but, in context, several other societies accompanied America in this very inhumane occurrence.  Furthermore, we know that a good part of America, led by abolitionists, were very much against slavery in any form.  No one can deny the history of racism and oppression in America but we would be remiss if we forget the tradition of liberty and freedom that opposed it.  Focusing on only the wrongs in America is similar to denying the hardships faced by blacks in the past.

I will conclude this essay by saying I am very much in favor of President Biden’s recognition of June 19th as a federal holiday.  This date commemorates the emancipation of enslaved African Americans on June 19th, 1865 when Texas, the last state of the Confederacy, proclaimed and enforced freedom of enslaved people in Texas.  As this day becomes engrained in the America character, I believe the cultural gap between the two races will experience further closure.

Too Many Strike Outs

Unless the arbiters of baseball make some changes in how the game is played, we are in danger of seeing that sport becoming a relic of the past.  As a child, I was in awe of the players, and the game sparked my enthusiasm much of which I have maintained in my adult life.  But in the last few years, and especially this year, the pitchers appear to be winning the duel between them and the batters.  Batting averages have plummeted well below .250, an average less than one hit in four at bats.  The New York Yankees, also know as the Bronx Bombers, are bombing out more than they are hitting home runs.  As a team, their current strike out or fan rate is 25.3 percent, slightly higher than the major league average of 24.1 percent.

Perhaps the greatest thrill of baseball is the sound of the bat making contact with the baseball.  Even if the ball results in an out, the crack of the bat, putting the fielders in motion when they sometimes make great plays, is exciting.  In my day as a childhood fan, every once in a while, you would see pitcher duels between two great hurlers.  Because you were seeing a rivalry between the best pitchers in the game, as a fan you knew you were witnessing something special.  These games offered their own brand of excitement even if the players on both sides struck out.  Now, because the ratio of strike outs is so high, it doesn’t seem to matter who is pitching.  Because of the high frequency of strike outs, I would maintain much of the thrill of the game is lost.

So, what can be done about this problem?  When we were kids, we discovered what a spitball was, the adding of saliva or a moist substance to make the ball move in an unpredictable manner. The rumor mill has it that pitchers may very well be using some substance, such as tar or rosin, that causes the ball to spin more or move erratically making it more difficult to hit.  Recently, in a Zoom conference with reporters, Gerrit Cole, Yankee ace pitcher, was asked if he used Spider Tack, a sticky paste that can greatly increase the spin on pitches.  He sidestepped answering the question when he said: “I don’t know quite how to answer that, to be honest.”  One would have expected him to simply reply “no” if he didn’t use it. His response, however, left the reporters doubtful of his innocence in this area. 

The problem is not that the practice of pitchers doctoring the ball to increase its spin rate is forbidden, which it is in baseball.  Rather the use of such substances has been widespread and accepted by the teams.  However, if the use of Spider Track or other substances is causing the increase in strike outs, then Major League Baseball (M.L.B.) need attend to the matter ASAP.  Umpires need to check all the equipment a pitcher brings to a game such as his glove, cap and uniform–resulting in a steep fine and/or suspension for a specified time–if that pitcher is in violation of the rules.  If the enforcement of this policy results in fewer strike outs, then it is clear that we have found a solution to the issue at hand. 

If the strict enforcement of the above rule does not significantly alter the strike out rate, then baseball need look elsewhere.  Here I can offer one of two options or both: 1) Move the pitcher’s mound further from home plate (i.e., from where the batter stands) and/or 2) Make a narrower strike zone by decreasing the size of home plate.  I’m sure either of these suggestions would be hotly debated, especially by current pitchers, but they, like the rest of us, need to understand that the greater balance between pitcher and batter makes a far superior entertainment than when the pitcher invariably wins the battle. 

To conclude, pitchers are currently overwhelming batters making baseball less exciting than in the past.  I think the best resolution for all involved would be to strictly limit any doctoring of baseballs by pitchers with the hope that the strike out rate decreases.  Regardless, one of the most important elements in baseball is when fans hear the sound of a bat whacking a baseball resulting in either a great play by a fielder or a hit.  I am sure baseball enthusiasts will be delighted when M.L.B. finds a way to make the hitter’s role more productive than it is presently.

A Helluva Mentor

In reading a review article on psychotherapy, I came across the name George Allen who I always will associate with fond memories.  Out of curiosity I googled his name and discovered  he had passed away a few months ago.  His obituary reflected the type of extraordinary individual he was in pointing out his many accomplishments in the field of psychology.

I first met George when I was a Psychology Trainee at the Veterans Administration Hospital in Danville, Illinois while in my first year of a doctoral program of psychology at Purdue University.  The supervisor I was assigned to at the time I will refer to under the pseudonym of Dr. Alice.   I had heard some horror stories describing her overbearing personality from several Purdue students that had trained under her.  Unruffled, and as I have indicated in an earlier essay, being inclined toward people pleasing I set out to make a good impression.  When I first met her, I was somewhat perplexed by the very critical, and if I might say, nasty evaluation made by my more senior, fellow classmates.  I perceived her as an attractive woman in her mid to late 40’s, blazing red hair, well dressed and well-mannered with her desk neat as a pin.   She possessed an ostensible swagger of confidence that gave the impression of one completely in charge of her surroundings.

Dr. Alice introduced herself by telling me about all the terrible experiences she had had with some of my classmates.  I recall her telling me that she believed one of them really wanted to be an opera singer, and had showed little aptitude as a psychologist.  She ended this diatribe by hoping that I would not be following in any of their footsteps.  Furthermore, she stated that she much preferred working with the students from the University of Illinois rather than those from Purdue.  Clearly the consensus of student opinion from Purdue and that of Dr. Alice was congruent in each of the mutual dislike shared by the other.

As a Psychology Trainee in my first year of graduate study at Purdue, Dr.  Alice quickly realized how green I was knowledge wise in the field of psychology.  She recommended I meet with George on a weekly basis inasmuch as he was in his last year at the University of Illinois and, who she held in great respect, would be able to show me the ropes.  This turned out to be a blessing for me.  But because I could see from the start that Dr. Alice, who had leanings toward a psychoanalytic orientation, viewed George with such high regard, I was puzzled.  The University of Illinois was staunchly behavioral in its approach to psychotherapy.  Would not this wide difference in theoretical perspective cause some sort of dissention or discomfort between Dr. Alice and George?

When I met George, I found him to be one of the most genuine and stable individuals I had ever encountered.  He immediately calmed any fears I may have had with his attitude toward Dr. Alice by declaring her to be a brilliant woman though his orientation in psychology was much different than hers.  That he could accept her with no misgivings was a far cry from the ranting of those students who had preceded me from Purdue.  George’s patient self-assured demeanor really set the stage for a most positive experience that the two of us shared.  Spending that hour per week with George was like a breath of fresh air:   Soon some of the quirks in Dr. Alice that my colleagues had spoken about became evident.

Most “memorable” was when Dr. Alice asked me to interpret Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventories (MMPI’s) that had been administered to patients.  In the second semester at Purdue, I studied the history, development, scoring and interpretation of the MMPI from a faculty member that had done a lot of research on it.  Briefly, the MMPI consists of 9 clinical scales, a social introversion-extroversion scale and 3 validity scales.  Dr. Alice had concocted a scoring and interpretive system in a cook book form that instructed the user to precisely follow her instructions.  As I recall, the instructions were endlessly long being several pages and, if you made a mistake, you needed to begin again from the start.  Even in 1968, this system seemed antiquated.   What I found most disturbing was the fact that when, after several hours, I successfully completed all the directions, my actual diagnosis and treatment recommendations were limited.  I thought to myself all this input but with so very little output.  Furthermore, when I started studying the MMPI at Purdue, not only did I learn of much faster ways of getting at the same data but also how this information could be better employed in the understanding of the patient’s condition.

This experience with Dr. Alice demonstrated her micromanaging and controlling nature.  I remember Dr. Alice had asked George to administer a Rorschach Test to a patient who had been out of control.  Although the Rorschach was peripheral to the core of his training, he willingly accepted the task.  At times, I felt like throwing in the towel and telling Dr. Alice to bug off.   George’s flexibility along with his mature wisdom steered me away from any impulsive desire to give up.   By cooperating with Dr. Alice, I had won her over, so to speak, and I understood it not worth creating an enemy out of her.  My people pleasing tendencies, in conjunction with George’s own respect for Dr. Alice, allowed me to surpass her own low expectation she may have had of psychology trainees from Purdue.

The many good things pointed out in George’s obituary reinforced my strong opinion I had of him during the year I met him.  Among other things, George had been the Director of the Clinical Training program at the University of Connecticut from 1984 to 2003 where he served as a major advisor for about 100 doctoral students.  There he influenced positively hundreds of additional graduate and undergraduate students.  I can proudly state I was perhaps his first advisee, and indeed, it was a wonderful experience.  Thank you, George, for reducing my anxiety in my first year of training at the Danville V.A.H.

Dealing with Phobic Reactions

                  


                  

A phobia is defined as an extreme or irrational fear of or aversion to something.  The key word here is irrational.  Fears such as trying to escape from a fire or flood are not irrational.   However, when fear becomes irrational where there is no imminent danger, we can relabel the fear as anxiety, the origin of which is psychological.  These anxieties can weigh heavily on the human mind often with the effect of hindering an individual’s growth and development.

Years ago, while swimming laps in a pool, I suddenly had the sensation of being unable to breathe properly and found myself gasping for air.   I had been swimming all my life without ever experiencing such a weird bodily impression.  Suddenly, I could not swim the length of the pool without stopping and standing motionless in the pool to catch my breath.  Oddly enough, I had no fear of drowning inasmuch as there was no place in the lap pool where the water was above my head.  The depth of the water in the deepest part of the pool was about 5 feet, well below my physical size.

From where this phobic response emerged, I had little idea.  Was my body telling me something about my present state?  Recently, I had read that a very athletic man had died from a heart attack at the age of 88 while swimming in a community pool.  Although I was not that close to his age, perhaps I was feeling more vulnerable with my own advancing years.  I remember the first time being greeted by this frightening sensation upon swimming a few crawl strokes.  I stopped and walked a distance and then proceeded to swim.  When I reached the end of the pool length, I found myself out of breath and unable to continue swimming.  Holding onto the rail, I worked on slowing my breathing, a technique I have used in assisting my patients that have experienced panic attacks.  Then I proceeded.  With some concerted effort, I was able to swim back to the other end of the pool, but once again feeling the need to stop, hold on to the surface outside of the pool, and take some very slow and deep breaths.

I managed to swim two or three laps stopping at each end of the pool to regain my breath and composure.  I knew that if I gave in to this sudden phobic reaction, by getting out of the pool, it would become that much harder to overcome it as I would be reinforcing the anxiety.  In forcing myself to continue swimming, after perhaps three laps (i.e. back and forth three times), surprisingly, I no longer experienced difficulty in breathing  

The next time I entered the pool the tightness in my breathing overwhelmed me with each stroke I took.  This time I decided I would not stop until reaching the other end of the pool.  Once there, however, I felt compelled to stop, catch my breath, breath slowly and deeply before continuing to swim.  The same pattern as before resulted where by the third lap I no longer felt the need to stop and regain my breath.  This same sequence repeated itself for about one month:  Upon entering the pool and swimming, a sudden shortness of breath seized me causing me to stop at the other end of the pool.  Finally, after about one month this very strange and disconcerting sensation ceased, almost as suddenly, as it had started.  I congratulated myself for not giving in to the completely irrational fear that was affecting my ability to swim.

Similarly, recently, a patient of mine told me that he had suddenly developed an anxiety on driving on a certain exit of a California freeway that merges with another freeway.  He began to experience a palpitating anxiety as he was changing freeways, a route that he had been driving on for years.  In the past, we had talked about the importance of facing his irrational anxieties so rather than avoid this section of his route, he challenged himself by following the exit ramp that was the source of his anxiety.  Moreover, he repeated the exact same route noticing that each time he confronted his anxiety, it became a little less bothersome.  After the third or fourth repetition of this same procedure, his anxiety had diminished to where he was no longer troubled by it.

What my patient and I had done, has been called exposure treatment.  Rather than avoiding our anxieties, the origin of which neither of us fully understood, we faced our anxieties directly as a means of mastering them.  We both realized that if we let our anxieties control us, it would impede our lives in some very unpleasant way.  We chose the initial lack of comfort, that is exposing ourselves to the irrational fear, to reduce or extinguish these anxieties.  In general, I have found that individuals suffering from some stressful situation or event reduce their anxiety by facing it rather than by avoiding it.

A phobia is defined as an extreme or irrational fear of or aversion to something.  The key word here is irrational.  Fears such as trying to escape from a fire or flood are not irrational.   However, when fear becomes irrational where there is no imminent danger, we can relabel the fear as anxiety, the origin of which is psychological.  These anxieties can weigh heavily on the human mind often with the effect of hindering an individual’s growth and development.

Years ago, while swimming laps in a pool, I suddenly had the sensation of being unable to breathe properly and found myself gasping for air.   I had been swimming all my life without ever experiencing such a weird bodily impression.  Suddenly, I could not swim the length of the pool without stopping and standing motionless in the pool to catch my breath.  Oddly enough, I had no fear of drowning inasmuch as there was no place in the lap pool where the water was above my head.  The depth of the water in the deepest part of the pool was about 5 feet, well below my physical size.

From where this phobic response emerged, I had little idea.  Was my body telling me something about my present state?  Recently, I had read that a very athletic man had died from a heart attack at the age of 88 while swimming in a community pool.  Although I was not that close to his age, perhaps I was feeling more vulnerable with my own advancing years.  I remember the first time being greeted by this frightening sensation upon swimming a few crawl strokes.  I stopped and walked a distance and then proceeded to swim.  When I reached the end of the pool length, I found myself out of breath and unable to continue swimming.  Holding onto the rail, I worked on slowing my breathing, a technique I have used in assisting my patients that have experienced panic attacks.  Then I proceeded.  With some concerted effort, I was able to swim back to the other end of the pool, but once again feeling the need to stop, hold on to the surface outside of the pool, and take some very slow and deep breaths.

I managed to swim two or three laps stopping at each end of the pool to regain my breath and composure.  I knew that if I gave in to this sudden phobic reaction, by getting out of the pool, it would become that much harder to overcome it as I would be reinforcing the anxiety.  In forcing myself to continue swimming, after perhaps three laps (i.e. back and forth three times), surprisingly, I no longer experienced difficulty in breathing  

The next time I entered the pool the tightness in my breathing overwhelmed me with each stroke I took.  This time I decided I would not stop until reaching the other end of the pool.  Once there, however, I felt compelled to stop, catch my breath, breath slowly and deeply before continuing to swim.  The same pattern as before resulted where by the third lap I no longer felt the need to stop and regain my breath.  This same sequence repeated itself for about one month:  Upon entering the pool and swimming, a sudden shortness of breath seized me causing me to stop at the other end of the pool.  Finally, after about one month this very strange and disconcerting sensation ceased, almost as suddenly, as it had started.  I congratulated myself for not giving in to the completely irrational fear that was affecting my ability to swim.

Similarly, recently, a patient of mine told me that he had suddenly developed an anxiety on driving on a certain exit of a California freeway that merges with another freeway.  He began to experience a palpitating anxiety as he was changing freeways, a route that he had been driving on for years.  In the past, we had talked about the importance of facing his irrational anxieties so rather than avoid this section of his route, he challenged himself by following the exit ramp that was the source of his anxiety.  Moreover, he repeated the exact same route noticing that each time he confronted his anxiety, it became a little less bothersome.  After the third or fourth repetition of this same procedure, his anxiety had diminished to where he was no longer troubled by it.

What my patient and I had done, has been called exposure treatment.  Rather than avoiding our anxieties, the origin of which neither of us fully understood, we faced our anxieties directly as a means of mastering them.  We both realized that if we let our anxieties control us, it would impede our lives in some very unpleasant way.  We chose the initial lack of comfort, that is exposing ourselves to the irrational fear, to reduce or extinguish these anxieties.  In general, I have found that individuals suffering from some stressful situation or event reduce their anxiety by facing it rather than by avoiding it.

Police Reform: What Can Be Done About It?

                            

The recent conviction of police officer Darin Chauvin for his reckless act of killing George Floyd has led many of all colors and races to question current police techniques.  Given what was seen over and over again in the news, the jury’s decision appeared to reflect a popular bipartisan view that appropriate justice had been meted out. 

The reaction to Floyd’s death on the political far left was to defund the police.  I don’t believe punishing the police via defunding will serve society in a beneficial way.  In fact, what has been noticeable but, in my opinion, somewhat muted by news reporting, has been an increase in homicides and other crimes in the past year. 

In my last blog, I reviewed both the audience and public reaction to the movie:  Death Wish.  This picture came out in 1974 when, as I pointed out, the level of crime was much higher in New York City than it is presently.  A film released a year earlier than Death Wish was Magnum Force starring Clint Eastwood as the officer, Dirty Harry.  This movie is totally antithetical to most public opinion of today.  The plot revolves around San Francisco cops executing criminals because they believe the latter never get apprehended.  When Eastwood becomes aware of the rogue actions of his fellow cops, he refuses to join them in their murderous pursuits.

I cannot imagine Magnum Force being made in the current political climate.  Since that movie was made, crime in urban areas has been reduced significantly.  But let me be clear here, I am not arguing that the policing in this country has been without blemish.  When an officer commits a major mishap, the police blue code of silence is not a noble one.  Another movie, Serpico, made about the same time as Magnum Force pointed out the many travails a New York City cop faced because he did not follow the blue code. 

I am in full agreement with many of today’s critics when they plead for more transparency in police departments.  Moreover, whether or not police departments should have immunity from their acts is certainly an area that needs further investigation.  Clearly, however, such tactics as strangle or choke holds that police have been known to use for those resisting arrest, also need further review.

Rather than reducing the monies for policing, wouldn’t it make more sense to add more training to what officers currently receive?  Although this may not be cost efficient, I have thought that one prerequisite in becoming a police officer is a college degree or some form of advanced training in criminal justice.  In any event, either more training in police departments or accepting applicants that have college degrees, would necessitate more, not less funds, for police.  Hiring young males who have the authority to carry a deadly weapon, no matter what race, color or creed they may be, with only a short-term police academy training after a high school diploma, is a questionable policy.  A job for psychologists, like myself, would be to employ screening devices that would better evaluate racial attitudes of incoming police officers. 

Awhile back, I read an article in the New York Times that indicated most people simply do not want to interact with unsavory types necessary in what police do as part of their daily work.  Even with my training as a psychologist, I would not want to be answering calls where there is suspected domestic violence.  Therapeutic interventions do not work when individuals are in a state of uncontrollable rage, as is often the case when spouses are involved.  We discover that Serpico, in the movie that actually happened in real life, was shot when answering some such dispute. 

I do think that mental health professionals could help police departments understand how to deal more effectively with the mentally ill.  A colleague of mine told me that she has little trust in the police because she has known of some cases in her hometown where police were called out to calm a situation involving a mentally disturbed patient.  The result of summoning the police led to the death by the hands of whichever officer had responded to the call.  If the individual is not carrying a dangerous weapon but is resistant to being arrested or apprehended by the police, officers need to know how to deal with these situations without using lethal force.  In settings where a person with a mental illness is causing a disturbance, officers skilled in crisis management might be dispatched.  Once more, this would require specialized training and more funding to police departments for this to be a viable solution.

Let us not forget that most homicides are intra-racial where the police are not involved.  Thus, the F.B.I. recently reported that 89% of Blacks killed Blacks and 81% of Whites killed Whites.  Despite mass media reportage, deaths caused by police do not represent anywhere near the majority of homicides with Blacks.  To quote Marshall McLuhan:  The message is the media.  This is not to say that police should not be questioned when they use lethal force inappropriately.  But the media does a tremendous job at dramatizing sensation as a means of increasing its viewers or readership.  What goes viral often causes alarm without subsequent supporting evidence.  With all the guns out on the streets, contemporary policing that is skillful is by no means an easy task.  Police are not pigs.  The reality is that if police fail to do what is necessary to protect the public, the crime rate will undoubtedly continue to rise.  

Critics of policing in this country have argued that police killings are higher here than in other developed countries.  True, but gun ownership is much higher here than in other wealthy nations, along with a social system that is not as tight as those same nations.

The journalist, Jason Riley, in reviewing the Washington Post database, pointed out the following: “Police shot and killed 999 people in 2019, Including 424 Whites and 252 Blacks.  Twelve of the Black victims were unarmed versus 26 of the White victims.”  Given the fact that over 10 million people are arrested each year in America, the number of total deaths by police does not appear that high. Like most people, I believe that every life is important.  That is why, rather than undermine the work of police departments, I believe we need to underpin their structure by adding training and community resources cited in this article.  I would much prefer the police handling criminal offenders rather than vigilantes taking the law into their own hands as portrayed in Death Wish and Magnum Force.  The latter state of affairs could lead to anarchy.

On Going to the Movies

                                                                

I am quite sure that the pandemic will change some of our long-standing habits, an obvious one requiring employees to go to an office on a daily basis. Another shared routine, going to movie theaters, is also changing.  I, like so many other movie buffs, was saddened with the news that the ArcLight Hollywood and its Cinerama Dome, along with its theaters in other locations, would not be reopening after the long shutdown from the pandemic.  Part of really experiencing a new film is seeing it on the big screen with other people in your presence. I get that some films are not worthy of the cost and effort to make it to the cinema house.  But I am not talking about those.  So, allow me to share the cinematic power that three films had on me when they were first produced, and I experienced them with the kindred crowd in the theater.

In 1959, upon turning 14, my mother asked me what I would like for my birthday.  I had read that Alfred Hitchcock’s, North by Northwest, was soon to open at Radio City Music Hall in New York City.  I asked her if she would take me, and she agreed.  Because I was a fan of Hitchcock, who already had gained celebrity status in directing his television series, I was eager to see this much talked about movie when it came to New York.  I remember seeing the Rockettes, an all-female dance group give a brief but most enjoyable performance before the movie. The theater was a complete sell out as early reviews had said that Mr. Hitchcock had directed another gem of a thriller.  As the curtain slowly opened, the widescreen cinematography appeared stunning.  From a child’s perspective, I viewed the film with a certain eeriness inasmuch as I knew the action was occurring very near to where I was watching the film.  There is Hitchcock making his personal introduction in the film, as the door of a NY bus he tries to board, slams in his face.  It all seemed enchanting going from the Rockettes stage performance to the opening credits of the film.

Part of the grandeur of the movie are the unforgettable scenes that are played over and over again in the media and in our minds.  I can still see Cary Grant with the fright in his face running from what had appeared to be a crop duster, but is really a biplane spraying bullets at him.  The fact that you are not ready for it adds to the suspense that builds from scene to scene.  It doesn’t matter that you suspect Cary will survive all the attempts on his life because you can’t help but root for him.  Who would not root for Cary Grant?  Actually, if Grant and the character he portrayed, Roger O. Thornhill, an advertising man, did die, I may have reacted differently to the film.

About one year later, the next Hitchcock movie, Psycho, that I saw when it opened, did exactly what it hadn’t done to Cary Grant.  Only about one third of the film has elapsed when Janet Leigh, who appeared to be the main character and therefore star of the movie, is murdered.  No prior Hollywood film had killed off the apparent star so early in a movie.  As Hitchcock put it: “The suddenness of the murder in the shower, coming as it were, out of the blue.”  How could this be happening to Janet Leigh?  Yes, she was taking money that didn’t belong to her, but she certainly did not deserve the end she met.  The horror on the actress’s face as she is being attacked, the blood, and the last terrible scene, where her eye floating in the bathtub takes up the entire screen, shocks the spectators.  I remember the cries of the audience.   This was not a film I would have wanted to see at home, especially, if I were alone.  Part of the experience of looking at the film with others was that you were not alone in seeing some very gruesome scenes.

Hitchcock understood the meaning of less being more.  Nowadays movies have long drawn-out bloody scenes that never appear to end.  In Psycho, there were only three very scary scenes with each of them lasting a very brief time:  1) Janet Leigh in the shower; 2) Martin Balsam, the detective, investigating what had happened to Leigh who had been missing and 3) The chair in which “mother” swerves revealing her frightening skull.  What adds to the film’s intensity on the viewer is that the apparent “good guy,” Martin Balsam is also killed.  Insofar as the movie proceeds in a totally unpredictable manner, the suspense almost becomes too much to handle.  The unique and chilling cello and violin arrangement that Bernard Herrmann created further intensified the horror of the violence on the screen.

Hitchcock anticipated problems with the censors.  It is interesting to note they had little objection to the very evident violence in the movie, but rather were concerned with the nude scene of Janet Leigh in the shower.  Perhaps it was Hitchcock’s fame or his coolness in dealing with the board of censors from Paramount.  Initially, they sent a message to the office of Hitchcock: “Please take out the nudity.” Hitchcock, in feigning contrition, repacked the film without editing any of the scenes in question.   He then cannily bargained with the censors, saying he would cut an earlier scene with Janet Leigh in bed with John Gavin, clothed, if they would allow him to leave the shower scene untouched. When Hitch and cast rescheduled the reshoot that the censors were supposed to clear, they never showed up.  However all ultimately agreed, to Hitchcock’s delight, that they did not see any nudity in the shower sequence.

The final film I wish to discuss is Death Wish.  At the time of its release in 1974, I was living in Manhattan and saw the picture, the week it first opened, in Times Square.  What I remember most about watching this film was the way in which the audience, multiracial, reacted to it.  For those not familiar with this film (that had several sequels), Charles Bronson plays a New York City architect, Paul Kesey.  His mild-mannered nature snaps when intruders break into his home raping his daughter and murdering his wife.  When his daughter is committed to a mental hospital, Paul takes a revolver given to him by a client and goes on a late-night walk in which he is mugged at gunpoint.  He reacts automatically in shooting the mugger but, upon realizing what he has done, throws-up.  Subsequently, Paul walks through dangerous areas such as Central Park at night, with the intention of luring muggers and then silencing them with his pistol.  Meanwhile, no matter whether the mugger was white, black or Hispanic, when Kesey killed him, the movie audience broke out into loud cheers. 

Because the film made Bronson, an anti-hero of sorts by his eliminating the bad guys, it appeared to support vigilantism.  In 1974, the rate of crime in New York and other cities was much higher than it is presently.  I viewed the shouts of approval by my fellow moviegoers as releasing their own hurts and pent-up frustrations from very possibly being victims of crimes.  Although film critics had mixed reactions to the film, the public sentiment was different leading to a discussion on how to deal with the increasing level of crime. 

I am sure all of the above three films have been available for home screenings.  However, I can’t imagine experiencing these movies at home, in the same way I did as a member of an audience, sharing the event in common with others.   I am quite sure that the powerful impact I felt could not be viewed at home.  Often the time and cost it takes to go to a movie theater takes priority over the convenience of staying at home and seeing it there.  Hopefully, enough others will both consider and support these benefits allowing the movie house to stay with us as an integral part of our culture.