Saturday, April 25, 2015

I Couldn't Agree More

Sometime during 2002-2003 I was contacted by a woman identifying herself as a producer for the Dr. Phil TV show. She wanted to know if I would do some marriage counseling for a couple that she knew and then come on the show to discuss their treatment. My response was to tell that woman that I did not view therapy as a spectator sport so I declined her invitation. A few years later one of my wife's favorite activities was to watch me scream at our TV while we were watching the HBO series, In Treatment. The therapist was so inappropriate in his behavior and there was no way for the viewing audience to know it. The following is a posting from today's Daily Beast written under the pseudonym of Russell Saunders entitled, "Doctor: Why Quack TV Docs Like Dr. Oz and Dr. Phil Need to Go."

Dr. Oz has come under fire due to his ‘egregious lack of integrity,’ but he pales in comparison to the fame-whoring Dr. Phil. Here’s why it’s time to get rid of the ‘daytime doc.’
Consider the plight of the televised health professional. There was a time when all it took was the right couple of letters in front of your name and the divine blessing of Oprah Winfrey, daytime TV’s resplendent queen, and you could find yourself hosting a hit television show. With just those advantages secured, both Dr. Mehmet Oz and Dr. Phil McGraw landed themselves eponymous programs with which to dole out their wisdom to audiences at home.
Alas, the bloom has begun to come quite noticeably off those particular roses. And it may be time to ponder whether or not these shows, each proudly affixed with “Dr.” right in their titles, have exploited their stars’ professional credentials well past their sell-by dates.
For Dr. Oz, it’s been a hairy couple of weeks. His current woes started with a much-ballyhooed letter from ten physicians calling on the dean of Columbia University’s medical school to boot Dr. Oz from the faculty there. Citing his “egregious lack of integrity by promoting quack treatments,” among other malefactions, the authors deem his presence at such a prestigious institution “unacceptable.”
This comes the year after Dr. Oz was hauled before a Senate hearing to explain why he frequently touted worthless “miracle” weight-loss supplements. (I should probably take this opportunity to admit that I did not give Sen. Claire McCaskill nearly enough credit when I wrote about it at the time. She gave him far more of a grilling than I thought she would.) Then as now, he was forced to spin the nonsense he spouted as some kind of feel-good self-help mumbo jumbo rather than actual medical opinion.
As it happens, I share the skepticism of some about the motives of those ten physicians, who are enjoying far more celebrity now than they likely ever have before, and who couldn’t possibly have expected an Ivy League medical school to give a tenured department vice chair the heave-ho just because they wrote a letter. Dr. Oz has gone on the offensive about the possible conflicts of interest behind the letter’s writing, and it’s within his rights to question the motives of his critics.
But whatever the academic upshot to this new kerfuffle, it’s forced Dr. Oz to do some damage control. And I am not buying what he’s selling.In an interview with NBC, Dr. Oz strains credulity to the breaking point by maintaining that his is not a “medical show” and that in the logo the “OZ” is really big but the “Dr.” is eensy-weensy so as to make that distinction clear. If anyone believes that Dr. Oz did not leverage his credentials as a selling point for his program, or that his viewers do not tune in in large part because of the legitimacy those credentials presumably give his daily pronouncements, then please contact me about an exciting purchase opportunity for a bridge between Manhattan and Brooklyn.
But it’s within that same interview that Dr. Oz accidentally tells a little bit of truth.
“The purpose is not to throw at you the biggest articles published by doctors that week. Frankly it’s not very much fun to listen to [those], either,” he tells NBC. And he’s right.
Speaking as someone who regularly scours various medical news services for topics that may be of interest to a general audience, the vast majority comprise items that I find fascinating or useful as a physician, but would be crushingly dull to pretty much everyone else. Real, actual medical science is often made up of studies that add little bits to the accumulated body of knowledge already out there, or explore some small treatment effect. The bigger and splashier the supposed finding, the more rigorous the study must be to justify it. Most of the big claims turn out to be baseless garbage. What you don’t do is just report the garbage anyway. (Or, at least, I sure as hell try not to.) You don’t promulgate nonsense you know to be based on shoddy science. You don’t decide that the demand for ratings trumps your obligation to properly inform your audience. I understand that trying to keep the topics limited to those that truly withstand scientific scrutiny would mean The Dr. Oz Show would both struggle to find enough material to fill their airtime, and would probably bore the dickens out of its audience. So perhaps it’s time they drop the “Dr.” bit entirely, rechristen the program “Mehmet,” and have him join all the other daytime entertainers crowding the airwaves with general interest content. It would be a lot more intellectually honest. But one thing I’ll say for Dr. Oz: at least he’s not Dr. Phil.
Another Oprah protégé, Dr. Phil McGraw has used his show to become America’s confrontational truth-spewer-in-chief. Heavily reliant on the questionably effective tactic of “intervention” with his guests, Dr. Phil uses his PhD to gussy up what is really just one more salacious offering wherein people expose their flaws and bad decisions for the entertainment of the audience. Dr. Phil’s unseemly mélange of exploitation, celebrity parasitism and credential mining goes back years, at least until 2008 when he went to visit a hospitalized Britney Spears in the midst of her high-profile troubles then issued a statement about it, much to her parents’ dismay. A couple of years later, after having a pair of serial shoplifters on his program ostensibly for help but mainly just to get them to dish about their deeds, the judge who presided over their subsequent sentencing called him a “charlatan” and a “terrible, terrible man.” Apparently having learned nothing from the Spears fiasco, Dr. Phil has more recently decided to do a deep dive into the fine art of filming minor celebrities when they’re at their emotional nadir. Despite being visibly inebriated and in absolutely no condition to discuss his mental health on camera, Nick Gordon, the boyfriend of Whitney Houston’s comatose daughter Bobbi Kristina Brown, was subjected to one of Dr. Phil’s famous “interventions,” the clinical benefit of which was highly suspect. And following the interview, he took it upon himself to gab to the gossip program Entertainment Tonight about how it went, sharing salacious, highly personal details with ET’s voracious audience.
“He'd go from being able to talk like we’re talking now to just all of a sudden collapsing and wailing,” Dr. Phil told ET. “And then he would pull out his phone and turn on a Whitney song and just start crying.” In a few days, another episode is set to air in which he browbeats troubled Real Housewives of Beverly Hills star Kim Richards about her recent arrest for public drunkenness until she runs off in tears, ending the interview.
Do these people need the involvement of trained professionals to deal honestly with their problems? Quite possibly. Does being confronted with the ramifications of their bad decisions have value for people with various mental health or substance abuse problems? Often it does. Is Dr. Phil actually accomplishing anything of benefit for his hapless subjects when he milks their travails for ratings? Not even slightly. Call this sort of celebrity bottom-feeding what you like, but please let’s not call it therapeutic. It’s a crass pantomime of psychology, no matter what Dr. Phil’s degree. He makes Dr. Joyce Brothers look like Carl Jung by comparison. Like Dr. Oz, if Dr. Phil wants to promote what his show is really about, he can jettison the “Dr.” jive, and take his place openly alongside Maury and Jerry and Montel. They all peddle the same prurient garbage, and he may as well be plain about it. I won’t tune in, but at least I won’t consider him a professional embarrassment. Junk doesn’t turn into worthwhile viewing just because you wrap a diploma around it, and it’s time Dr. Oz and Dr. Phil stopped pretending otherwise.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015


Over the past weekend I had the good fortune to go see the movie, "Selma." After seeing the movie I too find it outrageous that it did not get one Academy Award nomination. But that is not the intent of this post. I am certainly old enough to remember the events of the 1960s. Nevertheless I cringed as I watched with horror the events that are portrayed. I found myself crying and I intuitively knew that my tears were coming from a very deep place that went beyond what I was seeing.

There is no doubt in my mind that if the situation was reversed and the majority of the population were people of color who were treating a minority white population in a similar fashion the subsequent events would have been quite different. It is my belief that in this hypothetical situation the United States would view the threat of ISIS as a very low priority. It is my belief that in such a situation the white people of America would have armed themselves with Uzis and they would be out indiscriminately killing as many black people as they could. I find the fact that this has not happened within the minority community with the reality of America to be astounding.

As I now watch the efforts to once again disenfranchise the minority communities under the guise of preventing voter fraud I am quite nauseous. So many politicians like to refer to America as the greatest country in the world. It really would be so lovely if one day this was true.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

The State of America

I have never done this before but this article communicates what I'd like for you to read. It is from "The Nashville Banner" and was published on February 4, 2015.

The Republicans Eat Their Own

And other thoughts on Haslam's failed health initiative

Death to the legislation, which arrived on a stretcher anyway, came quickly. Gov. Haslam's plan to join ObamaCare, and insure hundreds of thousands of Tennesseans at virtually no cost to the state, came loaded with the political baggage of being tied to Obama. Tennessee's Tea Partiers seethed. Conservatives raged. The right-wing came unstuck.
To those in the fact-based community—moderate Republicans, businesspeople, those in the health care community—the facts were inarguable and arrived at a different analysis: at little to no cost, hospitals would stay in business and hundreds of millions of dollars would be pumped into the state's economy.
What's not to love?
On top of that, there was a public policy argument to tug on the heartstrings. For poor people, this was a solution. The plan would add a measure of comfort to thousands of the impoverished, and hey, isn't that what we humans are all about?
In the end, though, as even Haslam seemed to suggest when he called the session together, the death knell to the plan was its association with a Democratic president, one who is despised by many of our state lawmakers. Yes, the proposal might have seemed a no-brainer. But it is also true that no-brainer arguments are hard to intellectually absorb when you don't have a brain to begin with.
When the Senate was called into session to consider the Haslam plan, the preacher reading the invocation asked God "that we would not be forced into these edicts from Washington D.C." Instead the preacher prayed that we "let the people know that our (healthcare) coverage is the same as with Moses and the children of Israel when they went through the wilderness with only the divine providence of almighty God."
What is one to say?
Have we lost it?
Maybe, to extend the preacher's primitive religiosity, we should all abandon our health insurance. Maybe we should all go Paleo and descend into some pre-historic living undertaking, in which we commence to eating locusts, and commuting to Jimmy Kelly's after work on camels, and doing without any modern healthcare whatsoever because, darnit, if Moses could get by without a Blue Cross Card, then we all can.
Were one to identify positives, I can find one, optimist that I am.
Opportunities are always rare for Democrats. But here is some advice to the new Democratic Party chairwoman, Mary Mancini: Affix sign to door. "The Democratic Party is Open for Business."
Tell every health care company in Tennessee—and Nashville is ground zero for corporate health care in the United States—that the NEW Democratic Party here would like to see health care endeavors thrive, but that Republicans do not. Spread the same message to those in the construction industries, to small business owners, to Chambers of Commerce, and to doctors and nurses everywhere.
Now is an opportunity to announce on friendly terms the Democrats' willingness to work with business, because in a strangely cannibalistic way, the Republicans are avariciously chowing down on the hands that feed them. The mostly small-town, non-business-minded, religiously occluded conservatives in the party are in control; the more urban, urbane, business-oriented Republicans are left to suffer the consequences.
The moneyed poo-bahs of the GOP have taken a big hit. So Mary, go offer them a home. At the very least, outline a partnership where the quacks and the crazies aren't in control any longer.