Tuesday, April 22, 2008


Today is the Pennsylvania Primary, which is the latest "crucial" primary. Aren't they all? Superdelegates are swearing left and right not to be swayed--so why are they swaying left and right? Everyone is grouchy and dispirited, name-calling, on the attack.

It's called politics. (In other countries, sometimes they kill the opposition. Here, we call each other names and then respond with indignance and horror when the opposing candidate is "just not nice.")

Hillary is called horrible for her low attack ads, using people's words against them, warning that "if you can't stand the heat, don't stay in the kitchen." She's behaving . . . like all the other male candidates in history. (I'm not sure why that makes her more untrustworthy or despicable than all the men who've gone before her, but according to some, it has to.)

Obama, the "front-runner", is busy being a victim--the wunderkind distressed by anything short of unanimous adoration. Further, he resents being known by the company he keeps. (If that applies to you and me, shouldn't it apply to our candidates as well?)

Well, make no mistake. These are politicians, my friends, and as much as they may complain or scream or cry, they LIVE for the drama of the political race. And contrary to the anxiety the Democratic party bigwigs are trying to stir up if we don't resolve this conflict BEFORE the convention (which is rightly where those running resolve their conflicts), just remember that no political split in memory has ever prevented the politicos from re-grouping the day AFTER the convention in solidarity. Oh, they love the pyrotechnics, the outrage. But they want to be on a winning team, and they WILL band together behind whomever wins. It's all about competition and winning (not what happens once you're governing). And if you realize that this, too, is business as usual, then suddenly it all seems a little less dire . . . and perhaps a tad more silly.

Still no voice for the Michigan and Florida delegates. All the power going to the superdelegate vote. (Did we waste our time at the polls?)

Four years ago, the election was the Democrats' to lose. And they did. Will all these back room shenanigans lose it for us again? Grow up people. Have some accountability to the people you serve.

Saturday, April 05, 2008

Yes, it's been a while, a month almost--fraught with health, job, art, politics and other issues . . . but hopefully I'm getting back on track.

So I'll tackle a few different issues today, just to get "caught up."

Art, politics . . . and even some health information, coming right up.


The concept of "On Demand" programming on cable seemed silly and potentially dangerous at first--and rightly so. There should be no program that you really can't afford to miss, and if you did, that'd just be a few more hours not lost to you forever, right? Ah . . . but when you REALLY can't miss your favorites, watching them whenever you want . . . and not just on your smaller computer screen . . . not sitting at a desk but on your comfy sofa or even in your cozy bed . . . no wonder we are such a soft nation . . . !

That said, HBO On Demand has given us the liberty to watch IN TREATMENT whenever we want, and it is more than a guilty pleasure. It is an addiction. Based on an Israeli series, "Be 'Tipul," it is an amazing journey into the world of the psychologist and their patients. Series that have therapy sessions at their core are not new--thank you, Bob Newhart, among others--but they are usually sensationalistic, and use the sessions as fast and easy ways to get plot exposition out there. There is no real sense of who the therapist is, what the process is, or what the relationship is--it is just a platform to deliver character news about the patient. But IN TREATMENT is interested in the doctor, the patient, the problem, the relationship, the ethics, the boundaries AND the process. The aim is to re-create the intimate therapeutic bond and see where it leads both patient and doctor. Over 9 weeks, five "sessions" per week, five patients and their doctor work through personal demons. (Since two patients are in couples therapy, that leaves one night per week leftover for the analyst to see HIS analyst.) One could follow one storyline or all five. You could see several episodes on a given night about one patient, or an entire week in one sitting. (This is not only due to the On Demand service--HBO frequently ran several episodes of a given patient's story on a given night to help provide background, and on Sundays, they recapped the whole week.)

All of this sounds ambitious and earnest, and it is. But it is also amazingly well done.

The writing really unfolds like the therapy process does, albeit condensed into 8 or 9 episodes (I won't explain that, lest I give anything away) that run approximately 26 minutes a piece (half the usual time of a real therapy session). Yes, the stories and the events under such compression may be a bit dramatic and theatrical--but were you really planning to tune in for the times when a session is totally mundane, a boring recap of a troubled person's every move all week? There are indeed often parts of a therapy session that are downright boring--that's just the truth. For our consumption, they've tightened it up a bit, and the result is absolutely addictive. The dialogue is superb--corrosive, subtle, biting, seductive, and even loving. And as the weeks progress, the resonances between the different cases--and the resonances between the patients' problems and the therapist Paul's life--become suddenly and heart-breakingly profound.

Then there is the acting. In one of the most superb ensembles ever assembled on TV--yes, hyperbole, but I can't help it!--you are overwhelmed by what turn into absolute master classes of great acting for the camera. Gabriel Byrne does a career-defining turn as Paul, the therapist and emcee of pain, whose crumbling marriage, middle-aged angst and career insecurities play out as he exercises the utmost dedication to his patients, even at a personal cost. A complicated and rather emotional man, we find ourselves riveted to his every facial expression and reaction (or non-reaction, which therapists are so good at executing). He is a good man, a man we care about, even though he, too, may be a troubled as his patients. On Mondays, Laura, an extremely attractive and sexual patient (played unabashedly and with brio by Melissa George) is projecting a strong desire to become Paul's lover, her own sexual issues inextricably intertwined with her need to find a steady influence in her life, even if it's her own therapist. (Did I mention she's a anaesthesiologist?) On Tuesdays, Blair Underwood finally gets the opportunity to show how much more of an actor he is than ever shown on network TV as Alex, a troubled Navy pilot whose relentless following of orders have perhaps caused him to lose his way as a human being. Wednesday's patient is Sophie, a teen gymnast prone to self-destructive behavior, played with alarming realism by newcomer Mia Wasikowska. (This girl can say more with a moment of silence than 90 percent of the actresses twice her age.) Jake and Amy, in marriage counseling, are the bickering odd couple, played with brio and tears by Josh Charles and Embeth Davidtz. And on Friday nights, a master class in brilliant acting is provided at Paul's therapy session, when Gabriel Byrne spars with HIS therapist played by the incomparable Diane Wiest. As if that weren't enough, Michelle Forbes is remarkable as the therapist's wife, and there are even "guest" performances by Glynn Turman (brilliant), Julia Campbell and Peter Horton, chief among others. But there is not a wasted performance in the bunch, and if Emmys could be given every single one of them, it would not be inappropriate. Most episodes are directed by series supervisor Rodrigo Garcia, Paris Barclay and/or Melanie Mayron--superb work from all. This is a top-rate series, executed with the utmost care and love, and giving it your time and attention is sure to be rewarding. Just beware--it's habit-forming. (I may need a session with my own shrink to deal with the withdrawal I'll be suffering once this season's over!)


On the political front, several of you wrote in responding to my pieces on Hillary, Barack, and perceived (and misperceived) prejudice. The bottom line is there are some amazing candidates this time around--at LAST! The selection process cannot and should not be hurried--conventions were created as part of a process insuring that proper choices are made. Half the mud-slinging that's occurring seems to be exacerbated by the Democratic National Committee itself, who keeps saying how important it is to decide NOW, before the convention. Why? Why is it wrong for us to see what our candidates are made of? When is taking our time before leaping into something we can't take back ever a bad thing? (Need I bring up the WMDs?) And why should the DNC have more power than the States in setting calendars? Why should the peoples of Florida and Michigan, who must abide the laws of their respective states, be punished with no representation at the convention because the calendars set by their states didn't please the DNC? Who are these SUPER DELEGATES anyway? We know they are politicos over and above the regular voters who are being given MORE power than you and me--if these candidates are to be the choice of "the people," then who says these backroom brawlers deserve more voice than the one vote we each get? What makes them so special that THEY get to determine who gets the nomination?

I have made no bones about my candidate in this blog thus far, and chances are I will support whomever gets the Democratic nomination. They are both ultimately superb candidates--human and flawed at times, perhaps, but dedicated and caring and dedicated to making a change. Whomever wins will really have to be willing to roll up their sleeves and deal with some really dirty business left by the current administration. ("So?" says Dick.) The DNC says it's worried that the bickering will result in a party not coming together once the choice is made--but no time in history has that proven true. It is more likely they wish to start attacking McCain versus keeping the peace in their own house.

But last election, one that was the DNC's to lose, they did. And their asinine Big Brother antics threaten to undermine this election as well. They are so eager to taste victory that they seem unbridled in their efforts to get it, often to chilling effect. We do indeed want change--but at any cost? Return the election to the people, not the parties, and let the system do its work.


I am finally addressing what I've suspected for years--I suffer from sleep apnea. (A sleep study test I took estimated that I stop breathing in my sleep an average of 80 times an hour!) When you don't breathe, your body wakes you up, which is good of course, but it also means you never reach deeper, REM sleep, which is where your body really rests and replenishes. The results of this sleep deprivation can include high blood pressure, weight gain, exhaustion, heart enlargement and numerous other side effects--all of which I seem to have. And if you have apnea, you are almost certainly a scary snorer who keeps your partner awake all hours of the night.

So far, using a passover mask (no, this has nothing to do with being kosher for pesach!) that fits under my nose, my CPAP machine has been providing me with the kind of breathing and sleep that I haven't really had in years. CPAP stands for Continuous Positive Airway Pressure. With this moustached-sized mask strapped lightly to my head and attached to the CPAP, I received a rather large amount of air pressure through my nostrils which in turn forces open the nasal and throat passages, insuring that I get the air I need to breathe and to sleep. This means that I get my deeper REM sleep and overall a better quality of sleep than I ever have received before. An added plus--my CPAP machine comes with a heated humidifier built-in, such that instead of drying me out, my sinuses receive temperature-controlled moisture. Even in this severe spring allergy season, my sinuses are moist, clean and comfortable.

I may not have tackled ALL my problems--I may have enough to leave Paul's patients on IN TREATMENT behind in the dust!!--but with this new sleep-and-breathing therapy, I may finally be on a road to recovery. I'll keep you all posted.