Wednesday, October 24, 2007

The Tidal Wave of Condescension You Get From Your Doctor When You've Researched Your Own Symptoms

God forbid I should intrude on their staggering expertise. How dare I presume to deign to even imagine that I might actually contribute something to the conversation. Shouldn't I just keep my mouth shut when I'm sitting up there on the crinkly paper? After all, only one of us went through half a dozen grueling years of list-memorization, followed by another half dozen years of taking urine samples on graveyard shift. So what could I possibly know about my back pain?

Plenty, I think. I could read a layman's primer about it on the internet - maybe go through one of those symptoms analysis websites - maybe ask a few questions on a few forums - and then maybe develop a highly reliable working understanding of the common causes of back pain. But is that going to impress my internist? What do you think?

Look, obviously the doctor has the real expertise. Obviously he's drawing from a much deeper well when he diagnoses me. But that doesn't mean I'm not going to do some cursory homework before I pay for the doctor visit. I typically don't go to the doctor until I've exhausted all possible over-the-counter type avenues and done as much internet research as I can. But if I tell the doctor something like "It's got all the signs of a slipped disc." then my friends you have never seen such drippingly hostile, barbed, venomous condescension.

It can take one of two general forms. One reaction is the pissy one. It's the "please don't waste my time with your amateur theories" exasperation. These doctors take it as a personal insult that you would even offer some kind of analysis of your own condition, because it implies that you don't view them as the incense-waving, all-knowing shaman that they want you to think they are. The second common reaction is the tidal wave of patronizing, infantilizing condescension. The doctor takes on the attitude of a man who finds his dog looking at a newspaper. "Awwwwww, who's reading the paper! Who's reading the paper! C'mere little guy - is the Dow up today! Who's my big boy!"

WTF? You wouldn't get this from any other kind of professional. If you told your mechanic the brakes were feeling a little sluggish, and that maybe it was a weak piston on the caliper, would he blow up in your face? Would he say "Hey, who's the mechanic here?" Would he say "Suuuuuuuure it's the piston on the caliper! What a bright young man you are! Do you want to be a real mechanic some day?" No, of course not. He'd say "Okay, I'll check it out."

I'm not telling the doctor what I think the problem is because I want a pat on the head, It's because a) I'm doing him a favor, and b) because I would like to be an active participant in the process. I'm trying to be the Robin to his Batman. The Igor to his Frankenstein. I am just... trying... to help.

What doctor ever tells you to study up on your condition and recommends a book? What doctor ever invites you to become more educated on the principles of diagnosis? They don't, do they? They enjoy your ignorance. They savor it. Not necessarily because they're panicky that you'll read a book and put them out of business. It's because they've been taught since day one that they will be the keepers of the sacred knowledge. That's the doctor's reward as he slogs through med school - he knows the exclusive club he's about to join. But it's not enough that he has this mastery. Everyone else has to be ignorant.

Again, compare it to almost any other scenario where the layman comes to the specialist and tries to demonstrate that he's read up on the specialist's work. The specialist would normally be flattered. At least, he'd feel a little warmth toward you that you had taken the time to learn something about what he does. There'd be no belittling sneer. No "You've read the holy book!?!" anger and venom.

Look, doctors - it's only natural as the internet matures we will see self-diagnosis websites that just get better and better. True, it's very hit and miss right now. But even now, I guarantee you for any weird symptom you can do a google search and find 5 people all complaining of the exact same problem, followed by the advice of doctors advising them what it might be about. In the future, trust me, Dr. Clippy will be running circles around you.

"Paging Dr. Clippy. Dr. Clippy, you're needed in surgery. Dr. Clippy."

Dr. Clippy will be able to upload your medical history, then ask you 100 questions, then narrow down the diagnosis possibilities with what I promise will be a ridiculously high batting average. You doctors need to understand that the vast chasm of highly specialized knowledge between you and the average Joe is about to become irrelevant. You doctors - you aren't particularly great geniuses. Your great skill was memorization. You're a bunch of walking medical encyclopedias. And Dr. Clippy, who's a much more reliable memorizer of facts, is about to be able to diagnose anything that you can, and there's not any reason to think he can't do it much better.

So when I come in with (gasp!) an opinion about my groin pain, maybe at the very least you should take it seriously, and lose the 'tude?

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Why are Actors All so Damn Fruity?

Remember, in high school, the clique of drama-club guys? That group that was always in every school play? The skinny, turtle-necked guys? Sometimes a little goth? Maybe a little with the tight pants and the scarves and the berets, carrying around dog-eared Eugene O'Neil paperbacks? Not necessarily homosexual you understand, just... deeply fruity.

My problem is that, and this has been confirmed to me over and over, the actors we watch today in TV and film are merely the adult versions of these people. Which is to say, anytime you cast a movie or a TV show, every part has been cast from this same limited, anemic, fruity pool of talent. If you're looking for a gifted 25 year old actor, then you're looking for someone who made a commitment in adolescence to study the craft of the stage. Which is to say, an overly sensitive, highly artistic fruit of a young man. That's how you get a gifted 25 year old actor. Which is fine I guess if you're casting a Woody Allen movie and every other scene takes place in a gallery party or a SoHo loft. But when the time comes to cast some real manly men, you can't get any real manly men. You can only get a sensitive drama-club guy doing what he thinks is an impression of a blue collar, masculine dude.

To be fair, occasionally you get someone like Schwartzenegger, who broke into the business just because of his physical attributes, and not because of any "muse". So sometimes, you can pluck someone from real life and make an actor out of them. But it's rare. And actually, I tend to enjoy those performances the best. But generally, we're stuck with fruity actors trying to portray non-fruity non-actors. Sometimes they succeed. Usually they don't.

Leo as.... Howard Hughes?

Adrien Brody mans it up in King Kong.

Isn't it a weird let down when you watch your DVD extras and see these interviews with the actors, and you discover to your amazement that someone like Tom Wilkinson, in real life, is not some bad ass at all but is instead someone who talks about his "muse", and gets very animated about Shakespeare, and waxes romantic about some theatrical golden age, and so on? And you're like "This is the real Tom Wilkinson?" "A art-house fruit whose dinner table conversation is probably completely insufferable?" "Tom, Tom! Say it ain't so!"

Tom Wilkinson: Bad Ass

Fooled you!

And it gets worse. The guy in the film who plays his son was his school's drama-club weirdo. The guy playing the villain was his school's drama-club weirdo. The entire cast was each, individually, their own high school's sensitive, fruity, drama-club weirdo. Down to the last carefully coiffed guy. And these our our idols! Our sex objects! Our national celebrities who have the ear of the entire media whenever they have any opinion on politics, culture and law! The drama club clique!

The problem, at the most fundamental level, is that those who become actors were drawn to it at this impressionable high school level - and not because they were particularly good at it. No one has a childhood where the dad says "Wow son, you sure do know how to act! Have you considered studying it and maybe pursuing it as a career?" Not a chance. Rather than ability, it's a defect of ego and character that draws someone to dramatic performance - these people who constantly need to show off, be the center of attention and get a round of applause. If it was really about talent, then the high school drama coach would be more like the football coach. He'd try you out, tell you honestly that you had no talent, and you'd be gone. But the drama coach admires your passion and wants to nurture it, no matter what your abilities.

I say we elect a new profession as the pool of talent for all future movie casting, future celebrities and commentators on politics and culture. How about locksmiths? It can be like a rotating stewardship. I guarantee the acting would be better and the characters more authentic.

Friday, October 05, 2007

How Can Lotteries Claim They Have a $1 Million Jackpot When the Winner Only Gets About $250,000?

I've never personally won a large lottery or gambling jackpot, but boy will I be pissed when I do. For those who don't follow these things, the way these enormous lottery jackpots work is like this: If you win, say, 100 million - you can either accept the money in 20 annual payments of 5 million each, or, you can just take 50 million right now (approximately) and walk away.

What this means, to put it as plainly as I can, is that you've only won 50 million. You didn't win 100 million. Sure, you could stockpile your 5 million payments for 20 years and then show me the whole 100 mil, but you could take the 50 million lump sum, invest it safely, and produce the same 20 year outcome. In other words, you've only won 50 million.

And then, even after you've been given the $50 million instead of the $100 million, you've got to give half of that to Uncle Sam. To put it simply, this blows.

So we've ended up with a state of affairs where any posted jackpot or huge cash prize is really only going to net you ONE QUARTER OF THE WHOLE THING if you actually win it. Does this get anyone else as angry as it does me?

How about I sponsor a lottery, only 1 dollar to enter... And the grand prize is a cool million. Yep, I will pay you a million dollars. However, the prize will be paid out in the form of an annuity payment of $1 a year. For a million years. Don't worry, it will be a trust and payments can continue to go to your descendants. Or... if you don't like that idea - you can take one single lump sum payment of $14.28. Which, assuming a generous interest rate, is how much my prize is actually worth.

But hey! A million dollars right! No. No it's not a million. And this lump sum, annuity payment bullshit is no different. It's just a lie. That's all it is. I propose that all stated jackpots and lottery payouts be publicly advertised, displayed and posted as the post-lump-sum, after-tax amount. So if the prize says 5 million, and you win - you actually get handed a tax-free check for $5 million. Am I wrong? What position would you rather be in? a) You win a $5 million jackpot and get handed the tax-free check for the whole amount, or b) You win a $20 million jackpot, and then you find out later that it really only adds up to about 5 mil?

In situation A I'd be jumping for joy. In situation B I'd be seriously pissed off. The local TV reporter would put a mike in my face and say "So Rowsdower, how does it feel to win $20 million?" And I'd be like "Uh, that's... $5 million, Jim. It's just $5 million." He: "Did you ever imagine you'd be a millionaire 20 times over?" Me: "Well, like I said, there's no $20 million. It's only $5 million." He: "How are you going to spend $20 mill-" Me: "Look would you shut up about the 20 million please! It's JUST 5 MILLION."

This is just common sense everyone. Let's stop inflating our jackpot promises up to these lofty imaginary numbers. Post-lump-sum, after-tax figures only. Sure, the powerball will never get up past 50 or 75 mil anymore, but I think we'll all be a little happier for the honesty.