Saturday, October 22, 2016

The Loneliest Liberal doesn’t read the New England Journal of Medicine

By James Knudsen

I am convinced a major reason for my sunny disposition, absent any mind-altering substances, is my ability to remain blissfully unaware of the grim realities that so many of my fellow humans are forced to confront daily.
    Much of my success is due to the fact that I avoid contact with the conduits of bad news that many people cling to voluntarily. The New England Journal of Medicine has never crossed my threshold, my radio or internet equivalent is tuned to NPR, instead of the more strident and depressing Pacifica Radio, and I watch the Fox network only when there’s a football game on, where I enjoy the raw violence of the sport, free, because I don’t read The New England Journal of Medicine, of any guilt about the participants’ turning their brains to oatmeal. We can only imagine what the current political landscape would be like if more people adopted this strategy for mental well-being (well-being as opposed to health). Alas, sinister forces continue their attacks on my fortress of oblivion.

Recently I acquired a new used phone. A Samsung Galaxy S5 replaced my stalwart Galaxy S3, whose main defect was not a cracked screen, but a headphone jack that would provide only one channel of music to my stereophonic ears. Its replacement has the usual improvements: better camera, bigger screen, personal assistant What’s-Her-Name, and the latest suite of pre-installed apps that, like the human papillomavirus, you can never really get rid of.
    Among these myriad apps is one called, S Health. “S,” I assume, stands for Samsung. Health, I assume, stands for, “Here’s Everything A Lazy Terrestialbound Humancouldeverwanttoknowabouthisorherhealth.” I might be slightly off on what that second “H” stands for. At any rate, S Health allows you to track what you do on a daily basis as well as tell you about the state of things like your heart rate, blood pressure, stress, water intake, caffeine intake, water output…oh, no, it doesn’t track that last item (I wonder how it would?). In short, it allows the user of the phone to keep track of things that impact the user’s health. Great, right? No! And I’ll tell you why. I didn’t ask it to. And I don’t mind telling you that I am more than a little uncomfortable at having just typed that while my phone is sitting right next to me watching my every move…Sssshhhhhh!

I put my phone in my sock drawer, so I think it’s safe to continue with this essay.
    As you can imagine, this has been more than a little unsettling. Yesterday, I glanced at my phone and was greeted with the message, “Congratulations. You’ve reached your daily step target. Awesome! :)” Okay, I added the emoticon, but every time I read or hear the word “Awesome” I see a bubbly, blonde Fox News anchor-in-training inviting me to sign up for truck driving school. The point is, this is added pressure that I didn’t ask for. Six-thousand steps? Sure, it isn’t that many, as evidenced by the fact that I reached said goal – sorry, target – without changing my daily routine one iota. And I don’t need another “target” in my life that I can then “fail” to reach.

“I’m going finish college by the time I’m 22.” Fail!
“I’m going to be a working actor by the time I’m 30.” Fail!
“Forty.” Fail!
“Fif— Oh, nevermind.”
    It also shines a harsh light on the failure of New-Age thinking regarding self-improvement and positive reinforcement. The information technology industry, poisoned by this nurturing ideology, has failed to recognize what we really need…guilt.
“I really hoped you would do the dishes in the sink.”
“I see your friend got another promotion at work. How proud his family must be.”
“Starving children in Africa would be grateful for that TV dinner I slaved over.”
    Buoyed by these words, the children of The Greatest Generation wrote books and made movies about said generation. Subsequent generations, deprived of such encouragement, congratulate themselves on the accuracy of their Storm Trooper costume and develop apps to make me feel self-conscious.
    And where’s the flying car I was promised!?

Copyright © 2016 by James Knudsen


  1. Thank you, James, for keeping it light this month. Besides, the only thing about Donald Trump that I would have wanted you to report is that Trump has apologized to all the women he has pounced or trashed - including Ivana, Rosie, Carly, & Hillary, as well as the uncounted others. And it would be nice if the sequel were that he either jumped off a Trump tower, committed himself to a mental hospital, or retired to permanent seclusion in a monastery.

  2. Some readers may have noticed that I replaced the original comment, substituting "pounced or trashed" for "pounced or trounced." I have since realized that I had other rhyming alternatives:
      pounced, denounced
      bashed, slashed, trashed

  3. I'm still pissed about not getting my jet backpack they said everybody would have by now.

    1. What backpack WHO said we'd have? I think I missed the announcement.

    2. Ed, I apologize for the inconvenience of my question above. I was so focused on the Donald Trump angle, I'd completely forgotten James's mention of the promised flying car and was trying to frame the "jet backpack" as a Donald Trump novelty item – an alternative to a bumper sticker or red cap. But I still don't remember being promised a backpack. I wonder whether it's because I never believed any such promise (or wasn't excited by it)?

    3. Where's the laughing emoticon? I'm pretty sure we were promised those too.

    4. This comment has been removed by the author.

    5. Ha, James, your sure-footed mastery of droll understatement via subtle allusion discombobulates me so much that I'm probably writing yet another comment I'll have to replace later in order to try to hide either my verbal clumsiness or my degenerate powers of concentration....But we DO have a laughing emoticon, don't we – maybe just not in Blogger?

  4. Maybe Trump actually IS thinking about jumping. Excerpt from a Washington Post article today:

    FLETCHER, N.C. — As he took the stage here in this mountain town Friday afternoon, Donald Trump was as subdued as the modest crowd that turned out to see him. He complained about the usual things — the dishonest media, his “corrupt” rival Hillary Clinton — but his voice was hoarse and his heart didn’t seem in it.
        “What a waste of time if we don’t pull this off,” Trump said. “You know, these guys have said: ‘It doesn’t matter if you win or lose. There’s never been a movement like this in the history of this country.’ I say, it matters to me if we win or lose. So I’ll have over $100 million of my own money in this campaign.” [Or maybe he's just trying to make his followers take pity on him and send him money?]
        “So, if I lose,” Trump continued as the crowd remained unusually quiet, “if I lose, I will consider this —”
        Trump didn’t finish his sentence, but he didn’t really need to. After weeks of controversy and declining poll numbers, Trump and his campaign have settled into a dark funk. Even as he vows to prevail in the race, the GOP nominee’s mood has soured with less than three weeks to go until Election Day.
        His final debate performance this week was a bust, with him snarling that Clinton was “such a nasty woman” and gritting his teeth as he angrily ripped pages off a notepad when it was over. He is under fire from all quarters for refusing to say he will honor the election results if he loses, while 10 women have now come forward accusing him of groping or kissing them without consent. The capper to Trump’s bad stretch came Thursday night, when a ballroom full of New York City’s glitterati booed him as he gave remarks attacking Clinton at a charity roast.
        The gloomy mood has extended to his signature rallies, which Trump used to find fun. During the primaries, he would bound onto rally stages bursting with energy and a sense of excitement that intensified as the crowds chanted his name and cheered his every word. He would regularly schedule news conferences, call into news shows and chat with reporters, eager to spar with them. He would say politically incorrect things and then watch his polling numbers soar. He used to be the winner.

    ["Donald Trump is in a funk"]