Monthly Archives: August 2008

I’m the Center of the Universe

Spiral Galaxy M51.  It's a vast universe out there, but sometimes we think it's all about "me."

The universe is infinite, but sometimes we think it's just all about us.

When John Edwards almost seemed to excuse his marital infidelity by saying he was a narcissist, I thought his self-diagnosis would lead to a discussion in the mass media of what Narcissistic Personality Disorder really is.  But that didn’t really happen.  Many politicians are grandiose, jumping into the ring with skills and experience far below what’s needed to be president.  But are they narcissists? 

What is a narcissist?  It’s a lot more than looking in the mirror every ten minutes, getting $400 haircuts and cheating on your wife, although a narcissist may do all of these acts.  Near the end of this post, I’ve listed the nine most commonly cited criteria for NPD.

The New York Times published an article in July touching on the clinical meaning of Narcissism, since it seems to be the word du jour. 

The Times’ Narcissism story was triggered by Christie Brinkley’s divorce trial.   Brinkley’s soon-to-be-ex husband, Peter Cook, was diagnosed by his psychiatrist as a narcissist.  Here’s the link: Here’s Looking at Me, Kid  Arm chair “psychiatrists” have tagged a lot of celebrities and politicians with the narcissist label — Eliot Spitzer and Tom Cruise, to name two.

Most of us have encountered a narcissist in our everyday life, and if we’re lucky, we might enjoy his or her charming company for no more than a few minutes.  Many narcissists are extremely charming  — at first.  They seem to know just how to pull you in, focusing their attention on you with laser-like intensity.  It’s an amazing skill, considering that one of the hallmarks of narcissism is a lack of empathy. Initially, they make us feel good about ourselves, so there’s a little self-involvement in us, too.  We feel worthwhile, loved, needed. This makes it even more crushing when the narcissist inevitably reveals that we meant nothing to him or her at all.  We’re not a friend or a partner, but just another object to fill the narcissist’s vast unfillable void or a stepping stone to take the narcissist to the next level.  The damage is hugely amplified if the narcissist is in charge of our country.

Here are some commonly accepted diagnostic criteria for Narcissistic Personality Disorder:  At least five of the following are necessary for a diagnosis:

1) has a grandiose sense of self-importance

2) is preoccupied with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty or ideal love

3) believes that he or she is “special” and unique and can only be understood by other special people

4) requires excessive admiration

5) strong sense of entitlement

6) takes advantage of others to achieve his or her own ends

7) lacks empathy

8) is often envious or believes others are envious of him or her

9) arrogant behavior 

The Narcissistic Personality Disorder on-line discussion group at msn.com can be found by clicking here.

My friend Jan writes about narcissism far better than I could.  Here’s a link to her post: Close Encounter with a Narcissist

On a personal level, here’s an article about dealing with “everyday” narcissists. Self-Esteem or Narcissism?

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Filed under Entertainment, Friendship, Life, Narcissism, Narcissistic Personality Disorder, Personal, Politics, Relationships

George Orwell Revisited

                                                                                                                                                                              Last week, I wrote about George Orwell’s new blog. Now he’s back in the news as a subject in a book he shares with Evelyn Waugh.  At first glance, Orwell and Waugh couldn’t be more different in style, interests and beliefs, but writer David Lebedoff has tied together these two fascinating British authors.  You can click on a link below for more information on the book The Same Man: George Orwell and Evelyn Waugh in Love and War.

Orwell and Waugh lived at the same time, observed a similar world and country and expressed opinions on the same topics.  Orwell is known for his dark views of a downtrodden futuristic society, while Waugh’s literary world was lush and populated with an aristocratic crowd. 

The book that epitomizes Waugh for me is Brideshead Revisited.  OK, I admit it was the 1982 miniseries, featuring a young Jeremy Irons, that first drew my attention to Waugh.  Recently, a shorter version of Brideshead Revisited made it to the theater screen.  I don’t see how it can top the first one, but I know I’ll see it eventually.  I’m a sucker for any period piece, even if it takes place last year.

If you want some reviews about the new Orwell/Waugh book go to my book club blog.

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A Flock of Hummingbirds

In September 2006, Abigail Alfano of Pine, Louisiana, trained these hummingbirds to feed from her hands.  These were hummingbirds that had been visiting her hummingbird feeder.  I'm envious, but I definitely don't have her patience.

In September 2006, Abigail Alfano of Pine, Louisiana, trained these ruby-throated hummingbirds to feed from her hands. These hummingbirds had been visiting her hummingbird feeder. I’m envious, but I don’t have her patience. These are Alfano’s photographs.

My friend Jane knows I like hummingbirds so she emailed these photographs to me of a woman hand feeding ruby-throated hummingbirds.  I immediately suspected photoshop!  And not just because I didn’t believe hummingbirds would feed from a woman’s hand  —  hummingbirds are territorial and don’t “hang out together.”  I guess they do when they’re migrating.

I immediately searched for a snopes.com article on hand-feeding hummingbirds, and amazingly it’s true.  These hummingbirds live in Louisiana, where the motto is the Cajun term laisse le bon temps rouler, let the good times roll. Here, they hang out on their own Bourbon Street before they head onto southern Mexico for the winter.

Peaceable kingdom in Louisiana.  Usually, ruby-throated hummingbirds will fight off rivals at the feeder, but there they not only are hanging out (or should I say hovering about?) but also overlooking the fact that a human is literally handing out the treats, a cup of suagr water.

Peaceable kingdom in Louisiana. Usually, ruby-throated hummingbirds will fight off rivals at the feeder, but here they are hovering together and also overlooking the fact that a human is literally handing out the treats, a cup of sugar water.

To see my less-impressive (although I was pretty proud of myself) photographs of the ruby-throated hummingbirds (one at a time) at my feeder go to  Ruby-throated Hummingbird Moves into the Neighborhood  and Ho, Hum, Another Hummingbird

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Filed under Biology, Bird-watching, Environment, Humor, Louisiana, Natural History, Nature, Personal, Photography, Random, Science

My Run for President

My friend Anita sent me a humorous video of her internet campaign for president.  Computer technology is so amazing that it can make anyone a candidate.  In true political fashion, I’ve thrown my hat in the ring on top of hers and have hijacked her campaign.  You can see how successful I’ve been by clicking on this link Catherine Sherman for President — News at Five on Channel Three  You need to click play.  (Update:  The video is no longer valid, alas.)

Here are some of the planks of my platform:  Free yoga classes for everyone, a hummingbird feeder installed on every home, mandatory viewing of Jeopardy (you’ll love it!), and free delivery of my blog to your inbox every time it’s posted. (Hey, you can get that now.)  I’m quite serious that we should all take care of our planet home.  It’s the only planet we’ve got, and as far as I know it’s the only one with chocolate. Vote for me!

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More Mamma Mia!

Robert Butler is excited about his assignment. Review the new Sing Along version of Mamma Mia!

Movie critic Robert Butler is excited about his assignment -- review the new sing along version of the movie "Mamma Mia!" My daughter and I hid out in the back, where we wouldn't make a spectacle of ourselves..

Robert Butler, The Kansas City Star’s movie critic, was a little dubious of the idea of a sing along version of “Mamma Mia!” when he showed up for the preview.  He’d already seen the “regular” version.  He’s warmed a lot of theater seats in his many years as a movie critic, so he has a right to be cynical. 

I mostly showed up because my daughter offered me a free ticket to go with her. When your kids start to pay for things, you go!   When I got there, I thought:  “What the heck, tiaras, boas?”  But it was fun!  And I clapped. I couldn’t help myself.

Here’s what Butler had to say about the evening. (Hint: he loved it.) Better click fast, because the Kansas City Star’s online files have a short “free” life. Mamma Mia! Here I go again. How can I resist you?  Here’s my blog post on Mamma Mia!  Yes, I just posted it a couple of days ago, but I’m making it easy for you.

Waiting in line for the sing along version of Mamma Mia!  None of these people are me. I was at the back of the line.

Waiting in line for the sing along version of Mamma Mia! None of these people are me. I was at the back of the line.

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Filed under Entertainment, Humor, Life, Movies, Music, Personal

Mamma Mia!

My daughter “Lulu”and I were probably the only ones in the theater tonight who’d never seen any version of “Mamma Mia!” She’d gotten free tickets to a preview of the new sing-along version.  “Wanna go?” she asked casually. Lulu was ready to pass the tickets along to a friend who’s “Mamma Mia!” crazy, if I said no. 

I said, “Sure.”  I had a little headache, but I don’t get a chance to hang out with her that much. She’s busy, and she has a boyfriend.  Of course, on the way there, I put a crimp in the conversation when I found out she’d skipped a class. 

“Why?” I asked in that certain tone only a mother seems to be able to create.  She’s out of college, so it’s a class just for enhancement, but the old “never skip anything” in me came out.  This led to a discussion about life, and my headache started to get worse. My own fault. 

We thought we were getting to the theater early, but there was a long line of people waiting. We weren’t guaranteed a seat.  But it was fun just standing in line with people bedecked in tiaras and feather boas, distributed at the theater.  Soon a tiara was perched on my head, too.  Luckily, there were seats for us.  The movie was so much fun that I forgot all about my headache. 

The lyrics on the screen were very helpful, since — unlike most people in the theater — I didn’t know the words.  I didn’t sing out loud, and people who know my voice know why!  There were plenty of great singers in the audience, including members of the Heartland Men’s Chorus, so they didn’t need to hear my froggy voice.  Lulu said it seemed that the songs were written for the movie, not the other way around.  ABBA disbanded before she was born, so it was all fresh to her.  After the movie, my daughter and I both admitted we teared up a couple of times, including a scene between mother and daughter.  “Particularly after what we talked about in the car,” she said.  I’m available any time for another date!

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Filed under Entertainment, Family, Humor, Life, Movies, Music, Personal

Newspeak

George Orwell

George Orwell

Since this current United States presidential campaign began, trillions of words have been spoken, written, blogged….

I won’t add to the cacophony with my take on the candidates, their followers, the media, the voters and the onlookers.  Instead, I’ll point to the master political wordsmith, George Orwell.  

George Orwell was the pen name of Eric Blair, a British novelist, literary critic and essayist who was passionate about the importance of honest and clear language.  He warned that misleading and vague language could be used to manipulate thought and politics.  He railed against “vagueness and sheer incompetence” and criticized his contemporary political writers for preferring the abstract to the concrete.  Doesn’t that ring particularly true today?

The language and ideas of Orwell’s dark, satirical novels, Animal Farm (1945) and Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949) have become part of our culture.  Who hasn’t heard of “Big Brother is Watching You” and “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others”?

His Down and Out in Paris and London was very moving.  He was fiercely anti-totalitarian, anti-Communist and anti-imperialist.  He described himself as a democratic socialist.  

In Nineteen Eighty-Four, the main character Winston Smith recognized that he had to live as if the “Thought Police” were tuned into his and everyone else’s every movement and sound.  The Ministry of Truth developed “Newspeak,” a very limiting and restrictive language, which included “doublethink,” in which you hold two contradictory beliefs at the same time, passionately believing both.   This is epitomized in the party slogans: War is Peace, Freedom is Slavery and Ignorance is Strength.

I’ll paraphrase Orwell’s six rules for writing:

1.) Never use a metaphor, simile or other figure of speech that you commonly see in print.

2.) Never use a long word when a short one will do.

3.) If it is possible to delete a word, always delete it.

4.) Never use the passive voice, where you can use the active.

5.) Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.

6.) Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.

 In typing this list, I thought of my college editing professor, John B. Bremner, who was formidable in pounding the rules of grammar and usage into my head. I can still hear him bellowing the rules whenever I struggle to keep my writing clear and concise.  In fact, he would have barked at me for using “formidable.” Couldn’t I find a shorter word?  His rule was “never use a Latin-based word, when a nice, short Anglo-Saxon word would work.”  As an example, I could have used “suffice,” rather than “work,” but his ghost wouldn’t let me — this time.  I do think a little variety is good. (I used “cacophony” above instead of “noise.” I like the way it sounds as if something’s stuck in your craw.)  I studied (very inadequately) Latin and French, so it’s too easy to incorporate (more Latin) those languages into my writing — probably badly and inappropriately!

Back to Orwell.  He was a prolific writer. Some of Orwell’s everyday observations in his diary are now being made available in blog form at www.orwelldiaries.wordpress.com  I’ve added Orwell’s blog to my blogroll, too. Orwell’s blog has a lot of interesting sites on his blogroll, so don’t miss it.

A link to an article in the New York Times about Orwell’s “blog” is What George Orwell Wrote, 70 Years Later to the Day  A link to my post about two other essayists about contemporary life, Hunter S. Thompson and Tom Wolfe, is There Will Be Blog. When you jump there, you have to click on the title to get the story.  I’m trying to get more use out of that post!

John B. Bremner wrote a great book on writing, “Words on Words,” which is still available.  I also like the new “Grammar Girl’s Quick and Dirty tips for Better Writing” by Mignon Fogarty. She helps me with pesky punctuation questions, among other writing problems I face.

UPDATE: George Orwell is in the news again! (Along with Evelyn Waugh.)  He’s in a new book, reviewed here Two of a Kind in the New York Times.

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