Downton Abbey Season 5

This being my 5th review of a season 1 episode of Downton Abbey, I’d like to give thanks for a few bits PBS got right.

First let’s hear it for keeping the preseason fawning to a minimum at least as far as hype immediately prior to the season opener. I love Laura Linney as much as the next person but at this stage of a hit shows theatrical release it is wise to avoid gilding the lily to death.

The sociological commentary on the life of the characters as representatives of their class roles was nicely inserted post episode.

People know the show and by now most people are only watching because they have been hooked, so any preamble explaining why we should like it would give regurgitation a good name.

The 5th season is a coin toss for many shows as to whether the will peak or if the fraying of plot becomes unmistakeable.  There is still room for Downton to find its downside slide even this season, but that would not be in evidence in this tight and compelling first episode.

The characters continue to evolve while wrestling with their given natures. Just when you feel Thomas is going to get his comeuppance for over playing his controlling sadistic streak he emerges victorious saving Lady Edith while involuntarily making sure that James’ goose is cooked. James is lucky in that he presumably won’t find out to what end he would owe Thomas for  aiding and abetting the consummated dalliance with an Upstairs Lady under Thomas’ watchful eye.

Lady Edith will again carry perhaps the most sympathetic theme of the year reaching out to her child born out of wedlock who is being raised by a local family. In true Downton form there is a also a whiff of infidelity being suggested between the custodial father and Edith.  Also present is the trademark Downton feature of a servant appearing at just the right moment to learn of something not intended for her consumption. In this case the redoubtable Mrs Hughes spies a ripple in the Force between Edith and the aforementioned  custodial father.

It is a testament to thew writers that a few short seasons ago I was ready to write off for being such a shit to sister Mary. And now waterworks appear to be looming as she tries for a relationship with her son in the days before open adoption.

Daisy, Mrs Patmore’s assistant who everyone seems to love, but whom I can barely understand through her mumbles, is fighting for an identity as an adult as well as a career for what we know will be the demise of this way of life that won’t last much longer. Her combo of humility and spunk must be why people root for her.

Bates and Anna after having been giving compelling stories in earlier seasons are trying to escape a dreadful subplot that has him trying to free himself of vestiges of the murder of Lord Gillingham’s valet. Nothing would make Thomas happier than to have that juicy little tidbit fall in his lap.

Carson seems to be enjoying something of a last hurrah. When it comes to protocol, he is in full command. He handles the slight of Lord Grantham being passed over to head a WWI remembrance committee with proper deference. We hope the potential romance with Mrs Hughes, alluded to last year, has legs. Mrs H is a favorite of ours because she is the epitome of decency.

Michele Dockery has made Lady Mary a fully realized character. We get her strengths and flaws. And isn’t that the point for all of us who have stayed with the show. The acting is at the level where the actors have succeeded in finding their character. Now we just depend on the seamless writing to keep the plot engines humming. With any luck the shark won’t be jumped any time soon.

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Addendum to the Tim Lincecum story

Two days after my original post on Tim Lincecum of the SF Giants comes the following  story from the San Francisco Chronicle. As you will see, the gist of the story is that Lincecum is humbly accepting his role as the last pitcher to be called on out of the bullpen these days in the playoffs.

On the one hand this should not be remarkable. A cynical fan might observe, “Well for 17.5 million a year they can do with him whatever they wish! Why shouldn’t he have a good attitude?”

However ego and pride are the very attributes most players have either acquired via hard work and/or natural talent by the time they reach the big leagues. One could even make the case that ego and pride are the very qualities  that protects the player from the abyss of abject failure which lurks behind just one bad pitch or one misjudged fly ball.

In any event people relate to Lincecum as portrayed in this article because he is gracefully accepting his lot. Giant fans pull for his success because he is putting the team above his ego. In this day and age such a development is refreshing and grounding whenever one has the good fortune to encounter it.

For more information about my psychotherapy practice go to:

Tim Lincecum handling loss of spotlight with aplomb

By Ann Killion

    As Jake Peavy watches, Tim Lincecum works to stay sharp during a bullpen session Wednesday. Lincecum has not pitched in the 2014 playoffs and last appeared in a game Sept. 28. Photo: Jeff Chiu / Associated Press / AP

Photo: Jeff Chiu / Associated Press

As Jake Peavy watches, Tim Lincecum works to stay sharp during a bullpen session Wednesday. Lincecum has not pitched in the 2014 playoffs and last appeared in a game Sept. 28.


San Francisco Giants pitchers Madison Bumgarner, left, and Tim Lincecum stand in the outfield during a team workout Tuesday, Sept. 30, 2014, in Pittsburgh. Bumgarner gets the start against Pittsburgh Pirates’ Edinson Volquez in Wednesday night’s National League wild card baseball game in Pittsburgh.

ST. LOUIS — Sports can be so humbling.

One instant, you’re the most important player on a team. And then, suddenly, you’re not.

How athletes handle that fall in status is one of the fascinating things to watch in sports. Their humbling happens publicly, in the spotlight’s unforgiving glare. Some pout. Rage against the fates. Blame managers, media, teammates.

And others handle their demotion with grace. Sometimes the toughest moments reveal the strongest character.

We’ve seen it in the Bay Area. Alex Smith handled the loss of his starting job with the 49ers with more poise than most of us could imagine mustering. In 2010, Barry Zitowas left off the postseason roster, worked tirelessly to be ready in case he was needed, and was redeemed in 2012.

This year, it’s Tim Lincecum’s turn. In five postseason games, he hasn’t been used. One of the most popular Giants in history, one who personified the team’s championship run, has become an afterthought.

But he displays no bitterness. No anger.

“I’ve got to do my best to be a good teammate,” Lincecum said. “What these guys have been able to do is pretty special. Not to be a part of it didn’t really take any skin off my back. Because everyone did something good, something special and we won.

“That’s the ultimate goal.”

Winning pitcher, Tim Lincecum is lifted up on teammates shoulders as the Giants celebrate on the field after winning the final game of the World Series.The San Francisco Giants defeated the Texas Rangers 3-1 in Game 5 of the 2010 World Series.  Photo: Carlos Avila Gonzalez, The Chronicle

Photo: Carlos Avila Gonzalez, The Chronicle

Winning pitcher, Tim Lincecum is lifted up on teammates shoulders as the Giants celebrate on the field after winning the final game of the World Series.The San Francisco Giants defeated the Texas Rangers 3-1 in Game 5 of the 2010 World Series.

Manager Bruce Bochy said he wants to get Lincecum in a game. Bochy said he’s comfortable using him in long relief, to get a big out or in extra innings. But it’s clear Lincecum has become the last option out of the bullpen.

“He’s been handling it great,” said Ryan Vogelsong, who went through his own demotion from starter to long reliever when he pitched for Pittsburgh. “It can’t be easy at all. It’s a much different scale than it was for me because I didn’t have the success he’s had. In that situation, it’s hard to feel like you have a purpose.”

Lincecum has found a purpose: to be a good teammate.

“I just try to be myself, to keep the mood light,” Lincecum said. “Obviously, it’s under tense circumstances. We’ve got to remember the game is fun, and that along with the grind, we can celebrate our small accomplishments.”

Lincecum learned something from the way Zito handled himself in 2010.

“He was so composed, and showed a lot of character,” Lincecum said. “I could see what that meant to everybody. This is a huge time to be a good teammate. There’s a lot of emphasis on energy. You need to keep morale up.”


Lincecum is observing this postseason from a very different perspective: not just from a seat in the bullpen, but through the lens of experience. Now 30, this is his eighth season in the majors, his third postseason. He and Matt Cain are the old men now, watching rookies like Joe Panik and Hunter Strickland.

“It’s fun to watch the young guys shine,” Lincecum said. “It’s surreal, because you look back on what you did at a young age and these guys are doing it on an even bigger stage. And it’s hard not to be proud.”

Lincecum laughed at his words.

“I mean I’m not their dad or anything, kind of more a brotherly way,” he said. “Yeah, I’m the wise old man. I’m still learning.”

The last game Lincecum started in the postseason was Game4 of the NLCS in St.Louis in 2012. He gave up six hits and four runs that night in an 8-3 loss.

“I didn’t have a good one. I was all over the place,” he said. “They whacked me around early and I didn’t last very far. I put us in a big hole again, but we dug ourselves out again.”

Lincecum was terrific coming out of the bullpen in that postseason, pitching 41/3 innings in relief to get a win in Cincinnati in the NL Division Series and adding two masterful

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Regarding the decline of Tim Lincecum, pitcher for the San Francisco Giants

Yikes! A quick check of Wikipedia shows Tim Lincecum turned 30 this year. At the risk of sounding an old coot, how did that happen?

Properly speaking I should be analyzing Lincecum from the perspective of a sports psychologist and I will get to that but I want to start with a physical observation.

Timmy’s moniker of Freak, has everything to do the with the lithe, slight body that needed to bend the rules of physics to generate the torque which created the unhittable pitches he delivered early in his career.

As is noted frequently by San Francisco Giants announcer Mike Krukow, Lincecum has the stride toward the plate that someone 6 feet 6 inches would typically generate. And this for a guy I guess breaks the tape at 5’10”. Freak indeed.

His fondness for weed creates a secondary meaning for those going back to the 60’s when many smokers called themselves ‘freaks.’ Clearly an antiquated concept regarding pot’s status in the country these days

But I digress. My insight into the ravages of age and its possible correlation with Timmy’s  losing 4 feet off his fast ball has to do with his vaunted flexibility. A couple of years ago I noticed something in his follow through. Upon entering the majors Lincecum finished his pitch with  a leg kick that appeared to extend a foot literally above his head. Today from my same TV set the foot finishes that much below his head. The entire pitching motion remains unchanged so the actual positioning of his foot is easy to escape notice.

Others may have picked up on this but I have never read about it anywhere. So there it is, my case for a key metric that I will say accounts for his diminishing results.

As for the psychological piece I feel Lincecum has been ill served in a way a by his ability to still finish off hitters. That is, this has been the case over the last several years as well as earlier this season when it became obvious he would be lit up even in the minors. But for God’s sake this is the same guy who looked like Robert DeNiro on L-dopa in the movie Awakenings for 4 weeks in the middle of the season. After all he did chuck his second no hitter during this belle epoch.

However like an alcoholic, who after a layoff, has a drink and doesn’t go completely to pieces, this resurgence reinforced in Lincecum’s mind that he still had it.

If he could throw a no-hitter as well as make a reasonable number of hitters swing at balls in the dirt, there is no need to channel Greg Maddux and remake himself into a finesse pitcher. Heck use the picture of Maddux someone hung in his locker for motivation as a dart board.

Timmy’s downfall at this stage of his career is the legacy of his unorthodox delivery crafted by his pitching coach father. It was designed to bring blaze a fastball off of which he could throw a split, curve or change up. But without the 94+mph fastball, the other pitches became mortal for Tim and, alas, not his opponents.

Lincecum has around $17.5 million due next year. If there is a graceful way for he and the Giants to come to terms with the cruel realities I wish them well in finding it and let Timmy go out holding his head high. We all deserve to see that.

For information about my psychotherapy practice in San Francisco and Sonoma, Ca go to:


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What’s up with MSNBC Chris Hayes and his new “voice.”

Has anyone else noticed the strange change in the speaking style and voice of Chris Hayes?

This week I was startled to hear All In with Chris Hayes sounding like the  the eponymous host had been taken to the woodshed by the powers that be at MSNBC.

Gone were the good natured antics and speaking patterns of Mr Hayes that have been his trademark over a fairly meteoric rise up the news cast pantheon from talking head, to featured guest, to occasional substitute host, to “Jesus how did I get my own show!”

I suspect many listeners to cable news form their impressions of the hosts based on how much they agree with the host’s politics. Or even how willing they are to let form the basis of their water cooler discussions the next day (if that isn’t a too 20th century reference) be shaped by said host.

Rachael Maddow may be catnip to a liberal and nails on chalkboard (another 20th centuryism) to those who fancy Fox News.

This is not totally true as for whatever reason Ed Schultz vocalizations remind me of Rush Limbaugh.

For whatever reason some producer thought Chris Hayes was too puerile to be taken seriously. It is almost painful to watch him accede to a producer’s notion of what gravitas is supposed to sound like. I mean for Christ sake, Chris Matthews can “heh” all he wants, no one is telling him to knock it off.

I imagine Chris H. as having formed his on air persona and style from a fairly straight forward playbook. My fantasy is that young Chris developed a fair amount of self confidence and by the time he made it to the big time he had confirmed a combination of adages. Something like a cross between, “Be true to yourself” and “Go with what got you here.”

It’s as if he was told to repudiate his “Chris” persona in order to become a serious anchor person. The current version does not work for me. Maybe he will get better.

Good help us if audience research and polling formed the basis of this metamorphosis.

To Chris I say, Fight the Power (guess I am hopelessly routed in the last century for my cultural references in this blog segment), stick it to the man, and go back to being who you were. Don’t conform, you were alright as you were. It ain’t gonna work if you try to be someone else!

For more information about my psychotherapy practice go to:


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When No Plan Is Pro-Plan: At an Intersection of Control Mastery Theory and Mindfulness

The simple paradox I explore in this entry is the intersection of psychotherapy, which is often at its best when it is goal focused, and meditation, where the instruction is to be present without thought and to not seek a desired end. Let’s see how we can understand the seeming contradiction suggested here. After all both psychotherapy and meditation can be helpful and without out being at odds with each other.

I posted a blog entry from summer ’14. I explore the intersection of therapy and meditation and one simple paradox in particular: Psychotherapy, which is often at its best when it is goal focused, and meditation, where one is to be present without thought and to not seek a desired end. Let’s see how we can understand the seeming contradictions suggested here.

In my psychotherapy practice I am an enthusiastic proponent and practioner of Control Mastery Theory which was originated by Joe Weiss MD and researched in conjunction with Hal Sampson PhD and the San Francisco Psychotherapy Research Group. The earliest tenants of the theory began perculating in Joe’s mind as a medical student. His thinking gained traction as a response to the the main orthodoxy of psychoanalysis 1950’s and 1960’s which  dominated Joe’s intellectual and practice milieu.

Control Mastery Theory grew out of Joe’s clinical work in which he noticed that patients often functioned in ways not predicted by, if not at odds with, major aspects of Freudian theory. Joe’s seminal observation as a very young man was encapsulated in the observation of when people cry at the happy ending, eg of a movie. Traditional psychoanalytic had a cumbersome explanation involving instinctual forces overwhelming defense mechanisms.

Joe had a simpler, more penetrating observation, that when people felt safe they could face emotions such as sadness without being overwhelmed. Overtime he added many observations that added coherence and depth to his vision of how the mind worked and how a psychotherapist might be positioned to help clients in therapy.

One of Joe’s major ideas is that that clients come to therapy with a plan on how to get better. On the face of it, this statement might seem confusing. One might think if people planned to get better would they even need therapy?

The plan concept makes more sense when we realize that plans as well as many aspects of mental life often operate unconsciously. For example, let’s say a client who grew up with a very critical father, comes to his first therapy session late. The client may not realize it, but he has created a situation where he is going to learn quickly about whether the therapist possesses traits similar to his father. If the therapist reacts with a sense of irritation to the client’s tardiness, it could signal that the therapist might share a need for perfectionism like his father. Or he could be hard to please. Or he could be seen as controlling etc.

In Control Mastery Theory terminology what is taking place in this vignette is a test the patient is conducting in relation to his new therapist. Because the test is unconscious,  the client does not recognize he is conducting testing by entering the therapist’s office late for the very first time. That is, it is highly unlikely that he is consciously thinking, “I think I’ll show up late see if this therapist has any traits like my father.”

As a result of this and other unconscious tests, the client may form an impression of the how the therapist operates and by extension if this might be a person the client can find as helpful. Sometimes the impression is immediate. The patient might leave the session saying to himself, “I have a good feeling (or bad as the case may be) about this therapist.” Or it may take many months and repeated unconscious testing for the patient to get a clearer idea.

For her part the therapist may not know exactly how she is being tested. A CMT therapist does recognize realize that testing is a ubiquitous phenomenon both in therapy as well as in life outside the consulting room.

Many therapists pass all kinds of patient testing just by being inquisitive, respectful or non-judgemental. CMT trained therapists, following Weiss’s theory try to learn what kinds of testing a patient might exhibit in therapy by gaging the unconscious plan for therapy revealed by the testing. So a patient with a critical and rejecting parent might engage in behavior or statements that could give the therapist cause to criticize the client like the parent.

The therapist who understands that a dynamic such as this is being re-enacted is alerted to the patient’s plan for therapy, which initially might be to test if the therapist will traumatize the patient in a similar fashion as the parent had.

In CMT parlance one way the therapist helps his client is by passing the client’s unconscious test. Anything the therapist says or does which passes the test is said to be “PRO-PLAN.” In the case of the client who came late to therapy, the therapist did not act irritated or even subtly belittle the client was on some level being pro-plan for that particular patient.

I could hypothesize a case where a client with very neglectful parents might require attention be paid as to why she was late for a first appointment. If she feels the therapist  glossed over her tardiness, it is possible she might conclude that this particular therapist is too reminiscent of her parents. The unconscious plan for this particular patient might be to give careful consideration to her actions and utterances so that she can feel reassured that she is taken seriously.

We see from these examples how highly case specific are the needs, tests of the therapist, and the unconscious plans for therapy and specific stance and interventions the therapist must have to be Pro-Plan for each patient seen in treatment.


Meditation, which is the practice of mindfulness, instructs the participant to focus on the flow of breath and to leave the contents of thoughts out of that fundamental awareness. Over and over if one becomes aware of a thought, one is instructed to “let it go” and return to awareness of breathe.

Thus meditation encourages and helps cultivate awareness of the present moment by returning one’s attention to the present moment. The quieter the mind, ie by being devoid of thoughts, the more one can be present.

Even if one is not a meditator, it is possible to see how the meditative state encourages a quiet mind. A quiet mind is less like to be a highly reactive mind. Often therapists help to quiet their client’s minds by understanding and empathizing with the hurts and traumas which give rise to powerful feelings and internal states that are painful in nature.

When meditating there is no goal to achieve in the sense of trying to cultivate a particular state. People learning meditation are told not to expect any particular result. Being in a state of “presense” leads one to awareness of subtler and subtler realms.

So for the purposes of this article a therapist, who is practicing traditional goal oriented therapy, whether it be down-to-earth short term problem solving or 4 time a week psychoanalytic personality restructuring, may initially see meditation or even a mindfully based psychotherapy as potentially relaxing but not particularly efficacious or helpful. For some therapists their feelings about mindfulness might be because it is viewed as lacking structures where goals are one type of structure.

For the therapist without a meditation or spiritual appreciation sitting quietly, whatever benefit the meditation holds for the practioner, is just not psychotherapy.

For a practioner of Control Mastery Theory the idea that having no plan for meditating could be somehow “pro-plan” for a therapy client would require the therapist to be curious about the nature of the experience of the meditator.

From the point of view o f curiosity it might not be a particularly great leap to see how No Plan (of meditation) could be Pro-Plan (in the CMT sense). Many therapists who understand meditation, often recommend it to their clients either as adjunct to the therapy being conducted or perhaps to facilitate states where becoming aware of stress and finding a way to be present and thus be able to let go becomes a way to access new feelings. Or at least consider a different orientation the constant chatter of the mind.

Joe Weiss never wrote about about meditation or “presence.” In fact he was largely oriented to plans as being an essential component of human nature. He saw critiques questioning whether people in therapy conduct unconscious planning as being naive in certain way. Scaresly a day goes by where even the Dalai Lama has no plans, even if his plan is to spend the day in contemplation. We can also imagine that there those in his employ who take care of his plans when he doesn’t.

Joe also felt that having a bad plan was preferable to no plan. While this point can be debated, I feel confident having known and consulted with Joe over many years that no part of Control Mastery Theory or therapy would be hostile to meditation or meditatively oriented therapy. In fact I could imagine a fine and mutually informative conversation, which would be a great idea for a conference. Such a conference would have to be planned, hmmm.

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Sarah Jarosz Review, Mystic Theater Petaluma, Ca 5/2/14

A great treat for any music lover is to catch an artist when she is young, talented and on a trajectory that will be fun to watch for quite some time. For those really into the experience, an identification with the singer occurs and a one-sided relationship, perhaps even a feeling akin to love affair can ensue.

Artists have their needs of an audience as well. They crave what only an audience can provide. The tracks are not parallel, but a symbiosis gets created where each side can say, “I Am Nothing Without You.”

Saturday night Grammy nominee Sarah Jarosz made the trek to little Petaluma as she snakes her way on her West Coast tour from LA to Seattle.

I like the Grammy’s for one reason in particular. For every teen sensation who gets more adulation perhaps than undeserved, there is some niche obscurity such as “Best Tejano Album” or “Best Regional Roots Music Album” which will give some struggling up-and-comer their due.

So at tonight’s concert Ms Jarosz winningly remarks that she is surprised people show up in an area where she has never performed. I wonder if Justin Bieber ever felt anything analogous, or if he did, if the feeling lasted more than 5 minutes.

Sarah’s music fits comfortably in the contemporary folk, roots, Americana scene. Newgrass if you must, but isn’t that term only slightly better than Smooth Bluegrass? She  appeals to a wide age range typical of this genre which in this case was decidedly tilted north, and in many cases, way north of 40. This shouldn’t be a total surprise for someone who has been featured on Garrison Keillor’s A Prairie Home Companion. It also says something about demographic trends of boomer centric Sonoma County. Only 40 miles  from San Francisco but existing in a different galaxy.

Possessing a pure voice, singing without vibrato as to be expected, staying close to an octave range while  occasionally wandering off to hit some sweet high notes, it’s Sarah’s writing that that is responsible for many of her beguiling qualities.

Take the second song of the evening, the title track of her current album, Build Me Up From Bones. Here is a that captivates from its first bars. It wouldn’t be fair to say that it is a Hookfest from the beginning but you wouldn’t be wrong if you felt that way. She sings of a new love, what is the “One I Always Known.” How uncynical and refreshing, the listener can relate to the concept and perhaps the experience.

Accompanying her on tour as well as much of her new album are Alex Hargreaves on violin and Nathaniel Smith on cello. Fiddles, of course, are a cornerstone of the folk and bluegrass traditions, but how inventive and unexpected is a cello. The interplay of the the 3 stringed instruments with Ms Jarosz covering guitar, banjo, and mandolin was complexity in motion. Often while Alex was playing a melody at varying tempos, Nathaniel would bow or pluck with percussive enthusiasm. And vice versa.

At times all 3 would hit unison lines, coming close to ecstatic reveries, particularly when Sarah played mandolin, an instrument not meant for slacking.

I found myself frequently hearing influences that I surmise Sarah may have encountered either directly or by osmosis. I would not be at all surprised if she has listened many times to Darkness, Darkness by the Youngbloods. I caught a whiff of that. Or her song “Gypsy,” inspired by a New York subway encounter with a mysterious rider. The instrumentation here sounds like an hommage to Neil Young’s Harvest Moon. One song had me thinking of “Sing This  All Together,” from by The Rolling Stones from the height of their brief psychedelic period. Could it be possible, she is that well versed?

I can imagine other audience members of a certain age finding their own idiosyncratic references in songs that combine such depth and artistry. She can even play bluegrass funky.

Of course when half the concert contains covers, outside influence abounds. Who at this stage of their career does that? Ms Jarosz has more than enough material to feature her own music and could not be blamed if she did. One or two cover and no one would have batted an eyelash. But it speaks volumes of her confidence as well as as her unadulterated love of music that she constructed her show with 2 Dylan songs, including Simple Twist Of Fate from her latest album, instrumentals by John Hartford (Squirrel Hunters) and another by Bela Fleck. Also Tom Waits. Even the finale was a cover.

One thing that can’t be covered is Sarah’s inner beauty and genuineness. She even observed how “well behaved” the gray beards and gray lasses in the audience were. The good people of Petaluma appreciated quality when they saw it.

For information on my psychotherapy practice go to:

For a look of my review of the Wood Brothers, who could play the same festival as Ms Jarosz,  go to:

Build Me Up From Bones:

Gypsy: (Can you hear Harvest Moon?)


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Stevie Ray Vaughn’s Version of Hendrix’s Little Wing

I don’t think there is any song in rock that swings as much as this one. The interesting thing is that for a version that bears so much fidelity to the original, it also adds something not found in Jimi’s. All in all a remarkable achievement. 

As Linda Bartley Kittler has pointed out, if you were to play the Hendrix and Vaughn side by side you would hear similar licks and harmonics as would be expected in any cover. However Stevie Ray’s changes are subtle, allowing one to tune into a place where the tiny changes create nuances for the connoisseur to savor.

Little Wing is an iconic song. Artists, many of whom are guitarists out to measure and pay hommage their play with the master. Sting naturally emphasizes his vocals. However even his version doesn’t neglect the guitar. I include the following for you to compare and enjoy.

Jeff Beck:

Derek and the Dominos (1970) Live at the Fillmore East:

Sting, which from the looks of the video, it seems like he’s made a trip to Pandora to create this travel log:

And of course:

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Just for Fun: Has Cumberbatch’s Sherlock Holmes Erred in his Self-Diagnosis?

Another season of Sherlock on PBS is upon us. For those who can’t quite cotton to Downton Abbey then maybe this updating of the Holmes saga is your cup of tea, although I bet most would enjoy taking both.

Personified by Benedict Cumberatch’s mesmerizing performance, this Sherlock  successfully updates the Holmes’ setting  from the Victorian era to our iPhone age. The current writers have kept Sherlock a curio by maintaining his oddness and not quite of this world countenance. He is prickly and prideful. He is dismissive toward those who would be irritable and put off by his antics.

In this updating of the classic John Watson continues as a stand in for the audience to identify with. What would being around the brilliant Sherlock Holmes feel like? Martin Freeman as Watson is less hapless and bumbling and more of a character in his own right. He has his own personal traumas and his backstory is very important to the series. Freeman is at times bewildered and befuddled.  But more often Freeman has surprising reserves of gravitas making him more Samwise Gamgee to Frodo Baggins than inept Carlos Castaneda of the early volumes of the Don Juan stories.

So what about the self-diagnosis?

Over the course of series, Sherlock has referenced himself as a sociopath. Not an official term found in DSM 5 (aka the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders of the American Psychiatric Association), the current default diagnosis is Anti-Social Personality Disorder. Let me choose the 3 aspects cited in the DSM that could conceivably make the case for Sherlock being correct.

1) Failure to conform to social norms with respect to lawful behaviors as indicated by repeatedly performing acts that are grounds for arrest.

  • Part of Sherlocks schtick is that he so brilliant, what appears illegal, and often is, becomes tolerated because he gets results, much to the consternation of Scotland Yard. His ends-justifies-the-means schema can look anywhere from positively genius to monomaniachally, well, sociopathic.

2) Deceitfulness, as indicated by repeated lying, use of aliases, or conning others for personal profit or pleasure.

  • When Sherlock resorts to these tactics, he has his reasons. However there is a curious subplot which comes off positively 20th century. It has Cumberbatch plying “gotcha” with Freeman when it comes to feelings of love and regard, apparently something that manly men still don’t profess. For example we see Holmes feigning incapacity to stop a bomb from  going off in the Underground Subway to extract Freeman’s confession of  deepest sentiment. Given the show has suggested a homoerotic tension between the two, at least in the eyes of their landlady Mrs Hudson, played by the delightful Una Stubbs, this allusion of the the love that dare not speak its name seems dubiously puerile, even for Holmes. So does this rise to the level of sociopathy or is it just a mean spirited psychological defense shielding Holmes from his own yearning of what he mocks?

3) Lack of remorse, as indicated by being indifferent to or rationalizing having hurt, mistreated, or stolen from another.

  • Here we have perhaps the strongest case for Holmes’ sociopathy. In the words of Watson, he can be an absolute “dick.” Or perhaps what we have here are the boundaries of a continuum ranging from dick to sociopath, with Watson placing Sherlock at the lighter end of the scale.

The thing about the most successful evil sociopaths is that though they are damn good at predicting the behavior of those “normals” of whom they would take advantage. Lacking this ability, a sociopath  would just be an oafish klutz of which, no doubt, there are many examples.  But the truly remarkable sociopath has charm even if it is crazed c.f. Hannibal Lector. Sherlock exudes charm to manipulate others when it serves his purpose. Maybe we can’t totally dismiss his claim to his diagnosis.

Also, Cumberbatch alludes to the old saw that were he not in the catching criminal side of the ledger he might be in the criminal perpetrating business.

In a purer form we could call Cumberbatch a case of adaptive sociopathy. However Dexter, the Showtime series, has this angle so deeply mined that Sherlock only rates as a lightweight. Still, conjuring an image like Godzilla versus Mothra, wouldn’t you kill to see a season of Sherlock versus Dexter?

But is there a better diagnosis?

I suppose the leading candidate would be called Autism Spectrum Disorder or ASD. This the current catchall in DSM 5 for what used to be called Asperger Syndrome or AS.

Social (Pragmatic) Communication Disorder 315.39

The obvious candidate is Asperger Syndrome, which like Sociopathy is nowhere found in DSM 5. The new diagnosis is Autism Spectrum Disorder. The principle characteristics are as follows:

• limited or inappropriate social interactions
• “robotic” or repetitive speech
• challenges with nonverbal communication (gestures, facial expression, etc.) coupled with average to above average verbal skills
• tendency to discuss self rather than others
• inability to understand social/emotional issues or nonliteral phrases
• lack of eye contact or reciprocal conversation
• obsession with specific, often unusual, topics
• one-sided conversations
• awkward movements and/or mannerisms

Benedict’s ability to and dance argues against this diagnosis, but his social awkwardness and obliviousness is an argument in favor.

Bill Gates has been said to have AS. But the caricature of Asperger’s that comes to mind is Sheldon in The Big Bang Theory. We get a little of that in Cumberbatch’s Sherlock.

The other contender would be something in the direction of a Narcissistic Personality Disorder. Here the lack of empathy to others is what makes NPD a consideration. But how does narcissism differ from sociopathy? One can think of narcissist as an sociopath minus the malice and, perhaps, cunning.

One can make the case for Sherlock’s character to have elements of sociopathy, AS, and narcissism. But let’s not get too serious. His best diagnosis may just be, “Brilliant.”

At the end of the day it adds up to a fascinating personality and entertaining television and for me that’s the takeaway.

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I Don’t Give a Hootenanny About Inside Llewyen Davis: The Coen Brothers Flawed Treatment of a Minor Story

Not a good Coen Brothers movie. The buzz for this film is its depiction of the  folk scene in Greenwich Village from the early 60’s. And charitably, one could make the case that it explores the road not taken by the Don Draper in Mad Men. And perhaps if Mad Men had not already mined this territory so much better, Inside Llewyen Davis would feel more compelling.

Instead what we get is a character study of an unsympathetic guy who really could be situated in any era. To paraphrase Paul Simon, Llewyen is empty and aching and not really sure why. And more than that, he doesn’t seem to really care himself.

Brothers Coen give to little back story, to create much interest in the goings on here. The folk singers played by Justin Timberlake, Adam Driver, and Stark Sands are so cornball they could have been crashed an early audition of Hee Haw had there been one.

The angst of Llewyen and Jean Berkey played by Carrie Mulligan, who might be pregnant with his child, seems designed to give some pathos, the only problem being in the words of Joy Behar, “Who cares?” Jean is uber loose even by standards of the day. It’s not clear what she sees in husband Jim played by Justin Timberlake. She claims she just wants marital contentment in suburbia which is hysterically bad writing. As if suburbia were some kind of Folk Singer Heaven. Did the writers forget to tell the audience what they know about this character to make such a thought plausible or did they just go suddenly Aspberger’s.

This a movie that seems intent on playing it small. It will never be accused of trying to make a statement, which is funny given that the era was nothing if not not making pronouncements on everything.

Also without providing any psychological understanding about why Llewyen is so perenially cranky, the audience doesn’t know whether to feel for tragedy or off beat humor. So dry a film. Was this a reject an early Wes Anderson script?

The one chance to gain understanding of Llewyen’s personality comes when Llelyen meets his father in a nursing home. Llewyen warbles a sentimental favorite song of his father who doesn’t acknowledge the gesture, likely because he is demented. Llewyen takes his father’s dementia personally, but without much sense of loss, maybe cause he doesn’t expect anything more. That’s it. That’s all we get to see.

Another small moment. Driving back to New York from Chicago after a failed try to impress a music impresario, Llewyen sees a highway turn off for Akron, the town where he has a 2 year old child from a casual relationship that he didn’t know existed because he  thought the pregnancy ended in abortion. Ooh what’s he go to do? will he turn and search for the child ? or will he keep going? This is what passes for drama in this flick.

Look, the Coen Brothers never intended to make 300 and ONE or whatever the sequel to 300 is being called. And there is much to be said about celebrating the epiphanies and struggles with which, what Sly Stone calls “everyday people,” contend. But if you are going to go small, you have to make us care. You have to take us someplace emotionally where we might feel or incorporate something worthwhile.

Otherwise writers are inflicting the trauma on the audience that perhaps Llewyen experienced in childhood and is still reeling from in this story. In psychology we call this Turning Passive into Active. Or we do to others in our relationships what was done to us growing up by our parents. If this were Shakespeare, we would contemplate the nuance. But here, I just couldn’t be motivated to give a ….

(see this blog’s title for the punchline and in so doing get some idea of the cheap parlor trick used by Joel and Ethan Coen which they borrowed from Pulp Fiction, where the film doubles back at its end to what was already depicted in the beginning only this time the audience knows just the slightest bit more. )

And they still don’t care.

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Downton Abbey Season 4: Episode 2 Television Review

When I review television or a Broadway show, I like to know as little as possible so as to have an untinged impression. Or more properly put, I can allow whatever tinging that occurs to emanate as much as possible from my own cauldron of experience.

And so that has been the approach I have taken with season 4 of Downton Abbey, a show I came to on day 1.

Media build up to this season meant that I had some exposure to headlines of critiques that were based on the reviewer having already digested the whole season. What I gleaned suggested the acting was fine, but beware the plot. After the first two episodes which were shown together on PBS last weekend, I thought the concern to be overblown if not precious.

Now with episode 2, let me add my voice to the chorus. CURSE YOU writers of Downton Abbey season 4! What have you wrought on our poor Anna aka Mrs Bates, Lady Mary’s personal servant. I know she makes a saintly bookend to her husband, but was this really necessary?

In retrospect I can see why writer Julian Fellows felt he had to go there (and by this I mean the RAPE or sexual assault or whatever exactly it turns out to be), but it is a place he went to because he wrote himself into a particular corner.

Not knowing what pressures he felt to turn Downton into a potboiler, but I can’t Maggie Smith as Violet Granthum being a big fan were she reading this episode as the plot in a Victorian novel.

No, what we have here was the naked fear of putting everyone to sleep. Let’s look at various character’s subplots. Lady Mary is left to deal with her grief which, while not very sexy, at least Carson the butler can play psychotherapist. Lady M has a  romance in the offing, but this was not enough to save poor Anna from her Fate.

Next we have Lady Edith, who despite being a total shit to sister Edith at many points in the first 2 seasons, has developed into something of a sympathetic character sa she strives to find love with older men because most of the young ones are buried on the continent after WWI. While emotionally fulfilling in its own way, we are not staying up until 10 to watch this.

Lord and Lady Granthum rate a big snore. Except that Fellows and his fellows have seen fit to bring back Edna back as Lady G’s maid back as Lady G’s attendant. Edna made smoochy, smoochy with Lord G in an earlier season. Although I see from a brief perusal of Wikipedia’s cast list Edna is not long for this job. Which is fine. We need villains and her cozying up to Evil Thomas would seem to have delicious potential. Anyone cosying up to Thomas has delicious potential! However with Edna flitting about there is no sense that Lord G has anxiety or any  scandalous delight in her presence. It doesn’t pass the smell test.

What else? Isobel Crawley is somewhat confined to a similar fate as Lady Mary but is being beckoned from of grief by Maggie Smith, the Dowager Countess.

Tom Branson is getting back in touch with his Irish class routs and will likely get help from Edna in that regard.

And just about everything happening downstairs is in total nod land. Don’t these people know when to stop?

Oh Bloody Hell! I am almost talking myself into rooting for Bates to kill Anna’s rapist once he discovers the horror of what has befallen her. At least they know how to have a prison based relationship. Maybe that show could play “Lock Up!”weekends on MSNBC.

For more information about my psychotherapy practice go to:

Also see reviews of Downton Abbey Seasons 1, 2, and 3 written 2/11, 1/12, 1/13.


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