Seth Madej

Category Archives: Writing

Aug 15 0 comments

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Listen to Barack Obama's Thank-You Call to George W. Bush

My favorite of the Puppet Nation sketches I've written. Every president occasionally needs to leave therapeutic voicemails.

Aug 12 0 comments

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OCD is the Same Everywhere, And You're Never Alone

spiral_path_by_cernig-d45xrgnMy hometown newspaper the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette is running a series of articles this week about obsessive-compulsive disorder. Today's installment, about Pittsburgher and OCD sufferer Amy Iannuzzi-Tingley, will seem familiar to anyone who's fought the disease. And that's a great thing.

When people newly dealing with OCD contact me for support, they're anxious,1 filled with worried questions, and afraid that their particular situation is viciously unique. But it never is. It's always typical, so much so that I tell them I could cut and paste a response from dozens of emails I've written to other OCDers. In fact, I sometimes do.

That might sound dismissive and upsetting, but only if you don't have OCD. If you do, you know how deeply comforting and important it is to learn that someone else has experienced the same thing  you're experiencing and made it out the other side. Which is why I'm happy that there's one particular sentiment that I most often cut and paste a response to. It goes like this, from actual emails I've received:

  • "You described so many symptoms that I've been experiencing for years and silently suffered through. It helped me so much to know that you've managed to control your OCD and live your life."
  • "I suffer from similar symptoms. It is really comforting to know others have fought through this battle successfully."
  • "Some of your descriptions match identically with feelings and thoughts I have. I was so glad to hear I am not the only person who suffers from this. "
  • "I'm in the same boat. It's nice to know I'm not the only one."
  • "It was cathartic to reach out to someone and 'hug them' over the internet."

I could cut-and-paste part Ms. Iannuzzi-Tingley's story with parts of my own, or vice versa, and nobody would notice the changes. All of us with OCD start out feeling confused, afraid, and alone. But as soon as we realize we're not alone, we stop being confused. Then it's only a matter of time until we're no longer afraid.

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Read about my own experiences with debilitating OCD in my essay "My OCD."

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  1. Duh. []
Jul 21 0 comments

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Think George W. Bush and Dick Cheney are War Criminals? Bruce Springsteen Has a Song for You

Bruce Springsteen has releases a special vinyl EP every year for Record Store Day. Despite my massive Springsteen fandom and bruceosexualism, I usually ignore them, because I don't own a record player and can only rub discs of black plastic all over my oiled body so many times. I aggressively ignored this year's EP American Beauty because it's largely composed of songs that didn't make Springsteen's latest album High Hopes, which itself is largely composed of songs that shouldn't have made the album. But American Beauty eventually hit Spotify, and last week I gave it a cursory listen.

The fourth and final track "Hey Blue Eyes," as I half paid attention sounded like a sleepy summer love song with a dreamy come-on of a chorus, "Hey blue eyes, what'cha doin' tonight?" It seemed like it could've been pulled from Bruce's mostly forgotten Devils & Dust or Working on a Dream, and I was about to forget it too, when the last line caught my attention: "Don’t worry, they’ll have their bags packed and be long gone / Before the real fucking begins."

That made me hit repeat and go find the lyrics. It turns out that "Hey Blue Eyes" is only masquerading as a love song. The seducer whispering that chorus to us the American government, luring us to lay back and close our eyes as it sells us out for greed and power. Written as a furious indictment of the Bush administration while Dick and W were still in power, it now plays as much as an indictment of us for letting them get away with what they did.

In this house the guilty go unpunished, blood and silence prevail
Here the dead remain nameless, the nameless remain jailed

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Jul 18 0 comments

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Who Owns Your TV?

This week, media gastropod 21st Century Fox made an offer of $80 billion to buy  fellow media gastropod Time Warner. The bid was rejected, but it's by no means dead. Rupert Murdoch's scaly talons don't release prey easily, so he's likely to find a way to chew up Time Warner.

To demonstrate what that massive consolidation would mean to the already way too consolidated media industry, I put together the chart below showing control of my world: the TV industry. To keep it simple, the unit used in this graph is ownership of TV networks/stations available to Los Angeles cable customers.1

Corporate Ownership of Television Networks

That big blue wedge belonging to Fox/Time Warner represents close to 25% of all channels, which by the way are pumped into my 42" LCD LG by Time Warner Cable.

Which goes to show that this graph doesn't come close to showing just how much control over these five corporations wield over your TV.2 For example, while you probably figured that the Big Five produce many of the shows on their own networks, did you know that they produce shows for each other's networks? ABC's hit sitcom Modern Family is actually owned and produced by Fox. Modern Family is much more successful than any sitcom on any Fox network, but you can see posters for it hanging in the executive offices on the Fox studio lot. That kind of thing isn't by any means unusual.

(For those who care -- the eight unlabeled segments making up the roughly 43% of TV networks or stations not owned by the Big Five are, from largest to smallest: corporations owning 1% or less of total networks, independent/public, CBS, Starz, Discovery, Scripps, AMC, and Univision.)

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  1. Not counting on-demand or pay-per-view channels and, to help keep the data representative of the rest of the country, the very large block of secondary Spanish-language networks. []
  2. And it completely ignores their holdings in film, music, print, and online media. []
Jul 15 0 comments

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Three More Reasons Why You Shouldn't Use Uber

UPDATE, July 16, 2014 - A late-breaking fourth reason: In my hometown of Pittsburgh, Uber decided not to await the results of its application to operate and just go ahead and start illegally doing business. Hit with a cease-and-desist order from a judge, Uber whipped out cosmically massive balls and claimed that its inability to operate in the city constituted a public emergency. Yesterday the Public Utilities Commission publicly suggested that Uber fuck off.

ORIGINAL POST, July 15, 2014:

Uber BADDo you still use "ride-sharing" service Uber despite its business model of dodging every law protecting workers and consumers? Despite its attempt to replace the very system of employment that our economy is built on with one in which corporations don't actually pay, support, or give half a shit about the people that do their work? And despite my very incisive anti-Uber meme that I worked really hard on? Then consider these three new reasons to immediately delete the Uber app from your phone:

1) Price-gouging during public emergencies is part of Uber's profit plan.

When passengers complained that the company jacked up prices during snowstorms that hit the Northeast this past winter, resulting in per-mile rates as high as $35 and/or one gonad, Uber Grand Douchebag CEO Travis Kalanick responded by telling customers to either pay up or start training a team of huskies.

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Jul 14 0 comments

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Karl Hendricks Has Cancer and Needs Your Help

In the Nineties, every indie-rock kid at WNYU-FM loved The Karl Hendricks Trio. I spent all my spare time there between classes at New York University, but it wasn't until years later that I learned the band was from my hometown of Pittsburgh. It never would've occurred to me. The KHT seemed too cool to be from Pittsburgh. The only people who'd heard of them were people with interesting hair who listened to the bands no one had heard of, a hipness commendation rarely awarded to any musicians from southwestern Pennsylvania. But Karl and his guitar were from Pittsburgh -- are from Pittsburgh, because he's still there, pursuing his music in a way that lets him create what he wants while still living the family life he wants.

I mention his family because I can't think about Karl without thinking about his family. I'm lucky enough to know Karl a little bit through our mutual friend, his bass player Corey Layman.1 I'd always see the Hendricks clan at Layman-household get-togethers, so I don't think of a Karl as a musician, but as a guy who loved being with his gregarious wife and two exceptionally bright daughters.2 I'd usually end up talking to his girls about books, and I'll always remember the oldest giving me a trenchant summary of Twilight before I'd ever heard of it.

When you get to know enough successful artists -- especially in cut-throat arenas like the music or TV industry -- you eventually realize that the ones you like being around are the ones you don't think of foremost as artists. The ones who are happy hanging out on the couch with family and friends and friends of friends, drinking a beer, talking about whatever. Because they're the ones who haven't sacrificed life and humanity for their art, and vice versa. They're special. They're good people. Like Karl.

Which is why it makes me sad to type that Karl Hendricks is being treated for oral cancer. From what I gather he's doing well, but his medical bills are piling up and he and his family and the employees of the record store he runs could use some help.

Please make a donation of any amount via the widget on this post or via the GiveForward fundraising page to help Karl keep living his life.

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  1. Coincidentally, a few years ago I got to know the great Pittsburgh artist Wayno and even convinced him to draw some character designs for an animated pilot of mine. It wasn't until later that I realized Wayno created the covers for the KHT's most beloved albums. []
  2. I last lived in Pittsburgh six years ago, so he might have more now. []
Jul 10 2 comments

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Here's Why You are Not "So OCD"

Jasper Johns, Untitled (Negative), 2001 (Collection of The Museum of Modern Art)

Jasper Johns, Untitled (Negative), 2001 (Collection of The Museum of Modern Art)

This CNN article about a patient with severe OCD seeking treatment through deep brain electrical stimulation is required reading for anyone who wants to understand the disease. More specifically, for anyone who wants to understand why it's frustrating and hurtful when people call themselves "so OCD" because they keep a grocery list. To wit:

At 12, Larsen was diagnosed with obsessive-compulsive disorder, or OCD. It causes anxiety, which grips him so tightly that his only relief is repetition. It manifests in the smallest of tasks: taking a shower, putting on his shoes, walking through a doorway.

There are days when Larsen cannot leave the house.

...

"I started worrying a lot about my family and loved ones dying or something bad happening to them," he said. "I just got the thought in my head that if I switch the light off a certain amount of times, maybe I could control it somehow.

"Then I just kept doing it, and it got worse and worse."

...

The disease hijacked Larsen's life (he cannot hold down a job and rarely sees friends); his personality (he can be stone-faced, with only glimpses of a slight smile); and his speech (a stuttering-like condition causes his speaking to be halting and labored.)

Read about my own experiences with debilitating OCD in my essay "My OCD."

Jun 19 0 comments

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UPDATED! Here are Your Anti-Uber and Anti-Lyft Memes

Ridesharing companies like Lyft and Uber offer cheap transportation in exchange for a loss of fair wages, worker and consumer protections, and public safety. They roll back progress made through decades of fighting and sacrifice by organized labor and social activists. Show your opposition by boycotting the businesses and by sharing these images.

Say No to Uber


Copy the link to this image:

Atlas Lyfted: Oppose For-Profit Ridesharing

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Jun 05 1 comments

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Math Shows That There Will Never Be Another You

Never AgainThis morning over on Eric Kaplan's excellent philosophy and humor blog, I commented on a post in which he speculates on our fear of death in relation to the possibility that duplicates of our consciousness might exist. In my response I did some math to calculate that possibility. Keep this in mind for when you need to feel special:

Human brains are composed of nerve cells called neurons. Connections between two neurons are called synapses. Like a city's streets and intersections, neurons and synapses map out our brains. So we can define a "unique brain" -- i.e. you, assuming you're a materialist -- as a unique layout of synapses.

Biologists estimate that the human brain contains about 100 billion (1011) neurons. Because each neuron can connect to many other neurons, the number of synapses in the brain is 100 trillion (1014). We can use a simple formula to calculate the number of possible combinations of synapses: 

\frac{n!}{r!(n-r)!}

That works out to approximately 5 x 1032 possible brains.1

Now let’s be unrealistically generous and say that human beings will survive until the Sun makes the Earth uninhabitable. That gives our species a lifespan of about 3 billion (3 x 109) years. To create 5 x 1032 different brains in 3 billion years would require making about 1023 new brains every year. To date, only 1011 humans have ever existed, and we’re only creating about 100 million (109) new people each year. In other words, if we want to make enough humans to create a duplicate brain before our species dies out, we’re working about 1000 times too slow.

There will never be another you.

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  1. That's 500,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000. []
May 22 0 comments

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How to Break Your Phone Number Out of iMessage Jail

Hostage Number

UPDATE, May 24, 2014: Apple has obliquely acknowledged this problem, largely because they're being sued over it. They issued a server-side fix, which reportedly hasn't worked, and still claim to have a software update coming. Meanwhile, they're unhelpfully advising people to turn off iMessage.

I'll cut to the chase for those of you who found this post by googling the same problem I have: After porting my phone number from an iPhone to an Android Samsung Galaxy S5, iPhone users' texts aren't being delivered to my Android phone, because their iPhones still register my number as iMessage-compatible. Here's the solution as provided to me by Apple from an Applecare Supervising Technology Guy. Unfortunately this process must be applied to the iPhone of the person trying to text you:

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