Here I am again

18 08 2014

This is my first tattoo, from a couple of years ago:

003

It’s Sumerian cuneiform, the oldest known written language. It’s a way to mark what I’ve chosen.

It’s zi.

It’s life.





Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose

14 08 2014

There was another death, of course, one I didn’t so much skip over as decide to mull.

Robin Williams’s suicide, I mean.

I was a fan, I guess. His flights away from ordinary conversation at first made laugh, later made me uneasy, and thought some of his acting schticky, but when he was focused his characters could be, as with Parry in The Fisher King, almost unbearably human.

But as my fandom was mild, I didn’t have much to say.

And then I heard this:

BOB MONDELLO, BYLINE: Those struggles now ended. He is, as his Genie character in “Aladdin” would have it, finally free.

BLOCK: Well, that idea – that suicide is freeing – has prompted a lot of concern in the mental health community. We heard from a number of our listeners about that. Among them Elizabeth Minne, she’s a licensed psychologist in Austin, Texas, and she joins me now. Thanks so much for being with us.

ELIZABETH MINNE: Thank you for having me.

BLOCK: And you wrote in to express your concern. You said, comments like this make my job difficult. Explain what you mean by that. How is it more difficult?

MINNE: I have found that comments like this can be interpreted by families and by individuals as a sign that they too can attain something positive by committing suicide.

BLOCK: Something positive meaning some sort of liberation from the pain that they’re in?

MINNE: Right. Some sense of freedom or view it as a positive way to find – or an appropriate way to find some sense of relief.

Minnie goes on to note that she tells her patients that “suicide is never an option for working through distress – that there is always a way for us to get to a better place.”

Most of the commenters were, shall we say, unimpressed, calling out Minnie’s credentials, expertise, and even motivation—one accused her of wanting to keep her patients alive just to make a buck off of them—and generally decrying her inability to see how awful depression could be.

Her words pricked my ears, certainly, and had I heard something similar when I was in the midst of my own self-destructiveness, I would have lit my own torch against her: Of course I have the right to kill myself! Of course I can free myself of all of this terribleness!

But I’ll give Minnie half a break: she is a psychotherapist who works with greatly distressed people, so if she’s going to be of any help to them she has to carry the hope that they lost. She has to believe they can get through until they can believe it themselves.

I’ve spoken enough about this before to say simply that that mattered to me, even if I wasn’t at the time wholly conscious that and how it mattered.

But it also helps to acknowledge that suicide is, in fact, an option, and that suffering in life can be so great that wanting to shed that suffering by shedding life makes sense.

It’s about recognition: just as telling someone that they can get through is a way to see that person when she, perhaps, can’t see herself, noting that suicide is on the table is a way to see, to allow one to see, her suffering.

You don’t have to agree with it or like it or encourage it, but if you know you can’t save someone else—and therapists damned well better know they can’t save someone—then maybe you have to accept that he can’t save himself. If his life is in his hands, then his life is in his hands.

Depression morphs one’s mind—I look back to old journal entries and think Who was the person?—but it’s not as if one is a less authentic self when depressed when not, that somehow all one has to do is to scrape off the weight of despair and one’s real life will pop back up.

I don’t know, maybe some patients want to hear that, want to hear of the elasticity of the self, and who knows, maybe for some it’s true.

But for some it’s not, for some the suffering has seeped in so deep that the only way to get rid of the suffering is to get rid of the self.

I don’t know how a therapist deals with a situation like that. I mean, I know that the two who worked hard with me kept working, but I don’t doubt that they knew the limits of that work. Do they see mental illness like other potentially fatal illness? that sometimes the surgery and the chemo and the therapy don’t take? Or is that fact that there’s no hospice care for depression mean that the limits themselves aren’t understood?

In any case, my life was in my hands, and only when I finally, finally, figured that out for myself—only when I knew that death and life were both options—was I able to sigh, Okay.

It could have gone the other way, of course, and that sighed Okay could have been my last word. But I don’t know that I could have closed my fist over life had I not also held death in my hands. I had to hold them both before I could let one of them go.

I am sorry for Robin Williams’s family that he let go of life, and I’m sorry for him for the suffering that led to that letting go.

Okay.





This is not America/Ain’t that America

13 08 2014

Or should it be the Nick Cave song: “One more man gone” ?

The police kill an unarmed black teenager, Michael Brown, then try to lock down the town.

Ryan J. Reilly, HuffPo

Reilly and another reporter, Wesley Moore (of the Washington Post), were arrested for not vacating a McDonalds; they were later released.

So many others have so much more, and better, to say. I’ll note simply the insanity of militarizing the police in order to protect the police.

As if, in a polity, the police aren’t there to protect the citizens. As if we were a police state, where the point of the police is to protect the police. As if. . . .

In any case, #Ferguson gives the latest; Greg Howard goes long.

Whitney Curtis/NY Times

This is us.





Free free, set them free

12 08 2014

People break.

We break because of who we are and what we are and the things we do and the things done to us, intentionally, unintentionally, and no matter how hard we do and don’t try to break.

I’ve gone over this before, so I won’t belabor the point: any politics worth its salt has to take account of how humans are, and how humans are is fragile.

We’re not just that, of course—we’re also jerks! and brave and beautiful and inconstant and mean and weird weird weird—but our fragility is a basic part of our condition as humans, and no amount of bluffing or, so far, technology, can undo the fact that we are and will be undone.

So even if a libertarian moment has arrived (I have my doubts), I gotta wonder where it’s gonna go from here—“acerbic sideline critics”, after all, don’t usually perform center stage.

More to the point, libertarianism seeks a clean line through politics, government and society; however admirable such cleanness may be, that line can only, like us, break down when dealing with the inevitable messes of human life.





All things weird and wonderful, 43

8 08 2014

We humans are a strange lot, given all too often to the unwonderful.

Scott Eric Kaufman, who writes for both Lawyers, Guns & Money and Raw Story (as well as his own blog, Acephalous), happens to attract the kind of folks who engage him in all kinds of weird and some kinds of wonderful conversations (see, for example, here, here, here, here. here, here, and here—and there are more, including the one where he asks for it.)

The following (setup: he’s buying a bunch of tuna for his elderly finicky cat) is one which he says “may be the greatest conversation I’ve ever had“:

POLITE DRUNK MAN: You don’t eat all them cans, now?

SEK: Wasn’t planning on it.

POLITE DRUNK MAN: TV say they full of Menicillin.

SEK: Mercury?

POLITE DRUNK MAN: Menicillin, bad for the children, real bad.

SEK: I promise not to share it with any kids.

POLITE DRUNK MAN: Menicillin’s terrible, make ‘em have miscarriages.

SEK: The kids?

POLITE DRUNK MAN: Ain’t even get a chance to be kids, they born miscarried, or with arms.

SEK: I’ll keep that in mind.

POLITE DRUNK MAN: Dead babies with arms, that’s what Menicillin do. Best watch out.

SEK: I will, promise.

This. . . well, this is weird wonder gold.





Summersongs: Romeo Void

7 08 2014

Had enough of the angry money posts? How about biting sex posts?

Biting sex. . . hmmm, I see how that could be taken a couple of different ways. In any case, the “biting” refers to the attitude of Deborah Iyall toward sexy sexytimes and the occasional aftermath.

I first thought “A Girl in Trouble (Is a Temporary Thing)” would be the summersong, but after a night out with C & K, thought that maybe “Never Say Never”

Whatever. It’s Romeo Void, and even tho’ Iyall tells the girl that old man would “be warm in your coat”, why be literal about the coat-wearing and the presumably cold weather?

It’s about the beat and the attitude—and the backup boys singing temporary temporary in the chorus.

Do pop songs even use sax anymore? And, yeah, those Eighties video production values. . . .

I might like you better if we slept together
I might like you better if we slept together
I might like you better if we slept together

How can you not sing along to that?





Everybody knows that the Plague is coming, 4

6 08 2014

File under: why would anyone be surprised?

First up: Professor John Ashton, the president of the UK Faculty of Public Health, who writes:

“In both cases [Aids and Ebola], it seems that the involvement of powerless minority groups has contributed to a tardiness of response and a failure to mobilise an adequately resourced international medical response.”

and World Health Organization director general Dr Margaret Chan:

“We must respond to this emergency as if it was in Kensington, Chelsea and Westminster. We must also tackle the scandal of the unwillingness of the pharmaceutical industry to invest in research [on] treatments and vaccines, something they refuse to do because the numbers involved are, in their terms, so small and don’t justify the investment. This is the moral bankruptcy of capitalism acting in the absence of a moral and social framework.”

Second, Allan Sloan, who is surprised enough to be outraged that American companies would park their “incorporation” overseas so as to avoid taxes:

Inverters don’t hesitate to take advantage of the great things that make America America: our deep financial markets, our democracy and rule of law, our military might, our intellectual and physical infrastructure, our national research programs, all the terrific places our country offers for employees and their families to live. But inverters do hesitate — totally — when it’s time to ante up their fair share of financial support of our system.

Profit-seeking companies seeking to maximize their profits?! Who ever heard of such a thing?

And those who don’t invert?

Wall Street is delivering a thumbs down to Walgreens’ announcement of a $15.3 billion plan to complete its acquisition of Europe-based Alliance Boots and decision not to pursue potential major tax savings by shifting its headquarters overseas.

Bad capitalists!

Since all is not gloomy, allow for a bit of intellectual-property absurdity:

Wikimedia, the US-based organisation behind Wikipedia, has refused a photographer’s repeated requests to remove one of his images which is used online without his permission, claiming that because a monkey pressed the shutter button it should own the copyright.

Cheeky monkey*!

David Slater/Caters—and monkey!

*Actually, a crested black macaque

~~~

h/t to a coupla’ folks at The Stranger: Charles Mudede, and Ansel Herz  (twice!)





Blames it on fate

29 07 2014

1. Victims are bad political actors.

To act politically is to act power-fully, that is, to wield power. To wield power well, you have to recognize that you are, in fact, capable and in a position to wield power; to wield power wisely, you have to be willing to act beyond the wound suffered, to see that others suffer, and to try to create conditions in which suffering is not the main driver of you and your people.

This, needless to say, is tremendously difficult: Nelson Mandela is lauded as one of the great political actors because he tried to move beyond suffering and to point South Africa toward a future in which all of its peoples took part.

He is lauded because what he did was so rare.

2. This doesn’t mean that victims can’t ever become political actors, or that the circumstances of one’s victimization cannot justly for the basis of one’s political activities.

There is a history of victims demanding recognition as having been victimized, demanding that victimization cease, and in some cases demanding recompense for their victimization. These causes—poor relief, civil rights, indigenous rights, Chicano rights, women’s liberation, gay liberation, disability rights—are just, and justly fought for in the political realm.

I am not arguing that the issue of victimization is off-limits to politics—quite the opposite.

The promise of politics is that one is able to act on one’s own behalf, to act in concert with others on shared concerns, and to act in service to larger principles and ideals. Politics offers the possibility of acting both for oneself and beyond oneself.

Politics offers the possibility of power.

A good way to avoid victimization is to gain power.* It is not unreasonable for those who first gain power seek to use it primarily in defense of oneself and one’s group, and then to try to advance that group’s interests based on more-or-less-narrowly self-interested grounds.

Note that this is the history of politics in New York City.

Note as well that New York City is not known for its pantheon of wise political leaders.

3. To state this baldly: in order to act well, to govern well, one has to leave behind one’s primary identity as a victim and embrace a wider role.

One’s past victimhood may, perhaps even should, continue to inform one’s political actions, but broadly, rather than narrowly, and based on generally applicable principles rather than solely on one’s own, particular, experiences.

Again, those experiences matter—politics ought not be shrunk to mere procedure—but if one’s own experiences matter, then one ought to be able to recognize that others’ experiences matter as well.

If you think it is wrong that you suffer, then you ought to be able to see that it is wrong that others suffer, such that when acting to relieve one’s own and to prevent future suffering, one ought to seek a wide relief, a broad prevention.

You don’t have to do that, of course—see the history of all politics, everywhere—but if you stick only to your own kind, insist that yours is the only victimization that matters, that even to suggest that others may be victimized, much less that you may victimize others, is to victimize you all over again, then you are a bad political actor.

If you cannot see that others may be victimized, that others suffer, then you cannot see others.

If you cannot see others, then, politically, you can act neither wisely nor well.

~~~

n.b. Recent events in and commentary about Israel and Gaza obviously informed this somewhat-fragmentary post.

~~~

*Arendtian tho’ I am, I nonetheless recognize that power may be gained thru non-political means as well. For the purposes of this post, however, I confine myself to political power.





All things weird and wonderful, 42

28 07 2014

Well, this is a no-brainer:

h/t Cute Overload





Gotta keep bars on all our windows

27 07 2014

Israel is us or, shall I say, US, as told by Jon Snow:

I feel guilty in leaving, and for the first time in my reporting life, scarred, deeply scarred by what I have seen, some of it too terrible to put on the screen.

It is accentuated by suddenly being within sumptuously appointed Israel. Accentuated by the absolute absence of anything that indicates that this bloody war rages a few miles away. A war that the UN stated yesterday has reduced 55 per cent of  Gaza’s diminutive land to a no-go area.

Go tell that to the children playing in the dusty streets or the families forced out of  shelters like the UN school compound, to forage for food beneath shells and missiles.

In and out of an Israeli transit hotel for a few hours in Ashkelon, an hour from the steel crossing-point from Gaza, there were three half-hearted air raid warnings. Some people run, but most just get on with what they are doing.

They are relatively safe today because  Israel is the most heavily fortified country on earth. The brilliant Israeli-invented, American-financed shield is all but fool-proof; the border fortifications, the intelligence, beyond anything else anywhere.

This brilliant people is devoting itself to a permanent and ever-intensifying expenditure to secure a circumstance in which there will never be a deal with the Palestinians. That’s what it looks like, that is what you see. It may not be true.

The pressure not to go on this way is both internationally and domestically a minority pursuit.

He notes the security demands and commands from behind windows and walls, disembodied voices demonstrating control over voiceless bodies:

“Feet apart!” they said. “Turn! No, not that way – the other!” Then, in the next of five steel security rooms I passed through – each with a red or green light to tell me to stop or go – a male security guard up in the same complex above me shouted “Take your shirt off – right off. Now throw it on the floor… Pick it up, now ring it like it was wet” (it was wet, soaked in sweat).

From entering the steel complex until I reach the final steel clearing room where I held the baby, I was never spoken to face to face, nor did I see another human beyond those who barked the commands through the bullet-proof windows high above me.

Is this not how we in the US approach the rest of the world? We send drones over deserts and bombs into buildings and we sit in our sumptuously appointed country pointedly ignoring what we do and how we are.








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