Nipping at my heels. . . .

29 01 2011

It’s been that kind of week.

h/t LOLcats





And the walls come tumbling down

20 01 2011

I may have mentioned once or twice or fourteen time before my fascination with ruins.

Well, check out the amazing series of photos displayed over at The Kingston Lounge of buildings of the now-abandoned Riverside Hospital on North Brother Island in the East River.

The site, which is dedicated to “guerrilla preservation and urban archaeology”, also contains shots of the Brooklyn Navy Yard, Creedmore State Hospital, and others, contains both amazing shots and commentary on the history of these sites.

This is the “interior of the coal house, facing east”:

This is beautiful, peaceful even.

This next shot, however, disturbs me:

According to the commentary, the hospital was re-purposed a number of times, the last, as a drug-rehab facility and school; this is from the small auditorium.

Why does this image, out of the many, many displayed on the site, disturb me?

I think it’s the flip side of the fascination: ruins imply both absence and presence, remind us that something was there—that people were there—and now they’re gone. I’ve been in wilderness areas where it is tough to find any sign of human presence; I know I’m not the first person in these places, but it’s also clear that these forests and deserts exist quite outside of us, that they are immune to our existence.

But ruins, ruins are about us. We wouldn’t, couldn’t hang on, we had to abandon what we had claimed; the ruins, standing in rebuke, outlast us.

Okay, okay, they are signs of our mortality—why does this shot dismay?

Perhaps because, unlike those photos of the nurses quarters or examination rooms, this is clearly a place of gathering; its devastation calls out allll gone.

All. Gone.

~~~

Someone on WNYC recently referred to “ruin porn” (this in regard to a book on an abandoned Detroit factory), and I guess I’m guilty of that indulgence.

It moves me, to see what we leave behind.

And, in the end, it soothes me that all we leave behind will, someday, join us in the ground.





Gimme some loving!

20 01 2011

This was left on my comments to “Music Thief”:

The next time I learn a blog, I hope that it doesnt disappoint me as much as this one. I imply, I know it was my option to read, but I really thought youd have one thing attention-grabbing to say. All I hear is a bunch of whining about one thing that you would fix should you werent too busy on the lookout for attention.

Love it!





Critters with British accents

18 01 2011

I’m a sucker for stuff like this:

Me, I like the prairie dog.

h/t The Daily Dish

 





Wire in the blood

18 01 2011

Criminy.

First it was the zombies, and now it’s your regulation odd-duck/straight-laced British serial killer crime drama that’s giving me nightmares.

The hell. The rate this is going, the LOLcats will be haunting me.

And what the $%!! does “wire in the blood” mean, anyway?

Hmpf.

Guess I’ll have to watch the rest of the series to figure that out.





Eliminationist rhetoric: bad

16 01 2011

See, this is what I’m talking about:

A few bits from Insurrection Timeline:

  • April 4, 2009—Neo-Nazi Richard Poplawski shoots and kills three police officers responding to a 911 call to his home in Pittsburgh. His friend Edward Perkovic tells reporters that Poplawski feared “the Obama gun ban that’s on its way” and “didn’t like our rights being infringed upon.” Perkovic also commented that Poplawski carried out the shooting because “if anyone tried to take his firearms, he was gonna’ stand by what his forefathers told him to do.”
  • May 31, 2009—Scott P. Roeder shoots and kills Dr. George Tiller, an abortion provider, in the foyer of Reformation Lutheran Church in Wichita, Kansas. The FBI lists Roeder as a member of the Montana Freemen, a radical anti-government group. In April 1996, he had been pulled over in Topeka, Kansas, for driving with a homemade license plate.  Police found a military-style rifle, ammunition, a blasting cap, a fuse cord, a one-pound can of gunpowder, and two 9-volt batteries in his car.
  • July 13, 2009—Gilbert Ortez, Jr. kills a police deputy in Chambers County, Texas, with an assault rifle. Police were responding to reports that Ortez or his wife had fired shots at utility workers in the area. Police searching Ortez’s mobile home after a 10-hour standoff find more than 100 explosive devices; Nazi drawings and extremist literature; and several additional firearms.

Go to the website for many many many—sigh—more examples.

Tom Scocca makes direct connections between violent rhetoric and violent acts:

[R]egarding this crazy, evidence-free narrative about how right-wing media incited someone to violence? The one dictated to the leftist media by their bosses at the Democratic National Committee? Here’s what happened a little less than six months ago:

A California man accused in a shootout with California Highway Patrol officers in Oakland early Sunday told officials that he traveled to San Francisco and planned to attack two nonprofit groups there “to start a revolution,” according to a probable cause statement released by police.

Bryon Williams, 45, a convicted felon with two prior bank robbery convictions, targeted workers at the American Civil Liberties Union and the Tides Foundation, said Oakland police Sgt. Michael Weisenberg in court documents.
And where did Williams get the idea that he should load up his mother’s pickup truck with guns and go try to assassinate members of liberal organizations?

Williams watched the news on television and was upset by “the way Congress was railroading through all these left-wing agenda items,” his mother said.

Scocca credits a commenter, Andrew Brockover, with mention of this incident:

In July of 2008, unemployed truck driver Jim Adkisson opened fire with a shotgun during a performance of “Annie” at the Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church, killing two people and wounding several others.

Adkisson attacked the church because he identified it as liberal, and he had specifically planned to go out and assassinate liberals. “This was a symbolic killing,” he wrote in a four-page manifesto. “Who I wanted to kill was every Democrat in the Senate, + House, the 100 people in Bernard Goldberg’s book. I’d like to kill everyone in the Mainstream Media. But I knew these people were inaccessible to me.”

I don’t blame Bernard Goldberg or the half-guv or various other right-wing bloviators for attacking and killing people. They clearly have not done so.

(And to be fair to Goldberg, I don’t think he’s engaged in eliminationist rhetoric. He’s a conservative critic of what he considers the liberal media, and that’s it.)

They’re not criminals and shouldn’t be treated as such, but they can be held responsible, in words, for their words.

~~~

Violent rhetoric and actions are hardly the sole province of rightists. Leftists have their—our—own sordid history of denunciation and assassination, bloviations and bombings, and we have made our own poor excuses for the likes of the Weather Underground.

This isn’t about “balance” and “both sides do it”; it is about history and evidence.

And the evidence today points right.





The way is dark, the light is dim

15 01 2011

So I was going to write something about civility in politics.

Three times, I was going to write something about civility in politics—even had a header for one of ’em—but then I remembered: Been there, done that.

I think civility is a fine thing, and as mentioned in a very early post, I very much like the idea of going at it hammer and tongs with someone—and then eating pie.

Argument and pie: What could be better?

I still believe that. But I also believe that, in the face of incivility, tut-tutting about the rudeness of the other fellow is of no use; no, the correct response is tit-tatting: if he broke a metaphorical bottle over your head, and if you don’t like having metaphorical bottles broken over your head, then you smash one over his. If he comes back with a verbal fist to the face, then a lexical plank upside the head is appropriate.

Do not let the adversary get away with anything. Make him pay. And when he gets tired of being bloodied—and acts accordingly—then so should you.

The rules of politics are set and enforced by the participants, so if you want civility, you not only have to practice that civility, you have to enforce it—which means you have to punish incivility.

There is no other way.

~~~

It should be obvious that what works in politics does not necessarily work in, say, intimate or even collegial relationships, nor, for that matter, in the practice of science or in the arts or religion. (The truly interesting question is whether these gladiatorial tactics are appropriate to war—but I leave that to the military strategists among you.) My understanding of politics is predicated on conflict; my understanding of friendship is not.

~~~

I don’t think the Tea Partiers are fascists anymore than I thought GW Bush was Hitler, and any such comparisons are as sloppy and mendacious as those linking Obama to Stalin or Osama bin Laden.

“Sloppy and mendacious”: But what if people really are afraid that Obama is a Secret Musselman in thrall to an anti-colonialist anti-American communist conspiracy?

Grow up.

The evidence is lacking, just as evidence that Bush planned the hijackings on Sept 11 is lacking. The sincerity of beliefs matters not one whit if those beliefs are, to quote a couple of automotive philosophers, “unencumbered by the thought process”.

The proper response to such charges is either mockery or a swift linguistic kick in the shins.

~~~

Well, okay, the fists-up response is not always appropriate. One can engage in a kind of political discourse which seeks understanding, and to which nonsense might best be met with questions as to why the interlocutor believes that, or even a polite I disagree.

And, ff course, if one is outnumbered and such verbal disagreement could lead to a physical beatdown, keeping one’s trap shut is also a fine tactic.

~~~

I hate eliminationist talk, and find it stupid and counterproductive, if not potentially dangerous. I don’t  engage in such talk, don’t laugh at jokes about assassination, don’t as a general matter invite the spectre of real violence into the arena of politics.

It’s not because I’m good, but because I’m an Arendtian, and I think politics has a purpose which can be shattered by violence.

(Yes, I have invited public figures to engage in anatomically impossible acts on themselves, and will likely do so again the future. These aren’t my best moments, but I think a not-unreasonable response to the denigration and dehumanization of an entire category of human beings.)

Aristotle and Arendt both thought politics ennobling; a part of me agrees that yes, it offers the possibility of us inhabiting one of the highest kinds of human being.

But, as Machiavelli pointed out, one rarely reaches that pinnacle unscathed.

h/t, and for a completely different set of views, see James Fallows here, here, here, and here





When I break down just a little and lose my head

11 01 2011

Deep breath.

I don’t know if this is the first but I do plan for it to be the last time I talk about this.

This is about Jared Loughner. And me. And the one thing that might connect us: neither of us were committed for mental illness.

As mentioned previously, I do not know if Loughner is mentally ill, and I really wish so-called experts would quit diagnosing him over the airwaves. But mentally ill or not, his actions prior to the shooting have led to a fair amount of discussion as to whether he should have or could have been committed.

Here’s where I come in: A half a lifetime ago, I had a commitment hearing. It was not a pleasant experience.

The judge was fine, the court-appointed attorney was fine, even the room in the locked ward of the psychiatric wing of the hospital was fine. And I wasn’t even committed, tho’ I do think I had to agree to stay on the ward and do x, y, and z.

I was deeply angered at having been incarcerated in the psych ward in the first place, and for years afterward felt that the incarceration was both unjustified and unjust.

Hey, I just wanted to kill myself, that’s all, no one else. No big deal.

The details are, pfft, details. There were cops and handcuffs and then at the hospital, restraints (which I managed to pull off*)—all of which sounds ghastly and it was, but it was ordinary, too.

Ordinary in that the cops were decent, as were the hospital staff, and the ward was clean and everyone had their own semi-private rooms and it was probably as good as these truly shitty things get.

It sucked, yes, and it sucked because I needed to be there.

It took me awhile—years—to realize that corralling me into a psych unit was both just and justified.

So, zoom back out: Does this mean I believe that everyone with an untreated or refractory mental illness should be consigned to a psych ward?

No.

But while it might have once been too easy to commit people for too long (for-ever. . .), the problem now is that too many people—both those who want help and those who don’t—have difficulty getting that help.

That’s where the focus should be: on access to good treatment for mental illness. Any discussion about making involuntary commitment end must begin with that concern.

William Galston goes about this the exact wrong way:

The story repeats itself, over and over. A single narrative connects the Unabomber, George Wallace shooter Arthur Bremmer, Reagan shooter John Hinckley, the Virginia Tech shooter—all mentally disturbed loners who needed to be committed and treated against their will. But the law would not permit it.

Starting in the 1970s, civil libertarians worked to eliminate involuntary commitment or, that failing, to raise the standards and burden of proof so high that few individuals would meet it. Important decisions by the Supreme Court and subordinate courts gave individuals new protections, including a constitutional right to refuse psychotropic medication. A few states have tried to push back in constitutionally acceptable ways, but efforts such as California’s Laura’s Law, designed to make it easier to force patients to take medication, have been stymied by civil rights concerns and lack of funding.

We need legal reform to shift the balance in favor of protecting the community, especially against those who are armed and deranged.

Yes, the point of treatment is not the unwell, it’s the rest of us.

Think I’m misreading Galston? Well after arguing for an expanded list of people who should be held legally responsible if they have “credible evidence” of someone’s “mental disturbance” and don’t report it to “both law enforcement and the courts”—not emergency rooms, not health officials—he argues that “A delusional loss of contact with reality” (whatever that is) should be enough to begin the process of commitment.

To be fair, he does say this process should include “multiple starts with multiple offers of voluntary assistance”, which, if one doesn’t volunteer, could end with “involuntary treatment, including commitment if necessary.”

That actually would sound reasonable as a way to try to get help for people, except, of course, that’s not Galston’s real concern:

How many more mass murders and assassinations do we need before we understand that the rights-based hyper-individualism of our laws governing mental illness is endangering the security of our community and the functioning of our democracy?

That’s right: people sleeping on heating grates or hiding out in rooms or basements and unable to care for themselves or anyone else is not the threat to democracy, it’s that “mentally disturbed loners” might take a shot at a president or pop star or member of Congress.

I have absolutely no truck with murder and assassination, and believe that if better care for the mentally ill would lead to fewer violent crimes, that would be wonderful.

We’re not going to get that better care, however, if all that matters is the fear of the well and the punishment of the unwell.

Right now, punishment is the driving approach to mental illness. According to a 2006 Human Rights Watch report,

More than half of all prison and state inmates now report mental health problems, including symptoms of major depression, mania and psychotic disorders, according to a just-released federal Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) report, Mental Health Problems of Prison and Jail Inmates.

In 1998, the BJS reported there were an estimated 283,000 prison and jail inmates who suffered from mental health problems. That number is now estimated to be 1.25 million. The rate of reported mental health disorders in the state prison population is five times greater (56.2 percent) than in the general adult population (11 percent).

Women prisoners have an even higher rate of mental health problems than men: almost three quarters (73 percent) of all women in state prison have mental health problems, compared to 55 percent of men.

Galston should be pleased: we’re already locking up a lotta crazy folk! Too bad that they’re not getting treated once they’re in jail.

Prison staff often punish mentally ill offenders for symptoms of their illness, such as being noisy, refusing orders, self mutilating or even attempting suicide. Mentally ill prisoners are thus more likely than others to end up housed in especially harsh conditions, including isolation, that can push them over the edge into acute psychosis.

Would involuntary commitment have helped these prisoners? Again, if one follows Galston, the deranged should be reported to “law enforcement officials and the courts”, not to anyone actually in a position to help them.

And where would all of these people go, if not to jail?

According to Human Rights Watch, the staggering rate or incarceration of the mentally ill is a consequence of under-funded, disorganized and fragmented community mental health services. Many people with mental illness, particularly those who are poor, homeless, or struggling with substance abuse – cannot get mental health treatment. If they commit a crime, even low-level nonviolent offenses, punitive sentencing laws mandate imprisonment.

The new BJS report reveals that state prisoners with mental health problems were twice as likely to have been homeless and twice as likely to have lived in a foster home, agency or institution while growing up as those without mental health problems. Prisoners with mental health problems were also significantly more likely to have reported being physically or sexually abused in the past, to have had family members who had substance abuse problems, and to have a family member who had been incarcerated in the past. An estimated 42 percent of state inmates had both a mental health problem and substance dependence or abuse.

(See also: here, here, and here, or just run a search on “mentally ill prisoners”.)

I don’t think this is working. It’s just possible, in fact, that if there were better patient-centered options—options which could include involuntary treatment—that fewer mentally ill people would end up in jail. Good for them, good for us.

We can’t just jump ahead to involuntary treatment and commitment, however, before building up the infrastructure for all treatment, voluntary and not. It wasn’t until 2008 that the Paul Wellstone and Pete Domenici Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act was signed into law, and even with that law, treatment for mental illness may legally go uncovered.

So let’s make treatment possible. Let’s make sure the vulnerable have a place to go where they can actually get help before we call on cops and judges. Only after we make sure treatment is actually available does it make sense to talk about laws to draft the resistant into that treatment.

There’s nothing easy about any of this, not least because some mental illness are just damned hard to treat, but if commitment is to be both justified and just, then it makes sense that in our rights-based hyper-individualist society that we actually pay attention to the individual at the center of the debate.

*This is why you should always wear a watch: if anyone tries to tie your wrists together or to something (like, say, the rail of a hospital bed), you can use the extra space provided by the watch to wrench and wriggle your wrist free.

~~~

Coda: I got lucky—although it sure as hell didn’t feel like it at the time—because I got care.

A person shouldn’t need luck to get care.

h/t The Daily Dish





Put down that weapon

10 01 2011

I don’t know Jared Loughner.

I don’t know his politics. I don’t know his mental state. I don’t know his background, his personality, his history of drug or alcohol use, or his genetic profile.

I don’t even know that he killed six people and shot twelve others, although, given the evidence reported thus far, it appears likely.

It appears likely that Jared Loughner is an assassin.

But that’s just one piece of this murderous political puzzle, isn’t it? Some have examined his online postings and concluded that he was widely read or maybe just trying to impress people with works he couldn’t understand; one woman Tweeted that when she knew him he was left-wing; some speculate on the influence of the anti-semitic American Renaissance or conspiracist David Wynn Miller; Andrew Sprung labels him a “sui generis make-your-own reality psychotic”.

Many others have noticed have noticed that this occurred in a poisonous political atmosphere, wherein Senate candidates talk about “Second Amendment remedies” and elected members of Congress call President Obama an “enemy of humanity”.

And the half-guv, of course, has her part to play, both in refudiating any role her noxious metaphors may have contributed to that atmosphere, and to serve as a rally point for those who insist that no one even consider politicizing these killings.

Sticks and stones may break my bones/but words may never hurt me.

What rot, for in what other media do we perform politics but in words? Of course words matter!

You don’t need to delve into the ontological dimensions of the speech-act to grasp that this is the primary way we relate to one another—that our language itself is a marker of our species. We are not only linguistic creatures, but we would not be who we are without language. And we would not have politics without language, without words.

Of course words matter.

That’s not all that matters. Loughner was able to purchase a semi-automatic weapon (which would have been illegal under a law which expired in 2004)  and carry it on his person, concealed, with no permit whatsoever.

Guns don’t kill people; people kill people.

True—in this case, Jared Loughner used a semi-automatic gun to kill six people.

Don’t suppose we should politicize casual access to deadly weaponry, either.

But Loughner was nuts, right? Suspended from school, scaring the hell out of his college classmates, a sui generis psychotic—can’t blame rhetoric and guns on this crazy man, could we?

I’m not trained in either psychology or psychiatry, and if I were, I hope I’d be disciplined enough not to diagnose someone I only read about in a newspaper. But I do have my own history of mental illness, and I do know how what I once called a “bad brew” of chemistry and history lead to acts of self-destruction great and small. I never tried to hurt anyone else, but it was very important to me that I hurt myself. And no, I didn’t consider myself crazy.

It made sense to me not only that I would kill myself, but that I should kill myself.

This decades-long belief didn’t come from nowhere: it came from the reactions of people around me to my erratic behavior, from romantic notions of the successful suicide, from my own constant intake of movies and books and television shows about depression and suicide, from The Thorn Birds (long story), and, of course, from my own depression and personality.

I was the one making the attempts, and I was the one who worked out the rather elaborate moral justification for my suicide, but I got help from the society around me.

No, society didn’t know it was helping me—I don’t blame society for my troubles—but it gave me the pieces I needed to construct a an overwhelming and destructive narrative of my life. It all made so much sense, then.

I don’t know what, if anything, makes sense to Jared Loughner. All I have are a very few inadequate pieces—violent rhetoric, weapon, possible mental illness—but enough to know that, even if this wasn’t a conspiracy, it certainly wasn’t sui generis, either.

h/t Daily Dish, Huffington Post, New York Times





“While violence can destroy power, it can never become a substitute for it”

8 01 2011

Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, D-AZ, was shot at point-blank range today.

She is in critical condition; according to press reports, 18 people were injured and as many as six were killed.

This is very bad news.

Every shooting is very bad news, of course, as is every murder. But political murder in a representative system carries another meaning, one which states that, in effect, the will of the people does not matter.

There’s a lot to criticize in the notion of “the will of the people”, and a lot to question in our version of representative democracy; nonetheless, it’s what we’ve got and it’s how we confer at least a bare legitimacy on our system of governance. We don’t have to like it, of course, and so we bitch and we organize and we try to sway our fellow citizens and our members of Congress to change.

This means we’re always failing: If Dems win, GOPers lose, and vice versa. Those who want change battle those content with the status quo. There may be some win-win or lose-lose situations, but in a pluralist democracy, you don’t always get your way.

To be political is to reconcile oneself to failure—without giving up.

Political assassins will not so reconcile themselves. Whatever their motivations, whatever their goals, they cannot accept that they lose, cannot accept that others may legitimately win. And so they seek to destroy the adversary’s victory, destroy that legitimacy, and, symbolically, to destroy not only those others, but everyone who allowed the victor to take power.

In so doing, the assassin acts against us all: as citizens, as participants in the political process, as those who, whatever our misgivings, in the end accept a flawed and frayed system of governance over the alternatives of purges and violence, who in the end accept the ballot over the bullet.

What we’ve got is not the best, but is what we’ve  got, it is ours—assassins be damned.