Thursday, September 18, 2014

It's not just an African-American problem

There is something wrong with this country when an NFL football player is indicted for beating his four-year old with a switch and people start talking about the ways in which African American culture perpetuates corporal punishment as discipline.

If only.

 A true All-American

"Adrian Peterson Hall Trophy" by All American Games, LLC - Licensed under CC BY 2.5 via Wikimedia Commons.

My Not African American friends have told me far more stories about physical discipline than my African American ones. They were Jewish-, Italian-, Irish-, Indian-, Greek- and, yes, East Asian-Americans. (And even some WASPs.) A friend of mine reminds me that this happens to Latino children as well. None of those people had a legacy of American slavery haunting them, but they did it anyway.

One might almost think this is an AMERICAN problem. Perhaps, then, we should address it as such.

Deb in the City

Friday, August 01, 2014

Get off my lawn: the Israel edition

I will make this simple.

If you take issue with Israel's military objectives, strategies or tactics, stick around. This is the stuff that makes my life interesting, and I think these are worthy things to analyze.

If you have thoughts about Israel's internal politics, pull up a chair and let's chat. 

You guys can stay.


If you can't criticize the current conflict in Gaza without calling into question Israel's right to exist, you need to get another hobby. I'm sorry, it's been sixty-six years- it's time to move on.

If you pass around misquotes by people like Albert Einstein or staged photos to support your point, you need to invest some time in Media Literacy 101, because that's just sad when you're over the age of fifteen. (For the record, Albert Einstein put his name on a letter to the editor of the New York Times in 1948. The letter was very critical of the actions of the "Freedom Party"- and noted that most Israelis were equally critical. Worth noting: he was one of twenty-seven signatories on said letter; why the pithy quote isn't attributed to, say, Hannah Arendt beats me.)

Pity this is a faked quote
As a corollary, please go take a look at the Hamas Covenant if you're doing those things. Pay particular attention to Articles Twenty and Twenty-Two. Keep in mind that as much as this reads like the Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion, written in 1897, Hamas wrote their screed in 1988. Let me know when they rescind or disavow it.

If you think the conflict in Gaza justifies the rise of anti-Semitic incidents in Europe (and Latin America, and the United States), you have not been paying attention; those episodes were already on the rise. What were people's excuses in May or June? (I'll answer: they didn't have one; they were just garden-variety anti-Semites. And they still are.) You also have a sophomoric view of the world, and you might want to change that.

If you are suddenly concerned enough about the three year old civil war in Syria that has left 170,000 dead (although I think that's a low number), internally displaced almost two million and made refugees out of millions more enough that you are now passing around images of Syrian devastation as Gazan, I can only hope that you will stay as concerned about Syria when this conflict ends. If that's not likely, you're a terrible person.

Finally, if you have posted online or otherwise anything to the effect that Hitler was right, you're not a real person. Please go slither back into your hole and stop using up precious oxygen.

Carry on...

Wednesday, July 09, 2014

Coming back...'s my fault I stayed up until 1 to read a book. (Or is it? It was a really good book.) But it's not my fault that my husband's alarm went off at 6:30 and then that he didn't wake up with it. Nor is it my fault that someone called me 17 minutes after that.

I chose to do some hard work at the garden and then show my good friend around the grounds for 40 minutes so we could talk about doing more work. But it's not my fault that I'm not sleeping right now, because my sons would kill each other fighting over their little game.

My point? You could criticize me for not having a spotless living room or doing anything other than adding people to a Facebook group today (well, I did write a review before I left for the garden) and giving my children lunch, but this would be a really bad time to do that.

Also, going on the Boston Harborwalk tomorrow in 85 degree weather is going to feel downright relaxing.

HarborWalk is Boston’s newest major attraction, with nearly 40 miles ...

Friday, May 30, 2014

Be afraid of the mentally ill- whether they're treated or not

It was after the shootings in Newtown that left 20 children and seven adults dead that people started calling for tighter control....of the mentally ill. Because, clearly, the problem wasn't that someone had such easy access to guns, it was that they were, well, crazy. Never mind that when those calls came out the young man's diagnosis was a mystery. Clearly, he was crazy.

The shooting in Santa Barbara has renewed the concern about mental illness, and this time we're not even pretending that we should have a "serious conversation about mental health in this country". No, clearly, it's mental health, even though the most serious diagnosis we've heard in the press about the Santa Barbara shooter is Asperger's, and even that hasn't been verified.

What gets me today is that now it is not enough to vilify the mentally ill, never mind that that term encompasses Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), Autism, and Depression, as well as the more serious Sociopathy, Psychopathy and a slew of other diagnoses in between. (Why? Because whether you're mentally ill or not depends on whether you have a diagnosis that made it into the latest version of The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) and yep! ADHD is in there.) Now, it appears we also need to be concerned about those people whether they get treatment or not.

There's a post making the rounds on my social media feeds that lists about 42 violent episodes that can be linked to pharmaceutical medications. Lithium? Klonopin? Nope. Ritalin, which is commonly used to treat ADHD, and Prozac and Zoloft, which are commonly used to treat anxiety and depression. (Is it worth mentioning that eight of those cases are suicides and not murders? Nah, let's not make it too complicated.)

The real cause of gun violence in America?
I believe I've said it before, but I'm not a fan of these kinds of medications and I think they're over-prescribed. But, not having ever been prescribed one. Right- I'm also not an expert because I'm not a medical professional.

I might be right about over-prescription though; according to this data brief by the CDC, 11% of Americans over the age of 12 have received a prescription for antidepressants. That's...a lot. By my calculations, that's over 27 million people. Wow.

A lot of people...and you know what 42 of those people represent? 0.00015%. I didn't have to take Statistics in college because I took Probability 1 and 2 instead, but it doesn't take a statistician to figure out that that is a very small number of people, so small as to be statistically insignificant. You know what happens if we add the people who are taking medications like Ritalin? The total number becomes even larger- and the percentage becomes even smaller.

Someone who likes math- like me- might be tempted to think that it's not the medication. And someone- like me- who likes facts might be tempted to think that it's not mental illness either. This very quick fact sheet from the University of Washington School of Social Work says it better than I can, but here are two of my favorites:

"People with psychiatric disabilities are far more likely to be victims than perpetrators of violent crime (Appleby, et al., 2001). People with severe mental illnesses, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder or psychosis, are 2 ½ times more likely to be attacked, raped or mugged than the general population (Hiday, et al.,1999)."


A longitudinal study of American’s attitudes on mental health between 1950 and 1996 found, “the proportion of Americans who describe mental illness in terms consistent with violent or dangerous behavior nearly doubled.” Also, the vast majority of Americans believe that persons with mental illnesses pose a threat for violence towards others and themselves (Pescosolido, et al., 1996, Pescosolido et al., 1999).

Or might it be this?
Someone- like me- might be tempted to think it's guns. But vilifying someone more likely to be victimized anyway is easier than confronting someone with a gun, right?

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

What I learned in the 2013 Mayoral Primary

It's a tradition of mine to hold signs for candidates in Chinatown. I don't remember how it started- I think someone needed someone there a few years ago- but it's one I enjoy as I don't live in that area and it's always a good lesson to see how other areas of Boston operate.

I had called my candidate's office the day before to tell them I was available. They told me that someone was scheduled to show up at the Chinatown polling station, but they would give me my number and we could coordinate. In the meantime, a good friend of mine asked if I would, basically, put my feet where my mouth was and help collect signatures for the RaiseUpMA campaign. There are two initiatives, one to raise the minimum wage to $10.50 per hour (for the princely annual sum of $21840) and another for Earned Sick Time, which would prevent employees from being penalized for calling out sick. I thought that would be a good way for my sons to witness politics and policy in action, plus give me some time to hang out with a good friend for a few hours.

We started out at the local library and community center where people used to vote. That site had since moved, but we were able to collect a few signatures from some very enthusiastic residents before we moved on to get some lunch.

These people placed. Why? They had signs. (Photo by Reuters)

Next we went to my polling place. Finally, I would get to vote. When I got there a little after 1, less than 200 people from my precinct had voted- but that was an improvement over the last mayoral election cycle. Ah, democracy! Even with that low turnout, we were able to make a good dent into our signatures; I'm sure having one of my sons break the ice helped me at least.

By the time my husband left with my sons (after he signed the petitions), I was ready to move onto Chinatown. I stopped to get a bite to eat, then made it to the station. Much to my dismay, no one from my candidate's campaign was there. Even worse, I didn't see one sign for him either. I was very concerned: Chinatown may not have the most turnout usually, but that joint was jumping yesterday. More to the point, another candidate was there in person. You know what that said to me? That he wanted to be mayor of all of Boston.

Who else was at that station? Three other people collecting signatures for the RaiseUpMA campaign. After getting two signatures and chatting a bit, I went to the next closest polling station at the corner of East Berklee and Tremont. Once again, I did not see any signs for my candidate- but I did see two other people collecting signatures for my campaign. Alrighty then! Off to the BPL, even though I was told there wouldn't be a lot of voting.

Do I even need to tell you at this point that I didn't see signs for my candidate but that two other people showed up to collect signatures? After I got a decent number, I moved on. After I got one signature at the Boston Architectural College, I finally landed at the polling station on Mass Ave. right near the Orange Line T stop. You guessed it- my candidate did not have any signs up there.

There was not a lot of voting, and overall I'd call it one of the more apathetic polling places I got to. But you know what? That's where I collected the majority of my signatures. While some people did have some crazy reasons for not signing ("I live for today" was my favorite), the majority who didn't sign either weren't registered to vote in Boston or were obviously rushing to catch a train. But most Boston voters happily signed, and one woman even said "Give me that!" as soon as I explained what we were trying to do.

So what did I learn? That if you want to win- or place or get something done- you have to show up. As much as we want to blame voter apathy- and yes, it's a real thing- for not getting the results we want, sorry, that just wasn't good enough yesterday. Turnout ended up being much higher than the 2009 race which, given the dynamics, makes sense. I didn't predict that...but then again nobody was depending on me for that prognosis.

I got all of the signatures I needed with an hour to spare before the election was called, and based on all of the people I'd run into and there numbers, I know my campaign did very well.

Thank you, Boston.

Deb in the City

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Thoughts from my Orson Welles festival

This summer I embarked on my own mini-Orson Welles film festival, inspired in large part by my love of Citizen Kane and my fascination with the man.

I started with The Lady From Shanghai. It was almost comical to hear Welles sport an Irish accent, but by the end of the film I was half convinced that he really was an Irish immigrant. Welles' directorial style- going all the way back to Kane- was made for film noir.

This was also the first time I'd seen anything with Rita Hayworth, and she was wonderful, of course. A little disconcerting to see her without her trademark red hair, but she played the cool but tormented femme fatale perfectly.

I must confess: I'm still not sure what she saw in him.

I followed with Welles' version of Othello. He, like almost everyone else, missed the mark on Iago and we're left with someone who's inexplicably malevolent and not someone with his own political motivations. But the rest of it is almost perfect. Welles makes it painfully clear how thin Othello's veneer of confidence is, and the opening scenes with the dead bodies of Othello and Desdemona fill the rest of the film with doom.

His treatment of Macbeth suited me far better. His Lady Macbeth was far more desperate and less cold than almost any other work I've seen thus far. Macbeth is a difficult character because he has to become both more ambitious and insane at the same time, and he still has to have enough strength (as it were) to try to fight as a man and not a preordained destiny at the very end. Welles does all of that and convinces me that one person can. Kudos.

The next Welles film I watched was The Third Man. Oh, I love me some sardonic Joseph Cotten! Here the story feels like it's focusing on Holly Martins' (Cotten) reluctance to be decent, especially when that decency will mean betraying a man who has been a good friend to him, the infamous Harry Lime (Welles). But when he sees what Lime has done- given infants faulty batches of meningitis vaccine- Martins is forced into action. We never get to see what the affected children look like, but the look on Cotten's face says it all.

This was a good film, but I didn't feel it was the masterpiece that so many others do.

I was very surprised to see that Welles had made a version of Jane Eyre. This was directed by Robert Stevens, but Welles played Edward Rochester. While the rest of the world falls over Jane Austen, I'm a solid Bronte girl, and for me it begins and ends with Jane Eyre- and Rochester. Welles made Rochester malevolent, manipulative, secretive and, in unguarded moments, tender and lonely. Perfectly understandable why someone as deprived of love like Jane would fall for him, but you still cheered when she walked away. While I was watching this I understood why Bronte injured him so badly before Jane could return to him: she wasn't safe otherwise.

There's a reason we don't usually think of Welles as a romantic lead, but if he's going to be one in anything, it's this.

Jane Eyre.jpeg

If I was disappointed by The Third Man, I was blown away by Touch of Evil. I believe this is considered by some to be one of the better examples of film noir, and I would agree. It balances the scratch into the dark underbelly of life with a pace that's quick but not frenetic. It's a nail biter from the first scene- even though you know Charlton Heston and Janet Leigh are going to make it through to the end of the movie, you still find yourself transfixed to the screen to make sure that they do. The plot is complicated, but there's just one thing you need to know: Heston's Vargas represents the moral compass Welles' Quinlan used to have, and you know on a visceral level that when Quinlan threatens Vargas' wife (Leigh), he's trying to get at that. The final revelation at the end only makes that insight feel worse.

I ended my little festival by watching the updated version of The Magnificent Ambersons. It was too hard to track down the original at my library, and the word "original" and "Magnificent Ambersons" can lead to lengthy discussions which always ends with "I'd give anything to see the uncut version!" As I understand it, the version I saw was as faithful to the original script as they could be.

We all see the world through our own lens, but I doubt I'm the only one who saw the haunted family inhabiting this universe, and it began with the Civil War veteran Major Amberson. I imagined that he came from poor circumstances and the fabulous wealth he achieved wasn't something he was used to. He may have been used to living without, but he didn't know how to teach his children to live frugally with their wealth. His spoiled but kind daughter raised a son who was equally spoiled but nearly as good-natured, but she had spent too long making him the center of her emotional universe to see it.

The story reminded me a lot of both Washington Square and The Rise of Silas Lapham- nouveau riche that doesn't know what to do with its wealth. In the unrequited love between Isabel and Eugene we see, perhaps, a recognition that wealth married to industry is the best way to insure continued success, and the failure of that relationship to flourish is what leads to the final decay of the once "magnificent" Ambersons. Therefore, the ending, in which we presume Isabel's spoiled son George is about to find redemption through Eugene's daughter Lucy, feels false. Whether that's Welles' failure, I can't tell.

The Magnificent Ambersons (2002) Poster

That was the end of my stint. I know there's more Welles out there, but I think, for now, I've had enough to satisfy me that he was indeed a consistently brilliant writer, actor and director, even if I don't love every one of his choices.

Who else is just as good?

Deb in the City

Friday, August 23, 2013

ICYMI: There's a civil war raging in Syria

And we are doing nothing of consequence about it.

The obvious reply is, "That's usually what happens in civil wars; by definition they're supposed to be internal conflicts." And then we can move onto the classically isolationist American corollary: "We do enough. We've lost enough blood and treasure in [insert conflict here]. It might turn out to be a tragedy, but the rebels are just going to have to fend for themselves and hope for the best."

We've already talked about the ways in which those answers are bankrupt: Syria isn't Iraq or Afghanistan, and every day it becomes even less so. How many people had been killed in the two and a half years before we entered either country? Because while both governments were known for their caprice and brutality, it wasn't 100,000- a number which, I believe, should actually be closer to 150,000 but what's 50,000 when you're talking about that level of devastation?

It's also laughable because Assad is getting help: from Russia, from Iran, from Hezbollah and, through its silence, from China. We say we don't like things like executing children and destroying cities, but if we refuse to do anything while other parties are, it really can't bother us that much.

Don't take my word for it; Invisible Armies: An Epic History of Guerrilla Warfare from Ancient Times to the Present by Max Boot uses part of his 550-page work to show that most insurgents need a little (or a lot of) outside help to succeed. (There are exceptions, of course, but most countries can't be Cuba.) And we have provided it in the past to other countries, even before Iraq and Afghanistan.

If you were unimpressed by 100,000 dead, you won't be impressed by a book. Then Foreign Affairs' latest piece on the country won't impress you either, but read it any way. Understand that our inaction, even it came with crossed fingers and toes, most likely means that Assad could continue his literal reign of terror. Russia and Iran must be so proud.

Bashar al-Assad
And the winner is...