Monday, September 15, 2014

Subsidizing corporate welfare with low minimum wages

Well, folks, it's that time of year again when I simply don't have a single solitary hour of time to contribute to this blog. You can thank classes named psychopathology, sexual disorders, human growth and development, and so on.

So, today, I'll defer to Bill Maher to explain a conviction I've long held. I don't always like the guy — he can be more than a bit of a self-promotional ass — but he's pretty spot on with this one.

Food stamps. Health care. Housing assistance. If we as a society don't compel profit-hungry corporations to pay their workers a livable wage and benefits, guess whose responsibility that becomes?

Friday, August 29, 2014

A time to do for Mark Driscoll what he wouldn't do for others

Mark Driscoll. Photo: Mars Hill Church
I've talked about Mark Driscoll on this blog a time or two. Some of you may have heard of him; others may not. If you live in Seattle, you certainly have.

He's the highly publicized megachurch pastor who has built himself a small empire here in the Puget Sound region over the past decade or so, establishing (what some might wrongly think is) a hip place for disaffected young people to go and learn about Jesus in one of the most unchurched cities in the country.

He's akin to a shock jock and often makes deliberately provocative and offensive comments about gay people, women, our president, and almost anyone and anything else — all in the interest of keeping his name in the headlines.

Well, now his name is in the headlines more than it's ever been before, most assuredly for reasons he doesn't want.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Melancholy and manhood: A lonely, hidden battle

Abraham Lincoln and his somber countenance
It's the dog days of summer for me, which means it's the last two weeks of break before I head back for my second year of grad school, which means I'm using the down time to write as many posts as I can before this blog again has to play second fiddle to my studies.

I want to follow up on a post I wrote a week or two ago and expand on one of the points I made: "As someone who periodically struggles with depression myself, I always used to chastise myself for feeling a sense of profound melancholy when my circumstances are so good."

Again, I kind of hate the word "depression," and I definitely hate the word "clinical," and I absolutely despise the phrase "mental illness" in relation to this topic. The three put together all imply that there's something wrong with you, and that there's an obvious fix for it — just pop a pill once a day and you'll be good. Just like strep throat or something.

Abraham Lincoln had a well-documented history of what he and those close to him described as "the great melancholy." If you look at a picture of our 16th president, you can see it in his eyes. There's a heaviness to his appearance that goes well beyond the black-and-white, rigid attributes that typify portraits from the era in which he lived.

And you know what? When I look at a picture of Abraham Lincoln, I see — and feel — myself in his pensive gaze.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Don't worry. America isn't alone in harboring climate change deniers.

Don't worry. America isn't alone in harboring climate change deniers.

I don't often have the opportunity to defend the United States against the likes of other Western nations that are supposedly more "progressive" than we are. But this issue presents some serious low-hanging fruit. At least our president acknowledges that climate change is real and caused by human activity — and would do something about it if he wasn't up against a Congress whose only priority is to obstruct and sabotage.

On the other hand:
Stephen Harper and Tony Abbott, prime ministers of Canada and Australia respectively, are both evidently committed to the delusion that humanity isn't on the verge of environmental catastrophe caused by its own actions.

Mind you, these guys aren't a couple of bumpkins from somewhere on the plains of Saskatchewan or the parched hinterlands of the Outback. They're the leaders of two countries that American liberals often look upon with envy.

Canada and Australia: With all due respect, you'd better give them the boot — or it won't be long before your cities aren't great places to live anymore.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Yes, voter suppression tactics are racist — and abominable

States With New Voting Restrictions Since 2010 Election
Source: Brennan Center for Justice
I want to follow up on my post from Monday in case anyone was confused as to why I related the racial discord in Ferguson, Missouri, with Republican antipathy against President Obama and an ongoing, diarrhea-like torrent of voter suppression measures across the country.

On Tuesday, it was reported that activists in Ferguson have been setting up tables to encourage local residents to register to vote. Not surprisingly, the Republican Party of Missouri swiftly condemned the action:
In an interview with Breitbart News, Missouri RNC executive director Matt Wills expressed outrage about the reports…"This is not just a tragedy for the African American community, this is a tragedy for the Missouri community as well as the community of what we call America," he said. "Injecting race into this conversation and into this tragedy, not only is not helpful, but it doesn’t help a continued conversation of justice and peace."
Now, hold the phone. Is this guy really suggesting that race was "injected" into this conversation not by the killing of an unarmed black teenager, but by an attempt on the part of local activists to get citizens to sign up to vote?

According to this Missouri Republican, that's where the race card comes into play?

In a word, yes — and sadly, it makes a lot of sense that he said that, at least from his perspective.

Monday, August 18, 2014

The specter of racism in America: Hidden in plain sight

Photo: Loavesofbread, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
The trouble with institutional racism is that it's very easy to deny and very difficult to prove, even when its existence is painfully obvious.

We can't prove (at least not yet, and maybe never) that the killing of Michael Brown — an unarmed black teenager who was shot at least six times by a white cop in Ferguson, Missouri — was racially motivated. The police department in that community will undoubtedly deny it forever, barring the discovery of some damning evidence.

Instead: The young man was a suspect in a robbery, right? And then he assaulted a police officer and reached for the officer's gun, didn't he?

Didn't he?

At this point, who knows. It's the word of uniformed law enforcement agents (many of whom, incidentally, now don military gear instead) versus the word of eyewitnesses.

Absent such ironclad proof of a racial motive, the public is left to grapple with a laundry list of circumstantial evidence, much of which is laid out masterfully by John Oliver in this segment. Take, for example, the fact that the population of the town of Ferguson is two-thirds black, while its police force is overwhelmingly white. Or the fact that cops in that town and region have a well-documented history of targeting minorities for searches and arrest. Or the fact that St. Louis is one of the most racially segregated metropolitan areas in America, which invariably serves as both a foundation and fuel for these types of incidents.

Sure, at least for now, we can't prove that the police officer in Ferguson repeatedly and fatally shot an unarmed teenager just because he was black. But this tragedy and its aftermath bring up issues that we can't escape just because we lack proof of institutional racial bias. And Ferguson, Missouri, is hardly the only current example of relevance in this realm.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Five important truths about depression

Rest in peace.
I hate to jump on the social media bandwagon over Robin Williams' death. It bothers me deeply that we always have to wait for either the death of a celebrity or an unspeakable act of violence in order to discuss the issue of mental illness. Then, of course, after enough time has passed, the topic once again fades into the background — until the next tragedy takes place.

For better or for worse, though, headlines such as the suicide of a beloved actor always make clear that chronic depression is as serious of a medical condition as, say, heart disease or cancer. And in light of this recent event, there are a number of overlooked factors about it that need to be highlighted. Here they are.

1. It's a hidden, often stigmatized battle, particularly for men.

Even severe depression can be easy to conceal from almost everyone, and in fact many people do. As this article points out, they understandably fear being viewed as weak. This line from the piece sums it up best: "There's no stigma in talking about a broken arm. But a broken mind or perhaps a broken heart — a lot of people feel like they're not allowed to go there or be honest about it."

Exactly. Physical illnesses or injuries like fractured bones can be clearly seen, so no one questions them. Mental and emotional ailments, on the other hand, are almost entirely hidden from external view, and those who haven't experienced them or suffered from them often don't understand them. This lack of understanding can prompt some to assume the worst about the affected person, especially if it's a man. Even in contemporary culture, men are generally taught be strong and exercise control over their feelings — and certainly never cry. That all comes at a terrible price for so many.