Category Archives: Culture

Map of the day: Europe’s two/country divide

From Eurostat [PDF], and click on the image to enlarge:

Mall för pressemeddelande

John Oliver on America’s mentally ill

Plus a qualification. . .

The very concept of mental illness remains a fraught subject for discourse, both for those to whom the term is applied and for those making the application.

Historically, stigmatizing labels have often been used to punish, banish, and even kill and used to incite mob violence. Just as a weed is a plant out of place, to quote my favorite college prof, so many of today’s mentally ill may be people who would fit comfortably into now-vanished societal niches where they wouldn’t be considered other than normal. And in the inverse conditions, men and women who once were considered sexual deviants and now joining the societal mainstream and are courted by advertisers.

Consider a mental illness diagnosis reported by the New York Times:

In 1851, Dr. Samuel A. Cartwright, a Louisiana surgeon and psychologist, filed a report in the New Orleans Medical and Surgical Journal on diseases prevalent among the South’s black population. Among the various maladies Dr. Cartwright described was “drapetomania” or “the disease causing slaves to run away.”

Though a serious mental illness, drapetomania, wrote Dr. Cartwright, was happily quite treatable: “The cause, in the most of cases, that induces the negro to run away from service, is as much a disease of the mind as any other species of mental alienation, and much more curable. With the advantages of proper medical advice, strictly followed, this troublesome practice that many negroes have of running away can be almost entirely prevented.”

Coined from Greek roots for runaway slave and madness, drapetomonia wasn’t the good doctor’s only neologism. Atlanta social worker and mental health historian Vanessa Jackson quotes from another of his“scientific” diagnoses:

Dr. Cartwright also diagnosed Dysaethesia Aethiopica, or “hebetude of the mind and obtuse sensibility of the body-a disease peculiar to Negroes called by overseers-Rascality. “ Dysethesia Aethiopica differed from other species of mental disease since physical signs and lesions accompanied it. The ever-resourceful Dr. Cartwright determined that whipping could also cure this disorder. Of course, one wonders if the whipping were not the cause of the “lesions” that confirmed the diagnosis. Not surprisingly, Dr. Cartwright was a leading thinker in the pro-slavery movement. Dr. Cartwright, in his article “Diseases and Peculiarities of the Negro Race, “ chided his anti-slavery colleagues by noting “The northern physicians and people have noticed the symptoms, but not the disease from which they spring. They ignorantly attribute the symptoms to the debasing influence of slavery on the mind without considering that those who have never been in slavery, or their fathers before them, are the most afflicted, and the latest from the slave-holding south the least. The disease is the natural offspring of Negro liberty-the liberty to be idle, to wallow in filth, and to indulge in improper food and drinks. “

And what did the good doctor use as evidence for the validity of his diagnoses?

To ascertain the true method of governing negroes, so as to cure and prevent the disease under consideration, we must go back to the Pentateuch, and learn the true meaning of the untranslated term that represents the negro race. In the name there given to that race, is locked up the true art of governing negroes in such a manner that they cannot run away. The correct translation of that term declares the Creator’s will in regard to the negro; it declares him to be the submissive knee-bender.

But there, almost certainly, some who are genuinely afflicted beyond the realm of mere external circumstances, those whose thoughts and emotions march to different drummers.

With that by way of preface, the latest from Last Week Tonight with John Oliver:

Last Week Tonight with John Oliver: Mental Health

Program note:

John Oliver explains how our national system of treating mental health works, or more often than not, how it doesn’t.

Chinatown: Polanski’s film as a Greek tragedy

We’ve always considered Roman Polanski’s masterpiece as perhaps the finest example of American Film Noir and as the truest-ever depiction of the corrupt confluence of water, politics, and developer greed that has shaped California since the first moment European eyes beheld the Golden State’s sandy shores.

So we were pleasantly surprised to learn something new about this seminal 1974 film in an essay, both written and video, posted by Filmscalpel:

Chinatown: A Greek Tragedy

Program notes:

(You’ve had over forty years to watch Chinatown. If you still haven’t, this video essay will spoil the ending for you.)

Roman Polanski’s 1974 classic Chinatown is many things. It is a murder mystery. A family melodrama. It’s a film noir, a neo noir, a sunshine noir. But also: Chinatown is a Greek tragedy. In Greek tragedies, the protagonists are accomplices in their own downfall. They can’t escape their tragic fate, no matter what they try. The outcome is certain from the start.

The same goes for Chinatown. Its ending feels strangely familiar, almost like a déjà vu. That is no coincidence. All elements of the tragic ending were carefully set up. Screenwriter Robert Towne and director Polanski filled their film to the brim with premonitions of its own ending.

Suppressing academic dissent for a foreign power

Freedom of speech faces a massive assault by a foreign power and their domestic allies on America’s college campuses.

The war in the First Amendment is being waged on behalf of an increasingly  belligerent and isolated foreign power which has forged an alliance with the same forces of the radical right which had traditionally been dangerous foes of its inhabitants.

That foreign power is, of course Israel, a nation which has in the course of a few decades become the tail wagging the American dog.

And now an right wing Israeli politician is literally altering American foreign and domestic policy to comply with his imperial ambitions by redefining a social evil into a bludgeon to beat those who decry the Israeli imperial ambitions.

Forthwith, Natan Sharanksky‘s 3D definition of antisemitism:

I believe that we can apply a simple test – I call it the “3D” test – to help us distinguish legitimate criticism of Israel from anti-Semitism.

The first “D” is the test of demonization. When the Jewish state is being demonized; when Israel’s actions are blown out of all sensible proportion; when comparisons are made between Israelis and Nazis and between Palestinian refugee camps and Auschwitz – this is anti- Semitism, not legitimate criticism of Israel.

The second “D” is the test of double standards. When criticism of Israel is applied selectively; when Israel is singled out by the United Nations for human rights abuses while the behavior of known and major abusers, such as China, Iran, Cuba, and Syria, is ignored; when Israel’s Magen David Adom, alone among the world’s ambulance services, is denied admission to the International Red Cross – this is anti-Semitism.

The third “D” is the test of delegitimization: when Israel’s fundamental right to exist is denied – alone among all peoples in the world – this too is anti-Semitism.

That the standards are riddled with logical fallacies should be self evident, but let us give a few examples.

Comparison of Israeli policies to those of the Nazis can be perfectly legitimate, as in Hitler’s sequential gobbling up of territory, declaring each annexation the last, right up until. . . Likewise, comparison the inaction of Nazi troops to the lethal beatings of dozens of Jews by native antisemites in Kaunas, Lithuania, during the earliest days of Hitler’s invasion of the Soviet Union is 1941 to the 1982 massacre of hundreds, perhaps thousands, of Palestinians and Shiites in Lebanese Sabra and Shatila refugee campaigns by Christian militiamen as Israeli troops stood by and watched. Likewise, both Nazi Germany and Israeli engaged in campaigns for Lebensraum [one state seeking a Großdeutschland, the other a Greater Israel], and both states were self-defined ultimate havens for those of an elect and exclusive identity. While, unlike the Nazis, the Israelis haven’t engaged in a campaign of unrelenting genocide, they have, like the Nazis, created a a state with dual class of citizens. So some comparisons are perfectly, just as are some notable events in the history of the United States, as many African Americans and Native Americans can testify.

As for double standards, consider the Israeli government’s ruthless pursuit of critics of its own policies while simultaneously adopting policies with Apartheid-era South Africa and the ruthlessly repressive Saudi regime. And consider America’s own double standard toward Israel, one that Sharansky and his political bedfellows don’t condemn: The refusal of the U.S. to demand that Israel comply with the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.

Equating deligitimation of Israel with antisemitism is to declare that Jews don’t exist apart from a geographical entity, a argument that, on its face, negates nearly two millennia of  Jewish history.

Real antisemitism is essentialism, the claim that Jews qua Jews are fundamentally different, and as such are to be excluded or annihilated, or barring those extremes, penalized simply for existing. Prior to the Enlightenment, antisemitism was more theological than essential, and while European Jews were reviled as accursed Christ-killers, confined to ghettos, and forced to wear distinguished garb, hats, or badges [the Nazis weren’t the first to mandate the wearing of stars], Jews could escape Christian antisemitism to a significant degree simply by converting. Racial antisemitism of the sort practiced by the Nazis allowed for no escape, and Germans whose Jewish parents had converted long before they were born were marked for death as surely as the most observant of the Orthodox.

Make no mistake: Real antisemitism is despicable. But Sharansky’s redefinition is simply a justification of ethnic imperialism.

Nonetheless, relentless pressure from Israel and its political machinery in the U.S., epitomized by not limited to AIPAC, has led to the adoption of Sharanky’s potted definition by the U.S. Department of State.

And now that definition msy be coming to the University of California, as Glenn Greenwald notes at The Intercept:

One of the most dangerous threats to campus free speech has been emerging at the highest levels of the University of California system, the sprawling collection of 10 campuses that includes UCLA and UC Berkeley. The university’s governing Board of Regents, with the support of University President Janet Napolitano and egged on by the state’s legislature, has been attempting to adopt new speech codes that — in the name of combating “anti-Semitism” — would formally ban various forms of Israel criticism and anti-Israel activism.

Under the most stringent such regulations, students found to be in violation of these codes would face suspension or expulsion. In July, it appeared that the Regents were poised to enact the most extreme version, but decided instead to push the decision off until September, when they instead would adopt non-binding guidelines to define “hate speech” and “intolerance.”

One of the Regents most vocally advocating for the most stringent version of the speech code is Richard Blum, the multi-millionaire defense contractor who is married to Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California. At a Regents meeting last week, reported the Los Angeles Times, Blum expressly threatened that Feinstein would publicly denounce the university if it failed to adopt far more stringent standards than the ones it appeared to be considering, and specifically demanded they be binding and contain punishments for students found to be in violation.

The University of California is merely the latest front in the battle for free speech on America’s college campuses in the face of an onslaught of pressure from Israel and its powerful allies, notes UC Berkeley’s Judith Butler, Maxine Elliot Professor of Comparative Literature in the Departments of Rhetoric and Comparative Literature, in a discussion with Dima Khalidi, Director of Palestinian Legal (formerly Palestine Solidarity Legal Support) and Cooperating Counsel with the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), and Sharmini Peries of The Real News Network:

Reports Expose Zionists Stifling Dissent on US Campuses

From the transcript:

PERIES: Judith, the Stifling Dissent, the report done by Jewish Voices for Peace, what are the types of incidences or suppression here that are, you know, categorically that led you to issue such a report?

JUDITH BUTLER: Yes, well, first let me just say that I think Jewish Voices for Peace is enormously pleased to be publishing its report at the same time that Palestine Legal publishes its, its report. And I think these two reports should be read together, and they should–they should be understood as an indication of a, of a, of a growing indignation on the part of many people concerned with campus politics and academic freedom.

With these tactics of intimidation, and in my view and the view of the report, really, there are kind of four general areas of concern. One is intimidation, the intimidation of students, undergraduates, graduates. Intimidation of faculty, especially contingent faculty and nontenured faculty. Censorship of intervention into the curriculum we teach them, books we, we teach, and sometimes also not allowing faculty or activists to speak on campus when their views don’t coincide with mainstream Zionist understandings of the state of Israel and Palestine.

I think there’s also, in addition to intimidation and censorship, there is another way to limit debate, which is simply to say, as Hillel does, any speaker who doesn’t actually defend the same view of Zionism that they hold to is not welcome at Hillel. So those students, mainly Jewish students who come to Hillel to understand their world and to understand Jewish values, are not allowed to actually hear a variety of viewpoints about Zionism at, at Hillel itself. Why, why–why wouldn’t Hillel be a place that invites an open and robust debate? So what we’ve seen is the production of Open Hillel, a group of students who had to, to break off from Hillel because it limited debate so severely.

And lastly, of course, we’re also seeing forms of retaliation. Some of them are implicit. Young faculty members or graduate students who take certain kinds of critical positions on the state of Israel are being threatened with the loss of job, we did see that in the Steven Salaita case. They’re being threatened with, with, with professional devastation and limitation. And also some state assemblies are now under pressure trying to pass alws that retaliate against individuals or institutions that have supported the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement. All of, all of these are, are issues of great concern.

And if all this sound like a familiar issue to your friendly neighborhood blogger, it is.

Headline of the day: Yes, it really happened

Back in the old days when newspapers were published with lead type, a technology that offered no room for the creative “type-squeezing” allowed by modern digital technology, pages often didn’t quite match the layouts drafted by editors, so the gaps were filled in by what journalists called “itchy piles” advertisements, tiny ads selling marginal products, or by one- or two-paragraph “fillers” transmitted by AP and UPI for just that purpose.

Invariably, many if not most of these fillers were about eccentrics in little English towns with names like Blattersworth-on-the-Avon.

Well, now the tables have turned and its British papers who are filling in their holes with tales of eccentric Americans, with The Independent in the lead.

Following up on yesterday’s offering, the latest from The Independent:

Doritos attacked: Republican hopeful Mike Huckabee boycotts makers of ‘anti-Christian’ crisps

Frito-Lay offered to send a bag of rainbow-coloured Doritos to anyone who donated $10 or more to the It Gets Better project

Not Sweet: Big Sugar & Big Science Collude

A dentist with a strong sense of compassion and the skills of an investigative UC San Francisco post-doctoral fellow Crista Kearns has devoted herself to exposing the pernicious interface between three powerful institutions, government, the sugar industry, and academia.

What triggered her curiosity was the failure of federal guidelines to include cautions about sugar guidelines for the education of diabetic patients in healthy food choices. This led her to the discovery of a potent nexus of corruption, where fear of the loss of corporate clout and funds has intimidated legislators to set recommended daily maximums for sugar intake, recruited academic scientists to produce distorted research findings, and launched public relations campaigns to hide the real nature of our sweet addiction.

Kearns has written extensively about the politics and health consequences of Big Sugar’s products, and in this presentation to the 5th Annual UCSF Global Oral Health Symposium, she outlines some of her findings.

From UCTV:

Sugar Industry Manipulation of Research: Implications for Oral Health

Program notes:

The UCSF School of Dentistry hosted the 5th Annual UCSF Global Oral Health Symposium, featuring presentations related to nutrition, sugar, and oral health worldwide. This presentation by Dr. Cristin Kearns, from the UCSF School of Medicine is one of a series of three presentations that address the science connecting the diet, nutrition, and oral health, as well as the challenges in setting guidelines and policy to reduce sugar consumption and improve nutrition worldwide. Recorded on 05.05.2015.

What make Kearns even more unique is her skill as an investigative journalist [as in these two articles for Mother Jones] as well as as an academic [as in this peer-reviewed research in PLOS Medicine].

Writing for Mother Jones, she described the critical turning point in her life, after she became frustrated with the failure of those federal diabetes education guidelines:

I already had a demanding schedule managing dental operations for Kaiser Permanente’s Dental Care Program, so I gave up TV and spent my evenings staring at Google search results instead. It took a while to hone my searches, but I eventually found enough evidence to convince me there was a story to be had. I quit my day job and dug deeper, getting away from the internet and into the musty paper archives of university libraries.

Fifteen months later, near the end of my financial rope, I tried not to get overexcited when I came across a promising reference in a library catalog of files from a bankrupt sugar company. The librarian who had archived the files wasn’t sure they contained what I was looking for; the bulk of the collection consisted of photos kept around to document the impact of the beet sugar industry on farm labor.

There in the library reading room, standing over a cardboard storage carton, I opened a folder and caught a glimpse of the first document. I sunk down in my chair and whispered “thank you” to nobody in particular. For there, below the blue letterhead of the Sugar Association, the trade group that would become the focus of our story, “Sweet Little Lies,” the word “CONFIDENTIAL” leapt off the page. I didn’t yet know what I had, but I knew I was on the right path.

Kerans also has her own blog, Sugar Politics.

Replay: Capturing two transmutations of light

Photography is, above all else, about light, about capturing photons through either photochemical response [film photography] or photoelectronic excitation [digital]. Film photographers worked with a range of film, both positive and negative, black and white, and color. And color films harbored their peculiar ways of displaying the light they had captured, with, for instance, Kodak’s Ektachrome transparency film yielded images with the color balance weighted toward cooler greens and, as Paul Simon rhapsodized, Kodachrome produced “those nice bright colors”:

The song became something of a personal anthem, given that we also shot Nikons and Kodachrome and shared the experience of in-the-moment joy that can come with the single-minded openness to the unexpected a camera can bring.

Kodachrome died in 2009, Ektachrome in 2013. But as film died, digital thrived, first in the form of very expensive low-resolution still cameras, evolving into cheaper, higher resolution still cameras, them to movie cameras, and finally to today’s cell phones capturing both still and moving images.

And forget the limitations of film when it comes to playing with colors; digital lifts all constraints, adding the capability for seamless alternation and distortions, of which cats seem to be the principal subjects.

The camera’s lens plays a critical role in image capture, with macro lenses capturing the very close and telephoto lenses capturing the very distant. The width of a lens opening also changes the nature of the image, with very narrow apertures creating images with great depth of field, in which images both near and far appear in sharp focus; conversely, wide apertures yield images with a sharp center of focus and in which both near and far are blurred.

Another lens polarity is between the extreme telephoto and the fisheye. Extreme telephoto lenses resemble inverted cannon barrels, while the most extreme fisheye would be nearly hemispherical in profile. Telephoto lenses result in sharp but very narrow focus, while fisheye lenses distort [now, thanks to digital,  “correctable” by software].

For a good example of fisheye distortion, see the image at the top of our blog, a self portrait as seen in our reflection in a fisheye safety mirror at the entrance to a narrow passageway at the La Note cafe in downtown Berkeley.

So with that by way of preface, a reprise of a 27 November 2012 post containing one [guess] of our favorite images and a link to another [and click on all to enlarge ’em]:

Seen through glass, more or less darkly

A pair of glass-themed images from an August, 2004, road trip with younger daughter Samantha to the woolly wilds of Northern California.

First, an image of the view outside the former home of an old friend in Petrolia, as seen through a glass sphere on the window sill:

1 August 2004, Minolta Dimage A1, ISO 100, 43 mm, 1/125 sec, f3.5

1 August 2004, Minolta Dimage A1, ISO 100, 43 mm, 1/125 sec, f3.5

Next, a glimpse of the play of light through the grid of prismatic circular elements of the French-made sodium glass Fresnel lens — made with a long-lost secret formula — of the landmark Point Arena lighthouse, located on a stunning stretch of coastline:

4 August 2004, Minolta Dimage A1, ISO 100, 15 mm, 1/125 sec, f4

4 August 2004, Minolta Dimage A1, ISO 100, 15 mm, 1/125 sec, f4