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Wattle Twaddle

turkey

It’s two weeks until Thanksgiving! You know what that means? Any second now the talking heads and “experts” will rise up and moan and rail against retail. Suddenly the plight of the employee and the sanctity of family will take on grave importance. The siren song of the big box store will lure people away from the sacredness of their nuclear hearth! How dire it is to impose commercialism onto such a pure holiday! Never mind the millions of turkey and pilgrim tchotcke festooning tables and mantels. Disregard the families barcalounged in front of football games all. day. long. It is shopping that threatens to erode this holy Norman Rockwell day!

“People shouldn’t have to work on Thanksgiving”; the bobble talking heads will shout. I suppose we should close the hospitals, police force & diners as well. Lots of people work on Thanksgiving. Do we expect the secret service or any branch of the military to lay down their arms and hoist a drumstick? I’m not sure anyone would want pilots, gas station attendants or bus drivers to have the day off. It’s interesting that retail employees are often the concern during this sacred poultry time. Retail workers regularly work evenings and weekends and often quite erratic schedules. Depending upon the shop they can be forced to wear a uniform and carry a see-though bag containing their belongings (the assumption being that they steal.) Retail workers are often on their feet all day long, not allowed to use the same bathroom as the customers and not given their week’s work schedule until the last minute. Throughout most of the year their interests aren’t exactly a priority. Let us just assume the moaners/ranters are just grasping at (cheese) straws and spouting twaddle.

But what of the family?! Whose family exactly? Is there a family so functional and fun loving and their time together so sacred? Is this fictional (if not entirely creepy) family so enamored with each other yet powerless to resist the charms of a doorbuster sale? Many many people do not have a family or one with whom they’d like to be sequestered. To impose some ideal onto every single person is if not callous than surely annoying. Would anyone care if family members went to the movies (spending obscene amounts of money to sit in dark silence together?) What is it about shopping that rankles the pundits? Is it that the shopping in question is for Christmas? Is the melding of holidays the equivalent of “my corn is touching my sweet potatoes!!!!”? If that’s it I suggest they take on the Thanksgiving/Chanukah synchronized celebrating of 2013.

I suspect that at the core of the whining is that any kind of change can make people cranky. Thanksgiving is nothing else if not a holiday revered for its stasis. We eat the same exact foods every year (heaven help the host who changes the stuffing recipe!) We go to or watch the same parade or movies. We take the post-feast walk or nap. There’s nothing wrong with clinging fast to the comfort of tradition. But there are lots of people out there with lots of different needs and desires. The idea that there is only one way to do something is a bit offensive. There’s a reason we serve more than one kind of pie.

 
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Posted by on November 14, 2013 in Holiday, Well-Being

 

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A Mental Health Crisis

illness

Once again extensive and lengthy mental health issues are revealed after a heinous crime. Once again we are left wondering how can this happen? How can anyone living in today’s over-exposed world manage to evade authorities and/or medical attention? How can a person with repeated exhibitions of mental illness have access to weapons? These discoveries of warning signs and bells usually crop up during the first 24 hours of investigation. This speed suggests that the perpetrator’s mental health status was pretty well known. How does this happen?

How do police listen to a man talk about hearing voices and microwave vibrations and not have him hospitalized? How does someone retain his military security clearance after violent and erratic behavior? How does someone with a well-known history of mental imbalance own and keep a gun? It’s actually quite simple. We don’t want to get involved. We see examples of this aversion every single day. When you use a restroom and discover there is no toilet paper, it’s because at least one person before you did not tell management. We don’t want to get involved in even the most benign situations let alone one that might be complicated. And nothing is quite as complicated as mental illness. We are equally consumed with fears of offending someone behaving questionably as we are for our own safety.

We are woefully under equipped both personally and on a larger infrastructure level to deal with mental illness. If you work with someone who exhibits troubling behavior you might screw up your courage and go to personnel. Then what? A competent personnel officer may talk with the employee in question about services and counseling. Then what? Does the veil then lift from the employee’s eyes? Do they trot off to up until that moment an unknown resource known as counseling and become cured? Only in a Lifetime movie. What if it’s your next-door neighbor, the guy in the diner, or the woman on your bus? How do you alert anyone? Who do you tell?

When a person’s behavior becomes impossible to ignore, the police are often called. The police may or may not be well versed in the signs of mental illness. The police usually have some leeway as to whom they can have transported to an emergency room. Then what? If a person in distress makes it to the emergency room they are held for less than two days. If they are not a danger to themselves or others (which is determined by the patient saying the words; I am a danger to myself and others) they are released.

Over the years we’ve become more comfortable with the concept of mental illness. We bandy around terms like post-partum depression, P.T.S.D., eating disorders, O.C.D., etcetera. Many people are comfortable taking psychotropic medication and/or sedatives. But mental illness is far more vast and varied. There’s a whole lotta real estate in between social anxiety and paranoid schizophrenia and most of us are a bit vague about it all. Compounding the confusion is the fact that mental disease can be scary for spectators. Of course in our most rational moments we know that it is far scarier to ignore erratic behavior. But we can hardly be blamed for listening to our own little voice inside saying; “run the other way!”

In a world in which people often assume that someone else will take care of something, mental illness is mysterious and scary and our mental health infrastructure is flimsy at best it is no wonder that we have what we do on our hands. We’ve heard people (including politicians) say that guns don’t belong in the hands of the mentally ill. We’ve never heard what that means. Surely not all mental illnesses are considered in this classification. What has been spelled out is that “people with mental illnesses” will be identified as those who have sought help. This is a ludicrous and meaningless classification as it’s a deterrent to people to seek help, and we don’t really have many options for those seeking help. And that is the issue.

We’ve shrouded mental health issues for which there isn’t a kicky acronym or a medication to be peddled, in a thick cloud of secrecy and shame. We’ve manifested that sentiment in the abysmal mental health system with which we’ve settled. It’s great that you can get a flu shot and blood pressure check while picking up some cat litter. But what of prevention and detection of diseases that could affect public safety? How much devastation does it take before we face this issue? How many lives must be destroyed until we can say; we have a mental health crisis in this country?

 
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Posted by on September 18, 2013 in Cultural Critique, Well-Being

 

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Everyday People*

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The New York City Police Department has a melting pot guide for its officers. This guide offers tips for understanding the ingredients that make up our multicultural stew. At first blush it would seem a little quaint in the 21st century to need such a guide (in New York City). Unless the police recruits are coming from a small town (in the 1950s!) it’s a pretty sure bet that they’ve met or seen people of other backgrounds. But more than a cursory familiarity is needed on the front lines.

What is striking about this 21st century guide is the assumptions it makes. The reports of its content would suggest that it is written for the white, Christian, heterosexual police officer. Unfortunately there’s nothing unique about this approach. “Diversity” manuals are almost always written from that perspective (and without irony!) Social worker guidelines, medical manuals, public and private sector human resource documents are almost always written from the perspective of the white Christian heterosexual. Anyone doubting this need only flip through the tomes in pursuit of the chapter: Understanding White Christian Heterosexuals. Good luck with that.

Beside the obvious bias that this perspective has, there is a larger efficacy issue at hand. Police officers, social workers, et al. who are not white, Christian and heterosexual experience a gap in their training. A social worker, let’s say from an observant Jewish urban background, working in a rural white Christian area is not well served by this type of training. It is assumed that she will know the customs and culture of white rural Christians. The assumption that NYPD officers are white, Christian and heterosexual is (mercifully) outdated. A first-generation Chinese-American police officer may be well versed in the customs of Chinese-Americans but not know the customs and culture of white Christians. It is true that people who are outside of the power-base of a society know some of the ways of that power group. It is an integral key to survival to know of the holidays and some customs of Christians, whites and heterosexuals if you are not of that background. But the more subtle cultural cues (the type which are always addressed in these manuals and training) need to be spelled out clearly for all people of all backgrounds. Creating diversity manuals, which only have the potential of being 100% effective for white Christian heterosexuals transcends irony.

By not viewing whites, Christians and heterosexual people as a “group” we are asserting that these people are the norm and everyone else is a minority or special interest. This perspective is not helpful and is on the verge of being utterly false. If nothing else it is woefully old-fashioned. When it comes to the topic of cultural awareness we must be ahead of the curve not behind it.

*I am no better and neither are you
We are the same whatever we do – Sly Stone (1968)

 
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Posted by on June 11, 2013 in Cultural Critique

 

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Making Noise With Silence

ART=AMMO

Times Square is all about sensory overload. Even during daylight the cacophony of lights and video are enough to give a person vertigo. Thousands of disoriented and staggering people whip their heads up & down and to & fro taking in any and everything. Advertisements flash and beckon from the sidewalk up to the sky. Spotting themselves on the jumbotron, visitors wave frantically to big brother. They squeal and scream in disharmony with ticket hawkers and coupon dealers. Underneath their sound is the white noise of traffic, preaching and ranting.

Yesterday the chaos of sound was silenced and the sight was undistracted for several minutes when a couple of hundred of us raised our hands in synchronicity and protest of gun violence. We held up our hands for 26 seconds, each second representing a victim in Newtown. Instantly the crowd was silenced. We slowly sank to the ground as our ‘partners’ held their hand over our hearts for 26 seconds, and then outlined our bodies in chalk. Lying on the ground, and hearing nothing, absolutely nothing was more realism than most of us bargained for. It was the subway rumbling underneath that reminded us to get up and chalk our partners’ body. We wrote inside the body outlines.; “Crisis” “Boy” “Joseph” “Glock” “Emilie age 6” and quickly dispersed. Making our way through the tour groups and Elmos we looked back. The ground was covered with chalk outlines in a chilling and strangely beautiful tableau. On the perimeter of the ‘performance space’ the assigned police officers still solemnly stood. Moments before the start time they had asked for their friend’s name to be chalked into an outline.

 

Thank you to ART=AMMO for organizing this event.

 
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Posted by on February 25, 2013 in Cultural Critique

 

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The Mean Streets of New York

New York City is a world unto itself. The names of its roads conjure full-length narratives; Wall Street, Broadway, Fifth Avenue. A harbor city with a rich commerce and immigration history, it is also a trendsetter. NYC and its rugged individualism stems from its bursting at the seams size. A recipe with millions of ingredients is bound to be unique. If you look hard enough (and factor in tourists) you might just find every type of human being imaginable in NYC. For years business in NYC mirrored this diversity and singularity.

However, as tourism has boomed commerce has followed suit with entire areas now resembling a mall. Times Square is the most obvious example. An area once considered sordid (if not flat out dangerous) home to PeepLand is now an amusement park for tourists and children. Enormous stores hawking (vending machine) candy and anything and everything branded with the candy’s logo, dot more than one corner of the square. Chain restaurants pop up like three-card-monte games once did. Cartoon and puppet characters now troll the streets in a plush walk that echoes their prostitute foremothers. They shake down “family men” for $5 after giving them a hand in creating a photo op.

But stray from midtown and it’s still pretty much an Elmo-TGI Fridays free zone (for now.) Yes Banana/Taylor/AnthroUrbans dot the landscape from the Bronx (up) to the Battery (down.) But real neighborhoods do not cater to or court tourists. The further you stray from the middle the more interesting things become. Neighborhoods bubble up, dissipate and bubble up again in the span of blocks. Retail reflects the nationality and/or ethnicity of local residents. Style and trend is set and followed locally. For better or worse there are many New Yorkers whose world does not expand beyond a one-mile radius. (How many times have you heard someone boast of “never setting foot above 14th street” or “getting a nosebleed above 86th street”?)

Given the almost insular nature of some city neighborhoods it’s jarring to spot a uniformed police officer (and marked car) stationed in front of a local movie theater. While the theater is not technically in the middle of nowhere, it is nowhere in terms of foot traffic or visibility. Living in New York one becomes accustomed to seeing incongruous evidence of heightened security. Body men outside of a diner? President must be in town. Federal and international agents milling about? Deposed leader in town. But one police officer in front of a rather dull movie theater on a weekday morning? Batman. That’s right, during a summer of obscene levels of street/playground shootings in New York City, there is a police officer assigned to the outer wall of a movie theater.

Decisions are made everyday that focus on image rather than logic or substance. But what makes this particular NYPD decision so baffling is how incredibly reactionary it seems. Was there intel about a ‘copycat’ attack in NYC? Would anyone unbalanced enough to actually do such a thing be deterred by the sight of a lone police officer leaning against a wall? Is there anyone actually living in the area who is concerned about their safety in a specific movie. Is the police officer a comfort to any local people? Or is this officer (and perhaps officers standing in front of every theater showing the film) a public relations move aimed at tourists? Tourists are probably not visiting the playgrounds and streets where children (and adults) have been shot. But they may come to the big city and go to or walk by a movie theater. Cynical conclusion? Perhaps that what comes from too many Grover/Pooh/Goofy/Shrek mingling.

 
 

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