Quotulatiousness

February 24, 2018

QotD: The use of the [awkward silence] in conversation

Filed under: Health, Quotations — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 01:00

And then there’s [awkward silence]. I learned this one from the psychoanalysts. Nobody likes an awkward silence. If a patient tells you something, and you are awkwardly silent, then the patient will rush to fill the awkward silence with whatever they can think of, which will probably be whatever they were holding back the first time they started talking. You won’t believe how well this one works until you try it. Just stay silent long enough, and the other person will tell you everything. It’s better than waterboarding.

The only problem is when two psychiatrists meet. One of my attendings tried to [awkward silence] me at the same time I was trying to [awkward silence] him, and we ended up just staring at each other for five minutes until finally I broke down laughing.

“I see you find something funny,” he said. “Tell me more.”

Scott Alexander, “3/4”, Slate Star Codex, 2016-07-12.

February 22, 2018

Dieting and mental health

Filed under: Health — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

Kaitlin Ugolik discusses her own recent experience of trying a new diet:

We don’t often discuss the mental impact of restrictive diets like Whole30 (no “inflammatory” foods), keto (low carb, high fat) or paleo (foods supposedly eaten during the Paleolithic era). People like to tout the weight loss and mood-boosting effects of these diets, but experts say they can push some of us toward disordered eating.

I tried Whole30 this January, and at first I kind of enjoyed it. I tend to get overwhelmed by options and confused about what’s the latest “right” thing to eat for breakfast, so it was nice to have guidelines. It gave me an excuse to make smoothies and try some new dinner recipes, too.

A few days in, though, I started noticing some disconcerting thoughts. I was reading the labels on everything and starting to think of anything that had any kind of processed sugar — cane sugar, brown rice syrup, anything — as “bad.” I also noticed that some of Whole 30’s carceral language was starting to stick in my head. Foods are labeled as “compliant” or “non-compliant,” for example. Knowing several people who have struggled with eating disorders, I wondered if diets like this, that say you can’t even eat beans or quinoa, might be a gateway to disordered eating for some people. The consensus among the experts I spoke to is that they are.

“All weight-loss diets work against learning to eat ‘normally’ according to appetite cues, which is also called intuitive eating,” said Karen Koenig, a Florida-based social worker who counsels people with eating disorders. “The more we restrict eating—by food type, weighing food, or by counting calories or fat grams—the more we ignore and override our body’s signals for hunger, satisfaction and fullness.”

While some people do benefit from restrictive diets because of their choice-limiting nature, like I did at the beginning, many have a hard time not taking it to the extreme. Most people are taking part in these diets as part of some kind of goal, whether it’s to lose weight, clear up their skin, or just feel better. If (and more likely when) it doesn’t work, it’s normal for anyone to get frustrated. But for people who are already prone to anxiety and obsessive thinking (*raises hand*) or those who have “addictive personalities,” a detox or diet can actually lead to something much more dangerous.

February 2, 2018

Castro’s son “Fidelito” is dead

Filed under: Americas — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

BBC News just reported:

The 68-year-old son of Cuban revolutionary Fidel Castro, Fidel Ángel Castro Díaz-Balart, has died in Havana after taking his own life, according to state media.

He was found on Thursday morning and is said to have suffered from depression.

Popularly known as “Fidelito”, he was first born son of the former president, who died in November 2016.

Castro Díaz-Balart worked as a nuclear physicist and an adviser to the Council of the State of Cuba.

January 27, 2018

QotD: “Hate” laws and other redundant bits of legislation

Filed under: Law, Media, Quotations — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

As a customary principle of politics, whether “electoral” or “appointive,” I think it unwise to adjust legislation, or offer to adjust it, in response to behaviour by the criminally insane. This confers too much power on them. Verily, it is a mark of our present social condition that “reforms” are guided more and more by the hardest and strangest cases. […]

The need, specifically, for new “hate laws” is zero, at most. Murder has never been an expression of affection, to any individual or group; specific hatreds have always been considered in the interpretation of motives. We have enough crimes already, without inventing redundant ones in accord with the latest fashions. The intention behind them is never exemplary of mental and moral hygiene.

Which points again to the deeper “problematic” (one tires of the misuse of this word) in politics as practised today. We not only legislate in response to the transient behaviour of the criminally insane. Worse, our legislators, though arguably sane to start with, get in the habit of indulging insanity, even within themselves.

David Warren, “Orlando”, Essays in Idleness, 2016-06-14.

December 27, 2017

QotD: Psychology

Filed under: Health, Humour, Quotations — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 01:00

Psychology is nothing at all like a science and those who practice it are nothing at all like scientists. Mostly they’re liberals. No two shrinks ever agree on a diagnosis, and official definitions of various mental illnesses are a grammatical and logical laugh riot. The great truth of life is that understanding character is an art, best left to master novelists and story-tellers.

L. Neil Smith, “Why the Left-Wing Seems Insane (Mostly Because They Are)”, Libertarian Enterprise, 2016-05-08.

December 25, 2017

Filling Trenches – General PoWs – Blindness I OUT OF THE TRENCHES

Filed under: Europe, History, Military, WW1 — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

The Great War
Published on 23 Dec 2017

Ask your questions: http://outofthetrenches.thegreatwar.tv

December 14, 2017

QotD: Terrorism and mental illness

Filed under: Quotations, Religion — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

In the West, the conviction that you must kill people in order to receive 72 virgins in paradise would be considered a mental illness. In Islam, it’s a mainstream belief. 89% of Pakistanis believe in genies. But then again genies are present in Islamic scripture. 89% of Tunisians believe in witchcraft. 72% of Iraqis believe in the “evil eye”. 1 in 5 Afghanis have witnessed an exorcism. Half of Pakistanis believe in fairies.

Saudi religious police have a special Anti-Witchcraft Unit and there are actual witch trials. Majorities of Muslims don’t believe that Muslims carried out the 9/11 attacks. 40% of Pakistanis believe that fathers have a right to kill their daughters if they engage in premarital sex. Half of British Muslims think that the Jews are in league with the Freemasons. A third believes that Princess Diana was murdered to stop her from marrying a Muslim.

Ideas and behaviors associated with mental illness in the West are mainstream in parts of the Muslim world which exist in a pre-rational medieval universe brimming with conspiracy theories, paranoid delusions, lack of personal responsibility, erratic emotions and an inability to apply reason to reality.

Western psychiatric benchmarks don’t mean much in the Muslim world where witchcraft is a major problem, Jewish conspiracy theories abound and genies are responsible for psychiatric problems. Killing your daughter or just non-Muslims in general is socially approved behavior. The Muslim world has fundamentally different social norms than we do. And that means very different concepts of sanity.

Misattributing Muslim terrorism to madness is convenient, but meaningless. It’s a way for us to avoid dealing with the difficult questions posed by Islam. And that avoidance is also a form of insanity.

Daniel Greenfield, “Insane Muslim Terrorists”, Sultan Knish, 2016-05-13.

November 14, 2017

QotD: Depressive writing leads to depressed readers

Filed under: Books, Quotations — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

Agatha Christie gave her characters foibles, sure, and often there was a tight intrigue and not just the murderer but two or three other people would be no good. BUT the propensity of the characters gave you the impression of being good sort of people. Perhaps muddled, confused, or driven by circumstances to the less than honorable, but in general driven by principles of honor or love (even sometimes the murderer) and wanting to do the right thing for those they cared about.

You emerge from a Christie memory with the idea, sure, that of course there was unpleasantness, but most of the people are not horrors.

How did we get from there to now, where the characters aren’t even evil? They’re just dingy and grey and tainted, all of them equally. The victim, the detectives, the witnesses, will be vile and contorted, grotesque shapes walking in the world of men.

If this is a reflection of the psyches of most authors, I suddenly understand a lot about the self-hatred of western intellectuals.

But I wonder if it’s a fashion absorbed and perpetuated, communicated like the flu, a low grade dingy patina of … not even evil, just discontent and depression and a feeling that everyone in the world is similarly tainted.

I realized that was part of what was depressing me, partly because I’m a depressive, so I monitor my mood fairly regularly. BUT what about normal people? What if they just absorb this world view — and the idea that it’s smart and sophisticated, too — through popular entertainment, through movies and books and shows and then spew it out into the world, because it stands like a veil between them and reality, changing the way they perceive everything.

[…] such despairing stuff, such low grade despair and unpleasantness change us, particularly when they’re unremitting. You internalize these thoughts, they become part of you. If humanity is a plague, who will have children? If humanity is a plague, why not encourage the criminals and terrorists? If humanity is a plague who is clean?

You. Me. Most human beings. Oh, sure, we’re not perfect — I often think people who write this lack the ability to distinguish between not being perfect and being corrupt and evil — and we often have unlovely characteristics. But, with very few exceptions, most people I know TRY to be decent by their lights, try to raise their kids, help their friends and generally leave the world a little better.

Now, are we representative of everyone? Of course not. A lot of people are raised in cultures (here and abroad) that simply don’t give their best selves a chance. But why enshrine those people and not the vast majority who are decent and well… human?

Even in a mystery there should be innocent and well-intentioned people. It gives contrast to the darker and more evil people and events.

Painting only in dark tints is no more accurate than painting only in pale tints. It doesn’t denote greater artistry. It just hangs a grey, blotched veil between your reader and reality, a veil that hides what is worthwhile in humans and events.

Make yourself aware of the veil and remove it. It’s time the low-grade depression of western civilization were defeated. No, it’s not perfect, but with all its failings it has secured the most benefits to the greatest number of people in the long and convoluted history of mankind. Self-criticism might be appropriate, but not to the exclusion of everything else.

Say no to the dingy-grey-patina. Wash your eyes and look at the world anew. And then paint in all the tints not just grey or black.

Sarah Hoyt, “A Dingy Patina”, According To Hoyt, 2015-10-22.

October 7, 2017

QotD: Madman or academic on the loose?

Filed under: Health, Humour, Quotations — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 01:00

Chesterton, somewhere, memorably notes that the madman is not without reason. Verily, in the mental department, he has lost everything except his reason. I remember this every time I find myself arguing with an atheist: that it is best not to. The mere idea of “pure reason” enabled a certain Immanuel Kant to anticipate post-modernity, set the stage for some bizarre descendants, and reset all our metaphysical dials to an atheist default position. Not that he was intending this. He was only taking a step beyond Hume. “Fully autonomous reason,” shall we call it, is a powerfully destructive force. Perfection of the intellect is no more possible, down here on earth, than a life entirely without sin. The belief that we can elevate ourselves by the synaptic bootstraps of our wee tiny brains, has much for which to answer.

In Parkdale for instance: a district of this city renowned for its accumulation of “outpatients,” on and off their “meds.” They also illustrate Chesterton’s aphorism. Often they are reasoning, aloud; and seldom on my walks do I detect any logical errors. From the facts or premisses that they have supposed, their (often angry) mutterings to themselves flow quite naturally. I have even overheard some impressive hair-splitting; and have often thought that, with a little anger management, they could be candidates for tenure — at Ryerson, if not the U of T.

David Warren, “Not all there”, Essays in Idleness, 2015-12-15.

September 4, 2017

The mental health crisis on campus

Filed under: Education, Health, USA — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

In Spiked, Naomi Firsht shares the concerns of Jonathan Haidt about the rise of mental health issues at US universities:

The heightened vulnerability of college students has had a chilling effect on discussion in the academic world, and Haidt sees this in his day-to-day experience on campus. “There is a rapidly spreading feeling that we are all walking on eggshells, both students and faculty. That we are now accountable, not for what we say, but for how anyone who hears it might take it. And if you have to speak, thinking about the worst reading that anyone could put on your words, that means you cannot be provocative, you cannot take risks, that means you will play it safe when you speak… This is what I’m seeing in my classes when topics related to race or gender come up – which we used to be able to talk about 10 years ago, but now it’s painful and there’s a lot of silence.”

This is disastrous for academic life, as Haidt points out: “A university cannot function if people will not put their ideas forth, will not contest ideas that they think are wrong, will not stand up for ideas that they think are right.”
He is keen to emphasise that this is not a right-left issue. “Several people on the left are noticing that college students are less effective politically as activists, as progressives, when they have this morality and this ethos with such heavy concept creep.”

Haidt believes there is a mental-health crisis on campus: “I have never seen such rapid increase in indicators of anxiety and depression as we have seen in the past few years”, he says. But his suggested approach is unlikely to find favour with student communities fond of Safe Spaces and therapeutic puppy-petting. “If you think about it as a mental-health crisis”, he explains, “then you might be tempted to say: we need more help, more counselling, more protection for those who are suffering from mental illness. But if you look at it that way you will miss the broader pattern, which is that for 20 to 30 years now, Americans have been systematically undermining the development of resilience or toughness of their children.” Referencing the work of Lenore Skenazy, author of Free-range Kids, he concludes: “We have made our children too safe to succeed.”

In his forthcoming book Misguided Minds: How Three Bad Ideas Are Leading Young People, Universities, and Democracies Toward Failure, Haidt claims that certain ideas are impairing students’ chances of success. Those ideas being: your feelings are always right; what doesn’t kill you makes you weaker; and the world is divided into good people and bad people. “If we can teach those three ideas to college students”, he says, “we cannot guarantee they will fail, but we will minimise their odds at success”.

So how can we resolve the problem of vulnerability among young Americans? Haidt says part of the solution must begin in childhood and will require parents to give their children daily periods of “unsupervised time”. “We have to accept the fact that in that unsupervised time there will be name-calling, conflict and exclusion. And while it’s painful for parents to accept this, in the long-run it will give them children that are not suffering from such high rates of anxiety and depression.”

August 14, 2017

When did you first suspect that the world was being run by incompetent idiots?

Filed under: Government, Media, Politics, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Ace discusses the moment he realized there was a perfectly reasonable explanation for the otherwise incomprehensible way our government and mainstream media operate:

Here’s a question I’d like to ask. I’ll try to figure out my own answer in the comments. But this is what I’m interested in:

When did you begin to suspect that the people in charge of the government and the media were dumb, ignorant, and sometimes actually deranged, and what confirmed it for you? What were your feelings about this? That is, was it like taking the Red Pill? Was it scary?

I’m trying to remember when this happened to me. Oh, the media I knew was biased; but I didn’t realize until the last decade that it was pig-ignorant and incompetent and filled with people who are mentally unwell.

The government — well, I blithely assumed that people who ran the government (or other major institutions) were generally at least low-level qualified.

At some point I realized we are being led — or rather controlled, as we do not follow willingly, but through coercion — by misfits, morons, and maniacs.

It was both scarifying and liberating, in a dark way.

But I think these realizations came kind of slowly and I’m trying to think of major things that crystallized them.

It also changed my opinion of many of my fellow citizens and onetime allies: I now view them as fools and maniacs (or worse) themselves for apparently seeming to continue to believe that Everything’s Okay and we’re still being led (controlled) by, if not the best and brightest, certainly the somewhat good and reasonably intelligent.

August 5, 2017

“… theirs is a generation shaped by the smartphone and by the concomitant rise of social media. I call them iGen”

Filed under: Technology, USA — Tags: , , , , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

In The Atlantic, “Gen Xer” Jean Twenge is worried about the ways the new generation differ from their Millennial predecessors:

Click to see full-size image

I’ve been researching generational differences for 25 years, starting when I was a 22-year-old doctoral student in psychology. Typically, the characteristics that come to define a generation appear gradually, and along a continuum. Beliefs and behaviors that were already rising simply continue to do so. Millennials, for instance, are a highly individualistic generation, but individualism had been increasing since the Baby Boomers turned on, tuned in, and dropped out. I had grown accustomed to line graphs of trends that looked like modest hills and valleys. Then I began studying Athena’s generation.

Around 2012, I noticed abrupt shifts in teen behaviors and emotional states. The gentle slopes of the line graphs became steep mountains and sheer cliffs, and many of the distinctive characteristics of the Millennial generation began to disappear. In all my analyses of generational data — some reaching back to the 1930s — I had never seen anything like it.

At first I presumed these might be blips, but the trends persisted, across several years and a series of national surveys. The changes weren’t just in degree, but in kind. The biggest difference between the Millennials and their predecessors was in how they viewed the world; teens today differ from the Millennials not just in their views but in how they spend their time. The experiences they have every day are radically different from those of the generation that came of age just a few years before them.

What happened in 2012 to cause such dramatic shifts in behavior? It was after the Great Recession, which officially lasted from 2007 to 2009 and had a starker effect on Millennials trying to find a place in a sputtering economy. But it was exactly the moment when the proportion of Americans who owned a smartphone surpassed 50 percent.

The more I pored over yearly surveys of teen attitudes and behaviors, and the more I talked with young people like Athena, the clearer it became that theirs is a generation shaped by the smartphone and by the concomitant rise of social media. I call them iGen. Born between 1995 and 2012, members of this generation are growing up with smartphones, have an Instagram account before they start high school, and do not remember a time before the internet. The Millennials grew up with the web as well, but it wasn’t ever-present in their lives, at hand at all times, day and night. iGen’s oldest members were early adolescents when the iPhone was introduced, in 2007, and high-school students when the iPad entered the scene, in 2010. A 2017 survey of more than 5,000 American teens found that three out of four owned an iPhone.

The advent of the smartphone and its cousin the tablet was followed quickly by hand-wringing about the deleterious effects of “screen time.” But the impact of these devices has not been fully appreciated, and goes far beyond the usual concerns about curtailed attention spans. The arrival of the smartphone has radically changed every aspect of teenagers’ lives, from the nature of their social interactions to their mental health. These changes have affected young people in every corner of the nation and in every type of household. The trends appear among teens poor and rich; of every ethnic background; in cities, suburbs, and small towns. Where there are cell towers, there are teens living their lives on their smartphone.

It could be that the widespread use of available technology to “virtualize” adolescence is at least to a degree a reaction to helicopter parenting.

H/T to Kate at Small Dead Animals for the link.

June 29, 2017

Homeschooling is looking like a better option all the time

Filed under: Bureaucracy, Education, Health, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Susan Goldberg explains what some states are now asking primary school teachers to do in the way of monthly mental health evaluations of the kids they teach:

On paper it reads like a not-so-vague attempt to socially engineer your child’s behavior. In reality, teacher-led mental health assessments coming to a growing number of public schools are a bureaucratic nightmare. One that will no doubt further clog our nation’s public education system with increased paperwork and administrative costs while putting your child’s future at serious risk.

Thanks to Dr. Aida Cerundolo’s piece in The Wall Street Journal, we are beginning to understand the real-life ramifications of these dangerous educational ideas. Want the Cliffs Notes version? Head over to the excellent summation by Emmett McGroarty and Jane Robbins, detailing the ramifications of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), a federal bill focused on the buzz-phrase “Social Emotional Learning” (SEL), the latest craze in public education. Schools in states that have ESSA legislation on the books can use the Devereux Student Strengths Assessment (DESSA) to fulfill ESSA paperwork requirements.

    …every month the teacher must answer 72 questions about each of the perhaps dozens of students in her class. She must assess whether the student “carr[ies] himself with confidence,” whatever that means for a 5-year-old, and whether he can “cope well with insults and mean comments.”

    … Dr. Cerundolo’s alarm at the imposition of DESSA is shared by at least some New Hampshire teachers. One of them contacted Ann Marie Banfield, Education Liaison for Cornerstone Action in New Hampshire, to express her objections to completing the DESSA forms on her students. The teacher was especially troubled that the school neither sought parental consent nor even notified parents that their children were being screened by amateurs for mental-health issues. As the mother of public-school students, she worried that other teachers were completing this assessment on her children.

You read that right: if you live in an ESSA state, your child’s mental health will be assessed by a non-medical professional in a non-medical context. The paperwork will not be protected by HIPAA laws, which means that the school district can share a teacher’s assessment of your child’s mental health with literally anyone. Parents are not asked for permission before the DESSA is administered, nor do they have any say over where the records go once they are obtained.

I imagine that primary school teachers will be just overjoyed to take on yet another task for which they may have no formal training or aptitude, in addition to the piddling little details of actually teaching. Were you ever warned about youthful misbehaviour going on to your “permanent record”? Now, it’s not just the big ticket items that will follow your kids from now on in their school careers.

QotD: The medical equivalent of security theatre

Filed under: Health, Quotations — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

The most common reason for admission to a psychiatric hospital is “person is a danger to themselves or others”. The average length of stay in a psychiatric hospital is about one week.

Some clever person might ask: “Hey, don’t most psychiatric medicines require more than a week to take effect?” Good question! The answer is “yes”. Antidepressants classically take four weeks. Lithium and antipsychotics are more complicated, but the textbooks will still tell you a couple of weeks in both cases. And yet people are constantly being brought to psychiatric hospitals for dangerousness, treated with medications for one week, and then sent off. What gives?

As far as I can tell, a lot of it is the medical equivalent of security theater.

Scott Alexander, “Reflections From The Halfway Point”, Slate Star Codex, 2015-06-29.

June 26, 2017

QotD: Psychiatric hospitals

Filed under: Health, Quotations — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 01:00

It’s interesting that psychiatric hospitals are used as a cliche for “a situation of total chaos” – I think I’ve already mentioned the time when the director of a psych hospital I worked at told us, apparently without conscious awareness or irony, that if Obamacare passed our hospital would have too many patients and “the place would turn into a madhouse”. There’s a similar idiom around “Bedlam”, which comes from London’s old Bethlehem psychiatric hospital.

In fact, psych hospitals are much more orderly than you would think. Maybe 80% of the patients are pretty ‘with it’ – depressed people, very anxious people, people with anger issues who aren’t angry at the moment, people coming off of heroin or something. The remaining 20% of people who are very psychotic mostly just stay in their rooms or pace back and forth talking to themselves and not bothering anyone else. The only people you really have to worry about most of the time are the manic ones and occasionally severe autistics, and even they’re usually okay.

For a place where two dozen not-very-stable people are locked up in a small area against their will, violence is impressively rare. The nurses have to deal with some of it, since they’re the front-line people who have to forcibly inject patients with medication, and they have gotten burned a couple of times. And we doctors are certainly trained to assess for it, defuse it, and if worst comes to worst hold our own until someone can get help.

Yet in the two years I’ve worked at Our Lady Of An Undisclosed Location, years when each doctor has talked to each of their patients at least once a day, usually alone in an office, usually telling them things they really don’t want to hear like “No, you can’t go home today” – during all that time, not one doctor has been attacked. Not so much as a slap or a poke.

I am constantly impressed with how deeply the civilizing instinct has penetrated. When I go out of the workroom and tell Bob, “I’m sorry, but you’re disturbing people, you’re going to have to stop banging on the window and shouting threats, let’s go back to your room,” then as long as I use a calm, quiet, and authoritative voice, that is what he does. With very few exceptions, there is nobody so mentally ill that calmness + authority + the implied threat of burly security guards won’t get them to grumble under their breath but generally comply with your requests, reasonable or otherwise.

Scott Alexander, “Reflections From The Halfway Point”, Slate Star Codex, 2015-06-29.

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