Tag: opinion

Columnist Conversations

As I was going through the columnist section of the opinion section of the New York Times, I found that most columns in the section deal with Trump and his basket of deplorables. The two articles that most easily caught my eye were both written by Gail Collins, who has been working at the Times longer than I’ve been alive. I decided to go with the more colorfully titled article, titled “What if They Don’t Even Make a Sausage?” which Collins co-wrote with fellow Times columnist Bret Stephens.

The title told me nothing about the content of the piece. I started off my skimming through the comments to get a gist of the article was about before diving in; I found that Stephens and Collins have differing political views, and the article is set up as a “conversation” between the two authors. This should make for some interesting reading.

Stephens starts off the conversation with a discussion about the baseball game shooting that injured a Congressman. He says that the shooting promoted three types of reactions from people (who he called the “national commentariat,” which is a bit pompous in my opinion). The three reactions include: the shooter is nuts; the other side of the political divide is nuts; and the country is nuts. In response, Collins calls for a saner gun culture in which it is more difficult to get one’s hands on a semiautomatic rifle. Stephens furthers his statement, defending the Second Amendment (which was written when guns could only shoot once every few minutes).

One of Stephens’ statements irked me. I’ve seen it a lot, and whenever I come across it, it doesn’t sit well with me. Stephens says he wants to “keep guns out of the hands of mentally ill people.” This doesn’t sit well with me, particularly because he does not delineate when and where a mental illness deems someone ineligible to wield a weapon. Which mental illnesses make someone ineligible? How severe does the condition have to be? Does this apply to people on the autism spectrum, and if so, where on the autism spectrum does this ineligibility come into play?

Another issue is the perceived violence-enthused nature of mentally ill people. We often perceive mentally ill people as being violent, deranged, and unpredictable. This isn’t necessarily the case. According to Teplin et. al.’s[1] study of crime victimization in adults with severe mental illness, more than a quarter of persons with severe mental illness had been victims of a violent crime in the past year, which is eleven times greater than the general population even after controlling for demographic factors such as socioeconomic status; this study gives concrete evidence that people with mental illnesses are more likely to be victims of violence than to be perpetrators. Much of our perceptions of people with mental illnesses as violent comes from exposure to media that portrays mentally ill people as violent. In their 2008 study of mental disorder stigma in the media, Klin and Lemish determined that the depiction of mental illness in media may be “contributing to the perpetuation of stigmas about mental illness.”[2] According to Heather Stuart, an epidemiologist at Queen’s University[3], the news media reinforces cultural stereotypes by using them to provide the context for the events presented. Stories require the reader to employ negative cultural stereotypes and common-sense understandings of what it means to be mentally ill.

This isn’t to say, of course, that persons with mental illness should be given weaponry. However, our perceptions of mental illness are almost certainly influencing the judgement to restrict access to guns. If someone has a history of violence or the potential to become violent, then their eligibility for firepower must be reconsidered. According to Collins, even though the shooter had a history of anger issues, he would not have been deprived of the right to buy a weapon. This raises a rather strange question for me – I do not have a history of violence or anger issues, but I do have a history of depression, anxiety, and PTSD, all of which are mental illnesses that affect my daily life and have done so for years. If someone with anger problems but no mental illness can get a gun, would I (someone pretty level-headed and nonviolent) be barred from carrying one because of a disease I happen to have? (Not that I want one anyway)

After this, the authors move on to talk about health care. They say something about a sausage factory, but I don’t quite understand it.

Stephens says that he would not support a health care law that would “abruptly and unexpectedly kick people off their insurance.” He wants to give insurance to people with pre-existing conditions, supports HSAs, and says that the government should reasonably tackle small problems one at a time rather than going through a huge overhaul. Collins calls Stephens “utterly unrealistic,” and points out the hyperpartisanship of the US government. She then gives this fun statement that I agree with:

“The reason Obamacare is a mess is because Senate Republicans opted to pull out of negotiation on a bill that included many of their own ideas, and just focus on ruining whatever came down the pike. I doubt Chuck Schumer is going to reward them for that and seven years of political torment by helping them out.”

Stephens acquiesces that the government is likely too partisan to work together, but still hopes for incrementalism. This makes Collins laugh; the conversation now moves on to talk about the Supreme Court agreeing to take a case on the subject of partisan gerrymandering.

This new topic brings a good sentence from Stephens:

“The partisan gerrymander has been the worst thing to happen to our politics in recent years, turning once-purple districts either bright red or deep blue, and accelerating the rise of the fringe and the decline of the center.”

Overall, this was an interesting piece to read. While I was quite distracted by Stephens’ comment about gun control, the format was interesting and the differing political views made for a good piece.

Works Cited

[1] Teplin, L. A., McClelland, G. M., Abram, K. M., & Weiner, D. A. (2005). Crime Victimization in Adults with Severe Mental Illness: Comparison with the National Crime Victimization Survey. Archives of General Psychiatry, 62(8), 911–921. http://doi.org/10.1001/archpsyc.62.8.911

[2] Klin, A., & Lemish, D. (2008). Mental Disorders Stigma in the Media: Review of Studies on Production, Content, and Influences. Journal of Health Communication, 13(5), 434-449. doi:10.1080/10810730802198813

[3] Stuart, H. (2006). Media Portrayal of Mental Illness and its Treatments. CNS Drugs, 20(2), 99-106. doi:10.2165/00023210-200620020-00002

When the Left Turns On its Own

On June 1st, the New York Times published an article titled “When the Left Turns on Its Own,” written by guest columnist Bari Weiss. This is part of a series of opinion articles called “On Campus.” The article starts out with a description of a newly controversial person: professor Bret Weinstein of Evergreen State College. Weinstein supported Bernie Sanders, supported Occupy Wall Street, and identifies as “deeply progressive.” The article does not state, however, that he is also a critic of how the left handles itself.



The article is clearly defending Weinstein, as evidenced by the title and some quotes throughout the piece. These quotes from the article showcase this bias:

  • “He had the gall to challenge a day of racial segregation”
  • “It was an act of moral bullying – to stay on campus as a white person would mean to be tarred as a racist.”
  • “Yet reasonable debate has made itself absent at Evergreen.”

Weinstein was challenging a “Day of Absence” that has been a campus tradition since the 1970s. Traditionally, students and faculty of color would organize a day that they would all take off. This year, white students were to leave. Apparently, this decision was made “after student of color ‘voiced concern over feeling as if they are unwelcome on campus, following the 2016 election.'” Weinstein did not agree with the decision.

“There is a huge difference between a group or coalition deciding to voluntarily absent themselves from a shared space in order to highlight their vital and under-appreciated roles,” he wrote, “and a group or coalition encouraging another group to go away.”

I am inclined to agree with Weinstein in this case. By participating in this tradition, by the context shown in the article, white students would be showing that they would rather students of color go away.

However, the article fails to make it clear that the decision to have white students leave was not made by white students, but by students of color. This high highlighted in Weinstein’s quote above, and makes the quote clearer.

The article takes time to point out that a social experiment like a Day of Absence could be enlightening by showing the lack of diversity on campus. However, the author only gives a sentence to this thought, and it could have been left out without much change to the story itself.

After protesting the Day of Absence, Weinstein has been called a white supremacist, has been told he would not be sage on campus, and had to hold classes in a public park. (The author uses this as an opportunity to make an unnecessary comment on safe spaces).

The final paragraph of the article likens the experience of Weinstein to the experiences of conservative speakers. By doing this, the author is equating the “deeply progressive” Weinstein with conservative speaker Heather MacDonald, who defends police violence and frequently criticizes Black Lives Matter.

I was not fully satisfied with the information given in the article, so I found information elsewhere so I could see the story from a larger scope. This included buying a 2-month subscription to the Wall Street Journal, reading the LA Times, and going through Bret Weinstein’s very confusing Twitter feed. The LA Times article is linked above, in reference to Heather MacDonald, and Weinstein’s tweets are embedded above.

What I found interesting is that Weinstein himself published an opinion article on the situation in the Wall Street Journal. The WSJ leans conservative, which makes it an odd choice for a progressive to speak. Weinstein’s opinion article was published by the Wall Street Journal on May 30th. 

Weinstein starts off by describing his environment. He talks about holding class in a public park and how protesters were searching cars for him. Weinstein points out that he has been teaching at the institution since 2003. He describes the history of the Day of Absence, and points out that this year, white students and faculty were asked to leave.

“There is a huge difference between a group or coalition deciding to voluntarily absent themselves from a shared space in order to highlight their vital and under-appreciated roles . . . and a group or coalition encouraging another group to go away,” I wrote. “On a college campus, one’s right to speak—or to be—must never be based on skin color.”

The quote from Weinstein above is again in this article, and makes more sense in this context. He is saying that there’s a difference between people voluntarily removing themselves for a day and asking another group to leave.

Weinstein then talks about the way Evergreen teaches – with full academic years rather than semesters – and then decides to talk about George Bridges. George Bridges is the president of Evergreen State College.

His vision as an administrator involved reducing professorial autonomy, increasing the size of his administration, and breaking apart Evergreen’s full-time programs. But the faculty, which plays a central role in the college’s governance, would never have agreed to these changes. So Mr. Bridges tampered with the delicate balance between the sciences and humanities…

Weinstein paints the administration of the college as an organization aiming to divide and conquer the faculty.

After reading both articles and going through Weinstein’s Twitter feed, I lean towards siding with Weinstein. However, I have not seen videos from protesters, so my view of the situation is biased. From what I have read, Weinstein is objecting to the demand from one group that another leave campus. This should not be a controversial statement. It is common for people (liberals included) to take things at face value or misinterpret them, so Weinstein’s comments on “A Day of Absence” may have fallen prey to misinterpretation. In any case, it will be interesting to see how this plays out.