Tag: times reading

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

America’s Hidden HIV Epidemic

Yesterday, the front page of the New York Times featured an article on the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the black LGBT community in the southern United States. The article claims that “America’s black gay and bisexual men have a higher HIV rate than any” other country in the world. I will discuss that claim later in this post, but first I must take issue with the language that the author uses. The phrase “black gay and bisexual men” is an oddly put-together phrase. It makes it sound as though the black men in the southern LGBT community are both gay and bisexual, which is impossible as one is exclusive male-male attraction and the other is defined as attraction to all genders. Knowing the definition of “gay” and “bisexual” makes it somewhat obvious that the two are different sexualities.

Much of the article is anecdotal, following the philanthropy of Cedric Sturdevant in the HIV/AIDS-ridden Jackson, Mississippi. Sturdevant is a project coordinator for My Brother’s Keeper, an HIV/AIDS support group. Sturdevant watches over a plethora of young black men with HIV. Much of the article is centered around this. I was more interested in the empirical side of the article to see where the author’s claims came from.

The more empirical parts of the article make good points. The author talks about how the HIV crisis is the most prevalent in the South. The South makes up 37% of the country’s population and 54% of all new HIV cases. The South is home to 21 of 25 cities in the US with the highest HIV rates, and there are fewer resources for gay men in this area. 40% of the gay or bisexual men in Jackson, MI have HIV.

The article briefly talks about Truvada, a preventive drug against HIV. The acronym for this is PrEP, and was approved by the FDA based on two clinical trials. More than 80,000 patients have filled prescriptions in the past four years. This sounds great, but only 48% of black gay or bisexual men use preventive drugs against HIV, and the numbers are lower for younger men. Black people only account for 10% of all PrEP prescriptions.

The beginning of the article claims that rates of HIV/AIDS in the black LGBT community in the Southern United States are higher than in all countries. I found this to be an odd claim to make, given the anti-gay sentiments in many African countries that would prevent men from reporting their sickness. For example, Uganda passed an anti-LGBT bill that, according to the Guardian, led to a tenfold increase in violence against LGBT people. The BBC reports that anti-gay hate crimes are a quite large problem in South Africa, despite its allowance of same-sex marriage. Politicians in Kenya hold strong anti-gay sentiments, according to NPR.

Such a hostile environment against LGBT people, and the perceived connection between homosexuality and HIV will only prevent gay or bisexual men from reporting that they have the autoimmune disease. The NIH supports this phenomenon of inaccurate reporting.

I do agree with the article that HIV/AIDS is an epidemic, but at no point in the article did the author recognize the phenomenon of inaccurate reporting of HIV levels in Africa.

My next post will be on the comment section regarding this article.

And Now, For Something Completely Different

I missed a day of class, so I am writing a make-up post. I normally wouldn’t talk about sports because they generally don’t appeal to me (except for hockey) and don’t have much relevance in the course, but this is a fun opportunity to shake things up a bit.

On May 26th, the New York Times posted an article in the sports section discussing the Stanley Cup playoffs (hockey). Over the past few months, teams from across the United States and Canada face off against each other for the coveted title of Stanley Cup champion. In high school, I was enlisted by my best friend to be a fan of the Pittsburgh Penguins even though I’ve only been to Pittsburgh once in my life.

The article, written by Chris Adamski, is titled “The Stanley Cup Favorite Penguins Aren’t Counting Their Chickens,” so it immediately caught my eye. The fourth paragraph features a quote from team captain Sidney Crosby talking about how difficult it is to win the Stanley Cup two years in a row. This makes sense, as throughout the playoffs and the regular season players earn injuries. For example, goalie Matt Murray suffered from a lower body injury for the first few rounds of the playoffs, Sidney Crosby had a concussion that took him out of a couple of games, and Kris Letang has an issue with his spine that has kept him off the ice for the entire playoffs.

The Penguins just won round 3 against the Ottawa Senators, which brings them to the Stanley Cup final; if they win, this will be the fifth time the team has earned the Cup. According to the article, since 1967 only two teams (the Montreal Canadiens and the Edmonton Oilers) have won the Cup at least five times. This would put them in elite company.

I have some comments to supplement the article from the Times. The Predators have largely cruised through the playoffs, while the Penguins had a more difficult time getting to the finals. Multiple injuries and a reliance on a single goalie made the road to the Stanley Cup quite difficult for the Penguin’s return to the finals. Through the third round of the playoffs, the team largely relied on elite goalie Marc-Andre Fleury to keep pucks out of the net. In game 7 of Round 2, Fleury earned the team a shut-out (2-0) against the Washington Capitals. However, after a disappointing period Fleury has been benched in favor of the younger Matt Murray (who is also quite skilled). As of writing this blog post, the Penguins have beaten the Predators in the first game of the finals in a 5-3 game. (Yay!)