Category Archives: Miscellaneous

On Mental Illness

Zee German raised a few excellent questions that I thought deserved an entire post.

Do conscientious commentors need to distinguish violent desires from mental illness when we consider the issue? Is it a mental illness, specifically, to be drawn to violence? Or driven to violence? I know you can diagnose anything that deviates sufficiently from the norm as a condition of some sort, but asking from ignorance, is that necessarily the same thing as mental illness?

Before I answer them, though, I think a bit of primer on mental illness is in order. As I already stated, every single one of us experiences mental health symptoms with various levels of frequency and duration, and what makes them diagnosable is whether or not they significantly impact functioning (not whether or not they deviate form the norm). That can be anywhere from impacting your ability to take care of one's physical health, to isolating from friends, to being unable to work or learn new things. That said, here's a very basic outline of the major illnesses that are diagnosed and/or get talked about and some of their symptoms:

  1. Major Depressive Disorder: sad mood, feeling hopeless, worthless, sleep changes, diet changes.
  2. Bipolar Disorder: Depression plus periods of mania, which is elevated mood, decreased need for sleep, high energy, pressured or rapid speech, impulsive behavior. Bradley Cooper's portrayal of this disorder in Silver Linings Playbook is excellent.
  3. Schizophrenia: Restricted range of emotions, or incongruent emotions. Reduction in speech. Paranoid thoughts. Hallucinations. Delusions.
  4. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder: Experiencing a traumatic event plus deficits in functioning directly related to that event. Very simply, could be not being able to sleep or focus, obsessing about the event, having flashbacks (i.e. literally being there again), hypervigilance.
  5. Borderline Personality Disorder: Persistent fear of abandonment that drives most relationships. Often think in extremes or absolutes. Act impulsively.
  6. Antisocial Personality Disorder (nee sociopathy, nee psychopathy): Lacking empathy, frequently deceiving others for personal gain, aggression towards others, lack of remorse

So let's answer the questions:

Is it a mental illness, specifically, to be drawn to violence? Or driven to violence? I know you can diagnose anything that deviates sufficiently from the norm as a condition of some sort, but asking from ignorance, is that necessarily the same thing as mental illness?

There are two ways to answer this.

If we clarify violence as any act that hurts another, then the answer to these questions is categorically no. I enjoy violent video games and movies. I've punched somebody before when a diplomatic solution was smarter. I've also had periods of extreme duress and exhaustion when I wanted to hurt my baby (disclaimer: I haven't, though once I jerked my toddler's arm too hard; still feel guilty). So I've been violent and I've fantasized about being violent. But this hasn't impacted my functioning in daily life nor has it caused me much trouble. So lumping it in with the above mental illnesses wouldn't make any sense.

On the other hand, if we take Zee's questions to be about a specific kind of violence that is premeditated, where the perpetrator takes pleasure and doesn't feel remorse for their violent behavior, then the answer to the question is yes and it's likely such a person could be diagnosed with antisocial personality disorder.

Do conscientious commentors need to distinguish violent desires from mental illness when we consider the issue?

All of this brings me to my answer to this question, which is a resounding YES.  One of the problems with the discussion of mental illness in this country is that there is a misconception that raising more money for mental illness treatment will prevent this kind of violence. But experience has taught me that it will not. At least not directly.

Disorders like schizophrenia are deeply rooted in genetic luck and people who have it need significant amounts of resources to be successful in the community.  Schizophrenia needs more money.

Depression and PTSD are a combination of genetics and environment (e.g. some people can experience the same trauma and their brains experience it differently) and extra resources can help people who have these disorders be successful in the community.

However, there really is no great treatment for antisocial behavior (though animal therapy has shown some success for those displaying antisocial traits while still young). Most people who lack empathy and remorse don't seek treatment, or if they do it's for something else like anxiety. There's no pill that can create empathy. I work with a guy who is textbook antisocial; he is racist, xenophobic, sexist.  And he wants help with getting money and housing, but has never shown remorse for anything he's done, including sexual assaulting many women. There are resources out there to get him housing. But he's been kicked out of everywhere he's ever been, including all of the shelters, because of his behavior.

So while the DSM-V considers both Carrie Fisher and Jeffrey Dahmer mentally ill, their experiences and needs as humans in society couldn't possibly be more different. Honestly, I wish antisocial behavior wasn't even considered a mental illness. It's the only disorder where being violent towards others is one of the symptoms. And given how many people still believe that those with schizophrenia are prone to violence, I think choosing to use language that makes the distinction clear can only be helpful to those who are unfairly stigmatized every day of their lives.

There is some evidence that antisocial traits have genetic component, and can also be caused by head-trauma or other neurological disorders. Though of all the people I've worked with that have the disorder, they consistently have traumatic childhoods filled with abuse and neglect. Some people who are abused and neglected wind up with no mental illness. Some develop other mental illnesses. And some who may be genetically predisposed to antisocial traits have it nourished by abuse and neglect. While I'm not against research that could possibly identify gene therapy that could help, I would much rather focus on building a society that is inclusive and supportive of all people. Where we understand that nobody is born evil and that everyone deserves compassion, because every action someone takes is trying to fit a need they have in that moment. Because while even in that society we will still need to help people who are sad or are hallucinating or have an exaggerated startle response to sudden noises, I suspect that the need to figure out how to keep people from brutally murdering others will not be a big priority.




Lent for Non-believers

Per, CH's recommendation, here's a stand-alone post for this discussion. It's religion, so please, tread lightly.

Today being Ash Wednesday, and the start of Lent, I find myself with some genuine questions for non-believers. For myself as a Catholic, Lent is a time to grow. By giving things up, I develop more will power. By taking time to reflect on my failings, I find paths to address them. By recognizing and working on my weaknesses, I grow into a stronger person. By going without, I ensure others don't have to. Etc.

For me, this is both recommended by my religion and a point of personal growth. Having a time set aside each year for this type of thing has a lot of appeal to me. It makes sure I'm actually doing the "hard work" of becoming a better person, not just subscribing to a vague notion of self-improvement (not that I mean to imply that for others; I just know myself, and that I tend to not do what I intend to do towards self-improvement a lot of the the time).

So I'm curious what non-religious people do in this regard? Are there specific sacrifices you make? At certain times? Do you set try to focus on this type of thing, or do you go about it differently?

I look forward to learning more, if you're willing to share. Thanks!

Mount Rushmore of MN Sports

Alright, let's do this. Nibs dropped Lindsey Whalen as a suggestion for the MN Sports Mount Rushmore, and I find myself curious what others would come up with.

The rules are simple: you get 4 people (no less, no more). You can only use athletes who played for Minnesota teams (we'll keep out the Sid Hartmans and Bud Grants), but can include non-athletic factors in your decision (Kent Hrbek now advertises for a local company, Alan Page was a MN Supreme Court Justice!). This is not limited to athletes from Minnesota, though I think most people would agree that being from MN probably helps.

I'm gonna kick it off:

Whalen, KG, Dave Winfield, Mauer

(Wow, this was way tougher than I expected.)

How @SouhanStrib could silence his critics

The so-called Greener's Law advises, "Never argue with a man who buys ink by the barrel." As any old farmhand can tell you, when you pick a fight with chickens, eventually you get egg on your face. (I made this up.)

Star Tribune scribe Jim Souhan recently authored a screed against baseball bloggers, calling them "plagiarists, amateurs, [sic] cowards and professional liars" who don't "have to have the courage and work ethic to show their faces in the clubhouse every 10 years or so." A prudent reminder here to readers that Souhan continues to insinuate that bilateral leg weakness, the diagnosed condition which afflicted Twins star Joe Mauer in 2011, does not exist. Souhan's professional biography does not indicate he holds advanced medical or athletic training degrees.

In his anti-blogger invective, Souhan details the groups of people he believes are and are not trustworthy sources of information about baseball. He includes himself in the former category, along with beat writers and "tethered bloggers," while team broadcasters, "untethered bloggers," and Sid Hartman your grandpa the late Jim Ed Poole are in the latter group. (One wonders where ESPN-era Hunter S. Thompson falls in this taxonomy.) Souhan draws a stark contrast between his fellow Anna Politkovskayas of sports truth and the "local trolls and national know-nothings," who he accuses of being professional chickens:

[T}hey have the opportunity to get credentials and talk to people face to face and defend what they write, especially the many untrue things they write, and they never show up. They are afraid to. They are actual trolls, unwilling to do the work or look people in the eye and justify or defend what they’ve written.

There is a reason they take this approach. Their stuff wouldn’t stand up to the scrutiny of players and team officials. They’re afraid. And they would have to face the traditional journalists they’re trying to push aside so they have a place at the table.


These untethered-from-reality bloggers are trolls, liars, plagiarists and frauds. But mostly, they’re cowards.

Souhan's churlish defense of the unwavering bravery of the beat writer and the noble courage of the newspaper columnist has been echoing in my mind for the last few days. How could anyone doubt the stones of the guy who has to hear from Minnesotans who don't like how he does his job? What better way, I thought, for Souhan to show just how much juice he really has in this town, and just how unfettered by jeopardy to professional relationships his reporting is, than to write a series of columns on subjects that put his courage on display and show bloggers how the pros do it? Remember, this is the guy who claims he is one of "two columnists in town ... who can call up Tom Kelly or Hrbek or Torii Hunter whenever we like[.]"

So, I drafted ten suggestions for Souhan's column requiring the all access pass & intestinal fortitude of a real sports journalist:

  • Souhan should ask his buddy Torii Hunter to go on the record about whether he still thinks Twins like Miguel Sanó, Rod Carew, & Tony Oliva are race "imposters." Has Torii ever apologized to Carew, Oliva, or Sanó for his bigotry?
  • During the Nineties Souhan was a Twins beat reporter for the Star Tribune. Which Twins were steroid users when he was a beat reporter? What do clean teammates think of the PED users in the clubhouse during that time? Why didn't Souhan write about steroids in the organization then?
  • What does Jim Pohlad think about his father Carl's failed attempt to take a payout from Major League Baseball to contract one of the American League's original franchises? What did the family hear from its former stars like Harmon Killebrew, Tony Oliva, Rod Carew, & Kent Hrbek? What did Tom Kelly say to the Pohlads?
  • What do Pohlad & St. Peter think the Twins owe the fans financing their taxpayer-funded ballpark after the worst stretch of on-field & front office incompetence during the club's half-century tenure in Minnesota? How high is Pohlad willing to raise the payroll to win the World Series and make good on the promises made to fans about championship-caliber baseball at their new ballpark?
  • How do Jim Pohlad & Dave St. Peter justify the Twins' ongoing corporate partnership with Kwik Trip, a company run by enthusiastic Trump supporters, in light of Trump's policies on immigration and his detestable rhetorical footsie with white supremacists? Does that connection reflect the values of the Minnesota Twins and its leadership group?
  • In light of recent movements to remove statues in public spaces that memorialize figures who professed significant racial prejudice, do the Twins plan to remove the statue of former owner Calvin Griffith, who told an audience that includesd a reporter for Souhan's own paper he moved his club because Minnesota "only had 15,000 blacks here"? Get a response from Pohlad or St. Peter on the record.
  • Interview Bert Blyleven and ask how he feels about the "untethered bloggers" who were the staunchest & most persistent advocates for his election to the Hall of Fame. What does Bert think old-school sportswriters missed in his career, and what can they learn from bloggers like those who supported his candidacy? What has Bert learned in his broadcasting career that has given him new insight on pitching or playing the game?
  • What is the full, real story behind the firing of former head trainer Dick Martin? What does Martin think motivated his dismissal? And why have the Twins, who once had such a good reputation for injury prevention that Martin had an athletic training award named after him, been so plagued by injury problems since Martin left?
  • Next time Souhan passes Derek Falvey & Thad Levine in the hallway, he should ask them which websites they would  recommend to Twins fans who want to learn more about evaluating players, then provide links to & descriptions of their recommendations.
  • Ask Glen Perkins for his on the record comment on Souhan's claims about his conditioning and when he plans to announce his retirement; report his response, word for word.

If Souhan has the cast iron drawers of a seasoned journalist, surely he won't balk at this small list. Since he has Access, why doesn't he show us he's not afraid to use it?

Classic Album Reviews – Van Halen

In 1978, heavy metal/hard rock was tired and bloated. It seemed like all rock bands were only interested in creating dirge-like long songs about mysticism or Satan and one couldn’t listen to a rock album without six minute organ suites and self-indulgent guitar solos that didn’t go anywhere. Rock was almost an afterthought as the Southern California light rock sound, disco, and nascent rumblings from the punk scene dominated popular music at the time.

It’s this background that Van Halen’s first album exploded on the rock scene. Short (no song is over 4 minutes), punchy rock songs that were fun but freakin’ rocked! Make no mistake, even though the songs weren’t about evil wood nymphs, this was metal as Eddie Van Halen’s guitar work and David Lee Roth’s screams was straight from the heavy metal handbook.

The album kicks off with Running with the Devil, a common theme in mid-70’s metal. But at the two-minute mark, you realize something is different as EVH’s short guitar solo screams for attention. Followed by Eruption, an extended guitar solo that kicks off a very muscular You Really Got Me and Van Halen has taken all of five minutes to grab you by the balls. This wasn’t your older brother’s metal.

Not only were the songs short and about partying and hitting up the chicks, they had 3-part harmonies, something unheard of in metal circles. David Lee Roth is a fine frontman and singer, and the rhythm section is top notch, but let’s face it, the album belongs to Eddie Van Halen. Every song has a scorching guitar solo that just wasn’t heard before. It’s style that’s been copied many times in the nearly 40 years Van Halen came out, but at the time it was mind blowing.

For me the highlight of Van Halen is Feel Your Love Tonight. This is a classic “I’m going to make you mine” song, but it’s so infectious, while also hard rocking you have to be practically comatose not to enjoy it. This song should be the national anthem to teenage Friday night (live version from 1977 below). Ice Cream Man is a song David Lee Roth had been singing since he was a teenager, while Eddie takes over the last third with another classic guitar part. Unfortunately the album ends with I’m on Fire, which is more a vehicle for Roth’s screaming, but by that time who cares, you’ve been thoroughly rocked.

Van Halen would change rock, not always for the better. While the tired old 8-minute drones fell by the wayside, unfortunately it was replaced by hair bands more interested in copying David Lee Roth’s sexual swagger or emphasizing the party, not the rock. Plus let’s face it, there is only one Eddie Van Halen. But let’s also not end up on a sour note. Van Halen came out when I was 15, which was probably the perfect age for that album. But I still listen to it fairly regularly and along with Cheap Trick Live at Budokan, one of the few albums I still have on a regular rotation from the era. If you like the rock,Van Halen should be in your music collection.

Who Wants To Be An Astronaut?

Did anyone here used to want to be an astronaut when they grew up?  I don’t remember ever wanting to be an astronaut as a kid.  I think it seemed like a job that regular people don’t ever have, so I’m not sure I ever even thought of it as a real possibility.

NASA announced a new call for astronaut applicants at the end of 2015, and I didn’t seriously consider applying.  I have the degrees and work experience that I would certainly meet the minimum qualifications.  Not saying I would be highly ranked among those who have the required background, and I don’t hold any illusions that I would have been one of the few selected, but I don’t think I’d be the first one removed from the list, either.  Since I teach astronomy, my students often ask me if I would ever try to become an astronaut.  If I had to option to go to space tomorrow, I would sign up immediately.  But, the actual day-to-day work of an astronaut, the years of training, that is not a job I actually want to do.  I love teaching, and don’t really want to become an engineer.

My outlook on the possibility of being an astronaut has changed a great deal since I was a kid.  It is of course still a difficult job to get, but it’s now so much more attainable to me than it seemed as a kid.  I know a few people who have applied in previous years and who also applied this time, some from the civilian side and some as active duty military.  My wife considered applying to this most recent call for applications, and even started working on it, but never actually submitted it.  (Turns out it probably wouldn’t have mattered either way; 18,300 people applied for 14 or fewer positions, so being selected is certainly a long shot.)

For my wife, being an astronaut was something doable, something that could really happen.  She grew up with an astronaut in her family, and lived in the same neighborhood as a bunch of other astronaut families.  Current Administrator of NASA Charlie Bolden’s kids used to babysit her.  For her growing up, being an astronaut was a job real people have, not just something she saw on TV or read about in books.

My youngest son is almost 3, and he’s started saying he wants to go to the moon.  He has spent the last four months saying he wants to be a construction worker when he grows up, but now he’s shifted to saying he wants to be an astronaut construction worker who builds things on the moon.  For my kids, being an astronaut when they grow up seems like more of a possibility than it ever was for me.  For them, it can be “I want to be an astronaut like ______ was.”

I hope that big, long-shot jobs like becoming an astronaut remain a possibility in their minds.  I’m of course not the first parent to hope their kids will see the whole world as a possibility, I just hope I can help them keep feeling like they can do anything.

Diary of a 50-something Widower

Two years ago May 10th my wife of nearly 24 years passed away after a nasty illness. We had two children of college age living away from home, which meant that I was entering my 50’s flying solo, picking up the pieces of a life that was once a partnership. How does one do that? There’s no survivor’s manual: do A, next is B, then follow up with C and Presto! you now have a life with new routines and go from there. Unsurprisingly it’s not quite that easy. While thinking about that, this Rumi quote has been sticking in my mind lately:

“Sorrow prepares you for joy. It violently sweeps everything out of your house, so that new joy can find space to enter. It shakes the yellow leaves from the bough of your heart, so that fresh, green leaves can grow in their place. It pulls up the rotten roots, so that new roots hidden beneath have room to grow. Whatever sorrow shakes from your heart, far better things will take their place.”

Continue reading Diary of a 50-something Widower

The Best of [everything] … or at least most mentioned

Fun aggregation: essentially, "The Best of [everything] - 2015" ranked according to number of mentions on critic's year-end best-of lists. You could probably go further with it, ranking according to average placement on lists, but for CoC purposes, this is more than enough info:

Top Threes

Carol - 82% of lists
Spotlight - 77%
Inside Out - 73%
Mad Max: Fury Road - 73%

Television Shows:
Master of None - 83% of lists
Fargo - 83%
Mr. Robot - 75%
Mad Men - 75%

Between the World and Me - 80% of lists
A Little Life - 60%
The Story of the Lost Child - 60%

Kendrick Lamar, To Pimp A Butterfly - 100% of lists
Vince Staples, Summertime ’06 - 63%
Carly Rae Jepsen, Emotion - 63%

And just for fun, because we at the WGOM are so hip, tied for fourth place are few the Citizenry crowed about this year:

Courtney Barnett, Sometimes I Sit and Think and Sometimes I Just Sit - 58%
Joanna Newsom, Divers - 58%