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What Can Happen When Mental Illness is Ignored

December 31, 2009 Leave a comment

I came across a fascinating piece about mental hospitals and the role conscientious objectors to WWII played in exposing the deplorable conditions of said hospitals.

The story focuses on Philadelphia State Hospital, also known as Byberry. More than 3,000 conscientious objectors, or CO’s, were assigned to work at mental hospitals across the country instead of being drafted to fight overseas. What the men assigned to Byberry found were conditions that seemed like something out of a Nazi concentration camp. They also witnessed much abuse from the attendants who were hired to care for the patients.

The “incontinent ward” was what the men called A Building. It was a large open room with a concrete slab for a floor. There were no chairs. There were no activities, no therapy, not even a radio to listen to. So hundreds of men — most of them naked — walked about aimlessly or hunched on the floor and huddled against the filthy bare walls.

Nearby was B Building; it was called the “violent ward” or the “death house,” because angry men sometimes violently attacked one another. In one room, rows and rows of men were strapped and shackled to their bed frames.

The story also includes photos from Charlie Lord. A CO who sneaked a camera into the hospital to document the things going on there.  Check out the slideshow. Lord and the other CO’s featured in the piece were instrumental in improving conditions for mental health hospitals all over the country. They even got a skeptical Eleanor Roosevelt to pay attention to the issue.

According to Steven Taylor, a professor of disability studies at Syracuse University, Roosevelt assumed these were photos from some institution in the South. She said she knew about those kinds of conditions in Mississippi or Alabama. When told that they had actually been taken at an institution in Philadelphia, Roosevelt then promised to support the reform campaign and wrote about what she’d seen to government health officials and journalists.

I can’t say I have much experience with state mental hospitals, but I do have experience with the psych wings of two hospitals. Jim has been hospitalized twice for his bipolar disorder.  I’m glad that the conditions at these hospitals was nothing like what is documented in the NPR story, but I was moved when reading it as I’ve become more sensitive in the last couple of years to mental illness.

The story is a good reminder of what can happen when we forget about our most delicate citizens. It should also serve as a wake-up call to America and Congress to increase funding for mental health hospitals and institutions. At a time when states are facing massive budget shortfalls, it is imperative that resources for these hospitals are kept intact.

Another Byberry is completely beyond the realm of possibility, especially as more and more mental hospitals are forced to close.

The health care reform deal that will be hammered out next week must include increased funding for the states so they can keep their mental hospitals open and so they can provide high quality mental health care to those in need of it most.

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Afternoon Tab Dump

December 30, 2009 Leave a comment

It’s been a few days since my last post and I’m working on a new one which will be featured on The Bilerico Project.

In the meantime, enjoy my first tab dump.

–The Mexico City municipal legislature approved marriage equality last week and this week it was signed into law. ¡Orale!

–Justice Sotomayor graces the cover of Latina magazine this month.

–The pro-abstinence folks are relentless. President Obama cut off funding for abstinence programs when he signed the budget citing, among numerous reasons, that they have repeatedly produced dubious results. The new health care reform bill, however, includes renewed funding for the programs. Even the amendment’s sponsor, Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), was surprised to see it survive the deal-making process.

–Finally, a local DC restaurant is hoping out-of-work reporters will be willing to spend whatever cash they have left on all-you-can-drink wine. I hope they have plenty of cases for the onslaught of unemployed journalists that are sure to stop in for several tall glasses of vino.

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Kickstart to Veganism

December 24, 2009 1 comment

I’m not usually in the habit of making New Year’s resolutions. I’ve found that I don’t often keep them and I hate disappointing myself. Plus, I’ve never liked feeling pressured to do it. I try to make resolutions when I feel the need, not just once a year.

I’ve decided to take a different approach this year. My partner is responsible for this. Last year, Jim decided to try being vegan for one month. He wanted to lose weight, of course, but he was more interested in eating better and healthier foods. So, he cut out dairy products and eggs. He had already been a vegetarian for most of the year so this was next most logical step for him. Jim’s not much of an exercise freak and after much research was convinced that the best way for him to shed pounds was through changing his diet. His “green” sensibilities were also appeased as going vegan substantially reduces one’s carbon footprint.

January 1, 2009 arrived and he started his vegan experiment.

I was thoroughly impressed with his resolve from the beginning. It took some getting used to for me and I slipped up pretty often in the beginning when I suggested things for dinner or for dining out. But, I wanted to support him and I shaped up. One month came and went and he decided it wasn’t as hard as he thought it would be. He figured he’d keep it up for as long as he could.

Twelve months later, Jim’s vegan experiment has turned into a complete lifestyle change and he has lost almost 25 lbs in the process! I’m convinced that he’ll keep this up as long as he wants to, which I hope is for a long time because I’ve decided to try it out myself this coming year.

The first step for me was to admit that I need to lose some weight. This was not easy to do as I have some crazy notion that admitting to myself that I need to lose weight is admitting failure and weakness. I’ve worked through that, though, and I’m alright with the idea now.

The next step was to figure out how to do that. I’ve done exercise before and this year, Jim plans to incorporate more exercise into his routine so I’ll have that support. I need something more and Jim has inspired me to try out his method. It is at least a proven method and I’ve become more involved with cooking vegan so I know I won’t be eating bad food. On the contrary, some of the best food I’ve ever had has been vegan and I’m consistently amazed at just how good vegan food is. You’d be surprised at just how much is vegan and that being vegan doesn’t necessarily equate healthy. We’ve also been observing “meatless Mondays” for the past few months so it may be not too much of a stretch for me. Hopefully.

I suspect that maybe it’s been Jim’s goal to get me on board. He’s always sending me articles about veganism and it’s often the topic of discussion at our house. He’s even succeeded at getting his mom to experiment with it. She makes peanut butter fudge every year and sends it to him now that he doesn’t live in Missouri anymore. This year she was intent on keeping up the tradition and had Jim help her find a way to make it vegan. This from a woman who grew up in a household where a pound of bacon is cooked every morning! (Btw, if you want some really cool vegan recipes, check out vegweb.com.)

What finally convinced me that this was what I wanted to do was an article Jim emailed to me this week. Neal Barnard of the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, gives tips on how to stick to the most common New Year’s resolution out there: losing weight. First on his list is going vegan.

1. Use the V-word. Abundant research has shown that the more vegetarian meals people eat, the easier time they have maintaining a healthy weight. And the most powerful meals are vegan. In May, researchers at Loma Linda University published results of a study of nearly 61,000 Americans. Vegans were the thinnest, meat-eaters were the heaviest, and fish-eaters and ovo-lacto-vegetarians were between the two. People who switch to a vegan diet typically lose about a pound a week–and this prescription for weight loss doesn’t require portion control or calorie-counting. A meatless diet also helps reduce the risk of heart disease, type two diabetes, and some cancers.

This isn’t the first time Jim has sent me an article like this, but it was the last tip that really got me interested. Barnard’s group is starting a campaign to promote healthier eating and is urging folks to try veganism for just three weeks. The campaign, dubbed 21-Day Vegan Kickstart, “provides recipes, nutrition advice, and an interactive support network to help participants transition to a sustainable, healthful diet in 2010.”

I just signed up today. It seems easy enough and if I find that it’s just not for me, at least I’ll be able to apply what I’ve learned to make sure I eat as healthy as possible. Plus, I also signed up to receive a phone call from celebrities. I have no idea what that means. Alicia Silverstone is the spokesperson, so maybe she’ll phone me during the three-week period to give me some encouragement. Who knows, but I figure it can’t hurt.

And, in case anyone reading this is on the fence, especially after reading a NYTimes piece this week blasting vegans for killing living things, know this: Of course plants are alive, but our bodies are naturally programmed and evolutionarily designed to eat plants and vegetables, not meat, especially the meat of other mammals. Beyond that, the argument that we shouldn’t eat plants because they’re living things is on its face a patently ridiculous argument. Who knew that’s all it took to get published in the Times?!

I’ll be writing about it in the coming new year, of course, and I’ll be providing recipes, too. Wish me luck!

What are your resolutions for the new year?

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Useful Tips for the Unemployed

December 22, 2009 1 comment

I’m moving slowly today, as the time stamp on this post clearly indicates.

I’m in the midst of a job search and that has consumed most of my day. That and lunch at The Diner with a good friend. She’s also looking for a job, but she has the luxury at the moment of being in graduate school. Still, it’s stressful and a good chunk of our lunch was spent chatting about our respective job search efforts.

I have been through this process and it is in no way fun. This time around, though, the outlook is looking more grim than before. It’s hard to keep your chin up with the bleak economy that is moving at a glacial pace toward recovery.

My job search is done almost exclusively online and so I’m often distracted by the internet. I suppose my HuffPo ticker doesn’t necessarily help, but then I wouldn’t have come across this story on 5 tips for maximizing your job search in 2010.

I don’t really give too much credence to these kind of stories as they’re usually pretty generic. This one is actually helpful, though, in that it gives you tips that incorporate social networking. Plus, it provides a much-needed jolt, in case you’re feeling sorry for yourself this holiday season. This is surely something every job hunter should keep in mind. I regularly go through my various social networking sites to make sure that it’s as professional looking as possible. I would add, however, that you don’t need to go overboard and delete all your photos or status updates. I’m not generally a fan of setting up more than one account on facebook or myspace or whatever. For one, it gets hard to maintain multiple sites. I think it also comes across as a little disingenuous. Just make sure your facebook profile is “clean” enough so that your grandma wouldn’t blush upon viewing it.

I especially liked the idea of setting up a Google Voice phone number created solely for the purpose of being reachable by employers.

–Make sure recruiters can reach you easily.
If a recruiter or company has to struggle to contact, it’s over. You won’t get the interview. When publishing your résumé and profile online, use an easy and relatively simple email address. Your first initial and last name will work.

There’s another easy way to be found. You can use a free service called Google Voice to create a phone number that is dedicated to your job search. Publish that number without worrying about stalkers. Although you are worried about privacy, it’s important that hiring managers and recruiters be able to reach you without overcoming a series of obstacles. You are not a celebrity. It’s time to be found so you can get back to work.

One caveat, this is by no means an exhaustive list and you should only incorporate this into your current job hunting routine.

Happy job hunting!

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Music Gays Can Groove To

December 21, 2009 Leave a comment

I missed this last week and then the DC area’s biggest snowstorm in quite some time hit so I’ve been a little busy shoveling out of snow and drinking with friends. What else do you do on a snow day after all.

Zac Rosen of The New Gay put together a pretty fun “Best of 2009…” list.  This one, aptly titled: “The Indie Rock Fag: The 20 Queerest Indie Songs of 2009,” features artists who are either gay or who produce songs that strike a chord with many in the community.

The songs below are featured because they are either quality songs by out gay artists, or straight-penned songs that I feel have gay themes worth bringing above the surface. What unites them is they provide a window to the past, queer or otherwise, that is too often missing in coverage of contemporary gay culture.

My favorite from the list is  Cazwell’s terribly catchy “I Seen Beyonce…” I’ve included the video below. As Rosen puts it, “It slaughters a sacred gay cow.”

It really is a good mix of songs and there are probably a few artists you may not have heard of yet. Enjoy.

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Mayor Fenty Signs Marriage Equality Bill

December 18, 2009 1 comment

Well, it’s official. Washington, DC has become the latest city to fully recognize same-sex marriages.

At a signing ceremony at All Souls Unitarian Church, Mayor Fenty signed the measure into law. It is now off to the U.S. Congress for a 30-legislative day review.

It really is a great day for DC residents and an awesome Christmas gift to DC’s substantial LGBT community. The crowd was sizeable, the Washington Post estimated it at 150. Most of the Council members were in attendance, including Chair Vince Gray. Also in attendance was Harry Thomas, Jr. who at a rally earlier in the week talked at length about his support of marriage equality despite representing a ward that was vocal in its opposition. Such political risks are admirable and it was heartwarming to see him in the front row.

One of the most remarkable aspects of this long fight was the civility involved in the debate over this issue, at least among the Council members. On Tuesday, when the bill was passed, Catania gave praise to Council Members Barry and Alexander. Both members have long supported the LGBT community, but could not bring themselves to support this bill. He implored his supporters and the LGBT community in general to keep their support in other areas in mind and to try to, at the very least, respect their decision.

David Catania delivers remarks at All Souls Church just before Mayor Adrian Fenty (pictured, right) signed the historic bill into law. Catania was the marriage bill's lead sponsor.

Of course, our work is not over as we ready for a potential fight in Congress. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) has already stated that he plans to introduce a bill that would bar the law from being implemented. Chaffetz himself has little faith that his bill will get anywhere in this Congress, as he told the Salt Lake Tribune, “It’s going to be exceptionally difficult because Democrats have us outnumbered by large amounts.”  Indeed, Speaker Nancy Pelosi said publicly several months ago that Congress would not get involved. “The speaker is a longstanding supporter of marriage equality and of the District of Columbia making decisions for itself,” said Drew Hammill, a spokesman for House speaker Nancy Pelosi to The Advocate’s Kerry Eleveld.

I’m ready for this fight. I know the whole community is, but today I plan to celebrate. With Mayor Fenty’s signature, he has made Washington now, more than ever, a shining example of what cities across America should be.

(photo courtesy of HRC Backstory)

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Let the End-of-Year Best-in-Music Countdowns Begin!

December 17, 2009 Leave a comment

It might as well be known that I’m a big music fan. I collect vinyl, new and old alike, and I try to attend as many shows in DC as possible.

Every December, my favorite online radio station, WOXY, puts together its 97 biggest hits of the year and it started today. It’s playing right now.

Here’s a little about how the list is put together:

As in previous years, the 97 Best is determined by airplay. We tabulate all of the DJ’s airplay during our live broadcasts to come up with the list, and feel that’s the best way to accurately reflect the sound of WOXY in 2009. So, make sure you carve out the whole day to listen and see where your favorites land on the list.

When I’m at home I’m usually tuned in to WOXY. Now based in Austin, Texas, the online-only independent rock radio station started out as a terrestrial radio station in 1983 in Ohio. They’ve been playing some of the best and newest rock music ever since.

In 2004, the station went online-only. It was probably one of the smartest moves the station could have made. After all, way more people log on than turn on their radios, if they even have one.

Be sure not to miss one of the web’s best annual events.

Oh, and while I’m at it, you might want to check out NPR’s  “Best Music of 2009”. It was just published today. There are some other cool lists there, too, so you’re sure to find something you like.

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