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Erin Listens: The Gateway July 11, 2018

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Just finished listening to The Gateway: a 6-part podcast series about “Teal Swan, a new brand of spiritual guru, who draws in followers with her hypnotic self-help YouTube videos aimed at people who are struggling with depression and suicidal thoughts.”

(So if you don’t want to read a long post about those things, you should bail out here.)

I’d never heard of Teal before this, and I still don’t know anything about her beyond what’s in this report. But I do know a few things about psychiatry that aren’t in the series.

And based on that…I have complaints.



Fun stuff: Trump leaks, drunk Stonewall, and more November 2, 2016

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I’ve been sick since Friday, which means my days have been passing in a blur of naps, coughing, periodically getting up to make another bowl of chicken soup, and watching the clock to see if it’s time for another dose of Nyquil yet.

I tried to go in to work on Monday, and boy, was that a mistake. Staggered home after an hour. Current plan is to give it another shot on Thursday, so we’ll see how that goes.

In the meantime, here’s some fun Internet things.

Owen Ellickson’s TRUMP LEAKS — pinned on his Twitter — are a delight.


Kickstarter for a GOP-inspired dating sim. With Megyn Kelly as your roommate/wingman. I really hope they get enough to make the stretch goal where they’ll add Fiorina to the cast of romanceable candidates.

Marsha P. Johnson sparks the Stonewall Riots, as told by Drunk History. Apparently they even took the time to find trans actors to play the trans historical figures! Good times.

“We asked the BuzzFeed Community to highlight moments in television shows that have helped them when they were experiencing depression.” At first I thought this was going to be a figurative “happy scenes that people really enjoyed” list, but no, it’s genuine “I’ve been down here before, and I know the way out” scenes.

“The [Trans-Neptunian Object] orbits in a plane that’s tilted 110 degrees to the plane of the solar system. What’s more, it swings around the sun backwards unlike most of the other objects in the solar system. With this in mind, the team that discovered the TNO nicknamed it ‘Niku’ after the Chinese adjective for rebellious.”

Mini wind turbines shaped like artsy sculptures. Imagine if we could get a few in every park.

Some thoughtful personal identity reads. October 10, 2016

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Because after that debate I think we’re all thirsty for some substance.

“If you can distinctly recall the excitement of walking into your weekly computer lab session and seeing a room full of Apple 2Es displaying the start screen of Oregon Trail, you’re a member of this nameless generation, my friend.” (Calling myself a millennial is usually not a bad fit, but yeah, this is my subcategory.)

“Five months in, I can’t remember the last time a stranger read me as a woman, and my mask of manliness is melding into my being, becoming part of me. It’s becoming comfortable. I don’t have the same sudden clarity that came with top surgery, but every new difference – smaller hips, bigger shoulders, a thicker neck – removes another layer of noise. Changing my physical self and my social self didn’t have to change my identity, but I think it might have. I still call myself genderless, but I also lump myself in with trans guys without thinking. ”

“At first, I didn’t believe I had anything wrong with me. But after meeting my current therapist, Dr. Samoon Ahmad, I began to understand and accept my diagnosis — I was bipolar, and my nude jaunt was part of a manic episode. It wasn’t until I got out of Bellevue three weeks later that I saw the front page of The Post with the headline ‘Ball Drop in Times Square.'”

“I am dark enough to not live within the tent of whiteness, but I am light enough that many people experience significant confusion when trying to class what level of ‘not-white, maybe heading toward-Black, deficient’ I am. Depending on the year and location, I am a ‘dirty Arab/Muslim,’ a fellow Latina, a Mulatto, a Mizrahi Jew, a half-white person who suspiciously may not be down with Black folks.”

“I didn’t want some American sales clerk knowing I couldn’t understand simple, elementary-school English. We’d look for that Ziploc bag in another store. I wasn’t about to let anyone think we were Middle Eastern immigrants coming here to steal jobs from honest Americans. I would not be responsible for a surge in Islamophobia over a Ziploc bag.

Good things: housing for veterans, scholarship money for good grades, PTSD therapy for parrots, and more February 21, 2016

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Connecticut [is] the second state in the nation to say it’s ended veteran homelessness, after Virginia made its own announcement in November of last year. Nineteen cities have also done the same.”

She instantly picked up a $100 scholarship credit just for having taken her high school pre-algebra class, she said, and an additional $1,500 for getting A’s in more than a dozen courses. She added an additional $250 for having visited a local Penn State campus.”

“The $2.1 million cost of the program was to be offset by $1.1 million in savings from the estimated 1,475 people not qualified for benefits after testing positive for drugs.” How many people did Kansas actually disqualify? 20.

Let’s hear it for unarmed civilians: “According to the FBI’s report on active shooter events between 2000 and 2013, only about 3 percent were stopped by a civilian with a gun. Unarmed civilians actually stopped more incidents — about 13 percent.” Whoa.

“Handling those phone calls made it very real very quick. As the jobs went on, we realized we were potentially saving lives.” A moving company who gets people away from their abusive partners.

“In other words, today’s teens aren’t just more responsible about sex than their parents were when they were their age; in many cases, they’re more responsible about sex than their parents are now.”

‘‘The guys are sitting around, all stoic, arms crossed, not saying anything,’’ she recalled. ‘‘They’d been like that for a number of weeks. So for a change, I took them up to Ojai to help build some new aviaries there. All of the sudden these same tight-lipped guys are cuddling up to the parrots and talking away with them.’’

(Mad) science: preserved mammoths, super-vision, life on Mars, and brainlets-in-jars September 4, 2013

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“An expedition led by Russian scientists earlier this month uncovered the well-preserved carcass of a female mammoth on a remote island in the Arctic Ocean. […] But what was more surprising was that the carcass was so well preserved that it still had blood and muscle tissue.”

Found: a woman who has the inverse of color-blindness, a functioning extra cone that allows her to distinguish more colors than the average human. By a factor of 100.

Organoid310“Using molecular markers tuned to specific parts of the brain, Lancaster showed that the organoids develop a variety of distinctive zones that correspond to human brain regions like the prefrontal cortex, occipital lobe, hippocampus, and retina. They also included working neurons, which were produced in the right way.” These are lab-grown, human-stem-cell-derived mini-brainlets-in-a-jar.

“The difference between us and the people we were trying to serve: they probably had less food than we did. We were starving under the best possible medical conditions. And most of all, we knew the exact day on which our torture was going to end.”

“We don’t even have to speculate to see the impacts. The report notes that dozens of weather events in recent years have shown how vulnerable the energy sector is to even a moderately hotter climate (the United States has warmed about 1.5°F over the past century).”

Interactive tracker for the Mars Curiosity mission one year in, including a timeline and a ton of photos.

Speaking of the red planet, oxidized molybdenum levels suggest that the microbes whose heirs are all the life on Earth might have originated on Mars.

Psychology: schizophrenia, bipolar, trauma, care June 21, 2013

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“After interviewing many people with this illness the scientists compiled a short clip of what a schizophrenic might hear during an episode, or just day to day. I listened to this from my laptop speakers, not the recommended head phone approach (Which I’m glad that I did!)”

“Results of a preliminary trial, announced today at the Wellcome Trust in London, demonstrated how people with schizophrenia could overcome their auditory hallucinations by conversing with an avatar representation of the voice in their head.

A woman with bipolar disorder tells the story of her life, achievements, and struggles: well-written and moving, and makes you wish everyone could have the kind of financial security she did while trying to recover.

“Lincoln High School in Walla Walla, WA, tries new approach to school discipline — suspensions drop 85%.” This miraculous new approach boils down to “pull aside the kids who blow up, and ask them how they’re feeling and if there’s anything stressing them out.”

“In the wake of last December’s shooting massacre in Newtown, CT, many conservative lawmakers and state leaders called for strengthening America’s broken mental health care system. But now, the GOP’s stubborn opposition to Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion is preventing 1.2 million poor and mentally ill Americans from getting basic mental services, according to an analysis by the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI).”

“Well, you should learn to control your temper” December 30, 2012

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Earlier today I came across a post about critical examination of media. It’s engaging and well-written and makes a lot of very good points, and I agree 100% with its conclusion.

But I take issue with one of her examples, and it’s one that people bring up a lot, so allow me to tear it apart unpack it.

Disney’s Beauty and the Beast is not an abuse-apologist narrative.


On gun control plus mental health services. December 19, 2012

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There’s been a lot going around about mental illness lately, and how the service and caretaking infrastructure in the US is woefully inadequate. Some of it is from advocates for the weapons dealers, trying to redirect the issue entirely, which is, needless to say, stupid. We know gun control is significant.

Some of it is from very confused people who have apparently latched onto “autism” and “Asperger’s” to conflate them with “lack of empathy” and “more likely to be violent,” which is extremely stupid. This seems to have started with an article that went viral about a kid with violence issues, whose diagnoses included Asperger’s…and “intermittent explosive syndrome.” You would think the name of that last one would clue people in that it was more likely to be related to angry outbursts. You would be wrong.

And some of the focus on mental health is from frightened parents who are taking care of children with violent outbursts, and desperately need more support than they’re getting.

This is a more common problem than I think the public perception accounts for. Look, I read a lot about childhood trauma, a lot of blogs by parents wrangling therapists and IEPs and crisis plans. (Often adoptive or foster parents, since the kind of abuse/neglect that pushes many kids into the system tends to leave them with serious issues.) People who aren’t part of that sphere, who haven’t even read about it, tend to have no idea how severe it can get — and how underfunded the support systems are.

It’s not clear how much mass murder in the US is linked with those kinds of mental health issues. Overall, mentally ill people are much more likely to be the victims than the perpetrators of violent crime, and it isn’t like we don’t have madmen with guns from happy non-abusive homes with no worrying medical history whatsoever. But I absolutely do not blame these parents for seizing any opportunity they can get to say “Look at us, look at this issue, it deserves to be in the public eye.”

All my scorn on the matter is reserved for the people who say “hey, let’s point the finger at crazy people — or even people with conditions that don’t lead to violence — because the stigma will be distracting enough that we can get away with selling more guns, our profit unchecked by common sense.”

And that’s my soapbox moment for the day. Time to turn the floor over to some relevant links.

Sy Mukherjee for ThinkProgress, “It’s Easier For Americans To Access Guns Than Mental Health Services

Most murders committed in the United States involve a firearm — particularly handguns. A quick search shows that a typical handgun can be purchased for anywhere between $250 and $500. A .223-caliber semi-automatic rifle — which some reports indicate was the type of firearm used in today’s attack — costs between $700 and $2000. And contrary to the gun lobby’s most ardent hysteria about Barack Obama, gun ownership has actually been rising over the past four years, as has the use of guns in violent crimes.

By comparison, access to mental health services remains spotty, its funding and beneficiary requirements subject to the whims of governments attempting to balance their bloated budgets. People often do not know when they are entitled to preventative care services for mental health, and the people who do often forgo care due to the stigma associated with receiving such care.

Rebecca Schoenkoph for Wonkette, “Sorry Everyone, Now We Are Not Allowed To Talk About Mental Health Either

It is somehow a zero-sum game between stopping violent crime “allegedly” perpetrated by those with mental illness and addressing their sad prospects. […]

Maybe Liza Long, who wrote about her violent son, is a lying monster who only cares about pageviews. Or maybe she is at the end of her rope, and her “media tour” I’m seeing ripped apart online springs from actually trying to get help for families like hers. […]

I drove to Thousand Oaks last night to have dinner with my big sister’s friends I’ve known since elementary school. Their little sister — who was my friend — died three years ago from mental illness. A woman I hadn’t met before was good friends with my other brother’s best friend, before he killed himself a year or so back. He’d been diagnosed as depressive for a long time. There were seven people at that dinner party. We all had someone who was dead. None of them got a lick of help.

Priscilla Gilman for the New York Times, “Don’t Blame Autism for Newtown

Whether reporters were directly attributing Mr. Lanza’s shooting rampage to his autism or merely shoddily lumping together very different conditions, the false and harmful messages were abundant.

Let me clear up a few misconceptions. For one thing, Asperger’s and autism are not forms of mental illness; they are neurodevelopmental disorders or disabilities. Autism is a lifelong condition that manifests before the age of 3; most mental illnesses do not appear until the teen or young adult years. Medications rarely work to curb the symptoms of autism, but they can be indispensable in treating mental illness like obsessive-compulsive disorder, schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.

Underlying much of this misreporting is the pernicious and outdated stereotype that people with autism lack empathy. Children with autism may have trouble understanding the motivations and nonverbal cues of others, be socially naïve and have difficulty expressing their emotions in words, but they are typically more truthful and less manipulative than neurotypical children and are often people of great integrity.

Jo Hilder at Burnside Writers Collective, “Evil, Mental Illness, and the Responsibility of the Free

And about that. In Australia, since a certified mentally ill young millionaire went on a killing spree in Tasmania in 1996, we have comparatively strict gun controls. This means for us now when the mentally ill, or the criminally disturbed, or the simply very angry in our community are provoked by their inner voices or their emotions, to act out, the worst they can usually do is brandish a very sharp knife, or a very hard fist. Several mental health support workers a year in Australia are hurt by their clients in acts of violence involving knives and fists, and a few over the past few years have been killed. But our gun controls mean there are fewer guns available for mental health clients to point at people. This is a very good thing.

If the U.S.A. intends to improve mental health services without also improving gun controls, all that’s likely to be produced is a spate of gun-related deaths against mental health workers. Improving mental health services is only half the picture. The other half is making sure the availability of those weapons capable of causing immediate and widespread catastrophic loss of life is severely limited.

Science!: fake smiles July 22, 2012

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Spot the fake smile: twenty clips of people smiling, and you have to judge whether they’re real or fake.

I got 11 of 20 right. Ouch. I’m sure context would make a difference in a real-world situation, but still.

Children, loans, & health care July 13, 2012

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A new round of “the Talk” is becoming a standard: how to react when your kid discovers porn online. Must include “explaining what ‘acting’ is.”

“For the past 10 years, Waschbusch has been studying “callous-unemotional” children — those who exhibit a distinctive lack of affect, remorse or empathy — and who are considered at risk of becoming psychopaths as adults.” Creepy, heartbreaking reading about one family’s struggle with their 9-year-old.

“”As a father, you’ll do anything for your child,’ Reynoso, an American citizen originally from Mexico, said through a translator. Now, he’s suffering a Kafkaesque ordeal in which he’s hounded to repay loans that funded an education his son will never get to use — loans that he has little hope of ever paying off.”

Another borrower spends $23,449.65 to pay off less than $1200 of her student loan debt, and concludes that this whole thing is a scam.

“Yes, apparently when you shove through legislation that allows religious organizations to receive state funding, Christians aren’t the only ones who want it — an Islamic school was one of 38 institutions approved for the voucher program, which is a huge problem for people who believe religion helps children so long as it is the religion of the swamp people they are representing.”

What exactly is Obamacare and what does it change?” via Reddit’s board with a most excellent title, Explain It Like I’m Five.

Jen Sorensen, the cartoonist behind Slowpoke, breaks down the dilemma of self-employed people and health insurance.

A chart of who gets quoted about abortion, birth control, planned parenthood, and women’s rights, broken up by gender.

Actual biblical views on abortion. Mostly in the vein of “this pregnant woman committed a crime whose penalty is death, so she will be put to death,” where the notion of “the unborn fetus is an independent life” never even comes up.