Saturday, December 31, 2011

The Tsunami and the Cherry Blossom

A haunting and important reminder of the importance of fully inhabiting each moment. The film clip below, from a documentary called The Tsunami and the Cherry Blossom, uses a disaster to remind us all of "the ephemeral nature of life and the healing power of Japan's most beloved flower."

The Tsunami and the Cherry Blossom Trailer from Tsunami Blossom on Vimeo.

"Even when the flower falls, we love it. That's the heart of the Japanese person. Flowers dying is not a sad thing."

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

The View From Here: Mirror Mirror Edition

The side streets of Cambridge were unusually quiet this morning while Maggie and I were walking into the office. Out of the corner of my eye I caught a glimpse of something that seemed out of place. Upon closer examination we discovered this very large bird (a hawk?) contemplating it's own reflection. 

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Light Show Spectacular

This one came to me by my friend at Fang Shui Canines. The 3D light show was projected on the Kharkiv Regional Administration building during the Ukrainian Independence Day celebration on August 24th.

Enjoy--it's pretty amazing!

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Rape, Injustice "Facts," and a Call to Better Scholarship

Those of you who regularly pay attention to me on Twitter know that I go a little crazy over items presented as "facts" that are either not referenced or not verifiable. I've seen way too many examples of blatant misinformation spread as well as generally smart people who become misinformed vectors spreading about even more misinformation.

Take for example the Twitter entity known as InjusticeFacts. They describe themselves as "an open, circulating database of facts that deal with the injustices which plague our world." In general, I think the idea is great. There are copious amounts of horrible injustices that happen in the world. Many of us have no idea that they are occurring. Consciousness raising is an important tool of social change, and I'm glad Injustice Facts is doing some of that work.

My complaint is that Injustice Facts offers up sloppy scholarship. People can provide them "facts" through their website. The organizers of the website then disseminate those facts. Are the facts vetted? Are there references that are made available so we know that the fact is true? 

No. At lest Injustice Facts does not explicitly say they do fact checking. The organization also doesn't not respond to Tweets asking if they fact check.

Arguably, good scholarship involves checking out the veracity of information. Not everyone does that. I think an organization or person who presents things as facts has some responsibility to actually verify whether facts are facts -- or if they are propaganda. We've become too trusting, and have rapidly lost our ability to critically think about the world around us.

Yesterday, someone who  I follow on Twitter re-tweeted this:

 Injustice Facts 

29 women out of every 100,000 are raped in the U.S. each year, 1.6 women out of every 100,000 are raped in Canada each year.

My (somewhat snarky) response :

 Jason Mihalko 

.  I usually like my facts with a side of references.

My twitter follower's response, which has since been deleted by the follower, was "Questioning rape facts. Classy." I of course wasn't questioning rape. Violence is a despicable thing, and a good deal of my work as a psychologist is with women and men who have endured sexual violence. My complaint was about a disembodied fact--without reference, context, or verification--being represented as truth.

The snark probably obscured my message a bit.

I continued (I edited a few auto correct errors from my original tweets):

 Jason Mihalko 

I question our collective lack of critical thinking about information that is presented without reference  

 Jason Mihalko 

Why should I believe stats that aren't verified? That is not questioning rape. Its demanding good scholarship 

My twitter follower elected to unfollow me and ignore my responses. A shame, really, as she and I probably agree more than we disagree. I also think, by the way, that it's important to regularly be exposed to people who think differently than me. It makes my world bigger, richer and more diverse.

I've taken it upon myself to do a little fact checking. The UN's statistics for forcible rape in the United States for 2009 was 28.6 per 100,000 people. The count for Canada? 1.5 per 100,000 people. Ms. Magazine has put together a helpful table to demonstrate how difficult it is to get accurate statistics on rape. Scary, sad, and heartbreaking reading.

In this case Injustice Facts were accurate facts (there was a little rounding that happened). To be a more worthwhile source of information, and a trustworthy source of information, a simple addition of a reference would change everything.

It really isn't good enough to say something is true "because I said so." It's poor scholarship, breeds misinformation, and has the potential for great harm.

We need to be critical thinkers. We need to question what we read. We need to search out references to know that the facts we see are accurate and not propaganda. We need to be better scholars.

That is my point. I'm sad my Twitter follower didn't stick around long enough to hear me out.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

A Moment of Racism Frozen in Time

I came across this image some time ago and have been thinking a lot about it. I don't know the particulars of the image (perhaps a reader will?). What stands out to me is the horror of the image as well as a reminder of the racism that is inherent in how our criminal justice system metes out "punishment."

What do you think? More importantly, what do you see?

Sunday, December 11, 2011

When a spade is not a shovel

from the 11th Hour
My first dissertation chair, Glenda Russell, had a thing about words. She loved them. That was for sure. She also was very interested in the imagery and meanings that were embedded deep within the words. A casual mention once about "black ice" brought us into a long conversation about how many things in our culture that are considered negative or bad utilize dark or black as descriptive words--and how deeply that is often intertwined with overt (or covert) racism. Another time, when I suggested we don't skirt around an issue, a conversation was launched about my un-examined sexism.

Sometimes, it was a bit much. Most of the time, however, it helped me think very deeply about how my choice of language can sometimes reinforce imagery, ideas, and ideologies that I'm not interested in reinforcing.

I found myself channeling Glenda this week. A friend of mine tweeted that we have more serious problems in this world when we can't call a spade a spade. I said we have more serious problems in this world when we forget that a spade isn't always a shovel. Unless of course you actually are referring to a shovel.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Compassion Round Up: Trains, Columbine, Inner Gardens, and More...

Compassion on the 10:40 Train

My heart smiled at this simple act of kindness. I'm still not sure why I was so surprised. Maybe I've just had skeptics around me for too know, the people who assume that every homeless person is just a lazy drug addict with no desire to ever get a job and contribute to society like the rest of us hard-working Americans. Whatever the reason may be, I was thankful to have witnessed it.

'Rachel's Challenge' brings a message of compassion

Following the Columbine High School shootings in 1999, the father of 17-year-old Rachel Scott, the first student killed in the massacre, began an organization called Rachel's Challenge, which tours the country promoting an anti-bullying message of kindness and compassion for others.

Finding love and compassion in our inner garden

Readers will find much to reflect on, especially on the subject of the inner garden. After all, this seems the only place to find understanding and compassion. While we'd all like to do a walking meditation in the woods, pick wildflowers along the way as well as bamboo branches for flower arrangements, the majority of us cannot afford the time to enjoy that environment. So it is incumbent on each of us to find our own gardens, and appreciate the peace and miracle of where we are.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Happy Birthday, Ryan

Happy birthday, Ryan White. Today would have been your 40th birthday.

I recently came across a BBC story about Ryan's life. It dawned on me that most people under 40 have probably have never heard of Ryan. If you have, you probably know his name as part of the federal government's Ryan White CARE Act.  You probably don't remember the raw hate that was directed toward this little boy.

I remember hearing about him on the periphery. He and I are of the same generation. As he was using his life to "stand in solidarity with thousands of HIV-positive women and men," I was just starting to emerge from my own self-centered adolescence and waking up to the world around me. It really wasn't until two years after Ryan died that I understood what HIV/AIDS was.

I didn't learn about HIV/AIDS from a comprehensive sex education program in my high school. Things like that weren't discussed in my public school. How did I learn? I literally tripped over it. Just barely 20 years old, I was living in a tiny one room apartment on 44th and Broadway in New York City. In order to go grocery shopping, I walked down 44th across Broadway over toward Hell's Kitchen.

On July 14, 1992 I literally tripped over one of the largest AIDS protests of the time. United for AIDS Action and ACT-UP timed a massive gathering to bring awareness to the needs of people with HIV and AIDS to coincide with the Democratic National Convention held in Manhattan that week. The protest brought, depending on the estimate, between 10,000 and 50,000 people.

I never got to the grocery store that day. When I tried to cross Times Square a sea of people had gone down on the ground to stage a die-in. I looked for some images but couldn't find any. It was an amazing sight. These were in the days before digital photography and cell phone cameras.

It was a strange time. Fear was abundant as well as an ample amount of hate and ignorance. Death permeated that air, too. Not a day went by without a news report of the death of a famous person from AIDS.

It's worth taking the time to listen to the ten minute BBC program if you haven't heard of Ryan White. If you do remember him, it's worth listening to again.

In 1984, the year Ryan White was diagnosed with AIDS, I was in an American history class. While Ryan was living a life that would become all of our shared history, I learned an important lesson (yes, there are a few important lessons from junior high history!). Dorothea Krenz, my teacher, walked around shaking each of our hands. She rattled off various important figures from history. Most of them, I believe, were notable figures from World War II. The details have faded over the past 27 years, but the point of the exercise has stuck with me. History is personal. It connects and links us together across space and time.

History serves as a good reminder about where we were, where we are, and where we might still yet go.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

The View From Here: Day Into Night Edition

Middle School is Rough

This morning I came across this clip of Jonah Mowry. In disembodied academic conversations about bullying, or in the disassociated way politicians often speak about it, we forget about the very real impact bullying has on real people. It's worth watching.

Here, by the way, is just one example of how politicians obscure the personal dimension of the impact of bullying to further a particular agenda.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Happiness, Revealed

If you watch anything today, make it this.

"And so I wish  you will open your heart to all these blessings, and let them flow through you. Then everyone who you meet on this day will be blessed by you. Just by your eyes, by your smile, by your touch. Just by your presence. Let the gratefulness overflow into blessing all around you. And then, it will really be, a good day."

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Learning to Live on World AIDS Day

Unknown Source
Today I've been thinking about my very first patients. While I had worked for nearly a decade in a variety of human service agencies, it wasn't until 1997 that I sat down in my very first office with my very first patients. I remember the day very clearly. My first patient said:
"I just have three questions for you. Are you gay, are you HIV positive, and if you aren't, who the hell do you think you are trying to talk to me."
With those words, I started  my work at The Free Medical Clinic of Greater Cleveland. It was a tumultuous two years. The man who hired me quit the day I started, constant organizational upheaval nearly unraveled me, I was impaired by bad fashion sense, and thought it was a good idea to sponge paint my office in shades of pink. Most of my patients were always on the brink of death or actually died, and a suprising number of them sprang back to life as newer medicines changed the face of HIV treatment.

Most importantly, I spent two years trying to answer that patient's question: who the hell did I think I was trying to talk to people. I found my answer those two years working at the Free Clinic. My experiences there helped me weave together things that I had been thinking about and experiencing for the previous nine years. My experiences became the foundation of what I've built my entire clinical practice on.

I learned that most people don't know themselves, are afraid of themselves, or have otherwise become so traumatized by life that they have disengaged from the world. Not feeling, not living, I found that the people I worked with were neither here nor there. They were somewhere in between. They were, as I affectionately called them, the walking dead. Zombies.

One man, in particular, has filled my thoughts today on World AIDS Day. He really was the walking dead. Infected with HIV before HIV even had a name, he had suffered every opportunistic infection there was. He rattled off stories of countless hospital says and harrowing near death experiences. Somehow, he lived.

On bad days he was use a walker to get into my office--his leg on fire from neuropathy. On good days we would walk across the street together and sit in the beautifully manicured Lake View Cemetery. We had this conversation on the day I was leaving the clinic to move to New England and start my doctoral work:
"Jason, I think of you as more than a therapist. This will sound strange, but I think of you as my funeral director. In you letting me talk so much about death, and keeping me focused so I didn't look away, you taught me how to live. You did that. You taught me to be alive before I die."
Years later I heard through the grapevine that he had died. After being one of the first patients diagnosed with AIDS and having had a trial of nearly every medication, his body had finally failed and he died.

When he said goodbye to me I wished I would have known myself well enough to tell him this:
By sitting with you as you looked at death, I too found how to live.
So on this World AIDS day I'm filled with many warm cherished memories of this patient--and all the other men (and two woman) who came into my office every week as we stared down death every day only to discover how to live.

Each of you live on with me in my office every day. Thank you.

Family, Iowa Style

Stories, up close and personal, have the power to change the world. Here is one such story.

I hope there are a lot more young people like Zach Wahls out there who are learning to use their voices and their stories to be agents of powerful change.

"The sense of family comes from the commitment we make to each other. To work through the hard times so we can enjoy the good ones. It comes from the love that binds us. That's what makes a family."