Saturday, December 10, 2005

King Kong Oscar Campaign Ads

The Ads are out already. Peter Jackson for Best Director, Jack Black for Best Supporting Actor, Naomi Watts for Best Actress, and so on..

More Evidence Racism is A Sickness: "Psychiatry Ponders Whether Extreme Bias Can Be an Illness" - Wash Post

Friday night at The Balboa Cafe in San Francisco, I ran into a woman who I have seen many times in public. She said "I see you all the time...I'm giving you my contact information, but just remember I prefer white men."


For every person, mostly white, I've encountered who was afraid to have more black friends, or made racially insenstive comments, or openly discriminated on the basis of race in the formation of friendships, I've always wondered what was going on mentally to cause this.

Or think about the SF 49ers video with the overtly racist content; the producers of that could be found to hold a form of mental illness. That goes for the San Francisco Police Video and the Stanford "Big Game" Video, too.

Well, it seems the psychiatric community has pondered this too. It could lead to a whole new classification of mental illness. I think it's a watershed development in that perhaps now people can indeed get help for being racist and stop being that way. Indeed, as our society becomes more diverse -- where people of all races are holding all kinds of jobs and intermarriage is more and more the norm, it's about time we as a nation and a world put the breaks on racist thought.

Because as our industrialized world becomes more diverse, those who have racist thought patterns will be the most uncomfortable in it, and that discomfort can be expressed in ways that harm others, from denial of employment to the most extreme example, murder.

Think about how much of our economic development has been hampered by racist thinking: whole communities suffering from under-development because some banks, ran by people with racists views, refused to invest in them. Consider that the entire history of the Ku Klux Klan and Neo Nazi groups (like the one marching in Toledo, Ohio) can now be reevaluated as that of a group of mentally ill people.

If there's some resistance to this within the psychiatric community -- as is the case with Dr. Paul Fink -- it may be because they don't want their own racist thoughts to be called into question.

Look, anytime a person avoids sitting next to you on a train because you're black and male -- even when you're wearing a suit -- that's certainly a mental problem on the part of the person.

I once tried this as an experiment on BART's (Bay Area Rapid Transit) Concord-Bay Point line in 1995. I got on at Civic Center during rush hour, and sat down.

The seat next to me remained empty for the next four stops before the train reached the point where it goes under the waters of the SF Bay. This, even as the train was getting crowded with workers, mostly white. I got off at Embarcadero, the last SF stop, back tracked (got on a train going back to Civic Center, and did the same thing six times. Only once was my seat occupied, and that was by a white man.

I've noticed that as blacks have become more part of the work force in downtown SF, that problem has occurred less and less -- but it still does happen.

This has terrible impacts on the self-esteem of the people who have to deal with the behavior. In my case, my defense mechanism has been to believe that I was far more intelligent than the people who acted that way, and therefore didn't need their company. But to be ostracized for being black -- for something you not only have no control over, but like being -- is purely mentally unhealthy.


Think about the extra and unncessary energy racist people spend just to avoid people who are different. Think about the women in modern society who remain unmmarried because they can't find a person within a certain racial group, when the man best for them may not be "the right color."

A woman friend, white, once told me about the "Angry White Woman" problem in San Francisco, because if they met someone who was white and male, that person may be Gay, or married, and then the woman didn't want to really date anyone who was Black or Asian. So, she makes herself unhappy and almost suicidally depressed.

All of this because of a racial / ethnic fear.

Now, you're going to tell me that's mentally healthy? Ha!

Here's the story:

By Shankar Vedantam
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, December 10, 2005; Page A01

The 48-year-old man turned down a job because he feared that a co-worker would be gay. He was upset that gay culture was becoming mainstream and blamed most of his personal, professional and emotional problems on the gay and lesbian movement.

These fixations preoccupied him every day. Articles in magazines about gays made him agitated. He confessed that his fears had left him socially isolated and unemployed for years: A recovering alcoholic, the man even avoided 12-step meetings out of fear he might encounter a gay person.

Darrel A. Regier of the American Psychiatric Association favors research but says it is not clear that establishing a diagnosis would be useful. (By Marvin Joseph -- The Washington Post)
"He had a fixed delusion about the world," said Sondra E. Solomon, a psychologist at the University of Vermont who treated the man for two years. "He felt under attack, he felt threatened."

Mental health practitioners say they regularly confront extreme forms of racism, homophobia and other prejudice in the course of therapy, and that some patients are disabled by these beliefs. As doctors increasingly weigh the effects of race and culture on mental illness, some are asking whether pathological bias ought to be an official psychiatric diagnosis.

Advocates have circulated draft guidelines and have begun to conduct systematic studies. While the proposal is gaining traction, it is still in the early stages of being considered by the professionals who decide on new diagnoses.

If it succeeds, it could have huge ramifications on clinical practice, employment disputes and the criminal justice system. Perpetrators of hate crimes could become candidates for treatment, and physicians would become arbiters of how to distinguish "ordinary prejudice" from pathological bias.

Several experts said they are unsure whether bias can be pathological. Solomon, for instance, is uncomfortable with the idea. But they agreed that psychiatry has been inattentive to the effects of prejudice on mental health and illness.

"Has anyone done a word search for 'racism' in DSM-IV? It doesn't exist," said Carl C. Bell, a Chicago psychiatrist, referring to psychiatry's manual of mental disorders. "Has anyone asked, 'If you have paranoia, do you project your hostility toward other groups?' The answer is 'Hell, no!' "

The proposed guidelines that California psychologist Edward Dunbar created describe people whose daily functioning is paralyzed by persistent fears and worries about other groups. The guidelines have not been endorsed by the American Psychiatric Association, which publishes the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM); advocates are mostly seeking support for systematic study.

Darrel A. Regier, director of research at the psychiatric association, said he supports research into whether pathological bias is a disorder. But he said the jury is out on whether a diagnostic classification would add anything useful, given that clinicians already know about disorders in which people rigidly hold onto false beliefs.

"If you are going to put racism into the next edition of DSM, you would have enormous criticism," Regier said. Critics would ask, " 'Are you pathologizing all of life?' You better be prepared to defend that classification."

"I think it's absurd," said Sally Satel, a psychiatrist and the author of "PC, M.D.: How Political Correctness Is Corrupting Medicine." Satel said the diagnosis would allow hate-crime perpetrators to evade responsibility by claiming they suffered from a mental illness. "You could use it as a defense."

Psychiatrists who advocate a new diagnosis, such as Gary Belkin, deputy chief of psychiatry at New York's Bellevue Hospital, said social norms play a central role in how all psychiatric disorders are defined. Pedophilia is considered a disorder by psychiatrists, Belkin noted, but that does not keep child molesters from being prosecuted.

"Psychiatrists who are uneasy with including something like this in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual need to get used to the fact that the whole manual reflects social context," said Belkin, who is planning to launch a study on pathological bias among patients at his hospital. "That is true of depression on down. Pathological bias is no more or less scientific than major depression."

Advocates for the new diagnosis also say most candidates for treatment, such as the man Solomon treated, are not criminals or violent offenders. Rather, they are like the young woman in Los Angeles who thought Jews were diseased and would infect her -- she carried out compulsive cleansing rituals and hit her head to drive away her obsessions. She realized she needed help but was afraid her therapist would be Jewish, said Dunbar, a Los Angeles psychologist who has amassed several case studies and treated several dozen patients for racial paranoia and other forms of what he considers pathological bias.

Another patient was a waiter so hostile to black people that he flung plates on the table when he served black patrons and got fired from multiple jobs.

A third patient was a Vietnam War veteran who was so fearful of Asians that he avoided social situations where he might meet them, Dunbar said.

"When I see someone who won't see a physician because they're Jewish, or who can't sit in a restaurant because there are Asians, or feels threatened by homosexuals in the workplace, the party line in mental health says, 'This is not our problem,' " the psychologist said. "If it's not our problem, whose problem is it?"

Opponents say making pathological bias a diagnosis raises the specter of social engineering -- brainwashing individuals who do not fit society's norms. But Dunbar and others say patients with disabling levels of prejudice should be treated for the same reason as are patients with any other disorder: They would feel, live and function better.

"They are delusional," said Alvin F. Poussaint, a professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, who has long advocated such a diagnosis. "They imagine people are going to do all kinds of bad things and hurt them, and feel they have to do something to protect themselves.

"When they reach that stage, they are very impaired," he said. "They can't work and function; they can't hold a job. They would benefit from treatment of some type, particularly medication."

Doctors who treat inmates at the California State Prison outside Sacramento concur: They have diagnosed some forms of racist hatred among inmates and administered antipsychotic drugs.

"We treat racism and homophobia as delusional disorders," said Shama Chaiken, who later became a divisional chief psychologist for the California Department of Corrections, at a meeting of the American Psychiatric Association. "Treatment with antipsychotics does work to reduce these prejudices."

* * *

Amid a profusion of recent studies into the nature of prejudice, researchers have found that biases are very common. Almost everyone harbors what might be termed "ordinary prejudice," the research indicates.

Anthony Greenwald, a psychologist at the University of Washington in Seattle, and Mahzarin R. Banaji, a psychologist at Harvard, developed tests for such biases. By measuring the speed with which people make mental associations, the psychologists found that biases affect even those who actively resist them.

"When things are more strongly paired in our minds, we can respond to them more quickly," Banaji said. "Large numbers of Americans cannot as swiftly make the association between 'black' and 'good' as they can between 'white' and 'good.' "

Similarly, psychologist Margo Monteith at the University of Kentucky in Lexington found that people can have prejudices against groups they know nothing about. She administered a test in which volunteers, under time pressure, had to associate a series of words with either "America" or a fictitious country she called "Marisat."

Volunteers more easily associated Marisat with such words as "poison," "death" and "evil," while associating America with "sunrise," "paradise" and "loyal."

"A large part of our self-esteem derives from our group membership," Monteith said. "To the extent we can feel better about our group relative to other groups, we can feel good about ourselves. It's likely a built-in mechanism."

If biases are so common, many doctors ask, can racism really be a mental illness?

"I don't think racism is a mental illness, and that's because 100 percent of people are racist," said Paul J. Fink, a former president of the American Psychiatric Association. "If you have a diagnostic category that fits 100 percent of people, it's not a diagnostic category."

But Poussaint said there is a difference between ordinary prejudice and pathological bias -- the same distinction that psychiatrists make between sadness and depression. All people experience sadness, anxiety and fear, but extreme, disabling forms of these emotions are called disorders.

While people with ordinary prejudice try very hard to conceal their biases, Solomon said, her homophobic patient had no embarrassment about his attitude toward gays. Dunbar said people with pathological prejudice often lack filtering capabilities. As a result, he said, they face problems at work and home.

"Everyone is inculcated with stereotypes and biases with cultural issues, but some individuals not only hold beliefs that are very rigid, but they are part of a psychological problem," Dunbar said.

The psychologist said he has helped such patients with talk therapy, which encourages patients to question the basis for their beliefs, and by steering them toward medications such as antipsychotics.

The woman with the bias against Jews did not overcome her prejudice, Dunbar said, but she learned to control her fear response in social settings. The patient with hostility against African Americans realized his beliefs were "stupid."

Solomon discovered she was most effective dealing with the homophobic man when she was nonjudgmental. When he claimed there were more gays and lesbians than ever before, she presented him with data showing there was no such shift.

At those times, she reported in a case study, the patient would say, "I know, I know." He would recognize that he was not being logical, but then get angry and return to the same patterns of obsession. Solomon did not identify the man because of patient confidentiality.

Standing in the central yard of the maximum-security California State Prison with inmates exercising around her, Chaiken explained how she distinguished pathological bias from ordinary prejudice: A prisoner who belonged to a gang with racist views might express such views to fit in with his gang, but if he continues "yelling racial slurs, assaulting others when it's clear there is no benefit" after he leaves the gang, the behavior was no longer "adaptive."

Prison officials declined to identify inmates who had been treated, or make them available for interviews.

Chicago psychiatrist Bell said he has not made up his mind on whether bias can be pathological. But in proposing a research agenda for the next edition of psychiatry's DSM of mental disorders, Bell and researchers from the Mayo Clinic, McGill University, the University of California at Los Angeles and other academic institutions wrote: "Clinical experience informs us that racism may be a manifestation of a delusional process, a consequence of anxiety, or a feature of an individual's personality dynamics."

The psychiatrists said their profession has neglected the issue: "One solution would be to encourage research that seeks to delineate the validity and reliability of racism as a symptom and to investigate the possibility of including it in some diagnostic criteria sets in future editions of DSM."

Former Sen. Eugene McCarthy, 89, Dies

(12-10) 13:16 PST WASHINGTON, (AP) --

Former Minnesota Sen. Eugene J. McCarthy, whose insurgent campaign toppled a sitting president in 1968 and forced the Democratic Party to take seriously his message against the Vietnam War, died Saturday. He was 89.

McCarthy died in his sleep at assisted living home in the Georgetown neighborhood where he had lived for the past few years, said his son, Michael.

Eugene McCarthy challenged President Lyndon B. Johnson for the 1968 Democratic nomination during growing debate over the Vietnam War. The challenge led to Johnson's withdrawal from the race.

The former college professor, who ran for president five times in all, was in some ways an atypical politician, a man with a witty, erudite speaking style who wrote poetry in his spare time and was the author of several books.

"He was thoughtful and he was principled and he was compassionate and he had a good sense of humor," his son said.

When Eugene McCarthy ran for president in 1992, he explained his decision to leave the seclusion of his home in rural Woodville, Va., for the campaign trail by quoting Plutarch, the ancient Greek historian: "They are wrong who think that politics is like an ocean voyage or military campaign, something to be done with some particular end in view."

McCarthy got less than 1 percent of the vote in 1992 in New Hampshire, the state where he helped change history 24 years earlier.

Helped by his legion of idealistic young volunteers known as "clean-for-Gene kids," McCarthy got 42 percent of the vote in the state's 1968 Democratic primary. That showing embarrassed Johnson into withdrawing from the race and throwing his support to his vice president, Hubert H. Humphrey.

Sen. Robert Kennedy of New York also decided to seek the nomination, but was assassinated in June 1968. McCarthy and his followers went to the party convention in Chicago, where fellow Minnesotan Humphrey won the nomination amid bitter strife both on the convention floor and in the streets.

Humphrey went on to narrowly lose the general election to Richard Nixon. The racial, social and political tensions within the Democratic Party in 1968 have continued to affect presidential politics ever since.

"It was a tragic year for the Democratic Party and for responsible politics, in a way," McCarthy said in a 1988 interview.

"There were already forces at work that might have torn the party apart anyway — the growing women's movement, the growing demands for greater racial equality, an inability to incorporate all the demands of a new generation.

"But in 1968, the party became a kind of unrelated bloc of factions ... each refusing accommodation with another, each wanting control at the expense of all the others."

Although he supported the Korean War, McCarthy said he opposed the Vietnam War because "as it went on, you could tell the people running it didn't know what was going on."

In recent years, McCarthy was critical of campaign finance reform, winning him an unlikely award from the Conservative Political Action Conference in 2000.

In an interview when he got the award, McCarthy said that money helped him in the 1968 race. "We had a few big contributors," he said. "And that's true of any liberal movement. In the American Revolution, they didn't get matching funds from George III."

After the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, McCarthy said the United States was partly to blame for ignoring the plight of Palestinians.

"You let a thing like that fester for 45 years, you have to expect something like this to happen," he said in an interview at the time. "No one at the White House has shown any concern for the Palestinians."

London's Double-Decker "Routemaster" Buses Retired - I Never Got to Ride One!

After 53 years of services, the famous London "Routemaster" Buses are being retired. I'm unhappy, because I never got to ride one at all! Of course, I've not yet visited London.

Richard Pryor Passes at 65 - A True American Icon

I just walked in the house, turned on my TV set, and learned that Richard Pryor passed away at 65. CNN's interviewing his wife Jennifer.

Pryor was a seemingly permanent part of the Zeitgeist, and was a big part of my life growing up in Chicago and then here in Oakland. It kind of feels like a part of my life has been ripped away. He was battling MS.
Pryor used his humor to reflect on race relations at the time. But, and as Martin Scorsese said, it was a savage -- and I would add, honest -- humor. It made people think and talk about what was going on, particularly in the 70s.

As Spike Lee just said, "it comes at you quick: Ossie Davis, Richard Pryor-- we're losing giants."