Thursday, April 29, 2010

Mental Illness: The Pendulum Swings Quickly

Justin Duchscherer, a pitcher for the Oakland Athletics who I have my own mental pendulum about (used to call him douchererer for his douchey performances in the bullpen), has never completed a major league season, as far as I know, due to injuries. But last year, he made a public announcement that he suffered from depression. I thought this was pretty awesome, as did some some psychology groups who acknowledged that previously, the macho man culture of professional sports had never allowed a silly little thing like mental health to slow a professional athlete down. I love that the article above even includes the "There's no crying in baseball" clip, as I say that all the time. I mean, there's no way Michael Vick had a mental illness- sane people fight, electrocute, and drown dogs all the time. I found a Sports Illustrated article from 2003 about mental illness, and I know there is such a thing about sports psychologists, but really, that's it.

I've been wanting to blog about this for a long time. I don't know, it just seemed like maybe, just maybe, it was an opening up in a very closed, quiet, fake-ass world. There are a lot of rules in baseball about showing emotions. Players are not supposed to argue balls and strikes with the umpires. I'm sure they're pissed off, angry, frustrated, saddened, and a whole range of emotions about calls- pitchers and batters alike. (It's actually a written, not unspoken rule: 9.02.) Unlike in football or hockey or some other more violent sport (which address at least anger, but which I'm not familiar with)- baseball does not have a lot of brawls. Frustrated and angry players might get angry, but they usually- I can't give a ratio because I'm sure it's the vast majority of the time- don't act on them. They generally just walk off of the field after at bats or innings. Sometimes they'll show their frustration with a gesture or they'll throw their bats or other gear to the ground. Sometimes they'll demonstrate happiness. Sometimes they'll jaw at each other. But usually, that's it. Occasionally there will be a well publicized incident like the recent one between A-Rod and Braden, over a breach of etiquette, and an occasional bench clearing brawl, or bats or balls or chairs tossed into fans. Players getting angry at fans are considered considerable flaws in character or temper tantrums- not usually anything to do with mental illness.

In searching for a description of Geertz's anthropological description of cockfighting as an explanation for culture, I found an article that couldn't be more perfect: Baseball, Cockfighting, and Culture" by Joe Trumino. Geertz explains that cockfighting allows men to act out through the fight what they feel about each other (short version, obviously. Read both articles, really.) As Trumino writes:
It creates a kind of fantasy world wherein the things Americans most cherish become real, at least temporarily and contextually. In addition, baseball even gives Americans something they often feel they lack, control over events. At the ball field, when things and players don’t perform up to expectations, fans can freely and unrelentingly show their displeasure, they can boo. They can bask in the illusion that they are masters of their domain.
The players are just players in this drama. They aren't supposed to have emotions: "Judgments about these men are based mainly on how they perform as batters, pitchers, fielders, and base runners." Everything is highly ritualized, and private life is supposed to be private.

So, Duchscherer going public was a big deal for a few reasons. It was an acknowledgment that baseball players are human beings. Acting out drama for our benefit is great, it serves a purpose, but baseball players are human. Even Sports Illustrated gets that (do they know that swimsuit models are human? Discussion for another time.) I was excited- maybe one day someone in baseball will admit they're gay. That would be cool, too. Or would it break up the fantasy of baseball too much? Would people argue that that made baseball "political"? Since sexual orientation is obviously political.

I'm on a little tangent here. There's two points I wanted to make, and I got a little sidetracked on the back ground. The first is that it's gotten painful to watch Duchscherer pitch. It was almost always painful to pitch (remember I used to call him doucherererer) because of his mediocre performance. Of course, he was actually a very good pitcher, but the A's suck, and I had mean nicknames for all of them. Since his return to baseball at the beginning of the year, he's a very good pitcher, but, like every pitcher, he throws bad pitches sometimes, or the umpire makes a bad call, or a batter hits a good pitch. And I cringe at the prospect. Or he reacts. And I'm worried- what will happen to him after the game? How does Duchscherer feel? The baseball fan (read the Trumino article) does not want to think about this. It's a fantasy. (I'm now thinking about the linguistics of both "fan" and "fantasy baseball.") I want to see Duchscherer pitch, I want to see him pitch well, I want the A's to win, I want to think of mean-ass nicknames when he sucks, I want him to come back and prove me wrong. I don't want to worry about his feelings. Granted, I'm sometimes too empathetic/worried about people's feelings, but it's out there. It was not hard to find this short clip of Duchscherer losing his cool when Manager Bob Geren came to take him out of his game. The baseball fan in me can chuckle, the human in me who has heard of his struggles with depression is concerned for what came after.

And now for part two, the part that finally got me to write about this, since I've had it in my "to be blogged" forever. I read this great article on big pharma and the rise of mental illness from AlterNet/Twitter today. The article talks about how after Prozac came out, psychiatrists used the "it's like diabetics and insulin" catch phase to convince people that an "imbalance in serotonin" was the cause of depression- it was a chemical thing. The article cites astonishing increases in the number of people on medication, disability, and diagnosed as "mentally ill." So, popularizing and destigmatizing mental illness allowed for people like Justin Duchscherer to "come out": to allow the general public to acknowledge that mental illness is not something that has to be locked in the attic. Gee, even baseball players can be depressed. On the other hand, there's no proof that it's a "serotonin thing." Louis Menand recently published a book review in the New Yorker on the same subject. Menand writes that "Greenberg is repeating a common criticism of contemporary psychiatry, which is that the profession is creating ever more expansive criteria for mental illness that end up labelling as sick people who are just different."

So which is it? Am I happy that Duke is "coming out," in effect popularizing and destigmatizing mental illness, making baseball players "real?" Or am I frustrated, because baseball players aren't supposed to be real, they're just actors in a game, played for my benefit? Or worse, am I befuddled about the current state of modern psychiatry, because we're not all sick, and if you look at the statistics, Americans are so sick that we all need some serious drugs and shrinks? It's all of them. I believe that Duke needs help and I'm glad he is getting it, and I hope he continues to get it, and that he will inspire other professional and un-professional athletes to get it. I also resent that I have to care- baseball is baseball, dude, it's supposed to be fun for me! I have enough to worry about! And, I resent that big pharma is screwing with our health. Some people are sick, but our society is becoming pathologized. That's sick.

ETA: Now I feel like the douche. Duchscherer left yesterday's game with an injury. And he wasn't happy about it either.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

It's the Little Things

I came home to a whole bunch of emails saying that I was "so-and-so's" new contact on flickr. I figured a new spammer had hit the big time. I get random contact adds sometime, but this was like 10. I was famous. I am famous. It turns out, I really am flickr famous.

It's the little things: one of my galleries was "flickr blogged" today. I love making galleries- I am a little compulsive about collecting things and a lot of time when I'm browsing ffflckr, I add my favorite shots to the galleries. They're all works in progress- I add and delete shots all the time. I'm sort of surprised some of those shots are still in that gallery, honestly

The blog.

The gallery.

I'm not into photography for recognition. I kind of scorn people who seem into it for the glory of it all, even on the small scale. (I admit, I feel like a hipster when I do this: I am into the gear, into the scene, but I scorn people who seem to be into it to be seen. I know, I know.) I do it because I love it, because it gets me out, it helps me see the world. But it was awesome to come home and see people seeing my way of seeing.

And they're not even my pictures!

Friday, April 23, 2010

Note To Self: Be Here Now

I don't write a lot here about what I'm feeling. I figure I have friends for that, and it's kind of personal- I mean, who knows who's reading this. But I'm having a bad day. Mac is getting old. I've mentioned that he's not technically "old," he's actually a "veteran". The issue is, I started writing about him being a veteran almost a year ago. Which means he's a almost a year older. Or more veteran.

He's in great shape for a veteran, and it's true, he's only almost 9. He often acts like a puppy, and sometimes even puts on his puppy (not poker) face.


I mean, puppy face, right?

But lately, he's showing his age. His ear is constantly infected- see how his right ear is kind of small and misshapen? It's pinched, or closed, and I think I'm finally going to surgically open it up. This may actually mean removing the entire ear canal which would involve surgically closing it up, not opening it. I went to the vet to discuss that last week, and the vet agrees that it's time. After 8+ years (who knows when the injury happened) of infection, it's probably nearly closed up with polyps and infection gunk. Ew. Then last night, his legs caved in on him. He kind of spider walked around like he didn't know what was happening then pretended everything was ok, but was more frantic in his friendly antics than usual. And his back right kept falling out. I didn't freak out, I let him sleep it off, and hoped it would heal.

This morning, his back right kept falling, he didn't really want to put weight on it, and his back left wasn't so good. He kept jumping on the bed like normal, and not quite making it, pulling himself up with his front legs. It was time to go back to the vet. I admit, I have a feeling he was faking this injury because he wanted to go back to the vet. He loves the vet. Check out this picture from last week. No stress, in fact, I kind of have to pull him out of there.

OK, I know that dogs don't do things like this on purpose. And I know that although Mac is going to hide his pain, I know that it can't possibly feel good to have his legs fall out from under him. The vet couldn't find anything. He also noted that Mac wasn't going to tell us anything. He's worried that it might be his back since Mac's showing wobbly on both legs. Mac's hips seem OK since his joints aren't popping out of his sockets (I think that's how it works?) and there's no swelling anywhere. It's a mystery, because there's no real evidence.

Only it's not a mystery, because Mac is a veteran. I talked a little bit about our history together, but we've had a great almost-eight-years, and Mac was a young adult when we met. It's inevitable. What's funny is that just a couple weeks ago I decided I was going to tell myself and Mac that he was only 5. I figured it couldn't hurt. But I have to come be real: he's a veteran.

I had a hard day today: I couldn't bring my dog with me anywhere. My sidekick. My partner in crime. On a normal day off I take walks with Mac, with my camera. I drive around with Mac. I go to the camera store with Mac, I do everything with Mac. I didn't know what to do. I couldn't leave the house because I didn't know what to do By Myself. I make myself eat by myself- as much as I pretend I don't like people, I'm kind of a social person. But without people, I still have my dog. It was a Hard Day.

My sister pointed out today that our grandfather is 91 years old. He's amazing: he's mentally sharper than I am, I'm pretty sure, and mobile. He lives with my not-grandma, alone, and they go to the opera, the movies, etc. He's got aches and pains, a failing knee, and one bad eye. But he's 91. He emails, programs the VCR, or whatever people use these days (TIVO, maybe? I can't do either) and orders NetFlix. He's in great shape. He's a veteran (literally and figuratively). It's inevitable. The people we love age. The dogs we love age, too. We keep them comfortable, we acknowledge them and their gifts to us, and have to remember to be here now.

Baby Mac

Veteran Mac, about two weeks ago

now that's handsome

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Friday, April 16, 2010

Not the Target Audience

I'm so glad baseball season is back. I love the game, I love the A's, I love listening to the game on the radio. I hate commercials. It's one of the main reasons I stopped watching television. This year, the commercials seem particularly bad/offensive. I had been thinking how to frame a blog about this when GeeDee215 of PostBourgie posted this handy graphic:

It appears that baseball fans are on the higher end of voter turnout, and are just about in the middle of republican/democrat voting. If you believe statistics and polls.

If you want to believe anecdotal evidence, in a very scientific sample size of two- WPHT, the Phillies' radio station I stream to hear my boyfriend (on the DL) Joe Blanton, and KTRB, the local A's affiliate, there's nothing blue about baseball. There's also a whole lot of misogyny and/or nothing political correct or even of this millenium. It's not *quite* enough to make me turn off the radio- I'm certainly not going to turn on the streaming teevee- because I love to listen to the games, but it's enough to get me steaming both when Gio is pitching and during every commercial break, and there are a lot of them.

One of my favorite commercials on the Phillies radio is for Hatfield Simply Tender Portions. I don't think we have these in Oakland, but I don't browse the frozen pork freezer section very often, so I could be wrong. I haven't heard these commercials before, that's for sure. Listen and weep:

There's a corresponding commercial where the wife sings about how her dinners have really sucked lately, but I felt like when I used to make mix tapes when I was twelve, sitting by the boombox waiting for the right song to come on: I might find it or I might not, and I'm guaranteed to get crap at the beginning and end that I don't want, and equally guaranteed to cut off some of the good stuff. Point is, wives, your cooking sucks, and you better buy some of this great pork to spice up your dinners for your man, who will then turn his radio on to listen to some ole fashioned radio, a manly game. Go wash the dishes.

There's a good commercial about lawn products, specially developed for the Phillies field: "That'll give Phil's fans something to be excited about!" I'm pretty sure they mean male Phil's fans, but since they don't state it, maybe that's redundant. The wife is inside baking the pork chops. Frying the pork chops? Like I said, I don't frequent the pork chop aisle. I also don't have any kids, so the Powerade commercial that tells moms that kids take their sports seriously and therefore need this sports drink isn't going to lead me to the sports-drink aisle. I guess it's not going to lead dads there, either.

There's a spot that explains why the station is called "The Big Talker": Well duh, Rush Limbaugh says, "it's because I'm on it!" I see on their website that Glenn Beck is also on the station. I'm feeling pretty red right now.

The A's station airs some pretty dubiously misogynist commercials, too. AM/PM is apparently (I just unfortunately found their commercials on YouTube) one of the most hideous advertisers in terms of catering to the basest of "sex sells" mantras. Ok, I couldn't find the good one- the hunting cougars one. I tried for an hour. Will post it later. In the meantime, this one is pretty "fabulous.":

Infantilizing again. Puppies and babies always do it for me!!

There's this great Supercuts commercial that says a haircut can give you the confidence to use super-human strength to win the girl (loving the infantilized girl seeking teddy bear and the heavily accented carny(?)):

And recently the A's switched to (or added to their lineup) a station hosting Michael Savage: "today they won't even review my books because I'm a political conservative." Oh. This dude is on the air 5 hours every day. Just the headlines on his website disturb me. And right now, a political candidate for governor, Meg Whitman, is running this awesome ad:

I will say, the A's have the redeeming Tap Plastics ads running. There's nothing particularly great about them except that they're Tap Plastics. Did you even know Tap Plastics was still around? With that catchy jingle, and all.

I don't know, I've never listened to a WWE broadcast or a MLS game. And the broadcasters aren't particularly political. Maybe the advertisements are exactly the same. Maybe my sample is totally unrepresentative. Maybe I'm too sensitive (this I doubt). I know I'm not the only woman ever to listen to a baseball game who thinks we're not just sex objects. We don't just go to the games as girlfriends. The ads are insulting, and the political ads are more than right-leaning. They're politically conservative and often alienating. Good thing I don't pay for radio. (I pay MLB- same same but different?)

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Law Enforcement- What Are We Doing, Anyway?

I've been thinking a lot (insert cliche about how that's dangerous) about what enforcement means, what gets enforced, and why. When I moved from working in the non-profit animal welfare world to the law enforcement side, I was all gung-ho about community policing. Oh boy, I naively thought, policing has moved forward: we can work WITH the community and local agencies, instead of working ON the community. I had worked at another animal control facility, but this was in a laid back, much more rural area, and the officers were under the sheriffs department. The community was a agricultural and tourist area, and really didn't face many challenges of an urban environment. Maybe they needed community policing, maybe not. I wasn't an officer then, though I worked closely with them.

Now, I think a lot about enforcement and building bridges with other agencies and service providers. And I'm learning that while great in theory, it's extremely difficult in practice. I know and have relationships with some great beat officers who know everyone in their area and treat them with great respect: when there's a problem, they know who to call and do their best to help. But cities are fragmented places and bureaucracy is deeply entrenched. Even these great cops can't get a whole lot done when they're working in the system. They can call on me, the animal control officer, to help with animal issues, because they know I will help. They can call adult protective services and hope for the best. But bottom line, the system often fails. And these are the officers who are working the best to work the system. The system is bigger than all of us.

I've been thinking about this for a lot of reasons. The great Oakland North blog (follow it if you're not) recently had a blogger do a ride-along all day with a unit in Oakland charged with dealing with underage sex workers. The blogger, Mary Flynn did, depending on your view of reporting, a good job of leaving responses to this type of policing up to the reader. Basically, a whole bunch of OPD resources are tied up on officers tailing and arresting juvenile sex workers. They do not arrest any men soliciting the prostitutes (I prefer "sex workers") and they do not arrest any pimps. The cops acknowledge some of the problems- the pimps will beat the shit out of the women later, these arrests won't stop the problem, the program is costly, and the women will either be released very quickly back to the same problem environment or held in jail (not a great idea either) for weeks. But the cops don't react to these problems, or Flynn doesn't include their reactions.

So what's the point? And what's community oriented about this? Yes, they take the arrested women to a "staging area" and offer the women resources, but the cops know that few will take advantage of these services. So is the point to round up sex workers by arresting them and force them to "get help" through what seems to me like "reeducation camps?" Hardly community oriented. Technically, Oakland believes in Community Policing. Are the police the last line of defense in this situation or the first? Could police be working more effectively with the groups mentioned in the blog- why are they arresting women to bring them to the groups? Seems counter-intuitive.

I have turned into a person who calls the cops. I never would have done this before: I was more of a live and let live kind of person. I don't know what happened to me- maybe it's just more comfort around uniforms. Last week I was walking the dog and there was a man in a full suit sitting, legs stretched out in front of him, with an old skool boom box and a suitcase, in my neighborhood. We don't live in a neighborhood where men in suits with boomboxes sit on the ground. He appeared to be talking or singing. I decided if he was still there after my walk I would call the police. Fifteen minutes later he was on the other side of the street, still in a suit, still with a boombox. It was an odd sight. He was definitely singing now. I couldn't tell if he was drunk or mentally ill, but he was out of place. He needed help. My first line of defense is to call the police in this situation. I called the non-emergency line and the police came. He was taken to jail.

This is not ideal. Why should a drunk man (if he was deemed mentally ill, he would have been taken to a psych facility) be taken to jail? Historically, this is true- think of all the movies and books you've read where drunk guys are taken to a cell to sober up. But really, a) why should I have to call the police to report a random dude in a suit in my neighborhood and b) why should random drunk dude in a suit have to go to jail because he's had too much to drink? Sure, I could have tried to talk to him, but I live in a sort of dangerous place. And I had Mac. If he was someone I recognized from the neighborhood, I would have. And I had to call the police, because like in the sex worker case, I *don't know who else to call.* Is there a hotline for a group who helps intoxicated people on the street? I don't know. If there is, it's not easily accessible or well advertised. And why do the police have to take drunk man to jail? If he doesn't have anywhere else to go, why don't they have anywhere else to take him? Is this really community based policing?

Note: I'm not picking on Oakland here. Oakland has a lot of faults (I could pick on Oakland), but I don't think these issues are specific to Oakland. I think a lot of cities do roundups of "prostitutes"- it's a traditional strategy. And I would guess the majority of places "throw drunks in the tank" to "dry up." But this is an enforcement strategy, and I don't think these situations (which I'm using as examples) call for enforcement. What does "community based policing" mean? What could it mean? How could we move forward, bypassing bureaucracy, and actually helping people, and helping the community?

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Please Stay Away

from these names for dogs. Take my advice or leave it, but I would suggest taking it.

Never name a rottweiler "Rocky." It's been done. And done, and done. It also suggests that you don't know that rottweilers are not "rockweilers" or "rockweilders."

Never name any dog "Lucky." There is no such thing as a "Lucky" with any luck. Ask anyone who has worked in an animal shelter. It's an unwritten law. I'm now putting it in writing.

Stay away from the name "Half Dead." It is generally a bad idea to name a dog (or any other living being) anything with "dead" in it. The only dog I know that has the name "Half Dead" is now fully dead.

When naming pit bulls and other dogs with bad reputations, it is generally not only a bad idea, but a beyond cliche idea to name dogs such things as "Henessey," "Dimebag," "Capone," "Kahlua," "Biggie," "Gotti," "Ghost," "Face," (or "Ghostface,") "Remington," and other tuff sounding names. We know they are tuff and like. You could just spell it out and name your pit bull "Criminal." Then again, I've already met two of those, so you might need to pick something else. How about "Gangsta?" I haven't met any of those, yet.

"King" and "Queen," while nice and regal, are really quite worn out. If you have an intact, tough looking dog, I've got about a one in five chance when I say "Hey, King!" Also, naming your dog after the color of his fur is not creative. I.E: "Blue," "Red," "Brownie," "Blackie," "Tiger," etc. "Snowy" is only slightly better. Other descriptors such as "Chubby" and "Fluffy" are almost as bad as "Snowy." How many red dogs and blue dogs and black dogs are there? Approximately 1/4 of them are named after their color. And just because you have a large fluffy dog does not mean you must name it "Bear" or "Oso." Really. There are other kinds of bears if you're stuck (try "Grizzly," even).

I admit, my dog is named "Mac." It only gets a little lamer, with something like "Buddy." In my defense, his name is Mac because his head is big and shaped like a macadamia nut and his brain is small, like a macadamia nut. He's generally nutty. I would recommend avoiding names that are descriptive- "Buddy is my buddy." Well yes, I imagine he is. "Meet Buddy, my buddy." Right. (See above, regarding "Blue, my blue dog.")

I'm happy to take suggestions for more names to add to this list. I'm sure I'll remember more of the bad, overplayed, and generally stupid later.

Thursday, April 08, 2010

The House Files

I have been accused of neglecting The House Files lately. I will do my best to keep this blog and that blog going. I just added a post now, and have taken many pictures in anticipation of adding more.

There *IS* a submission button on the right hand side of the page- and I welcome submissions! I will work on getting something where you can just post yourself. In the meantime, send your pictures and ideas for accompanying songs, and the general location where the photo was taken (city is enough!) or even just pictures, and I'll go from there.

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

The HardCore Four (Plus One)

So I thought about saying we didn't go, and that's why I haven't blogged about Bring Your Own Big Wheel. But that's a lie. We went. Some of us went.

The morning of Easter, 2010, rain was in the forecast. Rain had been in the forecast, but I had been negotiating with The Person In Charge of The Weather (I don't know exactly who that person is- a higher power or just the weatherman on TV, you can make the call, but I was negotiating with That Person) and stating that it Would Not Rain. I lost in these negotiations. But the bailing on the big wheels started before the rain was serious. Both my sister and J, creator of, who had both generously offered to drive the East Bay riders and the big wheels to Potrero Hill, offered their regrets with credible complaints of the flu. Two down, about 8 Team Orange members to go.

T, M, E, and C fell to the rain. Rain??? RAIN!?!#^#@^ M asked me if I conceded, but D and I reminded her that there is no conceding in Big Wheels. So D and I loaded all the big wheels into the Volvo (remember I was driving now, which also meant I was not drinking) and set on our way. Since we didn't know until about 1 hour before who was really (not) showing, we brought All The Big Wheels. It was a tight, glittery squeeze in there.


While we were riding, I decided since T wasn't coming, and since it was really seriously cold and really seriously raining and that I really seriously wasn't drinking, I would need something to keep me warm. Something like adrenaline and danger. So I decided I would ride one of those now extraneous big wheels. It worked out great- I couldn't shoot anyway, too wet, and I definitely needed to stay warm. When we got to Potrero Hill, we met the last, hardest core, of Team Orange: V and J. We were now present, the HardCore Four. D's friend N showed up and we bestowed upon her an honorary Team Orange shirt and some orange garb and set off on our adventure. Enjoy my dismay of discovering our shortage of teammates:

I didn't get any pictures of us riding or any videos. I think this video is pretty sweet though. I rode down twice, and this is while D and J are doing their 3rd and 4th heats and I was waiting with the camera stuff. Yes, it was raining. No, we did not concede.

Racing was amazing. It was like bumper cars, only well not like that at all. It was fast and cool and pretty much something you only get to do once a year. If you do it more, it wouldn't be nearly as fun. J collected some photos of us in a gallery- that's us in the orange (right?!). This is kind of what it feels like (I swear, this is not sped up- it really feels like this. Obviously not my video.)

And for something just plain beautiful, check out this one.

Bring Your Own Big Wheel 2010 from Patrick Lawler on Vimeo.

It was awesome. See you, some of you, next year. And no, I did not injure myself. No, I am not kidding.